Jay Baer, Best Selling Author and Principal at Convince and Convert [Podcast]

Today we are very fortunate to have the one and only Jay Baer. Jay is a best selling author and sought after keynote. I have been looking forward to this one.


His books are always in my recommendation lists. Talk Triggers, Youtility, and Hug Your Haters should be required reading for any marketer. And they’ve given me lots of material for my questions.

In this interview, Jay talks about…

  1. Empathy in marketing
  2. Talk Triggers and Experience Advisors
  3. Hug Your Haters and the importance of “being human”
  4. Youtility and “friend of mine” awareness
  5. Jay’s glasses and social media polls


Digital Transcription – Edited for Readability


Jon-Mikel Bailey: Welcome to the Wellspring Digital Chat, I’m Jon-Mikel Bailey. This is where we interview marketing experts and bring their sought after brains directly to you. Not their actual brains, but the things that are contained within their brains, we try to extract them so that you can benefit from them yourself.

So, today, we are very fortunate to have the one only Jay Baer. Jay, please, please introduce yourself to these fine, folks.

Jay Baer: Great to be here, my friend. Thank you very much. We couldn’t find a marketing expert this week. So I will do my best. My name is Jay Baer. I’m the founder of Convince and Convert, which is a digital and content and social and CX strategy firm that works with lots of iconic brands all around the world.

I also have written six books on marketing and CX, I used to spend 200 days a year traveling around giving speeches and presentations. And now I do that here in my own home, which is actually kind of alright. I’m not too upset about that. I’m also the co-host of the long-running social pros podcast.

Jon-Mikel Bailey: And all of those will be linked within the transcript below when I post this video. So I have really been looking forward to this one, your books are always on my recommendations list. Specifically, Talk Triggers, Youtility, and Hug Your Haters, in my opinion, should be required reading for business owners and marketers all around. And they’ve also given me lots of material for my questions. So if it’s all right with you, I’d like to just go ahead and jump right in

Empathy in Marketing – A Common Theme

Jon-Mikel Bailey: So you know, these days, empathy is a very common theme. I’ve been discussing the importance of empathy. Scott Monty and I discussed it, Ann Handley and I discussed it, it seems to be sort of “all the rage,” if you can say that about empathy.

You have an entire chapter devoted to empathy in Talk Triggers. And I want to see if first, you can define what a “talk trigger” is for people that have not read the book yet, and they should, and then discuss why empathy was actually the first type in your five types of talk triggers.

Jay Baer: A talk trigger is an operational choice that you make in your business that is designed to create conversations. I think we can all agree that the best way to grow any business is for your customers to do that growing for you to successfully turn your customers into volunteer marketers if you will.

I think everybody understands innately in business, the importance of word of mouth. But the mystery is that we all know it’s important, but yet we don’t actually do anything about it. One of the most depressing statistics of which I’m currently familiar actually came from John Jantsch, a fantastic marketing expert, and author who found that fewer than 1% of businesses have a defined word of mouth strategy.

We just take word of mouth for granted. We just assume that if we run a good business, people will notice that and talk about it. But that’s not actually the way human beings behave. Competency doesn’t create conversation, you don’t get conversational credit for doing exactly what somebody paid you to do.

I’ve had a number of accountants in my career. And I don’t know if I’ve ever said to somebody, “hey, Jon-Mikel, check this out. I got my tax returns, all the numbers added up.” But that’s not really a story, right? That’s what accountants do. So if you want to create a conversation and unlock the importance of word of mouth, you got to do something that people will notice and talk about. You have to give them a story worth telling.

And somewhat disturbingly, empathy is one of those ways that you can differentiate, right? A talk trigger only works if it’s something that customers don’t expect. You expect the numbers to add up. And I am old enough to remember a time in the not so distant past when treating customers and one another with dignity and kindness and respect and humanity, what we often lumped together as empathy, we didn’t have a name for that, because we just called it business. It was the default state and it certainly is not now.

And that does make me a little bit sad as a human being to see where we find ourselves here are at loggerheads even with our own customers. But it is also a colossal opportunity. Because today, when you treat your customers with respect and kindness and humanity, it stands out against the tapestry of your competition and can actually become a true competitive advantage.

Think of a brand like Chewy. Chewy.com is the online pet supply eCommerce retailer, which sells the exact same thing as everybody else in the pet business for the exact same price. But they are very successful. And it’s partially because they are wholly committed at every level, to true empathy. They treat their customers with incredible kindness and compassion and warmth. And they treat them as people not as numbers on a spreadsheet. And it is one of the things that have propelled them to a multi-billion dollar valuation when they were like the 114th person to try the same idea.

Jon-Mikel Bailey: It really is compelling and I’ve used Chewy before. It’s compelling and depressing that empathy is gone from how we work.

