David Meerman Scott is an author of 11 books, a marketing and sales visionary, an investor and entrepreneur.
In this interview with John Lincoln, he discusses his latest book, his career, his ideas around equity and his #1 digital marketing strategy. Listen now.
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John Lincoln: All right, everybody. Welcome to another Ignite visibility University podcast.
Today I have David Mirman Scott, who is a leading business growth speaker for companies and conferences worldwide. The thing about David is that he has written a ton of amazing books. You may know him for the New Rules of Marketing and PR, which is an incredibly successful book He’s also written Newsjacking, Real-Time Marketing and PR, Marketing Lessons From the Grateful Dead, Marketing the Moon, The New Rules of Sales and Service, Fanocracy, and a couple other books as well. So he’s a really well-known author and I’m super excited to have him on today.
He’s also a speaker. We’ve got a mutual connection as he speaks at Business Mastery with Tony Robbins, and Tony’s been a client of ours for a long time. So, David, really excited to have you on today. How you doing today?
David Meerman Scott: I’m doing great john thanks for having me on. I really appreciate it. And I’m really excited that we share that link to Tony Robbins because he’s an awesome guy.
John Lincoln: Absolutely. Yeah definitely a fan.
So you’ve been in in marketing and speaking and writing for a while now and you’ve built up this great career. What are you up to today? What does your current role look like and where are you spending your time?
David Meerman Scott: I’m really lucky that I’ve been able to craft a business that works brilliantly well for me in that I have zero employees. And I had been really thinking hard about this. I worked for companies for 15 years. And for the last 15 years, roughly, I’ve been on my own. And I always said to myself, I don’t want to have employees and I managed to continue to do that.
So the things that I do, as you mentioned, I write books. My 11th book is coming out soon titled Fan Accuracy: Turning Fans Into Customers and Customers Into Fans. I wrote that with my daughter Reiko, she’s 26.
Part of my business is that I speak at events all over the world, including Tony Robbins Business Mastery, and as we’re having this conversation, my next engagement is a week from now in Cartagena, Columbia. So because my books are published in 29 languages, I actually have an opportunity to speak all over the world.
I’m also an advisor to companies, but I have a unique business model with my advisory work. I don’t take cash. I actually take equity in the companies that I’m passionate about. And that has worked out really well. I’ve been on, for example, the HubSpot Advisory b=Board since 2007 when they started, and taking equity in HubSpot for the last 12 years has been a pretty lucrative decision since when I joined them, they had no customers, eight employees and beta software, and now they’re listed on the New York Stock Exchange with something like a $7 billion market cap.
And then the final thing I focus on is, I have an online learning platform called New Marketing Mastery, which I sell at Tony Robbins Business Mastery as well as on my website. And so I’ve managed with that portfolio of stuff to be able to maintain a great lifestyle and not have to worry about employees.
John Lincoln: Well, that’s something I know a little bit about. We have seventy-five full-time employees here at Ignite and we’re a very people-intensive business. I love working with people, but it’s got its different set of challenges, that’s for sure.
So to take it back a little bit more, how did you get your start? How did you get into this? How did you plot a path to become an author of this many books and know with clarity that you were going to go in this specific direction? When did that become clear to you and how did you fall into it?
David Meerman Scott: That’s a great question. So I started out in the bond markets on Wall Street. I worked for a company called Dean Witter. I hated it and I was terrible at it, but I really found that I loved the information side and I ended up working for companies like Dow Jones and Thomson Reuters, around the idea of information that’s used to make business decisions. Because that was prior to the web, so that was pre-1995 when I was doing that and I worked all over the world. I worked for seven years in Tokyo, two years in Hong Kong, and worked in Australia and the UK and in Europe for much shorter periods of time that gave me essentially an unfair advantage around the idea of of online marketing, because I was doing essentially online information on online marketing before there was a web.
And then 1995 comes around, which is my line in the sand for the beginning of the internet. I’m like this is not new. I get this. This is on electronic content which I’ve been doing for a decade. And so I realized really, really early that the metaphor, the correct metaphor for online marketing is not advertising, which is what everybody was talking about, but rather content because that’s what I knew having had worked for companies like Thomson Reuters and Dow Jones and so on.
