Business Growth with Tiffani Bova and Reputation And Personal Branding with Rory Vaden

Growth is both getting much harder and easier. Tiffani Bova knows this fact all too well as she talks all about business growth and how it has changed ever since. As the Global Customer Growth and Innovation Evangelist at Salesforce, she lets us in on what she has learned about the disruption we constantly face in our daily lives that also affects our businesses. Tiffani also shares her book, Growth IQ: Get Smarter About the Choices that Will Make or Break Your Business, talking about Kylie Jenner and Starbucks and gives us some tips to making smarter choices.


Fame and influence do not simply come by magically. No one is simply tapped and become a success. Reputation expert and New York Times bestselling author of Take the Stairs Rory Vaden believes that there is a formula and process for how people become celebrities and build businesses. He talks about how reputation builds into creating a lasting personal brand by following the reputation formula. Discover this formula as Rory shares all of this and more.

TTL 306 | Business Growth


I’m so glad you joined us because we have Tiffani Bova and Rory Vaden. Tiffany is the Global Customer Growth and Innovation Evangelist at Salesforce. She’s also a Wall Street Journal bestselling author of Growth IQ. Rory is the New York Times bestselling author of Take the Stairs and he’s a world-renowned keynote speaker. He’s got some great talks out there. I’m really interested to hear about his new company.

Listen to the podcast here

Business Growth with Tiffani Bova

TTL 306 | Business Growth
Growth IQ: Get Smarter About the Choices that Will Make or Break Your Business

I am here with Tiffani Bova who is the Global Customer Growth and Innovation Evangelist at Salesforce. She was previously a VP, Distinguished Analyst and Research Fellow with Gartner. She has interviewed guests everywhere from Dan Pink to Arianna Huffington. She has a book that’s really exciting to me. It’s called Growth IQ. I’m anxious to talk to you about that. Welcome to the show, Tiffani.

Thank you so much for having me.

You’re welcome. This is fun because I’ve got to talk to a lot of really interesting people. You are at the top of the list here because I received your book and I’m excited about it. It was called Growth IQ. I’m looking at it in my hand and you’ve got Seth Godin, Arianna, Daniel Pink and the names of the people who have written great things, Whitney Johnson, who has been on my show. You’ve had some impressive people say wonderful things about it. What is it like to get such a great response? Did you know this book was going to be so successful?

That’s the big question. Writing the book was cathartic, intimidating, stressful, wonderful, all wrapped into one. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced anything like that before. When you get to a point where you decide it’s ready to start to share beyond the circle of people who are really involved in it, like your publisher and your editor, minus them because they’re so in the forest with you that they’re not as objective. They know the subtleties of everything. Giving it to the first ring of people to go, “I’m going to look for some endorsements.” The three that you had mentioned, Seth Godin, Dan Pink and Whitney Johnson, all of them had spent time with me when I was thinking about writing the book, about the process and what to do and how to approach it.

TTL 306 | Business Growth
In Search of Excellence: Lessons from America’s Best-Run Companies

Dan gave me fantastic feedback. I have known Seth since about 2000, so he’s watched this journey with me for a long time. Whitney, I’ve always enjoyed her work and followed. I figured if I could get any advice, why not get it from them? I did. Seth was the first one that I reached out to. Everyone said, “I have no problem endorsing the book if it’s good.” This is the fastest litmus test you can get. I sent the book to Seth and he was the first one to read it outside of the inner ring. He was just so positive about it that it gave me the confidence to then share it with Dan and Whitney. Then Tom Peters wrote In Search of Excellence, which was the very first business book I read in 1986. It was a full circle moment for me right from the first business book I ever read at sixteen. My stepfather gave it to me to having him endorsed my book. It was surreal for me to get that support.

I had a similar experience when Tom Hopkins was reading my book because he was such a big name in my youth. When you write a book and you have these amazing people give you feedback, you have to pinch yourself a little bit because you go, “This is really nice and you deserve this.” I was looking at what you’ve written and you’ve put a lot of work into this book. This is a serious effort. I imagine it took you quite a while to do a lot of this research. I found some of your case studies interesting. It’s funny that you bring up Kylie Jenner because I had a guest who brought her up. She’s doing so well with her cosmetics business and I know a lot of people aren’t thrilled with Kardashians or whatever they have up and down feelings about all that. You have to acknowledge the success some of them have had in what they’ve done. I thought it was interesting. You have case studies as far as what you’ve learned from Netflix, Amazon, Red Bull, Marvel, the list goes on and on. Is there one that you like to talk about more than any of the other that stood out to you in this book?

What was interesting was how I came up with the concept. I read almost 75 business books over the course of about eighteen months to two years and I was looking for what was missing. I don’t mean what no one had thought of, but what was missing to me was stringing the pearls together of a lot of thinking that had happened from the ‘50s. The early management thinking from the ‘50s all the way through to 2015 when I really started to embark on this journey. I found that it hadn’t been modernized. All I was trying to do is modernize for people with brands that they could recognize. For me, each of the case studies were fun for their own reasons.

