May 19, 2020
Distributed Work with Kevin Hamilton
001 - GAT Podcast: Force Multiplier
30 min read
01 - GAT Podcast: Force Multiplier - It Really Is All About the Hype w Michael F Schein
MJ 00:00 Hi, everyone. This is Michael Jelen from the Global Applied Technology podcast, The GAT Team, as we call ourselves, is a globally distributed team of software engineers, data scientists, graphic designers, and industry experts who serve clients through our products built atop the BRG DRIVETM analytics platform. We're helping some of the world's largest and most innovative clients and governments transform raw data into actionable insights, drive efficiency through automation, and empower collaboration to improve business decisions. You can learn more about us, our products, and our team on our website, brggat.com. And if you have any questions or comments, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Today, I'll be speaking with Michael F. Schein, who is the head hype man at MicroFame Media. Michael specializes in making consultants and coaches famous in their fields. He's worked with eBay, Magento, the Medici Group, University of Pennsylvania, and many others. And his writing has appeared in Fortune, Forbes, Psychology Today, and The Huffington Post. He's the author of The Hype Handbook: 12 Indispensable Success Secrets From the World's Greatest Propagandists, Self-Promoters, Cult Leaders, Mischief Makers, and Boundary Breakers. Today, we'll be discussing how hype is not only valuable but a major differentiator in reaching your target market. I love this conversation, because I feel we often get so deep in the technical challenges of our respective fields that we forget about when and how to get our message out to the world. Please join me in this conversation with Michael F. Schein.
Hi, Michael, how are you?
MS 01:24 Hey, Michael.
MJ 01:26 Thanks so much for making the time to chat today. I'm super pumped about this topic. We've been ramping up our team's marketing lately, following primarily traditional tactics, and I feel we've got a lot to learn from you about hype and often how that's more effective than some of the standard things marketing books teach us these days. Super excited.
MS 01:43 Yeah, I'm really looking forward to it as well.
MJ01:46 For those who don't know you, what drew you to hype, and how did you start working in this space?
MS 01:51 Sure. So, I'm a lot different, in some ways, to traditional marketers in that I don't really think of myself as a marketer and I never really wanted to be involved in business. So, when I got out of college, I had always been into writing and that sort of thing. But I told my parents at the graduation dinner that I was going to go to New York and start a rock band, and they were very upset with me. But that's what I did. And we didn't quite make it, but we did a lot better than I think a lot of people thought we would. We used to sell out this club, Arlene's Grocery, which is a pretty famous club, on a regular basis, and we had a residency there, and we were on TV once.
And the way that we sort of had whatever success we had, despite whatever scanty musical talent we might have had, was that we would hype up the show. We would do all kinds of crazy stunts and get people riled up to do that. So, for example, we talked our way on to Showtime at the Apollo so that I would be booed off, and then we got covered in the alternative press.
So, when I stopped doing that, I got a job. And one thing led to another. And before I knew it, I was working in the corporate world for the better part of a decade, and I learned a lot and became an adult. But by the time I left, I was really ready to go and do something that was mine again and became a copywriter, which has nothing to do with copyrights, for people who don't know. It's writing copy for—it used to be advertisement. In my case, it was digital, and because I'd always been considered a good writer, I thought that it would be easy to get clients and people would like my stuff. And they did like the stuff. But very few people gave me a chance, because I had no idea how to market to them. In fact, I thought I was bad at marketing because I read all the books on SEO and on pay-per-click and on sales funnels, and I just couldn't turn that into clients.
And then I had a revelation that all of this concept of marketing that people have is very tactical. It's this idea that if you can master the technology or master the recipe, step one, two, three, four, or master the analytics tools, you'll get clients, and you'll accomplish your goals. And I found that a lot of the best promoters in history—starting with rock managers, but anyone from cult leaders to propaganda artists to outsiders of all types—they never thought of themselves as marketers, but they were very, very good at getting large numbers of people emotional and getting them to take an action that they wanted them to take.
So, I said, "Can I do that ethically for my business? Can I learn from those people?" And that's what I did. I started to study those people, and as a result, I built a very successful copywriting practice that turned into an agency. And then I wrote a book about how to become a hype artist that McGraw-Hill put out. And that's my origin story.
