Marc Ensign is the Big Cheese at LoudMouse, a personal branding agency for speakers, authors, coaches, entrepreneurs and artists.
A musician by training, Marc dreamed of performing on Broadway. He created a strong personal “brand,” wrote articles for music industry magazines, interviewed and forged relationships with a lot of performers. As a skilled bass player, Marc eventually “got the Broadway gig,” not by touting his amazing bass playing, but by promoting his ability to imitate a wide variety of styles. Supporting, rather than competing against, other professional musicians, Marc substituted for regular Broadway show band members who, for whatever reason, needed “a night off.” His full time Broadway career ended up lasting 10 years.
In 2001/2002, while working as a musician in the evenings, Marc dabbled in web design during the day. A big and lucrative assignment from American Express’s Travel + Leisure Magazine turned Marc’s “pajamas as business casual” web design company into a marketing agency – overnight. A decade later, he felt lost.
Marc had no education in marketing, but he had a passion for it –and, in particular, for figuring out the one impossible dream a person had – and creating a marketing message and strategy to achieve it – building, for each of his clients, a “personal brand” to get them to their “Broadway.” A couple of years ago, he started LoudMouse with a mission: To change the world by empowering those who want to change the world.
Marc was a breakout speaker at Hubspot’s Inbound 2019 and talked about “Standing Out and Start Getting Paid: How to Build a Personal Brand They Can’t Ignore.”
In this interview, Marc outlines three elements for building a successful personal brand.
- Identity. Be clear on who you are. Communicate “who you are” in a way that really connects with people in an authentic way.
- Visibility. Be able to communicate the message of “who you are” with visual elements: Your font/color/ logo/ website/ social media platforms/ pictures/ headshots. These elements have to be congruent with each other – and consistent.
- Authority. Are you positioned as an industry expert/leader/podcaster interviewee? When people `think of your industry, regardless of size, do people think of you? Did you write the book on the most important thing or a new groundbreaking innovation?
Marc authored The Groove Book: A Study in Musical Styles for Bass (2011) and Slappin’: A Complete Study of Slap Technique for Bass: A Complete Study of Slap Technique for Bass (2015), both under the Mel Bay Publications imprint. He is still building his brand as a musician, while using his agency to help “small” people leverage their brands to have “big voices.”
Marc can be reached on his company’s website at: https://loudmouse.com/, on his personal website at: https://marcensign.com/, and on LinkedIn at: https://www.linkedin.com/in/marcensign/.
ROB: Welcome to the Marketing Agency Leadership Podcast. I’m your host, Rob Kischuk, and I am joined live and in person by Marc Ensign, who is the big cheese at LoudMouse, a personal branding agency based in Tampa, Florida. Welcome to the podcast, Mark.
MARK: Thanks, Rob. How are you doing?
ROB: Mark, why don’t you start off by telling us a little bit about LoudMouse and how you focus the company?
MARK: Sure. We’re a personal branding agency. We specialize in speakers, authors, coaches, entrepreneurs, artists – people that have a message that want to reach more people, make a bigger impact, change the world, all that kind of feel-goody stuff.
ROB: What drove your passion for personal branding?
MARK: My career is basically based on personal branding. I started off my professional career as a musician back in – I graduated college in ’93. I had this dream of working on Broadway. I had no qualifications. I had no right to be there. But I had a really strong brand for myself. I was clear about who I was. I created a logo for myself. I had some level of authority by writing for magazines in the music industry and was able to break through this impossible gig and perform on Broadway for about 10 years.
I always had this passion for marketing, but more specifically, this passion for figuring out what is that one impossible dream that somebody has, and how do we create a message and create a marketing strategy to get it?
ROB: That’s interesting with the Broadway story. What was the hook you were setting in people’s minds that made them think they should talk to you? What was the brand? What were the components to why people wanted to call Mark?
