Before being hailed as one of the top marketing bloggers in the world, Mark Schaefer had to apply the process of cumulative advantage. After more than 30 years in the fields of global sales, public relations, and marketing, he is now one of the world’s most popular business-related keynote speakers. Today, Mark has written numerous bestselling books and inspired countless marketers and entrepreneurs.

In this episode, Mark shares some key takeaways from his latest book, Cumulative Advantage. Specifically, we learn the five-step process to bring about this advantage. We also gain some practical applications of this process. Mark talks about what the third consumer rebellion is and why marketers should care. These lessons are so valuable that you can readily use them, regardless of what agency you run.

Tune in to this episode to learn more about how you can build cumulative advantage, the Mark Schaefer way.

[04:11] So for the folks in my audience who, maybe, didn’t hear your other interview six, seven years ago, whenever it was that we did it, let’s start with that. Who are you and what’s the difference you’re trying to make in the world?

  • Well, I am Mark Schaefer. I do a lot. I guess I’m most well known for the blogging that I’ve done and the books that I’ve written, but I’m also a marketing consultant. I teach graduate studies at Rutgers University. I also have a podcast called ?The Marketing Companion

How I make change in the world? I think that’s reflected in the new book we’re going to talk about today, is I’m at a great place in my career, Trent, where I can really send the elevator back down. I’ve had so many people help me along the way over my career. What I really enjoy is creating sparks of momentum in other people. I spend a lot of time doing that. I spend a lot of time mentoring. For me, it’s like sending a ripple through history. Because if you can lift someone else up, you don’t really know how that’s gonna end up over time.

[05:25] Yeah, absolutely. Alright, folks. We’re going to be talking about Mark’s newest book. In particular, towards the end of this interview, I’m going to be asking Mark to share with us practical applications of the lessons in the book, in particular, for marketing agencies because I know that a lot of the folks in my audience who run agencies. So hopefully, you will enjoy listening to this interview as much as Mark and I are going to enjoy producing it for you. 

So I know that this isn’t from the book we’re going to talk about today. But you did, in my research, you talked a little bit about this third consumer rebellion. I want to start there just to set the stage for our conversation. So without going way too far down that rabbit hole, what the heck is this third consumer rebellion? Why should marketers care about it?

  • Well, this is from the beginning of my Marketing Rebellion book, which was a few years ago. This was a book that was a wake-up call. What I showed–I started the book with a little history lesson and showed that every time that marketers and companies have abused and taken consumers for granted, they’ve rebelled. 

This really started in the 1920s when advertising–In the 1880s, when marketing and advertising was starting, marketing and advertising were synonymous. Then by the 1920s, advertising was a big deal. Back then, advertising meant creating remarkable promises. But as the competition heated up, these promises became more and more remarkable until they were lies. So, the consumers rebelled, they said, “You’re hurting us. You can’t lie.” Literally, there was a product called snake oil back then. 

They had to be regulated, right? There’s a pattern here, isn’t it? When big companies can’t really monitor themselves, and they have to be regulated, we’re seeing that today. What I’m saying in the book is that there is this pattern through history. So that was the first rebellion. 

The second rebellion came really at the dawn of the internet when all this information that we had in our companies and we had in our governments started to trickle out to the people. I was in the middle of that. I think you probably remember those days. To me, it was an existential crisis. It’s like, “How do we have a business model when our customers know as much about what we do as we do?” We used to make money on the things people didn’t know. That’s how we sold cars and vacation plans. So, the second rebellion was really about the end of secrets. 

Now, where we are today is what I call the end of control. Companies have tried to manipulate consumers. There was a very well-known marketing author, in one of his recent books, said, “Marketing is about manipulation.” That is the whole problem, I think, is that consumers today have the accumulated knowledge of the human race in the palm of their hands. They don’t want to be manipulated. They can make pretty good decisions. 

I think that today, marketing really means coming alongside customers, giving up the control. Two-thirds of our marketing is occurring without us anyway. Marketing today, in my mind, Trent, is how do we come along consumers at their point of need? How do we earn our way into their narrative? A brand used to be what we said it was. Today, a brand is what people tell each other. How do we earn our way into that narrative? It’s a different mindset. It’s a little scary, honestly, because it’s really hard work. So that’s the third rebellion in a nutshell. 

[09:39] Alright. I think that’s a beautiful segue for us to talk about your most recent book called Cumulative Advantage. In this book, you talk about there’s a five-step process for generating this particular advantage. Consumers or our target audience or our potential customers, whatever you want to call them. Number one is–so I want you to talk about how the initial advantage that drives momentum comes from everyday experiences?

