Category: personal branding

7 Non-obvious coronavirus implications for marketing

coronavirus implications for marketing

As of this writing, the world is teetering on coronavirus calamity. Entire countries are shutting down, economies are stalling, households are imperiled. There are a lot of obvious implications for consumption, travel, eCommerce, and advertising. But here are seven non-obvious implications for marketing I am considering right now:

1. Are relevant in this moment?

Please take a long, hard look at the goods and services provided by your business. If you are not absolutely relevant to the world as it is RIGHT NOW, simply putting your business online or holding a webinar isn’t going to help the situation.

This is the right now:

  • Many people are in, or will be entering, a state of shock and panic.
  • They are trying to figure out how to manage the kids at home and entertain them for hours on end. Unexpected time with kids produces new psychological and financial stresses.
  • They are isolated and bored.
  • Their routines are disrupted.
  • Thousands of people are being laid-off.
  • They are experiencing deep anxiety and even depression.
  • Important symbols of normal life — sports, festivals, concerts, conferences — are gone.
  • Millions of people no longer have viable businesses right now. They are losing their financial buffer quickly. For many people, the focus is making ends meet.
  • Our customers fear for what is next.

Here is a quote from The New York Times trying to capture the nation’s mood right now:

“This is life in a pandemic, when the emergence of the potentially fatal coronavirus has spawned strains of uncertainty: about the progression of the new virus, about the government’s response, about the open-ended nature of our altered lifestyles. About one another.

“The collective mind whirls. Will my mother in her quarantined nursing home be all right? Will my children get sick? Will there be enough hospital beds? Will we see the same high death rate as Italy’s? Do I just have a slight cold, or is it a sign of something else?

Now, that is our world and those are your customers. Ask this question with icy cold precision: “Does my business still matter in this environment?”

My guess is that for many of you, the answer is “no.”

I think this is among the most important coronavirus implications for marketing — your customers may not be interested in you right now no matter what you do. Working harder may not make a difference.

The world is sliding into a collective retreat, with tens of millions of people waiting for solutions to the problems caused by an invisible threat.

The next step is to dig deep and figure out what skills you can apply to the current situation and help find those solutions. How can you help people in an insanely helpful way with the resources at your disposal? I have some ideas below.

2. Safe, familiar, comfortable

In a time of unprecedented global stress, people will reach for the familiar to soothe themselves. As the psychological stress sets in, people will reach for comfort. Look for marketing opportunities in:

  • Baking, cookies, candy, and comfort food
  • Nostalgia
  • Blankets, pajamas, sweat pants
  • Comedy
  • Old television shows and movies
  • Hobbies
  • Anything that represents a small, affordable luxury that can be delivered to the home

Concerned about our ability to keep the pantry stocked if we become locked in, we’ve subscribed to a service that delivers ready-to-cook meals through the mail. An affordable luxury that solves a problem!

A grocery store in Canada is making special accommodations to keep seniors safe.

U-Haul is offering free storage for college students who are being suddenly displaced.

A Portland distillery is turning their waste alcohol into free hand sanitizer.

These are examples of businesses re-framing their services to provide comfort and safety.

3. Content babies

Somebody observed that with so many people locked in, we will probably have a big surge in children being born nine months from now! Well, I see a similar thing happening with content projects that have been on the backburner.

With more time at home, one of the coronavirus implications for marketing folks is that a lot of passion projects that were on hold — a book, podcast, or video series — will become a priority. Look for a swarm of significant new “content babies” in the next weeks and months.

I’m not telling you to NOT pursue your passion project, but I think this is probably the worst possible time to launch something new … because everybody will be launching something new. I would consider it this way:

  1. Is this core to my business (and if it is, why didn’t you do it before?)
  2. Is this sustainable once everything goes back to normal?
  3. Is this the best place to devote considerable resources right now?
  4. I am producing a product of substance or a product out of panic?

My friend Tom Webster of Edison Research studies podcast consumption trends and wrote this:

“I’ve seen people assume that podcast consumption will go up as we have all of this time at home. I wouldn’t make that assumption.

“COVID-19 represents a giant disruption in people’s patterns, and those patterns include how podcasts fit into their typical day, which for now doesn’t exist. If you used to listen to podcasts on your commute, well, many of us aren’t commuting. And while we now have all of this time at home, many of us (myself included) now unexpectedly have kids at home, which doesn’t exactly leave much time for podcasts.

“As we’ve seen with other significant world events and disasters, media patterns disrupt in unpredictable ways, like a snow globe being shaken up. 

4. Dressing down

As soon as the virus reality took hold, people were posting photos and videos saying “Look at me! I’m working from home!”

And they all looked … to put it politely … disheveled.

Working from home provides permission to not groom or wear makeup. To wear sweat pants and t-shirts. To celebrate unkempt. I recently posted an Instagram story about how I did not bathe that day. And it showed.

One of the coronavirus implications for marketing is that consumption of make-up, hair products, and grooming products luxury will take a big dive. But I wonder — coming out of this crisis, will there be some new fashion sensibility based on practicality and comfort? We were probably heading that direction anyway.

I just wonder if there is an opportunity here? What does the non-grooming market look like?

5. A desperate rush to produce

There are millions of speakers, meeting organizers, event planners, hospitality professionals, and consultants who suddenly, and dramatically, have no work.

Among my friends in this industry, there is outright panic right now. Survival mode is kicking in and there is a desperation to produce something — anything — that can be sold online.

Over the next few weeks, there will be an unprecedented number of online classes, webinars, and virtual conferences designed as patches for the problem.

We’ll be entering a period of online meeting overload. This will be very good for companies like Zoom and GoToMeeting!

So think through this carefully. The world is about to be inundated with classes, webinars, and online conferences. What is your role in a world of too much? How do you cut through this new clutter?

Another important thing to think through: People are accustomed to receiving content and webinars for free. With so many people suffering or out of work, will people pay for your content?

6. Explosion of innovation

As I was heading home on what will probably be my last airline flight for a very long time, I overheard a man on his phone. “We are going to have to re-think everything,” he said.


The beauty of our capitalist economy is its endless fortitude and inventiveness. When faced with business disaster, the most creative and competent will survive and thrive with new business models and services that will become part of a new post-virus way of life.

Pay close attention. In the next few weeks, people will combine online technologies in interesting new ways that will make you say, “Wow! I never thought of that.”

Don’t just use technology to do the same thing in a different way. Use technologies in creative new ways to dispense unique value.

7. Dispensing hope

Fear is contagious. So is hope.

One of my favorite leaders from the corporate world had a little sign on his desk that said “Leaders Dispense Hope.” He told me he thought this was the most important aspect of leading his organization.

A world of dramatic change and uncertainty will certainly spawn anxiety in an organization. It’s important to provide a steadfast vision and encouragement in that environment to get the most from your team. Being a great marketing leader might mean dispensing hope in the face of a constant hurricane.

I think being an effective leader in this environment means committing to a message of hope.

And with that, I’d like to share with you what is on my whiteboard today:

coronavirus implications for marketing

What I mean by “be the hand” is, don’t just “lend” a hand. Sometimes you have to BE the hand. You have to be the change.

