Why marketers need to become “unicorn generalists” with Neal Schaffer

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Welcome to another episode of 3-Minute-Marketing, where we talk to some of the world’s best and brightest growth marketing leaders and boil it down into 3-minute micro TED talks for your listening pleasure.

Today I’m lucky enough to have Neal Schaffer joining me. Neal is a fractional CMO, international speaker, and author. He’s also multilingual and speaks fluent Japanese. I’m super excited to meet him and have him on the show.

My question for Neal is, “how can marketers become unicorn generalists?”.

Show notes:

  1. A lot of people find their niche, and then they become an evangelist. Clubhouse and Google+ are good case studies. People equate their brand and reputation with a specific social network and end up not serving their audience.
  2. People started to put Neal in an influencer marketing silo, with lots of companies reaching out to him. But those companies didn’t even have an SEO strategy, they weren’t blogging, doing marketing automation, etc.
  3. There were a lot of other things they could be doing in the digital marketing realm to serve their customers that they weren’t doing.
  4. As a marketer, you need to be able to serve your employer, market, customers, and career. And the only way to do that is to “know a lot of things”.
  5. Being able to do a checklist of things as a marketer is the path to management or being an executive. Immerse yourself in it. Experiment with it in your own company or brand, or help a nonprofit. Those are the easiest ways to get actual experience in something different.
  6. When you go to the doctor’s office, they ask what symptoms you have, take some tests, and prescribe something. Every marketer should do things this way. Understand the strategy, objectives, how things can be measured, etc. Then you have all different types of medicine that can help you reach the objective.


– You’re listening to “Three Minute Marketing,” where we interview the world’s top growth marketing leaders and distill their knowledge into actionable bite-sized insights. Now here’s your host, Chris Mechanic.

– [Chris Mechanic] Hello again, and welcome to another episode of “Three Minute Marketing,” where we talk to some of the world’s best and brightest growth marketing leaders, we interview them and we boil it down into three minute, little micro TED talks for your listening pleasure. I’m your main man, Chris Mechanic, as usual on the ones and twos I’ve got Neal Schaffer here with me. I’ve never met Neal Schaffer in real life but he’s a very interesting fella. He’s a fractional CMO. He’s an international speaker. He’s an author of several different books. He is multilingual. He speaks Japanese fluently, and I’m super excited to meet you and have you on the show. Welcome, Neal.

– [Neal Schaffer] Hey Chris, I’m excited to be here. I appreciate your reaching out and yeah, let’s do this.

– [Chris Mechanic] All right, so I’ve got a question for you. Let me get my trusty timer and this is a question that I’m excited to hear you answer, and it’s near and dear to my heart. ‘Cause I’m an executive, I own an ad agency, and over the years I’ve become a generalist. You know I know a little bit of this and a little bit of that. Some people think it’s good, some people think it’s bad to be a generalist. Some people call generalists unicorns. What is your take on being a generalist versus being a specialist? I know that you probably, I think are a generalist as well. But what’s your take on that spectrum, and if somebody kind of wants to become a generalist, how might they do it?

– [Neal Schaffer] All right, so I have wavered between niching down and being a generalist. And when I began my journey, well, my background is actually B2B sales but with the advent of social media, I began to become known as sort of this expert in LinkedIn. So the first two books I wrote, I launched a blog solely about LinkedIn in 2008, and then I wrote my first book, which is about LinkedIn in 2009, “Understanding, Leveraging and Maximizing LinkedIn.” And what I realized after I wrote the book, it’s like, okay, I know everything I need to know about LinkedIn, but the challenges that I get from customers and people that ask me questions, the reality of the way that I need to serve my clients is that it’s not just about LinkedIn. I need to know Twitter. I need to know Facebook, remember this is 2009. And that has sort of stuck with me. I think that a lot of people niche and then they become an evangelist. Really a good case study is Clubhouse, or we can go back to Google+ These people, they equate their brand and their reputation completely with a specific social network, and I don’t think they’re serving their audience. They’re serving that social network by promoting them rather than serving the needs of their audience. So I realized this, going through my history, I ended up publishing a second book on LinkedIn so I could say I graduated from it. My third book was about social media strategy. My most recent book, the “Age of Influence” was about influencer marketing. And it’s a similar thing. People started to put me in this influencer marketing silo and when I had companies reach out to me and I published this in March of 2020, it’s the shiny new toy. All these companies wanted influence the market, but guess what? They didn’t even have an SEO strategy. They weren’t blogging. They weren’t doing marketing automation. There were a lot of other things that could be doing in the entire digital marketing realm of reality to serve their customers, to be found that they weren’t doing. So I believe at the end of the day as a marketer, you need to be able to serve your employer, your market, your customers, your career, and the only way to do it is you need to know a lot of things. One of my good friends, well, I don’t need to name his name, but he’s a B2B marketer and we’re having to talk the other day. I’m like are doing this check? Are doing this check? Are you doing this check? There’s a number of things that a marketer needs to be able to do and the more of those that you can do, I believe that is the path to management. That’s the path to being an executive. Or being to learn–

– [Chris Mechanic] But how do we learn it with 30 seconds to go.

