John Jantsch: So how do you cut through all the noise and clutter in the marketing world today? Maybe you start by unbranding. In this episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast, I get to visit with Alison Stratten, the co-author of a new book called Unbranding, a book she wrote with her husband. They are also work partners. Don’t know how you do that, but we talk about that on this show as well. Not that much has changed in marketing, and I think that’s the real point of the idea of unbranding. There are certain tools and techniques that people have adopted today, but what has always been true is it’s about the customer experience. Check out this episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast.
Hello, and welcome to another episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast. This is John Jantsch, and my guest today is Alison Stratten. She is a co-author of four best-selling business books, co-owner of an organization called UnMarketing, and co-host of a podcast called UnPodcast. But today, we’re going to talk about a new book called UnBranding. Alison, thanks for joining me.
Alison Stratten: Thank you for having me. I think there’s a trend. You’re seeing an un trend. Did you feel funny when you were saying all of those words?
John Jantsch: No, not at all. Not at all. But I’m sure that, again, like all good unbranding, that un thing has really kind of stuck with you guys, hasn’t it?
Alison Stratten: Yeah. It’s working for us, so we’re going to keep going with it. Yeah, UnBranding is the newest book. Hopefully soon it’ll be five best-selling books. We’re hoping. We’re really excited about it. It’s a little bit different than the other ones, but still the un. The un remains.
John Jantsch: Yeah. I always like to, especially when you have series … I had David Meerman Scott on recently, and talking about actually I think it’s like the eighth revision of his very, very popular book, The New Rules. I always like to ask authors kind of, what new ground are you breaking here? What kind of addition to the world of branding and marketing books do you think you want UnBranding to add?
Alison Stratten: Well, we kind of see the books as like a progression. Three of the books, not all the books, but UnMarketing, UnSelling, and UnBranding we kind of see as a progression, not only through time, because obviously when you write about marketing and branding today, everything changes with new technologies and the growth of social media. When we wrote UnMarketing, that was in 2009, and so things were different. I mean, there was different things we were worried about. There were different things we were focusing on in marketing. Although our basic message hasn’t changed, still we like to update things and talk about things. Actually the last book we wrote before this one was the second edition of UnMarketing, mostly because we were tired of having to answer questions about something that we’d written in 2009 when so much in the landscape had changed. I’m not sure that it’s so new as it is kind of a progression.
Also, we spend so much time, like we just live and breathe all these case studies, constantly reading about different brands and what they’re doing, and stories, and consumer advocacy stories. That’s kind of what our whole world is about. Once you’ve kind of read all of these stories and you’re learning all the time, you just have new stories that you want to share, new lessons that you want to share with people as well. I think that’s what UnBranding is really about. It’s kind of the progression through those three books into kind of what was see today with what’s going on in marketing and branding.
John Jantsch: Yeah. I really love the kind of quick hits on companies that you interviewed, or you at least observed what they were doing. But you know, before we get into any of that, I’ve been doing this a long time, and I still find myself saying, “Has anything really changed?”
Alison Stratten: Well, I mean, it’s funny. Kind of the main focus of the book is the age of disruption, and what do you do as an entrepreneur, as a business owner, as an employee with all of these new things kind of coming at us, where it feels like the ground underneath us is constantly shifting? What we’ve found through all of these lessons and all of these stories that we’ve read is really that it’s about loyalty, that that’s the anecdote to all of this change constantly happening around us is focusing on building loyalty, and we kind of go through different ways to do that. That’s an old lesson. I mean, that’s not a new lesson in business by any means.
But when you have all these tools at your disposal, and some of them are really bright and shiny and cool, or some of them are kind of age-old tools that you’ve just maybe been using incorrectly for a really long time, focusing on those kind of old tenets of why we do business with people, although maybe it shouldn’t be, is kind of new. Even though it’s an old lesson, we’ve been so focused on chasing after whatever’s cool and whatever’s new. It is kind of new again to say like, “No, we’re going to go back to why people buy our products, providing great products and service.” I guess it isn’t really new, but it’s something new to focus on, I think, because a lot of people have taken their focus off of it.
John Jantsch: Well, and I tell you, the last year or so I’ve been preaching that I think everything, or at least we’re rewarded as marketers for focusing on customer experience, at really the expense of everything else. I mean, I even see I think Google is rewarding people. If you’ve got bad data, if you’ve got bad directions, if your website doesn’t load, those are all bad customer experiences, and I think that Google’s even rewarding and penalizing companies that aren’t focused on that.
