On this episode of the Same Side Selling Podcast, Ian Altman is joined by Matt Certo, author of Formulaic: How Thriving Companies Market From the Core and host of The Brand Narrative Podcast.

Ian and Matt discuss how you can truly set yourself apart from your competitors and in turn, see more success in your sales.


00:04 Ian Altman

Welcome to the Same Side Selling Podcast. I'm your host, Ian Altman. I know it's a big shock for those of you who have been participating in part of this podcast for many years, that in fact, I am the host. We're joined today by Matt Certo. Matt has run the Find Some and Win More marketing agency for over 25 years. So obviously, he's got a great deal of experience and patience. He also hosts the Brand Narrative podcast, and we're going to talk to him a little bit about his book, Formulaic: How Thriving Companies Market From the Core. And one of the big messages that Matt shares is, how do you stand out in a crowded marketplace so that you're not just seen as a commodity? Like so many of us struggle to deal with. So Matt, welcome to the show.

00:55 Matt Certo

Ian, thanks for having me.

00:56 Ian Altman

You bet. So this notion of, and this is something that I hear over and over from businesses, which is, well, we're in a really competitive marketplace. It's really crowded out here. And oftentimes, I feel there are things that businesses do that create that for them. So what are some of the biggest mistakes that you've seen businesses make that cause them to fall into that commodity trap?

01:21 Matt Certo

Well, I think there are a lot of mistakes that brands make when they fail to stand out. And I think the largest one is they lack the will to be different. And in the book Formulaic, which is really a deconstruction of different components of a brand and a brand that actually thrives in the marketplace, and one of the components of that is what we call or refer to as the courage to be different. And when I say courage, and it was a very intentional term, it involves some level of will or discomfort, or almost getting into a place where you're taking a risk with what you're doing. And you're being different to a point where you really are making a statement in the marketplace. So there are lots of examples in the market where you see this, and I encourage our clients to sort of look and observe brands that really stick out to them. We just had a brand marketer on the podcast, and he's created a cookie that has gone crazy down here in Orlando, including it at Walt Disney World. And it's a cookie that weighs half of a pound. And he has this incredible story and incredible narrative around his brand. But the product itself is something that is drawing people from all over the world, literally to Orlando. And his cookie is, in many cases, it’s been surveyed. It’s more attractive to people than the theme parks. And it's because he's done something that is completely different, completely outrageous to a point where people stand around, a line out his door and around the building for it. That's so it's that discomfort to be different.

03:06 Ian Altman

Yep. And so this is, the businesses that feel like they're commoditized, the ones that they themselves say, Oh, well, everyone treats us like a commodity, what are the mistakes that they're making? What are the things that they're that they are doing that cause them to get in there? Because I've got thoughts on it. Like one of the things that I often talk about is how people in sales roles, they'll complain that, oh, the client’s just focused on price. And then I'll say, okay, I want you to listen to your calls when you reach out to somebody. And they’ll reach out to somebody, and they say, oh, well, you know, I'd love to know who you're currently using because maybe we can save you some money. It's like you just told them that it's all about price, and now you're upset because they're treating you like it's all about price. So what are some of the things that from a marketing and branding standpoint, that you see that you say, that's a big mistake, if you do that you're gonna fall into this trap?

04:03 Matt Certo

Yeah, we say we quote Michael Porter, who says pricing is not a strategy or cheap is not a strategy. Right? And it's never been more true. And we encourage clients to really think about what the differences are. And you and I just chatted for a minute about how marketing and selling are sometimes lumped into one bucket, and they're two different things. But in order to sell well, we think that product positioning and really understanding what those differences are in the product, and articulating those, and going to the length of focusing on those with your client are the ones where you really do make a difference in the marketplace. I'll give you a quick example. We're looking at a new camera system. This is a business-to-business sale in our building. Security cameras that you see when you go in and out of stores. And there are two or three competitors that are out there. Similar in price, but one is a closed system. Kind of like Apple, and the iPhone is all closed. And they tout that. We've got this system that works. And of course, the competitor to that, which is an open system, is saying, you don't want to be stuck with that because if you don't like them at some point, then you're gonna be stuck with their equipment. You can't reuse it somewhere else. Ours is open architecture. So it's really understanding what those differences are. And then and then from a sales perspective, really focusing on those. I hadn't thought of that as the buyer.

