hot mugshot

What makes some content marketing irresistible, while the bulk of stuff you see every day is easily forgotten?  Have you ever stopped to analyse what you choose to read, comment on and share versus what you choose to ignore?

Here’s a good example –  the “hot mugshot guy” used in this post should be very familiar to you.  Why?  Because Jeremy Meeks shot to fame two weeks ago when the Stockton police department posted a photo of him on Facebook after arresting him on a serious weapons charge.

The image quickly went viral with hundreds of thousands of likes, comments and shares and the story was picked up by every major newspaper, radio and cable TV program across North America (and in many other countries).  He now has two major modelling agencies chasing him to sign a contract.

Now Jeremy’s mugshot is not particularly fascinating, earth shattering, important or even relevant to the lives of most of us, yet somehow, this simple Facebook post unwittingly outperformed almost every other news story on the day it broke.  It had the “je ne sais quoi” that is required for content marketing to go viral on a global scale.

And if you think about it, there are lessons that we can take from this story (and other successful posts like it) to boost the persuasive power of our own content marketing so that it inspires and ignites both passion and action among our readers and customers.

Contagious:  What Makes Things Catch On?

What was it about the last piece that you read or saw – whether it be an article, photo, advertisement, content marketing or video – that took it from mildly interesting and elevated it to the realm of positively sharable?

As you no doubt suspect, content marketing that has the potential to go viral can be a huge asset to you for two reasons – it feels great to make it and it can bring lots of attention to what you’re doing to solve real problems for your customers. Unfortunately, if no one sees your content marketing, it’s not really that useful to anyone.

Content may be King, but you will be the Lord of a very small domain if you are still reaching only one hundred people next week with your valuable message.  Here are my Top 5 Tips to magnify the chance of your message reaching hundreds of thousands based on neuroscience, behavioral science and the success of the most popular posts on Linkedin.

  1. Lists Work

Ironically, I read a post last week where the author lamented the overuse of articles titled “The Top 5 Tips”, “21 Secrets To” etc.  He postulated “why do so many authors write posts with lists”?  A quick bit of research on my part revealed that the Top three articles in the past few months on Linked in (in terms of readers, shares and comments) were all list based posts:

  • 10 Simple Concepts to Become a Better Leader, Dave Kerpen .
  • 6 Toxic Behaviours That Push People Away: How To Recognize Them in Yourself and Change Them, Kathy Caprino
  • The #1 Career Mistake Capable People Make, Greg McKeown

In fact, nine of the top ten were list based articles.  But could this just be a coincidence?

In-depth research by Buzzsumo supports this phenomenon.  Buzzsumo analysed over one hundred million articles online and concluded that lists and infographics were more likely to be shared virally than any other content.  Love them or hate them, lists outperform how to articles, videos, explanatory posts and other content marketing in terms of shares and comments.  Done correctly, a good list post will provide hands-on, practical tips that you can put into practice today.

One of the vital elements that is believed to cause a list to spread, is its level of “practical utility,” as described by a recent study By Berger and Milkman (University of Pennsylvania – Wharton School of Business.  The ability to use and apply the information contained in a post is a key element that drives content to spread virally.  In effect, the list creates a memory inducing trigger.

Essentially, we tend to share what we’re thinking about—and we only think about the things we can actually remember. Lists make it easy for our brains to grasp, remember and file away valuable information for safe keeping and retrieval.  They convey the content you are about to read contains a nice packet of useful, easy-to-digest information that you can share with others to add value and create dialogue.

  1. A Good Picture is Still Worth a Thousand Words (and Ten Thousand Shares)

Neuroscience has proven that your brain is a highly visual beast. Somewhere between 80% and 90% of brain activity is associated with making sense of visual stimuli, and the brain processes these visual stimuli much more quickly—about 40 times more quickly—than it does auditory stimuli.

This makes perfect sense when you think about the role that visual cues played in the survival of our ancient ancestors—particularly the way in which the old brain reacted quickly to keep our cavemen ancestors out of the jaws of tigers and mammoths. The old brain is extraordinarily fast at processing these visual cues, “seeing” them in only 2–3 milliseconds and reacting to them almost instantaneously.

In sharp contrast, it takes your new brain (or neocortex) a relatively snail-paced 500 milliseconds to process the exact same visual data. Since humans cannot rely on the slow processing speed of the new brain, you are hardwired to make decisions and take action at the old brain level that are mostly based on visual input and instinctual responses. Your neocortex kicks in much later in the process to help you find data, proof, and justification for the gut decision you have already made.

This of course makes visual imagery one of the most powerful triggers you can harness and use to your advantage when creating content. As they say, a picture really is worth a thousand words.  However, not all pictures are created equal. The visuals you use in your content must mean something to the old brain of your prospect—they must have a “what’s in it for me” (WIIFM) message and they must stimulate a strong emotional response. A well crafted story or a sharp picture that captures the essence of your reader’s most pressing source of pain, holds the power to trigger a wave of comments and shares.

And as you might expect, the Top 3 posts on Linkedin all used strong graphics to convey a quick emotional response and draw readers in.  The most successful, the article by Dave Kerpen also cleverly utilized a shareable infographic as the primary photo.  It’s a visual snapshot and roadmap for the 11 concepts he outlines on leadership.  It is no surprise that his article received over 126,000 shares on Linkedin alone and a whopping 7400+ comments.

  1. Not All Shares Are Created Equal

Not all shares will have the same impact on the ultimate reach of your content marketing.  Studies show that getting just one person who has influence online to share your article can have a multiplier effect on your content.  It pays dividends to pay attention to the influencers that are currently sharing content that closely matches or parallels your own.  By building relationships with them and inviting them to engage, you can exponentially increase your chance of reaching 4x more shares, than by relying solely on your own network.