  • Right. Well, if I may, let me just take one step back to talk about why is this book important. Why now? Why did I write this now? This thing I’m struggling with, Trent, like a lot of people, and especially people from agencies, is that the question we’re all struggling with right now is how can we be heard? How do we stand out in this overwhelming world? That led me to this research on momentum. Is there a pattern? How does momentum work? If you’re stuck, if you can’t cut through, how do you create momentum? 

It led me to this research that really began in the 1960s, but it’s been locked in the world of sociology. It hasn’t really been applied to real life and real businesses. So the ideas we’re talking about, they’re not necessarily my ideas. I weaved it together into a process and a story, but there’s lots of good research and lots of good examples in this book. So that’s the idea. How do we build momentum? All momentum begins with some initial advantage. 

Here’s the thing that’s surprising: if you look at successful people and you look at successful businesses, they almost always started with some random event. It wasn’t a plan. It wasn’t a strategy. It’s not necessarily because someone has a Harvard degree or a million dollars in the bank. 

There’s a story in the book about how Nike got started. There was a track coach who was having breakfast in his kitchen. Back in the day, high school track athletes, literally, had metal spikes on the bottom of their shoes. Probably a toxic combination: teenagers and metal spikes. He needed something different. His wife pulls a waffle out of the waffle iron. He looks at this thing, runs back to the high school chemistry lab without saying a word, comes back with a bottle of latex, pours it in the waffle iron, pulls it out says, “This could be the bottom of a shoe.” That’s how Nike got started. Fun fact: that rusty old waffle iron is displayed like a museum piece at Nike headquarters because that’s their founding story. 

There was a wonderful book called The Click Moment written by… Oh, shoot. I’m skipping the name. I’m having a brain cramp right now. I’ll remember it in a moment. I’m sure. But The Click Moment and it sounds like a boring book on SEO. But really, it’s a wonderful expository about how innovation begins, how ideas begin. It’s being in the right place at the right time. It’s just seeing something that doesn’t make sense. It could be a question from someone. What was Bill Gates’s initial advantage? As a teenager, he had access to early computer prototypes. He was doing coding before anybody else his age. I see you Googling there. I’m sure you found this book. 

[13:32] Frans Johansson.

  • Frans Johansson. That’s right. He does deserve credit because he’s a wonderful researcher and author. He did a great job with that book. In that book, he shows that this initial advantage, the beginning of momentum, it’s accessible to anyone. But you have to pursue it, right? An idea is not momentum, and there’s millions of ideas in the world. Momentum begins with the quest; it’s the pursuit of the idea. That has to fit into the scene, which is probably the next question you’re gonna ask me. That’s step two.

[14:08] It is, exactly. So go ahead and segue right into the next one. 

  • Well, I think this is, maybe, the most exciting part of the book, especially for agency owners, I think. Because it depicts strategy in a new way. Strategy, when I was a young guy growing up in business, was a 250-page report and a five-year plan. To me, strategy, the analogy I use in the book is American football and you don’t have to understand football to see this visualization. In American football, there’s two teams lined up face-to-face, strength against strength. The coaches, the strategists are actually in a booth above the field and they’re looking at the other team, “Is someone out of place? Is someone tired? Is someone overmatched? How can we take advantage of that momentary opportunity to burst through that scene with all our force and all our strength, and go as long as we can?” That is really strategy today. 

We have to see fractures in the status quo, shifts in demographics, in taste, in fashion, things that are going on and changing every day that create opportunities. Trent, we’re living in the biggest fracture in the status quo, arguably, in history. That’s called a pandemic, right? We’re reimagining everything we do. We’re reimagining how we work, where we work, how we educate ourselves, how we play, how we date, how we educate our kids. We’re renegotiating our relationship with food, with entertainment. 

Everything is changing and all of these shifts are an opportunity. Now, we don’t know how long they’re gonna last. I mentioned to you before we push the record button that last year, I’m a speaker, I’m a consultant, I’m a teacher. There was a period at the beginning of the pandemic, my business went to zero. I had to reevaluate, what’s my initial advantage? What’s the thing that I do? I’m a teacher. Now, how do I apply that to a scene to create new momentum? 

I realized that I teach marketing, but people need me to teach something else right now. I completely switched my content. I started writing about “how do we deal with this disorientation”. How do we deal with anxiety? How do we deal with this idea of uncertainty? We don’t know when this is going to end. Some people said this was the best content they read in that period of the pandemic. I put it together as an e-book, gave it away for free. At the end of the e-book, I said, “If you were inspired by this, I called it Fight to the Other Side. If you’re inspired by this e-book, think how I can inspire you in your online Zoom meeting. Click here and you can find out more about bringing Mark into your leadership meeting.” 

By July, August, I was having record months because I hit a new scene. I’m an inspirational leader ready to help people in these boring Zoom meetings. That was the scene. Did it last forever? No, it’s over now. But I hit that scene as hard as I could and had the opportunity while I can. That is really what starts momentum. We see this happening all around us. Every day, we just have to be aware of how momentum begins and start putting it in play for us.