So in 2002 I started my own business, writing and researching about the future of marketing and recognized that the content you create, put on your website and then later on social media, was what was going to make or break you. And so I was lucky that I had this, what I call an unfair advantage, to understand what was going on in the world before other people did.
Fortunately, I had some skills as a writer and developed skills as a speaker and have managed to continue to see sort of what’s coming next over the last, you know, almost 20 years around marketing and what I see coming next is the power of true human connection.
John Lincoln: I like that. And I want to talk about that.
So I kind of got involve, geeze, I started doing it a little bit in 2002 but really got super deep into marketing in 2005-2007. Have you seen it evolve from when you got involved initially? From what was working then, and what kind of changed, and what’s working now? What does that evolution look like to you in your mind?
Davide Meerman Scott: So what I see is that when I first got involved, well I’ve been a marketer for almost 30 years, so in the beginning when I first started to become a marketer, the only way you could get noticed ws to pay for access, in other words, paid advertising. So the only way to get noticed, really, was to buy a magazine ad, TV, newspaper ad, radio billboards, direct mail. If you’re in the B2B businesses, you had to buy a trade show booth and things like that.
What the rise of the web meant was that you could create a great web presence in the form of a website, initially, but then later on things like YouTube videos and then even a little bit after that the beginnings of social media. And so that meant that people didn’t have to spend as much money in advertising if they created a great online presence, which you know extremely well of course.
The next change that I saw really early was the rise of real-time marketing, and there are a couple of things that led that led to that. The first one of course is something like Twitter that allowed you to instantly communicate. Also,
people don’t really remember how powerful this change was, but when Google went to indexing and real time that was fabulously important. Because prior to that, if you wrote a blog post, it would take a month or two to get indexed by Google, then they made the change. And now if you wrote a blog post, it was instantly indexed by Google, which was a huge change in the marketplace. So real-time marketing became incredibly popular and I wrote a book on that topic.
What I see now is we’re going through yet another change. And I believe that the pendulum has swung too far in the direction of superficial online communications because so many people are doing it and so many people are doing it badly, and so many people are interrupting and being obnoxious, and people are crying about fake news and robots. You know, you don’t even know if the person you’re communicating with on Facebook is a robot or not. So I believe that the pendulum is beginning to swing back to true human connection.
John Lincoln: I like that. I love that concept and I definitely agree with that.
I want to take a step back just a little bit because you brought up a concept that I just absolutely love. For about four and a half years I worked at a business magazine and we went from publishing one article a week to one a day to 10 a day. And one of the things we would do to get big spikes in traffic look at the news and we find a big story and try to get involved.
One of the things I’ve heard about your work is that you’re a big proponent of that and and you feel that that’s something that can work really well for marketers, and I feel like the Ignite Visibility listeners would love to just hear a little bit about more about how you would share that.
David Meerman Scott: Absolutely. I call it Newsjacking. Newsjacking is the art and science of understanding how a news story breaks and then with that knowledge being able to create some piece of online content. It can be a blog post or tweet with the hashtag or YouTube video, whatever it is that puts your expertise into the marketplace at the precise moment that it’s needed.
And that concept which I called Newsjacking, U named it a little less than 10 years ago, has become incredibly popular again because of the rise of the real-time web. It was impossible to do Newsjacking until the real-time web, and when there’s a new story that breaks and you have some expertise in that you just create content instantly. You’ve got to do it quickly. Push it out there, and then it’s entirely possible that the media will quote you in their stories or want to have you on to their television or radio programs because you are then seen as the expert in that particular story.
This idea of Newsjacking has actually become so popular that it was named to the Oxford English Dictionary and my name was attached to it, which is pretty darn cool. So I actually have what I think is the trifecta; I have a Wikipedia entry, I have an IMDb Internet Movie Database listing, and I also have a word that I invented in the Oxford English Dictionary.
John Lincoln: What an honor. I want to do. That’s great.
So, about Newsjacking. Say a story comes out. What would be your specific process? Would I make a quote and do a press release and then email that to the news outlets? Is that a good way to go about it?
David Meerman Scott: That’s sort of a traditional way of doing it. And there’s nothing wrong with that, but that’s sort of the front door. You’re not going to get as far going through the front door. You’re going to get there by banging out the window and jumping into it from this from the side.
