December 20, 2022

“Focusing on What Matters” — Mark Schaefer Makes a Case for Fostering Community

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Episode Highlights

Mark Schaefer is a globally-recognized keynote speaker, marketing strategy consultant, college educator, and author. His entrepreneurial spirit has moved him to accept opportunities in uncharted territories, with varying success. In this episode, Mark contrasts two ventures—one motivated by the sale of a product, and the other based on fostering community. His story shows us why focus matters and why consistency is more important than genius.

Topics Discussed

  • Team discussion about sabotaging outcomes with rigid goals [00:16]
  • Mark Schaefer on a career defined by experiments [02:58]
  • Mark Schaefer on the concept behind “Content Shock” [04:52]
  • Mark Schaefer on discovering community [10:26]
  • Mark Schaefer on Web3 and the tokenized economy [12:09]
  • Mark Schaefer on the risks of launching a creator coin [14:08]
  • Mark Schaefer on researching and implementing a successful community [15:21]
  • Mark Schaefer on the effect of a global pandemic on online communities [16:09]
  • Mark Schaefer on the importance of patience in fostering community [17:03]
  • Mark Schaefer on riding out the storm of the crypto meltdown [19:42]
  • Mark Schaefer on why consistency is more important than genius [22:12]
  • Team takeaways on the role of community in B2B marketing [23:56]

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[00:00:00] Hiromi: Mark Schaefer shifts his focus from sales to community, today on The Reach Coffee Break. Hey Jason, Hey Garrett.

[00:00:12] Jaycen: Hey there, buddy.

[00:00:13] Garret: Nice to be with you today.

[00:00:14] Hiromi: It is so nice to be with you guys. You know, I was thinking. We've had quite a number of these conversations over the course of this year, and as much as I enjoy them, there is a real challenge when you need to guide a conversation to a logical conclusion, Because if you hold too rigidly to that conclusion, you can stifle and even ruin the conversation.

[00:00:34] Jaycen: Yeah.

[00:00:34] Hiromi: I don't know if you've... [laughs] Have you had that experience yourself?

[00:00:37] Jaycen: Well like, that kind of bias is often what we hate about a story, a conversation with a very specific [laughs] end agenda.

[00:00:45] Garret: Yeah. Uh, and ulterior motive.

[00:00:47] Jaycen: Like you say, it shoehorns the conversation into something that maybe it wasn't supposed to be at the beginning.

[00:00:52] Hiromi: Right. Right.

[00:00:53] Jaycen: You know? And, and yeah, that is a huge challenge of this, 'cause obviously we want to get something out of that conversation, and we have a preconceived idea. But oftentimes, the story is maybe somewhere where we don't expect it to go.

[00:01:05] Hiromi: Yeah. Have you noticed that that same principle applies to other parts of life? Like have you ever maybe sabotaged an opportunity by focusing too much on your desired outcome?

[00:01:18] Jaycen: Yes.

[00:01:21] Hiromi: [laughing]

[00:01:22] Jaycen: [laughing]

[00:01:22] Hiromi: I think 'cause-

[00:01:22] Jaycen: Haven't we all? I think-

[00:01:23] Hiromi: Yeah.

[00:01:23] Jaycen: ... we're all guilty of that.

[00:01:24] Hiromi: Yeah. Yeah.

[00:01:25] Garret: Yeah. Absolutely.

[00:01:26] Jaycen: I've been on conversations where someone comes in with a preconceived idea or path or whatever, and you're trying to explore what is the outcome that they're trying to get to? And they're coming in with a preconceived idea as to how to get to that outcome.

[00:01:42] Hiromi: Right.

[00:01:42] Jaycen: So are they willing to open up to truly listen, to understand the objectives and where they want to go? And then be open to new ideas to get there.

[00:01:51] Garret: I think we, whether it's us or the client or whomever, we kind of treat our ideas like little, little, precious little babies. And we bring them, and we protect them, and, and if someone's going to say, "Oh no, I... We were thinking of going in a different direction." We're like no. We're defending our child. And so, that's sometimes where the danger lies with that. That little child is not, you know-

[00:02:14] Hiromi: Like your baby is not as cute as you think it is?