[17:46] So let me dive in with–I want to go down a little rabbit hole for while. Big chunk of my audience, as I mentioned, runs marketing agencies all the way from solopreneurs up to 20, 30, 40, 50 people. Typically they’re full-service marketing agencies. So they’re doing PPC. They’re doing SEO. They’re doing content. They’re doing social. They’re doing all this stuff. Some of them, of course, are growing faster than the others. For those who maybe aren’t achieving their growth goals, at this point in time, given what you just talked about, about identifying a seam and taking advantage of it, what is some practical advice that they could stop listening to this podcast and go do in the next day or two?

  • Well, I mean, I don’t know. I don’t think I’m an unusual person, but I am literally bombarded with innovation growth ideas every day. I think, sometimes, in our daily jobs, we’re so head down working on whatever PPC and SEO, and we’re not really looking at the opportunities that are being presented to us right now, in this moment. Let me give you a ripped from the headlines example. The other day, Trent, I saw this headline said, “Hallmark Cards is Getting Out of the E-card Business.” 

Now, that makes no sense. Everything is going to e-commerce. Why would the biggest card manufacturer in the world get out of e-cards? So I dove down. What’s the shift? What’s the fracture in the status quo here? What I learned was there are two huge markets for greeting cards. Number one, as you’d probably imagine, senior citizens. They don’t like sending cards on the internet. Number two, Gen Z. Gen Z loves sending cards. Go figure. But they don’t want electronic cards. They want artisanal, handmade cards. So what does that mean for us? How do we connect to Gen Z? Is there a lesson there for our content, for advertising? If we’re artists, should we start a TikTok channel about how we’re making art or making cards for Gen Z? 

So I learned something just in this little article. These things are happening all the time. I’m making this big collection right now, of all these weird things that are happening. Before the pandemic, 20% of Americans said they suffer from chronic sleep problems. Today, it’s 60%. Now, what does that mean for an ad agency? I don’t really know. But if you think 60% of our customers and 60% of our customers’ customers are sleep deprived. Maybe, they’re irritable. Maybe, they need something else. Maybe you need to appeal to them in a different way. So it’s just being aware of what are the shifts that are happening right now and adjusting, adjusting, adjusting, and creating new opportunities. 

[20:58] Yeah, I agree. That’s sage advice: paying attention to what’s–instead of being so head down, do your thing. You got to take some time to pay attention. 

  • Don’t ignore those things. Don’t let it pass you by. If you see something that doesn’t make sense like the sleep deprivation thing, dig down and read why. How does that apply to me? How do we use our core competencies to help our customers or create some new value because of this change?

[21:30] So I’m going to chime in with a little actionable thing that I think an agency could do to test this stuff. Because this is something I’ve literally been doing for the last three days. I learned about this thing called a color block ad from the folks at Mint CRO. Essentially, it’s just an ad where there’s two colors on the background. There’s some text on the front. It’s super simple. And the whole idea of using these things is to test messaging. So let’s say that what someone is paying attention to the world market like you just described, and they think that there’s an opportunity to do a thing, or market a thing, or sell a thing, but they really need some data before they go build the thing or offer the thing. That would be the use case for these ads. 

So you basically take like a little square ad, pick whatever two colors you want, make the top, and then make the bottom one-third one color, the top two-thirds another color. You can put a statement, do a true or false question, just a couple of short sentences. Then you want to set these things up, targeting your audience in Facebook. You’ll make some rules in Facebook saying when this ad hits 400 impressions, turn it off. If the cost of this ad goes over $1 per click, turn it off. Spend, say you set yourself a daily budget of 100 bucks. 

The best I’ve been able to do so far is only spend 35 of my $100. But in 24 hours, and I’ll create 10 of these variations at a time. I’ve now done this 32 times. What you’re looking for is this: you’re looking for a message. It’s not necessarily even a headline. It’s just an idea that can get more than five clicks for less than 50 cents a click with 400 impressions or less. 

The women and their names escape me. You can go to their website and get their names. It’s Mint CRO. They call that a gold coin. When you find that combination, that little bit of data, you’ve got a gold coin. Now, you need to go write a headline based upon that. Then you’re going to test various headlines and so forth. 

So I offer that up because I really like to make sure there’s actionable nuggets in the interviews that I do. It’s been wildly valuable to me, for my software company, Flowster, to help me figure out for my target audience what are the things that these people are most likely to respond to. You know what, Mark, I spent a couple of days and not even 100 bucks yet, and I’ve got some really great data. 

  • That’s fantastic. Yeah, that’s fantastic. It’s interesting how you’re almost creating your own scenes. If the scenes aren’t coming to you, you’re going to the scenes. I really like that.