Talk Triggers and Experience Advisors

Jon-Mikel Bailey: So outstanding, you’re empathetic. Depressing, but yes, Chewy is a great example. Also in Talk Triggers, you talk about four groups of customers, and one of those groups, the Experience Advisors, is a group that I think is willfully ignored by so many brands. And in today’s world, where everyone is a critic, everyone has a bullhorn the size of Texas, you know, how important is this group? How much can this group help or hurt a brand and should they be paying more attention to them?

Jay Baer: Experience Advisors are the percentage of your customer base, it’s approximately a quarter or so, that are the ones that are always telling their friends where to go, and what to do. We all know experience advisors, we may very well be an experience advisor, I certainly am within my cohort of contacts. And I’m always sort of recommending products or businesses or restaurants or movies, or music or whatever. It’s just kind of how I see the world.

We all have that group in our customer base. When I wrote the book with my good friend, Daniel Lemin, we really emphasize the fact that these experience advisors are the ones that if you sort of tickle their fancy appropriately, are much more likely to engage in word of mouth on behalf of your brand. Therefore, you should pay them disproportionate attention.

However, while I still believe that to be true, one thing that pandemic has wrought upon us is that word of mouth is more important than it’s ever been. Because essentially, every business now, whether you’ve been in business for two years, or 20 years, or 200 years, has to function like a startup.

The relationship with your customers was essentially severed or frayed earlier this year. And you’ve got to sort of rebuild those relationships and even your actual online reputation. I’ll give you an example. You talked about reviews. Let’s say you had 1500 reviews, as of February 15. And you had an average of 4.5, you’d be like “man, high five, we have a great online reputation, we’ve worked really hard to accumulate all these positive reviews!”

As of February 16, or March 15, or whatever your pandemic start date is, you have zero reviews. Because any review left before the pandemic no longer matters. A review from 2019 BC, before COVID, is not a review that is going to convince anybody to buy something from you, because of how you provision your products and services. And even what you sell could be materially different.

So you have to fundamentally restart your online reputation, which of course, is going to be led by those experience advisors who are disproportionately likely to create a review anyway. But now because everybody is relying on the thoughts of our peers, you have to really reach out to all parts of your customer base. So it’s actually changed when we think about the math of that a little bit.

Jon-Mikel Bailey: That’s interesting. It definitely has seemed like COVID has been a demarcation point for so many different things. And marketing is certainly no exception to that.

Jay Baer: Me going to the airport, for example. I traveled 200 days a year for 10 years. And now I have not left this town and that’s pretty amazing.

Hug Your Haters and the Importance of “Being Human”

Jon-Mikel Bailey: So, Hug Your Haters, which I love the title, by the way. You talk about the importance of “being human.” And there’s one line in there that I really love and I want to read it verbatim if you’ll allow me. So the line is “the very best way to begin hugging those haters is to show your humanity while respecting their humanity.”

So two questions here. One, why is this such a difficult concept for so many brands to grasp these days? And two, showing your humanity seems to be the best course of action in this dumpster fire of a year. Why do you think that is?

Jay Baer: A couple of things, I think mostly when brands, companies, businesses, organizations respond to customers, they try to do so as a collective. They are representing the business, right? Or the company. The reality is that every company is just a collection of people. And when you forget that, and you try to address individuals and individual questions and concerns, as a collective, it loses that human touch.

As a practical matter, a lot of organizations put, in my estimation, disproportionate emphasis, unnecessary emphasis on consistency of response. They give their frontline responders very tight guidelines, even all the way down to scripts. “If somebody says this, you say that.” It’s quite literally a copy and paste exercise. They do that to mitigate risk.

But the desire to mitigate risk is just a different way of saying you don’t trust your employees enough to allow them to interact with customers as one on one human beings. So mitigating risk and lack of trust is the same thing. It’s just one puts a positive spin on it. And one could say, in my estimation, actual spin on it.

Think about a brand like Southwest Airlines, they have their own operational challenges from time to time as all airlines do. But one of the things that Southwest is wholly committed to is allowing their team members the freedom of individuality, they don’t have a script, right?

Maybe you’ve been on a Southwest flight where the flight attendant sings a song or plays a peanut game, or some other kind of, you know, pretzel trivia, or, you know, there’s, it’s a little wacky, right, it’s a, it’s a little bit like, you know, airline meats, Chucky cheese. And that’s different because they’re not trying to turn each team member into a copy of the other team member.

And they do interact with their customers as people. And that is very seductive, because we are people, and I don’t want to hear from a company in the third person. In fact, we’ve got a guide that we wrote at Convince and Convert called “The 13 Words You Should Never Use When Responding to a Customer.”

And one of those words is “we.” We should use “I” because you are a person responding to a person.

Jon-Mikel Bailey: That’s brilliant. But it’s, I sit here and I think about so many brands that would say, you know, challenge you and say “yeah, but Jay legal” or “yeah, but Jay, PR.”