After analysing over one hundred million articles, Buzzsumo compared the number of social shares for articles that had zero influencers versus those that had at least one influencer (where an influencer is defined as someone who receives at least 200 re-tweets on average, for every 100 tweets posted).  What they found was that just having just one influencer share your content will boost your reach and shares by 31.8%.  Having three influencers doubles the number and having 5 would almost quadruple the number of social shares you receive.

Interestingly, some recent research in the area of neuroscience seems to back up the notion that some people are far more effective at spreading ideas, stories and content.  In “Creating Buzz: The Neural Correlates of Effective Message Propagation”,  Falk, Morelli, Welborn, Daumbacher and Lieberman mapped the brain centers associated with ideas that are likely to be contagious.  They were hoping to create maps which could be used in the future to forecast which ideas should be successful and who is likely to be effective at spreading them.

The scientists found that increased activity in the Temporoparietal Junction (TPJ) and dorsomedial prefrontal cortex (“the mentalizing network”) of the subjects, was associated with an increased ability to convince others to get on board with their favorite ideas.  What this research is suggesting is that some people may have a pre-disposition to be able to share ideas on a global scale.

As this research evolves, we will get closer and closer to discovering what differentiates ideas that bomb from ideas that buzz. Like all ideas, stories, content marketing etc, these concepts cannot spread virally on their own – they rely on effective social communication for dissemination.  Messages which produce greater “mentalizing activity” in the brain when viewed are more likely to be passed on and the subjects appear to be more motivated to pass them on. The social currency of being a person who is known for spreading information of value (i.e. an information broker or ideas salesman) is incredibly valuable.  Various networking sites such as Linkedin, Facebook and Twitter have long recognized this phenomenon and put formal strategies in place to promote these individuals as “information brokers or experts” and increase the overall engagement of readers with news and posts on their sites.

Case in point, the most successful article on Linkedin by Dave Kerpen was shared and commented by 5 highly influential readers.  Those 5 alone were directly responsible for 511 likes and comments plus hundreds of LinkedIn shares, tweets and Facebook likes.  As a result, over time Dave Kerpen has built up a following of over 458,000 people on Linkedin by writing great, shareable posts.

Similarly, Greg MeKeown’s post had 6 or 7 influencers who contributed to the large number of likes, comments and shares (particularly within Linkedin).

  1. Clickbait Sucks

For any entrepreneur, manager or blogger, headlines are vital to an even more important end — drawing a substantial amount of attention to topics that really matter. But designing memorable, curiosity-inducing headlines isn’t enough.  As you know, content, articles and posts don’t go viral because people click — they go viral because people share.

“Clickbait” — overselling content marketing with outrageous headlines that entice the maximum number of people to click and visit a website — works to generate some views but it will never be enough to create viral content.  Formulaic headlines don’t guarantee content that has the potential to go viral.  To comment or share, your readers have to love what they see when they hit your site, see your video or read your post.  That is why the two most crucial factors in motivating readers to share your content are the quality of and the emotion that you create with the insights you provide.

Ask yourself these three questions – “Does the content that I am about to post:”

  • Engage or entertain on a relevant topic?
  • Draw the audience in and invite them to imagine their world from a new perspective or inspire them to share their opinion?
  • Deliver on the promise of the headline?

Headlines definitely matter but your content will only go viral if readers love what you are saying so much they are inspired to comment and share it with everyone.  As you would suspect, all of the most read and shared articles on Linkedin delivered on the promise that the author’s made in their headlines – substantive posts, quality insights and practical tips that readers appreciated and felt compelled to share.

  1. We Share What Makes Us Feel Good

Emotion and repetition are the adhesives that cement events to your memory. As leading American neuroscientist Antonio Damasio puts it: “We are not thinking machines that feel, we are feeling machines that think.” Emotions play a part in virtually every decision you make, whether you like it or not, and sharing content is no exception. When something has an emotional impact on you, you are far more likely to remember and react; in that way, your strongest emotional responses will stay with you for your entire life because they create a deeper engram (or impression) in your mind.

Your emotions produce strong electrochemical responses that have been proven to directly influence the way you handle, respond to, and hold onto information. The cocktail of hormones that flood your mind when you experience strong emotions causes the connections in your brain to speed up, intensify, and be reinforced.

A strong emotional trigger is much more likely to drive you to share content or buy a product, than a rational argument for doing so. Emotional connections occur because your feelings are stirred. This happens whenever content you see causes you to “put yourself into the situation”. So content becomes great or memorable when it hooks you in—it effectively makes you a part of the scene and you feel the feelings of the story that is unfolding about something that is relevant to you.

As a sharing stimulus, emotion is incredibly powerful. And there is no more effective way to tap into or unleash the emotions of your readers than to tell them a story. Through the ages, we have passed on our history and our wisdom to our children in the form of stories. As a child, you likely came to expect a story from the people that you loved and looked up to—your parents, grandparents, siblings, teachers, ministers, and babysitters. Your brain felt comfortable and safe with both the stories and the storytellers and you are likely to pass on these stories, to your friends and your own children.

But the spectrum of emotions is large and research suggests that 3 particular emotions are more likely to result in content going viral. While anger, surprise and sadness motivated some people to share, awe, laughter and amusement universally outperformed all other emotions in inspiring social shares.  For the most part, people want to be uplifted by posts and we also want to think that sharing interesting, practical and fun content brings value to our relationships, creates social currency, spurs conversation and inspires reaction.

This premise is supported by the Berger and Milkman study (University of Pennsylvania – Wharton School of Business), which examined the sharing of articles from the New York Times in 2008.  They looked at approximately seven thousand articles to determine what characteristics the most-emailed articles had in common.  After controlling for many other factors including author popularity, placement, timing etc., they discovered two features which stood out as being important to success – the positivity of the message and how much it excited the readers.

Not surprisingly all 3 of the top authors on Linkedin that I mentioned earlier utilized the element of storytelling to make their point.  Their articles were positive, uplifting, fun and entertaining.  Reading each one leaves you with the distinct impression that you can easily work these tips into your own work environment and that sharing these insights with your colleagues would be a great way to build camaraderie and create some thought provoking and constructive dialogue.