05:22 Ian Altman

Well, and it's, it's interesting because one of the things that I'm interested to get your take on is this is that. So if you think about that, one of them says, no, no, you don't want that closed system. You want to open system. The other one says, no, no, you don't want an open system. You want a closed system. The reality is, I often think the mistake that businesses make is that they assume that the client understands why they might care about an open or a closed system. Instead, what we really should be looking at is, okay, what do I need to do so the client understands? So if one of the vendors reached out to you and said, Matt, look, in our industry, there are three different levels to these types of systems. So the base level is like, you just have cameras. You can monitor, and that's fine. At the next level, you've got a system where you can not only can you monitor what's going on, but you can also record stuff, you can access remotely, etc. The highest level is now there's also some AI built-in. You know, who's coming into the building and who isn't. It starts communicating. Which level are you looking for Matt? All of a sudden, you would say, Oh, I think we want that highest level. Now, when you first were calling, you're probably just thinking, well, I just want this base level> I just want to know who's coming in out of the building. And I think that too often, what we find is that businesses assume that the client understands what the landscape is of the market, what's out there, but they don't really, they don't really know what the differences are, in terms of what's available. How often do you see things like that happening?

06:55 Matt Certo

Very often. And I think that's where I've listened to your podcast enough to know that listening is important and asking the customer, not telling them but asking the customer. Because when I got into this journey of replacing the camera system, I had no idea what was available to me. I just wanted new cameras that gave a better picture. But to your point, well, there's access control that you could tie into that, and is that important to you, Matt? Yes, it is. We also have facial recognition. Would that ever be important to you? Sure, if there was ever a crime committed or vandalism, I'd want to be able to recognize faces. So I think a good sales approach actually lines up the features and benefits that they have versus those of their competitors. And it's a concept called laddering. And think about the rungs of a ladder. The rungs of the ladder represent different attributes. And oftentimes, there's one or two of those that is a strength of yours, that happens to be a weakness of your competitor. You look at Apple, for example, in the marketplace. Apple is often talking about security and privacy. They're talking about it because it's a strength of theirs, but oh, by the way, it's a weakness of Google and Facebook. And those are two other ecosystems that they're competing against. So it's figuring out what your strength is and how that corresponds to the weakness of your competitor. And that's where I feel like the difference in the compatibility of marketing and sales can get really interesting, because if everybody's on the same page with that, and not only is your salesforce out there talking about that, but your Google ad copy is also reinforcing those attributes. That's where things can get really, really powerful as far as marketing and sales integration.

08:30 Ian Altman

Yeah, that's great. And I think that's something that oftentimes people overlook, which is that connection between sales and marketing. And it's interesting because I posted something on social media recently where I said sales and marketing need to be joined at the hip. And the initial response from somebody was, well, but then all your business development is just too salesy. And I said, No, I'm not saying that marketing should be more like sales. In fact, what I'm saying is both should be focused on what are we solving for our clients, rather than what are we trying to sell? And what are the subject matter expertise areas that we can focus on? So if I was someone creating content for Apple, I would talk about, well, what are some of the hidden security risks in devices that people may not be aware of? And I'd probably start that content with something like, well, people come to us because they know that everything is bulletproof, and it's secure. What are some of the risks that we address that you want to make sure whatever you're using addresses? And all of a sudden, people are like, Oh, I didn't realize this was exposed, or that was exposed, and then they've got a whole dialogue around it. So I'm interested in the b2b space. What suggestions do you have for how people can capitalize on that? Because those rungs on the ladder, it's key to think about what differentiates you from other people. Too often, I see the businesses, they know it internally, but they never communicate it to anybody else. And then they assume the clients are just going to figure it out and rarely, does that happen.

10:03 Matt Certo

Right? Well, I think one mistake people make is assuming that your product is a fit for everyone. And we all know that that is not true. So I think it's figuring out that strength, that powerful rung of yours on the ladder. Who does that correspond with the best? And, and we think that's a big part. It's another element of Formulaic that we talked about. And it's a methodology of ours of really profiling that buyer, in figuring out who's the person that cares about that rung on the ladder. And, I think I would advise clients to go through this exercise of really understanding not only the difference that they want to make in the marketplace but also who they're trying to speak to. And if you can focus your energy on those prospects, back to the sales front, those prospects that this matters to or falls in that bucket that you really want to target, the more efficient you're going to be and the more successful you're going to be with delivering home that message.