MARK: I had no education in marketing. Again, this was the mid-90s, so the internet was basically just America Online and chatrooms and nonsense. I was just feeling around in the dark. I started off with, “Hey, you should hire me because I want this gig,” and that ended very quickly. Nobody really cared so much about that.
Then I started to really understand, okay, this is about them. What can I do to give to them, do something for them so they’ll want to hang out with me, so they’ll want to give me a shot, so they’ll want to be my friend? I started writing for a lot of magazines and offering to interview a lot of the musicians on Broadway, and that’s how I started to build those relationships.
How I actually got into the gig beyond that was while everybody else had this message of, “Hey, you should hire me. I’m a bass player. I’m really good,” my message was more around, “Hey, I’m a bass player and I’m really good at mimicking other people’s styles. As a sub, I can sit in your chair and the musicians, the actors, the stagehands, they’re not going to even know that you’re on vacation.”
As a musician on Broadway, that’s one of the biggest things. We need the show to be exactly the same every night, whether I’m here or not. So I was able to change the messaging. You don’t need somebody that’s the most qualified; you need somebody that can sound the most like you.
ROB: That’s pretty interesting too, because I’m sure lots of people want to be the number one. They want to be the full-time, the starter. They want to be the person who is there every night on Broadway, not the person who is the substitute. But to be known as the reliable substitute actually seems like it meets very much a need. I can understand that need. I don’t even run a Broadway show, but “holy cow, I don’t have a bass player,” I can imagine that completely.
MARK: Right, and imagine that you’re the bass player with the full-time gig. You don’t want somebody whose number one goal in life is to steal the gig out from under you. You want somebody that’s there to support you, that’s there to fill in, that’s there to make your life easier, and that’s how I positioned myself. So I built a lot of trust on that, and then I got my foot in the door.
Then eventually, the gig opened up and I was playing full-time. Then I went on to work for a number of years and traveled with the first and second national tour. But it all started with me giving back and me being a support system for the guy that actually had the gig.
ROB: There was some good hustle in there too, where you’re talking about writing about the music scene. When you’re thinking about something like that – typically, let’s say writing about music doesn’t tend to be the most lucrative thing to spend your time on.
MARK: [laughs] No.
ROB: When you’re thinking about that sort of thing, how do you think about what is playing a good long game for something that will pay off later versus what is just a way that you’re spending your time that’s not rewarding you well?
MARK: I had incentive. It was the only thing I did at the time, and I lived in my mom’s basement. [laughs] So I had plenty of incentive to “Hey, we’ve got to get this done and knock on every door and unturn every stone.” But also, I was a naïve kid. I didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to get the gig. I didn’t know I was unqualified. I just knew that this was something I wanted.
I had this game. I would call it “collecting no’s.” I would keep picking up the phone and calling people, and I wouldn’t stop until I got 10 people to say “no” to me. Then I would go on with my day. I figured at some point somebody’s going to say “maybe.” That’s kind of the incentive to keep going.
ROB: It’s interesting; you mentioned when we were talking beforehand that you have experienced – many of our audience, many of our guests, are agency owners/founders who have done that digital marketing agency drill, and you’re not in the traditional marketing agency path anymore. How did you think about that transition between “how many more bodies, how big can I build these people” to “what do I want to work on and where can I make the most impact?”
MARK: At some point as I was subbing and touring and whatnot, I decided I wanted to settle down a little bit and continue to play the show, which was in the evenings, but then I started an agency around that same time. By starting an agency, I mean I worked by myself in my pajamas in my apartment in Brooklyn. That’s how it started.
I must’ve been at it for probably 6 months. We were a web design company. It was 2001, I think, 2002. I got a call from someone at Travel + Leisure Magazine, which is a really big gig, owned by American Express. They wanted me to do this site for them as a microsite for something. I did the job, I gave them the invoice – I doubled my invoice and gave it to them, because it was a big company and I was working with a lot of small companies. They called me back the next day and they’re like, “We cannot submit this to our billing department.” I thought I got caught. He’s like, “You’ve got to at least double or triple it. It’s going to cost us more to cut the check.”