People tend to bring up the Kylie Jenner story for a couple reasons. One, they bring it up because they think it’s very funny that I would put Kylie Jenner and John Deere in the same chapter. There’s a comparison. I didn’t really compare them. I did not compare the two, but they were in the same chapter. I also say in the first couple of sentences of her chapter, regardless of what you may think of the family, you just have to step back for a second and look at what she’s been able to accomplish. What I liked about Kylie’s story specifically is it highlights modernizing business. She’s built almost a billion-dollar business because it’s private, but let’s call it $700 million, $750 million. It’s probably less than four years’ time with less than twenty employees.

What that tells you is the fact that business has changed so much. I don’t have to build my own R&D lab, which she partnered to do it. Distribution, she partnered to do it. She didn’t have this platform of not only the show, but the social media. She’s got 100 million followers across all the platforms. It’s the combination of all of those things and yes, her family name, but there are many celebrities who have tried and failed in business, so it’s not just the name. If you don’t have something behind it, it doesn’t guarantee you success. There are a lot of lessons to be learned there for lots of unicorns that we see coming up, especially in the tech space where they’re starting to push the envelope of using technology in such unique ways and giving people products and services that they maybe didn’t know that they need or making better what they already have very rapidly. That’s the greatest lesson in her story versus her as an individual.

It is interesting to see some of the new success stories of how fast some of this growth seems to occur. Then again, with somebody like her, she had this platform they’ve built through the years with their shows, the different things, and the name. Is it harder to get the same growth that we used to get? Is it coming easier for us? What have you seen on growth changing?

One of the things I’d say is that growth is just getting harder. It’s getting harder for a couple reasons. One because in my view of what’s going on in the landscape across all kinds of industries, it’s these fast disruptors that are showing up and that’s why it’s getting a little harder. You’ve got this fast competition, a fastest disruption happening at the edges, maybe not from the normal places. Like Kylie Jenner competing with whoever you may say from a makeup counter. It took other brands a decade to get to a billion and she’s going to way out beat that whether it’s Chanel or Mac or whatever it might be from a makeup perspective. You have it coming from the edges. That’s one thing. The second is that we as consumers and the B2C, B2B conversation, business-to-customer or business-to-business, we as consumers have completely changed the way we shop and buy.

[bctt tweet=”If you don’t have something behind your business, it doesn’t guarantee you success.” via=”no”]

Those two things, the customer and the disruption, are changing everything. I’d say more than anything, the most disruptive thing in the market is actually us as consumers because of our demand for real-time pricing, deliver it in an hour, return it with no fee, discount of quality, and a good customer experience. Our expectation is so high that the wind can blow a different way very quickly. Even somebody like Jeff Bezos says often that he believes at some point, Amazon will go bankrupt. Put that in perspective. If you work from that position of looks, we have to be afraid that our customers will change their minds on us because someone’s going to offer something better. We always need to be focused. In the book, it’s my ending chapter because he’s been so focused on that day one mentality. Now, he’s very much like, “We may not always get it right, but if we don’t keep pushing the envelope, we could find ourselves being completely disrupted because the average tenure on the Fortune 500 list is much shorter than it was in the ‘50s.” That’s the attitude you have to have. You can’t just rest on your success. That’s why growth is getting much harder, but it’s also getting easier.

In my research on curiosity, I was looking at what would make people and companies more innovative. You touch on a lot of the things that I researched. That’s why I found this so fascinating because there’s so much that we have to think about now that we didn’t have to think about in the past in terms of artificial intelligence and other things, making it a little bit different. You say it’s challenging to choose your growth path. Even the subtitle of your book is Get Smarter About the Choices That Will Make or Break Your Business. What are these choices that are so hard? What is this path?

What’s interesting is what it comes down to, the choices that you make as a leader or a team member or an individual contributor of founder, whatever it may be. The choices you make have long-term consequences and short-term consequences. If you enter each decision that you have to make with the same mindset that you had historically, you may find yourself right in the same position. I’m not making that concept up. You keep doing the same thing and expecting different results. The most difficult thing is when you are faced with making choices that you go with a very open mind. Where I work at Salesforce, our CEO, Marc Benioff, says it’s really about having a beginner’s mindset that you want to try to enter with a fresh perspective but not just completely leave behind all of your lessons learned. Otherwise, you are going to keep making the same mistakes. Bring with you all your experiences, but then find space in that decision tree that you’re trying to figure out where to go for some new thinking whether it’s thinking from the outside, asking for feedback from external of the company, from other areas of the company.

More importantly, your customers, but you want to not then take all of those points of feedback and then do what you were going to do anyway. That doesn’t make any sense. When you’re faced with making a choice, the challenge now is to do so with all your experience as well as an open mind to try something that feels uncomfortable. If you just constantly feel comfortable with your decisions and you’re not second-guessing and worrying it might not work, then you’re sure it’s going to work because of past experience. Don’t lean too far out, especially if you’re a small business, because it can be very detrimental to you but you want to be a little uncomfortable with each decision that you make because that’s where learning really happens.