11:02 Ian Altman

Now, I love that side of acknowledging that not everyone is a fit. It's something that we emphasize a lot in the Same Side Selling world. I'm curious to get your take on this. One of the things that we suggest to people is, look, on your website, you should talk about who's a good fit and who's not a good fit. And so, to me, I look at it as look, I want someone to read it and say, here's not a good fit, oh, I don't need any of those elements. So I guess I'm a good fit. But for some people, it's a riskier move, like, oh, I don't want to rule anybody out. My argument is, like, you want to rule people out. You want to rule out the people who aren't a good fit so you can focus on the right people. But what's your thought on that?

11:44 Matt Certo

It comes back to what we were talking about earlier and the idea of standing out. If you try and be all things to all people, you become nothing to no one. We all know that old adage, right? So if you're trying to position the company to be everything to everyone, then ultimately, you lose that creative edge or that difference in the marketplace. All right. You think about not fitting in, not blending in, and the idea of standing out? Well, that involves you stepping back and saying, you know, we really don't want to serve that particular person, you know, with this product, because they're not going to be happy with it. And ultimately, they're not going to talk highly of us and refer us to their friends because we're not for them. So the more you go down the path of trying to please everyone with the product, then ultimately, the more diluted your product becomes. So, and that involves back to courage and a little bit of will to say, You know what, this is uncomfortable, and it's not for everyone, but it's going to be for our audience segment. And they're going to love it because we're thinking only of them.

12:55 Ian Altman

Sure. And I think that to a certain degree, it comes down to, I like to describe it as if you come up with a message that appeals to everybody at some level. Zero to 10, it's going to appeal to, at best, people at a four or a five. If you narrow it down to a tighter niche in terms of here's specifically the problems that we're solving and in the types of clients we serve, then for those people, they're going to hear that message, and an eight, nine, or 10. And none of us spend money to solve a problem, that's four. But we'll happily spend money to solve a problem that's an eight, nine, or 10. And so that's an area where I think there's a huge opportunity. It's interesting because when I speak to groups of CEOs, which I do periodically, I'll often ask them how many of you would spend serious money to solve a problem that zero to 10 rose to a 5,6,7? I ask them to raise their hand. And it's not until they hit eight that people raise their hand. And people say to me, yeah, but if I get this one message, it's going to turn off these other people. I'm like, it's okay. You can have a message that attracts your ideal client and repels the other people, and you'll actually be better for it. But it's uncomfortable because people have been taught that no, no, you know, I gotta be everything to everybody.

14:14 Matt Certo

Right? Well, and I think too, it's a reminder that marketing, and we talk a lot about this, marketing is not advertising. Advertising is a part of marketing. Marketing has a mix of the four P's a lot of us learned in school: product, price, place, and promotion. And so, when you start to see these differences, and you start to see these components, it should actually guide your product development. This isn't just about how do I get clever with promoting my product or how do I get clever with a sales presentation? This should be about okay, this is what the marketplace is telling us. How should our product or our service offering evolve, given what we're hearing in the marketplace? We find those kinds of perspectives on marketing, that broader level lead you to a better place ultimately, where the next year when you're back in front of that customer, you have a product now that has been developed along the lines that he or she has sort of guided you toward.