Let’s take a real example. I live in Boston, 20 miles from the New Hampshire border, so one of my incredibly weird hobbies is that I go to the US presidential candidate events in New Hampshire, which are all in full swing right now because New Hampshire is the first primary state. So far this cycle I’ve been to 22 candidate events, believe it or not. I’ve actually personally asked questions of 16 presidential candidates, including the top 10 Democratic candidates, and it’s an incredibly weird hobby. So as a result, I’ve actually got a unique insight into into the mechanism of the presidential election because I have this personal insight into it and I write about it a lot on my blog in a nonpartisan way. I don’t write about politics, I write about marketing.
So I write about the marketing aspects of the US presidential election. This cycle, the 2020 cycle, I’ve written about a Donald Trump rally. I’ve written about Elizabeth Warren and and a bunch of other candidates from the marketing perspective and I’ve done that now for four cycles.
So the last cycle, you may recall that everybody expected Hillary Clinton to win, everyone, everyone. But you basically assumed based on polling data and gut feeling that there’s no way that Donald Trump is going to win, but because I had been analyzing their marketing, I recognized that Donald Trump is a master Newsjacker. Donald Trump is probably the world’s best Newsjacker, because when something is going on in the news, what does he do? He tweets, so that instantly all the journalists around the world know Donald Trump’s take on that news. That’s what Newsjacking is. And I wrote about that for a number of months, actually 18 months prior to the election I was already talking about Donald Trump as being the best marketer of the presidential candidates. So when Trump won on election night, everyone was like, Oh my God, what happened. So I wrote a blog post it when it came out at four o’clock in the morning.
The title of the blog post was The Best Marketer Was Elected President, and that blog post got so much attention and I was quoted in dozens and dozens of news stories that came out over the next 24 hours because reporters and editors were looking for somebody who have the expertise to be able to explain what happened in this election. Why didn’t anybody understand that Trump might have had a chance to win? And I said he was the best marketer. He was newsjacking. He understood the people he was trying to reach and came up with a way better, way more memorable slogan – Make America Great Again – then Clinton did which, by the way, no one ever remembers her slogan quick. So Trump was a better marketer.
My newsjacking was to put that story out on my blog at exactly the moment that everybody on the planet needed to have that information, and I had the credibility as somebody that they could quote because I write about marketing. But anybody can do that in their area of expertise. You just look for a news story, and it may be a new story, you know, once a week, once a month, or maybe you gotta wait a couple of months for the right story to come around, but it will come around. No matter what business you’re in, you have an opportunity to comment on it and perhaps get noticed and perhaps even generate a ton of business as a result.
John Lincoln: Excellent, excellent advice. Ignite Visibility University listeners, that’s some great advice for you. Kee an eye on the news in your space and execute it in the way that David just mentioned.
It’s kind of funny. I will occasionally get involved in stuff like that, and the other day somebody wanted me to comment on Fortune magazine on a piece I had written on Tik Tok. Honestly, I didn’t really know much about it. So that was a funny situation.
David Meerman Scott: And that happens. It doesn’t need to be a massive global struggle. I’ll give you one quick example. So Joe Pain was the CEO of a company called Eloquence, and Joe got a text from one of his friends and said, Hey, I just heard that your biggest competitor, a company called Market to Lead was being acquired by Oracle. Is it true, and Joe hadn’t heard that so it had to be really new information. So he went to Google, typed in Oracle and Market to Lead and sure enough, there was a cryptic three-sentence announcement on the Oracle website that they had made an acquisition of this company Market to Lead.
So Joe wrote an instant blog post. It took him about two hours to write this blog post and he didn’t say anything bad about the competition that was acquired by Oracle, he just provided some data and facts about the industry. And so he ended up getting quoted in dozens and dozens of stories because the journalists wanted to write about what this acquisition meant for the marketplace, and the only things they had to go on where Joe’s amazing blog post and three sentences from Oracle, and as a result of that he generated a million dollars in new business. And then he got on the radar of Oracle from doing that and Oracle actually acquired him about a year later for 650 million dollars. I did the math on the acquisition numbers, and it turns out that was a $15 million extra value on the evaluation just by having that million dollars extra new revenue from that newsjacking. So that one news jacking generated $16 million for Joe Pain.
