Audience growth - whether in the context of social media followers, email list, podcast listeners, or YouTube subscribers - whatever the case may be, it's easy to believe that more is always better.
Today’s guest is Matt Johnson, author of MicroFamous: Become Famously Influential to the Right People. Also, Matt is the founder of a podcast PR agency, Pursuing Results, and host of the MicroFamous podcast. He talks about how to be micro-famous with the right people and learn to grow as an influencer within a given niche.
Ben: Hey, Matt. How's it going this afternoon?
Matt: I'm doing awesome.
Ben: Good. Sun's shining out there in California, I assume.
Matt: The sun is mostly always shiny. Did you know about June Gloom? As a Midwesterner, I did not know about June Gloom when I moved out here. It's the time of the year when for whatever reason, right on the ocean, it does coat everything in hazy cloudiness for a good month or so. We're right in the middle of that, so it's the least sunny time of the year. I did not sign up for this. It's unacceptable.
Ben: Yeah, I'd move.
Matt: Yeah, exactly. I'm coming back to Iowa.
Ben: No. I absolutely would not leave.
Matt: Yeah. I believe you. Oh, man.
Ben: Cool. What we're going to be talking about in this episode is understanding how to grow as an influencer within a given niche. As it turns out, you've written a book on this topic titled MicroFamous.
To kick us off, would you mind giving me the elevator pitch for the book? What's this all about?
Matt: MicroFamous is about becoming famously influential to the right people. If you imagine you're walking into a grocery store and getting recognized, I don't need that. I'm a natural introvert. I don't even want that.
But when I go to an industry conference, it's full of my ideal people. I absolutely want everybody there to know who I am. That's really what it means to be MicroFamous.
When you look at it from a company level, if you're inside of a marketing team, you got to ask yourself, is your company number one at anything? Is it the only one that does anything? A lot of times, the answer is no.
You as a marketer are tasked with getting attention, getting the name out there, and doing all this stuff, but your company isn't really known for any one thing and you don't really dominate any particular niche. Some companies really show no interest in doing that to begin with.
You have to understand that that's what people want. They want to know that they're working with the number one name for whatever problem they're looking to solve. If you're not number one, you're facing an uphill battle.
I mentioned I was talking to a friend of mine before I jumped on. He wrote an amazing marketing book, one of the best books in the last 20 years. He basically said, look, if you're a salesperson, if you're a marketer, if you're a CMO, or whatever, the first thing you should be thinking about is are you going to work for the company that's number one in that space? If not, leave immediately and go find the company that is.
If you're on the receiving end of the message, that's really what MicroFamous is about. Whether it's your career, you're a thought leader in the space, or your company has to be the thought leader, the principle is the same. You want to be famously influential, but not to everyone, just to the exact right people.
Ben: Yeah, makes sense. I think that people very often believe that growing a large following—whether that means lots of social followers, lots of email subscribers. For marketers, those are things we tend to think about and care about. Whatever the case may be, we assume that a larger audience is a better audience. That is something that we should aspire to achieve. We want to be well-known and well-liked by everybody. What's the flaw in that line of thinking?
Matt: The flaw in that line of thinking is the idea that somewhere, buried in that large group of people—who may or may not actually care about you or be your ideal person—there's a smaller group that is your right person. They will pay you to solve the problem that you solve.
The problem is a lot of times, especially now in the way social media is skewing all of our efforts—we could go down that rabbit hole if you want—essentially, social media is dictating what we have to do in order to grab attention online. In the quest to grab attention, which is just the first hurdle we have to get over, what we end up doing is shooting ourselves in the foot and grabbing attention for all the wrong reasons. We end up grabbing the wrong people. We can actually end up with an entire audience full of people that aren't the right person.
I had to learn that the hard way. I've done it myself in podcasting where we have a mainstream audience within my niche. It didn't turn out to be the right audience. I've watched other people come onto my show that put up a brave public face. They'd have 300,000 people following on Instagram. Behind the scenes, you find out they can't get somebody to buy anything from them.