So I was like, I’m going to start an agency. That was the day that I went from web designer to agency, and over the next 12 years we worked with American Express, Nike, Travel + Leisure Magazine, Berkshire Hathaway, a lot of big companies. Somewhere along the line, after about 10 years or so, I lost sight of that thing that really lit me up, which was, how do you help that person get that big gig, that big message, whatever their Broadway is?
So I exited that agency a couple years ago and I started LoudMouse and wanted to focus on – again, those same tools, the same aspect of agency work, but helping that small guy, giving them a big voice.
ROB: Interesting. I think one thing I’ve seen through many of these interviews is that for many agencies, it’s almost inescapable. The personal brand is the company brand as well. What have you seen in terms of let’s say folks running an agency and how they think about scaling that brand? People want the principal to do the work, to be strategic, to be involved, or at least they’re going to have to pitch the new business. How have you seen that managed?
MARK: I’m the perfect guy to answer this question because I did it all wrong for so long. I was the guy. I walked into every meeting, I was the point of contact, I was the project manager, I was the lead on the project, I made sure everybody did what they were supposed to do. I became the bottleneck over time, and it’s really easy to do that, especially if you’re relying on your personal brand. If you’re positioning yourself as the expert within your space, it’s really hard for the client not to want you all the time.
What I found was one of my friends, I was talking to him about it, and we did a mock scenario, and he’s like, “I can see the problem right now. Every time you’re talking to me or you’re pitching me something or you’re telling me about what we’re going to do, it’s always ‘I’. ‘What I’ll do is I’m going to call you and then I’m going to do this and then I’m going to do this and I’ll work with the team and I’ll make sure the team…’ It’s you and the team, as opposed to ‘they’.”
It was that little shift of being in that meeting and introducing the team right away during the sales process and talking about how great they are, talking about what they’re going to do, where it’s not “we,” it’s always “they” – that was instrumental in being able to make that shift of me always being the bottleneck to positioning my team as the hero. But they’re implementing my intellectual property, basically. They’re implementing my strategy. I stand behind everything. I just don’t have to do everything.
ROB: Right. I think we almost forget. We sort of grow into a place where we’re not willing to do that “me and the team” – because you start off and you have nobody, so it’s a royal “we.” It’s like, “we can do this,” and it’s just going to be you.
Then maybe you have a couple other people around you, but you really still feel like you need to be involved in everything, and you forget, I think, the power that comes from the perception that you have a really effective team around you, and that that can become the new identity. “Look, we have more than one person, so if the bass player is sick, the bass player wants to go on vacation, you’re still fine, Client. You are still going to be fine and dandy.”
MARK: Right. And I would joke about it, I would make light of it and I would have fun with it. I have a quirky sense of humor when it comes to my clients and everything else, so I start them off that way. We would be sitting there like, “Oh, so you’re not going to be the one that’s going to do the design work?” I’m like, “Trust me, you don’t want me to touch Photoshop. If you want to grab a pen and paper right now, I’ll draw a picture for you, and then you tell me whether you want me designing the artwork for your campaign.” [laughs] They’re like, “No, that’s okay.” “All right, cool.”
That’s not where I belong. As far as the strategy, I would tell them, I have been doing this for 15 years, 18 years, something like that. You want me as your strategy guy. You do not want me holding the mouse and drawing pictures.
ROB: I’m not going to be the Instagram model for you, I’m sorry.
ROB: It’s not me. We’ve talked about some probably entrepreneurial folks who would be potential clients of yours; what is your mix of clients on the personal branding side? What sorts of people are looking for this kind of help?
