00:05 Ian Altman
Welcome to the Same Side Selling Podcast. I know it’s a big surprise, I’m your host, Ian Altman. This week, I’m joined by a brilliant mind in the world of marketing and branding, Gair Maxwell. Gair is the author of this wonderful book, Big Little Legends. We’re going to talk about some of the biggest mistakes that people make when it comes to marketing and branding and some of the insights he shares in an absolutely brilliant book. So Gair, welcome to the program.
00:38 Gair Maxwell
Great to be here, Ian. Looking forward to diving in and being on the same side of this issue, which I know has tortured many leaders and marketing executives literally for centuries, dating back to maybe Benjamin Franklin and before him.
00:55 Ian Altman
I’m sure. I’m sure. It’s, you know, that’s something that’s common for everybody. I want to tap into your expertise and start with this question, which is, what are the biggest mistakes or blind spots that you see that businesses make when it comes to their marketing and branding?
01:14 Gair Maxwell
Wow, where do we begin? How about with the obvious? How about with the obvious. The hypocrisy of leadership. Every business leader I talked to, Ian, and you probably have seen the same thing, they claim substantial differentiation really, really matters. And yet, the opportunity that leaders miss, in our experience in our research, is to create substantial differentiation simply by refusing to do what everybody else does in the category. So, what do I mean by that? Yeah. So what do I mean by that? So just, for example, let’s use the old-fashioned radio ad, for example. Okay, the old-fashioned radio ad. We offer fast, friendly, reliable service at affordable prices. Our friendly and knowledgeable staff is here, Monday to Friday, nine till six, Saturday 10 to four for your shopping convenience. Where does that register on the personal give a shit-o-meter? Nowhere, that being said, b2b, they don’t use radio ads even, but they have websites, home pages, about us sections. What do you see there? For more than 25 years, XYZ has been a leading-edge solution provider, and our integrated solutions and our unwavering commitment to customer satisfaction, coupled with our core values of integrity, creativity, and teamwork, lead us to become the outstanding performer in our field, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.
Ian, how else do we say it here on Same Side Selling? The words matter. So when you literally see website after website, we’ve studied it on our team, more than 7500. When they’re all copy and paste, when they’re all coming from the same marketing boilerplate, tell me that differentiation really matters. Well maybe it doesn’t. And this is in my view, Ian, and you’ll appreciate this, this is what happens when leaders abdicate their responsibility for creating long-term brands, and they put it in the hands of the marketers or the 22-year old social media intern. They don’t take this seriously enough at the highest level of the company. I tell my CEO groups all the time marketing agencies and consultants don’t build great brands; leaders do. This is a leadership issue. It’s not a marketing issue once the leaders take it seriously, and really invest some of their time and attention, Ian, then I mean, that’s the subject of our book. That’s the subtitle, right? Big Little Legends: How do everyday leaders build irresistible brands. It worked for Steve Jobs, it worked for Richard Branson, what we identified. How does it work? If you’re a small to medium-sized enterprise, you know, typically between 10 million and a billion dollars in annual revenue, how does it work in your space?
04:29 Ian Altman
Sure. And one of my favorites that I hear people use is in their marketing on their websites, they say things like, we’re a full-service provider. Which I think is fantastic if all of your competitors claim to be partial service providers, but if they’re not partial service providers, if, in fact, everyone else claims to be a full-service provider, then that doesn’t really help you stand out. So you share some amazing stories in Big Little Legends. And it’s stories of Big Little Legends, people who created these irresistible brands. What are some of the biggest lessons that you picked up when you were writing the book?
05:16 Gair Maxwell
Well, it’s really simple. It’s understanding that you can’t create. So, first of all, the legend destroys all competitors in every product service category. If you create the legend, you basically make everyone else irrelevant. Ask people in the motorcycle industry who’ve been trying to compete against Harley Davidson for years. Now, that might change down the road a little bit with shifting societal norms, but my point is, it’s like Starbucks is the legend in the coffee business. There are legends out there. They line up, Ian. Every time Apple releases a brand new phone, have you noticed? They line up. And so what we try and decode is, how do you actually do that it begins with a baseline understanding. You can’t create a legend without a story. It can’t be done.
06:05 Ian Altman
I love that you mentioned that because one of the questions I have for you is this: how would you rate the relative importance of a company’s products or services compared to the underlying stories that go with that product or service? Because I think a lot of companies place a huge emphasis on, our product does this, or our service has, you know, we have this capability, or our people have this educational background. And I would argue those things really don’t matter, compared to the stories, but I’m open to being wrong. What do you think?