So essentially, I've worked with a lot of consultants. We work with technology products too, and we say, "How can we get large numbers of people emotional around your ideas so that they'll take an action?" which is usually buying from you. And it's been a really fun career, because we get to do it in a in a really creative, interesting, counterintuitive way.
MJ 05:15 Wow, that's awesome. So going from hyping up a rock band to hyping up management consultants seems like quite a transition. And I think it's very important, because a lot of those, especially highly ranking, consultants are often industry experts, and they spend most of their time in the industry studying and researching and doing a lot of technical work. But it is absolutely critical, obviously, if they want to get clients to focus on the marketing side, even if they aren't natural marketers. So where would someone like that start, or what's a good framework for them to think about when they approach that?
MS 05:49 Before I answer that directly—and not trying to evade the question - I want to speak to the concept of consulting, because I chose that industry after exploring a lot of different industries and working with different people. I got really interested in working with consultants, because at the base, a consultant is selling ideas, right? And some are selling products. But at the base of what they do, it's people who are very, very, very good at what they do and very, very, very great thinkers. And they are selling their expertise.
And I started to see this pattern, because I'm very interested. If I have a life purpose, it's getting the best ideas and audience. I love ideas, and it actually makes me angry when people who have life-changing ideas or business-changing ideas don't get noticed and those who have really flimsy ideas do. And what I would notice is, a lot of times, consultants really had great ideas, ideas that could fix hospitals, ideas that could change the way people thought about the world in fundamental ways. They did fine, but they got most of their business through sort of grinding and hustling and networking and referrals. And they would get frustrated, because they would look at these other consultants, some of whom are household names, whose ideas were very basic but who were so good at packaging their stuff that they did better.
And I think that's not an accident. I think a lot of times, the consultants who are the best at what they do are so hyper-fixated on the doing and on what they do that they almost feel like—in the worst cases, they feel like it's beneath them to have to promote themselves. And in the best cases, it's just kind of like, "Hey, the cream will rise to the top," right?
And so, I would say that the first thing to do is borrow from everybody. You're creative in so many other areas of your work. Ask yourself, "Who are the people who do a really good job of attracting a lot of attention?" whether or not you like what they're selling. And then say to yourself, "Can I reapply those ideas in an ethical way to my idea?" Okay. Let's say you look at Tony Robbins. Some people love him. Some people think he's sort of an empty vessel, that his stuff isn't really that meaningful but he's just a pitch man. And let's say you're in the latter camp, and you don't think his ideas are great. Now, you could say to yourself, "It's not a fair world. It's very frustrating that Tony Robbins gets all of this attention, and his ideas aren't very good." Or you could say, "What is it that Tony Robbins is doing, in spite of the fact that his ideas are empty, that gets people so worked up? And now I have really good ideas. How can I borrow from what he's doing—not from what he's teaching, but what he's doing—to get people that emotional to promote my ideas? And how do I do it in a way that aligns with my own ethical sort of framework?"
MJ 08:54 Gotcha, that makes absolute sense, so I think there are great examples like Tony Robbins out there that rile people up and get them very, very passionate. And as a consultant or anyone who is selling ideas, you're right. That seems to be one of the most difficult things for a technical operator, to be able to learn and borrow from somewhere else. So yeah, how would you recommend someone starts that journey if they are in the practice of selling ideas and selling services?
MS 09:23 There's two ways to answer that question. I mean, one sounds very self-serving, but I don't mean it that way. I mean, I wrote a whole book on it because it's complicated, right? I mean, one of the things—I mean, I conducted a study of hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of vastly different what I call hype artists, from business people selling products to cult leaders. And I said, are there universal principles that tie them together? And it turns out there were twelve. So, there's almost an infinite way that you can execute those twelve principles, but there are twelve, call them, mass psychology strategies you can use.
That being said, I can give you a very practical sort of tip that anyone can do when they get off, when they finish listening to this recording. And that would be: people are much more attracted to being against something than they are to be for something. So, you can tell someone, "This is why my ideas are great. This is why my product is great." You can also say, "These are the benefits that my ideas will get you." But if you instead say, "Here's a point of view in my industry that I think is dead wrong. It's looked at as gospel in my industry. But everyone is wrong, and I have a better viewpoint on this," a tribe will build around you because—and we can talk about the evolutionary psychology behind this. But human beings build tribes based on what they perceive people like them are against. And that can lead to some really nasty things in our history. But it's also an impulse that you can channel really well, especially in consulting, where we're trafficking points of view and ideas.