The coronavirus implications for marketing professionals are daunting and scary. Be well and let’s stay connected. We’re all in this together.

Keynote speaker Mark SchaeferMark Schaefer is the chief blogger for this site, executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, and the author of several best-selling digital marketing books. He is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant.  The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world. Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

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Why “resonance” is the future of SEO

future of seo

One of the problems in the digital marketing world today is that leaders are using an outdated playbook — especially when it comes to Search Engine Optimization. I think the future of SEO is taking some pretty wild and unexpected turns right now so let’s explore that today.

Content as SEO fuel

The major innovation with SEO over the past few years is that it has largely become a content strategy. Beginning with the “inbound marketing” concept introduced by Hubspot in 2005 and growing into very sophisticated AI-driven techniques today, creating content that can auto-magically bring qualified leads to your site has been a reliable strategy.

But there are a few trends that are changing that and content certainly does not work for SEO like it used to. The future of SEO is moving in a dramatic new direction.

The changing search landscape

Let’s look at the future of SEO and content as it is unveiling itself through three significant trends.

First — voice search. When you search Alexa or Google home by verbalizing a question, you don’t get a list of content sugestions like blog posts or videos. You get an answer. So content has a much-diminished impact in the world of voice search.

It’s impossible to tell exactly how much of the total search pie is going to voice queries, but let’s be ultra-conservative and say 20 percent.

future of seo

When you ask Alexa or Siri to do something for you, you normally don’t get a list of blog posts or podcast episodes in the results. So the implication is that your content is potentially impacting much less of the search market than it did in the pre-voice days five years ago. But wait, it gets worse.

Trend number two — Last month, something very significant happened in the search world. For the first time, more than half (51 percent) of the search inquiries on Google were kept by Google. This means, Google kept the SEO “answers” away from businesses and content creators and directed them to their own knowledge panels, internal properties, and paid partnerships.

Will this continue to grow in the Google direction? The government will have some say over this. Google’s increasing dominance in this space is a subject of a Department of Justice probe. The company owns the dominant tool at every link in the complex chain between online publishers and advertisers, giving it unique power over the monetization of digital content.

So now we have a truer picture of the emerging search world. In the past five years, the majority of organic search traffic that was available to be attracted by your content has been in steady decline.

future of seo content in decline

The main idea here is, the available search inquiries that can be served by your SEO-oriented content has been evaporating over the past five years.

And when we look at the future of SEO … it gets even worse.

Trend three — While the piece of the pie available to organic search inquiries has been in rapid decline, the amount of content competing for that shrinking pie has literally exploded.

When you have more and more content competing for the same search traffic, eventually content marketing is not a sustainable strategy for some businesses. This is an idea I proposed some years ago called Content Shock.

future of seo content shock

This graph from WordPress shows the number of blog posts published each month since the beginning of the content marketing era. You don’t have to be a statistician to realize it’s harder to compete for attention in a world of 80 million blog posts every month compared to one million a month 10 years ago. In fact, your competition has increased by 8,000 percent in a few years. A tough world for an inbound marketer!

Of course, the same thing is happening on podcasts, visual content, and video (there are 300 hours of new video uploaded to YouTube every minute of the day!).

To break through in this environment, you need to either spend more money on quality to win the content arms race or spend more to promote your content. Either way, traditional content marketing becomes more expensive and less accessible for many businesses in this environment.

So is this the end of content marketing?


We just need to think about content and its benefits in an entirely different way.

SEO and the junkyard dogs

I was recently hired by a company in Seattle to conduct a personal branding workshop based on my book KNOWN.

When you think about it, this was an extremely unlikely pairing. If you search for “personal branding consultant,” there are 40 million results. Even if you search for “personal branding consultant Seattle” there are 2.1 million results.

I am not in those top search results. Not even close.

This is not an unusual situation for a small business. I am NEVER going to be in the top search results. Really, the only thing that matters is the top three slots. The top three slots will be won by the biggest, meanest, richest SEO junkyard dogs.

It’s an expensive and never-ending battle that I will never win for terms like “digital marketing consultant,” “marketing strategy, “keynote speaker,” or any of the other jobs that I do.

Chances are, unless you’re the junkyard dog in your industry, you won’t win your SEO battle either. And yet, every company I know is pouring money into content trying to win the SEO battle!

This just makes no sense.

But here I was in Seattle, conducting an awesome workshop. How did my client find me in all this hopeless SEO mess? Through my content. But not through search.

The business case for resonance

The night before my workshop, I had a wonderful seafood dinner with my client. I asked my friend … “Why did you hire me?”

“Your content resonates with me,” he said without hesitation.

Isn’t that an interesting word … resonates.

My content was not at the top of an SEO stack for personal branding. I’m certainly not going to make the Alexa hit parade.

But a person who hired me for this important work chose me because there was an emotional connection that resonated with him on a personal and professional level.

This reveals a more practical and realistic value of content in this competitive environment, and a value that is almost entirely overlooked by marketers today.

At this point, I would like to interrupt myself. Whenever I write a mega-trend blog post like this, I am pointing out an idea that is very broad … and it may not apply to everybody. There certainly is still room today for SEO-driven content, and there always will be as far out into the future as I can see. The numbers I’ve presented here are high level. The true search volume for your industry could result in mostly organic results, especially in smaller niche markets.

The answer to every marketing question is, “it depends,” and that is certainly true here.

But overall, SEO-driven content is probably working less well for most businesses and content that attracts customers due to its authority is becoming more important.

Content and authority

So there are really two basic content strategies you can use to win new business: Content meant to win SEO and content meant to earn authority (content that resonates with readers). And of course, you can have overlap between these strategies:

future of seo

I won the business in Seattle — against all SEO odds — because I ignored SEO. I write for my readers. If I do that well and consistently, I’ll earn subscribers. Eventually, these subscribers will grow to know me, trust me and hire me. I think that is the future of SEO, which is really not SEO at all!

It’s a different way to look at content strategy but for 90 percent of the businesses out there who will never win the SEO battle, content built on authority might be the best and only strategic option.

I’m not creating content to trick you into clicking a link. I am creating content that consistently connects with your hopes and dreams and business needs. I’m building a long-term connection that resonates.

Make sense?

Keynote speaker Mark SchaeferMark Schaefer is the chief blogger for this site, executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, and the author of several best-selling digital marketing books. He is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant.  The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world.  Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

Illustration courtesy 

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Should you self-publish a book or go with a traditional publisher?

self-publish a book

When I speak with hopeful new authors, this is by far the biggest question I receive. Should you self-publish a book … or try to get a contract with a publisher?

I’ve published three books through a traditional publisher and five books on my own so there is probably nobody with a more balanced perspective.

Spoiler Alert: My view is that it is almost always better to self-publish a book, especially if you’re a new author and today I’ll explain why.

Let’s look at the value a traditional publisher is SUPPOSED to bring to an author and the reality of self-publishing a book today.

Reality check

Perhaps the most intoxicating idea is that a big publisher will believe in your greatness, promote the heck out of your new book, and drive you to the top of the New York Times bestseller list.