Summary

Even Aristotle (in 350 B.C) was obsessed with the pursuit of the secret to make his content persuasive and memorable – so that his ideas would be passed on from person to person. Replace oratory with online content creator, and Aristotle’s pursuit of the illusive key to what makes ideas catch on and spread, seems incredibly contemporary. Although with our modern day ability to track and analyse brain activity and data from millions of articles and websites at a time, we are much closer now to clearly defining the variables that cause us to engage deeply with and share content virally.

Game of Thrones Leadership 2

[SPOILER ALERT – If you haven’t watched Season 5, proceed with caution.]

Are you in a dead end position?  Does it sometimes feel like you are leading a team of ingrates or idiots?  Are you unappreciated by your boss, your team or even your customers?  Or is some power-hungry, incompetent, pimple-faced kid wearing your crown?

Whether your aim is to attract high achieving team members, take home more cash, land the coveted corner office, or build a brand that customers are dying to say “yes” to, there’s much to learn about leadership and business from your favorite Game of Thrones characters.

Based on the best-selling book series by George R. R. Martin, the show purports to be a fantasy drama about swords, seven kingdoms, social hierarchy, sex and sorcery but at its essence, it’s a master class on power, persuasion and leadership. The story revolves around the battle for the right to sit on the Iron Throne – to be the King the Seven Kingdoms – and as you would suspect, there are many characters who feel they have the only legitimate right to lead.

In many ways it’s the age old battle between good and evil but as we all know, power has the potential to corrupt and sometimes the lines between influence vs manipulation, leadership vs dictatorship, and death vs destiny become blurred.  And if you think about it, this same power struggle is very likely playing out right now in your business or place of employment to varying degrees.

Can you spot the leader among this selection of fascinating, flawed and feared characters?  Or is each one destined to play a subservient role or worse… be stabbed, poisoned or beheaded?

  1. The Democratic Leader

As the lone surviving child of the overthrown “Mad King”, Aerys Targaryen, Daenerys starts out adamantly believing that the Iron Throne is her birthright. As the series begins, she is forced into exile after her father is killed – which is where she marries the Dothraki leader Drogo, becomes the Khaleesi, and slowly earns a reputation as the “Breaker of Chains” and the “Mother of Dragons”.

The influence of the Dothraki on her leadership style is unmistakable. While others in Westeros follow self-proclaimed or inherited leaders, the Dothraki will only follow the one who has the strength to lead: You may lead as long as you are a leader.

By the end of season 4, she has amassed a large army of slaves from many cities, including the Unsullied.  Even though the Unsullied must follow without question, she breaks their chains and invites them to choose to fight on her behalf.   In freeing them and thousands of other slaves, Khaleesi discovers that birthright alone is not enough: The respect and loyalty she earns by choice, rather than force, is far more powerful and enduring. In the finale, we see her leadership style evolve yet again as she regretfully chains two of her beloved dragons up in the catacombs when she discovers that the third has killed a three year old girl.

Leadership Lesson:  People follow strength above all. Regardless of birthright, death, appointment or tenure, leaders lead. They step up and do what needs to be done without the need for a title or lauding it over others. Saying someone is a leader doesn’t make them an effective one. In Jim Collin’s list of the top leaders in Good To Great, all were characterized by the absence of celebrity. For a leader to achieve something great, her ambition must be for the greatness of the work and the company, and not solely for herself.

  1. The Coercive Leader  

We all know someone in a position of power who didn’t doesn’t deserve it and cannot handle it.  Joffrey Baratheon was the quintessential, incompetent heir.  In addition to his questionable lineage (i.e. he was a child of incest between Cersei and Jamie Lannister and not the first born son of Robert Baratheon), he made almost every mistake imaginable as the young King of the Seven Kingdoms.  He was a bully, braggart, spiteful, irrational, a poor negotiator and a coward.  Joffrey refused to listen to anyone’s advice, even though he was very young and had no battle (or leadership) experience.  Perhaps Cersei summed it up best when she tried to counsel him to be a more benevolent leader – “The occasional kindness will spare you all sorts of trouble down the road.”

It’s a miracle that he lasted as long as he did. At his wedding to Margaery Tyrell, Joffrey was poisoned by a wine goblet at the banquet.  His final gesture, as he lay dying in the arms of his mother, was to point towards his uncle Tyrion Lannister, as if to finger him as the assassin/culprit.

Leadership Lesson:  While sometimes effective in a crisis, the “do as I tell you approach” should be avoided in every other circumstance as it can alienate team members, smother innovation and stifle flexibility.  You cannot call yourself a leader if you are despised and you refuse to listen to feedback and suggestions from your team.  This sort of leader will doom your workplace to failure as they will often take down other members, or the whole organization, on their way out the door.

  1. The Affiliative Leader

He may be one of the smallest characters, but Tyrion Lannister, the dwarf son of the most powerful man in King’s Landing, is a fan favourite who proves that it is possible to have a big impact no matter how small (or insignificant you feel) you are.

In the battle of Blackwater, Tyrion realizes that he must take charge and rally the men to fight — the King (Joffrey Baratheon) has run to hide with the women, his brother Jamie (the Kingslayer) is missing and his father Tywin Lannister is delayed in battle elsewhere.  In addressing the men, Tyrion knows full well that his small stature is a serious disadvantage in battle and that the men are, outnumbered, scared and reluctant to put their own lives on the line for their cowardly King.

Tyrion does what Tyrion does best – he wastes no time on giving them a speech about honour, duty or glory, but rather, he inspires them with the “what’s in it for me” speech.

