The Power Of Pivot Stories: How Embracing Human Flaws Transforms Marketing With Mike Snyder | Ep. 264

COGE 264 | Pivot Stories


Transform your marketing by embracing human flaws and crafting pivot stories that captivate hearts, build trust, and redefine success. In this episode, Mike Synder, partner at Raptor USA and co-author of The Great Marketing Lie, discusses approaching marketing with a unique perspective—how embracing human flaws and the art of storytelling can lead to powerful transformations in your business strategies. He reveals the secrets of building trust through transparency, even in industries like construction where perfection is paramount. He explores the art of articulating the pivot and how recognizing and addressing unexpected challenges can enhance your brand and captivate your audience. He also discusses the pivotal role of culture in shaping your marketing approach, and how it can define your reactions in times of crisis. And all those are just some of what he covers today, so don’t miss out. Tune in now and transform the way you approach marketing.

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The Power Of Pivot Stories: How Embracing Human Flaws Transforms Marketing With Mike Snyder

What can you learn from a retired Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel about marketing, and not just any retired Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel, but someone who was at the heart of the military’s media response during 9/11? My guest is Mike Snyder, and he is a retired Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel who served as a public affairs officer in New York City, the Pentagon, and NORAD, where he led media relations in the aftermath of 9/11.

He’s a graduate of the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and he has a Master’s degree in Marketing Communication from the University of Kansas. He’s also taught Strategic Marketing for years in an MBA program where his unorthodox approach to marketing earned him the highest student scores within the program. We have an expert on the show.

Mike’s conviction is that marketing is not hard if you learn to embrace your humanity. As we embrace our humanity, we understand that 1) Humans are flawed, and 2) Humans love stories, particularly stories where there is a pivot, where something goes wrong, a problem occurs, and that problem is then solved. If you’re going to become an expert at marketing, you need to understand that aspect of human nature and the inclination we have to listen to stories and respond to stories. You must become a good storyteller.

We dive into a lot of very important aspects of marketing in our conversation. This is going to be a conversation that you’re going to read more than once if you want to get the most out of it. It’s directly aimed at the owners of construction companies. If you’re the owner of your construction company, you should share this with people in your organization and have discussions around the content. It’s a free-flowing conversation. There’s a ton of tremendous information here that will benefit you. Let’s dive right in. Thank you for reading.

Mike, welcome to the show.

Eric, thank you.

Please tell the audience where you were on 9/11.

It happened that I was a Major in the US Marine Corps. I’m a reservist. I was at the headquarters of NORAD in Colorado Springs on 9/11. Having lived in New York City for several years, I watched as those planes hit the towers, and all hell broke loose.

For the audience, tell us what NORAD means.

It’s North American Aerospace Defense. It’s responsible for aerospace defense in North America. When those planes hit the towers and the Pentagon, the entire world media turned to NORAD and said, “What the heck? Why didn’t you shoot down the planes?” I was one of three media officers who took hundreds of calls over the next year. I got mobilized for a year from my marketing job in Wichita, Kansas.

You were in marketing and a reservist in the Marine Corps, Major at the time. Give the audience a little bit of flavor. What does a media officer do?

We’re the mouthpiece of the organization of the command. I’ll tell you exactly what happened. The world started calling NORAD, and they wanted to know one of several things. They wanted to know, 1) “Why didn’t you shoot down the airliners?” We would say, “We don’t know yet.” 2) “What are you doing to protect America from more attacks?” We said, “We don’t know that either yet. 3) “Is George Bush inside Cheyenne Mountain?” We said, “Even if he was, we wouldn’t tell you.” That was about the extent of the questions.

In the evening hours, I got the midnight-8:00 AM shift. Around midnight, a news station in Denver called, and they said, “We hear jets above Denver. Are we under attack?” It was an amazing moment to be an information officer representing that command. You have to say something. You can’t say, “We can’t tell you anything.” I said, “We’re awake tonight. Your listeners can sleep. The men and women of NORAD are doing everything we can to protect this country, and you don’t have to worry.” That became the message going forward. NORAD didn’t know. We didn’t have the information that we needed at that time. It was a learning experience for them.

