Podcast Guesting Pro founder Graham Brown joins podcast host Rob Oliver on "Learning from Smart People" podcast to discuss brand building. The following is a transcript of their conversation. For more tips on podcast guesting success, go to our podcast guesting resources.
Hey everybody and welcome to Learning from Smart People. I am your host, Rob Oliver. And I will thank you for being with me today. I will apologize, I am a little bit raspy. I have a man cold which basically means I have a slight cold and I'm pretty sure I'm going to die from it but that being said, you are going to learn today from a smart person. His name is Graham Brown. He is a podcast authority, author and entrepreneur. He is the founder of an award-winning podcast agency. Listen, Graham, welcome to the podcast, man.
Graham Brown 00:59
Rob. It's great to be here with a fellow podcaster.
Rob Oliver 01:02
Absolutely. Alright, so I need your help in proper pronunciation of your company name,
Graham Brown 01:08 It’s Pikkal
Rob Oliver 01:11
Pikkal. Alright, That’s fine.
Graham Brown 01:11
Like Google or Apple or in good company.
Rob Oliver 01:15
Wonderful, I was looking at it and I thought, I asked how to pronounce your name. I asked all of these wonderful things. And so it's P I K K A L, and correct. We'll go with Pikkal. So let's start here. Tell me a little bit about your backstory. How did you get that? How did a guy from England end up in Singapore doing podcasting?
Graham Brown 01:41
Yeah. Well, thanks Rob. I mean, it's great to be here. We were chatting fairly about podcasting and how we’re sort of pushing the boundaries and hopefully we're gonna talk a bit about your marathon as well today. We've gotta give props to that, but I think, it's a very new space. Everybody's trying different things, learning different ways of what podcasting can be and can do for people. I think ultimately it's about storytelling, isn't it? It's about giving people a voice, whether that voice is people who don't have a voice normally in traditional media for many of us who feel our story's not worth telling, which I feel is that imposter syndrome, isn't it? We look around and we see people who have amazing stories, the Steve Jobs of this world and we think, oh, well, who am I to tell my story? But everybody's got a great story. I mean, myself, I come from England but I haven't lived there over 10 years. 2012, we left, we sold all our stuff and packed our lives into three suitcases. Like me, my wife and my son who was six at the time and then we weren't traveling. And what Rob, was originally supposed to be a few months, turned into six years. We ended up traveling around the world and ended up in a few interesting places, but here we are in Singapore now, I mean, moved to Singapore in 2018 to start a podcast business. And, through the wonders of technology, we can be speaking from Singapore to Pittsburgh. So how about that? Here we are today.
Rob Oliver 03:17 Yeah, it's fantastic. And, so tell me a little bit because I completely agree with you, so many people feel like their story is insignificant or they are insignificant or… okay, so, let me, I think I've told this story on the air before, but I'll share it with you real quick. Okay. So I thought I would like to be the most famous Rob Oliver in the world. And I started off to see how I could do, and then I found out that one of the producers from the Simpsons cartoon show it, his name's Rob Oliver and I'm like, okay. That kind of puts a damper on it. So I thought, okay. Maybe I'll be the most famous Rob Oliver with a disability, but it turns out there is a Paralympian from the UK who happens to also be named Rob Oliver.
Graham Brown 04:03
No, no and then so what do you need to do, Rob?
Rob Oliver 04:07
So I figured, I've got four bestselling books. I'm the father of triplets. And then as you mentioned, and I had not announced this yet, but today is the grand unveiling of this on May 6th and 7th of this year, I am going to be attempting to set a world record for the longest podcast interview marathon, which I'm really excited about, but I have found that you kind of have to niche down and down and down into, like, I become the most famous Rob Oliver who has a disability and is the father of triplets and has a Guiness world record. And if I niche far enough down, then I'm really actually somebody special. But, that being said, when I share my story of acquiring a spinal cord injury, of learning what it means to be human, learning what it means to live with limitations. That's a story that everybody can relate to, because we all have to deal with that. I think that that really is the message that you're sharing that says, and it's really the focus of this podcast. We can learn from everyone. And it doesn't mean just on an academic level. It also means that when people tell their stories, we empathize with them. We understand them and we can learn from their experiences because we've experienced something similar because we're all human. Does that resonate with you at all?