[24:11] Yes. Because in Flowster, we have all these playbooks, and all these templates, and all this content, and I could offer anything up, but I don’t want to build it first and then figure out how to sell it. I’m trying to find out what combination of messaging suggests what playbook, or what SLP template, or whatever these folks would really, really like to have in their business. I’m inching closer day by day. I’m seeing patterns in the tests that I’m doing and it’s all backed by data, which I absolutely love. Because, as my wife will tell you, I hate opinions. I love data. 

  • Alright. Good for you. 

[24:41] So let’s go to number three. So the insider secrets of creating vast awareness for projects and ideas, tell me what was that. What does that mean?

  • Well, if you’re a marketing geek like me, this will be a really fun part of the book because once you’ve created momentum, once you’ve started momentum, people need to know about it. That’s the business, you’re in, Trent. So, what I talked about in this book are a couple of ideas that are not so obvious like advertising. One of the things I talk about is really some new experiments that were done that show really the power of social proof. I’m guessing 95% of people listening know what social proof is. But it’s basically, if you don’t really know the truth, you look at your environment. You ask friends. You look for social clues to help you make the best decisions.

[25:40] Reviews on Amazon. 

  • Yeah, reviews on Amazon, testimonies, stuff going on in social media. There was this experiment that showed how even the quality of a product can be dramatically manipulated and skewed with social proof. These experimenters, these university researchers, created a music site where there were 42 different songs on this music site. People could rate the songs and download the songs for free. So the first 7000 people that came on rated the songs and the clear winners were at the top. There were clear losers. Nobody liked these songs. There were clear winners. Everybody loved these songs. 

Now, the next 7000 people that came into the site, they showed them the ratings of the songs, but they flipped it. So the worst songs, people thought they were the best songs. What happened was the very, very worst song was the number two rated song. What this gets at, Trent, is a mistake that many people make in their advertising, in their marketing. It’s that we assume that people make independent decisions. 

People almost never make independent decisions, especially if the dollar value is high. If it’s over 50 bucks even, people are going to go check it out. If it’s over $500, not only are they going to look at it on the internet, look at the reviews, they’re going to talk to friends and probably go back and look some more. So this idea of social proof is incredibly powerful. It might even be more powerful than how good you are.

[27:42] Yeah, I would actually agree completely with that. I think a lot of times, the best product or the best service doesn’t necessarily win. I think a lot of times the best marketing wins. If you consider two software products, as an example, two CRM solutions, two process management softwares. Who’s going to sign up for both of them and use both of them long enough to assess in their own mind, which one is actually better? Nobody. 

They’re gonna look at the marketing. They’re going to look at the reviews on G2 Crowd or Capterra or wherever. They’re going to make their best guess. Then that’s the one they’re going to use. It’s very unlikely, unless they have just a horrible user experience, that midstream, they’re going to say, “Well, I don’t want to use this one anymore. I’m gonna go use a different one.” Because it’s too much work.

  • Right. Too much mental anguish for the switching costs.

[28:35] Indeed. Alright, number four, why we need to regard mentoring relationships in an entirely new light. I really like this one because relationships–and I’m sure everyone’s listening–this is nothing new for them. But they have been pivotable–

  • I found a new word here. I like that. 

[28:58] Pivotal for me in my career and in particular, in my online business and my software company and everything. The more great relationships that I formed, the faster growth and success comes my way.

  • Right, exactly. So if you think about, let’s go back to what’s the goal here? It’s momentum, right? It’s getting to this next level. One of the fastest way to do that is to get a lift from somebody else, is to get a lift up. The thing that frustrates me about mentoring today is that it’s really the whole idea is anachronistic in some ways. 

I’ll give you an example. I was in a formal mentoring program with my alma mater. I went to undergrad at West Virginia University, and I had to go to a training program for the mentors. Then we had to establish, sign a contract that we were going to see our mentors for so many times for so many hours over so many months. The traditional view of mentoring is that it’s a long-term relationship with someone that teaches you something. If you need to learn something today, you don’t really need a mentor. You need YouTube because you can learn almost anything on YouTube. 

Mentoring today is more about what the internet can’t do. It’s opening doors. It’s making introductions. It’s creating opportunities. You don’t necessarily need a long-term, month-to-month relationship like this. You need to build a trusting relationship where if I’m stuck, if I’m at a point in my life, a point in my career, and you’re just the right person that can help me through this, do I have the ability to say, “Hey, can you spend a few minutes with me to help me with this issue? Help me get unstuck and get to the next level.” 

It’s something I take seriously. I’m helping people all the time. I’m aware of my role as someone who can lift people up and create those ripples of momentum. It’s something that we can all do. We all need to reach up and reach out to create our own momentum. But we also have the power to reach out and reach down and help other people create momentum. So it’s really reimagining this relationship. 