MARK: The majority of them are speakers. I say speakers, authors, and coaches because the clientele that I usually work with aren’t just “I go out every now and then and speak at a conference.” They’re usually speakers that are doing very well. They have a six-figure speaker business. They’re out charging $5,000, $10,000, $15,000, $20,000 for a keynote. But they don’t really have a business. They think that they need marketing because, “Hey, I want to grow,” but they’re already out on the road 300 days a year or some ridiculous number, so they want to grow, but they don’t know how to grow.
What we do is come in and we’ll look at their brand, and very similar to – it’s “How do we separate you and how do we create a business out of this thing?” That usually includes, if you haven’t already written a book, we’re talking about writing a book. We’re building online programs or workshops or throwing events. Anything to turn that one speaker into that bigger business. That’s probably our core client.
We do a lot of work with authors, but again, it’s usually attached to some kind of consulting business, and we do a lot of work with entrepreneurs and executives. There’s an executive out there that they’re a CFO or a high level executive, and in 12 to 24 months, they know the CEO of the company is leaving, so they want to build their brand and position themselves so they can stand in front of the board in 18 months and pitch themselves as the incoming CEO and have them look at their past and go, “Wow, yeah, this guy’s the perfect fit.” It’s thinking ahead in terms of that.
ROB: It’s really interesting, the role of brand as – at some point your personal brand is more résumé than anything else you could put down on paper.
Now, you’re also giving a talk, “Standing Out and Start Getting Paid: How to Build a Personal Brand They Can’t Ignore.” Tell us about Stop what you’re going into there.
MARK: Sure. The idea behind the talk is when we talk a lot about personal branding, we always talk about this idea of standing out, becoming known in your industry, becoming that recognized expert, and there’s all this very soft, fluffy, feel-good talk about personal branding. There’s this idea that “I want to walk in a room and have people go ‘oh, there he is,’ and that’s my personal brand.” All that stuff is great, and there’s some value to it. It’s really nice to be known and to stand out.
However, at the end of the day, the person that actually gets the gig is the important one. That’s the one that really matters, the person that’s actually chosen and not just the one that stands out. You can come to an event like this, there’s 25,000 people. I can come dressed as a clown and I promise that I will stand out. Everybody will know who I am. I’ll be recognized.
ROB: You’ll be Clown Guy.
MARK: Yeah, I’ll be the guy. I’ll be getting high fives all week long. I will also leave with not a single dollar in my pocket. It’s not going to matter at the end of the day.
And I know this because I’ve done this. In my old agency days, I would show up to a big event like this, and if I wanted to meet – I went to an event where the CEO of Papa John’s was up on stage, and I dressed up as a giant slice of pizza and I sat in the front row, and I had 10 or 20 pizzas delivered to the stage during his talk in order to grab his attention. I got pulled up on stage, I have a picture with him – and he’s not a client of mine. And rightfully so. Who wants to hire that guy?
So there’s a difference between standing out and actually building a brand that people just can’t ignore. That’s what the talk is about. It’s about these three elements of building a really successful personal brand. When you look at somebody like Oprah or Elon Musk or Tony Robbins, any of those big, powerful personal brands, they don’t have to pick up the phone and start calling Dialing for Dollars or cold calling people. If Oprah’s has a new idea for a TV show, she doesn’t have to pick up the phone and call anybody. They’re already calling her. She just has to answer.
That’s what you want to build when it comes to your personal brand, because that will grow your agency exponentially. When people want to be around you, they will hire your agency in order to do that.
ROB: What are those three components in building a personal brand?
MARK: The first one is identity. It’s being clear on who you are and being able to communicate it in a way that really connects with people in an authentic way. It’s that idea of “this is who my market is and this is what their problem is and this is how I solve their problem,” but it’s deeper than that because it can’t just be this formula that you’ve created, like “okay, here’s my elevator pitch” that’s this stale thing that even you don’t believe and it’s just a bunch of words that sound really good.
It’s got to come out of your pores, like if I were to cut you open, this is what you would bleed. It’s not because “Instagram’s really big right now so that’s what I do.” It’s because “this is what I believe in and this is what I’m willing to bet my life on.” That’s your identity.