You make some interesting points in the book about some of the case studies of who’s tried to grow too fast. It’s challenging to know how fast you grow. You bring up Starbucks. I’ve taught so many courses where we always use Starbucks as an example of something. It seems like it’s either Starbucks or Whole Foods. You get the same companies they bring up over and over again, but Starbucks has had its own issues. What did you find interesting about studying them?

TTL 306 | Business Growth
Business Growth: Win with humility and lose with your head held high.


I did something that I thought people would be surprised. The very first chapter in the book, it’s about customer experience. The whole concept behind Growth IQ was there are ten paths to growth. None should be that surprising except maybe the last path. The first one was customer experience being used as this new competitive battleground that brands are competing on the experience that they give to customers. In my opinion, customers, as a consumer, we remember the experience with a brand much longer than we remember the price we paid. With that said, when I was looking in each chapter, it was two case studies that were a successful use of customer experience as a way to grow the business, and the one cautionary tale. I actually used Starbucks as the cautionary tale and people were very surprised because Starbucks, like Nordstrom’s and Four Seasons gets held up as this example where Southwest Airlines is an example of exemplary customer experience.

I used Starbucks as the cautionary tale because it was what we were just talking about. They had done customer experience so well over the years and it had helped them grow and then they overextended themselves. The implication of those decisions and choices that they made was that the customer experience was impacted negatively. The lines got longer, the quality of the product was not as good. All of a sudden, the stores didn’t look like coffee stores anymore, coffee shops. It was all over the map. They had all kinds of things they were selling. The smell of the stores was no longer coffee. It was food. They lost their way around experience. It was when Schultz had left as CEO and he ended up coming back. When he came back, he wanted to say, “Where did we get so lost?”

The first thing he said was, “We grew too fast and it actually had an impact on experience.” He said, “I had to find a way to get back. We went out and surveyed,” as I was saying, go out and ask people what is it we should be doing. They realized that it was an experience problem. They shut down all the stores, retrained all the baristas, eliminated things off the menu, and got back to their roots, which was about delivering this amazing experience to the US market around coffee which had not been previously done. Why I picked that story was just because you have been successful in the past doing something really well, developing a product, having a good experience, having a great hotel or whatever it might be, it doesn’t mean it will always maintain itself because it’s about the people working there. It showed even with a brand like Starbucks, even the size of Starbucks, even with a culture like Starbucks, you still can lose your way. People appreciated the fact that to show a brand like that that lost its way and got back on track that is possible to do and that it’s also possible to find yourself in that situation.

It goes back to Amazon again because I had somebody talk about Amazon on the show about how they initially started with just books. You’re getting into Whole Foods, you’re getting in all these different areas. How do you know if you’re losing your way or if you’re just growing?

That’s a great question because you said, “What is this about growth?” There are a couple of concepts that I introduced in the book but more importantly, everyone is aware of that. If you’re paying attention, you’ll fall into a couple of categories as a business. We’re growing and we’re growing really well. For me, that’s the time to make investments and trying new things because you’re working from a place of strength. Don’t just say, “We’re growing. Why change anything?” It’s like, “We’re growing. Let’s change something,” because you’re always want to anticipate that you may stop growing in whatever it is you’re selling today, one, two, three years from now. If you start developing something new now, when that one starts to decline, the other one, hopefully is taking off. That’s the ideal situation.

[bctt tweet=”Growth is getting harder and easier at the same time.” via=”no”]

You’re a company that is starting to see a softness in growth. Last year you grew at 10%. This year you’re growing at 6%. Naturally you’re bigger, so the number gets bigger if you’ve been growing, so there’s some of that. You may say, “I’m starting to see a softness,” and that’s a signal for you. It’s like a canary in the coal mine. “Maybe something’s going on. Let’s dig in to what’s happening now when we start to see the softness.” The third one is you’re just not growing at all. Your revenue numbers are keeping the lights on but there’s no growth. The fourth kind of company and the worst place to be really is you’re in a full-blown stall where you’re not growing at all. It’s been two to four-quarters of no growth. All of a sudden, you’re working from defense.

The first one was, “You’re working from offense. We’re growing, let’s invest.” At the other end of the spectrum is, “We’re not growing. We have to do something in defense mode.” What you end up having to do is you have to cut costs. Sometimes you have to let go of employees. How do you do all those investments when you’re pulling back on spend? It becomes this vicious cycle. That’s why those two in between of, “We’re starting to see a little bit of softness. Let’s figure out what it is,” to “We are in a growth stall, but we still got the ability to make some investments,” are the two that you have to pay attention to. For me, it’s about keeping an eye on the data, the customer set, customer sentiment, net promoter scores, churn rates, growth rates, product adoption, usage, whatever your metrics are. Then when you start to see them change, you don’t just blow it off as, “It’s because the economy is soft or something’s happening,” or one or two specific things because it’s usually not that. It’s a combination of a lot of things. Things that are happening internally as well as things that are happening externally.