“Don’t fight for your king, don’t fight for his kingdoms, don’t fight for honour, don’t fight for glory, don’t fight for riches because you won’t get any. This is your city – Stannis Baratheon means to sack, your gate he’s ramming. If he gets in, it will be your houses he burns, your gold he steals, your women he will rape. Those are brave men knocking at our door. Let’s go kill them!”

Leadership Lesson:  To lead you must always focus on strengths (yours and others) as opposed to attempting to compensate for weaknesses. People will naturally follow a leader who creates emotional bonds that bring a sense of belonging and purpose to each individual and the team.

  1. The Reluctant Leader

Jon Snow is the illegitimate son of Eddard (Ned) Stark and an unnamed prostitute.  He was raised by Ned and Catelyn Stark and is much more introverted and solemn than his half siblings.  Growing up with illegitimate status made him indignant and it spawned a deep desire to prove himself – as is evidenced by his decision to join the Night’s Watch and his choice of duty over love on many occasions.

Even as a valuable member of ”the rejected”, Jon finds himself an outcast and in direct conflict with both the leader of the Night’s Watch and the Wildlings.  Despite all of this, Jon is a proven and effective leader of men, having been instrumental in battle against the wildlings, Stannis Baratheon and others. His time at the wall has solidified his resolve and allowed him to explore his true potential. However, notwithstanding his obvious clarity of vision, strategy, foresight, emotional intelligence and purpose, he is reluctant to claim the mantle of “Leader”.

Leadership Lesson:   Leaders are made not born. Regardless of pedigree, tenure or title, people will naturally gravitate to the one who has purpose, passion and conviction.  With the right mentorship and encouragement, these reluctant leaders (with street cred and loyal followers) can evolve and develop over time to become formidable and unassailable leaders.

  1. The Fanatical Leader

Stannis Baratheon, the eldest brother of the late King Robert Baratheon, was arguably the rightful heir given that Joffrey was not the legitimate son of Robert.  He is a tried and tested battle leader whose dedication to the rule of law and stability means he provides generously for those under his rule and punishes those who challenge him or disobey his will.

As the story unfolds, he becomes increasingly rigid in his views, dependent on the black magic and prophesies of Melisandre and his iron-fisted leadership style alienates him from even his closest advisors.  He is without empathy or mercy and simply cannot conceive of a world where anyone would see things differently to him.

Leadership Lesson:   It is impossible to lead effectively (and with longevity) without empathy and the loyalty/respect of your team.  A leader who continually trusts only himself and insists on holding all of his cards tightly to his chest, will quickly find himself with no team members to lead.  This leader may very well be brilliant but he will nonetheless, fail miserably.

  1. The Charming Leader

Margaery Tyrell is a natural born politician, loved by the common people and one of the few characters uses her feminine wiles to gain power and persuade others.  She has no army and no familial right to the Iron Throne yet she consistently re-positions herself within close proximity of it.

Even after her husband Joffrey is poisoned at their wedding banquet, she is quick to endear herself to his younger brother Tommen (the successor) and cleverly manipulate an important conversation with Cersei Lannister, to procure another shot at becoming Queen.

Margaery is under the careful tutelage of her grandmother Lady Olenna Tyrell.  Now Lady Olenna has no formal authority, army or birthright to the Throne but nonetheless, she is one of the most unassuming, skilful and powerful characters.  As an elderly, unmarried woman, Olenna flies completely under the radar but has had a monumental impact on the balance of power:  Olenna was a linchpin in the assassination of Joffrey Baratheon.  The Tyrell family control one of the major food production regions in Westeros and have assured the Lannisters that King’s Landing would continue to receive uninterrupted shipments, thus preventing rioting which previously destabilized the regime.  At the end of Season 4, The Lannisters remain tenuously in power (reeling from the death of Tywin Lannister in the finale), due to the support of the Tyrell family.

Leadership Lesson:   If you want to successfully herd a group of cats, try opening a can of tuna.  Diplomacy and strategy may very well be more effective than strength, birthright or money.

  1. The Adaptive Leader

In a series known for twists and surprises and the untimely death of several key, beloved characters with strong leadership potential (Eddard Stark, Rob Stark etc.), Sansa Stark may herself be somewhat of a wildcard.  Until the middle of the fourth series, she would best be described as meek, sheltered, naive and insignificant.

With each episode she is becoming increasingly worldly under first the tutelage of Joffrey Baratheon, then Tyrion Lannister and now Littlefinger.  The seeds have effectively been sown for her dramatic metamorphosis.  Born with her father’s sense of passion, honour and justice, she is slowly learning how to use her own innocence, frailty and trustworthiness as a weapon and tool to manipulate others.  By the end of the fourth season there can be no doubt that she is not the same little girl who was kept hostage and bullied by King Joffrey.  Even though we have no indication that she aspires to greatness or a position of leadership, she is being groomed for something important and she now has a deeper understanding of what it takes to rule the 7 Kingdoms.  It would not be inconceivable for her to play a pivotal role alongside Littlefinger in future episodes.

Leadership Lesson:   Adaptive leaders exert strategic influence on their environment by being willing to experiment, modelling behaviours of proven leaders, encouraging innovation and taking calculated risks.  They excel as leaders when there is commitment and trust between the followers and them: In the absence of these two things, they are at best master manipulators and will be relegated to positions of secondary importance behind the scenes.

  1. The Unified Leader

It takes a unique, agile and talented individual to breach a 700-foot high wall of ice and overthrow a whole civilization. But it takes a leader to unite a group of wildlings, beasts and giants who are essentially defined by their independence and wild, unbridled nature.

Mance Rayder, The King Beyond the Wall, is the great leadership wildcard in the series because we know so little about him.  If he can unite a large, diverse group of barbarians and mount The Wall, he may be a strong contender for leadership in a Westeros divided by petty squabbles and a bunch of King- Wanna-bees. However, In the Season 4 finale, Stannis Baratheon shows up to fortify the efforts of the Night’s Watch at The Wall and Mance Rayder is taken prisoner – his fate and future leadership aspirations are put into the hands of Stannis and Melisandre.

