Bestselling author and social media expert Jay Baer has spent 20 years in digital marketing, consulting for more than 700 companies during that period, including 30 of the FORTUNE 500. His first book, The Now Revolution, outlined the “7 Shifts” companies can use to make their businesses run faster, smarter, and more social.
His second book, Youtility: Why Smart Marketing is About Help not Hype, hit #3 on the New York Times bestseller list and went all the way to #1 on Amazon.
Jay’s Convince & Convert blog was named the world’s #1 content marketing blog by the Content Marketing Institute, and is visited by more than 200,000 marketers each month. Jay also hosts and produces the Social Pros podcast, which is downloaded 25,000 times monthly.
A fixture in social media, Jay draws attention to interesting and useful articles, videos, blog posts and events via following on Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin and Google Plus, which number more than 100,000.
Jay Baer Interview
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Jay Baer Books
Jay Baer Transcript
Tim Knox: Hi everyone. Welcome back in to Interviewing Authors. Jay Bear is my guest today. Jay has spent 20 years in digital marketing. He is an expert at what’s called content marketing, something that authors need to learn about. His first book, The New Revolution, was published by Wiley & Sons and his second book, Youtility: Why Smart Marketing Is about Help Not Hype, was on the New York Times bestseller list and was at the top of Amazon for quite a while.
Jay talks about the importance of content marketing for authors. Now we all know you can’t just write a book and throw it out there. You’re going to have to learn to market. That’s one thing Jay is very good at. I think you would do well to listen to this interview. He talks about the importance of social media, Facebook, Twitter, all those wonderful sites that we authors have to deal with.
Sit back, relax and listen to Jay Baer on this edition of Interviewing Authors.
Jay, welcome to the program.
Jay Baer: Thanks so much for having me, Tim, delighted to be here.
Tim Knox: We’re delighted having you here. There’s so much I want to talk to you about today. We talk about the process of writing on this show. We talk about books and that sort of thing but I also want to talk to you about marketing because aside from being a bestselling author, you’ve got quite a business there, some expertise on that side. Before we dive into anything though, if you will just give us a little background on Jay Baer.
Jay Baer: You bet. My name is in fact Jay Baer. I live in Bloomington, Indiana. I am a three time author. I co-wrote a book called The Now Revolution in 2011 all about social media and the impact of speed on business. I’ve got a relatively new book, almost a year now called Youtility: Why Smart Marketing Is about Help Not Hype and that’s all about creating very, very useful marketing for your business.
I’ve got an eBook, Youtility for Accountants, out and some other eBooks on the way – Youtility for Real Estate, Youtility for Restaurants. So we’re doing a whole vertical market play there. In addition to what I do on the writing side I’m a fairly busy speaker as well. I’ll probably do 60 events this year and I’ve got a consulting company called Convince and Convert, which helps relatively large companies typically with their social media and content marketing problems.
Tim Knox: And when do you sleep?
Jay Baer: You know I got a good team.
Tim Knox: Let’s go back a little bit to before you started doing the authoring and the marketing and all that stuff. Did you always have a knack for writing? You’re a very good writer. There are a lot of good marketers that just kind of write down what they say but your style is much more creative. Was writing always easy for you?
Jay Baer: Thank you, that’s nice to hear. Yeah I was a writer long before I was a marketer. I was a writer in high school. I was very much on the journalism path as a young man and did a lot of work with my school newspaper. I was originally a journalism major and then went from journalism to political science and became a political campaign consultant in my early career and then moved from politics to marketing and from marketing to digital marketing and eventually got into writing books. I’ve been writing fairly consistently since I was 12, 13, something like that.
Tim Knox: You started out going to be a journalist. You went into the political consulting thing. I would assume that the ability to write creatively was something handy to have even in that job, was it not?
Jay Baer: Oh absolutely. I think it’s a great skill to have in almost any job, especially now where because there is less emphasis on writing, especially long form writing in schools and a lot of occupations, people who can write stand out even more so than they did historically. It’s a skill that I’m trying to encourage my children to pick up, with varying degrees of success.
Tim Knox: So you’re trying to get them to write creatively. I know how that is. I’ve got a teenager and she’s just a real natural for it and she’s always writing stories. The thing you do, Jay, is you get them to write the stories and you keep them until they’re of dating age and then you bring them out. That worked out very well. You want to see something she wrote when she was eight? Let’s talk about The Now Revolution. That was your first book. How did that book come about and what was it about?