Unless your name is Malcolm Gladwell or Stephen King, that ain’t gonna happen. In fact, for a first-time author, your publishing contract may require you to sell 5,000 books. It is excruciatingly hard to sell that many books and if you can do that, why do you need a publisher in the first place?

You probably won’t make it into a bookstore or airport if you self-publish a book (although it is possible) but who cares? Nobody goes to bookstores any more. As long as you can be found on Amazon, you’re OK.

As a new author, you’ll be able to market your book on your own better than any publisher. Here is an in-depth post I wrote about marketing a book on your own.

The economics when you self-publish a book

Another reason people want to go to a publisher is to have a chance to make the big bucks through massive book sales.

First, let’s level set. Last year, the finalists for the American Book Award had average sales of 3,000 books apiece. The best books. Almost no sales.

If you’re writing a book to make money, you will be massively disappointed. I can guarantee this.

However … there is hope.

If you get a publishing deal, you’ll receive a small advance which you’ll have to pay back from meager book sale profits. You’ll probably earn less than $2 per book.

If you self-publish a book through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), you’ll earn somewhere around $8 per book, maybe a little more on an audiobook. There’s no monetary advance on your work of course, but you don’t have to pay anything back either.

While the odds are against you making money on one book, you can begin to accrue some decent passive income by writing several books, especially if they are good enough to earn an audience.

I’ve written eight books and I could live off my self-published book income. But I’ve also spent more than a decade building an audience.

I should mention that there are hybrid publishing models out there — you pay money to have a company help you with the tasks of publishing a book — but these are pretty expensive. Remember, you’re not going to make money on a first book. So going with a hybrid model pretty much depends on how much money you’re willing to lose!

Editing and publishing

It takes work to self-publish a book. Tasks like:

  • Cover design
  • Interior design
  • Proof-reading and editing
  • Marketing

… require time and money.

But it’s also fairly easy to do. If you go through KDP, there are menu-driven options that walk you through every detail. You can have KDP help you on something like a cover design, or you can tackle these tasks yourself. There are so many wonderful freelance designers and editors around who can create a compelling cover and book design for very little money. I also have an independent audio editor who makes my audiobooks sing.

So, it’s not that hard. You can easily self-publish a paperback book through KDP for under $2,000 if you use your own local resources. Marketing the book is another expense that can vary widely depending on how committed and creative you are!

Bottom line, it does not have to break the bank to produce a beautiful book. My last five books were self-published and in terms of quality, I’ll stack them up against anything else out there.

Another advantage: Once you turn a final manuscript into a publisher, you won’t see a finished book for nine months or more. If you self-publish, you can have a finished book in your hands in about a week. That’s significant.

Here is an in-depth post on the process I use to publish my own book.

Owning your IP

In 2010, I decided to self-publish my first book, The Tao of Twitter. It ended up becoming a wonderful success and the best-selling book on Twitter.

Two years later, the giant New York publisher McGraw-Hill offered to buy the rights to my book. I had a monster hit through them with Return On Influence, the first book ever written on influencer marketing, and they wanted to represent my first book, too.

At the time, I thought it made sense to have all of my books in the same house, so I agreed. My self-published Twitter book became a McGraw-Hill property, even though moving away from the self-published book meant my profits would shrink to almost nothing.

As the Twitter platform evolved, the Tao book was updated through new editions. But in 2016, McGraw-Hill refused to publish any more updates. They were de-emphasizing business book publishing and decided to let the book slowly die.

I worked for two years to get the rights to the book back and update the book with a new, self-published edition. I’m the only author I know who has pulled a book back from a traditional publisher to self-publish. And I’m selling more books and making more money that way! I was also free to make a new audiobook edition.

The important lesson is — Your book is an important part of your brand and valuable intellectual property. Why would you give that up to another company?

A side note: When I found an error in one of my McGraw-Hill books and asked them to correct it, I was told this was impossible until a second edition came out (which could be years away — if ever!). Through self-publishing, I can correct any error or make an update in one day.

Power over pricing

Let’s go back to the Tao of Twitter example for a moment. When I first moved my book to McGraw-Hill, the publisher made a huge mistake — they priced the book two dollars lower than what I had agreed to.

No problem — Just call up Amazon and change it, right?


Amazon has so much control over the mainstream publishers they are severely limited in their ability to change prices. The publisher could not raise the price on my book!

As a self-published author, I can log-in to KDP and change the price any time I want. That’s right. I have more power over pricing on Amazon than a giant New York City publisher!

How can this advantage work for you?

  • When I introduced my first self-published book, I priced it very low to get it into people’s hands. Then, month by month as the book sales picked up, I raised the price and my profits.
  • I can lower the price of my books for a while to have a “sale.”
  • I’ve even lowered the price on Amazon for two days on one of my books to allow somebody overseas place a special order.

Self-publish a book for extra income potential

There is a massive advantage with self-published books that most authors don’t think about — the flexibility you have with no inventory and a low cost to acquire books directly from KDP.

When you self-publish, there is no minimum inventory. Whether you buy one book or 1,000 books, the price per book is about $2.50 and you’ll normally receive the books in less than a week.

So, if you’re at an event and want to sell books, you can quickly acquire a cheap supply. If I wanted a supply of my McGraw-Hill books, I would have to order them at the same price as you from Amazon! Isn’t that crazy? The author can’t buy their own books at a discount.

Many times, an event might have limited funds to hire me as a speaker but book purchases come from another budget. More than 15 percent of my total book sales come from speaking events.

So look, even if you never sell one book to the public, you can still make money on your book through event sales. Through KDP, I can order the quantity I need and have it shipped directly to the speaking site.

And having direct control of my book allows me to negotiate translation deals in other countries. For example, my book KNOWN attracted a $20,000 deal from a Japanese publisher and I also get a percent of the book sales.

Self-publishing brings you unlimited opportunity and flexibility to get the most benefit out of your hard work.

The issue of ego when you self-publish a book

At this point, you’re probably wondering why anybody would ever go through a traditional publisher. There is only one reason I can think of.


Some people think it is a negative to self-publish, or seek the “glamour” that comes with having a book contract.

But how many people know or care I self-published my last five books? Nobody.

Nobody knows.

Nobody cares.

Whatever small incentives might come from a traditional publisher, they are completely overwhelmed by the flexibility, profitability, and creative freedom that comes from self-publishing a book.

No matter where your writing path leads you, I wish you good luck on your publishing journey!

Keynote speaker Mark SchaeferMark Schaefer is the chief blogger for this site, executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, and the author of several best-selling digital marketing books. He is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant.  The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world.  Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

Illustration courtesy 

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An alternate view: The real influencer scam

influencer scam

Recently Seth Godin wrote a post that received a ton of commentary on the social media stream: “The real scam of influencers.”  But there is no influencer scam at all.

The premise of his article: Seeking popularity on the web is not a sustainable business model. Instead, we should focus on meaningful work instead of signals of personal popularity like “likes.”

Highlights from his post:

“There are tens of thousands of humans spending their days trying to be popular on Instagram, buying outfits, wearing hats and seeking their version of cute. People from all backgrounds and genders, hoping to be the next Kardashian.