Graham Brown 05:39
Yeah, we all are living our own version of the hero's journey. Going back to the Joseph Campbell work, the hero of the thousand faces. If you think about, you look at media, everything from Marvel to the heroic myths, the Greek myths of old, and we look at this and we have been indoctrinated with this idea of these journeys that everybody is, these heroes are going through and the problem is that, we, you mean you and I, Rob have grown up in an era, in our younger years where media was very much about celebrity and about famous people. And we weren't of that world, these people who are, I’m probably good looking and rich and endowed, we weren't of that world. And so now we're in this world where we have to pick ourselves to tell our story and that culturally goes against the grain for a lot of people. I have to pick myself, I have to stand up. Who am I to tell my story, but, I'd, to you, Rob, all your listeners as well, is that in our own ways, we've all lived a hero's journey of some sorts. I'm sure there's a guy who left a bank and started his own business that in itself left the world of comfort and took risk, went on the rocky road of adventure. That's a hero's journey in itself. He can imagine the conversations from his colleagues and coworkers. Or about, oh, you shouldn't do that or think about your pension or your 40k or whatever it is or your kid's education. And then there were people who maybe left a country and moved, somebody else, somewhere else in the world, against the advice or the well wishes of other people. All of us have, at some point in our lives, faced our own versions of those journeys. Some of the more extreme, yourself, Rob as well, like adversity that you've overcome. And, turned around to such positivity as well. And so I feel that the key part of podcasting in particular is giving a stage so people can share these journeys and these stories and that they may not think they're heroic in any way, but to other people listening, they may find something in it and think, wow, that person spoke for me, their story, that's the niche part. Isn't it? That story is me. It may not be relevant to somebody else, but their story is me, but maybe two or three years down the line. So it gives me hope. So I'd say to all the audiences that we all have stories worth sharing. It's just that maybe we don't have the practice of sharing them.
Rob Oliver 08:34
Yeah. We don't have the practice and sometimes we don't have the platform. And so I think that that's really important and that's really what podcasting is about. In some ways it's giving folks a platform to share what's going on with them. I wanna transition a little bit, we were talking a little, what we were talking about, sounds like sharing personal stories and I, from a business perspective, where does storytelling fit into, building a brand doing like in, all of the marketing and business building aspect, like where does storytelling can fit in there?
Graham Brown 09:14 Yeah, we tend to think storytelling is once upon a time don't we, or our personal narratives, but look at where we are today. People follow people, not brands, that's reality, that we identify with an individual, like identify with Rob's story. I get into the backstory, hear about, that sort of heroic arc that you've been through. And then from that, that is the doorway into business. So it's very much the same with brands as well, is that the people with the people within those brands and the stories they tell, become the experience of that brand. You look for example, Microsoft. So there's Microsoft, the brand, and then there's Satya Nadella, the CEO. And if you, even if you were to take it down to the level of social media, if you look at, for example, LinkedIn, which Microsoft part owns the post that they put on on LinkedIn. So Microsoft's fan page has something like 18 million followers. So there's plenty enough, but the post that it puts out there are measured in single digits of likes, which is surprising, really given the resources because they are very standard. It's stock photography and it's almost looks like a display ad. So people aren't interacting with that, but then you look at like Satya Nadella, for example, the CEO, the post that he makes similar kind of issues, but he'll personalize it a lot more and you'll talk about his story and even his children as well, and he'll get thousands and thousands of likes. And you think about that. That to me is the reason why we need to tell more stories, we need to in business, unlock the human potential of our brands, because for so long, we've locked it in for fear that these human beings inside our brands are potentially a cause of a PR crisis. If they say something, what happens if we give these people tools to tell their stories, what's gonna be hell let loose. That was a very traditional command and control view of branding, right? But, we need to move away from that pipeline view of branding and move into building platforms where we can curate these conversations and empower people to tell stories and give them importantly, the green lights to go and tell stories, because say it's okay that you can speak in public, storytelling, executive profiling or public speaking, it used to be a privilege in these companies used to have this clearance that only you could speak, but that has to go away, storytelling to everybody's business and what is more authentic and empowering than hearing people from all different levels of any organization speakout and talk in a human way. That's the future of branding.
Rob Oliver 12:18 Yeah, it's so interesting because it sounds to me like what you're doing is taking the Apple Mac concept and taking it to the next level, because it used to be when you were advertising computers, it was all about numbers. It was about storage and CPU speed and, screen size and hard drives and all of those things and Apple, if you look at an Apple ad for a Mac or a Macbook, there's no numbers, there's no nothing. It's a bunch of colors and people and all of that kind of thing. And you're saying, okay, And it folks, it evokes a certain emotion and a certain experience and then you're taking that to the next level to say, okay, when you're hearing this, this Steve Jobs story, when you're hearing the story of what people are doing with their Mac, now that's another level, even beyond just moving away from the numbers and moving towards emotions. Am I correctly understanding you?