The next one is your visibility, and that’s the ability to now be able to communicate that as visual elements, whether it’s your logo – it’s all the branding stuff that we normally think about when we think of branding. Your font, your color, your logo, your website, your social media platforms, your pictures, your headshots.
But beyond that, it’s being consistent. When I look at those elements, does it really scream what that identity is? Is there a connection? Are they consistent? If I get an invoice from you, is it going to look the same as your website, which looks the same as your social media platforms? Is it all a really nice, neat package where I just can’t get away from you every time I see that color or that thing?
The final one is authority. Are you positioned as an expert within your industry? Are you the go-to person? Are you the person that, when there’s something happening on the news, are you the one that they call? Are you the one that’s being interviewed by the podcasters? Are you setting the tone for your industry?
It doesn’t mean that you have to be the Elon Musk that is breaking this incredible new ground. It’s that when we think of your industry, no matter how big or small it is, are you somebody that comes to mind? Did you write the book on what’s the most important thing or this new groundbreaking idea behind your industry?
ROB: It’s interesting you mention the book thing. I think there can be a perception, even with speaker slots, with books, almost everything is for sale right now. You can buy yourself a book package. You can buy yourself slots on a stage. You can buy yourself someone who’s going to put you on podcasts. You could do all those things and establish no brand.
MARK: Right. Branding is a long-term thing. It is not something that you can just easily buy your way into. Now, you can go exponentially faster if you had $100,000 to blow and you decided to pay somebody to write a book for you and pay to be on a couple stages. You can go faster, but at the end of the day, if you don’t have a clear identity, you’re not clear about who you are, you’re not able to communicate in a way that’s valuable, all you have is authority.
Authority is great, but we don’t really know who you are because you don’t have an identity. Or we’re not going to be able to find you beyond your inner cycle. You’re not going to expand, make a bigger impact, because there’s not enough visibility out there. If I see you onstage and I look you up online and I can’t find anything on you expect for that picture of you doing a keg stand back in college, there’s no visibility there. You’re not going to make that impact.
And that’s what a lot of people do. A lot of people throw all their attention on one of those things. They’ll throw all their attention on visibility and they’ll forget about authority or identity, or maybe they’ll combine two. A lot of people will be clear about who they are, be all over social media, but nobody sees them as important or nobody sees them as an authority in their subject. That’s where a lot of us fail, so we double up our efforts on social media instead of focusing on the one missing piece of those three.
ROB: Interesting. How do you help clients sift through – there are some opportunities for let’s say conferences that are probably not the best use of time for someone. There are some that are great. I think something people don’t necessarily realize is that most conference speaking slots, you’re speaking for free. There are exceptions, but it’s pretty bimodal. There’s free and then there’s the $5,000, $10,000, $20,000 clients you were talking about.
How do you help people think about what’s a good investment in terms of where they’re going to go talk, what they’re going to go talk about, what might be not a good use of time?
MARK: You have to decide what your goals are. With a conference like this, it’s a great conference to be connected to because there’s a ton of people here. There’s a lot of networking opportunities. It’s well-known within the industry so there’s a lot of clout that comes with it. It’s valuable. But yeah, you’re not going to get paid.
Then there are other conferences where – I got asked to speak at another conference where it’s in the middle of nowhere, they’re going to have 300 people there, I’ve never heard of it. They’ll pay me to fly out there, but it doesn’t make any sense to me because it’s time spent that’s probably not great, that’s probably not the best use of my time.
Here, I can come here for a week, I can connect with a ton of people – and I had very specific goals of “here are the people that I want to meet, here are the things I want to do.” At the end of the day, some of the things that work for you, that are important to you, you can accomplish. If you’re a fairly new speaker, getting in front of a big room with a lot of people in it is tough. So this is a great opportunity to be able to do that.