“The lessons of the high school lunch table run deep.

“Part of the scam is that the pyramid scheme of attention will somehow pay off for a lot of people. It won’t. It can’t. The math doesn’t hold up. Someone is going to win a lottery, but it probably won’t be us.

“And a bigger part is that the things you need to do to be popular (the only metric the platforms share) aren’t the things you’d be doing if you were trying to be effective, or grounded, or proud of the work you’re doing.”

The post appeals to our sense of personal pride in believing that meaningful work matters — not these lightweight Instagram stars.

But Seth’s view reflects an attitude that is deeply out of touch with both scientific and cultural reality.

Popularity does not work for me. However …

Before I lay out a case for why Seth’s post on the influencer scam is out of touch, let me say that I completely empathize with him.

I will judge from his post that Seth might not have been the most popular kid at the “high school lunch table.” I wasn’t either. I wasn’t the star athlete, or the star anything. In my teen years I shuttled from school to school and was usually lonely and lost.

And like Seth, I haven’t played the internet popularity game. If I am popular in any way, it is probably based on the merit of my work. I’m a terrible networker and I would rather engage in an interesting discussion over dinner with friends than sucking up to people who can propel my reputation.

But there is one unavoidable, undeniable, deep-rooted, scientific truth that Seth is denying.

Popularity matters. A lot.

The mystery of the star executive

When I was in corporate sales, I once had a colleague who was enormously popular. Jim had been a star college athlete and, even into his 40s, he maintained his trim, muscular look. He was strikingly handsome with piercing green eyes and he was always generous with his time, counsel, and helpful spirit.

Jim was so incredibly popular that it was not uncommon for our customers to invite him to their weddings and personal family gatherings. Unheard of!

If the company ever had a customer hot spot, they would normally send in my friend Jim to ease the tensions. Nobody could be mad at him.

Because he was so deeply beloved, he rose quickly through the company ranks. At an incredibly young age, he was placed in a top marketing job overseeing our business unit’s growth in Asia.

And … he bombed.

Nobody could figure it out. He was an acknowledged superstar. But he could not adjust to this new promotion.

His long-time boss asked me for my view over dinner one night. What was going on? Jim was being groomed for the C-suite and had just stalled. What should he do?

I asked him: “Is Jim smart?”

His face twisted up a bit. He thought for a very long time and answered: “I don’t know.”

Isn’t that amazing? My friend had worked closely with Jim for 10 years and didn’t know if he was smart!

But that was the problem — and the opportunity. Jim was suddenly put into a job where you HAD to be smart. He was in an analytical marketing position and was DYING. But if you put him back in a career based on relationships, he would fly again.

The truth is, Jim had soared up the company ladder for just one reason. He was popular.

It’s in our DNA

This is the truth of our world. Popular people get ahead. Maybe Seth doesn’t think that is fair. Maybe I don’t think it’s fair. DO THE WORK!

But alas … popularity does matter and there is an overwhelming amount of research out there to support this truth.

Here is a Scientific American quote from a researcher that frames the problem with Seth’s argument:

“Research findings suggest that even 40 years later, we can predict who will graduate from high school or college, who will succeed at work, who will apply for welfare or social services, and who may suffer from debilitating mental health difficulties or addictions — all by knowing how popular folks were in high school.

“Our popularity even predicts our physical health. Those who were least popular in childhood are more likely to have cardiovascular and metabolic illnesses decades later than those who were well liked.”

Yup. Popularity is a big, big deal in this world. It’s not an “influencer scam.” It’s science.

We may think that getting ahead is not a popularity contest, but in many cases, it is … more than ever.

The weaponization of popularity

As one of the folks who was NOT one of the cool kids in high school, the reality of popularity and social media influencers seems unfair. Like Seth, I wish the world were a meritocracy.

But we can’t operate in a world that we wish for. We have to operate in a world that is. And this world rewards popularity. Period. There is just no debate about it.

The social media equivalents of the high school quarterback, Homecoming Queen, and class clown have found a way to scale their popularity and weaponize it as “influencers.” Why wouldn’t they? There are obvious lifetime rewards from being popular so why not amp it up for a profit? That seems smart to me.

From an intellectual perspective, this idea may seem shallow or even creepy, but the hard, cold fact is, these influencers sell shit. They sell shit like crazy.

In high school, we copied the fashion statement of the top jock and the head cheerleader. We still do. We always will.

My job as a marketer is to sell shit. If these people can sell shit for me, I want in.

An influencer scam? Check your emotions at the door

To win in business, you have to be open-minded about every sort of technological and cultural change. You have to constantly adapt and adopt.

In some cases — like the acceptance that the popular kids can sell shit — we have to check our emotions at the door and force ourselves to see the real world, even if it’s icky.

Thankfully, you do not have to be popular to win in this world. Sure, the internet has rewarded the gorgeous and the goofy, but it has also rewarded hard-working geeks like me and Seth Godin. Amen. What a great time to be alive!

But as a rational business professional, we have to recognize that there are LOTS of ways to make money on the web, lots of ways to create that singular emotional connection between our company and our customers. There is no influencer scam. There are just people who are different from me who appeal to people based on their personality. Cool.

We can do the work. We can be popular. It all works. Embrace reality. Embrace diversity.

Make sense?

Keynote speaker Mark SchaeferMark Schaefer is the chief blogger for this site and certainly not the most popular guy. However, he’s the author of several best-selling digital marketing books. He is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant.  The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world. Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

Illustration courtesy

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The one (and only) key factor in monetizing a personal brand

monetizing a personal brand

Many years ago, I had an opportunity to hang out with The Black Keys and I learned the most important lesson of my life about monetizing a personal brand.

First of all, if you’re not familiar with The Black Keys, go check out this band. They are such a fun, raw and bluesy rock act … and one of my favorites!

monetizing a personal brand black keys

But back to the story.

When I got to meet The Black Keys, they were not playing stadiums and arenas like they are now. They were playing clubs that might hold 1,000 people. But they were definitely moving up. They seemed to have a tremendous amount of momentum and had just recorded a huge album with the famous producer Danger Mouse.

I asked Patrick Carney, the drummer for the group, what their pivot point had been. What was the one event or moment that seemed to boost their trajectory to the big time? This was a vital question for me as I was in the process of building my own personal brand. I was no rock band, and I’ve never had an intent to play arenas, but I was trying to be “known” in the digital marketing business.

His answer surprised me.

Slow and steady

“There was no singular event,” he said. “We just keep making steady progress. Each album does a little better than the last one. You just keep moving forward, building your audience one show at a time.”

If you look at the band’s career this certainly played out. The next time I saw the Black Keys, they were playing in front of 3,000 people at an amphitheater in Columbus and a few years later they were filling arenas like Madison Square Garden. Today they are one of the biggest rock acts in the world.

So what does this mean to you and me?

The myth of viral

As I look at the people who are making in the digital/social media space, there is not one person who was “an overnight success.” Social media pioneer Chris Brogan once famously said that it took him three years to get his first 100 blog readers. A few years later, he was the leading speaker in the business.

