Marketing & Charisma: Beth Grant

As I’ve mentioned before, we often trust a leader, follow advice, or buy a product based more on who we want to be than on what we want to do. In other words, we pay for useless diet advice from someone who was born with an extremely fast metabolism, rather than taking the advice of our average-sized friend who lost 30 pounds through real, reproducible steps.

The role of natural charisma in the stories of “self-made” success stories always irritates me, because it’s generally unstated in the public narrative. For that reason, I tend to feel a lot more comfortable when persons in the public eye acknowledge how much their beauty and charisma accelerated their success. (Here’s two examples: Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill, and Barbara Corcoran, the real estate mogul.)

So, we’ve established that super-hot and/or charming people can sell ice to Eskimos. The Eskimos don’t need the ice; what they need is to be near those people.

But, there are other ways to lead, market, promote, and be successful. After all, Michael Bloomberg did not become a billionaire businessman with movie-star looks and charm.

Beth Grant has some interesting things to say about this subject. Here’s a summary of some of her online talks:

Everyone has a different style of personality, and a different ability to influence and engage others. For example:

Charismatic – People buy from you because they want to be near you

Conversational – People buy from you because you’re a good speaker and they want to talk with and listen to you

Content – People buy from you because they want your content

In addition, every person has a natural “persuasion power.” They may be a Guru/Star, a Wisdom Guide (think: therapist, life coach), or a Connector/ Supporter.

Beth Grant says that most advice on sales and marketing is written by and for Charismatic Guru-Stars. So, if your personal style is something else, like a Conversational Wisdom Guide, when you try to use a hard-sell “Charismatic” technique, it will not seem authentic to your audience. Your audience will be turned off by your pitch, because they won’t want to buy from someone who’s fake.  According to Ms. Grant, in order to succeed at sales and promotion, you need to use a sales technique that is in alignment with your influence style and personality.

What kind of sales techniques work for the other style and personality combinations? I have no idea, as that’s the info she has behind the paywall. Still, it’s an interesting jumping-off point.

In our own lives, we can surely think of folks who work in helping professions and do a great job, but are barely able to keep the electricity on. And then there are other people, also very caring, also with a goal of helping others, but whose businesses are prospering. What are they doing differently? Looking at the differences in their approaches may be instructive for our own pursuits.

“The Dip” by Seth Godin

I’ve been reading some books on marketing, business, and promotion.  Here’s my 5 minute summary of Seth Godin’s The Dip

  • We now live in a winner-take-all economy – in other words, the top search for a product, service, doctor in Google is going to have the lion’s share of the business. It’s no longer enough to be #4, you’ve got to be at the top of your market to succeed. (I think this is super depressing but it may also be true.)
  • The top of your market could be “The Best Pediatrician in Poughkeepsie” or “The Best Bagel Place in LA.” Know your market and be the best in that market.
  • “The Dip” = the long hard slog that weeds out the many from the few superstars. Examples of this could be: Organic Chemistry, Law School, a rigorous exercise program that gives you washboard abs – anything that is a barrier to excellence.
  • Looked at correctly, “The Dip” is your friend, because it weeds out the competition for you. If you’re willing to get through it – with creativity, etc. – it will protect your status when you get to the other side.
  • There is a difference between “The Dip” and dead-end, pointless, or diminishing-returns pursuits. Successful people know the difference. Successful people quit things that are pointless to continue, and double down on difficult activities that will eventually pan out. He gives examples to differentiate the two.

Go Where You’re the Only One

I’ve been reading a lot about marketing and promotion lately. So, here’s my first marketing post, about my personal experience in the world of music promotion.

Before my Lyme-tastic hiatus, as a singer-songwriter I frequently attended music conferences like SXSW and Folk Alliance.  Every March during SXSW, all of the musicians schlepped all their gear around Austin, trying to get heard over the din of 1,000 other bands, and hoping against hope that “somebody” would make it to their showcase. I found experiences like this very frustrating; the headache and expense of attending the conference was high, the ratio of musicians to industry folks was 10 to 1, and most industry folks already had a list of bands they wanted to see. The chances that your music would be “discovered” were really quite tiny.