John Lincoln: Wow. The power of content, the power of a blog post.
David Meerman Scott: What’s really important is that it’s the power of real-time, because you’ve got to do that instantly. If he had waited a day. No way. Nothing. Nothing would have happened, no one would have cared, because the story would have already been old.
John Lincoln: I think that’s the toughest part with this strategy, you really need to jump right on it. And with blogging in particular, a lot of times people are struggling. Should I write evergreen content, should I answer questions. Should I make something kind of click-baity? What’s the ratio with something like that?
The way I look at it, and let me know if this is how you look at it, too, is if you see that story and you know it’s big enough in your industry, just drop everything and do it. Because as you mentioned, that return changed his life.
David Meerman Scott: Oh yeah. And that’s exactly right. Sure, do all those other things, the educational blog posts, answer questions, all great. All good. Don’t stop doing any of that.
But when that news story comes up that you have expertise around that you’re able to comment on, that you know confidently in your heart that you are probably one of the top 10 people on the planet to address that topic, then you have to stop what you’re doing. If you’re in a meeting, you’ve got to cancel the rest of the meeting. If you’re on vacation, you have to tell your family that you need two hours.
It might be on a Sunday night. It might be on Thanksgiving Day. It might be when the boss’s away. You know, it might be if you’re the boss when your people are away, but you’ve got to get it done right away.
John Lincoln: I Like it. Because the return could be that great.
The next thing that you talked about was authenticity. I didn’t really expect you to say that, but I love it because I just feel like there’s so many people out there selling false dreams and click-baity things online and fake news and just so much noise. And it’s like, what’s real anymore? Fake reviews are everywhere now. I mean, I read a stat that said something like over 50% of reviews are fake on Amazon, and other websites as well. So authenticity on the web is minimal. Talk to me about that a little bit and why you’re excited about it and what people can do with it.
David Meerman Scott: So I think that audience authenticity is a subset of this concept that I’ve been obsessed with for about the last five years, and that is a true human connection that you can develop around that Fandom and I call it Fan0cracy.
It’s the title of this new book I did called Fanocracy. I did it with my 26-year-old daughter, and the way it came about is I was talking with her about how I’m such a geek about things. I said to her, Reiko, isn’t it crazy that I’ve been to 75 Grateful Dead concerts? I mean, that’s ridiculous. And the fact that I’ve been to 790 rock concerts in total. And I’m such a geek. I even keep a spreadsheet. And she said, well, that’s nothing because I’m such a geek about Harry Potter. I wrote a 90,000-word alternative ending to the Harry Potter series where Draco Malfoy is a spy for the Order of the Phoenix and I put it on a fanfiction site and it’s gotten thousands of downloads and hundreds of comments.
But then we recognize that everyone has these obsessions. Everyone becomes fans of something and people become fans of companies. Even B2B companies, you look at people and they’re wearing t shirts with logos of obscure technology companies or they put stickers on their computer or even get tattoos. And so we dug into this idea of fandom. Turns out that in the broadest sense, the word you mentioned, authenticity, comes up a lot. And the idea of true human connection is the essential ingredient.
So I think what’s happening is what w just spoke about briefly a moment ago. This superficial online communication where people don’t trust one another online anymore like they did in the beginning. And there’s so much room to game the system. And there’s so many opportunities to just take advantage of people or deploy robots instead of people that were looking to get back to where we were maybe 100 years ago where we went to the village Baker and we knew who that person was. So we tend to become fans of those companies that we trust.
I think that there’s an incredibly powerful opportunity for everyone listening in on this to maybe rethink how you deal with our customers, your employees, your partners and the more you can develop true humanity with them. And I think that’s where we’re going. I think our political – and I know there are probably people listening in from outside the US, but I recognize that they probably know what’s going on in our political world as well – the political world is so polarizing, and part of that is because we’ve lost sight of the humanity. So I think that we’re about to come back to this idea of just treating people better and that will be a a very, very powerful tool of of developing business and growing business and becoming the go-to company that people can trust.
My daughter and I co-wrote this, and Tony Robbins actually wrote the foreword to the book which was very kind to do, and we researched for five years. We talked with people about why they’re fans of something. My daught and neuroscientists, we looked at the neuroscience aspects of it, and then we talked with companies that have grown fans and came up with a prescription, 10 different points about what companies can do to develop found of their businesses.