There is too much attention placed on the hope of “going viral.” I have had several articles go viral, achieving thousands of shares, likes, and comments. Here is how it helped my business: zip.

Here is a chart depicting the number of subscribers to my blog since 2013 (and I actually began blogging in 2009):


Slow and steady. Each year is a little better than the next. Just like The Black Keys.

The trendline for my podcast downloads looks the same way.

Whether you’re a band or a blogger, it’s highly unlikely you’re going to experience a “big boom” that puts you on a path of fame and fortune. You just establish your voice, create that content, and keep grinding it out, year after year.

By the way, my most “viral” article (Content Shock) was published in early January 2014. Look at the graph to see the impact it had on my subscribers — nothing! There is no substitute for determined, steady progress.

Eventually, if you work hard and stick with it, you can gain enough critical mass to monetize an audience.

I didn’t have a paying sponsor for my Marketing Companion podcast until year three. I didn’t make noticeable money on my books until my fifth publication, The Content Code, in year six of my “second career.” I struggled for three years before I was getting speaking gigs that paid meaningful money.

There is no quick shortcut to building a personal brand.

An audience that matters

Monetizing a personal brand depends on just one thing.

Are you ready for this?

You have to build a sizable audience that cares about you. An audience that matters. That just can’t happen overnight.

I do a lot of one-on-one coaching in this space and this issue is by far the biggest misconception people have about building a personal brand.

People who hire me often need money NOW and they want to know how to make money through their blogging or podcasting in a matter of weeks or months.

Can’t happen.

It takes years. In fact, you need to adopt a three-year mindset to achieve meaningful success with your personal brand.

In my popular book KNOWN: The handbook for building and unleashing your personal brand in the digital age, I include a lot of research that backs up this idea of slow and steady. I plot out a four-step process to build your personal brand, but on average, it took about two and a half years for the successful people I profiled in the book to create a personal brand that “tips.”

In my interviews for KNOWN, I asked people successful in a wide range of industries what made them different. The words I heard were “tenacity,” “persistence,” and “resilience.”

Monetizing a personal brand

I don’t want to dissuade you or depress you, but I needed to provide a realistic view of your path to personal branding success.

Here are the facts about personal branding today:

  • In many cases, the personal brand IS the corporate brand.
  • A personal brand is transferrable between careers and can offer sustainable competitive advantage.
  • A meaningful personal brand can be a hedge against economic downturns.
  • Standing out as a personality may be the only thing that saves you in a world of automation.
  • Monetizing a personal brand can lead to deep fulfillment and a rewarding career.

So this is important! But you have to take that first step, and above all, you have to be patient about building that audience who loves you.

Make sense?

Keynote speaker Mark SchaeferMark Schaefer is the chief blogger for this site, executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, and the author of several best-selling digital marketing books. He is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant.  The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world.  Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

Illustration courtesy Photo of Black Keys courtesy Flickr Creative Commons

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How to be business cool while networking at a social event

networking at a social event

By Mars Dorian, {grow} Contributing Columnist

Last week I attended a secret Christmas artist party on the distant outskirts of Berlin. The invite-only event was located in a garden colony, inside a former workshop for heavy machinery. The event was a Who’s Who of Berlin’s fine artists.

I went to the event for three reasons:

  • The organizer was a sculptor with whom I had co-exhibited two months earlier
  • I was hungry like hell and knew the event would feature a giant buffet
  • I wanted to meet previous customers of my art and hook potential buyers

This was a great opportunity to do some networking at a social event — but how to remain cool and appropriate while doing it? I’ll let you know how it went for me and share my lessons. 

By the way, this post features a dynamite-equipped Santa Claus so do read on…

A sample is worth a hundred sentences

Guests at social events, even art parties, are not interested in hour-long conversations. They want to talk to many other people so you want to hook them ASAP. And samples are the grappling hook snapping instant attention.

In my case, being a cartoonist, I always flip open my Instagram feed which acts as my art portfolio.

So in the main hall of the art party, I showed a real estate guy all my artworks tagged with Berlin keywords while explaining the thoughts behind each creation.

I’ve also seen a sculptor carrying an art catalog with his recent work. Every time he showed his cartoonish horse and people figures, he pulled a small crowd. He would have never enticed folks by just talking about his creations.

But you don’t have to be a visual creator to hook folks at a social networking event.

Two years ago, I attended a freelance networking event in Berlin.

There, a translator carried a small flipbook which featured bite-sized English and German samples of his work. And since he specialized in translating works dealing with sustainability and social enterprise, his flipbook and logo were dark green, printed on recycled paper.

What a great idea to hook folks at an event while staying true to your brand!

Bypass their auto-pilot mode

You probably have witnessed it countless times:

Two strangers at a social networking event try to small talk. To break the awkward silence, they unleash the dreaded “so what do you do” question.


It’s the quintessential generic question and thus triggers generic responses. They are often low-energy, and try building engagement with low-energy exchanges.

You want to engage the other person by triggering their expertise and passion.

When I learned about the real estate guy constructing private flats in Berlin, I didn’t ask him any generic follow-up questions.

Instead, I wanted to know what he thought of the government’s new rent regulation laws which dramatically impacts how real estate works in the capital.

Within seconds, the guy ranted with passion, calling out specific politicians, explaining how this or that regulation was blowing up prices per square meter and complicated his business.

After his rant was over and rapport was established, he focused 98% on me.

Listen, it’s not the BEST idea to make your conversation partner rant. But a specific question aimed at their passion and expertise is so much better than lame questions they probably answer a dozen times at the same event.

You want to elevate them from a low-energy to a high-energy state so engagement can happen.

Bridging gaps when interests are opposite

During the initial phase of the conversation with the real estate guy, I realized he carried no interest in a cartoon or comic art, which was my flaming passion.

Bummer? Nah.

After having learned about his passion for urban planning, Berlin and its history, I knew I could reframe my art, making it more tasty to him.

I told him about my style which I dubbed Urban Cartoon Art, and how my characters were manifestations of the city:

  • Hipster Unicorns, partying in the infamous Berghain club
  • start-up yuppies wearing smart clothes spammed with social media ads
  • pensive street artists with elven ears, ruminating about life

All these creations were inspired by Berlin’s city vibes, which piqued the real estate guy’s interest. I also told him about my last exhibition inside a hall that used to be a military horse ban during the German Empire era.

Soon, the real estate guy started asking me specific questions about style and ideas. After fifteen or twenty minutes of passionate talking, he even ended up buying a limited art print he saw on my Instagram feed.



Small-talk at social and networking events can be a treasure hunt. By showing samples of your work, asking specific, expertise-related questions and linking them to your offer, you can make great connections and deals happen.

Mars Dorian is an illustrating designer and storyteller. He crafts words and pictures that help clients stand out online and reach their customers. You can find his homebase at and connect with him on Twitter @marsdorian.

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All the cool kids are on TikTok. Here’s a plan for you and your business!


TikTok seems to be everywhere in the social media conversation … and with good reason. Today, let’s take a rational view of this fascinating platform and its role in building a personal brand and a digital foothold for your business.