15:07 Ian Altman

Yeah, it's interesting. It makes me think of this, which is, so in Same Side Selling, we talk about this principle called the Same Side Quadrants, and it's how people take notes during meetings. And for the longest time, we had it so that the journals, we would just tell people, here's how you can create a journal on your own. And almost every time I speak, someone says well, can I just buy these journals? And we said, Well, I mean, you don't need to buy the journals. And there's no reason to buy the journals. You can just do this on your own. And people said, well, that's crazy. Like, I don't want to have to create this. I said, well, why would you want to buy a journal? I'd want one that had kind of like tips for what kind of questions to ask in different parts of the journal. And I spent years trying to tell people why it didn't make sense for them to get that. And finally, at one point, I'm like, you know what, perhaps I should actually build something like this. And we built it. Now it's wildly popular, and people get it all the time. And I spent three years trying to convince people that they didn't need them. And I thought to myself, when I was actually speaking about one day, and I said, What do you gotta do is you got to listen to your clients and what they're asking for. It's like, you know because I'm trying to tell them no, no, you don't need it, you're good. You can do it on your own. People are saying, actually, no, we want to buy this. We don't want to build it ourselves. We just want to be able to go out and buy it. And so it's funny, I spoke at an event the other day, and all of a sudden, it's like, you just see all these people ordering these journals. And it's just kind of funny because I don't even really see it as a profit center, like most of our cost is with the fulfillment and shipping. It's kind of a bizarre thing, but it's just more. We weren't serving the audience because we weren't listening to them. And I think too often, people will say, like, there's a company that I coach, and they said, Yeah, well, you know, our clients are always asking for this thing, but we don't do that. And I said, Okay, why don't you do that? Well, it's just not what we do. I said, Can you do it? Well, yeah. Okay. And what percent of your clients are asking for that? Oh, like half of them? Right? And it's like, well, wouldn't it be easier for them if you offered it? And all of a sudden, they start offering it. And now, like, you know, just people are saying, Oh, my God, I'm so glad you offer this service. And it's just we don't want to be in that area. Well, actually, your clients want you to be in that area.

17:30 Matt Certo

Yeah, marketing research doesn't have to be so hard, right? We make it hard on ourselves. Let's go do a big survey. Why don't we just talk to our customers and listen to them? You know, what are they complaining about? What are they asking for? What are they excited about? And that kind of daily interaction is how you foster those customer relationships anyway.

17:46 Ian Altman

Yep. Where do you see the connection between sales and marketing? What are the types of things that you see people on the marketing side could and should be doing to support sales and vice versa?

18:01 Matt Certo

Well, I think the first really simple approach is to separate them in your mind. Look at them as two different entities. Don't look at a marketing campaign as being independent of a sales force or a sales effort of some sort. And sales doesn't necessarily have to be going out and making cold calls and knocking on doors as you talk about. It has to do with the process by which we're bringing in the customer, even if they're walking in our door. I'll give you a quick story. We do a lot of mystery shopping when we're taking on a new client because we want to know what the customer is sensing when they are approaching the brand. And this was a service organization that took consumers in to offer a service. And we were going to develop a marketing campaign for them. And when I called to make an appointment because I wanted to go in to test the service, they said, Where do you live?' I said, Well, I live in this part of town, about 30 minutes away. So, oh,you don't want to make that drive, there's a competitor of ours that does something similar, and they're like five minutes away from you. So in the category of what not to do, sales should be about helping a customer make the decision to buy from you. And it doesn't have to be knocking on doors. And so that alignment between what we're selling, who's selling it, even if it's passive selling, is important. It can be guided by this idea of profiling our customers. But the other thing we talk about is what is the culture of the organization? The culture of the organization drives this kind of thinking. Everyone is our customer. If someone is calling us from Dubai wanting our service, we should be inviting them to fly here because it's worth it, and you should make time to come here.

19:47 Ian Altman

Well, and there may even be an argument I would think that says, look if they had just said to you, Hey Matt, I appreciate you coming over here. I just want to make sure, here's the reason why some people drive half an hour, an hour, two hours to come meet us. Are those things important to you? If not, let me know, and I'll direct you to someone who might be more convenient to you. A lot of our clients say, Look, I'm not going to need the service ten times a year. I'm going to need it once a year. So they'd rather go to the right place. Which situation are you in? And now what it does is the person who, you don't want the person to make an appointment and say, I'm not driving a half-hour, never mind, and now you've got a slot where someone doesn't show up. So there is a little bit of a balance there. But I think that the notion of focusing on okay, so when someone's not in the area, what do you do?