MJ 11:14 Yeah, and I think that has a lot of parallels too. As you mentioned, it's human psychology, so it's everywhere in the world. I think when you look at the political spectrum and discussions around any certain issue, you're right. People tend to gravitate toward controversy and things that are counterintuitive, because that sort of sells and attacks them emotionally to get them riled up and start that tribe. So, I guess, practically speaking, trying to borrow that concept and apply it in the business world seems like a great way to get a bunch of attention and get things stirred up for someone. Would you consider that in the overall umbrella of marketing? Or how do you think about marketing as a whole? And where does the value from marketing come?
MS 11:56 Ultimately, these are semantics. I mean, you can call something marketing, but that's a word that human beings came up with. That being said, lately, I've really been steering away from the word marketing, because whatever it meant when the word first came out, what it typically means now—if you if you ask someone, "Are you doing marketing?" they'll say, "Yeah, we're really trying to." And you say, "What do you do?" "Well, we have a content calendar. We're blogging three days a week. We've decided to start a podcast. We set up a clubhouse room. We hired an SEO firm."
And if you dig through the layers, of course they're doing it because they want more customers and more visibility. But by framing it as marketing, people forget that what they're trying to do is get lots of people to take an action, and that requires changing their mindset, getting them excited, and that sort of thing. And I find that—and this benefits us as a company—all of these people who have tried other marketing companies, it's nuts; there are a lot of wonderful marketing companies, but it's not baked into their DNA. They don't understand that—they kind of almost—there's almost this idea that if you just kind of do these steps, these recipes, the magical Google fairies will sprinkle pixie dust on you and people will start knocking on your virtual door.
And so, what I've chosen to do is say, "Look, stay away from ‘marketing.’" “Marketing” is the equivalent of saying, "Hey, I want to write a novel, so I bought an awesome word processor." Well, that's great. I mean, that can help you cut and paste and write a little bit faster. But it's not going to make you a novelist, right?
So, I would say start with hype. Look at those people who generally had disadvantages, who weren't at the center of the power structures and managed to get large numbers of people irrationally excited about what they were putting out there, because those people understand mass psychology. And if you can understand what those people are doing—and they're usually not people who call themselves marketers, but they're the "best" marketers—then at the very end, say, "What tool will help me amplify that?"
MJ 14:11 Yeah, it seems like a lot of creativity can be put into that and achieve some kind of guerrilla tactics to get an outsized return on the hype if you draw outside the box a little bit and not just follow the recipe that everyone speaks about online.
MS 14:27 And I want to give a caveat, that I understand full well that the word “hype” traditionally has negative connotations; that, in traditional kind of parlance, it means blowing smoke around things that don't have inherent value. But I've decided to really try to repurpose that term, because I think it really describes what the best of these people have done. I mean, the Rolling Stones original manager was a hype artist. Richard Branson is a hype artist. So I'm hoping that over time, like many negative words that have been flipped and made positive, that people will start looking at it that way. And people are already starting to.
MJ 15:10 Yeah, absolutely. And speaking of words that may have negative connotations, I have here in my notes to ask about “benevolent mischief.” Can you talk a little bit about that concept and how that applies in the situation?
MS 15:23 It's just the idea that—people like mischief. They like to be let in on a secret. PT Barnum, who everyone thinks of as a con artist, in one of his more candid moments, he was interviewed. And he said, and I'll paraphrase, but something like, "Listen, the people know that I'm a humbug purveyor." He was basically like, "The people know that I don't have a mermaid in my museum. The people know that Tom Thumb is not a mystical creature from—" whatever. He's like, "But I'm creating a fantasy for them and a way to play." And I don't think he said it in this language, but "I'm creating a sense of a shared experience that we can all kind of get into."
So hype, when done in the best way, can really add color to the world. David Bowie pretending he was a rock star and showing up in a limo, and he didn't even have a record deal yet. Pussy Riot, that new activist’s group going in the equivalent of the Moscow Times Square and shooting off colored fireworks out of their underwear and getting people to film it and spread it around. So, people enjoy that sense of benevolent.