I know a podcaster who has millions of downloads. They've had to pawn stuff to make the rent.
When you have those kinds of experience, just seeing that kind of stuff behind the scenes, you realize, okay, the large audience doesn't mean anything if what it took to build the large audience was you had to just tell them whatever they wanted to hear to get their attention and get them to just be in the audience.
Once you disconnect yourself from that goal, it's like, okay, I can achieve all my goals without having a huge audience. I go, now, let's get specific about who needs to be in the audience. Then, you start thinking about, okay, who are the right people? Which is the very first question that you ask. Who is the right person for me? Until you really know that, you really don't know what kind of content you should be putting out there anyway, whether at the individual level or if you're on the marketing team.
Ben: Sure. That makes a lot of sense. It is actually shocking to hear of people with millions of downloads hung up on stuff. That is kind of mind blowing a little bit.
Matt: Yeah. It's crazy, isn't it?
Ben: But that's interesting though because I feel like I hear from time to time about creators—whether they're podcast hosts or they're doing some other type of creative work—where they actually have a very small audience but they're running profitable businesses. I really think that that is contrasting those two things. Side by side, that really proves your point, that larger isn't better. It sounds like you know individuals who can attest to that.
Matt: I do, and I've been one of them. Years ago, I ran two podcasts in the same industry. One of them was super niched and the other was super mainstream. The one that was super niched was way easier to monetize.
It was such an eye-opener because I didn't realize until after the fact. I essentially ran a split test by complete accident in podcasting. Most people never get a chance to do that because they're not running more than one show. I happen to be running multiple shows in the same industry, so I got to see all the behind-the-scenes stuff, not just the downloads, but the direct correlation to sales.
The thing that generated sales was delivering the exact right content that the right people cared deeply about and it resonated with them. We were talking about things on that niched podcast that nobody else in the market cared about because they literally didn't have the problem. They couldn't even relate to the problem. We were able to get super deep and super specific with the content.
I think that's the overall direction that online is moving in general. If you get out in front of that and if you pick the right niche and the right people, you can start to get their attention without having to shout louder or shout more often.
We've been bathed in the Gary Vee approach for 10 years since Crush It! came out. It was a great book, it's awesome, and it worked. However, now, we're moving towards more specialization. People want something that's tailored to them. Whatever thing you're selling, they want to know that it's made for them and nobody else. That's creating this dynamic where if you're not able to tell them exactly how you solve the problems specifically for them, then they're automatically going to go looking for that from potentially somebody else.
Now, we're getting to the point where you can put content into the world and you don't need to shout louder or shout more often if you're saying the right things.
Ben: It sounds as though there's a shift where audiences want clarity and focus.
Matt: Yes, 100%.
Ben: The creators, the marketers, the brands that win are the ones that provide it.
Matt: Yeah. It was just breaking it down into something actionable.
One of my clients sent me something that they had created internally. Somebody on the marketing team had created them a speaker one sheet. I just looked over it, I sent an email back, and said, strip out the buzzwords. I don't want to hear anything about empowering, innovative, or nationally-acclaimed. Just take it all out because the audience doesn't care.
If it's anything that's disputable and can be disagreed with, take it out because we're in that environment where the audience doesn't care. Give them something very, very specific and concrete that shows them this is the exact right message for them and they'll pay attention. If you're not 100% crystal clear in your messaging, then people are going to tune out.
As marketers, it's really easy for us because we're not sitting across the table from someone like a salesman is. We can get away with fluff, puffery, buzzwords, unnecessary words, jargon, and all this stuff. We think it's okay because nobody is sitting across the table from us with their eyes glassing over. The sales people can see that. We can't see that as marketers when we're writing stuff alone in our living room.
One really practical thing is to look at the front page of your website, look at maybe the follow-up emails in your sales sequences, and ask yourself, is there anything in here that somebody could disagree with? Am I making a claim that they can't just automatically say, yes, that's true, I agree? Are there any buzzwords or jargon that a five-year-old wouldn't understand? If there is, then think about taking it out. Some jargon needs to be there in order for the right people to know that you're speaking to them, but you'd be surprised how little that's true.