Alison Stratten: Absolutely, because things travel, things are shared, and when you provide a good experience with a solid product or a solid service, when you treat your customers well, when you treat your employees well, which is hugely connected to treating your customers well, you end up with stories that people want to share, good stories. We have so many options now. There’s so much information, and it’s a focus on those good experiences that is then shared by people, and bring new people to our doors, and keep our current customers happy and coming back.
John Jantsch: It’s funny, I’m-
Siri: Did you accidentally summon me?
Alison Stratten: Oh my goodness. Siri decided it wanted to be a part of our interview.
John Jantsch: That’s aw-
Alison Stratten: Going to turn that off. I’m sorry, John.
John Jantsch: That’s awesome.
Alison Stratten: Siri says that you’re doing a great job. Okay.
John Jantsch: Thank you. I’m kind of an old fart, and so I’ll tolerate a lot. There’s this French restaurant that we go to that I don’t know where they find these servers. I really don’t. They’re like your typical cliché French restaurant experience: aloof, and just could care less if you’re there or not. But I love going there. I love this place, and so I tolerate it. But boy, my kids, who are in their upper 20s and lower 30s now, if something doesn’t work the way they think it should work, they are gone. I don’t know if that’s a generational thing or not, but I think that that’s something that a lot of organizations don’t understand.
Alison Stratten: It could be, although it’s also probably part of loyalty is you’ve been going to that restaurant for a while so you have a comfort feeling with the restaurant. Maybe even part of the comfort is that the waiters kind of irritate you. But you’ve had that experience a bunch of times, so they’ve built some kind of relationship with you. Even if it’s not a perfect relationship, they have made a connection with you in one way or another, and you know what to expect when you go, which is a huge part of loyalty, right? Even if part of what you know to expect is that that particular person is going to be rude or that your food might take a while, still knowing what you’re going to expect sometimes is better than trying a new place where you don’t know what you’re going to expect, right?
John Jantsch: Yeah. Yeah.
Alison Stratten: I think what you may see is that we have so many choices. One of our things when we travel is do you try a new restaurant, or do you go to the place where you know exactly what you’re going to get? Because we have just this plethora of choices at our fingertips, sometimes it is nice to go back to that place that you’ve been many times. I don’t know if it’s a generation thing, or it’s just that whatever it is with that restaurant, they haven’t been able to connect with your kids or that generation yet maybe.
John Jantsch: Well, I’m halfway being facetious, because I would actually contend that that is their brand, right?
Alison Stratten: Well, some people it works.
John Jantsch: They are staying true to it, and they attract a certain audience who thinks it’s quaint somehow. Yeah, I totally agree. I’ve written five, I’m working on number six book myself. I’ve done them all myself, holed up in a writing cabin or in a coffee shop. You have actually had co-authors, or a co-author.
Alison Stratten: Well, Scott.
John Jantsch: I should say, a co-author.
Alison Stratten: Yeah, I co-authored.
John Jantsch: Yeah, on your books. I wondered, how does that work from a role standpoint? Do you take certain roles? Do you just kind of write and then improve each other’s writing? How do you break it up?
Alison Stratten: Well, it’s kind of grown over the years because we’ve written all the books together. I think it’s just kind of has developed for sure. It started out with Scott doing the talking. He would talk, and/or I would see his keynotes, or just things that he was sharing online and seeing that were resonating with people online, and then we took those stories, and at the time, some blog posts and things that he’d written, and then I kind of did the meat, right? We have a funny story where he runs in the room in our house and he said like one word to me. Like you run, run, run, run downstairs … I can’t even remember what the word was. I wish I could. But imagine running downstairs and he yelled like, “Pizza!” and then he went running away. That was the thing, and I took “pizza,” or whatever the word was, and I can write a chapter out of that. Our process is he’s great with hooks, and he’s great with ideas, and he’s brilliant at seeing things in a different way than I might see them. Then I’m really good a research, and I’m really good at writing to explain things to people, and to take these kind of tidbit hooks and turn them into a book. It’s not the same skill. It works really well for us.
As the years have passed and we’ve written more and more together, for this book, I really took our podcast … I took the recordings of our podcast where we had had discussions about different stories and different brands, and I took those conversations and I made them into a book. Then we bounce ideas off each other, but I do the bulk of the writing. Then Scott will look at it, and he’ll change things, and he’ll add something, or he might have an idea of a certain way to express something that I hadn’t thought of, and so he’ll put that in. That’s kind of how we work together.