I think the power of this part of the book is there’s some really great advice in there about how do we find those people. How do we find the right people that can open these doors? How do we establish a relationship? How do we cut through the noise even in that role, and get their attention, and earn their trust so that it’s a mutually beneficial relationship? When I have young people come to me and say, “I want you to be my mentor.” I say, “Read the chapter of this book first. If you agree, then we’ll do it.” Because I don’t want another full-time job.

[32:09] Fair enough. You’ve actually just disclosed the greatest reason why I have continued my podcast for 10 years. It has been–So for folks who are listening who are thinking, “Hey, man. I really want a way that I can get free mentoring and expand my professional network, without having to go to conferences.” Become an interviewer, whether you produce the content on–

  • That’s beautiful. 

[32:37] –or whether you just publish it on your YouTube channel. Literally, just this morning so I’m looking, I’m always looking for agencies to collaborate with. Because, at Flowster, we have a content partner program where an agency that has a specific body of expertise, we’ll create a playbook that is essentially just a bunch of checklists. So that someone else could execute a given task using their expertise, follow the recipe as it were. 

At this point, because Flowster is not a household name yet, I do a lot of one-to-one cold outreach. Every single time that I do that, it’s with, “Hey. I’m interested in potentially interviewing you.” Not, “Hey, I want to pitch you my collaboration program.” Not, “Hey, I want some free advice. I just want to talk to you about interviewing you.” I don’t say where I’m going to publish the interview, how it’s either going to go on YouTube, or my podcast, or both. 

But as you might imagine, it’s a little bit of an ego stroke for the recipient. That’s how I’ve got guys like Neil Patel, Eric Siu, Jay Baer, you, Michael Stelzner. All these guys have been on my show because I reached out to say, “Hey, I’m interested in interviewing you.” Now these are all people who know me now. What does that mean? A relationship after the fact and pepper them with questions and get free–no, because that would be counterproductive. Can I, on occasion, reach out and ask a question? Yeah, absolutely.

  • I wish we had this conversation before I wrote the book because I would have included this in the book. This is really a great idea. I’ll probably turn it into a blog post. I just wrote it down. I think it’s brilliant. I think it’s really brilliant. That’s a great way to develop mentoring relationships by being a generous interviewer.

[34:38] I’m in one best-selling book on the New York Times so far, it’s Atomic Habits. I’d love to be in another one. So Mark, if you can write another best-selling book and include me. 

  • Well, you’re gonna be in my blog post. I’ll give you that. 

[34:40] Hey, I’m happy to start there. James Clear wrote about me this thing called the paperclip strategy. Anyone who’s listening, just Google the paperclip strategy, and you’ll see his article and I actually ended up making it into the book. 

  • Well, that’s how my books start. They start out as blog posts, so who knows? 

[34:35] Yeah, absolutely. Very cool. So the thing that I want to leave people with because if you haven’t done something one time, oftentimes it’s intimidating, and they get stuck. Becoming an interviewer is the easiest thing in the world. All you have to do is start sending emails to people that you find interesting and say, “I would love to interview you.” Doesn’t matter if you don’t have a show yet, you can say, “I’m launching a new YouTube channel. In the first 60 days, I’m going to produce this many interviews. Here’s some of the names I’m reaching out to. I would love it if you would be one of my first guests.” As long as you’re not aiming too high, you’re not going to get Tim Ferriss on your show when you don’t have a show yet, but you can work your way up to getting your name. 

  • Actually, that’s a beautiful point that I bring out in the book, exactly in this chapter, that there’s a correlation between the work you do on your personal brand and your ability to reach out for help. In the book, I talked about creating a sonic boom. If you’re just starting out, you’re going to create a sonic whisper. That’s okay. That’s okay. But there really is… I want this book to be accessible to everyone. I’m a very practical person. The higher you can reach is also a function of how much work you’ve put into your own content and your own personal brand. Just like you, you’ve been doing this for 10 years, you can reach a lot higher today than you did 10 years ago. So good for you. That helps you build momentum as well.

[36:44] It also helped that I was early as an interviewer. Podcasting, 10 years ago, was not nearly as competitive as it is today. So it’s harder now to climb that ladder of guests, but it’s definitely not impossible. You just need to niche down further. I was able to achieve some level of success by being somewhat general in the beginning, but now you need to be very niched, and build your echo chamber, and get really well-known in that echo chamber, and then it expand it a bit, and then expand it a bit more. 