[00:02:17] Garret: Your-

[00:02:18] Hiromi: [laughs]

[00:02:18] Garret: That's a face only a mother could love, you know?

[00:02:21] Hiromi: [laughs] Our guest in this episode is Mark Schaefer. Mark is a globally recognized keynote speaker, a marketing strategy consultant, a college educator, an author. And as we learned, his entrepreneurial spirit has moved him to accept opportunities in pretty uncharted territories. In this episode, Mark contrasts two ventures for us. One where he was motivated by the sale of a product, and the other based on fostering community. His story shows us why focus matters and why consistency is often more important than genius.

[00:02:55] Mark Schaefer: To stand out, to succeed in our world today, you've got to be bold. And to me, bold means truth without fear, where you can just create things in a pure way. You're not afraid to tell the truth. You're not afraid to do what you need to do. Everyday, you'll see something on Facebook or Instagram or LinkedIn about, you know, just be bold and go for it and live your dreams.

[00:03:23] Speaker 5: Make bold decisions.

[00:03:25] Speaker 6: Are you willing to reinvent yourself?

[00:03:27] Speaker 5: Right now. You've got to begin training yourself to act-

[00:03:29] Speaker 7: You need to jump start your dreams.

[00:03:30] Speaker 5: [inaudible 00:03:31].

[00:03:30] Mark Schaefer: But it's a lot easier said than done. Most people are paralyzed by fear.

[00:03:39] I moved around a lot when I was a kid. And I would change schools, and I hated it. But I realized every time I was in a new situation, I was okay. I figured it out. I made friends. I didn't die. And I think that's why everything I've done has been draped in uncertainty. My career has really been a series of experiments, just one experiment after another.

[00:04:11] I was the global director of e-business for a Fortune 100 company in the days when the internet was just starting. I was an early blogger. I was invited to write a book. But nobody would hire me as a speaker, so I decided to start my own conference.

[00:04:26] Hi, I'm Mark Schaefer, author of Return on Influence. When I started my own company, I was terrified. But I saw it as an experiment. Let's try it. Let's learn how to do that. I felt so alone as a content creator and as an entrepreneur sometimes. But usually I was one of the first people to ever try these things. I don't really have fear making these experiments that have led to my career, but not everything has worked out.

[00:04:59] An example would be when I started a business because somebody laughed at me. In 2014, the social media channels were just getting saturated with content. Content was no longer a novelty. We were going to have to work harder to create content worthy of people's attention. We're going to have to spend more money to develop it and promote it and eventually, that was not going to be accessible to some businesses.

[00:05:25] Just look at what's happening on television. I was really impressed that the Mandalorian was 10 million dollars an episode. Well guess what? Wanda Vision was 36 million dollars an episode. Now we have this new Game of Thrones series. 58 million dollars an episode. All right. That's what it takes to stand out on TV. But in our business world, that's also what it takes to stand out on Facebook or on Instagram or on LinkedIn. You've got to create stuff that's better and better and better and better. The stakes are getting higher and higher, the competition is getting more and more overwhelming.

[00:05:59] So I wrote a very famous blog post called Content Shock. To me, it made perfect sense. It's just logic that in any natural human or economic system when there's too much of something, the dynamics and the economics change. And it's the same with content. I think anybody in our industry right now would look back at that post and say, "You know, of course. How can anybody even debate that?"

[00:06:23] I didn't even think it was controversial, but it became controversial. And there was a guy on a podcast who was talking about this post.

[00:06:31] This Old Marketing Podcast: An article this morning, uh, that, uh, for some reason, we... The entire community of content marketing ended up commenting on this article. It was called Content Shock by our friend Mark Schaefer, uh, so of course we were a little surprised to see the headline, uh, traditionally a content marketing proponent. It's probably worth going just to check out the number of comments from the kind of amazing people in this [inaudible 00:06:55].

[00:06:56] Mark Schaefer: And do I really think this content shock idea has any merit?

