Ep 198: Creating Distinction in Your Personal Brand with Scott Mckain

RV (00:02):
You can’t have a podcast and business about personal branding and finding your uniqueness and positioning without at some point interviewing Scott McCain. This man is a legend in our space. He is owns I think the word distinction this is something he spent his career studying and talking about. He’s a personal friend of mine. I very much consider him a mentor. I’ve known him for years. He is is the globally recognized authority on distinction and, and really how to stand out in a hyper competitive market, how to separate yourself from the crowd. So much of what we talk about with she hands wall and finding your uniqueness. And Scott has worked with apple and SAP and BMW and Merrill Lynch, and Cisco. These are the kinds of companies that are hiring him to help them create more distinction. He’s in two hall of fames, he’s in the professional speaking hall of fame, which I share with him. And then he is in the sales and marketing hall of fame as well. He appears in major media outlets all across the country USA today, New York times. And his most recent book is called iconic. How organizations and leaders attain, sustain, and regain the ultimate level of distinction, which Forbes called a top 10 business book. Scott McCain, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to the show.
SM (01:30):
I’ve got to make sure to play that introduction for my wife. Just so maybe I’m going to borrow the best Rory. I tell you, man, I’m just sitting here with goosebumps. It is so great to be your friend. It is so great to be your guest. I really appreciate it. Thank you.
RV (01:45):
You’re so welcome, buddy. You’re you are genius. I quote you all the time in so many places with, with, with full attribution. I learned this from,
SM (01:54):
I do the same with you. My friends,
RV (01:57):
There’s so many things, but here’s a personal thing that I don’t know if you even know this, but those people who’ve been following me for years know that when we launched the take the stairs book, we did a bus tour. And that was a huge part about how we hit the New York times. And that happened because of a conversation that you and I had at lunch at an NSA meeting, we peeled off her lunch. And you told me about how you did your bus tour, and then we freaking did it and it worked. And you know, that’s just one of many things that we can point to in our life to say, because of Scott McCain.
SM (02:30):
Oh, you are okay. Well, it’s a blast. I think the other thing is, I don’t know how musicians do it, their entire lives. I was thrilled to do it for the tour, right. I mean, the tour was great, but how they do that for, you know, I’m buddies with the Oak Ridge boys and, and, you know, the, the newest guy in the group has been in the group for 46 years. So the new guy, and he’s been there 46 years and they are on a bus every week, or they’ll not with COVID, but they’re back out and I’m like, how do you guys do this? It’s just, it’s incredible. But again, it is the commitment to the craft, which is different in different businesses and industries. But so I’m just so thrilled for your success. And I I just sit back and see all of the things that you are, not only that you’ve done, but it, you were doing that’s, that’s what really matters. I mean, you, you you’ve attained such significant success and you continue to inspire and inform and lead you rock. Thanks.
RV (03:31):
We are you know, we’re fascinated by your topic and another person that we quote one of your best friends, Larry Winget, we, we say all the time find your uniqueness and exploited in the service of others. And we talk about Peter Xi Han and breaking through what we have named as she Hans wall, which is really breaking through from becoming unknown to, to becoming known, which is really a result of uniqueness, distinction originality being the expert on one thing. And so I guess my first question is just what’s what are the problems of being indistinct? Like what are the problems of similarity and you know, cause there’s some good things about being similar people understand you. I mean, if I were a financial advisor, a real estate agent people get it. I mean, so there’s some good things, but what are the, what are the problems? If you don’t have distinction, what do you have?
SM (04:29):
You know, Roy, when you stood that what popped into my head is because I’m also friends with your beautiful bride and you guys know my wife, Tammy, I will bet dollars to donuts when you proposed, just as, when I proposed to Tammy, I did not get down on one knee and say, honey, will you marry me? You’re exactly like every other woman I’ve ever dated, not a strong strategy in the history of business, regardless of what field you’re in, no customer, no client has ever left an encounter and said, I love doing business with them. They’re exactly like everybody else. We’re attracted, not for our similarities. We’re attracted for our uniqueness. And if customers cannot see a difference between you see, I think many times we’re misled by it by our training, by our thinking. And we think the customers choose us and that’s not a complete way of looking at it. Customers choose us instead of all of the other alternatives out there in the marketplace. And so if they don’t see a distinguishing factor between you and your competitor, then it’s going to come down to price or some other area that’s outside of our control, which is the last thing that we want is we try to take the long view in business about, you know, how do we get repeat business? How do we inspire referral business? You know, none of that comes from being exactly like everybody.