So to all you agency owners who are listening, if you don’t have a podcast, if you’re not an interviewer, I promise you, you are seriously missing out. At the risk of tooting my own product, we have a number of playbooks and process templates, all of which are free to Flowster users, in Flowster, on producing YouTube videos and producing podcast interviews and all this stuff. So if you don’t know how to do it, you don’t need to go take a course. You just sign up for Flowster. You go to the marketplace. You type in the word podcast and you’ll find it. It’ll show right up for you and you’ll literally have the checklist step 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5 of exactly what you need to do. 

Alright, number five, how the certainty of business uncertainty can be used to your advantage. I am genuinely curious about what you mean by this one, Mark, so over to you.

  • Well, that’s the one thing that we know. This is the part that I really struggled with in the book is the idea of timing and change and pivoting. How do you keep the momentum going when things are changing? I recalled advice from the great author Jim Collins in his book, Good to Great and he talks about this idea of the doom cycle. I think what happens with a lot of people is when things start to go bad, they panic. They’ve built momentum. They’ve got something going and then when things go bad, they start reaching for straws and start shifting and changing, and soon, customers can’t even recognize what you’re doing anymore. 

I’m not saying don’t be aware, and I’m not saying don’t shift and pivot as you need to. But there is some value to this idea of constancy of purpose. It’s constancy of what you do. It’s to really be clear about where do you fit in the world? What is your advantage? How do you solve problems uniquely for customers? Then having the grit and the determination to overcome some of the issues that you face as you’re building momentum. If you’re trying to create something new: a podcast, an idea, a product, a business, people are going to try to take you down. The world’s going to try to take you down, and you’ve got to have that grit. You’ve got to have that determination. 

There’s two kinds of pain. One is the pain of failure and one is the pain of having the determination and the discipline to do something every day that you need to do to keep the momentum going and be a success. Maybe it’s making those hard sales calls. Maybe it’s interviewing, like you are, like creating content for 10 years, having the discipline to do that. Maybe it’s continuing to learn and grow. 

If you can withstand that pain of the discipline of doing those things to keep the momentum going, then you won’t have the pain of failure so much because you’ll know you did everything you could do to keep the momentum going. So it’s this idea of constancy: constancy of your business, of your momentum.

[40:41] Here’s what Gary Vee says about that, “You need to be in love with the process, not the results.” So people will start on YouTube because they fantasize about 10 million views. Sure, but they don’t enjoy. They don’t accept the idea that they’re going to have to make content for years first before they can get 10 million views. So, three weeks in, three months in, whatever; they give up because they weren’t in love with the process of creating the content. They were only emotionally attached to the results. That is going to set you up for failure every time. 

For me, in my case, I’ve done the podcast this long because I like talking to people. I like talking more than I like writing and creating content. So for me, this is an easy way to create content because, of course, my team can repurpose it. We get text from this. We get video from this. We get social media posts from this. We get audiograms. We get all sorts of stuff just from talking on the mic, which I find not very difficult to do.

  • It’s a great example. Unfortunately, we’re living in a world that really hurts my heart in some ways because we have this culture of celebrity, where the goal is celebrity and it’s not really, like you say, loving the process. Especially if you see the culture emerging on TikTok where it’s really about performance every day, every day. Becoming an influencer is something that a great percentage of young people aspire to. They want that for their careers today. There’s going to be a lot of disappointment because there is no overnight success. You’ve got to work it and grind for years before you get that big audience that will trust you.

[42:41] Yeah, absolutely. There’s a guy on YouTube. He’s a young kid. I believe his channel is MrBeast.

  • Oh, yeah. He’s the number one YouTuber.

[42:54] With good reason. Every single one of his movies is like a Hollywood production. Just go to his channel and scroll back 4 or 5, 6, 7 years and his videos sucked as much as everybody.

  • You know what his first video was? His first video was he counted to 100,000. 

[43:20] He just sat in front of the camera and counted to 100,000? 

  • Yeah, he stayed up for two days and he counted to 100,000. It went viral. But that’s the kind of grind the guy started with. But today, he’s spending on average $300,000 for one of his videos. He’s spent as much as a million dollars on one video. I also use that as a lesson, Trent. We’ve come full circle here about how do you stand out today, right? Well, here’s the number one YouTuber. Not too many people can spend $300,000 on a video to stand out. 

We’ve got to be smart. We’ve got to find other ways, but it does take constancy of purpose just like MrBeast, right? Everybody starts at that bottom. It’s a grind. One of my favorite bloggers, a guy I looked up to when I was starting out, was Chris Brogan. Brogan famously said it took him three years of blogging before he had his first 100 readers. He ended up being one of the early superstars of social media and one of the greatest early authors in the field.

[44:41] Absolutely. Brian Clark, copy blogger, another example, has built an entire empire on the back of blogging, which he did years and years and years without a lot of recognition. Alright, parting words, Mark.