Now, don’t squander it. Hire a photographer. Get somebody that you know actually has good camera equipment, and get some really good live pictures or live video of you speaking. Now all of a sudden, you’ve saved $1,000 on building a speaker reel or whatever it is, and you now have a live video of you speaking in front of a lot of people, and yeah, this was definitely well worth the trip. So it really depends on what your goals are and where you are.
ROB: Let’s dig into that. You mentioned that very matter-of-factly, but to me it sounds like work to book the photographer. Work is work, it’s fine, but do you have any nuts and bolts tips? Like I’m going to go speak in San Diego, I’m going to go speak in Portland, and I want to have a photographer. How would I find this person and feel like they’d do a good job?
MARK: You can do anything from google a photographer in that area, you can post on social media, you can reach out to your community, find out if anybody knows anybody. Or, you’re in Boston; this is a college town. Just find out which colleges have a photography program and get a college kid to come out for $100 bucks and lunch, and the experience of coming to this conference and taking pictures.
There are tons of ways. I’ve actually gotten my headshots, back when I was a semi-broke musician, by going to a wedding. It was an open bar. I got the photographer a drink, and I was like, “Hey, I need a favor. Can you take some headshots of me?” He took some headshots and he sent them to me the following week or two later, and I got headshots for free at my cousin’s wedding.
There’s always a way. There’s always something valuable that you can get out of these things.
ROB: That’s a good tip. I’ve never been to a college photography department, so I can’t quite picture it, but I can sort of picture there’s probably still a tack board somewhere where you can put up a little flyer saying what you’re looking for.
MARK: Exactly. Or there are just hobbyists. You can throw a rock and you can hit somebody out here with a decent camera that can get it done. Or you use the hashtag at the conference. “Hey, this is my session. I’ll take you out to lunch if you have some good camera equipment and feel like shooting my talk.” Or I have a friend of mine that’s speaking later today, and she asked me, “Can you swing by my talk and just Facebook live it?”
Reach out to your community. People will rally around you if you need it. The problem is a lot of times we just don’t ask.
ROB: Yeah. It sounds like there’s a good hustle element there. If you’re going to hustle enough to use an opportunity to get some pictures, you can probably figure out some way. Going to a new town and meeting up with a random photographer sounds new to my experience. Maybe I’ll have to try it.
MARK: [laughs] But it actually works. Or a lot of times when I’ve done talks, I’ve asked people, “Hey, I need as many people as possible to take pictures and share them with me. Here’s my email address.” Again, people will rally around you if you just ask them. We just tend not to ask because we don’t want to put people out, we don’t want to look bad.
It’s a shame if you walk into this room with 25,000 people and you don’t walk out with something. You’re here doing interviews all week because you have all these agencies in one room, and you’re making the best use of your time here. It’s that same thing. I don’t know if I would sit here all week interviewing people, but that works for you, just like you might not go out seeking photographers. But it works.
ROB: This is certainly out of my element to be at a conference and sit down for one-on-one conversations for most of the time. But it also feels like one of the best ways to use the time. It’s super great, and thanks for meeting up.
You’ve been doing LoudMouse for a few years now. What are some things you’ve learned, changing the type of agency that you’re working on, changing location, to an extent leaving a team for something new? What are some things you’ve learned that you might do differently if you were starting over today?
MARK: I would definitely find a niche and I would start there. When I first started LoudMouse, it was a personal branding agency – and I made the same mistake I made with my other agency. My other agency, we were a web design firm, and then we turned it into social media and then we turned it into SEO and everything else.
But who did we specialize in? Whoever needed the website. It was that kind of thing. We didn’t really have one focus. That made it very tough and very expensive to advertise and market and really find our client. We did well, but it was not without its bumps and bruises.
When I started LoudMouse, I was like, “I’m going to fix that. We’re going to go into personal branding.” That’s the exact same thing that I just got done doing. [laughs]
ROB: Someone asked the “for whom?” question after that.