You have a lot of great background. What you’re talking about here ties into so much that you’ve done. I’m interested in how you got to this point because you’re a top Twitter influencer in customer experience and many other areas. The job you have at Salesforce and the companies you’ve helped and the people you’ve interviewed, what led to you getting to this point? I’m always fascinated by how some people are more curious and more driven than other people and you’re a very curious person. You’ve read that many books in that short of time. I got to give you credit. That would have been rough. Is it a culture that you’ve learned through other organizations? Is this something your family has instilled in you? I’m just wondering where you’re getting it.

I’m a firm believer that sports is the greatest way to prepare anybody for life, competitive sports. When I was growing up in competitive sports, there were actually winners and losers. It taught me discipline; to work hard, to work as a team, to play my role, whether I was on the bench or on the court. Listen to coaches and take constructive criticism, win with humility and to lose with my head held high. That has always given me the drive to continue to push myself to try to be better, learn more, and do things that make me feel uncomfortable and get sore in the whole process of it. The curiosity for me has been driven by I’m a visual and listened learner, not a read learner; the standard book education. I didn’t go on and get my MBA after college. It wasn’t my path. It was really about going out and doing it. Seth Godin said this on an interview I had with him where I said, “What would you say to somebody who wanted to get into marketing?” He goes, “Go market. Go market your PTA, go market for your kid’s Girl Scout cookies for sale. Go market at your church. Do flyers. Learn how to market.”

I had always been pretty successful at selling, so I landed in sales and then landed in sales and technology specifically. Then as I grew in my career, I was given the responsibility for marketing. I had to learn marketing from a classic sense, which I did not know because I didn’t learn it in school in that way. Then I had the responsibility of customer service departments. I had to learn and I had to be curious. Sit on the phone on customer service. It’s the greatest way to see what your people do every day. Who would have thought? That’s so basic. From a marketing perspective, it’s like, “What’s working? What’s not working? It doesn’t really work for me.” I didn’t have the classically trained marketing verbiage and knowledge like the four P’s, I just said, “How do we do this?”

[bctt tweet=”You do not keep doing the same thing and expect different results.” via=”no”]

I had people around me that could figure that out. Then from a finance perspective, it was something I knew was a non-strength for me. I never tried to force myself to learn it. I surrounded myself with people who were much better at it than I could ever be. Curiosity has come from going back to what we were saying a little bit ago is being uncomfortable and not just being comfortable. I could have continued to sell my whole career and just been a very successful salesperson. I always hit my quota. I ran very successful sales teams. I could have been an executive sales leader and sailed off into the sunset at some point, or I can say, “Sales is much broader than that. I want to understand marketing. Customer service is the new sales team. How do I plate together?”

Gartner gave me a wonderful opportunity for a decade to go and learn and be curious in other people’s companies where I didn’t actually have the responsibility to do anything. I could observe from the outside, learn, give suggestions, watch if that worked or didn’t work. We could make adjustments. I was vicariously living through them. When they would hit quarterly earnings or I listened to their earnings reports or I read a press release or an article about how something had done really well and I knew I had participated in some of that, that gave me the gas to say, “What you’re doing is working. Keep going and keep trying and learning.” That’s how I’ve approached everything.

Salesforce is such a great place to be. I had Phil Komarny on my show because he had been very interested in my research on curiosity and some of the stuff and we were talking about. I’ve had others I’ve talked to at Salesforce. I get a lot of connections to them just because of being on the board of advisors at DocuSign. I know you guys do a lot with them. Every time I’m around anybody from your company, they’re always super impressive and I could see that this have been very helpful to your background, what you were talking about to writing this book that you wrote called Growth IQ: Get Smarter About the Choices That Will Make or Break Your Business. I appreciate you sending me a copy of the book. I really enjoyed it and the audience would love to know more about how they can find the book and follow you. Can you share anything you’d like to share?

They can find it at their local bookstore, still brick and mortar. Go buy it at the local bookstore or they can find it online at pretty much any place online, whether it’s Amazon or 800-CEO-READ or Barnes and Noble. It’s going to be available in Europe, in the UK and Commonwealth. It hits Asia and then it will hit Latin America, Portugal and Spain. It will be rolling in another country. I’m super excited about that as well.

It is a Wall Street Journal bestseller. Congratulations and thank you again for being on the show.

Thank you, Diane, for having me.

You’re welcome.

Reputation And Personal Branding with Rory Vaden

TTL 306 | Business Growth
Take the Stairs: 7 Steps to Achieving True Success

I am here with Rory Vaden, who is the New York Times bestselling author of Take the Stairs as the world’s leading expert in reputation design. His insights have been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, CNN, Entrepreneur, Inc., Fox News and the list goes on and on. He’s got an amazing TEDx Talk and he is a really interesting guy. I’m so excited to have you here. Welcome, Rory.

