A Study in Disruptive Marketing

JD Carlson’s LinkedIn profile photo looks like a mug shot; long hair, lots of facial hair, no smile. The hero image on his profile is a photo of him surfing. In the world of same same same, he is different. In fact, he is unforgettable.

I’ve followed JD and his firm for some time. Obviously when someone’s profile photo is radically different it stands out. (I wouldn’t necessarily recommend a mugshot for everyone, but for JD it works.) More importantly, I’ve admired his use of the social world from afar. His firm, Plan Design Consultants, is a content creation powerhouse with a video series, an ongoing blog and a very active social media presence.

Several weeks ago, while at the Excel 401k Conference, I had the opportunity to see JD and his team in action. Video camera, microphone and lights in tow, they marched into the opening night cocktail reception with a ready-made quiz, filming contestants and awarding tickets for winners as a way to drive traffic to their booth. (1. Great idea for some fun content. 2. Great idea to drive booth traffic.)

Their booth was also set up for video – somewhat like an Ellen DeGeneres set – cozy couches, lights, cameras. During the event, they filmed interviews advisors and industry influencers about various topics; likely their favorite one, “Why Your TPA Sucks.”

Here’s the interesting bit, many folks at the conference asked me, “What do you think about them?”

“Frankly,” I said, “Guess what? They’re disruptors. They’re conversation starters. They’re asking different questions. And you’re talking about them.” “That is exactly what marketing should do.”

Marketing should make you unforgettable.

Obviously I’m a fan. But, let me outline, from a marketing geek perspective, what they’re doing right.

Authentic Branding: Dr. Seuss said it best, “Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.” Their brand is true and unique. Absolutely JD could show up in a suit and tie. But that isn’t who he is – or how he chooses to move around in the world. (Note: He did wear a stylishly hip jacket and jeans at the event, he wasn’t in-your-face surfer.)

Tribe Clarity: They are uber clear on their tribe. Financial advisors. They aren’t trying to be all things to all people. They aren’t marketing to advisors AND CPAs AND employers. Nope. Only to advisors. And their content and singular intention shows.

Thought Leadership: In his book, Influence, Robert Cialdini lists six ways humans influence other humans. Authority, consistency, two of his principles that come into play with a thought leadership strategy. Rather than simply saying they are thought leaders, JD and his team consistently show up in a teaching and smart-sharing capacity; bringing useful information and new ideas to their tribe. (Oh! FYI: There is nothing worse than a singular blog from 2014. What does that say about one’s ability to be consistent in their business dealings?!)

The content they create is valuable and insightful. It isn’t just for show. It is helpful, thoughtful, and credible. And smartly, they distribute their content through a completely separate website, 401kAcademy.com, focused entirely on the most important link in their distribution chain, financial advisors.

In addition, their consistency helps builds upon Cialdini’s similarity principle. Similarity is the “know-like-trust” principle or my favorite word, propinquity; the more you’re around someone, the more they like you and trust you.

Multichannel Approach: In a nutshell, they are creating content in a variety of formats, a website filled with hands-on resources, videos (which also speak to the second largest search engine in the world, YouTube), a blog and social media activity. Social activity not only in the form of pushing their own content, but supporting others. Their video series, Retireholiks, is equally as authentic and disruptive. The team gathers on a couch, discusses issues facing advisors and the retirement plan industry and drinks beer. (Along with a bit of additional fun and games.)

Sure they could create white papers and webinars. (Yawn.) But those aren’t disruptive or innovative in any way! Sure their efforts take time and energy, and likely a bit of bank. Are they serving their tribe?Are they creating buzz? Are they having fun? Are they appealing to their ideal client? Likely so!

What might you do to shift your marketing to the status of unforgettable? How might you step out and be bolder with your brand and your messaging? Or, how might you show up more human and authentic – as a full person, beard, surfboard and all?

I Believe

One of my favorite movies is The Matrix. For a variety of reasons: The issue with the red pill, the thought that we create our own reality, and of course Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss); a strong, powerful woman who knows how to harness the matrix.

In fact, The Matrix is one of the movies that is watched at least once per year in our house. And, each time I watch it something else stands out as a marvelous metaphor for business or life. (If you haven’t seen it, may I suggest giving it a shot?)

Fast forward to the scene where Morpheus, Lawrence Fishburne, is being held hostage by Agent Smith and his colleagues. Neo, Keanu Reaves, wants to head into the fray alone. Trinity lets him know that’s not going to happen. She begins,

Let me tell you what I believe. I believe Morpheus means more to me than he does to you. I believe if you were really serious about saving him you are going to need my help. And since I am the ranking officer on this ship, if you don’t like, I believe you can go to hell.

There is so much in that scene about teamwork, the dynamic of women in the workplace, what it means to truly stick up for someone, and more.

But what it stirred in me was a memory from December 2012.

At that time, I was launching ShoeFitts and beginning to create our brand. To begin that work – to share with some awesome creative types – I wrote out a list of my beliefs. I shared it with them at the time. And, I’ve been encouraged to share them publically, but never have.

Who knows why I’ve decided to do that now…perhaps because I believe in transparency and connection when creating a powerful brand and personal brand? Perhaps because I believe in sharing the good stuff right now is important? Or is it that I made a commitment recently to practice what I preach about branding and boldness?

Here is what I believe…

I believe in the power of small steps to create big results

I believe in learning something new everyday

I believe in looking people in the eyes

I believe in thinking the best

I believe my red hair get the best of me sometimes

I believe in the abundant nature of the world

I believe in cleaning up after myself (even though I habitually pile)

I believe challenging people always teach us something

I believe in flannel sheets in the winter and the summer

I believe in honoring the people that serve us

I believe in serving others

I believe in giving, hugging and telling people I love them

I believe in being as close to my true self as possible

I believe in the rain and the sun and the sunrise

I believe in getting shoeshines

I believe in trying to see the other side of an argument

I believe in listening and asking questions

I believe there are always interesting people around

I believe in epsom salts, lavender and candles

I believe in the value of having a good tailor

I believe in me

I believe in giving spiders safe passage from my house (Note: this is no longer true after I cracked a rib trying to save one.)

I believe in singing along even if I don’t know all of the words

I believe in the graceful flight of pelicans, the determination of kingfishers and the strength of hummingbirds

I believe in laughter and bifocals

I believe in building bridges

I believe that the world is small

I believe in radical forgiveness

I believe in saying please and thank you

I believe in tipping the car wash guys

I believe in my friends, even when I don’t see them

I believe in using my blinker in traffic

I believe in helping

I believe in saying the “f” word about 10 times per day

I believe in fresh herbs

I believe in paying it forward in the drive thru Starbucks

I believe in celebrating success

I believe that my mom taught me to dance, and hug, and smile, and cook

I believe that my dad taught me algebra, how to grow corn (knee-high by the 4th of July), how to stand on my head, to be a speaker and to be strong

I believe that God exists in some form (I just don’t know which one)

I believe in fresh apples

I believe in taking deep breaths and ritual

I believe in feather pillows

I believe in sharing

I believe that hard work pays off

I believe in the power of creativity

I believe in pursuing patience

I believe in opening doors for people and giving back