06:42 Gair Maxwell
No. All your quality, what you’re bringing up, Ian, is what I hear a lot. It’s the quality argument. We have top quality. The problem is 99 other competitors are also claiming they have top quality. So from the outside looking in, which is what brand is all about, brand is all about the perception and the reputation you’re creating. Well, quality is nothing more than table stakes. So you can’t create substantial differentiation off of the cue word. It’s, I mean unless you’ve got truckloads of money and a lot of time on your side, go ahead, but I don’t recommend it. And one of the stories in the book that really emphasizes, you know, the point, is the story of, it’s one of Canada’s greatest small business success stories. He comes from the worst category in the world, Ian, in terms of public perception and reputation.
07:45 Ian Altman
Wait, he’s an author? And he hosts a podcast?
07:52 Gair Maxwell
No. No. He’s lower than consultants, politicians, and lawyers, and he sells used cars. Like you don’t get much lower on the business credibility totem pole. And when I met Jim Gilbert in 2002, I’ll never forget as long as I live the most profound words on this subject. He says it’s not about the four wheels and the piece of tin. And my jaw nearly hit the floor. What do you mean? He says, and this is ’02, Ian. He says everyone’s got good cars. There are 22 car dealerships within a 100-kilometer radius. He says We’ve got to figure out what’s going to separate us. So in chapter two, we do a deeper dive into this incredibly unlikely story. But the principles apply throughout, which is this, nothing really changed. And when I met Jim, he had five employees. He’s got a little corner lot. It was tidy and clean. But he’s doing like a million 2, a million 3 a year and annual revenue. So he’s the small mom and pop he and his wife work in the business. In 2006, we changed. We didn’t change the products. We didn’t change the pricing. No, we changed the story. And we went on the air with 30-second vignettes and told stories of Canada’s huggable car dealer. How he’s the Romeo of Roadsters. The McDreamy of Drive. The Casanova of Customer Focus. Stop by Jim Gilbert’s, get your daily dose of hugtonium. Designed to improve your love affair with your car and your libido. What were we not talking about, Ian? You weren’t talking about the cars. No. For 15 years, this has been an incredible laboratory to understand how does the power of a great story positively influence buyer behavior in your favor? And then you juxtapose the never-ending story of Canada’s huggable car dealer next to the competition. What are they talking about still 15 years later? Better quality, better selection, better service, better value, better prices. They’re all about product, product, product. And we went in a completely different direction, understanding, and I talked about this in the book, if everybody zigs, you got to find the zag. And more often than not, you can find the zag by creating a larger-than-life story. So in effect, the huggable car dealer metaphorically became the Colonel Sanders of used cars in Atlantic, Canada. That’s, you know, that’s a business that employs 38 people does north of $50 million, biggest used car enterprise in all four Atlantic Canadian provinces. And it was the core origin story of where a lot of our theories around how do you successfully create big little legends from anywhere in any product service category. We had an incredible place to test these wild theories, and figure out over time, how this could really play out. That’s why it took, what, nearly four years to research and write the book as well because we had to bring in all kinds of other examples to counterbalance what we were seeing firsthand there.
11:24 Ian Altman
Sure. And, Gair, I love the fact that you talk about this idea of a used car dealership. In fact, in Same Side Selling, one of the stories we talked about is actually, ironically, a used car organization called Member Car in the Washington DC area. And the story I tell is how I was basically on the verge of buying a, for lack of a better term, an exotic car. And the owner, this guy, David Wagglestein, David says, So are you planning to sell your current car and use this as like a daily driver? I said, Yeah. He says, okay, you need to understand. Here’s what the maintenance is like on this car. You’re going to have to spend, if you’re driving it that way, you’re going to spend $15,000 to $20,000 a year, just in maintenance. He said People drive these cars 2000 miles a year. They don’t drive these cars, 15,000 miles a year, 12,000 miles a year. They’re not designed for that. So I just want to make sure you know. And I was, contract set up, ready to sign. I didn’t buy that car. He directed me to a new car that wasn’t a car that they sold. He only sold used cars. And the net result was that he lost the sale of a high-end exotic car and probably only received a million 5 worth of referral business over the ensuing five years of people I referred to him and said, this guy you can trust. And we bought some vehicles from him for our family, bought three or four vehicles and someone said, Well, so gee, this car was in an accident, so you got a new car? How many places did you look at? I just went to one place. I didn’t need to go anywhere else. Right. And it’s interesting because their reputation is such that people say yeah, it’s one of the few used car places where you know, if you have an issue, they’re gonna stand behind it, regardless of what a contract says, regardless of what it says on the window, they’re going to take care of you and make sure that you’re in good hands. And that’s something that I think is really a major distinction. So you use the example of this used car dealer in Canada. And so, I want to talk about some of the b2b type companies. So the companies who sell business to business, because a lot of our audience is people who sell one business to another business, where should people start when it comes to uncovering these stories? And I know you talked about in the book, but I want people to hear straight from your mouth. How do you start? How do you come up with these stories and the foundation for them that you can build a brand out of?
