The Age of Non-Conformity for Business and Marketing Success

by Marcus Sheridan

Sheridan at Tweetstock

Speaking at Tweetstock 2012 (photo by Paul Smith of Photohouse Studio)

I had a simple yet profound experience last week that reminded me of a very important lesson—one that not only applies to business, but certainly applies to everything we do in life. Here goes…

Tweetstock 2012

A few months ago, I was invited to speak at a social media event in Brantford Ontario called “Tweetstock”. For those of you unaware of the event, or the town for that matter, Tweetstock in many ways is rapidly becoming the SXSW event of Canada. It’s a unique (and rather non-conformist ;-) ) mix of fresh voices, passionate presenters, and a social scene that is unlike any I’ve witnessed—all done in a “small town” where one would not expect hundreds of folks from around the country to merge together with the purpose of discussing the present and future of social media.

What was so interesting about this event for me was the fact that it was taking place in a 300-person capacity movie theater, with stadium style seating, and one monster of a screen in the background. Although I’ve spoken at hundreds of venues over my lifetime, this was the first time I’d ever been in a setting like this, and I knew it would offer its own set of opportunities as well as challenges.

When I walked into the theater for the first time, I immediately became concerned with something I knew could be a problem—at least for me and my speaking style—and that was the fact that the theater was set up in “tiered” lay-out. In other words, in front of the speaker, there were two rows of seats on the “lower level”. Above those two rows of seats, going further back towards the audience, was the start of the second level, with a small walkway in front and then the rest of the stadium-style layout.

A Lonely Island

As people filled the arena, my initial fears quickly became a reality—no one sat in the front two rows, and everyone was in the upper level. In other words, the speaker was pretty much on his or her own island—at least 20’ from an actual person and certainly not in the position to have much face-to-face Q and A with the audience, something that is always an integral part of any speaking engagement I do.

Seeing this, I turned to the event’s founder Trevor Cherewka of Smashing Pixels, and asked him a simple question: “Am I confined to that area down there, or can I move?”, to which Trevor gave me the green light to roam around as I wished.

Within minutes of the theater filling up, I found myself standing at the bottom, spotlights glaring in my eyes, and the inability to even see the 300 people that were staring down at me.

In business, we can either stick to being in the wrong place and doing the wrong thing...or we can get up and move.

Now this would not be a bad thing for a presenter with a less “interactive” style, but in my case, when I can’t get eye to eye with my audience, I feel like a fish out of water. Plus, I know my best strength when speaking is that ability to quickly mesh with the audience and eliminate any “walls” between us, which then allows the natural questions (from me) and answers (from them) to set the tone for the event.

Time for Change

60 seconds into speaking, already seeing that I was not going to achieve the desired results, I decided to ditch the normal “speaker spot” and moved to the base of the second level. Now, with no barriers between me and the audience, I could see everyone’s faces. I could see their smiles. I could observe how they laughed. I could shake their hands and even give a few high-fives here and there.

40 minutes later, I ended my presentation to one of the loudest applause I’ve ever been a part of. Even better, during that small time period, over 1000 tweets went out discussing the message that had just been shared. (Yes, Canadians love their Twitter like rednecks love their guns. ;-) )

Needless to say, it was a tremendous experience, one I won’t soon forget.

But as I look back on the success of the event and the wonderful people I was fortunate enough to connect with, my mind kept coming back to one word—conformity.

Death by Conformity

What is conformity? Conformity, at least in the business sense, is when we do things simply because we think that’s what we’re “supposed” to do. And from a marketing perspective, here are a few more examples:

  • Conformity is when we decide not to have a blog because “no one else in our industry has one.”
  • Conformity is when we see there are better ways to do certain things in our field yet we say and do nothing about it.
  • Conformity is when an employee knows their company should be blogging or embracing social media but keeps his or her mouth shut.
  • Conformity is opening up a social media account “because our competitor has one.”
  • Conformity is writing boring blog articles that really express no guts or opinions at all.

Looking back, every bit of success I’ve had over the last 3 years has basically come down to non-conformity. Just look at this timeline for my swimming pool company:

2007: I write and sell the first eBook in the swimming pool industry, one that openly compares and discusses fiberglass pool manufactures—something that caused serious uproar and put myself and our company on the map.

2009: Our company starts the first major blog in the swimming pool industry and decides to answer every single question we’ve ever been asked by a client on our website, including subjects on fiberglass pool cost and fiberglass pool problems—two subjects that had both never been addressed on another website.

2010: Looking to make our blog even better, we embrace the power of video, and show every bit of our company’s “secret sauce” to the public in video form, a move that would garner us over 1,000,000 YouTube views in just over 2 years and many, many sales along with it.

2012: After having experimented with blogging and video for almost 3 years, we invest in high-end video equipment and start producing our own industry show—River Pools TV—the first of its kind.

I could list many more examples of non-conformity here, especially a few that are in the works, but I’m sure you get my point.

The Age of Non-Conformity

Here is the deal my friends:

In this digital age of social media, tough economies, and strict competition, we all need to think outside the box if we’re going to be more effective. We need to be open and willing to look at our industry, see it for what it is, and then make quick changes as necessary. We also need to be willing to call out that which is wrong, and then do something about it.

Was my act of moving to the second level of that Tweetstock stage a grand example of what I’m talking about here? No, not at all, but the principle remains the same, big or small.

It’s a time of action my friends. It’s a time of non-conformity. You can do things the way you’re told and the way they’ve always been done, or you can blaze your own trail and lay your own foundation.

It’s your choice, but when it comes to success, I can promise you it will make all the difference.

Your Turn

Although I’d love to hear any thoughts you have on today’s post, I have one question I’m most curious to find out about from each of you:

What is an example of a non-conformist act you’ve done personally or in business that has brought you great success and results?

As always, I’d love to hear your comments and have a wonderful week my friends!

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