What can we learn from a communications expert who has written over 200 articles, and been published in places like Forbes, Mashable, and TechCrunch? Being able to empathize with your audience is the most crucial part of communication.
In this podcast, entrepreneur and marketing influencer Josh Steimle shares with us his unique insights on a variety of topics: from learning how to empathize can change your communication to new trends in digital marketing and why bulleted lists are so attractive for modern audiences.
Interview with Josh Steimle
Q: Josh, to start us off can you tell us what it is that you do?
A: I am the founder and CEO of MWI, a digital marketing agency. I’m also the author of Chief Marketing Officers at Work, which is a book that should be out within the next two months if I do my job right!
In the book, I interview 30 chief marketing officers (CMOs,) from corporations and other organizations.
I have also authored over 200 articles for Forbes, Mashable, TechCrunch, and a number of other publications. That’s the professional overview.
Q: Tell me a little bit more about your book. That’s a lot of expertise that you’ve drawn on. Did you see a common theme in a lot of the advice these marketers were giving you?
A: Yes, there were a lot of common themes. I think the thing that surprised me the most when I was interviewing these CMOs was how up-to-speed they are on technology. We had a lot of conversations about big data, and the different technology solutions out there.
I was expecting these CMOs to be a step removed from from that. Like maybe that would be something they would hire a specialist to do. But I was really surprised by how many of them really understood data, and technology, and where things are going, and they were making plans around these things, so really a bright group of people.
Q: What do you see the future for online marketing looking like?
A: It’s both more customized, and more automated at the same time.
The great thing about data is that you can really get back to the way we used to do marketing two hundred years ago, which was one-on-one relationships.
What all these companies are trying to do is they’re trying to get to the point where their interactions with customers are as one on one as they can possibly be.
But how do you do that when you have a company like GE that services millions, hundreds of millions of people around the world? You have to use data, and you have to use systems. But that’s what they’re trying to do.
The goal is to create this one-to-one connection that feels just like you’re talking with a friend, it feels like you’re talking with somebody that you know. That’s where things are moving, that’s the goal is to create those types of relationship.
It’s fascinating to see how technology is being used in the innovative systems that are coming about in marketing.
Q: It sounds a little bit like AI, you’re using the information that they’re giving you to customize the information you return to them.
A: Yes, there is a lot of that.
The great thing about this level of automation that we’re getting is that it frees people up, to not focus on these manual labor tasks that a machine can do.
Then the people can focus on the creativity: the things that only humans can come up with.
I think it all equals better service and better products for consumers because the machines are taking care of so much, people can focus on people again.
Q: What do you see the biggest problem that brands have when it comes to marketing themselves online? What is it that they can do differently?
A: It’s interesting. In this day and age we have this expectation that everybody is up to speed on the web. There’s this cutting edge that people need to keep up with.
But what we see is that there are a lot of brands out there that are 10 years behind, 15 years behind when it comes to implementing online marketing and the internet technologies.
These people, they don’t just need to stay up with the cutting edge, they need to get up with where things were ten years ago, and five years ago, and they still need to work towards that.
We see with a lot of companies that the big mistake they’re making is they’re simply not even trying. They’re not even using what’s out there.
They might have a Facebook profile, and they put up a logo, and a Facebook icon on their website, and they think “Hey, we have a social media strategy.” That’s no closer to a social media strategy than making a drawing of a car, and saying that you have a car that you can drive.
That’s the main thing we see is that people just aren’t using the tools that are very much accessible, very accepted, they’re just really far behind the times.
We especially see this a lot here in Asia, that a lot of the conversations that I had ten years ago with clients are the same conversations I’m having here now with clients.
Q: Say you have this brand, and they know they should be on social media. They’ve set up their Facebook profile. Maybe they even have a LinkedIn and Twitter profile as well. But they’re a little bit intimidated on where to get started, how to actually get the ball rolling. What do you suggest to them?
A: What we try to do is we try to just walk them through some of the steps, and we try to show them the results that are possible.
There’s a saying that anybody who has a good enough “why” can deal with any “how”. If people know why they should be on social media, and they see the return that’s possible then they can figure out the how. They’ll deal with how to get there.
We try to show our clients the why, and then we help them out with the how. But once they get the why then it’s pretty easy for them to deal with the how.
A: I focus on the things that my agency does. I talk about online marketing, social media, content marketing. A lot of what I speak about these days has to do with public relations, or digital PR.
I write for these publications, and I have experience getting pitched by people who are trying to get into these publications I have some insights that I like to share with people on how they can get publishing forms, or Ink, Mashable, or TechCrunch.
I walk them through some of those steps, and how to pitch to journalists, and especially how they can use online tools to create buzz around what their companies are doing, or what they’re doing as individuals. So they can become knowledge experts, or influencers, in what they know and spread the word through these major media sources.
I also like to teach people how to use resources like LinkedIn Pulse, Medium, and some of these social networks that are out there that are free to publish content so that they can become an expert without relying on these major publications.
Q: What’s the best outcome you can expect from one of your talks? How do you know one of your talks has been successful?
A: Sometimes that’s difficult, because people come up and they tell you afterwards you did a great job. You don’t always know if they’re just being nice, or trying to make you feel better because you did a terrible job or something.
But usually what I see is if people follow-up with me outside of the conference, and they’re emailing me afterward, and they’re asking me questions, and they want to know more.
Then that’s usually when I know I’ve done at least an okay job job, if I leave the people wanting more, and they’re actually following up with me. If I just get a bunch of compliments right afterwards, and then I don’t hear anything else, then I figure I must not have hit the right note with the audience.