14:01 Gair Maxwell
Well, they all come, and I love that story you just shared as well, Ian, because what you just spoke of was was values. All right, like those values, and by the way, what’s the most powerful form of advertising? Always has been, always will be. The most powerful form is word of mouth. So by sacrificing the one-time sale, this gentleman’s values has created a ton of word of mouth and referrals generated by Ian Altman. Does that, am I understanding the issue?
Absolutely, yeah, absolutely.
The same holds true. So the exact same dynamic holds true in the world of b2b. So one of the things we talk about in chapter eight, for example, is the power of icons and symbols. In other words, symbols and rituals, right? And so for example, the huggable car dealer, if Walt Disney was to conceptualize a used car lot, this is what it looks like because there are hundreds of teddy bears, there’s mascots, there’s merry go rounds, there’s a two kilometer nature trail to go walk your dog. So there are so many visual signals that are consistent with the values that you just described, trust, integrity, family, caring kindness. That’s really who they are. Okay. Well, in a b2b world, in chapter eight, one of the best examples is they’ve got over 400 employees. They’re all over the world. They’re in the mining business. It doesn’t get much more b2b than manufacturing and mining. They’re called Raptor Mining, out of Edmonton, Alberta, but they’ve got offices, for instance, in Miami. They’re in South America. They’re in different parts of the world because mining is one of those far-flung enterprises. And when I met the CEO, Craig Harder. I was, and I had nothing to do with this, by the way. I showed up one day, and there he was. But I could see the magic he was creating. And based on the values that were already there, he went a step further. And that’s the idea. You got to know who you are. And here’s the question, this is going to challenge everyone today who’s listening to this podcast; who are you beyond the products and services? Simon Sinek talks about it in “Start with Why.” People don’t buy what you do. They buy why you do it. And to honor Simon’s work, I push it a little further. Yeah, well, who are you in terms of your identity? So if I say, Nike, right away, the brain goes, Oh, they’re the just do it, guys. They know. Okay, Raptor Mining. What Craig did was brilliant. He built a whole culture and brand, around three letters, GSD. How do you interpret GSD? Right, it could be a Goal Setting Discussion. It could be Getting Shit Done. But then he takes it another step further, because he created a fictitious character. And the fictitious character is the Raptor CMO with the dinosaur mask. And I’ll never ever forget, for as long as I live, he and I are doing a Facebook live segment from his boardroom a few years back. And he’s got the dinosaur mask on. And the reason is because the Toronto Raptors were in the, you know, right in the depths of a big playoff run in the NBA. So it was, it was great in Canada. Let’s talk about the Raptors. Here’s the Raptor. He’s got the dinosaur mask on. Ian. And I’ll never forget that deadpan thing when I asked him about what he feels about the Raptors and their chances in the NBA playoffs and, and he’s sitting there with a goofy mask on and those gloves with the big, you know, and he said, Well, he says, you know, people may or may not know it, but we’ve been around for like the last 66 million years. And we’re very familiar with what it takes and blah, blah, blah, and I cracked up But that’s my point. Every post he puts on LinkedIn, every video that goes out on YouTube or on Instagram, and the Raptor CMO is out there, inside their, you know, machine shop or out there in the field with one of those great big payloader. What are people noticing? They’re noticing symbolic thought, which is how you communicate the power of a story. You see, Pittsburgh Steeler fans, Ian, are very familiar with the power of symbolic thought. But it goes to golf. What tournament, more than any other tournament, does the pro golfer wanna win? It’s the Masters. Why? And fundamentally, what is it, Ian? It’s a green piece of cloth.
19:17 Ian Altman
Yeah, but, but it’s the story behind that cloth. So, so where if somebody is trying to initiate what you call in the book, being your own media company. So you say, in the book, you have to be your own media company. What are a couple of things that people should start with today that will help them down that path of becoming their own media company?