TikTok is significant because it seems to be emerging as a “homeroom” for a generation. One of the interesting things about the evolution of social media is how the platforms are stratifying by age groups:

  • The only demographic growing on Facebook is 55+
  • LinkedIn is the place for business professionals
  • Snapchat is dominated by 18-to-30-year-olds.
  • Gen Z (people under 20) seem to be adopting TikTok as their social media homeroom.

I suppose some day the generation after Z will view TikTok as quaint and seek their own place. So we need to watch for that!

But for now, TikTok is the center of the social media marketing conversation.

Like any social media platform, TikTok is diverse and hard to describe in a sentence or two, but in general, it is primarily kids making humorous (and at times angsty) short video clips to earn likes and attention. TikTok is an exuberant celebration of youthful fun.

TikTok launched in China in late 2016 (where it is known as Douyin) and has gone international within the past two years. The app is currently the most downloaded social media app in the U.S. and its growth in the US quadrupled in just one year, according to comScore. So, as a marketer, this demands your attention.

Should you be there, too? Let’s look at TikTok from 1) a personal standpoint and 2) from a business standpoint.

TikTok in context

One of the interesting facts is that increasingly, non-teens are adopting the platform.


We see in the chart below that the age group with the largest number of unique visitors is 18-24-year-olds (3.7 million), which accounts for just over one-quarter (25.8 percent) of the total US adult visitors. Another one-quarter (25 percent) of the visitors aged 18 and older fell into the 25-34 age group.

tiktok income

However, these charts are missing something important. Neither chart accounts for users under the age of 18 … and that is a primary audience for TikTok. 

The significance of TikTok and the thesis of this article depends on the fact that this is a channel that is driven primarily by young people … even children. So let’s dig a little deeper. It was tough finding research that dives below the 18-year-old standard but here’s what I found:

tik tok demographics

Ah-ha! We see that about 40 percent of the entire population on TikTok is under 20 and 66 percent is under 30.

Conclusion one: TikTok is primarily populated by children and young adults.

The second question is: Who is CREATING content on TikTok? There is absolutely no data available on this so I did my own little experiment. I simply watched 200 straight videos in a random feed and recorded my estimate:

tiktok creators

This is not a scientific survey, but it’s probably a good indicator that almost all the content on TikTok is coming from teens and people in their 20s.

By the way … there were three celebrities on here that I did not include in the sample: Will Smith, Bob Saget, and chef Gordon Ramsey. I think that is sort of special category.

By the way, in my 200-video-jaunt, there were no ads shown to me. Currently, TikTok is rolling out sponsored video projects but I didn’t see an ad, which made the user experience really enjoyable.

So although the number of adults signing up to TikTok is on the rise, they’re not participating much. Perhaps this replicates the earlier Snapchat trend when adults pressed onto the channel out of curiosity and then dumped it when they didn’t fit in. Or maybe it’s marketers climbing on board to take a look. But the bottom line is, TikTok culture is for children and young adults.

Why is it important to establish this context? Because it’s going to dictate your personal and business strategy …

The personal brand on TikTok

So, should you be there? Is it a place to build a personal brand?

If you’re under 30 — sure. If you’re older than that — not so sure.

TikTok is a place where kids and young adults have fun. They’re posing, pranking, lip-synching, and doing dance challenges.

I think everybody should check it out. You never know. Maybe you’ll fall in love with it.

But from a personal standpoint, I can’t help but think as a 50-something, my presence on TikTok would be … invasive.

I mean, what does it feel like to scroll through dozens of videos of 13-year-olds lip-synching in their bedroom and then come across this:

gary v on tiktok

Despite the really cool cap, this just seems creepy to me. It screams “What am I doing here?”

I’m picking on Gary Vaynerchuk because he has recently been advocating that everybody pile on to TikTok. Like I said, go try it. But just because you can … doesn’t mean you should. Maybe we should just let the kids alone and let them have fun without us ruining it.

The problem with (most) adults inserting themselves into a place like TikTok is that they probably won’t be native to the platform.

It’s sort of like an Eskimo showing up on a tropical beach. You’d stare and wonder what’s wrong.


Digital Natives can sniff out a fake in a heartbeat. You only belong on TikTok (or anywhere) if you can be relevant in a way that is organic to the platform.

There is certainly a guru-led charge to TikTok. In the coming months, you’ll see tons of advice urging you to pile on … but that doesn’t mean they’re right. Marketers flock to the next cool thing until they ruin it. Why participate in that?

Here’s a more rational view of how a business can approach this platform.

The business case for TikTok

If you’re in marketing for a business, you should be as familiar with TikTok as Twitter. Get on there, look around, read everything you can about it.

I’m on TikTok to learn and laugh a little, not to grow an audience of 15-year-olds or become a junior high dance champion (although I suppose that might be entertaining now that I think about it).

Snapchat has become the communication hub for under-30s and I think that same, strong emotional connection is forming between TikTok and teens. So perhaps this is a platform that has lasting power.

TikTok’s growth is impressive and promising, but it’s not time to overhaul your marketing strategy just yet. TikTok is still quite small compared to the giants of social media and users can be notoriously fickle —  what’s hot one day might not be the next. There are data privacy concerns to be aware of, as well as concerns because the data-collecting company is Chinese-owned.

So for now, how should we rationally approach TikTok from a business standpoint?

1. Go Native

We went through this same cycle with Snapchat. Everybody piled on in a frenzy … and then a few brands figured out a relevant way to participate in the channel:

  • Account take-overs with people who belong on the platform
  • Partnering with native influencers to create sponsored content
  • Appropriate channel-specific advertising
  • Relevant stories and channels that align with the youth-oriented audience

The same thing will happen with TikTok. We’ll figure it out eventually because of the obvious commercial opportunity.

Several large companies are already starting to experiment with co-created promotions on the app. Most of these promotions take advantage of TikTok’s “challenge” concept by creating their own challenges and even providing new music clips for users to interact with and make their own.

For instance, McDonald’s worked directly with TikTok to create a contest called the #BigMacTikTok Challenge.  To enter, TikTok users would dance to one of many pre-recorded music clips that were uploaded to the service. After creating the video, users were required to submit their entry via the official McDonald’s mobile app. All entries won a free Big Mac and a few winners danced away with cash prizes.

That’s a great example of how a brand can join in with the fun in an organic way and reward great creative work.

2. Cool hunter

The most exciting thing to me is that the next big trends are percolating on TikTok. This is a hotbed for viral. TikTok could become the epicenter of pop culture coolness.

What’s the next popular fashion accessory, hairstyle. or video trend? It’s probably coming from the cool kids on TikTok. If your brand depends on cultural relevance, a steady diet of TikTok is required!

I could see spin-offs — TikTok-based television shows, commercials, and other relevant content coming in our future.

I think it’s only a matter of time before there are live and televised TikTok competitions — teams get an original piece of music and then a limited time to create a team dance routine. This would also be a great sponsorship opportunity!

3. The next creators/influencers

One of the things that is so fun about TikTok is that it’s an incredible creative platform. It forces kids to get wild and crazy to stand out. High schools are even forming TikTok clubs to enable collaboration on short creative videos. How cool is that!