RV (05:59):
Yeah. I mean, I, I think gosh, that’s a really interesting way of thinking about it in the parallel of, of marriage, you know, is of, of your uniqueness. So I feel like a big part of your career, you built upon these four cornerstones of distinction. I’ve interviewed you on them before as relates to business, but we’ve never had this conversation in the context of personal branding, which obviously you understand that you are one, but can you just rattle off for people who just never met you before rattle off the four cornerstones of distinction? And then, you know, I’d love to kind of talk through how those apply to personal brands, because I know most of the work that you do is kind of in the corporate world, people hiring you to speak and consult and do that kind of thing. But I mean, do they, and then I guess, do they apply? I feel pretty confident they do, but you know, so just rip through those.
SM (06:52):
Well, the first one I think in many ways is tough, was stolen and that’s clarity. It’s not only being precise about what we are, it’s being as exact about what we are not. And that’s, what’s really hard, I think, particularly in creating a personal brand because when it comes to a company you know, they can say, oh, well, we don’t make those products because we make the product. But a personal brand, I think is, is a little bit more difficult to attain that we can come back to that. Then the second one is creativity. And, and I learned a lot from research I did in, in your home area, there in Nashville from interviewing songwriters. Because when I, when I started researching this, I thought that I thought the creativity would come first. You know, Hey, think outside the box, all of those things we think about innovation, but I interviewed 15 songwriters and to a person, everyone said, you got to get clear before you can get creative.
SM (07:44):
And the reason we say think outside the box is because we haven’t defined the box to begin with. Right? So creativity is the second aspect. What’s our unique twist on that. Third is communication. And what that really means is narrative. It’s understanding the principles of story and how we can communicate through narrative in a way that emotionally connects us. And, and you’ve done some pioneering work on generational differences as well. Rory and, and, and one of the things that really strikes me is that a great story appeals to every generation. So as, as we try to communicate our brand story, so that it’s appealing in the marketplace, not just a one segment, but to all segments, having a great story as a part of that. And then the fourth and final one is a customer or client experience focus. What does it feel like to experience our brand? W we, we, we think a lot about customer service to the customer experience, but a focus on it means that everything we do is how has this brand, that we’re trying to create, going to impact those that we seek influence. So it’s clarity, creativity, communication, customer experience. It’s fun.
RV (08:58):
So I love that. And clarity to me is the most important, like I agree with all of that. It’s, it’s, it’s it’s basically, you know, we have, we have in our curriculum, we have four phases and each phase has three courses. So we have 12 courses in our curriculum. The entire first one is just dedicated to trying to help people get clear on this. And you mentioned, you mentioned that it’s harder for personal brands, so why do you think it’s harder and how do we get clear on what our personal brand is about? Because I think the struggle is that humans are multi-dimensional right. We have many different passions. I mean, you’re passionate about music. You’re, you’ve got all of these different things you, you know about. You’ve been in business long enough. You’ve had your own business long enough to know a lot about a lot of different things. And yet you’ve been very consistent your entire career of like, you know, I, I am the guy, I am the guy on distinction. So how do we get clear?
SM (10:02):
Well, and you nailed it. I mean, it’s, it’s harder because we are multi-dimensional. And the other part is it seems to be safer to have more offerings, right? I mean, if, if, if I do all of these things, then there’s a range of things that people can choose from. And, and that will open up more opportunity for, for me and my business is what we assume, but instead it’s, it’s exactly the, it’s exactly the opposite. You know, I, I use the old story sometimes about how we shoot down planes in, in times of battle in world war two, what they would do is fill the skies with ammunition. It was called flack, and they would just shoot an abundance of ammunition into the air. So what technically actually happened is we didn’t shoot down their plane. The enemy’s plane ran into ammunition because they just threw so much up there, but these planes would run into the ammunition.
SM (10:59):
Well, now, as we know, it’s, it’s incredibly precisely targeted, and I think that’s a good analogy for what we need to think about in terms of business. But I’ll tell you that there comes to be a point when, when I first started my speaking career, I kind of did the motivational humor, customer service, kind of generic thing. And I went through a personal situation that caused me to reevaluate my business. And honestly, I was trying to look at how do I stand out from everybody else in the crowd? And I couldn’t find anything you know, there, there were a couple of books out trout wrote one called differentiator die. There were, there were a few things out there, but nothing really how to stand out. I, by the way, let me throw in real quick, the reason I use the term distinction instead of differentiation, is that merely being different doesn’t mean that’s going to have traction in the marketplace.