Jay Baer: It’s interesting. The subtitle of that book is Seven Shifts to Make Your Business Faster, Smarter and More Social. We wrote it in 2010 and it came out in 2011. My co-author was Amber Naslund who’s a social media consultant. We published it with Wiley. It did very well especially within our industry, all about the cultural and personnel and operational changes that companies really need to embrace to succeed in an environment that is very much social media dominate in an environment, as we say in that book, where every customer is a reporter. It’s funny because that book did very well amongst our contemporaries, not quite as well from an actual commercial sales standpoint but we made our advance back and still get checks from those guys so I guess you can’t complain about that.
I re-read the book recently and it’s been three years now, four years, something like that and the book is probably more right today than it was then. And so I think that was a circumstance where it’s a good book, really proud of it but it was probably earlier for the market than it should have been. It felt late to us because we were in the business but for the rest of the world who needs to know this information, it was probably early.
Tim Knox: Any thoughts of updating that book and re-releasing it?
Jay Baer: Yeah we’ve talked about it. It’s always a little bit harder when you have a co-author because you have to align lives but we would certainly think about it for sure. I’m with a different publisher now so that also gets a little tricky but yeah we’ve certainly talked about it.
Tim Knox: Sure. When you’re writing a book like that which is really a business device book, you have to approach it a little differently than if you are writing fiction or non-fiction or that sort of thing. Talk about the process there. Do you come up with the message or the theme of a book like that first or do you just come up with an idea and the theme works itself out as you write?
Jay Baer: I’ve done it both ways. In The Now Revolution because I had a co-author, she and I had a shared thesis on, look, there’s a bunch of things that companies aren’t doing right that they need to do right and better because of the fact that business has changed and expectations of customers have changed. So we didn’t necessarily have a thesis; it was a collection of shifts that need to occur. For my most recent book, for Youtility – absolutely.
The premise was very clear from the beginning. It’s a book that is about one thing and in fact you might find this interesting. The book was written after I’d already done several presentations about it. So usually what happens is someone writes a book and they turn that book into a keynote speech, do some speaking around it, et cetera. In that case it started off as an eight minute presentation that I did at a big conference. It did great. Geez a lot of people like this concept. I should expand it into a full length keynote. So I went from an eight minute speech to a sixty minute speech.
That went really well and I gave it four or five, six times to different audiences and everybody loved it. Geez, maybe there’s a book here and it became a book. It went from an eight minute topic to a sixty minute topic to a full length book and I think it creates a very strong narrative in the book because that’s where it comes from. It actually comes from a speech.
Tim Knox: I’ve interviewed people like Larry Winget, Joe Calloway, Mark Sanborn, all really, really popular speakers and they kind of say the same thing. They all have seminal books that they came up with and most of them did come out just a short speech or just really a thought. Youtility, explain to us what the term “youtility” means.
Jay Baer: The premise of youtility is a market team so useful that people would pay for it. It’s marketing that has intrinsic and inherent value, marketing that people actually cherish not just marketing that people tolerate which is what we usually do. It’s the kind of thing that if you said geez, would you actually kick in a couple dollars to receive this?
People would say yeah, I would actually kick in a couple dollars to receive this. That’s the threshold and that kind of marketing is what it requires in some cases now to succeed because there’s so much noise. There’s so much clutter. There’s so much chaos in business today that that kind of marketing breaks through that enormous clutter and wins you customers of loyalty over the long haul.
Tim Knox: How did you come up with the term youtility?
Jay Baer: It literally just snapped into my head. I already had the thesis of being useful kind of sketched out for that original eight minute presentation but I couldn’t figure out what to call it. I was taking a shower and out of nowhere it popped into my head.
Tim Knox: In the shower.
Jay Baer: Yup and so I instantly cut that shower short and grabbed my laptop and looked up the domain name. I looked on Amazon to see if there were any other books and it is a trademark of actually an electric company, a power company that uses it as the place where people can go to check their energy usage so I don’t have the trademark on it but it had never been used in the kind of things that I use it for.
I was like, hm, there’s something there. Interesting, since this is an author’s podcast, I will tell you about this. It was by no means a slam dunk calling the book that. I always wanted to call it that. I felt like it was memorable and sticky and also easy to track conversations down the road. The publisher was vastly less sure about that title and I had a lot of conversations and a lot of struggle to get that to actually be the title of the book.