MARK: Yeah. Everybody needs a personal brand, and we do personal branding. That’s not a niche. That’s still way too wide. It wasn’t until probably about a year in that I was like, I’m going to focus solely on speakers, authors, and coaches. Then it became clear – again, like eating my own cooking. I was able to focus on my market and get real specific.
ROB: And in that case, probably the opportunity got bigger by getting smaller, because people know they need help with something specific, not any personal brand, which people probably say very often in those words.
MARK: A lot of people don’t know that they have a personal brand or that they want a personal brand. So I’m selling something that people don’t know whether they want it or not. Or they might not even call it personal branding. In the world of speakers, now I know where all the speakers hang out, I know all the groups that they’re in, and I can show up and I don’t have to call it personal branding. It’s just marketing for them. But it’s the same thing. I’m able to reach them much easier, and I’m part of that community. It’s just a great fit all around.
ROB: That’s pretty interesting. Where is the speaker speakeasy? Where do speakers hang out?
MARK: Probably one of the best moves I made was just joining the NSA, which is the National Speakers Association. All of a sudden I walked into a room of my people. Every single person in that room was somebody that I got and I understood, and they were ideal clients of mine. It was just a really good match of people and personalities that want and need and drive to want to make a difference and impact people. They spoke my language.
Now all of a sudden I can get up in front of the room or speak to somebody and say something that they instantly got, and I didn’t have to beat people over the head with wanting to make a difference without talking necessarily about ROI right out of the gate.
ROB: Is that an affiliation that you would encourage any client of yours who wants to speak, would you tell them to join the NSA?
MARK: Yeah, if you’re a speaker and you want to be a professional speaker and you want to be a keynoter or workshop speaker, you pretty much have to be a member of the NSA just for the networking and the educational element of it alone. There are people there, yeah, six- and seven-figure speakers that are in the room, mixed with somebody who’s just spoken a handful of times and never gotten paid to speak. It’s just a really great combination.
It’s just one of those industries where people aren’t holding their cards close to their chest. You can walk up to a seven-figure speaker, “What’s your secret?” He’ll sit down with you for an hour or two and unload exactly the process that he took to get there. So it’s just a really good community.
ROB: Very, very cool. Where is personal branding going? What’s next that you’re excited about? What are you telling some of your more forward-thinking clients to contemplate and bring into their mix?
MARK: This is some of what I’m going to be talking about tomorrow. A lot of what personal branding has become or is or should be is very much about authenticity. It’s not about “Let me build a campaign and a strategy in order to trick people into thinking this is who I am.” It’s one thing to design a billboard for McDonald’s and pretend like that’s what the hamburger is going to look like and pretend it’s actually a nutritious meal, and it’s another thing for you to do that with your own brand.
We want to see the bumps and bruises. We want to see how ugly the hamburger is when it really comes out in the package. That’s really important to us when it comes to personal branding, because we all have those same bumps and bruises. We connect with other people that get us because they’re going through struggles. We don’t want to be connecting with the guy that’s like, “Boy, my life has just been pristine since I was a fetus.” No, I want to hear about the time you failed.
The entire story about how I got on Broadway, it took almost 2 years, and it was 2 years of living in Mom’s basement and being hung up and told I wasn’t good enough and I was unqualified. It was a level of rejection that most people can’t take. But that’s part of life. That’s what we all go through. So people connect when they hear that stuff.
ROB: That authenticity is so important. There’s a gravitational pull, it feels like to me, to let’s say write a book before you’re ready, to just produce because of the authority and because of the platforms. Conferences seem to have a penchant for putting people on the – like, “If you have a book, then you should come talk about the book.” It gets you a little bit ahead in the line.
How do you think about when you’re ready, when that book is actually ready to come out of you versus just forcing a book because you want what a book can get you, maybe?