Thank you, Dr. Diane. I’m glad to be here.

This is going to be fun. I had a good time. I’m looking over your information. You look like you’re a very interesting guy and I could see why you’ve been named as one of the top 100 leadership speakers in the world by Inc. Magazine. You’re a great speaker.

Thank you. I have been running my mouth for a long time and once I figured out I could get people to pay me to do it, I was like, “This is the career for me for sure.”

I could relate to that and sometimes they might want to pay me to shut up sometimes. I know you have a podcast and you’ve had over a million downloads and maybe that’s probably why we have so much to talk about because you’re a reputation expert. You help speakers and build brands. You and your wife have a company.

We study what we call reputation strategy or reputation design, which is in the field, a personal branding, but what we really believe is that you have to build a reputation before you can ever build a lasting personal brand. Reputation is something that people don’t talk enough about, and people don’t realize that there is a formula and a process for how people become celebrities and how people build businesses and how they become well known. How they launched books and how they build speaking careers and how they do all that stuff. I got into that space when I was seventeen years old. Here’s a name that you might recognize. When I was 22, I was in a contest called The World Championship of Public Speaking. I wanted to be a speaker and I was just a kid and I thought, “Maybe if I won this competition, that would give me the credibility I need to go out and be a speaker.” It’s put on by Toastmasters. I spoke 304 times for free over eighteen months for a chance to make it. I made it to the world championship, which is the top TED speakers out of over 25,000. I lost. The next year, I studied harder, I learned more, I got more coaching and went through courses and that was the year that I went back and made it back to the top ten.

I lost again but I lost higher. I came in second in the world. I was at a conference a little while after that and this guy comes up to me and he says, “You’re Rory Vaden. You are the guy that did the Toastmaster thing, right?” I said, “Yes, I am.” He said, “Do you mind if I sit here next to you?” I said, “No problem.” I did not know who he was. It was Zig Ziglar. He sat right there next to me. I had several mentors, but Zig was one of them that I got to know personally over the next handful of years up until he died. I got into this space. We have studied what creates a reputation, what are really the indicators that lead to trust and credibility and how can people, whether they’re in a corporate career trying to advance their career or there’s someone trying to build their notoriety in their field. How does that happen and why do we trust leaders and people the way we do?

That’s all interesting stuff because I’ve taught so many courses where a lot of my students need to know all of this. They don’t really teach a lot of that in higher ed. They need to. When you’re talking about building a reputation, how long does it take to build a reputation? It’s probably easy to build a bad one quickly but a good one, how long does it take? What does it take to create that trust that comes with a good reputation?

One of the things that people actually don’t realize is that they ask the question. The natural question is how long does it take? It’s not so much about time, it’s more about reach. In fact, we have something at Brand Builders Group called the reputation formula where we say that basically your results times your reach equals your reputation. In the old school sense of the phrase reputation, it takes a lifetime to build a great reputation me of that is still true. You got to play the long game, but that never explained like how is it that you have superstars that are teenagers and now you have social media and it’s like you have these huge brands, you have teenagers getting millions of dollars a year for doing ad campaigns and things because they have so many followers. It wasn’t about the time. It’s about the reach. What most of us do especially if you’re an adult and older person, you’ve always been taught that it’s all about who you are, which is the results and that is a part of it. You have to have great results. Although we break results down into two categories, actual results and perceived results, those are two subcategories.

[bctt tweet=”Be a little uncomfortable with each decision that you make because that’s where learning really happens.” via=”no”]

What it’s about is reach and most people undervalue the importance of reach. Kylie Jenner is a good example right now. Regardless of what you think about Kylie Jenner and the Kardashian, she was announced as the youngest billionaire, $900 million. Whether you like that she is who she is or not, it’s hard to argue with the fact that she’s built this $900 million makeup empire. Her reputation came more from her reach than it did from her results. Because of social media, because of podcasting and because of this new digital world, the tools of reach are immediately available to any of us. Many of them are free, but most of us undervalue it and we say, “I don’t like all that social media stuff. I don’t want to understand that. It seems like a lot. I’m not a tech person.” It’s a massive error in judgment because what you are doing accidentally is you are lowering the potential value of your reputation because reach has a lot to do with it.

What I find is so many people get frustrated by trying to expand the reach. They don’t know where to start. There’s all this social media, there are all these channels. Do they go in Facebook? Do they go where their customers are? Then they hear their customers are everywhere. Then where do they go? What do you tell somebody?

That’s such a good question because it’s overwhelming. There are so many places you could be and it’s like, “How do I keep up with all this?” That is one of the most common mistakes that we see people making. One of the reasons that we started Brand Builders Group is because we realized people needed help and they are looking external for your starting point is the wrong way to do it. That’s what most people do. What you actually want to do is you want to start internally. In fact, one of the most inspiring things that I’ve ever heard on personal branding is something I wish I said, but I wasn’t the one who said it. It was a guy named Larry Winget. He said one time, “The key to branding is to find your uniqueness and exploit it in the service of others.”

