Nick Westergaard has helped build better brands at organizations of all shapes and sizes, from small businesses, to Fortune 500 companies, to the President’s Job Council. Nick is the author of Get Scrappy: Smarter Digital Marketing for Businesses Big and Small and Brand Now: How to Stand Out in a Crowded, Distracted World. In addition to posting insights on branding and marketing at BrandDrivenDigital.com, he is a contributor to the Harvard Business Review and the host of the popular On Brand podcast. His thoughts have been featured in news sources, such as US News and World Report, Entrepreneur, Forbes, Mashable, and more. He also teaches at the University of Iowa Tippie College of Business.
In This Episode
Nick Westergaard has been helping businesses grow for the last 18 years. He talks about how to use directional funnels that steer leads to the right actions, the value of using content to share your expertise, and the importance of staying curious and open to change in the business world.
1:30 Career Squiggles Vs. Career Paths
No matter how you have prepared your path, improvisation is inevitable. Don’t stress about the next step; pursue what you are interested in.
3:45 Hustle and Heart
Heart has to be there. It’s an ingredient you can’t fake.
5:00 Consulting is Like Organizing a Closet
It involves dumping everything out, looking at everything, and then trying to figure out a better way to put it back together.
6:00 Respect for Questions
Draw out the real answers to questions; that’s where secrets are found. Avoid the curse of knowledge; stay curious.
6:45 Blog, Podcasts, and Books
There’s no greater tool for giving small doses of your expertise than content.
9:00 Have a Directional Funnel
Make sure the content is leading people to understand where they can convert, jump in, and access a webinar or a consultation.
10:00 Checklist Marketing
Don’t do the same content that everyone else is doing.
11:00 Your Brand Voice and Your Community
Content is based on the audience; don’t be afraid to use a poll.
12:30 Simplicity Is My Thing
Make the complex simple: teaching, writing, and consulting.
14:00 Riding the Wave
We’re at a point where many things are changing: advances in technology, what customers want, and how they want it.
– Nick Westergaard
LR: Welcome to Modern Ontrapreneur. Today, we have Nick Westergaard. He is the Chief Brand Strategist at Brand Driven Digital. He helps build better brands at organizations of all shapes and sizes, from small businesses, to Fortune 500 companies, to the President’s Job Council. Nick is the author of Get Scrappy: Smarter Digital Marketing for Businesses Big and Small and Brand Now: How to Stand Out in a Crowded, Distracted World. In addition to posting insights on branding and marketing at BrandDrivenDigital.com, he is a contributor to the Harvard Business Review and the host of the popular On Brand podcast. His thoughts have been featured in news sources, such as US News and World Report, Entrepreneur, Forbes, Mashable, and more. He also teaches at the University of Iowa Tippie College of Business. Thank you so much for being here.
NW: I am happy to be here.
LR: You’ve been at this for a while. Tell me how long you’ve been in the marketing and business advice world.
NW: 17-18 years.
LR: 17-18 years.
NW: 11 of that has been on the consulting side of that. Prior to that, I was internal corporate marketing in a couple of different organizations as well.
LR: Mm-hmm (affirmative). If you could go back and tell your younger self a piece of advice that would have helped you along the way, what do you think that would be?
NW: I was talking with Mitch Joel who’s an author of a book called Control Alt Delete and, in that, he talks about the modern work life. He talks about career squiggles instead of career paths. I think that, especially early on, we feel like there’s this linear path that we’re supposed to follow, kind of an up and to the right chart, and a lot of times we end up in different places and strange places. My history, I feel like it all ends up going in the right direction. You stress out about what you major is in school, what you study, what that first job is, and how that’s going to set this perfect path in motion. I think that through improvising a lot of that, I’ve ended up in a place that I’m very happy with, but I don’t know if I would have had I prepared exactly for this.
My background, I studied psychology and theater arts, and I joke now that I teach in the College of Business, that I’m spending more time there now than I ever did as a student, but I also think that understanding both the creative side and the social science side is strangely informative for the world of branding and marketing.
LR: Don’t worry so much about trying to like….
NW: Yeah, don’t stress about the next step.
LR: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Don’t stress about the next step and pursue what you’re interested in it sounds like.
NW: Yeah, I think that you’re going to do better that way than trying to prescribe something on it.
LR: It seems to me, too, that what it takes to achieve success in any field or career is actually hustle more than pedigree and that being interested is what generates the motivation to hustle for many of us.