– [Neal Schaffer] Well, you need to immerse yourself in it. You either need to find budget and experiment with it for your own company, or you need to do it for your own brand or you need to help a nonprofit. These are the easiest ways to get actual experience in something very different. I challenge you in 2020 to learn a new skill, go on a TikTok, go onto YouTube, whatever it is, those are two that I think most marketers need but that is really the key is through experience you gain knowledge and wisdom.

-[Chris Mechanic] Awesome. Well, that was really, really good. I did like it. I do believe also in the power of the generalist. And as we were saying like pretty much any executive, any CMO or CEO is a generalist. I mean, they have to be to understand the entire business you know.

– [Neal Schaffer] It’s sort of like, and maybe you use this as well with your business. You go to the doctor’s office and you don’t say, you might think I have some disease but generally speaking the doctor asks what symptoms you have. They take some tests and then they prescribed something. I believe that every marketer should be the exact same, understand the strategy, the objectives, how things are going to be measured, who’s the audience, what’s the brand. And then you have all these different types of medicine that can help them reach that objective. But you need to be dangerous enough in each one of them to be able to prescribe the best medicine for this situation. I think, I think that’s where a lot of marketers go wrong. And then they get niched into only working in certain industries or uncertain channels. And they can do very well doing that. I am more and maybe yourself as well, I’m more of like the startup entrepreneur. After like I learned something I want to move on to something new, right?

– [Chris Mechanic] Right, right.

– [Neal Schaffer] Yeah, so the LinkedIn influencer marketing, I’ve done it, you know? Yes, I can use it now. I need to learn something new to add to my own marketing arsenal and that’s why my next book is going to be… it’s going to be the ultimate generalist book, the ultimate digital marketing playbook for the post COVID economy. And because I believe we need to breathe new into what is old, what is old is actually sexy and exciting and maybe more impactful than what you’re doing in social media these days. So

– [Chris Mechanic] Well, let’s do another episode. We’re going to cut to keep this short, but Hey, if you like this or if you want to see more stuff like this, drop us a like comment share and help spread the love. Neil Very great to have you on the show today, tell the audience where they can find out more about you. What’s your latest project is what’s going on these days?

– [Neal Schafffer] Well, my name is Neal Schaffer, I’m the real Neal so just check the spelling, but I’m Neal Schaffer everywhere in the socials, my website, nealschaffer.com. I have a podcast called your digital marketing coach, you should check out as well. And my most recent book is the “Age of Influence.” If you want to hear about my niching into influencer marketing, but hopefully it’s a very generalist perspective on a topic that’s very misunderstood that provides value to all you marketers.

– [Chris Mechanic] Love it. A marketer yourself, thrown through, Hey guys, stick around or check out the show notes for links to the rest of our conversation, Neil and I are going to continue talking for 10 minutes or so, and we’ll see you see you next time. It’s interesting because I like the idea of niching and being known for something kind of just because like from a marketing angle, it’s easier to say like I’m the best at Facebook than it is to be like, I’m the best at everything, you know. So that’s a strategy, right? But I think it’d be really slick if you market in a specific way to folks that you know, need more than just Facebook, they need a variety of things. Get in the door with Facebook, kill it on Facebook and I’d be like, oh, by the way, I’m a unicorn also.

– [Neal Schaffer] You know, in all honesty, I think that’s normally the way it works. You see all these companies and people that just focus on one thing, but then as they get known in that thing, they see that they need to become more of a generalist. So all these podcasts that just talked about Instagram marketing and then once Instagram shut down all the bots and they closed off the APIs and just organically, it got really hard to get more traction. These people have now I listened to their podcasts they’re talking about like email marketing and click funnels. It’s like, wait, wait, wait, what about Instagram? So at the end of the day, yeah. I mean, it’s a great way to be heard in a noisy market without a doubt. In fact, if you’re a generalist it’s hard to be known. So it is a great tactic to use at the beginning so that when people think of you, they think of something, but you don’t want it to be too eliminating and you really need to be passionate about it. ‘Cause at the beginning you’re going to be running pretty fast to be known for that subject.