Find your uniqueness and exploit it in the service of others. That is the magic. The magic is to access who you were designed to be, to discover what your internal truth is and figure out the problem that only you can solve in the world. It reconciles with these six core questions that we ask people as we take up through the brand DNA helix. The first question is what problem do you solve? We help people boil that down to one word. It’s being absolutely crystal clear on what is the problem that you solve. If you’re not clear about the problem you solve and you can’t articulate it, then people don’t know how to buy from you or when to buy from you. Most of us have never done the work of answering that simple question, what problem do I solve? When people buy things, what they’re usually doing is buying solutions to problems, especially when they’re paying big dollars there.

I’m curious what your word is.

TTL 306 | Business Growth
Business Growth: In order to break through the noise and rise above all of the people, you have to have incredible focus and become the expert on one thing.


When we built our brand originally with Take the Stairs, my first book, it was procrastination. For years I was called a self-disciplined strategist, but where my career as a speaker and an author and when we got our first big book deal, and everything really took off was when we got clear that the problem that I solved was procrastination. It took a while to do that. I knew I wanted to talk about discipline as my message when I was seventeen. Then when I was 22, I had a friend, another mentor who helped me figure out that my message was to do things that you don’t want to do. It wasn’t until a few years after that when I was 27 that we figured out the problem I solve is procrastination. Then we went out and we started doing research studies on it and we started really asking deep questions and going deep in that area of study. I coined a couple of phrases, creative avoidance and priority dilution, which were two new types of procrastination. That’s what got us on the national media. That was the backbone of some of what became the Take the Stairs book.

My wife and I left our former business that we were with and we were starting a new company. It was like, “What are we going to do with our new endeavor?” We had to reinvent. The new problem that we solve is obscurity. Obscurity means to be unknown or untrusted. We help people to become more known, so to speak, and to become more trusted both by helping them create real results and then also helping them expand their reach. Getting their message out to more people, whether that’s books, podcasts, speaking, social media, digital marketing, funnels, all that stuff. The Brand Builders Group does that. We have some really well-known people that we’ve worked with, Louis Howes from School of Greatness, Kevin Harrington from Shark Tank, these are people that we’ve helped. We do all that, but everybody that we work with starts at the same place which is getting clear on what problem do you solve. It’s incredibly hard to answer that question in one word, but until you get that pegged, your brand has dilution because you’re bouncing all over in all of these different pockets, but you’re not focused and you’re not hitting the central theme of what only you can do.

The reason that matters is that in order to break through the noise, in order to be heard, in order to rise above all of the people, the sea of content that is out there, you have to have incredible focus and you become the expert on one thing. That’s how you break through the noise. Louis gets three million downloads a month on his podcast now. It’s huge. You get on Shark Tank or you become a New York Times bestselling author, or you become Tony Robbins. Then you can be broader and talk about more things. Tony Robbins can teach us about money, relationships, business, positive self-talk, motivation, and all these different things because he’s Tony Robbins. People who are starting, some of them go, “I want to be Tony Robbins,” so they start talking about all this different stuff, but that’s not how it works. You have to become pinpoint laser-focused on one problem or you don’t have to. I shouldn’t say like it’s the gospel truth, but the way that it seems to be most duplicatable is to choose one problem, go after it and really solve it. Then that helps you break through the wall.

You mentioned that you had this word of obscurity and before it was procrastination. You’re taking a negative term. If I’m writing about curiosity, should I be incurious? Should I do it the negative? How do I state it?

Let’s talk about Dr. Diane Hamilton a little bit. Let’s say curiosity. This was like me with discipline. God put that message on my heart when I was seventeen, which is weird. I’m going to be the guy that goes out and teaches discipline. What a weird thing to do. Curiosity is that in a way. I like curiosity because curiosity is rare. It’s unique. You don’t hear a lot of people talking about it, but curiosity is not a problem. Curiosity is your solution. To what problem is curiosity the answer?

[bctt tweet=”The key to branding is to find your uniqueness exploited in the service of others.” via=”no”]

That’s what was so interesting because it tied into so many things, but it all tied back down to productivity and making money in the organization. It tied into everything from engagement to innovation and everything else so that that makes it a tough thing to answer.

Most solutions will do that, but it is hard to answer. Usually when you solve one problem, there are others that get sold as a natural byproduct of that, but what we really want to do is find the root cause. What is the root problem that curiosity solves? Curiosity is the answer. Payoff is you’re more productive, you have more engaged employees, you have more profits. Those are the payoffs, but we’re still looking for the problem. What are people not doing when they’re not being curious? It might be that they are close-minded. It might be that they are stagnant, it might be that they are stuck, it might be that they are unadaptable. What we’re doing here is we actually take someone through this and there are a couple of different formats that we work with people, but we create a word cloud of these words like the ones I’m throwing out for you, which would be like, what are the words that are the inverse of curious. If curiosity is the answer, to what question is that the answer? To what problem is it the solution? We create a word cloud but we’re looking for what is the one word right at the center as well.