John Lincoln: I really like that. And I just have a couple comments. So when I first got started in digital, I always liked the idea of hacks. If I do this hack, if I tweak this a certain way, I’m going to be able to get more people to sign up for something, and frankly I had a ton of success with that. And a lot of people still stuff like that – funnels trip wires, you know, to the webinar to the long sale to the $100,000 to the recurring revenue. But I think that the more my personal business has grown and the more I’ve dealt with bigger and bigger businesses, I just love this idea of being authentic. Not trying to be tricky, but being real and putting it out there, creating a good marketing framework. It’s not a good idea to try to trick people into something. Instead, I love this authenticity.
I was talking to a friend the other day about fans and fandom, and he loves watching stuff on YouTube. And it’s just really goofy stuff about like, wooden sailboats and sailboat types of things, and he’s a really good friend and I said hey man, you really watch this stuff? He said, yeah, it just really interests me. I love sailing, you know. And for me, I’m kind of quirky in that I love watching skateboarding and surfing. I grew up in Southern California. I still watch the world skateboarding competitions and stuff like that.
So building that authenticity and doing it in a responsible way, tell me, is that what the books about? And what other lessons are in the book that would be really helpful for our listeners to know?
David Meerman Scott: So yes, you’ve nailed exactly what the overall concept of the book is, is why does your friend dig into wouldn’t sailboats? How can a company tap that kind of fandom? How can a company make him and others become a fan of theirs? That’s exactly what it’s about.
There’s actually a cool example you’d like in the book about Grain surfboards. I’m a surfer as well. I love it. I’m not very good, but I absolutely love it. I took a week surfing last week as a matter of fact. Grainn surfboards does wooden surfboards and they’re in New York, and they have a really cool program where you can actually go to their factory and make a wooden surfboard together with the artisans who work there, and I’ve done it twice. Four days twice to make wooden surfboards and now I’m a massive fan of Grain surfboards. I’m actually looking at one of my surfboards as we’re talking right now.
So let me give you a really cool and interesting practical application of the neuroscience of fandom. And I’m going to weave it into the idea of online marketing. You ready?
So here’s how it works. There’s a guy called Elven T. Hall, and he invented a concept about 65 years ago of the power of proximity. It turns out that as humans, it’s hardwired in us to track other humans that get close to us. And there’s four levels of proximity of people one to another.
One’s called public space, which is sort of further than about 20 feet, where we humans don’t really pay too much attention to people that are that far away from us. Then you’ve got social space, which is this space from 20 feet to about four feet. So that’s like when you walk into a room and you scan the room really quickly. You recognize if there are other people in the room and if you know them. You can’t help the fact that you do that. That is hardwired in humans to do that. The next level of space is called personal space. And that’s a foot and a half to four feet. That’s cocktail party distance. And then we won’t use this one for marketing purposes, but intimate space is closer than a foot and a half. That’s reserved for family members and very, very close friends.
So this idea of proximity, if you understand it is that the closer you get to somebody, the more powerful the human emotions. So what that means is that if you trust someone and they’re your friend and you’re close to them, that’s a really powerful human emotion. If you don’t trust someone or you’re scared of them, That’s a very powerful human emotion. That’s why when you get into an elevator with people you don’t know you’re nervous. You can’t help it. That’s a human reaction that’s hardwired in our brains.
So what that means for building fans is the more you can get into the social and personal space of your customers, the more likely you are to build strong and powerful human connections with them, which is incredibly powerful for them to want to do business with you into the future.
However, for many businesses, you can’t possibly get into the personal, social space physically of people. You can in a virtual way using something called mirror neurons. Mirror neurons are the neurons that fire in our brain when you see something much like it does when you’re actually physically experiencing it.
So let me explain what I mean by that. So if you see something, your brain fires. But if you see someone do the same thing, your brain fires too. If I am now going to take a bite of a lemon, my gosh, I can feel it. It’s so tart. It makes my eyes scrunch up, my mouth is starting to water. I’m feeling my face pucker up and it tastes really good. And I bet even just that little description you might have felt the same thing. That’s through the power of mirror neurons. And it turns out that if you do a YouTube video where you are in the virtual personal space or social space of your customers or if you do images on Instagram where you are there and and your and your people, your employees or your customers are there, you can make people feel as if they’re in your personal, social space, that’s incredibly powerful.