Now, you might be saying to yourself, "I'm a management consultant. I'm not going to shoot fireworks out of my underwear." Understood. Right? At the same time, if you think in terms of being a bit of a trickster, especially when you're not well known yet, that can go really far. So, Dollar Shave Club is just selling razors, something you shave your face with. Gillette had it locked down forever. They created this web commercial that was basically just goofy, making fun of the whole act of advertising itself, I mean, these crazy shots. And it really caught on. So, there are ways to sort of let people in on the fun and add color to people's lives with a wink, in that sort of winking, mischievous way that any industry practitioner can really benefit from. And there are all kinds of examples of that.
MJ17:45 Yeah. And that is pretty fun, to be able to take things and poke fun at them or mix it up a little bit. I think those examples are excellent, and we're all familiar with ways that it really bucked the traditional industry trend. When thinking about this from the perspective of a consultant, is there a certain formula or a time that it's better to use these big, dramatic gestures versus doing something a little bit more traditional and familiar? I'm just trying to think also [that] the audience for a lot of consulting services is usually a bit more traditional in some ways. Do you have tactics or any sort of logic to apply when you should skew toward the dramatic gestures versus things that are a little bit more traditional?
MS 18:28 Yeah, absolutely. In fact, I'll give you an example of a very serious person. He's a consultant sometimes, but he does all kinds of stuff, and he really mastered how to shift from trickster or benevolent mischief maker to mainstream serious, kind of being a purveyor of services and products at the right time. So young guy named Ryan Holiday. I don't know if you've heard of him, but yeah, he's well known now for being an author. But he's hired to consult with people about concepts at a very high price. He had one of the biggest—not biggest, but one of the most well-regarded book promotion agencies for a long time. He's done all kinds of stuff that you could consider consulting.
So, when he was starting out, he didn't know anybody. He was a kid. He was new, and there were all kinds of people wanting to do the kind of stuff he did. He wanted to do, again, book promotion, and he wanted to do writing. So, when you're in the centers of power, when—and I went to University of Pennsylvania, so this is not a negative—but when you went to Wharton, when you went to Harvard Business School, there is a ladder to climb, right? You get your entry-level job at McKinsey. You work ninety hours a week. And if you're able to withstand that, you get a promotion, and you do the partner track. And then maybe one day, you split off into a strategy agency of your own. That's very, very hard to do. But there's a track. If you do it the right way, you're in the center of power. You can climb up those power rungs.
But if you're coming from the outside, if you're someone who […] doesn't have the right "education," doesn't have the right "connections," doesn't have the right whatever that recipe is, there's a time that you need to attract attention, right? So, Ryan Holiday would do things like—he had a client named Tucker Max, who was known for this thing called fratire. He would write these books about his exploits in bars.
And Ryan Holiday went out. And I'm not recommending this for a consultant, but just to show you the trickster thing. He went out, and he spray painted the billboards that they paid for, basically calling Tucker Max a sexist, as if someone else did it. And he put an anonymous tip to the press, and it just created this big furor.
Now, the reason I bring that up is not that you should do that. It's that once he became well known and successful and people knew him as the guy in front of the scenes, not the guy behind the scenes, he completely revamped his image. If you look at Ryan Holiday today, he barely ever cracks a smile. He's known as the purveyor of stoicism, which is the most serious philosophy out there. He's about living a life where you get up at 5:00 in the morning, exercise every day, contemplate death every day to make your life better. So, what I would say is if you are in any area of your career or life, not at the center of power, where you can't see a direct route to competing with the leaders in the world that you're in, and there's no well-trodden path to get there, then you almost have no choice but to use flash and panache to get attention. But once you are in that circle, once you're noticed, there's a point where you can be looked at as a clown if you stick with it for too long, and at that point, you need to shift and become a more traditional serious sort of player.
MJ 22:12 I love that. That's a great way of looking at it. And it does seem like because consulting, just like many other industries, is constantly changing as technology takes more of a forefront role in a lot of different—whether that be analytics or process improvement or any element of business. The markets are constantly dynamic and changing. So even if a consultant may have been at the height or the center of power in one specific service that they had been offering, it feels like there's always an opportunity to break out and do something wildly new, because there's always a blue ocean of new opportunities out there for that consultant who's taking a look at how they should approach that and whether they want to balance that traditional working within the power-confines style of marketing versus doing something that's a little bit more rogue and hyper focused.