That was what I researched when I did the assessment that tested the things that hold people back from being curious. I did a lot of that. We came back to four factors which were fear, assumptions, technology, and environment. We were looking at factors which is interesting that you say that because a lot of the things that you’re mentioning are fear-based.

Of those ones that you listed, fear is the one that most quickly spoke to me. It’s probably a specific fear. It’s a fear of change, most likely.

A lot of times. A lot of people have the same issues, but it’s hard to say it’s the same for everybody. That’s a hard question for me to get down to a really specific thing.

TTL 306 | Business Growth
Business Growth: Brand strategy is being clear on what you actually do. Marketing strategy is being clear on the words you use to explain it to people.


Here’s where it is a challenge. I don’t know that that is it and we’re not going to peg it in ten minutes. Usually our phase one process is a two-day experience with people so to try to get there in five minutes is not how it works. When we’re willing to let go of trying to serve everyone and we decide to embrace serving people at the highest level we can in the thing that we are most well-suited for, that’s usually when the big breakthrough start to happen. People become known for that one thing. Companies do too, by the way. Amazon is the ultimate example of this. How did Amazon start? What did they use? What was the only thing they used to sell? Do you remember?

I imagine books.

Books, that was it. All they did was sell books. Amazon was a bookstore and now they literally sell everything. They broke through on that one thing. Once you break through, it’s easier to diversify. Let’s say it was fear of change for somebody and you said, “I’m going to just tackle that problem. I’m going to be the world leading authority on anybody who is fearing change.” You’re niching all the way down and you’re like, “I am the person who reads all the research. I conduct all the studies. I am the one who writes, speaks and talks about in interviews. Every interview I do, I tie it back to how do we address this one problem.” Then the people who are struggling with that problem finds you. The irony here is by focusing down, you end up attracting a whole bunch of people because everybody is dealing with these problems and all of us have many problems on many different levels. You start to attract them. It is very common that a solution will be a solution to many problems. A problem will be a root cause to many other problems.

You want to own a space. I remember talking to Verne Harnish about this, about owning certain words. You fell into certain words that he was in.

He talks about being the growth guy, the word that nobody cares about. He’s a freaking genius.

[bctt tweet=”If you’re not clear about the problem you solve, then people would not know how to buy from you.” via=”no”]

It’s important to focus in so that you are the expert in it. You talk about these questions. Are there any of the other brand DNA helix questions that you think we can touch on quickly that are important for people to focus on?

We can go through all of them, but coming back to this thing about Verne. Verne talks about owning a word and a lot of people do that talk about owning words. The one subtle distinction that I want to make here is instead of trying to own a word like, “I’m going to be the person that’s known for this word.” Even the mentality shift of saying, “I’m going to own a problem, not a word. I am going to dedicate my life just solving this problem for all of humanity.” The whole construct and psyche changes from a marketing standpoint to one of service, which is part of where we really start to access that power.

I could be the apathy expert.

Possibly. You don’t necessarily go out and say, “I am the world’s expert.” I don’t even know that we use the word obscurity. If you go to, I don’t even think we really used the word obscurity because it’s an uncommon word, but that is what it’s all anchored to. We use other words like, “Do you want to be more well-known, well-respected, well-trusted, well-liked? Do you want more people to hear about your message? Do you want to have a bestselling book?” Those are all expressions. Those are all results that are what happens when you solve obscurity. There’s a difference between brand strategy and marketing strategy. Brand strategy is being clear on what you actually do, marketing strategy is what are the words you use to explain it to people. Those are both very different. There’s not a lot of people teaching it. For us, we don’t do brand strategy for companies. We don’t work with companies, we only work with people.

We can work with the CEO of a company, but if Google calls us and says, “Rory, I heard you’re really good at branding. Will you work with us?” The answer is no. We don’t work with companies. We can take Larry, the founder or whoever. We can work with Larry. We’re going to help Larry get his message out and as a result of that, it’s going to grow Google, but we don’t do it for companies because we believe that the future is so personality-driven. We’re connecting with individual humans and we’re trying to access what Larry Winget said, “Find your uniqueness and exploit it in the service of others.” To come back to your question about the other questions, the first question is what problem do you solve? The natural corresponding question to that is what are you passionate about? Our little diagram that we have for this is actually a brand helix.

[bctt tweet=”When people buy things, what they’re usually doing is buying solutions to problems.” via=”no”]

It looks like a strand of DNA.

Just like there are matching chromosomes, we have matching questions. You could solve a million problems. You might be able to teach people how to do excel sheets, but you’re not passionate about it. Then that throws that out as the real uniqueness that your personal brand is designed to teach and spread. The third question is what have you researched? What do you have as formal education? You’ve studied, you’ve read the books, you follow the thinkers in this area. It’s more of like your formal education type of piece. Then the fourth question is what do you have personal results in? That’s more about what have you lived, what have you done with your life?