  • Sure. This is the way I end a lot of my talks and a lot of my speeches. Something that I really believe a lot in. We’ve been talking about cumulative advantage. Thanks, Trent, so much for being such a great interviewer and being so well prepared today. We also touched on this book, Marketing Rebellion. The subtitle of that book is The Most Human Company Wins. I really believe that’s the truth. What we need to do is look at what we’re doing and not fall into the trap of those rebellions. 

If we’re doing things that customers hate, we need to stop it. Because ultimately, the customers will win. It might be regulated on us. It might be enforced on us. But eventually, the customers will win. We need to get ahead of that and think, what do the customers love? How do we double down on that? So be more human. The most human company wins. 

[45’59] Alright. My guest today has been Mark Schaefer, author of many books. The book we talked about today was called Cumulative Advantage, which I’m sure you can easily find on Amazon. Mark, thank you so much for making some time to be on the show. It was a pleasure to have you here. 

  • Thank you so much, Trent. 

[46:12] To get to the show notes for today’s episode, go to If you found value in this episode, I would really be grateful if you would take a moment on your favorite podcast listening app, and like, rate, and review the show because when every listener does that, that is the single best way to tell the algorithms of the various platforms that it’s a great show, it’s a helpful show, and that they should expose the Bright Ideas podcast to other listeners who maybe have not heard it yet. So if you wouldn’t mind doing that, you have my gratitude and my thanks in advance. I look forward to seeing you in the next episode soon. So take care. Bye-bye.

Thanks very much for listening to the Bright Ideas podcast. Check us out on the web at Alright, show’s over. I’m tired.

Mark’s Bright Ideas

  • When Marketers Abuse Customers, They Rebel
  • Momentum is the Pursuit of an Idea
  • Develop a Strategy from Opportunities
  • Pay Attention to the Shifts and Seize Them
  • Don’t Underestimate the Power of Social Proof
  • View Mentorship in a New Light
  • Face Challenges with a Constancy of Purpose

When Marketers Abuse Customers, They Rebel

Marketing and advertising became a big deal in the 1920s. To compete in this space, advertisers made bigger and bigger promises, to the point that they became lies. So, customers rebelled, and advertising got regulated.

Meanwhile, the second rebellion came with the advent of the internet. During this time, brands could no longer hide their business model from their consumers. Mark calls this rebellion the end of secrets. 

We are currently experiencing the third rebellion or the end of control. Even top marketers think of marketing as manipulation. However, consumers are now more informed than ever; they can make good decisions. So, marketers are compelled to look for ways to meet customers at their point of need. Marketers need to know how they can earn their way into the customers’ narrative.

Momentum is the Pursuit of an Idea

In the marketing and advertising space, it is challenging to be heard and stand out. This dilemma led Mark to research momentum. He found that “all momentum begins with some initial advantage.” Successful people and businesses almost always started with a random event.

For example, before Nike was born out of one track coach’s struggle to find the right shoes for track athletes. One day, he came up with the crazy idea of pouring latex in a waffle iron and created padding for track shoes.

Everyone has this initial advantage. We all have ideas, but these can only develop into momentum if you pursue them.

Develop a Strategy from Opportunities

As opposed to traditional planning, Mark views developing a strategy through an American football game. A coach views both teams from above the field and asks: “Is someone out of place? Is someone tired? Is someone overmatched? How can we take advantage of that momentary opportunity to burst through that scene with all our force and all our strength and go as long as we can?”

He urges us to do the same and see the fractures and shifts in the status quo. All of these changes are opportunities. Ask yourself how you can take advantage of them. Then, apply that to a scene to create new momentum. This is the ultimate strategy.

Pay Attention to the Shifts and Seize Them

One of Mark’s practical tips for marketing agencies is to be aware of the shifts and do your research. 

This advice is especially applicable now that we are experiencing a pandemic. For instance, the number of people suffering from chronic sleeping problems has drastically increased. As an ad agency, what can you do with this information? How can you appeal to your audience differently?

“If you see something that doesn’t make sense, like the sleep deprivation thing, dig down and read why. How does that apply to me? How do we use our core competencies to help our customers or create some new value because of this change?”

Don’t Underestimate the Power of Social Proof

Once you’ve started the momentum, you need to create awareness. A powerful way to do this is by using social proof. 

Assuming that customers make independent decisions is a common mistake for advertisers. Remember, “people almost never make independent decisions, especially if the dollar value is high.” An experiment showed that consumers are more likely to buy top-rated products than low-rated ones, even if these are inferior in quality.

View Mentorship in a New Light

Helping someone create momentum in their lives doesn’t need to be a long-term relationship where someone teaches you something. You can learn almost anything on the internet. So, Mark thinks that mentorship is a trusting relationship that will open doors and create opportunities. 