19:48 Gair Maxwell
I think it starts with a strategic recognition that first, you figure out your identity. Because there’s no sense in my view, and this is somewhat controversial, I don’t think there’s a whole lot of sense in blasting out a bunch of content all over social media if you can’t anchor it to a brand identity. And basically, you’ve got two to six words to own that identity with. Nike is a great universal example. What are the three words at the end? Just helped me out. Nike: just do it. Right? And Nike’s brand valuation annually is more than double their top four competitors combined. Okay, so if you’re your own media company, let’s use, in my view, the best in the world right now. One of the best is Red Bull. So when I say Red Bull, what’s the whole thing anchored to? Red Bull gives you wings. Great. Sure. But Red Bull, at its heart, is a media company that happens to sell an energy drink. And then the book in chapter nine, we pinpoint the exact day that’s consistent through all 12 chapters. Where did the world tilt on its axis for some of these legendary brands? For Red Bull, it happened when they created their own magazine at the Monaco Grand Prix as part of the Formula One thing, but since then, they’ve really become a media company that just happens to sell an energy drink. Okay, great. That’s great for Red Bull. How do you do it if you’re a b2b company on a shoestring budget? That’s the issue. Right?
21:28 Ian Altman
So, where should that where should people start? Because right now, I guarantee there are people saying, oh, yeah, I want to be like Nike, I want to be like Red Bull. Those are consumer brands. I’m a b2b space. Okay. The Raptors, I’m probably not going to put on a costume. What were incremental steps? What are a couple of ways that leaders can think about this idea of establishing their brand, make it so they’re competing head and shoulders above the biggest in their field, where do they start?
22:00 Gair Maxwell
So let’s go away from anything perceived as goofy, gimmicky, or silly. Let’s just go totally into something, and I will always bring it back. And I do this in my consulting work all the time, Ian. Let’s bring it back to values. Now, in the case of Craig Harder, from Raptor Mining, playfulness is one of his core values. So that makes sense. Right? Let’s go to a company called Thermal Wood Canada. And I love this example. And I love your question because it illustrates well, what do you do if you’re not that extrovert, okay. So Bob Lennon is the chief architect the, you know, of Thermal Wood Canada, and they’re in an extremely niche category Ian. They manufacture thermally modified wood, like, this is a rare space to be in. They sell to people all over the world. They’re based in northern New Brunswick. And the two words that the whole brand is anchored to are northern heat. So metaphorically, it’s about people, you know, bringing the heat, making a difference, that type of thing. Now, Bob is not that guy. Like I said, he’s an engineer by background, but you know what? He is big. And I mean, big community guy. His thing is all about community. So he does a thing. He does a show. Every Friday, it’s called the Northern Heat Report. And what does he do, Ian? His entire focus is on people in northern New Brunswick or other parts of the Maritimes who are doing great things for the community. How many stories can you tell on a weekly basis, whether it’s the SPCA, Junior Achievement, Chamber of Commerce, local musicians keep going, Ian, how, how many stories can you spin out of this?
24:03 Ian Altman
Sure. You could spin as many as you like.
You can go forever. I couldn’t believe it. Two weeks ago, on my feed, I saw on Bob Lennon’s Northern Heat Report that pro basketball is coming to his town. And it’s important for me to say this, I didn’t read that in a newspaper, or hear it on the radio. Where did I see it? Because Bob Lennon is the media. He’s a media company that happens to manufacture thermally modified wood. And I mean, you’re doing the same thing, Ian. You’re you’ve created with what you’re doing with your podcast and everything. You’re the media company that happens to be in the sales consulting business.
24:52 Ian Altman
Well, I think part of it part of it Gair, if I think about it is this notion of making it so that the story sometimes is a case study about your company. Sometimes it’s sharing stories about things that are relevant to your customers that might have nothing to do with what you sell. So oftentimes, I share things that have nothing to do with Same Side Selling, per se, but its things that people in the world of Same Side Selling are going to want to hear about or know about that will help them. There’s a reason why, in the Same Side Selling Academy, we have a whole section called outside experts, and it’s people who have content that would be complementary, that isn’t necessarily sales-driven or marketing-driven, but it’s more, how do you help motivate your team? How do you align with what’s important to your customers and things like that that would be relevant to them? And it sounds like that notion of if you’re trying to create these stories, you want to talk about your customers, you want to talk about the community that you serve, more so than talking about your own products and services. Because I think what moves the needle is someone says, Wow, that customer really had something great. And I think that’s the thing that oftentimes gets missed is this notion that anytime you tell a story about a customer, the customer or client needs to be the hero of the story, not your company. So I’m curious, your thoughts on that?