Theory versus practicality.

Theory versus practice. We know that we’re starting to strike towards the center of somebody’s truth and somebody’s uniqueness when both who they have been in their life, both personally and professionally lines up with what is the message that they want to spend the rest of their life teaching. A lot of times when we work with people, they’ll bring a spouse or their business partner or manager because we’re looking for evidence to help us make sure we’re on the right track, that we’re accessing who they really are because they both study it. They’re curious about it naturally, but they also have that practical experience.

Then the fifth and sixth question, this is where it turns a little bit. The first four questions are more on the artist side. It’s really about uniqueness and who you were designed to be. The fifth and sixth questions are where we reconcile the business components. The fifth question is what are all the things that people could buy from you related to this area of expertise? Then the sixth question is what business do you want to be in? What we’re doing here is now we’re going, “At some point, we need to reconcile the reality with just because you’re led by the spirit, you have to have a practical means of making money if you want to get your brand to reach more people.” Here’s one of the most painful lessons that I ever learned in marketing. The best content is not what wins. It’s the person with the biggest advertising budget that wins.

[bctt tweet=”By focusing down, you end up attracting a whole bunch of people.” via=”no”]

It takes money to make money.

The more sophisticated your systems are on the backend, and the more you’re tracking what your average cost is per acquisition, you know, “For every 200 people that come through this funnel, 10% of them are going to buy at $200.” My average lead cost is this.” Then you can go afford to spend more money on advertising and you get your message in front of more people. It’s a sobering, sad truth. The people who are the biggest brands and get their message out to the most people, it’s not because they have the best message. It’s because they’ve invested the most time, energy, money, and resources into getting their message out to people.

As an example, one of the things that we teach people to do with that sixth question, “What business do you want to be in?” is we help them think through and look for what we call DARES. It’s what we have decided as the ultimate ideal business model. We’re looking for things that are digital, automated, recurring, evergreen, and scalable. The more of those characteristics that your business has, the more likely it is going to be to fuel your passion because of the money-making piece will be taken care of. You’ll be freer to explore the artistic side of what you were designed to be, who you were created to be.

This is a lot of great information. I find this fascinating because this is what I deal with on a daily basis and I’m sure a lot of people are interested in learning more about how they can do some of these things or even talk to you about this. Is it possible you can share with how they can connect with you?

We have a team at Brand Builders Group and what we could do for any of your audience is do a free call with them. We can do a free call and try to walk them through like the brand DNA helix a little bit. Just go to If anyone’s interested, they can request a free call and we’ll connect them with someone on our team. We’ll try to talk to them to learn about them and help them out.

It’s so nice of you to do that. Rory, this has been so much fun. I could talk to you about this because this is everything. This is very helpful for me as well. I hope everybody takes advantage of your offer, which was really kind. I enjoyed having you on the show.

Thank you, Dr. Diane. I love what your brand is all about. Curiosity is a truly powerful force in the world. To just be curious about other people and curious about how things work and curious why things break down. That is such an important quality and a trait. I’m glad that you’re out there advancing that as part of your personal brand, mission and message. The last thing I would leave everybody with is we have built some businesses that are part of building different businesses and one of the things that we realized here is that building a reputation is more valuable than building a business. Businesses get bought and sold. They go out of business, but your reputation follows you everywhere. We are living in a reputation gold rush right now where you have a chance to go and plant your stake in the world and tell the world how you can help them and how you can serve them. Go out and do that. Thank you very much, Diane.

Thank you, Rory. I’ll definitely include this in my classes because a lot of students need to hear that because it’s something that you need to start early. I really appreciate having you on the show. I want to thank both Tiffani and Rory for being my guests. If you want to know more about the book or the assessment that I’ve come up with for curiosity, you can go to I hope you join us for the next episode.

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About Tiffani Bova

TTL 306 | Business Growth

Tiffani Bova is the Global Customer Growth and Innovation Evangelist at Salesforce and was previously VP, Distinguished Analyst and Research Fellow, with Gartner. She has interviewed guests ranging from Dan Pink to Arianna Huffington on her “What’s Next!” podcast and her insights have helped companies—Microsoft, Cisco, IBM, Oracle, SAP, Dell, and Amazon-AWS among them—expand their market share and grow their revenues. Tiffani is also a top Twitter influencer in customer experience, sales, AI, the future of work, cloud, and marketing. She studied at The Wharton School and lives near Los Angeles.



About Rory Vaden

TTL 306 | Business GrowthRory Vaden is the New York Times bestselling author of Take the Stairs. His insights on taking action and overcoming procrastination have been featured in the Wall St. Journal, Forbes, CNN, Entrepreneur, Inc, and several other major media outlets. As a world-renowned speaker, His Tedx talk on “How to Multiply Time” has been viewed nearly 2 million times and he was recently named as one of the top 100 leadership speakers in the world by Inc Magazine.

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