I saw this one funny video on TikTok. As a young lady awkwardly dances around her room, she writes “I can’t dance. I can’t sing. I’m not funny. The only thing I do well is drink wine.”

The point is, building and sustaining an audience on TikTok requires an enormous amount of talent and consistent creative effort. The emerging TikTok stars will be the next generation of influencers and creators — The new media stars, artists, movie directors, and celebrities. Predictably, there is already a wave of sponsored content hitting the TikTok airwaves.

Recently, TikTok began rolling out two new features that allow influencers to add links in their videos to eCommerce sites (similar to Instagram’s “swipe up” feature in Stories), along with the ability to place URLs within a profile page.

If you’re in the business of identifying and connecting to youthful influencers, this is the place to be.

4. Advertising/sponsored content

In early 2019 TikTok began to roll out several brand advertising opportunities.

Brands like Chipotle have had MASSIVE success with its #GuacDance Challenge paid program on TikTok.

In perhaps the largest US branding effort to date, TikTok announced a multiyear partnership with the NFL that will allow third-party brands to sponsor content on the NFL’s TikTok account. The NFL also hopes to generate user engagement by inviting fans to create TikTok-centric content to support their favorite teams and players.

Like every social platform, TikTok will have to monetize through sponsored content while providing user experiences that seem organic and native to the culture of the platform.

5. Cultural Relevance

TikTok users spend an average of 52 minutes a day on the platform.


Even though it’s still small, TikTok is mighty! If your target demographic is under 30, you simply must be exploring ways to create a meaningful presence on the network.

If you want your brand to be relevant to the next generation of consumers, you probably need to be there. Mainstream brands like Macy’s, the supermarket chain Kroger, and WalMart have already started to create a relevant brand presence on TikTok.

And finally …

I want to emphasize that I’m not telling you what to do, and I never do.  You are an experienced marketing professional and you can make your own decisions. I just want to provide a rational business perspective to the best of my ability in a world of relentless hype.

I hope you’ll make appropriate decisions led by common sense, strategy, and data … not based on the hype of social media gurus.

Make sense?

Now, you’ll have to excuse me. I have to go practice my dance moves for the next challenge!

Keynote speaker Mark SchaeferMark Schaefer is the chief blogger for this site, executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, and the author of several best-selling digital marketing books. He is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant.  The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world.  Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

Illustrations marked safe for re-use by, Google.

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If marketing is essential, why are marketing jobs going away?

marketing jobs

Marketing jobs are in decline and, on the surface, it might be hard to understand why.

I studied for three years under the famous management guru Peter Drucker and one of his most beloved quotes is:

“Because the purpose of business is to create a customer, the business enterprise has two – and only two – basic functions: marketing and innovation. Marketing and innovation produce results; all the rest are costs.”

I happen to believe Dr. Drucker and I believe in this vision.

If you don’t have customers, you don’t have a business. If you don’t have innovation, you can’t retain those customers.

So, if marketing is “the distinguishing, unique function of the business,” why are so many important marketing jobs going away?

Marketing jobs in decline

In a new report, Forrester reports that the CMO position is under attack.

In an annual forecast, the consulting firm points to the elimination of the CMO position at dozens of high-profile brands, including Johnson & Johnson, Kellogg’s, Taco Bell, McDonald’s, Netflix, and Walmart. It also cites the 20-year-old transition to digital as the key force behind the transformation of marketing jobs from brand-builders to data-focused, short-term revenue drivers.

  • Following the elimination of the CMO role at a number of large organizations this year, the remaining marketing chiefs will find themselves in a “desperate fight for survival.” The key to survival will be establishing control over the customer experience in order to provide short-term value.
  • Successful CMOs will no longer be exclusively focused on marketing but will be centrally responsible for “customer obsession” by expanding their control to customer experience, company values, brand innovation, and employee experience.
  • The key marketing task, says the report, is aligning resources so that brand value can be generated and delivered quickly to customers.

What’s going on here?

There are lots of factors behind this “desperate fight for survival,” but chief among them is a disconnect between the traditional expectations of marketing and the new reality.

This is precisely the chasm I described in my Marketing Rebellion book. At most companies, the vision for marketing is completely out of whack with the consumer reality. This is not an easy problem to solve.

The C-suite leaders at most companies are asleep and they don’t know they’re asleep. In fact, most companies are going through a “transformation” on every piece of their business except marketing. The marketing transformation is NOT going to come from buying more technology. It will come as a mindset change and a realization that the customers are in control — the customer is the marketing department.

Businesses must eventually replace their ideas of what drives consumer action with a new and expanded view of their customer expectations, taking into account how the media environment has changed those expectations as well as the value consumers now seek from brands (transparency, purpose, alignment with values).

Marketing must transition from being the “creators of messages” to the “owners and sustainers of the experience.” This requires decoupling marketing from the product (gasp!) and viewing its function as a  long-term pathway to growth, not just a mechanism to boost quarterly sales.

Let’s talk about marketing jobs …

In the new episode of The Marketing Companion, Brooke Sellas and I explore this vital issue. If marketing leaders are in a desperate fight for survival, what can be done about it?

We discuss the megatrends that present an existential crisis for the marketing function:

  • Working toward short-term quarterly goals instead of long-term brand-building
  • Focus on messaging instead of experiences
  • Lack of awareness of fundamental consumer shifts (or an unwillingness to address them)
  • A preoccupation with recession preparedness that may hurt marketing
  • An unmet need to consolidate all customer experiences behind the marketing function

This is one of our most interesting episodes ever!. And it gets even better when we blow the top off this new influencer trend of “sad fishing.” Since when is “anxiety” an engagement strategy? You have to hear this one!

And it all starts with a click:

Click on this link to listen to Episode 176

Other ways to enjoy our podcast

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Many thanks to our friend Scott Monty for the awesome show intro. Be sure to check out his introspective newsletter Timeless & Timely, where he covers the latest trends and the oldest principles.

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The remarkable challenge of owning your power

owning your power

This Instagram post — There’s a story here.  But first … Laura.

I’ve known Laura McKowen for nearly 10 years. She has been very open about her struggles through life. She is an alcoholic who has been sober since 2014. She has talked about her life in explicit detail and now helps support others through their addictions.

Laura is a wonderful writer and the author of We Are the Luckiest: The Surprising Magic of a Sober Life. She is a podcaster, speaker, mother.

She’s also a role model for me in that she really pushes the boundaries or self-disclosure. It’s not easy for me to share stuff about my life. And yet I know that telling my stories helps connect me to others in a special way, as Laura shows every day.

Which brings us to the Instagram post at the top of this article.

If you’re viewing this on a mobile device, it’s probably hard for you to read the words, so here they are:

This girl. Her. I am so fucking proud of her. You know?

On many levels, this is awesome. Laura has lived through a lot of pain, even humiliation. And here she is, standing before us telling us that she has transcended her darkness. She is standing in the light of her new life, forgiving herself and owning her power.

Some people fuss over selfies. But this photo looks sort of random. The day is gray, the background is concrete, the weather is probably chilly based on her coat. Laura is not posing or showing off at an Instagram-worthy destination. She is just smiling and telling us that she rocks. Which, she does.