Graham Brown 13:21 Absolutely. Emotions, the key word here, Rob. I think it was Maya Angelou, civil rights activist writer, who said that, people will always forget what you told them, but they'll always remember how you made them feel. You think about every single presentation that we've sat through, and some, most of them probably completely forgettable, and some podcasts as well, but it's the feeling, isn't it? That we give people. And Steve Jobs obviously was a master at this, and we can learn a lot from him in storytelling. We don't have to be him to be as good as him, but it's definitely a skill, that it can be practiced. He wasn't naturally a confident guy, so people say, oh, it's okay that Steve Jobs can talk about the Mac, like you just said, because he was this natural storyteller. Well, it doesn't exist. We've all had to work on this. There's a great scene from one of the Steve Jobs movies, but it's sort of apocryphal where he stands up and talks about the launch of the iPod which was really the device after the Mac, which really changed everything. And you've gotta bear in mind. The iPod was competing against Microsoft Zune at the time. And the Microsoft Zune, you know, who remembers that it's gone it, but it was the iPod killer, it was marketed as this sort of, like you say, like with all the features, look at the CPU speed and how many, all this kind of stuff that it looks interesting to trade people. But Steve Jobs knew that that didn't sell to most people. And he stood up when he launched the iPod and he said, this is a tool for the heart. And if you think about that, that one line is a story. Stories don't have to be trilogies, these epics. They can also be one line. But the stories we tell about ourselves, the stories we tell about our companies and what we do, they could just be one line or even one word, an analogy, a lot of religious texts are based on analogies. And you can use that as well, because if, for example, if you stand up in front of people and say, it's a tool for the heart, if they understand what a heart is and emotion and songs, and you know, it was the, our song when I met her, that was our college song, or that, that song, when I'm sitting alone on a plane going somewhere, it's the song that brings me to tears, all these kind of things, we know that we connect with it. Once you get people to buy into that, then they also buy into the next stage, which is your product or service. So, a key part of storytelling is creating emotion in people. Effectively what you're doing, Rob is you are, and this is what great storytellers do is you are taking away uncertainty, that we're all scared of the unknown, that's just human beings. We're scared of the future. We're scared. We're fearful of what we don't know. So what a great storyteller can do is they can connect that unknown future and, and anchor it in a known experience, such as an emotion and say, or an analogy, for example, that is a tool for the heart. Okay. It's an unknown object, but I'm connecting it to this feeling that you have about it. And that's really a good example of storytelling and it can be very, very short and it can be very, very subtle, but it's, it's extremely effective at influencing people.
Rob Oliver 17:03 And I mean, it's not really even a story. It's just an explanation, but okay. You brought up the Microsoft Zune and I have to tell you this story. Okay. Back in the days when they originally came out, I'm a numbers guy. I'm a, like I need to know so my wife said, I want one of those music things and I said, okay. So I said like, how much storage do you want on it? I started to ask her all of those questions and her answer to all of them was it - has to be pink. Okay and so I went through and I did all of this research and trying to find out what was the best and I literally finally came up with a Zune and it had all of the things, but it wasn't until I found one that was pink before I knew, okay. I can actually buy this because it sits around our house now as kind of a memory of baggage, right? Yeah. But it's that understanding that, to the common person, what is important to me, as a technical person doesn't mean that much, that it's not about the storage. It's about this thing that does what I need it to do. It plays music and it looks like I want it to look, it's pink. That's what's important to me. Don't bore me with the details. It's a super interesting, super interesting way to approach things. So let's talk about this a little bit. You've come on my podcast. And, you know, we're talking here and you're sharing insights, you're sharing stories in some way. If someone out there is saying, okay, I think this might be a good idea for me. I think I've got a story. I've got a brand, or let's start maybe from the step behind step behind that. I have a brand that I want to build. And I think I would like to utilize podcasts as a way to do that. Can you give insight A) into developing your story and B) into deciding what podcasts to go on or what podcast route to pursue with telling that story. That's, I think that's those are two doozies of a question.