[00:07:00] This Old Marketing Podcast: Um, let me just get your take. Are we in trouble with the... With content marketing? It... Does he have a point at all to what he's saying?

[00:07:07] Mark Schaefer: He said, "No."

[00:07:09] This Old Marketing Podcast: No. Um-

[00:07:10] Mark Schaefer: And he just started laughing.

[00:07:13] This Old Marketing Podcast: And... [laughs] I mean-

[00:07:14] Mark Schaefer: Well, you know, Mark Schaefer's a nice guy, and he's a smart guy.

[00:07:16] This Old Marketing Podcast: Yeah. No. I mean, look. He... Mark's a s- A smart guy. Right? Mark's a very smart guy. And-

[00:07:22] Mark Schaefer: And I thought, "This is so dangerous, because people look up to you, and you're not telling the truth." So I decided to write a book called The Content Code to teach people what do you do about it?

[00:07:36] What is the solution? Because the economic value of content that isn't seen and shared is zero. So you've got to figure out a way to get that content to move. And when I wrote this book, I had lots of ideas that were essentially mathematical formulas that could predict whether content created by a company would go viral or not. Whether it would move. Would it get traction? Would people see it? Would they consume it? Would they share it?

[00:08:07] You don't have to be the Mandalorian. You just have to be the best in your niche. So I came up with this formula, and it created this little piece of software that could input certain characteristics of a company's content, compare that to their competition, and predict that yes, we're staying ahead and here's the areas where we need to improve. I thought that this was an idea that would be very, very useful for companies. And it was.

[00:08:34] When I started presenting this to big companies, they loved it. No one ever pushed me away. Everybody thought this was a great, great idea. They could subscribe to the software as a service. I had put together a sales team, a development team, brought in friends who I trusted to help me with this business. We did pilots. The pilots were very successful. We did a pilot with IBM.

[00:08:59] But there were just constant litany of organizational changes, delays, budget cuts. Every reason you could ever imagine for this thing to not happen just happened. And I just got worn down by the B2B sales process. I would get people right to the altar, and they're about to say, "I do," and then someone would get fired and we'd have to start all over again.

[00:09:26] And I spent a lot of time on this business and a lot of money on this business, and we just couldn't get a customer. It just got to the point where it just wasn't rewarding anymore. It just wasn't fun. And look, that's the world that great salespeople live in every day. But I am not a great salesperson, and I hated that world. And i-it just, i-it just wore me down. And eventually, the cost benefit just, just didn't make it, and I just thought, "This is not where I want to be in my life. And uh, it's time to move on."

[00:10:02] So I abandoned it. And you know, that was, that was certainly hard. But I picked myself back up, and I learned a great lesson. I'm terrible at sales. [laughs] So I just thought, "Okay. If I'm creating a business that's dependent on my sales skills, that's something I need to avoid in the future. Let's move on to the next thing."

[00:10:24] There's this difficulty of building brands in an environment where a lot of people resist advertising and marketing manipulation. So in 2018, I wrote a book called Marketing Rebellion: The Most Human Company Wins.

[00:10:42] A brand used to be what we told people it was. Today, a brand is what people tell each other. [inaudible 00:10:51].

[00:10:50] And in that book, I talked about how we have this longing to belong. And I predicted that community would become a very important part of the future of marketing, 'cause it was the first marketing strategy. We would walk down the street to the deli and the people knew our names.

[00:11:13] Speaker 10: Hey, Mark.

[00:11:13] Mark Schaefer: And we would see our friends there. And they would know the name of our kids and they would know our birthdays.

[00:11:18] Speaker 10: How's the family doing?

[00:11:19] Mark Schaefer: And they'd slip us a little something extra if we were blue or if it was a special day. I'm only one generation away from that, and I've never had it. And I want it. I long for that. I want people to know who I am. I want to experience that. We all do. And that's why community is the ultimate marketing strategy. And I thought, "We are missing the greatest marketing opportunity in the history of marketing opportunities. And I'm going to write a book about it."

[00:11:52] But I had failed at community in the past. I had tried, and I had failed. To have credibility, I had to do it. So I thought, "Well, look. We're going to give it another shot, and I'm going to do it the right way."