And the whole thing made me feel unsettled.

Owning your power

There is another comment on this Instagram post, and it is from me. For my mobile viewers, it says this:

Very touched by this. Would be hard for me to say this and I don’t know why.

I would never compare my life to Laura’s (or anybody’s) but I’ve also been through a lot, transcended a lot. About 13 years ago, on a scale of 1 to 10, my life was a negative 5.

But I survived and re-invented myself. The re-invention is ongoing — before your eyes on this blog. I have a long way to go but I have accomplished a lot, too.

  • I’ve become a successful keynote speaker and am normally the highest-rated speaker at any event.
  • People love my books.
  • The Marketing Companion podcast is at the top of the charts.
  • Financially I’m strong, my family relationships are solid, I live in a beautiful place, I’m healthy.

Best of all, almost every week, somebody tells me that I’ve changed their life. What a wonderful place to be in my career!

But I just could never tell the world that I am proud of myself. Why not? If Laura can do it, why can’t I? What’s wrong with me?

The benefits of humility

One piece of feedback I constantly hear about myself is that I’m humble.

I’ve never thought about humility as an all-star strength like singing an opera or being a star athlete, but new research shows that there are definitely benefits to being humble.

Apparently “humility” is a hot topic these days among psychologists and new research tells us that the trait is strongly linked to curiosity, reflection, and open-mindedness. A humble disposition can be critical to sustaining a committed relationship, nourishing mental health, and enabling patience and forgiveness.

So maybe being humble is better than I thought. The irony is, even saying “I’m humble” makes me feel … less humble!

The over-done strength

I once had a mentor tell me, “There is no such thing as a weakness. Just an over-done strength.”

There’s a lot of wisdom in that.

Being humble is certainly a natural state for me because I am keenly aware that the universe is big and I am small.

However, I am learning that my humility is over-done.

I cannot easily accept attention, I shun the idea of owning my power. I certainly cannot stand up in front of you and say, “hey everybody, I’m proud of myself.”

So once again, Laura is teaching me and inspiring me. Why can’t I say that? Shouldn’t I be able to say that?

This may seem like a strange blog post but I wrote it for one reason: It seemed scary to write it. I have an internal rule. If something seems scary, then DEFINITELY write about it!

There is no profound lesson here. I am simply stating that I am not fully-formed, I am still becoming, and that’s OK. I am self-aware of my over-done strengths and I am on a trajectory of self-improvement.

Own your strengths, own your power, but be aware when any part of your personality is “over-done.”

So, let’s keep pushing forward.

owning your power

Took this photo as I was writing the post. Stuck in an airport after seven hours of delays. Still smiling!

Your turn?

Keynote speaker Mark SchaeferMark Schaefer is the chief blogger for this site, executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, and the author of several best-selling digital marketing books. He is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant.  The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world. Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

The post The remarkable challenge of owning your power appeared first on Schaefer Marketing Solutions: We Help Businesses {grow}.

3 Ideas to realign your attitude and make freelancing work


By Mars Dorian, {grow} Contributing Columnist

I faced a terrible burnout about a year ago. I had obsessed with my work, neglecting friends, family and my health. By working all night and ignoring life, I wasn’t getting much done.

After a decade of digital freelancing, and a dark night of the soul, I changed the way I work online. I had to fundamentally realign my attitude, becoming more humble, nicer, and more appreciative of my time with real human beings.

I want to be open and share my biggest personal lessons from this difficult time. Perhaps they will inspire you to become a better AND healthier freelancer.

1) Mix digital with local

Five years ago, and I would have PROUDLY proclaimed: Screw the offline world. You can get all the work you need from the internet.

(Insert younger and foolish ‘me’ flipping off the physical world).

Then I discovered the downside of my digital-only freelancer existence.

freelancingThe online economic system is built to disadvantage gig economy entrepreneurs like me. The most popular way for my U.S. clients to pay is Paypal, which consumes your profit with hidden fees. The company charges a transaction fee, an international fee, and a currency exchange fee where they even pick a bad exchange rate that’s not up-to-date.

Every time my healthy US selling price shrunk into its final Paypal form, my heart twitched.

However, with my IRL clients and artwork sales, I get paid in my local currency, sometimes even in cash on the spot. Working offline is like getting a raise.

The second downside of a digital-only is loneliness.

Allowing pixels to glow at your eyeballs for eight hours or more just isn’t healthy. Especially not when you’re working from home, where it’s you versus your four walls.

You’re surrounded by things, not people. Online video calls help you connect with folks you can’t physically meet, but nothing, NOTHING, beats human-to-human interactions.

This hit me hard during my art exhibition opening where dozens of folks, including clients, talked to me about my art and my plans IN PERSON. They asked for more samples and potential collaborations.

Since then, I’ve been working on two bigger projects involving traveling and collaborating with my carbon-based familiars.

The mix matters.


2) Kindness matters even more

Back in my early online days, I acted like a snarky gremlin at times.


freelancing gremlin

When a client took too long to reply or didn’t pay me on time, I shot back with passive-aggressive remarks.

And it’s so easy when you’re separated by screens, perhaps even thousands of kilometers apart from each other.

I thought I was expressing confidence, taking crap from no one, but I was just immature. After a decade of working online, I’ve become a part-time diplomat.

When your goals depend on other people — which is almost always the case — kindness gets you the best results. I don’t know anyone who likes working with, or for, a bully.

Mark Schaefer wrote a powerful post about whether to take a stand or be likable. I think it’s true –controversial people attract immediate attention and sometimes get quicker results, but they burn their bridges. Adios, future collaborations.

So how do you deal with “difficult” clients?

A creative peer of mine coined the term “friendly forward.” It means you reply swiftly and get to the point while always staying friendly. Because you never know what the person on the other side of the screen is dealing with.

So whenever a customer is not paying you on time, or not replying, or writing in a way that triggers you — assume nothing, because you don’t know.

Write again, get to the point; the friendly forward way.

3) Gaiman’s freelancing laws apply

I’ve recently bought a little inspiring book Art Matters: Because Your Imagination Can Change the World by the famous comic and fantasy novel writer Neil Gaiman. He shared his three principles on how freelancers keep getting work:

  • Their work is good
  • They’re easy to work with
  • They deliver the work on time

Neil also states that if you fulfill only two of three principles, you will still get work.

So clients can overlook your unpleasantness if your work is good and delivered on time.

They can forgive your lateness if you’re likable and your work is good.

And you don’t have to be as good as your competition if your work arrives on time and you’re a pleasure to work with.

Speaking from personal experience, points two and three matter a lot. If clients can rely on you AND like you, they keep coming back.


I feel healthier and more aligned with friends and family since changing my mindset and tactics. Online freelancing is a rich ride if you know how to compensate for the downsides.

What’s a healthy tip that you can share as a digital freelancer?

Mars Dorian is an illustrating designer and storyteller. He crafts words and pictures that help clients stand out online and reach their customers. You can find his homebase at and connect with him on Twitter @marsdorian.

The post 3 Ideas to realign your attitude and make freelancing work appeared first on Schaefer Marketing Solutions: We Help Businesses {grow}.