That’s one reason perhaps why your friend experiences those boat building videos in a strong way, When it’s being shown by somebody as if they’re showing it to you as a friend and you feel as if they’re showing it to you personally in your personal space or social space and your brain is firing as if you know that person. So that’s a really powerful way that you can use online marketing and many people say, Oh, your video is really popular and oh yeah you know Instagram is growing. There’s a scientific neuroscience reason for that. I just explained. It’s real simple stuff. You can actually use that to build a much stronger human connection to your customers, rather than doing that clickbait crap.
John Lincoln: I love it and I agree 100%. And one of the things I think about it kind of practically on the company size level really one of the things I see is a lot of the smaller companies, they’re very open and stuff like this. They’re a little bit more loose. The more I work with bigger and bigger clients, they get a little bit more rigid with content creation and not in a bad way. It absolutely makes sense, they should be.
I wonder if you have any advice for the larger company in letting the guard down. Have you ever dealt with anything like that? I’d be curious to hear your thoughts.
David Meerman Scott: Oh absolutely. I have many, many times.
Yeah, that one of the problems is that the bigger companies get, the more the legal side tends to get involved, on the one hand, or they’re so far removed from the actual customers that they’re not really communicating in a human way anymore. So that tends to happen. And it seems like it’s more so with big companies, but it’s a plague of any kind of company is that they put so much of their content behind gates. So, you know, one day is just, we’re not going to tell you anything unless you become a customer and then we’ll let you know those things. And that’s kind of going away. But there’s still that still out there.
Pricing being murky is another form of a gate, especially for B2B companies. Another form of a gate is companies that create interesting information and then insist that the only way you can get that information is if you give an email address and register for it first. And that’s another form of a gate.
And you know we marketers, we digital marketers, we believe, many of us but and I don’t, but many marketers believe that you have to do that, that that’s the only way to generate business is to get a lead and then create a funnel to get that lead to the point where they’re going to close. I violently disagree with that. If you think about it from the perspective of being human, you can be much more successful by giving a gift and expecting absolutely nothing in return.
Practically speaking, what I mean by that is if you have a white paper or an E book that you want to deliver to the marketplace, don’t set up an adversarial relationship with people you don’t even know by demanding their personal information to download your stuff.
Instead, make it completely free, given as a gift with nothing expected in return. I’ve been happily married for a long time, but in the dating market, if you go to a bar and the first thing you say to someone before you agree to talk to them is that you want to have their business card so you can figure out who they are. I mean, that’s just not going to work, right?So that’s just one practical manifestation of that concept, but I think that’s one reason why big companies get tripped up is because there’s too many layers between them and the customer and they do these sorts of things like tying up all of their content in such a way that people can’t actually get to it.
John Lincoln: Well, I gotta say I really connect with you over a lot of these concepts and really I would say more, as I become more of a mature marketer, I always wanted the email capture.
I made a couple of movies, one a couple of years ago is SEO the Movie and other ones is Social Media Marketing the Movie. We just gave them away for free and just put it out there online and the response was really great. And I’m glad that I didn’t try to trick somebody into giving me an email for it.
So David, really great stuff today Ignite visibility listeners. I’m sure you got a ton of value out of this.
I always like to ask what you are most excited about in your life right now. Anything really big going on? In addition to that, where can people find out more about you online?
David Meerman Scott: I talked about this very briefly but it’s been really fascinating for me is over five years is creating a book with my daughter. So she’s 26 now she was 21 when we started our research, and you know you live with this little tiny baby who then becomes a student, and you sort of don’t really treat them like a human until they get to be a certain age, and then, you know, then they go off to college. But it’s been amazing for me to have an opportunity to write Fanocracy with my daughter. And now we’re in the mode where we’re out there talking about it together. We’ve done some interviews together. We’ve created some videos together. She’s actually even on the stage with me at HubSpot Inbound conference. And so that’s been incredibly moving as a father to be able to work with my daughter that way.
John Lincoln: Absolutely. Thanks so much for taking the time today. Awesome connecting with you and have a great day.