Ben: That's a really interesting point. As a marketer at a marketing software company, marketing to other marketers, I feel like I am neck-deep in jargon, new acronyms, new lingo, and old ideas repackaged as new things so much. That speaks to me personally because I know that I see a lot of that and I kind of roll my eyes a little bit. I think a lot of other people do too because they know what you're doing.
Matt: Yeah. It's almost like we can't help it. Somebody made a comment that everybody hates PowerPoint presentations until it's their turn to deliver one. Then, they get up, deliver the same exact type of presentation everybody else does, and wonder why nobody pays attention. We all do it. It's hard to break out of if you're steeped in it all day. You really have to understand who you're selling to.
It's funny. Ryan Deiss at Traffic & Conversion stood up a few years ago and said something like the next wave in marketing. He had everybody raise their hands and asked who has talked to one of your buyers on the phone or in person in the last 30 days. There were a handful of hands that went up out of an auditorium of 3000 people. I said, that's the wave of the future. Talk to your customers and your clients.
As marketers, that's just really hard. We're not the ones that are out in the field selling, but we do need that connection.
Ben: Something Matt mentioned that is fairly sobering to think about is that he's seen shows with massive followings that couldn't sell anything. It really goes to show just how much truth there is to what he is saying here.
There are so many people and so many companies out there creating content. If what you're putting out is watered down in any way in order to find mass appeal, you may find that it doesn't result in an audience that's engaged or one that's ever going to want to make a purchase. It seems like such a simple concept, but it's important to stress that there's no lie here.
It's also important to remember that if your audience or follower growth isn't accelerating the way that you want, it might not be the worst thing in the world if the people that you are attracting are the right people for your business.
Now, back to Matt.
Something that you talked about in the book is how to actually know who you should be talking to. How do marketers and creative professionals do that? The very most basic thing here. How do they actually begin to identify the correct niche or the correct community that they should focus on?
The reason why I ask is because depending on the nature of your business, you might have multiple different personas that you're marketing to. You might have multiple different market segments that you're selling to. Your customer base could be very large and very complex. How do you break that down? How do you find the right niche?
Matt: One really good question to ask if you're on the marketing team or if you're a CMO for example is what's the most valuable slice of the market? I run a lot in the professional services world where we're actually dealing with clients as opposed to users. You have to deal with the consequences of the wrong person signing up because you actually have to talk to that human being. You feel the pain when you market to the wrong person.
For me with my own company, I ask myself, if somebody dropped into San Diego, texted me, and said, hey, Matt, can I buy you a coffee or a drink, let's go hang out, who would I want to get that call from? Now, if you're on a marketing team where you've got nothing but users and you never see your clients, that exact question might not apply, so that's a good place to ask what's the most valuable slice of the market.
The thing is that when you're dealing with a company level, you can go after multiple slices.
Tim Ferriss is really good at this when he writes one of his four-hour books, four-hour body, four-hour shift, or whatever. He'll break it down behind the scenes where he'll say, I wrote this chapter for this niche of my audience and I wrote this chapter for this niche. I wrote this guest post over here and this guest post over here—all aimed at different sub-niches within the overall group of people that he wanted to market to.
He did nothing generally. Everything was specific, even down to the chapters of his books. If you're on a marketing team for a software company, you can use all these same principles. You're just thinking of it slightly differently in the sense that you're not going with, who do I want to sign up as a client? You're saying, what are those little sub-niches of users? What do they have in common? Do they see themselves as a group? Can I speak to them as a group? Great, let's create content specifically for them over here.
If you're just starting out and your resources are limited, I would say look out for a few things in the sub-niches that you're going after. Are they influential? If you get them converted to your side, will they talk about you publicly and have influence over other users that would sign up for free? You get leverage. Are they early adopters in and of themselves? Are they open-minded? Are they willing to take risks?