If I’d been smart, I would’ve avoided the music conferences completely. Instead, I would have gone to the SXSW Interactive conference, where hundreds of bloggers and technorati all assemble, hungry for new content. One tweet or mention from a well-known blogger could easily be worth the price of admission in terms of web traffic and promotion. And there’s much less competition to hand your CD to a blogger than there is to hand it to a DJ.

So, one trick in marketing and promotion is to approach your target audience using a method where there’s much less competition. For example:

  • A musician at a tech blogger’s conference.
  • An artist who creates space-themed art at an astrophysics conference. Wear a t-shirt of your own design to the conference, and when every astrophysict says, “Wow, that’s a great design! Where did you get that?” you tell them it’s your own design. Orders will come pouring in…and it’s way less competitive than an art show.
  • A writer with a PhD, writing for Oprah Magazine. A layman-level article about important scientific findings in Oprah Magazine, Parade, or another “déclassé” publication would reach millions of readers and further the public discussion more than another dry academic journal article.
  • A scientist at a Science Fiction writer’s convention. You could collaborate with one of the writers by providing them with the nuts-and-bolts science to back up their futuristic story.

So, in sum:

Go where you’re the only writer, artist, musician, quilter, massage therapist in that space.

Go where they need you.

Go where there’s not a lot of you.

Go where you’re the only one.


I used to see a physical therapist twice a week in midtown Manhattan. This was years ago, when I was living in Brooklyn, and way before Brooklyn was cool.

Anyways, right next door to my physical therapist’s office was a fancy salon, named after the founder, a woman d’un certain age. The salon sold high-dollar youth creams and beauty potions.

One day, I shared the elevator with the founder of this beauty line. She must have been at least 50, but still had incredibly smooth, flawless skin. “You know, you really do have amazing skin,” I said. “What’s your secret?”

She smiled. “Genetics.”

And so she’d made a fortune selling creams and lotions, because her skin was her calling card — even though those products had nothing to do with her beauty.

This brings me back to something I’ve noticed many times: We always take advice from the wrong people.

If we want to lose weight, we’ll ask our skinny friend with the fast metabolism rather than our normal-size friend who actually lost weight.

We also prefer bad advice from charming people over good advice from boring people. We prefer to believe the  beautiful person holding court in the center of the room, and ignore the nerd in the back, who’s adding up the sums accurately and ruffling feathers when he says they’re wrong. This is because we trust advice based on who we want to be, rather than what we want to do.

This leads to all sorts of misperceptions in the world about how people actually got to where they are in life:

Tell me Ms. Jones, how did you become such a successful saleswoman and get those cold call sales?

Answer: “Self-confidence and a great work ethic”

Real Answer: “Model-perfect good looks”

Mr. Smith, you’ve become so very successful at business. To what do you attribute your success?

Answer: “Creativity and thinking outside the box”

Real Answer: “Family money”

People watching these interviews say to themselves, “That’s right! If I want to be a success like her, I just need to be more self-confident!”  Whereas they might get farther with major plastic surgery.**

So basically, as I said, most people have a natural instinct to trust advice based on who we want to be, rather than what we want to do. But, once we know that might be a pitfall, we can be aware of it, and try to compensate for it.

Also, this tendency to follow “winners” — even if they win for the wrong reasons — robs us of great wisdom, because failures often have excellent advice. People who fail multiple times in an undertaking know what doesn’t work – so you don’t have to try it yourself. And, when they do eventually make it past their roadblocks, they can actually tell you what they did, rather than bragging about what they thought they were doing while the universe took care of the rest. Failures often understand the process to success better than someone who’s naturally gifted. But still, we gravitate to the prodigy as the master, and ignore the person in the back, who struggled to learn everything they mastered…and so knows how to teach.


** And no, I am not advising you to get plastic surgery. You have a great nose, don’t ever let anyone else tell you differently.