I would say I do the bulk of the writing. I always have. But even more as the years have gone on and the books have gone on, I do even more of the writing, and Scott kind of shapes the ideas and has kind of the vision for what he wants in the book. We sort of work that way. Then he does revisions. Some of it is written. Like some things he’ll write let’s say as a blog post, and then we’ll take that and then we’ll turn it into a chapter, which is kind of tweaking it a bit and making it part of the concept of the book. That’s how we work. We save ideas back and forth to each other. We have for years. Like if we see an article that we like, we’ll save it to a certain file and then we’ll send it to each other. Then if that makes it onto the podcast, we record the podcasts. Then I had a file of probably like 200 stories that we talked about on the podcast, and I go through all of those, and then picked 100 stories that we wanted to include in the book.
John Jantsch: Now, you know what I love about that, and I’ve done some form of that over the years too, is when you kind of have that intention for the podcast a little bit, and maybe that was not the intention, but it brings intention to the podcast knowing that it’s also something much bigger.
Alison Stratten: Yeah. It wasn’t the intention when we started the podcast, but what happened was that we had already written UnMarketing when we started the podcast, and I think we had already written The Book of Business Awesome and QR Codes Kill Kittens. Then when I was writing on selling, we had started the podcast. I was doing research and thinking about things we talked about, going through my list of all the different articles that Scott and I have sent back and forth to each other during the six months since writing the last book. I was like, “Oh my goodness. I have actual discussions, like what we both thought about this particular issue, and interviews and we’ve done, and all this content. Why am I reinventing the wheel when I can go and listen to what we said about it?” Yeah, I just went and listened and realized, “Oh my goodness. This is like the best resource.” When it came to writing UnBranding, that’s where I stated. I just started with the last podcast after content that was included in UnSelling and kind of started there and went forward. It was awesome, especially because we ended up doing this kind of idea of 100 brand stories, right?
John Jantsch: Yeah.
Alison Stratten: That’s a lot of stories. The podcast made it so accessible to go through and figure out which ones we wanted to use, and which had been kind of the most … It’s just which ones people had reacted to the most, and which ones we had the best conversations about, because we don’t always agree about things on the podcast. Sometimes those are the best experiences, right?
John Jantsch: Yeah.
Alison Stratten: Why don’t we agree? Either as consumers or as marketers, why don’t we agree on what’s happening here? Yeah, it was great. It’s wonderful for content.
John Jantsch: Yeah. The book literally wrote itself.
Alison Stratten: No. That’s what Scott … Scott loves to say, “Oh, it’s so easy.” He once said to an audience when I happened to be there, he’s like, “Oh, the hardest part is selling the book.” I just looked at him like, “No, the hardest part is not selling the book.”
John Jantsch: So you led right into really my next question. Do you ever have strong opinions, Alison?
Alison Stratten: Oh, I have very strong opinions, of course.
John Jantsch: How do you get those heard, because Scott’s pretty big and loud too?
Alison Stratten: No, we actually work really well together. It’s one of the things that I love about writing together and our podcast together. I think of all the things we do together, working together is really up there. We work really well together. We have a good respect for each other in terms of what we think about things and what we can do. Starting the podcast especially was intimidating because Scott is so seasoned at being a speaker, and also being on camera and recording, and I was really a rookie. I’ve learned a lot from him about how to do that, and how to prepare for it and what’s expected. Yeah, I don’t have a lot of trouble getting my opinions heard. I might be the only person, but I don’t have any problem getting Scott to listen to my opinions.
John Jantsch: Well, it does sound like you have a great working relationship. I don’t think my wife and I could work very well together. We’ve been married 30 plus years, and we’re just now getting to the point where we can actually cook together. It’s really just because I approach everything so differently than she does, and vice versa. I can’t imagine working together, but I love hanging out with her. How’s that?
Alison Stratten: I think that’s partially part of the writ … You asked about the writing. I have heard about people who work with co-authors and they each write chapters and they share them and stuff. That would be really hard for me because I definitely have a certain way that I like to write and a certain process that I have. It would be really hard for me to work with a co-author was was really in the chapters when I was working on them. Does that make sense?
John Jantsch: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely.
Alison Stratten: Scott and I kind of frame out all the ideas together, and he brings a lot of that. Then I write, and then he reads what I’ve written and then we change things from there. But I would have a really hard time if like every time I opened up a document, there was a new paragraph in there. I’d probably lose my mind. It works for us.
John Jantsch: Let’s talk about some of the specifics of the book.
Alison Stratten: Sure.
John Jantsch: One of the questions I hear all the time, and I’m sure you guys are getting this a lot too, is people look at brands like ours and they think, “Oh, I’m just getting started though, and you’ve been blogging for this, or you’ve been doing this all this time. How do I now …” Because when I started blogging, there were 10 of us maybe, you know?
Alison Stratten: Yeah.