Graham Brown 19:32 No, that is fine. I mean, this is what people ask, right? So, yeah, like break it down. When I look at podcasting or any kind of brand building, you need three things, you need a stage, a story, and a system. And the stage of choice here is podcast. The story is the narrative that you're gonna build over time and the system is really keeping yourself in the game in the long term, because you can go at a podcast with a bit of motivation wind in your sales, and then you can give up after six episodes, you need to have a system in place. Otherwise, you're not gonna see the results. It's a long term game. So let's go back and look at podcasts as an option for you to do this four or five years ago, I would've said, yeah. Great. Go and start a podcast because the world needs a stage for that conversation. The conversations that matter, right? Maybe there are not enough of them. Maybe there are not enough stories told about the people in the industry or whatever it is that the conversations that you cover. So therefore start a podcast and create it. Today, I would take a slightly different approach because of what's happened in the last couple of years. In the last couple of years, obviously we're well aware of how our lives have changed and there's been an explosion in podcasts that people have started podcasts as a great way of reaching out, a great way of connecting people. What are, in a world where we aren't connected as much as we used to be. What is a great way of having these conversations today? I would say go into it by guesting on other people's podcasts first. So it's a great way for you to build an audience and then roll that audience up into your own podcast because what's changed now, Rob is that compared to four or five years ago, it's getting a lot easier to produce a podcast and a lot harder to promote, meaning that you can't just create a podcast and find audience anymore. It doesn't happen. It's not build it and they will come. In fact, it's getting very hard just to maintain audiences and the real focus now is like, okay, we understand all the tech, you know, we've got zoom now. I mean, how easy is it? Everybody can use zoom. We've got all that. Everybody knows how to publish a podcast, if you can just point at Apple or Spotify. The challenge now is growing an audience. So I would say to anybody thinking about this is that - go into it in an agile way. And that there's two parts to that. The first part of being agile with podcasting is leverage other people's audiences, get onto their podcast, learn the craft from them, build up some great connections, with podcast hosts who by the way, make great guests as well, that they're set up, they've got the mic set up. They know how to do it. They're well behaved. They have audiences. Go into it from that perspective. And the second part is about your content, your story, storytelling is never a case of having it perfect out of the gates right off the bat is that you need to go into it in an agile way, meaning that you need to get on stage. You need to practice, the first podcast you did Rob, the first podcast I did, we probably cringe a little bit when we listened to it, it was like, oh no, did I really sound like that? Just like the first public speaking you ever did, right? You always gonna be nervous and a little bit shaky. It's the same with podcasting. You want to get through that. And every time you do a podcast, you speak to people and you get feedback. And you refine your narrative, just like a standup comic would, right? You get on stage, you go and do a tiny little dive bar with 10 people in it and you practice your material and some of it bombs. But some of it works and then you roll that up and constantly refine and refine and refine in what I call agile storytelling is you perfect your material. And that's how I would approach it is that don’t get too hung up on finding your why for a podcast like, oh, what's the big idea that I'm gonna talk about of, often people don't have it. You'll find your start on the 'why' will become apparent, the 'why' will be these connected dots of all these different conversations that you have, and you'll make sense of it. You'll gain hindsight, you'll gain perspective, you'll gain context. So don't let a lack of having an amazing idea for a podcast. Stop the show. Just find your start. So go at agile and be open to feedback and commit to the long term.
Rob Oliver 24:32 Yeah. And I really like what your thought is there and the thought is leverage other people's audiences. Okay. So you're gonna start off and you get your, your friends and family to listen and whoever else you're connected with on social media, but then to find, but I would suggest you need to be cautious about where you're going because if you are on the wrong podcast, trying to promote something that, that doesn't fit, it's going to be counter-productive. Do you agree with that?
Graham Brown 25:07 Yeah. Yeah. There's 4 million podcasts in the world today. So we have a lot of choice. The good thing is there's lots of tools and there's lots of data on who to target and increasingly a picture of a successful podcast is emerging. So, we can see, for example, at Rob's done so many shows now, and he has a different podcast, so we can develop a picture of you and your avatar and your audience avatar. And the question really is, does Rob's audience avatar match my audience avatar? The people I'm trying to reach. Is there a big overlap with the people Rob's trying to reach? Can I speak to their pain points as well? So that's really important is a lot of people go out podcasting, especially guesting is just spamming everybody and hoping for the best, you only have so many hours in a day, but it's much better to spend a bit more time working out who is talking to the same people as you, because you know, those audiences will become your audiences. One plus one equals three I+in podcast audiences. That's the magic. It's mathematically not correct.