[00:12:07] When you hear about NFTs, when you hear about the Metaverse, when you hear about tokenized economies, this is all part of this suite of technologies that help people belong in new ways called Web3. The tokenized economy means that you can have your own creator coin associated with your brand. And it's backed by a cryptocurrency, so it has some value, but you can use these coins to reward people in your community. So if someone does something great, you can send them 100 coins. If they loved something you did and they want to say thanks, they can send you coins. I could create content. I could create something special. People could use these coins to get access to that content. So it's really an exciting way to create a community and to reward community.

[00:13:08] Now, I am not a techie kind of person. And I am not really an expert on any sort of crypto or blockchain. But I was invited to launch a creator coin, a crypto-backed token and create a tokenized community. And I thought this would be a great learning experience. I'm a consultant. I'm a teacher. So getting immersed in that world I thought would be good for me. It was a way to stay relevant. But I got to tell you, I had no idea what I was doing. I just knew if there was a way to figure it out, I would figure it out. I just had to be patient, seeking help, seeking advice, being a student, just being humble and just saying, "Okay. I'm starting at the bottom again, but I know I can do it."

[00:14:04] It was nerve-wracking at first. There were huge risks launching the cryptocurrency. [laughs] I didn't know all of them when I launched it, but the biggest one was that because my coin was backed by a publicly traded cryptocurrency, my coin, which was associated with my brand, was being traded on the open market like oil futures or pork bellies. And that's not really what I aspired to be. I didn't want to be a commodity.

[00:14:40] So it took some time to manage through that. The language was so different. The technology was so different. But one of the great privileges of my life is I got to study for three years under the great American consultant and author Peter Drucker.

[00:14:55] Speaker 11: Dr. Drucker. He's a mentor to leaders in business, non-profit organizations, and governments. And for more than a half a century, he's been writing books on economics, management, and leadership. 27 books, I believe, right Dr. Drucker?

[00:15:08] Mark Schaefer: And one of the things Dr. Drucker would tell us is, "I-it's okay to take measured risk. Just don't make a hole so big that you can't get out of it."

[00:15:19] So I was researching and implementing. Researching for the book and writing, and then doing it in my own community. And as I studied other successful communities around the world, I could see it coming alive in my own group. I could see tensions. I could see opportunities. I could see leaders emerging. I knew I had to pay attention to all of that. I had to nurture. I had to protect them. I had to make them feel safe. I knew it was the right thing to do. If things got a little slow, maybe I would create an activity or a challenge to get engagement going again.

[00:16:01] I was so sure that I had identified this trend correctly. Little did I know how fast that prediction would come true. One year after the book came out, we got hit by the pandemic.

[00:16:15] Speaker 12: [inaudible 00:16:16] people are believed to have been sickened by the new virus.

[00:16:18] Speaker 13: Tonight, US airports on high alert screening passengers for symptoms of a deadly new virus.

[00:16:22] Mark Schaefer: And now everybody was locked down. They were locked out of their relationships, of their communities, of their clubs, and everybody moved online. Something like 85% of Americans said the most important social connections during the pandemic were through online communities. It exploded.

[00:16:44] Speaker 15: Did you see the new, uh, YouTube? It's a face mask sewing tutorial.

[00:16:49] Speaker 16: That would come in handy.

[00:16:50] Mark Schaefer: I was right.

[00:16:50] Speaker 15: A lot of people would be [inaudible 00:16:52].

[00:16:51] Mark Schaefer: It took a while for brands to wake up to what was going on, but eventually they rolled up their sleeves and they started to get serious about it. I think the biggest hurdle, perhaps, is patience. Brands are impatient to get something going fast, to build something very rapidly, to have a big economic pay off. And that's not the way community works. You have to put the needs of the members first, not your commercial interests, 'cause there's a lot of competition for people's time. Spending time in a community, you have so many other things that you could be doing. You could be watching the Mandalorian. You could be playing Candy Crush. You could be going on a date. You could be working out at the gym.