Don't go after the most afraid or risk-averse people if you're trying to sell them something new. With questions like that, you can go, okay, if I'm going to go after "the right people," how do I figure out who the right people are?
You want the most valuable. You want the most open-minded. You want the most influential. If you can get those three things and you just narrow down your marketing to focus on them, you'll actually get a way wider reach because those people are influential well-known risk-takers and they will spread your product or service way beyond themselves.
Ben: Sure. I love the way you just break that down into three pretty simple concepts. If you can nail those, you're golden. I love it.
Something else that you talked about in your book is uncovering a clear and compelling idea that appeals to a given audience.
Without giving too much away, how can marketers and creatives actually identify the ideas, the concepts, or things that those niche audiences would be so interested in that they can't ignore, that they almost have no choice but to pay attention to you?
Matt: This applies a lot if you're the person who's responsible for messaging and branding. If you are not, you want to know this stuff so that you're in position to replace that person because they're inevitably going to leave or get fired.
I think the average tenure of a CMO right now is 22 months or something insanely low.
Ben: It's not that long. It's terrifyingly short. Twenty-two months actually might be accurate.
Matt: It's very short. If you're working in that role and you have the ability to control the messaging of the company, what you're looking for is a short phrase or a one-sentence description of the core idea of the company, of what problem you solve, and who you solve it for, such that when you when you express that to one of your ideal users, their response is, holy cow, I've never heard that before.
Think about the first or the only. Are we the first software to do XYZ? Are we the only software to do XYZ? Are we the only software designed for ABC people? There's got to be something there where it gets that kind of response because unfortunately, if you don't get that level of a holy-cow-I've-never-heard-that-before response, then everything else in the company is more difficult.
You can't buy your way out of that with ads because it's too expensive. You've got to have an idea for the company and for the product that's so clear and so compelling that gets people's attention.
Even in ads, you need that just to make the ads profitable and not drain your bank account. You need it at every level. Your salesmen need it when they go out in the field and they meet with high-level influential potential users. They need to be able to say that. Like, this is what we do. And the user sits back and goes, wow, I didn't know that that's what you guys did. I heard the brand. I've seen your Facebook ads before, but I didn't know that's what you guys do. Sign me up.
Marc Benioff of Salesforce is probably one of the classic examples in the Silicon Valley world. If your CRM isn't in the Cloud, you're an idiot. It absolutely has to be in the Cloud. Otherwise, you're a dinosaur. Are you kidding me? You're still using SAP? What's the matter with you?
He was so incredibly evangelistic, off-putting, and brilliant, but he was right. He was on the cusp of the right technological wave, he had the right viewpoint, and he was the evangelist for that idea.
Everybody that heard that idea went, really? Are we getting to the point now where I can have everything in the Cloud, get all these fancy bells and whistles, all this new capability, and I don't have to have all my contacts on a server in my basement in the home office? It was such a radical concept.
As a CMO, that's what you're looking for. If you're working for the CMO, you're hoping that you're working for somebody who's looking for that because if they're not, you're in trouble.
Ben: That's pretty powerful advice. I love that example too because we've all seen how much Salesforce has grown. There are several other examples out there of companies, thought leaders, or whatever you want to call them where people are saying things that were borderline outlandish that are now almost accepted as common knowledge. Who would not put their CRM in the Cloud in 2021? I like that.
You also mentioned in MicroFamous something that you call the three stages of influence. Could you share what those stages are and explain how each one works?
Matt: Yes. The three stages are get seen, get noticed, get known.
Probably a good example is Tony Robbins because it's easier to see at an individual level. Getting seen is the stage where people see you, but they don't really know who you are and what you stand for. They just know that you are recognizable. They know they've seen you or they've seen your brand before.
This is Tony Robbins in the early '80s when he was doing events, private consulting, therapy, and stuff like that. He was around. He was doing events. He was on local news, some national news, and stuff here and there. They're like, oh, I've seen that guy before.