Tim Knox: As a marketer yourself you know the value of a good title on a book.
Jay Baer: No question. The difference is they didn’t think it was a good title and I did. Their premise was it’s not a real word. I’m like I know; that’s the whole point. Their concern was if you walk into a bookstore and somebody sees that they’re not going to know what the book is about. I’m like well that’s why you have a good subtitle. I also reminded them that in my category the number of units you sell in a bookstore is very, very small.
Tim Knox: Do you find that most of your books or a lot of your books you sell from the platform? You do a lot of speaking.
Jay Baer: A lot of speaking, probably 60 events a year. I sell none from the platform per se. I don’t do back of the room sales and never have. It’s not to say I wouldn’t but I haven’t. I certainly do books as part of a speaking engagement in many cases and then because I’m a digital marketing consultant, that’s what I do, there’s significant sales through Amazon, lots and lots of Amazon sales.
Tim Knox: So the publisher didn’t care for the title because it was a made-up word. The hook of that, the word “youtility” when you’re looking at it, it is a great hook because it makes you want to look and learn more. Talk a little about the importance of the hook.
Jay Baer: Well I think especially when you’re writing a book as this is that really is around a topic that hasn’t been covered very much if at all in the past, it’s pretty critical to have something that people are going to say what does that mean? I want to learn more about that particular topic. The challenge is that especially in the business category what I find is that publishers often want titles to sound like something you would do in a search engine optimization seminar.
They want the title to be tell me exactly what the book is. Why can’t the book be Content Marketing Advice for Businesses? That’s a bad title. It’s not interesting. That’s the title of a blog post, not a book. The trend amongst publishers, at least those that I’m familiar with which is most in the business category, seem to want to title books in a very literal, straightforward, obvious way to alleviate any confusion whatsoever about the topic. I guess I understand on one hand why they want to go that way but I feel like you are artificially constraining interest around the book when you pick a title that is so incredibly linear and literal.
Tim Knox: Do you think there’s a tendency among these publishers to not understand the marketing side of things?
Jay Baer: I don’t know if it would be fair to say educate but certainly I think anybody who has written a book will know that if you want to market your book you’re going to be doing most of that marketing. Publishers have marketing apparatus in their organization but they don’t have a lot of people doing it and they don’t have world class marketing skills, especially on the digital side which is sort of my side of the game. The exact quote from my publisher was, “We’ve had a lot of authors try a lot of things. We’ve never had an author until you try everything.” I said what are your comments on the marketing? That I just go do it, right? That’s fairly typical. If you have a good plan they’re going to say great, execute that plan.
Tim Knox: You mentioned something I think we need to talk about. Most publishers really don’t do a lot of marketing and what I have found through 30 or 40 of these interviews and talking to authors is a lot of the especially first time authors don’t understand that they’re the one that’s going to have to do the marketing. You are not just going to write a book and get a publisher tomorrow and be rich by Friday. You’ve got to actively sell that. Talk a little about the importance of marketing for authors as well as give us a few tips on some things that authors should do out of the gate for the near term and the long haul.
Jay Baer: I would even say back the bus up a little, Tim, and say that at least in my category if you don’t have a platform already, if you haven’t demonstrated that you can attract an audience and therefore presumably sell books you’re not going to have a publisher. You’re not going to get a book deal. When we do proposals in my world you actually emphasize here’s how many blog readers I have and podcast listeners and Twitter followers and email subscribers and all those kinds of things. Without that it doesn’t matter if your book is good because they have to sell books.
I think what authors sometimes don’t understand is that publishers are at least to some degree in the risk mitigation business. Yeah they want to sell books but one of the ways you make money as a publisher is to not have tons of disasters. Consequentially the publishing business and the music business are almost the exact same business. What they’re trying to do is make sure that if they give you an advance or publish your book, some of them will be a homerun but not very many.
They just want to at least cover their nut. The way they can ensure that is, A, to make sure that all the authors already have a platform so they know they can probably sell a few thousand books regardless and, B, let’s title it something very obvious so that there’s no confusion.
Tim Knox: I actually published a book with Wily in ’07 and I remember going into the first meeting with them and the first question they asked me was how big is your list? How big is your platform? I was doing a lot of speaking and internet marketing then so I had a pretty sizable list but, yeah, if I went back to Wiley today they’d go no, that’s okay. I think it’s an important lesson and you make the point well for authors who are looking at writing something in this genre, the success or business advice category, you really have to have an audience before you go to a traditional publisher.