Jay Baer: I would say “yeah, but your customers and what they want.” If you’d like me to do a survey to prove that I’d be happy to do that. But it’s just a wasted market research expenditure.

Youtility and “Friend of Mine” Awareness

Jon-Mikel Bailey: So Youtility, which is Y O utility, which is another great title and a great book, it’s, in my opinion, it was an important and groundbreaking book, in its time. And as I was reading it, I kept nodding my head and going “exactly, exactly, yes!” You talk about “friend of mine” awareness in the book. And I wonder if you could explain this concept and then talk a little bit about how that may have evolved over the past seven years since the first edition of the book and maybe even into COVID?

Jay Baer: It’s been really interesting to revisit that, that territory. Youtility is really a content marketing book, generally speaking, but the idea is that instead of using content to sell because if all of your content is about you, and about your products and services, is that actually content marketing, or is that just a brochure?

So it’s about using content, not necessarily to sell directly but to help. The line in the book is that “if you sell something, you’ll make a customer today, but if you help someone you can create a customer for life,” is ultimately what we’re trying to do.

So Youtility asks you to take a longer look on a longer-term horizon. Look at customer relationship building using leverage. Ultimately helpful information we call the Youtility as the sort of lure to do just that.

And I will tell you that while that book did have a big impact, when it came out, on how marketing organizations think about content creation, and “what is the point of this content, do you know do we have a Buy Now button in the content? Are we just trying to do something that customers need, and eventually they’ll give us money?” had a big impact.

But then over time, I feel like that premise fell out of favor a little bit because we had so much enormous pressure from above to just turn marketing into a defined driver of revenue. What’s the ROI? How do we put a precise If This Then That condition around marketing expenditures and marketing time?

And so I feel like with social media advertising, and some of the other things that have popped up, since that book was first published, we sort of lost a little of that fervor for usefulness as a marketing construct. But now, after the pandemic, people are not here for your sales pitch. I’m just not about that.

And as Gen Z becomes more and more a part of the buying cohort as well, they very much embrace the Youtility philosophy. So I almost feel like we have kind of a roller-coaster effect, right? So a really popular premise kind of fell out of favor and now very, very popular.

Again, to the degree and this is just obviously an anecdotal reference, but so I’ve got, I don’t know, five I think topics on my website of different things I can give a speech about. And Youtility was like the fifth thing, you know, around last Christmas.

It was sort of like, the last one, and now it’s first or second because that whole idea of “let’s literally lean into brands helping” has really become a real imperative, I would say, for brand building this year. And I think at least for the short term to come.

Jon-Mikel Bailey: Yeah, it’s interesting. You mentioned Gen Z because I almost feel like, I don’t know if you read Sarah Weise’s book, Instabrain, but she talks all about marketing to Gen Z. and I feel like it’s almost like COVID has sort of brought everybody up to speed with where Gen Z already was.

Jay Baer: I think it’s, it’s not even up to speed. And it gets Gen Z and their view of the world, which is, “I support brands who believe the things that I believe.” You don’t need to sell me because I’ll sell myself if I just like the brand. I think other generations have started to embrace that same mindset, and have somebody to make buying decisions accordingly.

One of the craziest stats, since the pandemic, that I’ve been using a lot is that 54% of consumers have bought something from a company, they’ve never bought anything from before, since the pandemic. Which is wild that we’re seeing huge shifts in market share, in almost every category, unprecedented shifts in market share, because what people are saying, and not just young consumers, about consumers of all age groups, is like, you know, what, the whole world has changed, “why am I still buying from this, if there’s a different option over here that I like better?”

This sort of loyalty is out the window, and it’s sort of a fresh start. It’s like all the customer relationships. They’ve been like put in a snowglobe and shaken up. So the first thing, the first thing you need to do right now actually, as a business, is to rewire those customer relationships. It’s to claw back the customers you spent the last 10 years earning.

Jon-Mikel Bailey: Yeah, it’s the pandemic reset you spoke of earlier. So yeah, it’s something to think about.

Jay’s Glasses and Social Media Polls


Jon-Mikel Bailey: So I have to ask about your post on Facebook about glasses. You posted a video of you trying on glasses and asked people to vote for their favorites. And then down in the comments, after quite a bit of voting had occurred? 200 votes? Yeah. 200 votes. I love this line. This is what you wrote. “Does anyone notice there is (in caps) absolutely no pattern to these votes?” So my question is, and I’m dying to hear your answer, is there a lesson in here for marketers”

Jay Baer: Let me add some backstory here. I’m a Warby Parker guy, been all the way since 2012 when they were a brand new organization and I got the home try-on. So you get five pairs of glasses sent to you and you can kind of see how they look. And so I did a video put it on Facebook of all the different glasses of “what do you think?”