[00:17:45] You've got to create something that is worth people's time. I believe at one time, there were about 350 creator communities in this platform I was associated with. And of the 350 communities, I want to say something like 200 failed. There wasn't any activity. People just abandoned them. It was a waste of time. So just establishing the community was an accomplishment in this new world. Most communities fail because they're selling stuff. They're focused on customer self service, not branding. And I think that was the biggest advantage that I had. I didn't need to make money off this thing, so I really put the interest of the community first.

[00:18:37] I established this as a learning community trusting that if I have this emotional connection and support of a community, when it's time that I have something to sell, like a new book or a new class, that they're going to support me just because they're part of the community. And that has certainly happened.

[00:18:59] Something that meant so much to me was when a marketing thought leader I admire very much wrote in our community, "You know, I just noticed that I'm checking this community every day. I think that means something. I think that means progress." And that made me so happy, because clearly here's a person who is at the top of her field that could be doing so many different things with her time, and yet there was enough value and intelligent conversation in this community that I beat the Mandalorian. [laughs]

[00:19:40] I think the point where I really knew something was different and I had accomplished something new was when we started to go through the crypto meltdown.

[00:19:51] Speaker 17: The massive downturn in cryptocurrencies continued Thursday as more investors make an exit from risky [inaudible 00:19:58].

[00:19:57] Mark Schaefer: I had about 1200 investors that held my coin. They held a lot of the value in the community. They started a fire sale. And the community lost about 1/3 of its value in 24 hours. And I felt terrible. It wasn't my fault, it wasn't really my responsibility, it was just something going on in the marketplace. But I thought people were going to be upset. I thought they were going to be angry. And what happened was my email box was flooded with more than 100 messages of people saying, "We feel so bad about what's happening."

[00:20:37] Speaker 18: We feel so bad about what's happening.

[00:20:37] Mark Schaefer: But we're with you.

[00:20:37] Speaker 18: But we're with you.

[00:20:39] Mark Schaefer: We're sticking with you. We're not going anywhere.

[00:20:42] Speaker 18: Going anywhere.

[00:20:43] Mark Schaefer: This is our community.

[00:20:45] Speaker 18: This is our community.

[00:20:45] Mark Schaefer: And when the dust settled, out of 1200 people who held my coin, only eight had sold anything. It was just such an emotional moment. For the first time in my life, I thought, "This is not just a me. It's a we." This was the moment where I realized this isn't me leading something. This is a community where we're all in it together. And that was a very, very special moment for me.

[00:21:18] Even though the crypto experience has been difficult with what's been going on in the world, being able to create a tokenized community for the first time in my life has been incredible. It's been a fantastic learning experience, it's helped me write a new book, it's helped me make new friends. My community is now my university. That's where I'm learning things. And it never would have happened without taking that risk, even if I felt worried about it. Even if I felt trepidation about it. Even if I wasn't an expert, I just knew somehow it was going to be okay and I was going to figure it out. And it ended up being one of the most powerful and popular communities in the creator economy system.

[00:22:13] I think a lot of it gets down to patience and tenacity. Lot of people give up too soon. In our world, in many cases, consistency is more important than genius. I've become known in the world, and when you're known in the world, then you get more opportunities. You get more invitations. You get invited to be on a board. You get invited to speak in front of some nice audience.

[00:22:43] Thank you so much. Thank you so much. Everywhere I go in the world, I would talk to marketers, and they'd say [inaudible 00:22:50].

[00:22:49] People will buy your books. But the only way that happened is I blogged 650 weeks in a row without missing until I got COVID. Then I took a little break. And since then I blogged 120 weeks in a row again without missing. I have a podcast.

[00:23:05] Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to another scintillating episode of The Marketing Companion. [inaudible 00:23:12].

[00:23:11] We're now in our 10th year. I've never missed an episode in 10 years. There's not many people that can say they've done something like that. I think people trust me and the opportunities come to me because I'm part of the fabric of their lives. They've read my blog for a long time, and in some cases, now their kids are reading the blog. [laughs] I don't know really why I have this fearlessness. Maybe the benefit I have is that I've got silver hair. I've survived almost everything. I'll survive what's next too. Bring it on. I'll figure it out.