Jay Baer: Absolutely and that’s why you see a lot of people now… I haven’t done this necessarily but a lot of my contemporaries have. What you essentially do is u blog your book. So you create a blog around your topic and you use that blog to create an audience. Essentially when you write the book you’re just taking the greatest hits of your blog, stitching it back together, putting it in a more consistent narrative format and here’s the book.
Tim Knox: With your company you do what’s called content marketing. Give us a definition of what content marketing is.
Jay Baer: So we do content marketing strategy for big companies for the most part. I’ll give you an example of an actual project we just finished the other day. Dole Salads is the company and of course they make salad bags at your local grocer so if you need to get yourself a Mediterranean salad or a Caesar salad or a Garden salad, they’ve got a variety of products in your refrigerator case.
They have a number of different things online to help you figure out what’s the right salad for you, when might you buy salads, etcetera but it’s not a lot of information. What we would do is come in and help them figure out what other information they need to create, how that information should be created, how that information should be promoted or amplified and where it should exist. Should they have videos on YouTube that give people recipes for how to make different kinds of salads?
Or one of the ideas that we came up with was could we come up with classic famous salads in restaurants and then do a blog that shows you how to make those salads at home using Dole salad bags plus other ingredients that you can find at your grocer, etcetera. All of that kind of marketing where you’re essentially using information and interaction as the root of the marketing.
Tim Knox: That makes perfect sense. You mentioned a few minutes ago about authors using their blogs to market. Are you a big believer that authors aside from writing the book, they should have that blog and that social media platform to help them build a brand and build an audience?
Jay Baer: I don’t know that it has to be a blog per se but it has to be something and maybe it’s a podcast or maybe it’s SlideShare or YouTube or Instagram or something else. It has to be something and typically more than one thing for a couple of reasons. One, you want to have a platform that you can use to sell a book.
Two, once you sell the book you want to have a platform that continues to grow so that you can sell the next book. In most cases people who are writing books are also looking to speak or consult or things like that so having some other version of your thought leadership is really, really important.
It’s actually funny you asked that question, Tim, because I’m speaking at the National Speakers Association Conference in San Diego and I’m doing a whole session on that exact topic. How do speakers, which I think about very similar to authors, but how do speakers build their platform with content marketing and social media? What should you do and how can you do it and how can you be useful? What is their youtility, if you will?
Tim Knox: Right and in that space where you are a speaker, writer, blogger, marketer – your platform is like building blocks. You’re not going to just speak. Chances are you’re going to speak but you’re also going to have a book or you’re going to have a blog or this sort of thing. How important is it, especially in the genre you’re in, to have all of those components to build that platform? Can you have an effective platform without one of those blocks or one missing?
Jay Baer: Well you have to have some blocks. You don’t necessarily have to check every box. I think it’s dangerous to do that. I see a lot of authors, many of whom I’ve provided some advice to, who sort of think about those things as a checklist. Facebook, check. Twitter, check. YouTube, check. Instagram, check. Pinterest, check. Blog, check.
The reality is when you think about it that way you don’t end up doing any of it real well. You’re just doing everything okay and you’re spreading yourself out really, really thin. You have to have more than one channel in my estimation and you have to put some effort into the channels that you do pursue to make them good, to make them actually successful. It’s not about breadth. It’s about effectiveness and so sometimes you’re better off doing a couple things great than seven things okay.
Tim Knox: How important is it to have a consistent brand or consistent messages across all of those platform components?
Jay Baer: It depends a little bit on kind of what your endgame is, what business you’re really in. There are a few people out there, there are some who are authors who are in that selling books business. They exist for sure but most people, especially in the business category are writing books as a means to an end.
They’re writing books because they want to speak or they’re writing books because they want to consult or both. Selling books per se isn’t really goal number one. Depending on what business you’re really in, that’s where consistency really matters or matters a little less. So you want to make sure that you are at least thematically consistent so that people will recognize oh this is also Tim on Instagram, and using the same visual assets for example and using the same photographs for example.
I’m not a huge proponent of what we would consider to be sort of granular cross-posting. I have this thing and I’m going to put the same exact thing on Twitter and the exact same thing on Facebook and the exact same thing on Instagram and the exact same thing on Google+. That gets a little bit problematic because what works in each of those venues is different.