NW: Well, I think hustle’s a big buzz word, especially in the entrepreneurial community, but I do like another thing that you said in there about heart because I think that has to be there. I think that’s an ingredient you can’t fake.
LR: What do you feel like your unique skill set is?
NW: My unique skill set is a comparison I make a lot, especially in the consulting world, is that a lot of times it’s sort of like organizing a closet. It’s dumping everything out, looking at everything, and then trying to figure out a better way to put it back together. I am an organized creative person, which I say is probably a skill set I come back to in a lot of different ways. As a writer, as a teacher, and definitely as a consultant because I follow creative solutions, but I do so with a lot of rigor and organization behind that.
LR: Like, process, is there a method to your creative process?
NW: Boy, I’d love it if there was, but I don’t have a specific system that I follow, I’d say, other than respect for questions. I think I’m someone that, as a consultant, I question a lot; as a teacher, I encourage students to ask questions when we do projects with sample clients because I think drawing out answers to those questions is usually where the secrets lie.
LR: Yeah, I totally agree. I feel like one of my … I don’t usually talk about myself so much on here, but one of my unique skill sets also is about having the courage to ask the questions and maybe look stupid. How do you avoid …? You’ve been at this a long time and you know a lot of stuff and have a lot of experience, which in my experience gets in the way of really being able to ask an authentic question sometimes. How do you avoid the curse of knowledge?
NW: Well, and that’s what’s tricky is you’re at something for long enough, you can risk getting calcified in your own thinking, so I think that you have to make sure that you stay curious. I think that’s so key, both in marketing, the specific discipline that I work in, but in business in general at this kind of inflection point where we’re seeing so many shifts in a lot of different ways. I think it keeps us on our toes. It’s hard to get too settled just by the very nature of how things are today and businesses that weren’t there two years ago that are here now. Tools and things that we’re doing and things that aren’t here yet, that will be in a couple years, too. I think staying on top of that wave is one way to force yourself to stay curious.
LR: Interesting. You’re a consultant and you obviously have to, like the rest of us, find and attract new customers. How are you doing that? What is working in your business today to keep growing?
NW: Well, I mean, content is huge, especially in the consulting world where you are selling your expertise. There’s no greater tool for giving small doses of your expertise than content whether that’s in the form of blog content, I’ve been blogging since 2005, I’ve hosted a podcast for five years, all the different forms of content kind of coalescing, coming together in writing books. I’d say that’s kind of the ultimate macro form of content. It’s interesting, with all the tools that we have, I think that there’s still very much a place for books, too, because it’s that big assembly of information in a very specific package. I think that that is something that people are still looking for very much.
LR: Yeah. You seem, given that we have this book, it’s called How to Stand Out in a Crowded Distracted World and given the fact that you’re not the only blogger or podcaster out there, we have thousands of customers around the world that are also bloggers, we are also bloggers, and as you’ve noticed.
NW: Everybody’s a blogger.
LR: I noticed that posting a blog post does not equate to customers. What’s the magic that happens in the middle there?
NW: Well, you still have to have some sort of an idea of what your funnel is. You can’t just create all this content and leave it out there for the very reason that you noted. You have to make sure that it is leading people somewhere, that they understand where they can convert, where they can jump in, where they can access a webinar, a consultation, some of these other tools that you have to make sure that you’re leading them to with your content.
LR: Let’s just specifically talk about say your blog. If I were to right now go to any one of your blog articles, what would I find on there that would lead me into your funnel?
NW: Right. You would find obviously opt-in, sign-up forms because a lot of people are discovering …
LR: Like, stay up-to-date with my blog, …
LR: … type opt-in forms?
NW: Yeah, yeah.
NW: An email newsletter. I have curated content that I release every week via an email newsletter. You’d also find information about my upcoming workshops. As a teacher, as a consultant that kind of bundles itself into some workshop offerings, too.
LR: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
NW: Those are all surrounding that content as well.
LR: Yeah, and then obviously you’re getting on speaking as well.
LR: Is that something you do commonly?
NW: I do do a lot of keynote speaking at conferences, corporate events throughout the world.
LR: Right. Pretty traditional marketing mix. Content, newsletter, blog, and then just doing a lot of it, keeping at it for a long time.