[00:23:54] Jaycen: I thought it was interesting, his experience of the product-led company, especially in the B2B space, because it's a hard space. I mean, there's, there's so much complexity that comes with getting individuals to make a decision when there isn't one individual in a B2B organization. Right?

[00:24:11] Hiromi: Right.

[00:24:11] Jaycen: There's six to eight different stakeholders involved in decision making, there's macro things at play. So him talking about that struggle is very real for us. We're in that space, in the B2B community. And it's challenging. Community has become way more important, especially in the B2B space, but ultimately, why are you trying to build community? What does that come down to? It's a layer of trust that you've built with individuals and a network that perhaps have a belief. And he focused on that first.

[00:24:42] Hiromi: Mm-hmm.

[00:24:42] Jaycen: And I think that's what made the community work.

[00:24:45] Garret: I think too, this idea that any effort we invest needs to be immediately monetized ruins the long term play that is building a community. It doesn't happen overnight that a, a group of people come together around a common interest. That's a long term play.

[00:25:04] Hiromi: Mm-hmm.

[00:25:05] Garret: But what it gets you is these loyal supporters that will stay with you, stay with a brand, stay with a company, stay with a product through terrible times. This is the real challenge, to say the community needs to come first. But you're probably not going to see a dollar back for four quarters. For eight quarters. You know, that's where the real challenge is. How do you convince a client to have that long term viewpoint? This is the real challenge to say that's ultimately where the priority needs to be.

[00:25:35] Hiromi: Yeah, those are some good points. How do you think this concept of community translates to more traditional marketing environments?

[00:25:43] Garret: Well we're, we're talking about this as a result of this podcast, and what it's kind of opened up our minds to is this idea that people rally around content. People rally around ideas. And people rally around people who share their beliefs and their value structure. And so, if we create a library where people could come to talk about their interests and their ideas and share that experience, that's where a community is being developed for brands and for companies.

[00:26:15] And so, if you focus on that at the same time as your marketing and your business goals, hopefully those two things grow together where you have this group of loyal supporters that consume and advocate for your content and for your values and for your ideals that also support the business.

[00:26:34] Jaycen: I was thinking too, and the community's coming to be very en vogue, and companies are recognizing its value and then starting now to build it. But there's companies that are starting with let's build something of value and find the community. Then we understand what the community wants. Then we build the company that addresses the values and needs of my community.

[00:26:58] Hiromi: Right.

[00:26:59] Jaycen: Right? So, I, I think that's a smart model, but if you are a company, it's a giving proposition. What value can we give to our audience? Yeah.

[00:27:07] Garret: And I think those people that stay with you, they're in it for the long term, so you have to be too.

[00:27:11] Hiromi: Yeah. It takes a flexibility in how you view your own value as a company. You know, I always think back to the example of Kodak. Thinking that they are a film company, right?

[00:27:26] Garret: Hm.

[00:27:26] Hiromi: Digital cameras come out, and people are moving in that direction, but they're like, "No. We're a film company. We got to figure out how to sell film." If they had adjusted their viewpoint to be in the market of capturing memories-

[00:27:39] Garret: Mm-hmm.

[00:27:40] Hiromi: That is a more flexible approach that can adjust with the needs of a community, right?

[00:27:45] Garret: Mm-hmm.

[00:27:46] Hiromi: So being rigid in defining your own value, even for us as individuals, is probably important.

[00:27:52] Garret: Well and, you know, like in marketing, there's so many commoditized tactics, and you could be all about that tactic. But when you become about the outcome or the goal, then all of those things underneath can kind of shift and pivot and evolve to continue to focus towards those memories.

[00:28:14] Hiromi: Well, we'd like to thank Mark Schaefer for contributing his story to Reach this week. If you'd like to learn more about Mark and his community, we'll have links in the show notes at It's been nearly a year since we launched Reach as a podcast, and our next episode will recap our findings and share our highlights. Please join us next time on Reach.

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