– [Chris Mechanic] At the beginning, all SEO or actual URL was SEO by web mechanics. And all we did was organic search for like probably the first, like two or three years. And still to this day, people think of us as SEO. Like, you’ll see, even in our brands, branded search logs, people will search web mechanics, SEO, its funny.

– [Neal Schaffer] I mean, that’s awesome. That takes a lot of doing to have a product. Do you have a non-branded keyword associated with your brand and keyword? And that’s what most companies dream of actually.

– [Chris Mechanic] And speaking of that, that’s what Larry Kim said on the podcast. He said, basically, I asked him what the three best growth acts were for 2021. And he said, basically, it’s the ultimate growth hack of building brand. Because when you build brand online, you start getting… people start searching for you by name, they start automatically joining your Facebook. So like you think Facebook and Google are not looking at signals such as like how many people are you inviting to this page versus how many people are joining. So if you’re inviting nobody but your home Depot, so millions of people are joining. It’s like, boom, boom, boom, that’s a brand.

– [Neal Schaffer] And even simpler, how many… we all have our favorite SEO tool I use a SEM rush. So look at how many people search for your name or search for your company name. And that’ll known as an indication, right? That I think Google definitely looks at.

– [Chris Mechanic] Yeah, definitely who’s more reputable? Somebody with 300 LinkedIn followers or 3 million?

– [Neal Schaffer] Yeah, I mean they, yeah, they look at a number of different things like that for sure.

– [Chris Mechanic] But I think this thesis or his point was that like each of these platforms has their own little signals, so we could try to rake the signals, but all the signals are focused on identifying real brands that are trustworthy. so the ultimate hack is to just become a real brand that’s trustworthy.

– [Neal Schaffer] Makes sense. Yeah and they’re very… I’ve had the opportunity the honor to meet him in person. And he’s just one of the smartest people you’ll ever meet in marketing. And he, I mean, he’s someone that is extremely strategic, but he’s also extremely tactical and he knows more hacks than probably both of us combined. So to hear him say that’s pretty incredible actually, that he would say, that’s the ultimate hack you sort of expect them to have some growth marketing, hacker, growth hack. So it makes a lot of sense though.

– [Chris Mechanic] So let’s change topics here real quick, because this is an area and I know we only have seven minutes left and I want to let you get back ’cause I know you’re fresh off the plane but this is an area that you are an expert at, right? Like building brand and so like if you think tactically in terms of the algorithmic signals being given off by followers and such like what is a cause there’s a lot of people listening right now that are brands. I mean, every company really is a brand and some of them will be large but others will be emerging and looking for ways like they’re already a legit brand. People are already get branded search volume, but it’s like a thousand a month and they want it to be a million a month.

– [Neal Schaffer] Actually a thousand a month I thought a company is not bad.

– [Chris Mechanic] So, but what are some ways like, right when you walk in the door of a new client or new prospect that you just think like, Hey, we got to build brand here. Like what are some of your go-to methods, techniques, and strategies.

– [Neal Schaffer] Yeah, I don’t think it’s rocket science, the idea about building brands. So I think there’s obviously two parts of it, a building brand, the first is like the internal part, right? Where you need to have some consistency, I’m not a branding expert by any means but definitely, some of the hallmarks of a brand is there’s consistency. I was just on a podcast today where we talked about MailChimp and how consistent they are in their communication and language, the bananas, the apes, and that builds this brand. And so that sort of the internal, the consistency part of the burning also is in creating some sort of emotional attachment. Like I normally buy Tylenol, yesterday for my daughter I bought CVS and my wife freaked out. Like, I’m like, dude, the ingredients are the exact same, right? But Tylenol is built this emotional attachment from the brand that I am also attached to it. So I totally get that. So that’s the internal, the external part is the only way to build your brand and to get more followers to your brand is to be out there. And there are many, many ways to be out there, the two primary ways, if people already obviously you have email marketing automation we’ll talk about that. But the two primary ways that would be seen in search engines and in social media, and obviously there’s some overlap between the two as well. In search and I just published my own new blog post a new podcast episode today on your digital marketing coach and why I’m doubling down on blogging. Because I think that seeding search engines with genuinely useful and relevant and new up-to-date content, I still think that there’s a lot of old irrelevant, poor quality of content out there that’s been accumulated over the last several years. And that there’s a chance for anybody listening to be able to gain visibility for your brand and build it through that. And blogging is one part, YouTube also, I think there’s tons of opportunities. And I challenge any marketers listening that if you go and your company is an expert in something and you do a search for that keyword and you find that the content there is you could do better than that’s your opportunity. And I do think that Google is smart enough and they really want to provide a useful service to people that they will find your good content and you will get opportunities to be on the big stage and perform. The social side while I wrote a book on influencer marketing, I do believe that for brands to be heard in social and to build brand there, you need to have people talking about you. It’s word of mouth and word of mouth marketing in my mind comes down to influencers. Now people cringe at the word, I’m not talking about the Kardashians, I’m talking about other social media users who have built a community of over a thousand followers in any given social network that actively publish content around certain subjects. So when you think of it that way, I mean, it could be a podcast or could be a blogger, could be YouTuber, it could be someone on LinkedIn, Twitter, Tech-Talk Instagram, but these are people that have already built communities that are very interested in specific things that you’re tapping into is going to be a quick start into being talked about in social media.