NW: Well, and I think the tricky thing, to your earlier point about everybody’s blogging, I think we have to be really careful that we’re not engaging in what I call checklist marketing where we see the list of all the things that everybody’s supposed to do, so we just think we need to do all of that as well. I mean, I think you saw that with blogging. I think now you’re starting to see it with podcasting. It’s not a mystery anymore that podcasting is huge, so everybody’s jumping in.
NW: Unless you’re creating something truly unique, you run the risk of creating what I call “Me-too” content.
NW: It’s a blog post everyone else has written.
NW: It is a podcast featuring guests that are on everyone else’s shows. Thinking about what you can really bring to the mix that’s different for you.
LR: How do you decide what your next blog post is going to be about?
NW: I think the bigger question gets to who you are as a brand because I think that’s the risk of engaging in all of the easy and accessible marketing tools of today without thinking of who you are, what you stand for, and who your community is. With those questions answered, you can think a little bit more about what you should be creating, what your point of view is, what kind of voice that’s delivered in, and you can be a lot more informed about that as well.
It’s interesting, I’m blogging less and podcasting more. It’s a good fit for my audience, which is a lot of busy executive types, but they’re people with commutes, people that want doses of information quickly. I keep the show moving, so it’s about 20 to 25 minutes, but that’s based on my audience, on my community.
LR: Do you poll them? Do you ask them who they want to see or …?
NW: Yeah, yeah. I frequently ask on the show, I ask in the social media conversations surrounding the show.
LR: Great. Tell me what’s the cutting edge for you. What are you learning next, what are you excited about, what’s the next hill you’re going to climb?
NW: I think video is huge and I think that that is because we say this right now on a video.
LR: On the video, yeah.
NW: I think that …
LR: One step ahead of you, bro.
NW: Exactly, exactly, and I think that you look at the percentage of online content that will be video within the next year is staggering. I think the number is somewhere around 80% of content online will be video.
LR: Oh, interesting.
NW: Just thinking about that, what that means, and I think there’s a big gap. I think that there’s some that have jumped in with both feet, those early adopters that are doing innovative things. I think there’s several that are still flipping the phone around and doing kind of quick and dirty things that might need to look at upping their game.
LR: When you think about the arc of your career, what do you imagine you’d like your legacy to be?
NW: I like simplicity and I think that … talk about my legacy and like any good marketer, I have testimonials from customers on my site. One of those that’s my favorite says that, “Nick makes the complex simple.” I think, to me, that is what I’m trying to do, whether I’m teaching, writing, consulting, are these things that are big, hairy problems that I can help folks take apart and solve. If they’re better off as a result of it, then I’ve done my job.
LR: I totally resonate with that. Our mission at Ontraport is to remove the burden of technology, so that entrepreneurs can deliver their value to the world. What we see all day long, every day, is that people with tons of value to be giving are mired in complexity. Giving the gift of simplicity so that they can move forward is just absolutely enormous.
LR: Yeah. What do you feel like it means to be a modern entrepreneur?
NW: I think we’ve talked about a lot of it, but I think it’s very much riding a wave it feels like today. I think that it’s always been tricky to be an entrepreneur, that’s nothing unique to this time. All the way back to old time entrepreneurs, I think that it’s always been a challenge, it’s always been a lot of heart and hustle, but I think right now we’re at this inflection point that so many things are changing, so many advances in technology and what customers want and how they want it, I think it is very much riding a wave and it forces you to stay curious. I mean, we talked about the danger and I think it has the stakes of riding that wave because to do really anything else is to fall off of it and into the water.
LR: Riding a wave is an interesting metaphor. Is it a wave of technology? Is it a wave of new ways of communicating? What is this wave composed of?
NW: I’m from Iowa, so you shouldn’t trust my wave analogy anyway.
LR: It’s a wave of corn.
NW: Yeah, exactly. I assume you fall into the water. I don’t know what happens after that, but I think it’s ….. we certainly talk a lot about the technology, but I wouldn’t underestimate how we are adopting that and what that means. The customer that, you know, I was just thinking in the Lyft on the way here how different this is, that we don’t want that anymore. It’s really not all that different than hailing a cab, but it’s very different and it’s driven by what people want. I think it’s not just the technology. I think it’s, I think consumers are changing at a pace faster than they’ve changed before.
LR: I think that’s right. With that, I thank you so much. This has been a great conversation.
NW: Thank you.
LR: I appreciate you being here. Would you do us the honor of signing our wall?
NW: I would love to.
LR: Awesome. Thanks
NW: Thank you.
Want more MODERN ONTRAPRENEUR Podcast?
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