John Jantsch: … in the marketing space. How do you now figure out how to cut through what I think is such a noisy landscape?
Alison Stratten: I think actually the more research we do, and the more people we talk to, and the more stories that we hear, it’s actually the people doing the same things that people were doing that made them successful all along are the things that make people successful now. It’s just that there’s kind of this megaphone around things that they can go spread to so many people. I think that the tried and true ideals of taking care of your customers, solving a problem, and providing good service, working as honestly as you can, supporting your workers, supporting your employees, being a good employee, and being a good co-worker, those things are still tried and true. I do agree, like when we started out in social media, if you were kind of a early adopter, you definitely had an advantage, of course. I often feel badly for somebody who thinks jumping into Twitter today is going to be like it was in 2008 or 2009. It’s not, but at the same time, what makes people share things is exactly the same thing as what’s always made people share things. The focus shouldn’t be on the pushing that spread or trying to achieve this pretend goal of reaching a million people you’re never going to meet anyway. It should be about making something that you’re proud of, creating something you’re proud of, and then that’s when your job is done, and seeing it go out into the world.
That’s how I look at the books. For me, I’m kind of like I’m not the person who follows every number and sees every sale and reads everything that comes back review-wise. I’m kind of the person who believes I did my best, and I sent it out into the world. Then other than taking care of customers or answering questions, I feel like that’s my job as an author. I know not everybody sees it that way, but I think it’s the same for business. Many of the stories that we read were simple stories about people with great products that found their community in a really natural, organic kind of way. They didn’t use tricks, and they didn’t game the system. They just worked at it. Nobody wants that answer. Everyone wants to think, “Well, you just put this on your site and it’ll go crazy,” but that doesn’t seem to be the case, at least not from the stories that we’re reading.
John Jantsch: Well, and I think that that does cause some people to jump into tools and technologies and platforms, because they want to catch the next Twitter. I think, boy, that if there ever was a bad reason for doing something, that’s probably it.
Alison Stratten: Yeah. I think so too. Also, we only have so much attention. I know a lot of the people that we talk to are in the entrepreneurial space, but it’s the same if you work for a company or if you own large company, whatever you do. It’s about focus, right? You only have so much attention during the day. You only have so many resources financially and with time and energy, and so if you’re going to put so much focus on chasing what the next Twitter is going to be with the chance that you might be the person who gets in first, you’re taking that attention away from something else. Something’s going to give, and so you need to decide. You always need to ask yourself, “Why?” right?
John Jantsch: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Alison Stratten: When we did QR Codes Kill Kittens, it’s funny and we were kind of joking, but we were also seriously saying like, “This is a technology that people are using just because they want to use a technology. If you don’t ask yourself, ‘Why?’ and then, ‘How?’” … Very important … “then you’re just doing it for no reason, and it’s going to hurt you instead of help you.”
John Jantsch: I have contended for a long time that after awareness … I mean, people have to know you exist if you’re going to have any hope of turning them into a customer … trust, I think, is like the number one objective after somebody knows you. What did you find in talking to these companies? Is there a common sort of thread on how people build trust? Because that’s one of those things that people tell you, “Be trustworthy,” but how do you make that happens?
Alison Stratten: What exactly does that mean? Yeah. I think that actually a lot of the stories and companies that we looked at built a lot of trust through how they handled mistakes, how they handled negative things happening. We have a story about a company that was a really small company. They sold jewelry, and they had gotten, I can’t remember exactly the number, but let’s say 120 orders coming into the holiday season. They’d shipped them all off, put them in envelopes, all set. That was I think their second or third year in business. Big year, right, for a small company just getting started?
John Jantsch: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Alison Stratten: They weren’t in Oprah Magazine or anything, just a little company. Then they got a call the next day from the post office that the mailbox that they shipped all of their packages in had actually caught on fire. I mean, terrible, right?
John Jantsch: Oh my.
Alison Stratten: They went through terrible experience with the post office. It was in the U.K., a terrible experience with the post office. First they said, “Your letters are fine. They’re at a depot.” Then they go to the depot, they’re not allowed to go there, and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. It turns out that in the end, the post office sent along to their customers burnt packages, okay? Think about this. You’re in the world of social media. You’re a brand new company. You just had your best holiday season, 120 orders. You stayed up probably for a week making bracelets and packing them and shipping them. Then you have this terrible communication with the post office. You think you’re going to get your products back to you, and they might be damaged but at least they won’t go to the customers. Instead, you start getting customer emails, one after another, with pictures of burnt jewelry, and people saying like, “Hey, my purchase kind of smells burnt. What’s going on?”