– [Chris Mechanic] How do you find those influencers? Like, it sounds like you’re talking about kind of micro influencers which is interesting.

– [Neal Schaffer] Yeah, the funny thing is I wrote in my book that it’s not about I mean, yes, it is about finding other people. But part of it is if we define a nano influencer as having a thousand followers, look at your own employees, look at your own customers, look in your own followers and chances are there’s a few nano influencers there. I talk about start with the way that we don’t cringe about influencer marketing is when we find the influence around us, we find influencers that already are brand affinity for us. Now, if we’re trying to build a bigger brand and we’re not known, you may not have that, okay? You might be still a small company with few customers, a few followers. In that case, you need to incite word of mouth easiest way to do that is the gift product. One of my friends, Bamboo Handlebar. created a company out of New Zealand, created a bamboo handle ball for bicycles because it is a much more stable ride and you really have to write it to believe it. Who is he going to reach out to? Bicycle enthusiasts, do a search, do a search on YouTube, do a search and Instagram, these costs about $200 they’re new in the market, sends them out. It’s a small price for him to pay but the coverage has gotten that alone has fueled his business.

– [Chris Mechanic] Wow, what’s is called?

– [Neal Schaffer] It’s called Passchier P-A-S-S-C-H-E-R at a New Zealand. And what’s really interesting is once people start talking about you in social, it opens up opportunities. Now he has bicycle manufacturers going on, we want to be more sustainable with our manufacturing and leveraging bamboo gives us the ability to do that. Can we consider using your as part or can you create other bicycle parts out of bamboo? He has a bicycle shoe manufacturer that’s looking at creating the soles of shoes out of bamboo using his technology.

– [Chris Mechanic] I’ll tell you what we’re at time, but that right there is a strategy for growth, right? You said, align on the internally, get some content out there, hopefully good content and then find an align with influencers, not ignoring your nano influencers.

– [Neal Schaffer] And I started with the like know and trust, but I ended with, if you don’t have that, then that’s where you see the market, you get your product out there, get people talking about it.

– [Chris Mechanic] Yeah and gifting product, I think is something that more folks could and should do including us. Like we should just be like, Hey, anybody want an SEO audit? Like we love your brand, we’ll give you an SEO audit.

– [Neal Schaffer] Yeah, listen to the podcasts the other day free one hour consult, right? If you’re an agency, I mean, that’s all you can just give out time and expertise, but if it’s worth, it has to be worth something. So if you only have like a $10 product, I don’t know, you have like a hundred dollars product, $200 product and people are genuinely interested in that. That’s the thing, it’s not number of followers, it’s genuine interest that should define. And it’s okay if I was in the bicycles and I’m looking for people to follow on Instagram or if I’m looking for like YouTube videos, you’re going to just naturally do a search and you’re naturally going to find people. And that’s what I tell everybody, it’s not as hard as you think.

– [Chris Mechanic] Yup, I dig it. Well, hey Neil, thank you very much, we really enjoyed having you. If you’re still listening, please check out Neil Schafer and neilshaffer.com or you can find them online pretty much everywhere. And if you liked this, drop us a like a comment or a share, we love your comments, we read every single one and if there’s a person or a topic you want us to talk about, we’ll do our best. Thank you very much. Neal I will let you get back to your day, sir.

Neal Schaffer

Neal SchafferSpeaker, Author & Fractional CMO

Chris Mechanic

Chris MechanicCEO & Co-Founder

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