Is it possible to get your marketing wrong by over-branding your event? And where are many event marketers getting the languaging wrong? Kraig Kleeman shares why the focus on product-centric language in branding needs to shift towards outcomes and creativity. This episode also learns from his insightful journey to becoming a $30 million entrepreneur in four short years, by using the power of external perspectives from less mainstream sources to get there.
Kraig Kleeman is a successful combo of corporate honcho meets rock and roll performer. A lover of the performing arts, Kraig has coupled that passion and his business acumen to craft mesmerising corporate events. He is the founder of Rock The C-Suit, Kraig Kleeman Live and an established showrunner for global events such as The World Leaders Forum. He is also the bestselling author of A Winning Brand and The Must React System.
Quotes from this episode:
"It is very, very possible to over-brand".
"There's just something to be said for having an insatiable curiosity, being willing to make your life committed to understanding the power of external perspectives".
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Can I ask you about branding, because this is one of the other areas that you are expert in. You authored a bestselling book called the Winning Brand. Where do people or most people get it wrong with branding at their events? I mean, is it possible to even over brand your event?Speaker 2:
I love that question. Thank you so much. It's very thoughtful. I want to say that I think it's very, very possible to over brand. I have found over the years that a lot of branding professionals focus on product benefit, language and value proposition, oriented language versus outcomes or versus what I call the four pillars of buyer thought topics, trends, metrics and outcomes. And I think when folks begin to abandon the hey, it's all about me, me, me, my value, our value proposition, our product, our benefit, our features but moves into the realm of creativity and reflecting outcomes and particularly integrating some performing arts, some creativity with it. It goes a lot further, so funny. I'll tell you a little story many years ago, after I'd authored my first book, which then spawned some consulting engagements and speaking at conferences, and then that led to a pretty robust consulting practice that I had for a number of years. And now on the weekends I would always wear my shades, I'd always look kind of the rocker, look like he's here me now. And when I would go on my consulting gigs, of course I would either sport code, business casual sort of thing, and so I remember I was at with a group of friends. This was in essentially downtown Chicago and we have a little barbecue. But he had me over there, about 10 or 12 of us who've known each other for a long time, and I said, hey, what do you even have to?Speaker 1:
what do you even have?Speaker 2:
to. And I said you know, I've got some consulting work I'm doing all week next week on site and I think I'm going to dress just like this. And you know I was dressed like this, you know. And they said what? I said yeah, I'm going to ditch the sport code, I'm going to ditch the button up, I'm going to ditch all of it, I'm just going to be me. And they said and your business is going to go on the tank? I said or I might just build a brand.Speaker 1:
You know when you say you're talking about black t-shirt and your your trademark dark losses and the hair band correct.Speaker 2:
Yes, yes I am. And back then there was a peace sign necklace that I always wore I don't do that much anymore, but I used to for years and you know, they said You're crazy. And they said and I said, who knows, I might just build a brand. And then it turns out that, with the exception of the really you know what the legal profession and the finance profession that tends to always be really suited up and buttoned up, with those exceptions, everybody just think embrace it. Everybody just say Craig, wow, it's great to see you. Awesome, you're really unafraid, aren't you? And I said I guess I am. But I will tell you that the my real reason was because I knew I'd be more comfortable, I would think better, I would be me. You know that let me do its best work and then secondarily, maybe build a brand along the way, and I guess, to some degree, I guess I have you know.Speaker 1:
Yeah, and times have changed as well. I mean, do you think that if you went into the legal corporations and the financial you know corporations today with your you know, with your usual look, do you think that would be more acceptable today?Speaker 2:
First of all, I never abandon my usual look. I mean, I can always boost it up a little bit, I can always change it up a little bit, but typically this is me. I don't recall, at least in recent days, connecting with some of the more insurance or finance folks that I don't know are necessarily conservative but their business requires that they project conservative kind of image. I don't know, I don't know, maybe I'll just blend right in, maybe I'll try one sometime soon and let you know.Speaker 1:
I was thinking the mind rock and roll and entrepreneurship. I'm sure there's something in that space that might actually move in that direction. So I guess what people do really are most curious about. I mean, for yourself and your trademark dark glasses. Are those part of your branding? I mean, how did those become part of your identity and your celebrity?Speaker 2:
Boy, I will tell you there's a little bit of a story there. So I just started doing it on the weekends or maybe in the evening. I used to live in downtown Chicago for a number of years most of my adult life and there's a great music scene in Chicago. I'm a big fan of the blues and Chicago's got a whole slew of live blues clubs and I was hung out with the artists. So I just dressed like this. But what happened? Was it actually now is a? These are prescription glasses. It's now a medical condition my eyes, I know. When there's too much light I get headaches and I don't want to over index on this. It's not super serious. But in conversations with my medical doctors more than one they said Craig, this isn't a big deal. There is a way to treat this from a surgery perspective. There are always risks with surgery. But the other way to treat it is to always wear your sunglasses when you're any time light, even like right now. I'm in my studio and my bright lights are on and the doctor said we know you're going to wear your shades all the time anyway, so just roll with what you've been rolling. So in the answer to your question, if first it became not so much a brand, just kind of hanging out with the creative types, then later spinning it into my business and now, finally, a medical condition that pretty much keeps them on.Speaker 1:
I don't know if that's good or bad, but that's the truth. It is a story for sure, a story that's just evolved all by itself and it's become part of your brand. That's really interesting. But what is so curious is, I mean, all this is converged to your company. Whatever you're doing is working, because I mean, you've grown your company to $30 million in something like four years, and that sounds like staggering success. I guess the most obvious question is people might be wondering is how did you do that? What was your path to success and why do you think you've succeeded when so many others have struggled or failed?Speaker 2:
Boy, I will tell you that. Let me be clear there have been plenty of failures along the way in my life. You know. I'm sure I appreciate the kind words but I can promise you it hasn't been all being successful at the capital asks. There are plenty of things I'd love to do again and wish I could do it again, but can't, and live with it. So there have been a lot of learnings. Of course, I think the most important thing that has helped me particularly in the last four or five years really, because now I'm juggling, you know, multiple ventures at this moment and I think the thing that has really more than anything has been a renewed commitment to quiet time and inner peace and solace. And you know I have a bit of an extraverted personality, so it's really easy for me to kind of get out with the crowd and turn on the personality. And you know, when the lockdowns hit I felt a little bit like a prisoner in downtown Chicago. So I bought this condo 300 miles south of Chicago. That's about an hour from where I grew up and my parents aren't getting any younger. So I thought, okay, I'll buy this condo. Has some advantages beautiful location, great view of the river, and I'll just sit out the pandemic and then maybe air be and be it and keep it as a vacation place. Well, during the pandemic I just I could walk out my front door and be in these bluffs, these small mountains, and so fast forward to the tip. I now hike five miles almost every day. I go to the gym, this beautiful athletic center that's part of a private college up on the top of the bluffs nearby. Work out there at least three, four days a week. I really commit probably three to four hours a day to solace, which includes hiking in the bluffs and interacting with nature I've never had an interest in before and now I feel like I can't live without it, and, of course, hit the gym and all that is part of it. And I want to tell you that the solace, the quietness, the inner peace, the not being enslaved to my phone, you know, every minute of every day, turning off the notifications, you know, checking out of, you know, rather than Netflix, you know, do the hike and all those sorts of things, has really given me the clarity of mind and the ability to juggle the three things that I've got to want to grow a company on the other side of the world that I'd like to get to a thousand employees in about 18 months and continue with Rock. The C-suite and Craig Cleiman live with intensity. I will tell you. It's the quiet place of reflection and thinking through all the issues that's really given me the power to jump in and be as effective as I am.Speaker 1:
That is so amazing, because it's not surprising that you talked about, you know, giving yourself time to contemplate, protect that time, but do you say that you commit four to five hours daily? I mean, that is commitment to success in a way that I've not heard defined anywhere else, really. So I'm just amazed at that. If you did have, you know, a learning to share, though, from the bumps that you've had along the way, what would that be? I mean, if somebody came to you and you said, well, don't learn my success, that's obvious, but learn from my failures, what would be the story you would share, or what would be the learning that you would share?Speaker 2:
Yeah, that's a really good question and I'll just be very, very honest with you in that I completely abstain from alcohol. You know 100% Now. I won't participate in it for a variety of reasons, you know physical health and mental health. And I will tell you there were a couple of folks that I was doing some significant business with and in a moment of just being out and about and yucking it up, you know, and at a party and stuff, I just didn't have a good off switch and I had more to drink. This was some years ago. I had a little more to drink than I should have and I said a few things that really gummed up like a very profitable relationship that both personal friendship as well as like business stuff, and I found that we moving things that adversely impacts clear mindedness, like I think my biggest stumblings and failures, as I look back, were when I allowed myself to be subjected by other influences that eroded my clear mindedness and my level headedness and I think omitting that has been one of the single because things that that's brought improvements and that caused me to stumble along the way.Speaker 1:
Wow, Thank you for sharing that. That is so valuable, that awareness piece that I think is worth our time that we, I guess, don't do often enough or well enough. I just or just don't give ourselves that one hour a day and just to see what needle we can move along that direction. I just love that. You know you have progressed so far and that was the reason why I did that is because you were willing to commit that time to what might look like inactivity or it might look like I'm not actually contributing towards the success of my company by doing time out. That just blows my mind. So thank you so much for sharing that. You've not only set the bar at many events. You must have heard a lot of ideas as well as you attend those events. You've even featured at the experiential marketing summit in Las Vegas this year. As far as events, marketing, human trends, you know what can you share with us? I mean, you've been like the sponge that's been taking all the great ideas. So what do you think we should know? Any learnings that we should be paying attention to, Boy?Speaker 2:
I think that you know, first of all, I think, just always having that attitude of wanting to improve. And you know, one of my favorite books that I've read in the last probably 10 years now, is the autobiography of Steven Jobs. Did you have to read Steven Jobs autobiography? No, I haven't, boy, I would. I would recommend you put that one on your list. And what a lovely book and what an interesting story. And I'll tell you that one of the things I've learned from just following his life and not that his life was pristine and perfect in every way it certainly was not, but he had a, you know, he transformed six industries. Of course he's probably the the modern day father of indentivness. I mean probably you. Someday in textbooks in school his name will probably be up there with the right brothers and alexander grandbell and others. But the one of the key takeaways that I I got from studying his life is his profound commitment to the power of external perspectives. And, for example, if you or I were a senior manager, manager on steven job staff, and we were not curating world-class content and distributing it to our teams, if we were not engaging with world-class consultants, not attending world-class events and then taking those learnings and improving them in our teams. We would last five minutes, you know, as a direct report to steven jobs and and I think there's just something to be said for having an insatiable curiosity, being willing to, to make your life committed to understanding the power of external perspectives and, and, and being able to bust into something new that appears to be effective, or at least examine it at all times, and that would be one of the biggest takeaways I could give to anyone in my professional orbit fantastic.Speaker 1:
Can I just ask a final question? I mean, if you were in a room full of marketing executives and movies and shakers and you just heard something that you think, wow, you guys got to listen to this what is it you would be sharing with them?Speaker 2:
it would probably be a bit surprising, but I would. I would share with them. I'm sure I would share this. You know Bob Dylan, who's you know folk rock artist extraordinary, certainly not new, but he's the only singer-songwriter to win a Nobel Prize for Literature, and so his lyrics are absolutely amazing. They're filled with depth and richness and poetry almost beyond imagination. And I know his music is a bit of an acquired taste. I mean, it was for me years ago when I was introduced to Bob Dylan. I would truly encourage chief marketing officers to lean in to Bob Dylan and other artists like that who have, almost in a mesmerizing manner, have taken language and, really without even knowing it, applied in hermeneutics, syntactical linguistics and a lot of other poetry capabilities inside of their music and have just wowed audiences globally decade over decade over decade. So I would encourage the CMOs to really advance themselves on the creative level and let that affect their planning and the way that they move ahead, and I think they would potentially benefit from it greatly.Speaker 1:
Wow, craig, thank you so much, and I know that there are so many more gold nuggets in that tank of yours. I'm sure those books that you've got which I must get my hands on as well are full of each one of those points. They're gonna be loaded with stuff that can really move the needle for many people. I think that's what I'm getting from you, and I love that you're one of those people that I can probably talk to for hours and hours on end, but I do appreciate you so much. How do people connect with you? If they wanted to find out more about you or reach you directly, or just making queries, you bet the best way to reach me is probably just at Craig at CraigClemenLivecom.Speaker 2:
That's all the case at Craig with a K and Clemen with a K. Craig at CraigClemenLivecom. And you know what, if anyone in the audience sends us an email to that email address, we just released our first vinyl album, rock the C-Suite. So if anyone from your audience sends me an email at that address and references you, we'll send them one of our vinyl albums just for fun, just as a gift.Speaker 1:
Amazing. Thank you so much for that. I didn't even get to talk to you about swag, because you have the most amazing merchandise at your events and how you can make your event more memorable just using the vinyl album, for example, and a couple of other bits and pieces. But I just love how it's not just the event experience and what you learn from it, what you learn from the speakers, but it's also what you take home with you, and swag is done so badly in a lot of events. I was talking about it to somebody the other day. We were just shaking our heads, going how many things do we need to? Are we bringing home from our events and just they end up in the bin? Or they end up we just pass them on to somebody else. We're not actually using them, we don't find them adding value to our lives, but there's so much room to do that in a much more imaginative way, and that's what you do as well. So thank you so much, craig. I know you have a trademark sign off. Do you want to do that?Speaker 2:
Yeah, sure, sure, let's do it. My name is Craig Clemen. I am the founder, the show runner and executive producer of Rock the C-suite. And Craig Clemen live Peace cheers. I'm out.Speaker 1:
Thank you so much, craig. I have had so much fun and I have learned so much from you. Thank you for enriching my life.Speaker 2:
It's a pleasure. You're very kind, thank you.