Leadership Lesson:   A united team is more powerful than a group of passionate individuals working independently on their own goals.  If you are an effective leader, you will choose people who are committed and focused on a singular goal–your goal. The worst thing you can do is to surround yourself with a team that does not believe in your vision or product/service.

 

When you look around your business or place of work, do you recognize any of these stereotypical leadership styles?  Are you leading (or being led by someone) with an iron fist or do you feel as though your chains have been removed and you are finally free to reach your full potential?

Whatever the case may be, it pays to ask yourself “what type of leader do I aspire to be” and “whose vision of the future do I want to be a part of”?  In the end we must all ask ourselves the million dollar question – “What is a Leader?”

As explained by Jim Collins in Good To Great, great leadership often goes unnoticed, unappreciated and unpublicized by the masses.  Studying the foibles and virtues of these fascinating Game of Thrones characters is a great way to experiment with different styles and develop some strategies for enhancing or honing your own unique style.

Do you agree with my list, or like Jon Snow, “do I know nothing”?   What other leadership lessons do you think can be learnt from the show? Get in touch and share your insights now via the comments section below.

 

**This blog is an excerpt taken from a series of posts and press releases on this subject by Rhondalynn Korolak. She is a lawyer, chartered accountant, media commentator, keynote speaker and best-selling author of 3 books, the most recent of which –Sales Seductionis in theTop 20 Sales and Marketing Books on Amazon.com

grow your business

Breaking Bad, one of the most beloved television shows of all time, came to a close this year after six successful and gripping seasons. Viewers finally got to witness Walter White’s unforgettable exit and find out which of the key characters made it out alive.

For those of you who haven’t seen it yet, the series is set in a post-GFC, recession ravaged America.  The protagonist Walter White is an understated high-school chemistry professor who is forced to take on a second job at a car wash to make ends meet for his young family.  After being diagnosed with lung cancer and realizing that he does not have enough health care to cover his treatment, he puts his expertise in chemistry to use and begins cooking the most pure crystal methamphetamine (meth) on the market. But as this career teacher quickly realizes, starting and learning to grow your business successfully, isn’t as easy as it looks.

But there’s more to Breaking Bad than exciting science, shocking drama and riveting character development – there’s plenty here for you to take and apply to grow your business.  If you want to succeed as an entrepreneur and be even more profitable than you are right now, you should consider these practical lessons from Walter White at Heisenberg College.

1. Technical Expertise is Not Enough

When faced with insurmountable medical bills, Walt realizes that he is never going to make enough money working as an employee.  Like so many other entrepreneurs, Walt is passionate about his technical skill (chemistry) and he starts a business that has the potential to maximize the return he can get from that expertise, albeit in this case, an illegal activity.

What he quickly discovers is that he knows nothing about actually running a business – inventory, distribution, marketing, collections etc.  So he does what most entrepreneurs do – he wings it and finds out with disastrous consequences that he needs to educate himself quickly on how to operate a successful business and how to outsource the things that he does not have the skill or the time to do himself.

The Lesson: If you really want to grow your business, you need to invest in your development, put a good strategic plan in place, outsource tasks to others who can do them well and learn to manage your team members properly.  Don’t expect success to be easy. Every business faces its own obstacles and challenges.  Those who succeed, do so because of their ability to adapt quickly and take responsibility for their actions.

2. Establish a  Premium Brand Then Establish a Premium Price

Walter White was a world class chemist and as a result, he consistently produced the highest quality crystal meth that you could buy.  In fact, his trademark “blue sky” was widely recognized by both the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and drug users as “the bomb”.  Walter could easily have cut corners and produced a mediocre range of product that appealed to the mass market at a discount price, but he didn’t.  His pride in his own expertise and his commitment to excellence meant that he owned the upper end of the market.

By creating unprecedented demand for his unique formulation, he could dictate the terms his product was sold under and the price consumers would have to pay.  In Walter’s own words – “Corner the market, then raise the price,” White says. “Simple economics.”

The Lesson: If you insist on competing based on price, you are doomed to failure.  Anyone can cook crystal meth (or make a mediocre version of the product/service that you are currently selling) but only one person can truly be the best in the world at creating the most pure version on the market. To grow your business and succeed, you must be willing to do what it takes to cure the #1 pain that your customer has with buying your product/service.

3. If You’re Good Enough, You Can Get Away With Murder

There is no denying the fact that Walter White was the best in the world at cooking crystal meth.  This fact rendered him virtually untouchable. Walter’s unparalleled cooking skills kept him alive over and over again.  Even Gus Fring (the chicken man and notorious drug lord) could not afford to kill him after it became clear that both Walter and his junkie sidekick Jessie, were loose cannons. When Gus came close to finding a replacement, Walter was quick to eliminate his competition, thus restoring his own unassailable status.

Even Jessie, as flawed and messed up as he was in his personal life, was excellent at distribution and sales, thus making it difficult for Walter or Gus to eliminate him easily.

The Lesson:  If you are without question, the best at what you do, you cannot easily be fired or replaced and you can charge a premium for your expertise.

4. If You Can’t Decide, You Won’t Succeed

Throughout the fast paced six seasons, Walter was continually forced to adapt to changing circumstances and make decisions.  When Gus hired a hit man to kill Walter in Season 3, the only thing that saved him was his clever last minute call to Jessie.  Armed with the address of Gale Boetticher (the chemist that Gus had hired to replace them), Jessie was then forced to put a bullet into Gale’s head.

This episode and in fact the one that followed were not for the faint hearted or the squeamish but they illustrate one important point very clearly for you as an entrepreneur –  your success or failure relies solely upon your ability to make quick and good decisions… and then take action immediately, based on those decisions.

The Lesson: In order to be the boss and grow your  business, you have to be willing to make decisions and do whatever it takes to achieve your goals.  You can’t afford to sit on the sidelines of your business hoping and praying that things will change.  You need to be the change that you want to see and you need to get good at making decisions today.