SM (11:53):
You know, if I slap every customer in the face, I’m different, but it doesn’t mean they’re, you know, they’re going to relate to what I’m talking about. So I’m talking about distinction, having a meaningful difference. That that really means something to the people that you’re hoping to connect with. So, you know, I went through that personal tragedy and I’m looking through and how do I stand out? I started researching it and really want to, I you’re taking me back to really one of the toughest points in my life because a speakers bureau that I did a lot of business with bookmobile lot called and said, for goodness sakes, we don’t get any calls asking for distinction, speeches, will you please go back and talk about customer service? And at that point I had to make a decision. And and, and it was the best decision, one of the best decisions of my life, but it was really hard to make it that time because it’s almost like they were dangling this checkout here. If you just, if you just get away from what you’ve said, your clarity is, if you just don’t do what you’re talking about, here’s, here’s a check and I turned it down. And I think that is what builds a brand. Had I accepted that, see, one of the things I find is that when people say, oh yeah, I’m that too. That’s when they lose the clarity, that really creates your brand in the marketplace.
RV (13:16):
Yeah. I mean, you know, you said this earlier about it’s being clear on who you are and also clear on who you’re not. And yeah, AIJ and I had spent so much time doing sales training for corporations in our former business. That when, when we started brand builders group, we were very clear that we don’t do branding for companies at all. We do personal brand strategy, exclusively for individuals. Now, every individual works at a company, but we don’t do the company strategy. It’s the face of an individual. And that every time that we have taken something where someone said, Hey, can you just like do this project for our company? It’s like, it doesn’t, it just, it just creates so much conflict and extra work. And it’s just like, it’s just not what we do. And so I think, like you’re saying, it’s just, it feels safer to offer more things. And it also like, inevitably there’s a time where someone’s going to dangle money in front of your face and you have to say, no, that’s not what we do. That’s hard.
SM (14:20):
It’s really hard. Yeah. And I’m really glad you said that because I think sometimes people think that folks like you and me advise that, but we really don’t know how difficult it is. Right. Because it’s really hard to say no. And the smaller the businesses, I think the harder it is to say no, but it’s one of the best things that you can do. And you mentioned my pal, Larry Winget earlier your friend as well. And you know, Larry says to be really successful, you’ve got to get really good at saying no. And I think truer words have never been spoken. We want to say yes to everything. And I, I, I think we sometimes confuse saying yes and making a customer experience go well, as opposed to saying yes to all of these things that will dilute our differentiation. And so you don’t want to dilute the distinction that you’re trying to create in the marketplace because Hey, no one is loyal to a generic. I mean, w we have a mutual buddy mark Sanborn, and mark talks to me all the time about this latest IPA that he’s trying, or yeah, he’s totally into craft beers. And, and mark and I were talking about, I remember those, maybe they’re still there. I haven’t seen him for a while. At least white cans in the grocery store with just black block lettering said, beer,
RV (15:39):
Chips, whatever
SM (15:42):
Nobody brags about. Yeah, I have that beer, but they do want to talk about this IPA that they’ve found it’s brewed in Maine on the ocean somewhere. And again, that kind of gets to another one of the cornerstones. I’m getting a little ahead of myself here, but you know, you like the IPA or you like the business. That’s got a story.
RV (16:04):
Yeah. I mean, that’s, that’s really true. So you, you also talk about the five factors of iconic performance and going towards the idea of how do we find this distinction, and then how does that, how does that distinction manifest itself? Like in our, in our actual business, in the customer experience and the things that happen every day,
SM (16:29):
You know, what happened is I had written the book on distinction and Fairmont hotels became a really good client. And they, they went through a really cool process about, you know, what, what, what is distinctive housekeeping? You know, what, what’s the distinctive front desk? How do we, how do we take everything that touches the customer and, and even things that don’t, and what would that look like? So they went through this process, they had great success with it. And I’m having Brett first with the CEO of the Fairmont Scottsdale princess, wonderful guy named Jack Miller. And he said, man, we went through the distinction thing. Now, what do we do? I didn’t have an answer. I realized I’d written a book about how to create distinction, but, but not one how to take it to the highest level of distinction and not what, how to sustain it once you get it or how you regain it once you, you know, if you’d lose it.