By reimagining mentorship, you help others create their momentum. Mark shares, “We all need to reach up and reach out to create our own momentum. But we also have the power to reach out and reach down and help other people create momentum.” 

In this part of Cumulative Advantage, Mark also writes about how you can find these people and reach out to them.

Face Challenges with a Constancy of Purpose

Sometimes, when things go wrong in a business, the instant reaction of owners is to panic. They may then make changes that may not resonate with their customers. Remember that there is value in the constancy of purpose. You need to have the grit and determination to show your customers that you have what it takes to solve problems.

There are two kinds of pain:

  1. failure
  2. having the discipline to keep the momentum going

Mark states, “If you can withstand that pain of having the discipline of doing those things to keep the momentum going, then you won’t have the pain of failure so much.” 

What Did We Learn From This Episode

  1. Consumers are more informed than ever. So, marketers need to rethink how they can resonate with their audience.
  2. There’s a five-step process to build a cumulative advantage.
  3. Pursue your ideas to create momentum. 
  4. Seize the fractures of changes in the status quo and see what you can do with these opportunities.
  5. Pay attention to these shifts and do not let them pass by.
  6. Social proof is a powerful marketing tool.
  7. Mentorship is building a trusting relationship that leads to open doors and opportunities.
  8. It’s essential to have the constancy of purpose to keep your momentum going.

Episode Highlights

[04:23] – Mark introduces himself

  • Mark is a writer, blogger, and marketing consultant. 
  • He has written countless books, including Marketing Rebellion and Cumulative Advantage.
  • Mark also teaches graduate studies at Rutgers University.
  • He enjoys helping people create momentum in their lives by mentoring them.

[06:18] – What is the third consumer rebellion?

  • The first rebellion happened in the 1920s when companies lied to their consumers. 
  • The second rebellion happened during the dawn of the internet. It’s also called the end of secrets.
  • We are currently in the third rebellion or end of control. During this period, customers make more well-informed decisions.

[10:09] – How Cumulative Advantage came to be

  • Marketing agencies are all struggling with the dilemma of getting heard. 
  • This situation urged Mark to research momentum.
  • His book contains a five-step process to generate cumulative advantage.

[10:48] – #1: The initial advantage that drives momentum comes from everyday experiences

  • All momentum begins with some initial advantage.
  • Bill Gates had early access to computer prototypes. He learned to code and used this to gain a cumulative advantage.
  • You have to pursue your idea to build momentum.

[14:12] – #2: Develop a strategy in a new way

  • Observe the trends, shifts, and changes in society.
  • Take advantage of these momentary opportunities by asking yourself what you can do in this situation.

[18:30] – Practical advice for full-service marketing agencies

  • Pay attention to what’s happening around you and do your research.
  • Make a connection with what’s happening, adjust your offerings, and create new opportunities.

[24:50] – #3: The insider secrets of creating vast awareness for projects and ideas

  • Don’t assume that people make independent decisions.
  • Before people buy products, they would usually consult with friends and family. They’ll also lookup reviews, testimonies, and information on social media.
  • So, social proof is a valuable tool to market your product or service.

[28:35] – #4: Regarding mentoring relationships in a new light

  • The fastest way to build momentum is to get a lift from others.
  • In traditional mentorship, someone teaches you something. However, you can learn almost anything on the internet.
  • Instead, we need to see mentorship as a trusting relationship that opens doors and creates opportunities.

[35:42] – The correlation between your personal brand and your ability to reach out for help

  • In one chapter of Cumulative Advantage, Mark talks about creating a sonic boom. 
  • If you are just starting, you’re creating a sonic whisper. That’s okay.
  • The more work you put into your personal brand, the more you build momentum and reach a bigger audience.

[38:04] – #5: The certainty of business uncertainty can be used to your advantage

  • When you face a challenge in your business, you need to have constancy in your purpose.
  • Have the grit, determination, and discipline to keep the momentum going.
  • When you handle the pain of discipline, you don’t have to deal with the pain of failure.

[44:54] – Mark’s parting words

  • Do not fall into the trap of consumer rebellion.
  • Remember that the most human company wins. 
  • So, you need to double down on what customers love.

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Today’s Guest

Mark W. Schaefer is a globally-recognized author, speaker, podcaster, and business consultant who blogs at {grow} — one of the top five marketing blogs of the world. He teaches graduate marketing classes at Rutgers University and has written eight best-selling books. Mark’s new book Cumulative Advantage: How to Build Momentum for Your Ideas, Business and Life Against All Odds is an essential new path to being seen and heard in a busy world.

His many global clients include Pfizer, Cisco, Dell, Adidas, and the US Air Force. He has been a keynote speaker at prestigious events all over the world including SXSW, Marketing Summit Tokyo, and the Institute for International and European Affairs. He has appeared as a guest on media channels such as CNN, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and CBS News.

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