A lot of people would have blamed the post office. They would have freaked out, right? Instead of doing that, they just replied to every single customer. They made a list of all the customers. They replied to every single one. They were really honest. They answered quickly. They didn’t avoid the emails. They didn’t avoid the messages, and their customers were very forgiving. They gave them the time to make new bracelets and send them out. They ended up doing like a fire sale afterwards to thank their customers who had stuck with them, and kind of played with it a little bit. In the end, they ended up coming out the other side with a much larger following because people shared not, “This company is terrible. They avoided my emails for three days. They tried to cheat me.” They shared, “This company had a really bad experience. Look how great they’ve been about refunding my money, or sending me more product,” or all these things. I think the companies that build the trust are the ones … Because inevitably a mistake is going to happen. That’s just life, and things happen, but it’s how you handle yourself as a business when things aren’t looking so good that sometimes can get turned around into being the best experiences.
John Jantsch: Yeah. Let’s end up talking about personal branding and how that kind of relates to … because that’s been a hot topic for a while. I think some people get it right, some people, again, end up with business cards that say, “Social Media Expert.” I don’t know.
Alison Stratten: You promised you wouldn’t make fun of my business cards, John. I’m just kidding. I don’t have business cards.
John Jantsch: You’re going to get me going on another story, but nevermind. Tell me, how does somebody approach this idea of personal branding in an unbranding world?
Alison Stratten: Well, I always, for me, as not only in doing this for my work but also with some teenagers at home, I think the personal branding conversation is really important. I think we live in a world where you can find out a lot about people. I’m kind of on the side of, and I know Scott is as well, that you shouldn’t share things online that you don’t want people to see, and you should be careful, and you should be cautious, and you should feel like you’re in public, which is a hard thing when you’re sitting at a computer at home and you’re kind of like thinking that you’re a keyboard commando, whatever. I really believe in presenting yourself … understanding as … When you’re sitting at your computer, when you have your phone in your hand, you’re in public. Anything that you say, anything that you do is public. That includes emails, and that includes private Facebook message groups and all this kind of stuff. All it takes is one screenshot, and whatever you’ve done can be public.
Now, on the other side of things, in many ways I like it, because I like knowing who my … I’m not going to get into a political conversation, but I like knowing what people stand for, and I like knowing what a CEO believes. It’s important to me that I send my money to companies that I believe in. I like it. I like being able to know those things, but I do think that in a world without gatekeepers, it can be dangerous for a company when people don’t think about personal branding, because you’re only a LinkedIn search away from being connected to wherever you work. That can look really bad to your business. Or for the kids, from the kids’ point of view, as a parent, what you’re sharing online can affect is your first employer going to hire you? Are you going to get into the college that you wanted to get into? All these things are searchable. I think I’m thankful that I didn’t grow up in that world, but I think that it’s inevitable that now we need to think about it. I just kind of see it as in public. That’s what I think.
John Jantsch: Yeah. Well, I can’t tell you how many emails I’ve responded to but deleted before I sent, because at the end of the day, literally at the end of the day and you’re tired, and you get this email from somebody, you’re like, “Seriously?” You want to go all passive aggressive, and then you just hit delete because-
Alison Stratten: I love people standing up for things. If you would say it to their face, then go for it, but if you’re not willing to defend it, then you shouldn’t say it, right? If you wouldn’t go up to the person and say it to their face, and that includes, like I said, private Facebook groups. People get this feeling of safety, but it’s not really private, you know?
John Jantsch: Right. Yeah.
Alison Stratten: I think people need to be careful, but I also think it’s a good thing that we know where people stand on different issues.
John Jantsch: Alison, where would you like to send people to pick up UnBranding, or just to even connect with you and Scott?
Alison Stratten: Well, Scott is unmarketing on Twitter, and our Facebook page is UnMarketing as well. I’m UnAlison on Twitter. UnBranding is going to be … Oh, I’m not sure when this is going to be out, but at the beginning of October, it’ll be in bookstores near you, and Amazon, and all kinds of good places. On unmarketing.com, there’ll be a link there if you need to find an online store selling it or a store near you. I hope you guys like it.
John Jantsch: Yeah. We’ll have links in the show notes. We’re recording this in October of 2017, so dependent upon when you’re listening, go pick up UnBranding. Alison, thanks for joining me, and hopefully we’ll run into you guys out there on the road soon.
Alison Stratten: Thank you, John.
John Jantsch: Hey, thanks for listening to this episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast. Wonder if you could do me a favor. Could you leave an honest review on iTunes? Your ratings and reviews really help, and I promise, I read each and every one. Thanks.