MARK: I would say if you’re not ready to write the book, start a blog and flesh it out that way. It’s a lot less frustrating, it’s a lot easier. Yeah, you can write the book, you can have somebody else ghostwrite the book, you can put it out there. But again, if it’s missing – if you’re not bleeding that book, it’s not going to do well. People aren’t going to connect with it. They’re not going to care. So you can have the book, but if nobody cares, you’re not going to get the benefit of having the book.
ROB: And if you force out a completely different book 2 years later, it probably actually undermines, because then people google you and they’re like, “Wait, is Rob the snow skiing guy or the waterskiing guy?” It’s something completely incoherent. Saxophone, like, “Why is he writing these books? I guess he just likes to have books and talks.”
MARK: It’s one of the issues that I had with my career as a musician. I was on Broadway, I recorded with a lot of well-known, Grammy Award winning recording stars, and now all of a sudden I’m in marketing and branding. How do I explain that? I used to just tell people, “Well, in my former life I was a musician. Ah huh-huh-huh.” [laughs] There was a disconnect. People didn’t get it. They didn’t understand it.
I really had to dig in deep and get that yeah, the way I grew that was by building a brand for myself and marketing and positioning myself, and the way I grew my agency was the same thing. I was the star of the agency. I was the guy that came out and spoke and the guy that sat in front of the client and was your BFF. I had the personality.
Then when I started LoudMouse, it all made sense. LoudMouse is literally a combination of my life as a musician and my life as a marketer all crushed into one. It makes sense. It’s silly for me to run away from that. This was a big part of my career, big part of the reason I’m standing here.
ROB: I think sometimes we don’t have the visibility into ourselves to realize.
MARK: Oh yeah, it took forever.
ROB: One of those learning and growing in maturity things is we don’t really see the thread that ties us back to our 10-year-old self. It’s all the same story, but with different experience and ambition and adultness in the mix.
MARK: Yeah. And I do this, and I had no idea what the hell I was doing with it. [laughs]
ROB: “Why am I doing this? Oh, now I understand!” [laughs]
MARK: Like, “This is what I do for a living, and I’m going to hide that.” I wasn’t able to see it for myself, and that’s why it’s so – whether you’re hiring somebody or whether you’re working with an agency or working with someone, it’s important to have those conversations and to flesh it out with somebody else because you’re too close to the problem.
With branding a product or a company, like if I’m branding a pair of sneakers from Nike, I can put them on, I can walk around town, I can create some ideas about how they make me feel or whatever, and it’s easy. When it’s about yourself, it’s so much more personal. It’s so much deeper. There’s a lot of pain there, and there’s a lot of positive stuff. There’s a lot of stuff you don’t even realize other people see or want to see.
So by sitting across from somebody else and talking through and working through some of that – it’s almost like a psychiatrist.
ROB: I was going to say, it’s part branding and part therapy.
MARK: Exactly. [laughs]
ROB: It’s probably necessary to be authentic, to know yourself better.
MARK: Yeah, you have to. If you don’t, if you’re just sitting in a room with a formula and a workbook, and you come up with “here’s my elevator speech and here’s my value statement” and all this other kind of stuff, and it doesn’t make you weak in the knees when you say it, then the rest of us aren’t going to buy it. It’s one thing for us to go – we can get past the bad marketing on the sneakers if we like the way they look. That’s not true with people. It’s not the same with people.
ROB: Perfect. Mark, thank you for coming on the podcast. Thank you for sharing some thoughts on personal branding I think we can all think about, especially coming from that background and having been the brand at the head of an agency. That all ties together well.
MARK: I appreciate it. Thanks for having me here.
ROB: Yeah. Have a great day.
MARK: Yeah, you too.
ROB: Thank you for listening. The Marketing Agency Leadership Podcast is presented by Converge. Converge helps digital marketing agencies and brands automate their reporting so they can be more profitable, accurate, and responsive. To learn more about how Converge can automate your marketing reporting, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit us on the web at convergehq.com.