5. No One is Ever Successful Without Help

Nothing is impossible when you have the right team around you. As flawed as they were as individuals, Walter and Jesse were successful together because they each brought different skills to the table, they divided up the tasks and they trusted each other to deliver on their responsibilities. On their own, neither one of them would have survived two weeks in the meth business but together, they thrived for years and built a multi-million dollar enterprise.

The Lesson: If you want to grow your business and build a scalable, robust business that runs without you (or is saleable), you need to stop trying to do everything yourself and learn how to delegate and lead others.

6. If You Can’t Negotiate, You’re Doomed to Fail

Ever wondered why most people don’t say “yes” to your product/service?  Without a doubt, it’s because you have no idea what they need to hear in order to make a decision in your favour.  Walter White started off with absolutely no clue how to run a business or negotiate with suppliers, colleagues or customers.  And more than once, this shortcoming almost cost him his business and his life.  He stumbled upon a universal truth – that if a person’s pain is bad enough and you provide the only solution, they will decide immediately and won’t need “time to think about it”.

The Lesson: The best negotiators know how to persuade others. In order to succeed you need to master the art of identifying, quantifying and curing your customer’s (employee’s or supplier’s) #1 source of pain.  If you do this well, you immediately disqualify your competition and are much more likely to get a “yes” today.

7. Distribution Can Make or Break Your Business

As phenomenal as Walter’s blue sky crystal meth was, he would never have achieved market penetration, leading brand recognition and phenomenal sales without Jessie’s distribution efforts. Jessie’s ability to build relationships, enforce collections and find distributors who were willing to do the hard yards to reach customers, was integral to their commercial success.

Walter didn’t know the first thing about pricing, competitive analysis, money laundering or channel management; he needed to connect with the right people – Jessie, Saul Goodman, Gus Fring et al.

The Lesson:  If you insist on doing everything yourself, then you must be prepared to accept the fact you will never have a scalable, successful and saleable business.

8. First Impressions Are Everything

Gus Fring was by all outward appearances a legitimate, respected member of the Albuquerque business community. He owned a chain of successful fried chicken restaurants and he was a vocal and public supporter of the DEA. He was also the most feared and successful drug lord in the southern states. Even though he was targeted and questioned by the DEA, Gus avoided investigation and culpability by always putting his best foot forward. He was articulate, well-dressed, outwardly legitimate and successful. He made it difficult for anyone to identify and convict him as a drug trafficker. Both Gus and Walter understood that first impressions are everything.

The Lesson:  You only get once chance to make a good first impression. The part of your customer’s brain that decides is highly visual and hasty.  If you don’t appear credible and trustworthy, it will be infinitely more difficult to influence and persuade others to do business with or believe in you. Fail at making a good first impression, and you will never grow your business successfully.

9. It Pays to Manage Your Liabilities

Slowly over the six seasons of the show, Walter and Jessie go from being small time players (much like the typical consultant or start up) to fully fledged business owners of a manufacturing and distribution empire. But there’s just one problem. No matter how much they make, it seems that the overheads (fixed costs of running the business) just keep getting bigger and bigger.  Sound familiar? Not only does Walter have to pay Saul Goodman for legal protection, but there’s also plenty of money going towards collections, enforcement and dealers who “know too much”.

While Walter is initially disgruntled about all these expenses he learns an important point – while it’s important to keep your overall expenses as low as possible, you should never skimp on items that are crucial to your success.  Although you might be frustrated with fixed expenses, you can afford to pay top dollar for the best employees, legal services to keep your business on the right side of the law, or an advisor/coach to help you grow your business profitably.

The Lesson:  If you want to grow your business you cannot afford to be penny wise and pound foolish.  If someone or something is integral to your success, ensure that you invest your time and money here.  You can always find money in the budget for everything that is worth spending on or investing in.

 

Breaking Bad was poignant, provocative and powerful on many levels.  And the genius of the show is this – despite all his shortcomings, killings, and character flaws, Walter While has longevity and likeability as both a character and successful business man.  When it comes to learning how to grow your business, these 9 lessons from the Walter White School of business, are a whole lot more applicable, memorable and engaging than a boring, introductory business book like the eMyth.

**This blog is taken from a series of posts and press releases on this subject by Rhondalynn Korolak. She is a lawyer, chartered accountant, media commentator, keynote speaker and best-selling author of 3 books, the most recent of which –Sales Seductionis in theTop 20 Sales and Marketing Books on Amazon.com

chocolate

Everyone knows there is a huge gap between what customers do and what they say they will do.  This is the single, most important reason why focus groups are inherently unreliable in predicting the commercial success of an ad, idea or product.  And British Airways knows this better than most as this one simple mistake – of believing what customers said they might do – meant they had to throw away thousands of dollars worth of fresh produce.

Several years ago, someone in the marketing department at British Airways had a crazy idea.  He thought it might be a great idea to introduce a private, fully stocked mini-bar in the first class cabin. British Airways of course conducted lots of focus groups to find out what their customers would most likely want when they woke up in the middle of the night craving a snack.  The research was pretty clear – fresh fruit and healthy snacks like salads were the most sought after.

The cabin crew were sceptical when they heard about the health conscious proposal and one experienced stewardess was very vocal in her critique.  So much so, that British Airways agreed to her suggestion that they also add a selection of chocolates and cakes to the mini-fridge.  Perhaps not surprisingly, when the first planes to stock the self-serve mini-bars touched down and were checked and re-stocked by the ground crews, an interesting truth came to light. Without fail, the cakes and chocolates had been devoured but all of the salads and fruit were left untouched.

Do you know why?

The answer lies in the way that our brains are hard-wired.

Neuroscience has proven that there are many distinct parts of the brain and each of them performs a different function.  However, only 1 of them is responsible for decision making and it fires up long before you are consciously aware that you have made a decision.