20:38 Matt Certo

Right? Well, I think that comes back to what you're talking about to the difference between you and that competitor? What are those reasons why you might want to drive down here? Those are fed by this courage to be different and think through in your business. What makes you different? And if there's not something to make you different, what do you need to build into your offering to make you stand out, to give yourself a clear difference? I was at a steakhouse. It was a restaurant, it wasn't even a steak house, and the guy comes out, and they serve steaks, very nice steaks. And they had a 55-ounce wagyu steak. 55 ounces for, I think it was $145. Now we didn't order that. But the product offering was so outstanding and remarkable that it gives them not only a talking point, but it gives them sort of a difference out there in the marketplace. So there are other examples, and I don't know if you ever read Jonah Berger's Contagious that he wrote a number of years ago, but he talks about a $100 Philly cheesesteak that is sold by a steakhouse in Philadelphia. So it's this idea of impact products, impact offerings that really make you different. If you don't have one, go think one up, go dream one up.

22:00 Ian Altman

Sure. The last thing I want to touch on here is there is one story specifically for you that stands out to you to say, look, here's the way people can really stand out and attract attention. Here's a great example that other businesses can emulate, especially if it's something that a b2b company can latch on to and say, that's a great way for us to think about this because I want to get as specific as we can, so people can actually take sure oh, here's a way I can do this.

22:28 Matt Certo

Sure. So two quick things. First of all, the story, the reason I wrote this book was because we had gone through a complete exercise with a client, it was a restaurant, to change the outside branding, marketing of the restaurant. I went, through, redid the logos, changed the name, changed the decor, everything. When this was all put into place two months later, the results of the business were no different. And the premise of this book is unless you change the things inside the business, the product offering, the culture, the story, unless those elements inside the business change, you're not going to have any impact just sort of putting a new coat of paint on your business. But probably the story in this book that I like the most is a young entrepreneur from Greece, came over 20, 25 years ago to the US, and he has this idea that he wants to offer Greek yogurt to the United States. And everywhere he goes, they said, that's never gonna work here. Greek yogurt is kind of sour. People aren't gonna like it. And this entrepreneur says, Well, if you look at this label of Yoplait yogurt, it's got all sorts of artificial colors, artificial flavors. I just don't like eating this stuff, and I think Americans deserve better yogurt. So little by little, he started selling this yogurt out of the back of his car to independent health food stores. Twenty-five years later, that company is Chobani Yogurt. And he's completely revolutionized how yogurt is made and sold. If you look, every major consumer market dairy provider has a Greek yogurt offering now because this person, this entrepreneur, stepped up and said, I want to do something different. And I want to create something that doesn't already exist. So to me, that is the fundamental story of why products really can thrive is the courage to be different in the face of someone telling you, hey, that'll never work here. You need to blend in like the rest of us.

24:36 Ian Altman

That's great. That's great. So let me give a quick recap. A quick 30-second recap of the key things I think people can take away and use. I'll give you an opportunity for rebuttal. And then we'll make sure that people know how to connect with you, Matt. So the first thing is to be courageous. So make sure that you're not just falling into the same old same old that everyone else does, but be courageous in your decisions to stand out. Think of those rungs on a ladder so that you're thinking about what are those elements that make us different, that make us strong, that maybe our competitors are weak at. Build marketing that's connected to sales. So recognize that your marketing activities are feeding into sales, and you want to get sales input into marketing, marketings input into sales. And don't just change the outside without changing the inside. If you just put a little bit of decoration on, it's probably not going to make a big difference. Instead, you want to make sure that you're actually making changes consciously in the business and in your culture that drives that experience for the end client. So what did I miss, Matt?

25:38 Matt Certo

I have no rebuttal to that. That sounded really intelligent.

25:43 Ian Altman

Sometimes we can fool people in that way. What's the best way for people to connect with you and learn more about what you're doing?

25:52 Matt Certo

I appreciate you asking me, Ian, and for having me on. FindSomeWinmore.com is our agency website address. I'd love for you to check us out there. You mentioned the book FormulaicTheBook.com, and it'll lead you to Amazon. You can find it on Amazon, download it on Kindle. And then you mentioned the podcast, BrandNarrative.fm is our podcast. It's available on all the podcast platforms, and we're learning from other podcasters like you. We're newer in this game but loving the journey so far. And you know, we'd love for people to connect to us there.

26:25 Ian Altman

That's great, Matt. Thanks for joining me.

Ian, thanks for having me on. I really enjoyed it. Happy Thanksgiving.

Alright, you too.