SM (17:28):
And so I started studying it. It’s kind of a difficult definition, but distinction means you stand out in your field. You know, if you’re a financial advisor in Las Vegas where I live, or in Nashville where you are, you’re the go-to advisor that, that people are referring that’s distinction. You are at the top of your field, in your industry. Yet. We also know that there are businesses that transcend their industry, you know, and they’re the Annapolis. One of the case studies they use in the book, iconic is St. Elmo’s steakhouse. It’s not just the, I mean, they have higher gross revenue than Tavern on the green, in New York city. They’re one of the most successful restaurants in America. So it’s not just that, they’re the best of the restaurants, man. If you’ve got a car dealership in Indianapolis, you want to run your car dealership like St. Elmo’s runs their restaurant. That’s iconic when you’ve reached that level. And so as I studied iconic businesses, I mean, the old cliche is like Southwest airlines and apple and, you know, Starbucks and all those, but even more so regionally, locally the iconic businesses that, that a business that every business in that particular community respected, I found a really five factors. And, and the first one was they play offense. You know, I’m a sports fan and we always say defense wins championships. Yeah.
RV (18:55):
People say that all the time.
SM (18:57):
So I looked at the numbers and more top off offensive teams have won the super bowl, the top defensive teams, more top rated offensive teams. And one of the playoff games in the NFL, then the defensive teams look at what’s happening in the NBA right now. It’s running gun, man. The way you’re successful is firing up a three-pointer not by clamping down on defense, like it was 20 years ago. So, so what I found was that iconic individuals and I kind of like organizations,
RV (19:26):
You know, my high school basketball coach right now is having an aneurysm listening to this because that DCS you’re just you’re attack the fabric. The fabric of the philosophy of it’s been around for some people for a really long time, I’m drawing
SM (19:42):
A blank. Oh, where did he sign up? There? There was a high school coach and he’s, this will be his first year coaching division one colleagues. And I’m drawing a blank on where he is, but he always goes for it on fourth down. They don’t even have a punter on the team. If it’s, if it’s fourth at eight on the two yard line, they go for it, you know, on their two yard line, they still go for it. They always go for it on fourth down. And the S and, and he just says, look at the data. The data shows that the benefit of playing offense and, and pushing the ball is always greater than defense. Now, can you apply that in a business situation? And here’s what the CEO of, of that Fairmont grouped pill me later on. He said, I realized that every moment I was playing defense against the competition wasted a moment, I could be innovating to make them irrelevant.
SM (20:42):
Say that again, every moment I was playing defense against the wasted a moment, I could be innovating to make them erupt, irrelevant. Wow. I just thought, well, when he said that I’m writing that down, man, I got to get that. So, I mean, when we think about whether it’s the clue and Hey, look, I know that speakers use the same examples a lot. Well, there’s a reason for that. It’s not because we’re lazy. It’s because, so it’s so breathtakingly difficult to do. There are so few universal examples that, that you can use, but, you know, Steve jobs didn’t sit around worried about what Microsoft was doing, you know, and, and, and when we use that in our personal brand, as an example, when we play off offense, then it becomes really remarkable what, what we can achieve, because then others, you know, our competition, their natural reaction will be to play defense against us, which puts us in the driver’s
RV (21:44):
Seat. So when you, when you, like, I know you work with companies, but like, cause cause I really buy into this. AIG does as well. We we’ve, we have said consistently that it’s like we don’t care about what other people are doing. Like our philosophy is not even, it’s not even differentiate from what other people are doing. It’s find your uniqueness and exploited in the service of others is what Larry says. It’s like, do the thing that you do. And then it makes other people or other customers irrelevant. And it’s like, but, but the thing I think is people struggle so much with figuring out what is the thing that they can do that no one else can do. What is the thing that they do that is truly distinct or unique. And H how do you help people find what that is?
SM (22:37):
What a great question. And it’s one that’s often overlooked. Jeff Bezos said your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room. Well, that creates an inherent problem. It, it means we’re not in the room when people are saying what our brand is. So what’s the second best thing that you can do. And so few of us do this and it’s it’s was part of my journey to try to create distinction for my speaking business. And that is, I went to the people that were booking me for speeches. I went to speakers bureaus, and I said, when you recommend me, what do you say?