Rob Oliver 26:13 No, but it makes sense. And, as a podcast host, I can't tell you how many pitches I get from people. And I'm like, you have obviously never listened to my show. And what you did was you put together a formula email, and it just inserts the name of my show at the beginning, I love what you're doing with learning from smart people and then the rest of it is just, and it's like, you have no idea what's going on here. And so, if you're when you pursue your podcast, guessing if you're gonna do it yourself, do your research and yeah, there's nothing that will get you booked quicker than a good personalized pitch that says, what it is that you bring to that podcast audience and how they can benefit from you. I don't care as much about your qualifications. I don't care as much about. What I want to know is what is my podcast audience gonna learn from you? You agree with that or?
Graham Brown 27:17 Oh, absolutely. It's just such a turnoff, isn't it, getting those yeah templated emails. They don't have any respect for you or your time. What are they gonna bring to your audience if they do get on your podcast? And then here's the thing is that you're gonna sell so much more in the time. If allow people to connect with you at the human level, as opposed to come onto a podcast and just continue that pitch. People don't want that. They can get off the website. Yes, why am I sitting here listening to a pitch? We smell the BS like when people turn up and do that, we don't want it. What we do want is the human stories. And that's what we connect. So leave the pitch behind.
Rob Oliver 28:00 Yeah, if you don't force it, you give it and the more you you give away, the more comes back to you. Listen, Graham Brown. Thank you so much for being here. If people wanna learn more about you, where can they find you? What's the best way to connect with you?
Graham Brown 28:16 Yeah, just go to the website Pikkal which is P I K K A L.com
Rob Oliver 28:21 Wonderful. I will put that in the show notes and that make sure that people head over there and connect with you and, hopefully they will be able to learn a lot more about what you are doing and possibly working with you. Awesome. It is time for three questions to establish your humanity. Are you ready for these, my friend?
Graham Brown 28:42 You're in the driving seat. Okay. Do your best, Rob.
Rob Oliver 28:45 If you had a warning label, what would your, the Graham Brown warning label say?
Graham Brown 28:55 A warning label. Oh, wow. Yeah. It's gotta be something like, he asks too many ‘what if’ questions, so be prepared.
Rob Oliver 29:04 So are you a 'what if' person then?
[00:29:08] Graham Brown: Well, like you, I'm the kind of person that says like, why do we have to do it like that? And even from like, when I was knee high to most adults, I was like that. Why, why, why? And for some people getting some into travel, but I think in the same way it can be without those people, we can't make any progress in the world. Can we, like, why does it have to be done like that? Why can't we do it differently? That's the warning label because it's an acquired tale. Some people hate that.
Rob Oliver 29:39 Good enough. What celebrity would you like most like to meet at Starbucks for a cup of coffee?
Graham Brown 29:48 Celebrity? I'm not a big fan of celeb so much like the Hollywood celebs, Rob? I would say, I don't know, it would have to be somebody like an author or somebody's doing something else in the world actually making something, but who would I like to meet? I would like to meet
Rob Oliver 30:08 What thing with celebrity, as in famous person in any field or someone that would be known?
Graham Brown 30:18 Yeah. I would like to sit and have a conversation with Malcolm Gladwell, the author, because he's just a bit eccentric and I think it would be an interesting conversation over coffee. Yeah. And I do like his books, I read his books and I just think, especially the last one, 'Talking with Strangers'. I thought was fascinating. So it's again, so again, it asks too many 'what if' questions in my own head.
Rob Oliver 30:41 No problem at all. Okay. So you're living in Singapore. And if you're going out for dinner and you are not eating native Singapore cuisine, what is the foreign food of choice in Singapore if that makes any sense?
[00:30:58] Graham Brown: Ah, there's so much because where we are, geographically. we've got access to so many different foods. Obviously this Chinese, Japanese, Indian foods, I'm a big fan of Indian food for me, especially South Indian food. So, I spent a lot of time, India. I set up businesses in India and the south Indian food, very mild, very balanced, a lot of vegetarian food, but the it's amazing. There's so many, like if you really want a recommendation, try the Idli, Dosa, it's like a steamed rice dumpling, which they serve with this small sort Sambar Curry and you have it for breakfast. It's amazing. Hear my recommendation.
Rob Oliver 31:44 Recommendation duly noted. Graham Brown, thank you so much for being with me today. You are indeed a smart person. We have all learned from you to all. To my audience, thank you for being here. I hope you enjoyed this as much as I did, and I will remind you that when you stop learning, you stop living. Have a great day, everybody.
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Graham Brown is the founder of Podcast Guesting Pro. Graham is a published author on the subject of Digital Communication and Personal Branding (Amazon titles include "Brand Love: How to Build a Brand Worth Talking About" and "Mobile Youth: Voices of the Connected Generation). He has produced, project managed and guested on over 2,000 podcast episodes.