Who should they be studying or looking to for inspiration in those areas? Are there a lot of good people in different industries that you'd recommend, or should they be looking at people who've been successful before? I noticed you mentioned some really great examples here, whether it's Bowie or Branson or things like that. But how should we approach studying the people that have marketed in the past, and how do we take those lessons?
MS 23:25 Well, first of all, I think your first point is a fantastic point. I never thought of it that way. The idea that in the world that we're in now, you're going to be an outsider more than one time in your life if you want to stay relevant. If you're an analog consulting agency and everything shifted to digital, which happened as it did twenty years ago, right, do you just want to stay on that path, or do you want to become the scrappy youngster again? I would think the latter. So, I think that's a great point in terms of constantly walking through that cycle of benevolent mischief maker to serious player and back and forth.
My secret to both what I do now, what I wrote about in my book, and my life, for better or worse, is I always look to areas outside of what everyone else is looking at. So, I'll see, for example, the books that people are reading. And they'll make book recommendations, in my world, in the just sort of general media marketing kind of world, if you want to call it that. And these are great books, but they'll just talk about the same ten books, right, these business books. Gosh, I don't know, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Made to Stick, Hooked by Nir Eyal. They're great books. But if you're just looking at the same models that everyone in your industry is looking at, yeah, it's important to know addition before you learn algebra. But you're not going to become a superstar with addition, right, or arithmetic. So, you need to know that stuff.
But the real magic happens when you look far outside of your field. So originally, I did think of myself as a marketer. And let's just use that for simplicity. When I wanted to compete with other marketers, at first, I read all of those books about search engine optimization and sales funnels. And while I realized that "Let me talk the language," learning that stuff or looking at—I don't know—Noah Kagan, who [is] a big traditional marketer, very good digital marketer; everyone else was looking at the same stuff. But other people weren't looking at Alice Cooper. Other people weren't looking at religious cults. And I was driven to those examples by a combination of interest in learning examples but also just pure curiosity. I like rock music. I like the history of religion. So, I would, say, get very curious about models that are outside of what your competitors and contemporaries are looking for, and then look for and try to draw ties between those very disparate ideas and what you're doing, because otherwise, I don't really think it's easy to have a competitive advantage.
MJ 26:15 Yeah, I think that's great advice. And there are so many examples out there, because as humans and people that constantly build tribes, you have a lot of examples to look back in history in so many different areas where people would literally give their lives for a certain idea. And how do you emulate that and take it, obviously, at a much lower level to apply to your business and get people just as excited? So that's critical. And what a great place to look for that.
When we're talking about marketing over a long-time horizon, I feel like sometimes there are tactics that are usually taken during positive up cycles, and then there are other tactics that are taken during recessions, and times they're a little bit difficult. I think in consulting, at least in my experience, I don't know that that's been a huge differentiator. I know a lot of my consulting has been reactive in some cases, so it's not quite as focused on the cycles of the economy. But do you see any difference in tactics when things are going well versus when things are going negatively? Or is hype something that just should constantly be focused on and go throughout any economic cycles?
MS 27:21 I mean, what was that quote by Warren Buffett? I'm sure I'll get this wrong. But he said that the secret to his success is that he is fearful when people are courageous and courageous when people are fearful, so.
MJ 27:34 Yeah, or greedy. Yeah, exactly.
MS 27:35 Greedy. Yeah. That's what it is. Right. So, there are these "principles" or best practices in finance, right? And you have all of these—in the '80s, bond traders making tons and tons of money because of boom times or in the dot-com boom. Everyone was following the same processes, right, buy low and sell high very, very quickly to simplify things. And they thought they were geniuses. But the economy was just—the stock market was just skyrocketing.