And just sort of reading the comments quickly, every single frame, one through five, had legitimate support from people I actually know with like interests. And I was like, “well, what am I supposed to do with this?”

Now when I actually did the analysis – I was like, “you know what? Out of principle, I should actually do it” – so I actually spent like an hour and broke it all down and there actually was a pattern, but it required me to actually hand log all the votes. And I did end up purchasing glasses that were I think the number two vote-getter if I recall correctly.

But I think what if I did a similar poll like three years ago? This seems like an anachronism now. Because it’s about travel. It was definitely BC (before COVID). And it was the idea, I said, “Hey, in the comments, tell me what is your favorite airline? And your least favorite airline?” And every single airline was at least 10 people’s favorite and at least 10 people’s least favorite.

It’s just who’s disappointed you most, most recently. It was kind of that was kind of the driver of your airline preferences, which makes a lot of sense. It will, as somebody who does a lot of market research in our organization, and we help brands with research and strategy, my lesson derived from the glasses experiment is you can still succeed without a majority, even a plurality.

And I think it’s actually an interesting analog for how brands are shifting. So I am old enough to remember a time when what most brands, in fact, I would say, almost all brands would say is “let’s boil it down the middle, we want to make sure that we don’t do anything that customers would find off-putting or offensive because that will then shrink our addressable market.” Hmm.

That was the playbook for a really long time, decades. Now, however, partially because of how Gen Z sees the world, and before then millennials that, “hey, I want to align with a brand that aligns with my values,” you’re seeing lots and lots and lots of brands, large and small, put a flag in the ground metaphorically and say “we are a brand that stands for x.”

The most common example would be the Nike / Colin Kaepernick embrace, right now that cost them a bunch of customers. But if you look at their financials, since then it gained them a lot more. And that would have been anathema to a brand 10 years ago. And now almost all brands are being forced to make a choice about their values.

And you’re not going to please everybody. It’s sort of like, I used to do a lot of work in web design and usability back in the day, but I used to always tell clients “if everything on this website is important, by definition, nothing is important, right? If every button is the same size, they’re not all important. That can’t be possible.

Attention to everything you’re calling into nothing. So I take the same lesson from my glasses, which is that I think the number one vote-getter got I think it was 30% – 25% of the total, something like that. So, seven out of 10 people didn’t pick that one. But that’s okay. That’s enough people who like that one. You can have a great brand with two out of 10 people saying “those are my guys.” That’s kind of the analogy I pulled out of it.

Jon-Mikel Bailey: I know I love that. That’s great. And it’s definitely food for thought for, for our audience here.

Jay Baer: As well as we think about podcasts like this, right? One of the things that I tell people because we produce a lot of shows at Convince and Convert for clients, as I say, “look, the only way you’re going to be able to succeed as a blogger, a podcaster, a video series on YouTube, Twitch, it doesn’t matter, any sort of episodic content creation, the only way you can succeed is if you are somebody’s favorite version of that in the world.

The only reason this show exists is, because for some of you, Jon-Mikel’s is your favorite show in the world. That’s what it requires to build and sustain and grow an audience. The problem is, most brands and most podcast hosts and most YouTube series, you know, creators want to say, “Well, I don’t want to have a sharp enough premise. I don’t want to have a tight enough format to be somebody’s favorite. I want to be broader so I can reach more people.”

And then you’re like, “Yeah, everybody thinks it’s good. But nobody’s pumped.” And the one thing that’s true right now is that we’re taking the world and shaving off little slices of roast beef. And you got to figure out what your little slices are. Because this idea that you’re going to sell whatever it is, knowledge, sweaters, candy, to a whole beef ain’t gonna happen anymore. That’s not the way the world works.

Jon-Mikel Bailey: That’s a perfect place to leave it. And I think sage advice.

Jay Baer: I’m glad because that’s a really tortured analogy about roast beef I’ve never used before and I feel like it was a little bit of a high wire act. So thanks. Thanks. Edit that out.

Jon-Mikel Bailey: I feel I feel a graphic coming on now.

Jay Baer: The roast beef infographic is gonna be here just gonna be somebody’s favorite infographic ever. Beef Council. Perfect.

Jon-Mikel Bailey: Well, Jay, I really appreciate you taking the time to do this. This has been a blast and you know, great advice. There will be links to your books in the transcript as I said, please, everyone go and read his books! They are great!

Jay Baer: Audiobooks read by me too, if you’re interested.

Jon-Mikel Bailey: There are and done very well. I’ve listened to Hug Your Haters on audio, but it was very nice. It was like you’re in the car there with me.

Jay Baer: Like we can do that too.

Jon-Mikel Bailey: Exactly. So thank you so much. Bye, everyone. Stay safe.

Jay Baer: See ya.

Jon-Mikel Bailey Avatar