Q: When it comes to hitting the right note with the audience, how do you make your content relatable, and memorable to them?
A: I try to keep it really simple. I don’t mean simple in the sense of dumbing it down. But I try to be very clear and concise in my points.
Something I learned writing these articles for Forbes and other publications is that people really like lists, and they really like bullet points.
When I say bullet points, I don’t mean a PowerPoint presentation where every slide has 20 bullet points. I mean people like a list of seven ways that you can do something, or here’s how to do something in five steps.
Most of my presentations, or the talks that I give, I’ll talk about “Here are three ways to get PR without using mainstream media,” or “Here are five ways to pitch the media correctly.” I divide it up into those points, and then I just go through each of those points, and give examples. I keep it really simple, brief, to the point, and that seems to go over well every time.
A: I think it’s because we all have limited time, we’re all rushing around. We have problems and challenges at work, or in our companies that we’re trying to solve.
When we see a list that says here are seven ways to handle this issue, or fix this problem I think we look at that and we think that sounds like a really quick read. I can just skim those points.
They think, “Maybe I can just read the first sentence, and it will give me a clue that’s going to help me with something in my life, or something that I’m working on.” I think it’s the promise of getting something valuable without too much time, or too much of an investment that draws us in.
If someone were to say “Here’s a 20 minute white paper on how to fix this problem,” fewer people will read it, because they’re going to say “This is a 20 minute commitment. I have to read the whole thing. I have to understand every sentence of it.”
You see a list that says “Hey, here’s seven ways to do this, or here are seven things to look at.” We think “I can just skim over that in 20 seconds, and get something out of it, and if I want to go in deeper I can go in deeper under one of those points.”
I think it’s that getting something without much of an investment that draws us in, and make us suckers for those headlines.
Q: Josh, you do talks, you’re an avid writer. You also do things like triathlons, and you have a family. How do you balance everything?
A: I certainly could do a better job at it, but one of the things that has been very helpful for me is that years ago my wife and I sat down, when it became an issue, the work life balance. We said “Okay, we’re going to set some boundaries, and we’re going to set some rules here.” I have rules like I get off of work at 5 p.m., I don’t work on weekends. We have certain things during the week related to family activities that we have scheduled.
By creating these boundaries that lets me know that I can work all day, and I can focus my attention, but when five o’clock comes, I need to be done. Therefore I need to really prioritize my time during the day.
When I was starting out with my business I would work 90, 100 hours a week, and I didn’t get all that much done. I didn’t know this until I set some boundaries in place, and I said “Okay, I’m only going to work 40 hours this week.”
The funny thing that happened when I dropped from 90 to 100 hour weeks down to 40 hour weeks is I actually got a lot more work done. The reason why was because I knew I had to use my time efficiently, I couldn’t mess around. I really focused on priorities, and I let a lot of other things go that didn’t matter that much.
When I could work 100 hours a week I could always say “I don’t need to work fast, I don’t need to be efficient because I’ve got all the time in the world, I can always get stuff done later.” It was setting the boundaries that came first. That’s what forced me to get efficient, rather than trying to get efficient resulting in working less.
A: There are so many great tips out there. But if I could narrow it down to one thing I think the most important factor in communication is empathy.
I mean understanding the people that you’re communicating with, and seeing things through their eyes. If you can do that then you can cater your speech, your writing, whatever else you’re using as your form of communication you can cater that to that person.
In the bad talks, or the bad articles, there is a disconnect. Such that the people who are reading the article, or the audience they’re going after, the writer or the speaker doesn’t understand that what they’ve written, or what they’re saying is not going to connect with their audience. That’s why we say it’s a bad talk, is because it doesn’t connect.
But the people who really seem to know who their audience is, and understand things from their perspective, they can figure out the tools, and they can figure out the right way to communicate with them. Because when they don’t communicate the right way they know it, because they have that empathy.
A: One of the keys is that word you used, imagine.
You have to develop your imagination, and you have to be creative. I think the main problem people have with developing empathy is that they don’t try. They don’t think about it, they don’t care to.
But if people make an effort it’s not that it’s all that difficult, except that a lot of people just don’t do it. They just don’t try to understand the people that they’re talking to.
For those who are trying, and really want to develop more empathy the main thing is to spend time with people that you’re trying to understand, and study them, and talk to them.
If you want to understand millennials, then spend a lot of time talking to millennials. If you want to understand CMOs, like I tried to do by writing this book, you spend a lot of time with CMOs. In fact, that’s the reason I wrote that book was because CMOs are one of the people that we target through my agency.
I’ve had experiences since writing that book where I’ve been speaking to CMOs, and we’ve closed the deals. I looked at that and said we would not have closed that deal if I had not written that book, because I wouldn’t have been able to speak to that CMO the way that they wanted me to communicate with them.
Sometimes empathy just takes time, and research, and hanging out with the people that you want to influence.
A bit about our speaker:
Josh Steimle is a speaker, writer, and entrepreneur who has presented at TEDx, ClickZ, AdTech, MOSA, CommunicAsia, and has been a featured guest on TV, radio, podcasts, and webinars.
He has also been named by Entrepreneur Magazine as one of "50 Online Marketing Influencers to Watch in 2016," and can fluently speak about topics like digital marketing, social media, entrepreneurship, technology, and public policy.
Would you like to find out more about Josh Steimle’s work, or have him share his insights at your next event? Here are some links you might find helpful.