SM (23:16):
And far and away, the answer at that time was a good speaker and a nice guy. Now, they thought that was great. And I realized, that’s the kiss of death, man. I mean, you know, apple is not planning their next corporate event saying, Hey, what we need, the keynote is a really nice person, but they want it. They want somebody that’s known for something. And it’s the same thing. Whether I’m picking a financial advisor or a grocery store or a, any kind of personal service or a speaker or whatever might be, there has to be something that they say. So one of two things is going to happen either. Number one, you’re going to find out that you’re thought of as a generic, Eric, you know, good at what you do and a nice person. And there’s nothing wrong with that. You know, I want to be good at what I do and I choose to be nice, but, but there has to be something more than that. Second is, if what they’re saying is precise and specific, then there’s your biggest clue. You know, about what people are saying about you, that’s what your brand is. And then at that point you’ve reached a crossroad. Are you going to exploit that? And, and as, as you say, and as Larry says, we may exploit in the best part of the term, you know, it’s not bad exploitation.
SM (24:34):
Yeah. And making the most of everything we have. And, and so is that the area that you, that you want to be known for, well then how can we ramp up what we’re doing? So we accentuate that if that’s not the areas, here’s the other aspect. It’s always tougher to reposition and to position, if I’m starting new and I’m trying to position, I have to create a memorable message that that will strike you. And that you’re going to retain to reposition. I got to get you to forget about everything you thought about me in the past, and now start thinking about me in a new way. So if you need to reposition your personal brand, you have to begin by thinking, okay, how do I, how do I come up with a message that’s so compelling? Not only will it be memorable in the marketplace that I want to succeed in it, but it will get those people to stop saying what they been saying about me and start saying, this that’s difficult. But if you don’t understand that principle, you can’t begin on the road to achieve it.
RV (25:42):
Yeah. And then to your point about clarity as a cornerstone, I think that is just super like, that’s the first thing is too many of us never even asked the question. What do I want people to say about me? What are they saying about me? And how do I, you know, change? How do I change those or align those? And we just kind of go out and we’re just like reactive to whatever shows up and whoever will hire us for this or that or anything. And we’re just like, I’ll take it. I’ll take it. I’ll take it versus going, no, this is who I’m going to be. And I’m going to drive this. I’m going to drive this space. But you know, I think it’s, I think, you know, asking your customers, asking the people who have hired you, why have you hired me?
RV (26:26):
What, what is it about me? I mean, that’s a great place to start because like you’re saying either, they’ll tell you, this is why, and this is what makes you unique, or they’ll say no specific reason, which means you’re not really unique. But then after that, do you effectively, just at some point, just decide you go, hell, I’m going to be, I’m going to be the guy known for this, and then you just own it. And you just drive it. I mean, is it that simple as you just go, what do you want to be known for pick it, own it and drive it? I mean, is that it?
SM (26:59):
Yes. I wish I wish I had a workup flex answer to that. But the decision is that I think in some ways the toughest part, because it’s defining what you are, but it’s also saying I’m, I, I have the intestinal fortitude, you know, I, I have the drive and the determination that I’m going to leave these other things behind. And I think that’s one of the most important things, Rory and establishing a personal brand. It’s it’s, it’s what UNH have done. I mean, when, when you said, this is who we are, but you also said, this is who we are. Not that decision, every, everything it’s like a tree. I mean, everything grew up from that planting from the, that decision that you made. And, you know, it’s, it’s, it’s just remarkable the, the power of that decision that it gives you in your life, because it, you know, once you, once you’ve made that decision, then other decisions become more clear. Now it’s a challenge to make them, right. I mean, it’s a, it’s a challenge to, to turn down that check as we were talking earlier. But boy, when you’ve got that initial clarity, then the other decisions that you need to make, tend to become a little bit more apparent.
RV (28:17):
That is so good. Y’all most of this is a matter of just making the decision and then just driving it. I love it. Scott McCain, the book is called iconic. We put of course links to the book and to Scott on our site, Scott, where do you want people to go? If they want to follow them, follow you more, or learn more about what you’re up to.
SM (28:41):
W w where are you? One of the things that folks might do is just go to Scott mccain.com. It talks about, you know, the, the resources we have, the courses that we offer. For example, you got a course that teaches how to tell a more distinctive story, how to create distinction. You’ll find links for everything right there. And it’s M C K a I N a. So Scott mccain.com and that’ll send everybody there, Scott
RV (29:04):
Mccain, I encourage you all to follow him. And this is Scott is one of the smartest people I’ve met. He’s one of the people that we have learned from so much just about these concepts that, you know, have, have shaped our life and are shaping many of your lives by way of following us and listening to what we’re doing. So, buddy, thank you for the work you’ve done. Thank you for your being here and just your support in our life. We’re so grateful for you,
SM (29:30):
The world of you and everybody there. So thank you so much where I, I appreciate it so much, and it’s always great being a part of anything with you. So thank you.