26:29 Gair Maxwell
Yeah. Totally. So go back to where we were earlier; if it’s not about the four wheels and the piece of tin, everyone’s got their metaphorical equivalent. It’s not about your products and services. As soon as it’s about your products and services, you’re not doing brand marketing anymore. You’re doing an ad. You’re doing direct marketing. These disciplines are wildly polar opposite. There’s direct marketing, the late-night infomercial, the cold call, the RFP, I get it, spammy emails, that’s direct marketing, right? Brand marketing is not about driving traffic and sales. It’s about creating community and a reputation, like the guy you described earlier. Right? And so, in brand marketing, you want to be at the forefront of creating conversations and a community around something much bigger outside your product and service. Can it be your customer? Yes. Let’s use Nike as the universal example. Did they not weigh in with content related to inspiring Americans to get out to the vote? I think they did that. Right? Did they not pick up the torch in terms of the Colin Kaepernick thing? Absolutely. That had nothing to do with shoes, everything to do with values. Now people can question the values. They can debate the values are all day long. Right? But Nike knows who they are. They are cutting edge. They are, they’re all about initiative. They’ve never backed down in terms of taking a stand in those types of, you know, with those types of issues. But my point is that Ian, is that you can be that, you can be the Pittsburgh Steelers, you can be Masters, you can be the Raptor Mining guy with his dinosaur. You got to know who you are. You got to step into your story. And it can’t be about your products and services. It just can’t be as soon as it goes there, you’re in the category mosh pit with everybody else.
28:36 Ian Altman
So Gair, what’s the best way for people to connect with you and learn more about what you’re doing?
28:42 Gair Maxwell
Well, I, and I thank you, Ian. I’m the easiest guy to find online because of the unique spelling of my first name, which is Gair. You’re on the air with Gair, used to have hair, once worked with Rick Flair. So Gair. Everything’s on the website, but also we walk our own talk in that sense. We do a program called Leaders and Legends. It’s our own little Netflix-style approach. About 90 plus percent of the episodes are on video. And, we give it all away for free because we believe that this future that we’re all kind of, you know, getting acquainted with in terms of let’s face it, no one, Ian, no one, I got the prop right here. No one’s racing out to build brands through platforms like this anymore. The Yellow Pages dude ain’t coming back. We’ve gone from Yellow Pages to YouTube, both literally and metaphorically. And would you believe, Ian, more than 95% of b2b companies, and I’ve seen the websites, and this is not an internet stat, this is my stat, more than 95% don’t even have a YouTube channel, and if they do then there’s nothing that’s been posted since, you know, a year or two years ago. In other words, brand building now, and that’s why I’m glad you, you know, we’re trying to be the model. So if people really want to study how it’s done, and I’m not saying we’re perfect. We’re far from it, but we are consistent. So we put out Leaders and Legends every second Wednesday. Bob Lennon does his thing every Friday. See what I mean? Like, you’re running a media company now. We’re in the media business.
30:30 Ian Altman
So Gair, let me do a quick 30-second or so recap of some of the key points for people. And then I’ll give you an opportunity for rebuttal to cover what I missed. Okay, so we need to make sure that as leaders, we’re not abdicating responsibility for establishing the brand, not handing off to some junior person marketing, but building a brand based on values. Stories outweigh products or services. So you need to make sure that it’s about the story. It’s not about listing your features and benefits because the reality is nobody cares. You need to make sure that you’re emphasizing in your business how important it is to become a media company. And you want to make sure that as part of that, you’re conveying your values and your big ideas, not necessarily conveying just your value, but your values as a business and the big ideas that people can get around. So yeah, what did I miss when it comes to this idea in Big Little Legends?
31:27 Gair Maxwell
Yeah, you really nailed it. Now I’ll wrap it up with this, Ian, it’s, you can go all the way to America’s favorite minor league baseball team, the Savannah Bananas, which has a Tiktok following bigger than any major league team in baseball, okay? And Jesse Cole wears a yellow tux and a top hat seven days a week. Or you can go across the Atlantic Ocean to the old course at St. Andrews, Scotland. Right? Which you got to book more than a year in advance to get a tee time. What we did with Big Little Legends was show both sides of the spectrum using the lessons of history because the further back you can look, the farther ahead you can see. So Big Little Legends, more than anything was a statement, hopefully, about the power of vision, and how the possibilities are so much bigger when you recognize whether you’re packing a minor league ballpark in Savannah, Georgia, or you’re getting, you know, tee-off times booked a year in advance at St. Andrews, Scotland, the dynamics are all the same.
32:36 Ian Altman
Gair, thanks for joining me and for the audience, I look forward to seeing you on the next episode of the Same Side Selling Podcast. So long.