If you keep doing that and especially if you have that clear and compelling idea where you're hammering on the same message over and over again, you get to that next level which is when you get noticed. This is where people start to associate you with your idea and the problem that you solved. They get a sense of who you are and what you do. They don't just recognize your face or your brand. They start to tie things together.
If you keep going along that track and you get to the top of the mountain so to speak, you've been pushing that rock up the hill, at some point, you're going to hit that tipping point. That's where the market agrees with you and you become known for who you are, what you do, who you serve. You get known for one thing.
Tony Robbins is an interesting example because his idea was that personal transformation can happen in an instant. Remember, the big trend in the '80s was going way back into your childhood experiences and reliving and reworking through it like it was this long, drawn-out process. That's what the prevailing winds in psychology were saying.
Then, here comes his brash, young upstart who doesn't have a PhD in anything. He comes along and says, no, personal transformation can happen in an instant.
That's fine, but if he would have flitted around from one idea to the next, we wouldn't know who he is today. What he did was he hammered away at that idea over and over again. Then, the time came along when he got a chance to do the infomercial and came out with personal power. And bam, he goes from getting noticed to getting known.
People all of a sudden got it. Oh, yeah, Tony Robbins is the personal transformation guru.
He got noticed and known for that idea that personal transformation doesn't have to be this long process. It can happen in an instant. That's one single idea that not only made him who he was, but that same idea has been able to carry and sustain him for the last 30 years because nobody has come up with a better idea in personal development than that.
Same thing for Salesforce. Why hasn't Salesforce gotten the way of any of the other big tech companies that aren't with us anymore? Because the idea that the company was founded on is still valid until something technologically breaks and people go, we don't need our CRM in the Cloud anymore. We can now have all of our own data and just interface it through the Cloud.
That's the thing that will break Salesforce, the idea will change. If you get the idea right and you spend your time hammering away at the idea, at some point, you're going to hit that tipping point where the market goes, yeah, Tony Robbins is the personal development guy. Then, you're set. You're known for that one thing.
Ben: Yeah. I really appreciate your ability to take a complex thing, break it down to three things, and then just make those things all super clear. That's a great explanation.
The last question I'll throw your way is if a listener is interested in growing their influence, niching down, finding their focus, and really becoming well-known amongst the right people for them, what's the very first thing you would recommend that they would do?
Matt: In this day and age, knowing what I know about podcasting, I go straight out and I get interviewed as a guest expert. That's the first thing I do. I didn't start out that way because I was stupid and I started my own podcast first.
I did it all backwards. If I was starting over again, I would go out and I would get interviewed first because whether you're the CMO. You get interviewed in that capacity, maybe you just start building your own side blog about marketing to further your own career, and just build up your own market value.
Honestly, that's how my company name started. My old CEO walked into the office one day and declared to the heavens, Johnson, you should start a marketing blog. I'm like, what are you talking about? He said, just call it something like Matt Johnson, Relentlessly Pursuing Results.
I'm like, okay, fine. I bought the domain Pursuing Results. That's still the name of my agency six years later, hilariously enough. But all it was is a blog where I was sharing what I was doing inside the agency with our clients with screenshots and a brief write-up.
So even if you're on a marketing team, you can do this. Just start sharing what you're doing, go out, get featured, share what you're doing for clients or for yourself in marketing, start building up a name for yourself, and start sharing what you're doing publicly.
Right now, podcasting is just the perfect place to do it because you can have these deep, long-form conversations with smart people. The audience is spending way more time with us on this format than they would if they saw us on a Facebook ad.
Ben: That's super interesting for two reasons. One, I was on a video show earlier this morning making the exact same point about podcasting.
Matt: It's awesome.
Ben: Yeah, that's an awesome coincidence there. Also, just like coming on this show, you're practicing what you're preaching.
If you enjoyed this episode, to anybody who's listening, get on more podcasts. That's the way to get started.
Ben was the Inbound Marketing Director at CoSchedule. His specialties include content strategy, SEO, copywriting, and more. When he's not hard at work helping people do better marketing, he can be found cross-country skiing with his wife and their dog.