The biggest part of brain – the neo cortex – is where you think and reason.  So when your customer says “I need to think about it” or “is this the best price I can get?” this part of the brain is firing up and looking for data.  Not surprisingly, this part of the brain reacts slowly and uses up tons of your body’s energy – in order to keep you safe and alive, the body is hard wired not to rely on the thinking part of the brain to assess and evaluate all the data and information.

At the top of your spinal cord, there is a collection of neurons – which are commonly referred to as the old or reptilian brain.  It is your fight or flight brain – and its sole responsibility is to ensure your survival.  It’s the part of the brain that lights up when you DECIDE.

It lights up even before you have conscious awareness that you have made a decision.  Now, while it is very true that this is the most primitive part of your brain, the good news is that it is very predictable.  By understanding how this part of your brain works, you will discover why you should never offer your customers fruit when what they really crave is chocolate.

The old or reptilian brain of your customers is an automatic mechanism – it does not think, it only DECIDES and ACTS.  It is always at work scanning the environment looking for information of value to his survival.

So how does this apply to your customers and your product/service?

Just for a moment, I want you to imagine that you are in the business of selling pizza.  Now, it doesn’t matter whether you are Pizza Hut, Dominos, Eagleboys, or Pizza World…  you’re basically selling a commodity and the market looks fairly price conscious, doesn’t it?  The reason for that is simple – the consumer finds it hard to distinguish between your pizza and the next guy’s.

In your mind, you might think yours is better because your crust is thicker and you provide more toppings and value.  But in the eyes of the consumer, your pizza isn’t really worth much more than your competitor’s.  Why is that?

Even though you think there is a difference, in the eyes of your customer, there isn’t.  95% of what you and the next guy offer are essentially the exact same thing.  And as long as you keep operating in that zone with a marketing message that doesn’t stand out and stake a claim, you will continue to compete on price because your message forces your customer to think too hard and evaluate all the options.

So knowing this, what could you do differently?

In 1973, one company identified a way to stand out and grab market share in this highly competitive market.  It didn’t claim to have the best, the thickest crust or even the cheapest pizza, it just made you a promise that if you ordered from them, you would get it in 30 minutes or your pizza was free.  It was the most successful campaign in the history of the industry – for good reason.

Think about it, when you order a pizza, what is the #1 burning question that you have in the back of your mind? —– “I wonder when the pizza will get here?”

Dominos answered that question for you.  They didn’t offer fruit when all you really wanted was chocolate.  Their offer, which was different from everyone else’s, solved your #1 source of pain, didn’t make you think too hard and it triggered the part of your brain that decides and dials.

This is the power of Sales Seduction – understanding why your customer says YES and helping him to say YES to your product/service.  When you discover “what the chocolate is for your specific customers and prospects”, you will accelerate your sales process, close more business, trigger decisions and be able to charge a premium price for your product/service.

Spend some time today to identify how you might be offering fruit instead of chocolate and therefore, boring or overwhelming your prospects.  The key to offering what they really want, is in identifying the # 1 source of pain and proving that your solution will cure it today!

more customers

Do you already have more customers than you can handle?  I thought so.  I haven’t met a business owner yet who was willing to turn away more customers or sales.

So if you wanted to find more qualified leads and customers right now… how would you go about doing it?

Now, most of you have already begun to evaluate which marketing vehicle is going to be best:

  • Should you use social media?
  • What about a letterbox drop or telemarketing?
  • How about another ad in your local newspaper?

And truth be told, there are a hundred ways that you could get your name or brand out there.  But all of these would cost time or money and history has proven that most of the options that you have relied on to date will produce less than a 1-2% conversion rate.  That means there are an awful lot of people out there who will see your message and choose not to contact you, even though some of them may legitimately be in the market for your product or service.

Why is that?

You know (or least you suspect) that a large percentage of your sales/marketing budget is not effective and simply doing more of what you have always done (or what everyone else in the industry is doing) isn’t going to improve your results significantly.  If you want to influence with integrity, attract more customers and increase your sales exponentially, you need to re-think your entire approach and strategy.

Not now but in a moment, I would like to share with you a little story about how a very clever (and effective) salesman used some broken glass to communicate his point of difference and outsell every salesperson in his company…

But before I get to that, let me ask you one question – “have you ever come across one of those rare business owners who sells exceptionally well, even during the worst of times?”  These super salespeople sell like crazy — rain or shine — and they don’t experience slow days, weeks or months.  And what’s even more impressive – they make it look effortless, don’t they?

Do you know why?  Because it is easy for them – they have mastered the art of influencing with integrity and they don’t have to worry about closing techniques, reframing objections, rapport building or establishing their credibility.

Let me share with you a quick story that will explain exactly what I mean by influencing with integrity and how it can help you to achieve phenomenal results in your business.  In the 1970’s, Corning Glass introduced an innovative product, safety glass, into the North American market.

A young salesman with little experience joined the company shortly thereafter and began working his way up through the sales department at a feverish pace.  In very little time, this young man named Bill, became the top-selling salesman of safety glass in North America.  He stunned management with his rapid achievements and became known for refusing to use the standard templates and presentations that most of the other salesmen relied blindly upon.  At the national sales convention, he was given an award for his achievements and asked by the president to share his secret to sales.  Everyone seated in the room that night waited on the edge of their seats to discover just how this young man, with no prior sales experience, was able to outsell everyone.

To the president’s invitation, he replied humbly, “of course, it was simple.”

“First of all,” he confessed “I commissioned some samples of safety glass cut into 6” squares and I purchased a hammer and safety goggles.  Rather than boring my audience with small talk, a background summary or building up my credibility, I would simply walk into the room, greet my prospect and open with the question “Would you like to see a piece of glass that doesn’t shatter?”