And what Warren Buffett is saying is, "Yeah, I'm not going to follow that." I remember one thing he did. He held up a can of coke at a meeting in the late '90s, and he said, "This is what I'm investing in. I understand this." And everyone thought he was an old man out of touch. And he got richer when everyone else went broke. And I don't mean to oversimplify this, but I think it's a function of using your critical faculties, right? So human beings behave how human beings behave. You can see people reacting the same way when the Emperor Augustus commissioned The Aeneid to legitimize his what was essentially a dictatorship. As you can see, things in politics today or in business today. What's different is the amplification based on whether you're using papyrus, television, or the internet. So, if you can really understand how human beings behave in groups, you're not going to get—no one's ever immune to economic trends, but you'll have a firmer grounding that will help you make decisions based on real psychology versus, "Oh no. What should I do now? The economy is going down." Right? So I think just getting that firmer grounding on real stuff versus trends is the way to ironically buffer yourself against trends.
MJ 29:29 Yeah, that's excellent. And I guess when it comes to that hype, it seems like it's critical that so many elements of the evolution of an individual or an idea or a service that's being marketed. You set out very well at the beginning how critical it is when you're the small guy and the outsider to get a little bit of outsized attention, and then can be peppered throughout because everything is constantly changing and markets are always up for something a little bit new or disruptive. So, it seems like the gift that keeps giving if you focus on hype rather than traditional marketing and really can be a huge differentiator for people.
MS 30:04 Yeah, that's what I found.
MJ 30:05 Yeah, yeah. And so, I guess as we've spoken about hype over the course of this conversation, you've given a lot of great tactics. You pointed people towards a lot of great examples that they can be looking at. Obviously, I would recommend everyone checks out your book and the twelve different principles that you've laid out. Is there any sort of final thought you'd want to leave everyone with to encapsulate why hype is a critical factor in marketing ideas and consulting?
MS 30:32 I have a secondary reason for caring so much that this message gets out there. And I say secondary almost because we're all in business to make a living, and this is what I do. But the reason I care so much about this is that, as I alluded to earlier, there are a lot of bad ideas out there, and some are just bad ideas, but some actually harm people. And unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, ranging from a sociopath being better at not letting emotions get into the way or people not focusing on their craft and focusing more on promoting stuff, a lot of times, the bad ideas get more attention than the good ideas. It seems like the people who have the more useless and nefarious messages are the best hype artists and come to it naturally.
And what I also find is that a lot of times, the people with the best ideas don't naturally come to it. And I happen to fall in that latter category. Whether or not I have the best ideas is for other people to judge. But I was not a natural hype artist, so what I did was I studied it because to me, it's so important that all of the people whose concepts, ideas, and products are actually making the world a better place arm themselves with the tools that they need to get the audience, because otherwise, we're giving that power to the worst and most harmful people, the proverbial cigarette companies of the world, right? And if everyone could get serious, whether it's through reading a book like the one I wrote, doing the study on your own, or just becoming sensitive to it, that there are mass psychology principles that work, that they can be applied ethically, they can be applied with a lot of different wrapping paper. I actually have a moral belief that the world would be at least a slightly, if not much, better place, right? So yeah, I would say however you do it, look at how the attention getters are getting that attention. Don't necessarily follow their advice. Follow what they do. And try to apply it through your own moral filter in your in your own field. And if a few people doing really cutting-edge, interesting, invigorating work get a bigger audience for it, it'll make my purpose on the Earth even better than it's been so far.
MJ 33:02 That's awesome. I love that hype is the tool for our society to improve itself when we use it with the right idea, so that's really incredible. Thank you so much, Michael. Well, thank you again for speaking today. If people want to look you up and find out more about you, how do they find you? Social media, your website, anything like that.
MS 33:20 So, one traditional marketing thing that I do believe in is that you should never have more than one call to action. So, I could give you like five different places to find me, including my business. I'm going to give you one. If you just go on Amazon and type in The Hype Handbook by Michael F. Schein, S-C-H-E-I-N, but just The Hype Handbook and you order that and read it, you'll find everything about these ideas. And you'll also be able to track me. You'll be able to find where I live if you want to learn more and go further.
MJ 33:50 Wonderful. Well, thank you so much, Michael. It's been such a pleasure.
MS 33:53 This has been a blast, Michael.
MJ 33:55 Looking forward to talking to you soon.
MS 33:57 Thanks. Absolutely. Bye.
MJ 33:59 The views and opinions expressed in this podcast are those of the participants and do not necessarily reflect the opinions, position, or policy of Berkeley Research Group or its other employees and affiliates.
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