You might have the same kernel of a thought or kernel of an idea or here’s a quote that I want to quote but you’ve got to execute it differently in each of those places.
Tim Knox: It’s important for authors to learn how to do that and to do it right.
Jay Baer: Oh yeah. There’s two great books I would recommend to all authors, in addition to my book. There’s a book from Gary Vaynerchuk called Jab Jab Jab Right Hook that did very, very well on the New York Times bestseller and there’s a second book from my friend Jessica Gioglio, who is the social media manager for Dunkin’ Donuts and also a weekly contributor to my blog, and it’s called The Power of Visual Storytelling.
Both of those books will give you very detailed examples of what works and what doesn’t work for each social channel. So if you want to know what really works on Pinterest versus Instagram, either of those books can really set you straight – very, very useful.
Tim Knox: Do you find that Pinterest is really growing like a monster as far as marketing goes?
Jay Baer: Yes, although it depends on what your category is. There’s certainly things that work better on Pinterest. It’s a huge ecommerce platform. The amount of revenue that Pinterest is responsible for now is in the billions of dollars. It’s incredible. For authors in the business category it can be a little tricky because most people don’t go to Pinterest for business advice but if your topic is something a little more consumer-facing, whether it’s personal improvement or leadership or gardening or whatever, Pinterest can be hugely applicable. I don’t do too much of it myself. That’s one area I don’t spend a lot of time in.
Tim Knox: I don’t either but every now and then I’ll get an email, so and so is following you on Pinterest and I’m like why? What’s over there? I’m not quite sure. Before I let you out of here I want to talk a couple of things. Your latest book you are doing as an eBook rather than a published book. Talk a little about that.
Jay Baer: So I launched one earlier this year called Youtility for Accountants and I’m writing another one right now called Youtility for Real Estate – worked with Penguin Portfolio on both of those and a whole series that I’m cooking up. It’s not a self-published book. It’s actually a major publisher eBook. It’s $2.99 on Kindle or Nook. It’s about 50 pages and it is the core Youtility principle, the useful marketing principle but with all the examples for the most part around a particular vertical. All the examples in the first book are around the accounting industry and all the examples in the second book will be around the real estate industry. The idea is to make a very hyper relevant small, easy to read eBook for each industry that then encourages them to pick up the full-sized hardcover.
Tim Knox: It’s brilliant. One more thing, let’s talk about the Social Pros Podcast, one of my favorite podcasts. Tell us about that.
Jay Baer: Thanks, I’ve been doing this show for about two and a half years and each week we interview somebody who is the social media manager or content marketing manager or digital marketing manager typically for a major brand. We’ve had a real who’s who of marketers on the show and it’s a show for people who kind of do social media for a living and we kind of talk about what really goes on there. It’s been really effective and the nice thing about that show for my business as a consultant is it essentially lets me interview my future clients, which is a nice opportunity.
Tim Knox: That is a great way to build your client list.
Jay Baer: Yeah it works out pretty well. One other thing I want to tell you before we go – I have a presentation on SlideShare and it is called 25 Secrets: Ways that I Wrote and Marketed a New York Times Bestseller. It’s literally everything I know and everything I did when I created and sold and marketed the Youtility book last year. It’s very detailed, lots and lots of in the weeds granular tips and advice there. Listeners may want to check that out. It’s on SlideShare. If you go to my SlideShare account, which is SlideShare.net/JayBaer you can find it right there.
Tim Knox: Excellent, I’ll put a link up and I’ll go download it myself. Jay Baer, the author of The Now Revolution, Youtility and I guess Youtility for everything are the books to come. Is that right?
Jay Baer: You got it. Maybe not everything. There’s probably some categories we won’t touch. Youtility for the prison system we probably won’t get into that. I think it’s got legs. Of course people want me to write another book and of course I will at some point. I keep thinking I don’t necessarily want to write another cow when I can keep milking this cow.
Tim Knox: Exactly. Where can folks find more information about you?
Jay Baer: Lots of different places but probably the easiest is just to go to JayBaer.com.
Tim Knox: Very good. Jay Baer, we appreciate this. Great information for authors who now hopefully understand that writing is part of it but marketing is a huge piece. We appreciate you being on the show. Let’s do this again soon.
Jay Baer: I’d love to do it. Thanks so much.