And I never met a single one that turned me down.  In fact, they were all eager to take part in my little experiment and jumped at the chance to pull on the safety goggles, put the glass on the desk and whack it with the hammer.  They loved every minute of it and inevitably when they couldn’t break it, they would take the goggles off, sit back in their chairs and exclaim “’Holy smoke, that’s incredible!”

“Then I would simply say,” as Bill paused strategically and drew the adoring crowd in closer for more of his wisdom, “How much of it would you like?   And I’d pull out my order pad and start writing up the order.”

Well as you can imagine, Corning Glass was so impressed with this strategy that they equipped all of their salespeople with goggles, hammers and small sample sheets of glass.  They sent them out and found that the average closing rate shot up by almost 29%.  Now granted, this specific strategy is ideally tailored to work for selling safety glass and it’s not going to work (without some modifications) to get more customers to buy from you.

But my point (and what you need to take away from this example) is this:  The top salesman at Corning never had to “close” the sale, discount his price or resort to Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) techniques of matching and mirroring to create rapport.   His presentation cured the #1 source of pain for his prospects upfront, so there was no need for him to close, hard sell or waste anyone’s valuable time.  The sale was a done deal even before Bill pulled out his order pad.

Now, let me ask you:  How would your life change if you could attract more customers and close them that way everyday — where leads are drawn to you quickly and closing is just a formalitythat you no longer need to dread?

Surprisingly, the dilemma you face right now in attracting more customers has a whole lot more in common with Bill and his story than you might think. You and I say “Yes” to things every single day before we think them through. I want to share with you WHY that is and what compels you to decide and take action. And in the process you will also unlock the secret to transform your message into one your prospects are dying to say “yes” to.

Understanding Why Customers say “Yes”

While each of the distinct parts of your brain are constantly communicating with and influencing each other, each performs a very specific role. And as you might suspect, only one of them is responsible for decision making. Neuroscientists have now successfully mapped and measured which areas of the brain light up when stimuli are processed and decisions are made.

So when your prospect says, “I need to think about it,” we know that the part of the brain that your message is triggering is the new brain. This part of the brain lights up when you are processing words, numbers, colours, making spatial comparisons, or looking for data. In a nutshell, it THINKS and when it does so, it uses up tons of energy—which delays the decision making process.

Now thinking may not seem like a big deal to you but it is for your brain. Your brain consumes 25% of your body’s total energy. Because of this extraordinary consumption, your brain is hardwired to conserve energy when and where it can. One of the ways it does this is to NOT rely on the thinking part of your brain to make decisions. From a survival perspective, the brain doesn’t like to use more energy than it has to.  Therefore, if you can make it easier for your customer’s brain to grasp your message, process it quickly and decide, you are more likely to get a “Yes”.

If you want to drag out the process of getting to a decision, make sure that he uses his new brain.  Give your audience lots of words, numbers, graphs, lists of features and benefits, talk about your competition, and list all of your awards and accreditations—and your customer will NOT decide but he will do a whole lot of thinking and waste time.

So where do you decide?

At the top of your spinal cord, there is a collection of neurons—commonly referred to as the old (or reptilian) brain. All bodily functions that take place below the level of consciousness emanate from this part of your brain and it is the part of your brain that lights up when you DECIDE. In fact, it lights up before you have conscious awareness that you have even made a decision because it “sees” things as much as 500 milliseconds faster than the new brain.

In order to help your prospects use the least amount of brain energy and trigger a quick decision, you must stimulate and appeal to the old brain.  This part of the brain is primarily driven by visual cues and primitive instincts.  It is 45,000 times older than language and writing and neuroscience has proven that it struggles to process both.

In order to influence with integrity you need to learn how to trigger the old brain quickly so that when the thinking part of the brain kicks in, your prospect spends time looking for reasons to justify why he has already decided to buy from you – as opposed to reasons why he can’t or needs to think about it.

In order to do what Bill did naturally and help your prospects to say “Yes” (more quickly) to your product or service, you must first learn to speak the language of the reptilian brain. Without this skill, all of the other strategies and tactics that you have learned in your sales training so far are of no use to you.

And the best part about this is that you do not need to compromise your integrity or your ethics to improve your results. You don’t need to fall into the trap of feeling that you must hard sell your audience, make your message elaborate, spend more money putting it out there, or use tactics that are designed to trick people into deciding now.

Here are My Top 7 Secrets to Make This “Broken Glass” Strategy Work for You

  1. Quit Using Templates – Stop trying to find prospects with the template newspaper ads, letters, postcards and fridge magnets your competitors are using.  People do business with people they like and who are like them.  Connect with people and demonstrate you understand their pain and can solve it.
  2. Capture attention upfront – In order to stand out and be remembered, you need to open with a question, story, or picture that is relevant to your audience.
  3. Stop wasting time on you –   Never waste your time telling potential customers about you or your brand. 100% of your message should focus on your prospect and how your solution will cure her pain, keep her safe, or make her life better.
  4. A picture is worth 1000 words – Your brain is hardwired to process visual cues and act before you have time to think things through carefully.  If you want more customers sales, you need to get rid of words, graphs and statistics and demonstrate how their life will be better with your solution.
  5. Simplify your message –  The brain can only process and memorize 3 or 4 key points at a time.  If your message is more complex than that, it simply will not be remembered.
  6. Use stories to communicate your key points – Messages that cause your customers to reconnect with or rediscover strong emotions from their past and associate those with your solution, are 10x more likely to trigger the part of the brain that decides.
  7. Crank up the contrast – In order to trigger a decision quickly and increase sales, you must stand out. Your customer needs to feel the difference between your solution, your competitor’s solution, doing it themselves, or doing nothing.

These 7 steps will help you increase the effectiveness of your message and reduce the amount of time and money that you spend chasing more customers and sales.  When you make it easier for your prospects to see and grasp your message, they are more likely to decide and will appreciate the fact you have not wasted their time and energy on stuff that is important to you, but not them.


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