This is interesting because one of the things that contractors face on a daily basis is not a crisis as large as 9/11, not to diminish it or anything like that, but they’re in crisis management mode on a regular basis. As a media officer, you were the forward-facing communication point. What role did you play in the internal discussions on how the message was going to be shaped? How did you see that?

This is interesting, even from a contractor perspective, because having to run several companies and having a commercial real estate business on the side, my business partner and I routinely buy old buildings and refurbish them. We use commercial contractors all over the place. We get RFPs. We spend millions of dollars. It’s interesting from a business owner’s perspective, and even NORAD, and I’ll answer your question, what is our main messaging objective? How do we get through the crap and still stay on point?

We were working closely, and I was on the Tiger team representing NORAD. From a communications perspective, I was working with the National Security Advisor Office with the White House, FDA, FBI, and even the Royal Mounted Canadian Police on one thing. It was only one thing that the White House cared about. It was NORAD and everybody else. We have to restore confidence in air travel or else our economy is going to fail. That’s the one thing we have to do and to answer your question, the minor message was that.

From a business owner perspective, and I’ve owned several businesses, crap happens. You come over the top, and it’s like, “What’s that one thing?” We’re going to continue messaging. During 2021, we were trying to complete a project and no fault of our contractor. I can’t get the elevator and roofing part. The schedule got extended. How do they manage that crisis?

You mentioned 2021 was the lack of availability because of COVID.

The supply chains got crowded because everybody was rushing to buy stuff. That meant that whatever schedule normally supplied parts for commercial building projects were on, they oftentimes got delayed. That sends up the cost of all that. That’s interesting from a marketing perspective. I want to define marketing quickly. I understand that the contractor category does marketing vastly differently than a lot of other categories. I’m fine with that. The definition of marketing is the same regardless of category. Most of us screw it up.

The definition of marketing is the same regardless of category and most of us screw it up. Click To Tweet

Most of us think that marketing is websites, videos, ads on Google, SEO, and sales presentations. That’s not marketing. That’s marketing communications. That’s what I get. I’ve done a lot of work in my life around marketing communications, but marketing is that superordinate function up top. The definition of marketing that I adhere to, as do a lot of great fingers in marketing, you may say it a little differently, but generally, it’s this. Marketing is the function within a business that identifies what a market will value and pay for that the company can do at a price point that will provide a profit to the shareholders. That’s the definition of marketing.

If you lead a construction company, you have to ask yourself, “What value do we uniquely provide that a market wants to buy and will provide profit?” What you find a lot of times, and this is funny because I talk to construction companies all the time, they’re like, “We’ve been doing this for many years. We’ve known you for many years. Aren’t we good buddies?” What unique value do you provide that I’m going to value, pay for, and maybe even pay a premium?

There are a lot of contractors who are like, “It’s RFP. We need to be the lowest bidder.” I don’t think that’s true. In some cases, maybe, in government but in private industry, people will pay a premium to get their jobs done. In the example I gave you, it took us almost a year longer. If we had been finished a year earlier, we would’ve been collecting rent, and we wouldn’t have been paying that banknote for a whole year. Charge us more for these parts and prioritize us.

Our company does not overextend ourselves relative to projects. While we don’t buy all the stuff up front and have a bloated inventory, we do prioritize. If your job gets started, you’re going to have a priority of supply. I’m talking about what we could have said in 2021. While we can’t guarantee it’s going to come on entirely on time, it’s not going to be disgustingly late that you’re going to be worrying about paying your banknote.

You made that definition. I want to make sure I got that right. It sounds like what you’re saying is that the question that marketing research is asking is, “What will a market value and pay for that a company can do at a profit?”

That’s A8C. It’s the function. This is critical. This is where business owners screw it up, especially in construction. I’ve seen it all the time. They hire a little marketing coordinator who responds to RFPs and maybe does some website stuff and stuff on the side. They think they’ve got marketing covered. No, they don’t. The function of marketing rests solely with either the management team and/or particularly with the owner of the business. That’s where the marketing function resides. Everything else is marketing.

The way that you stated it sounds like we’re starting with a great deal of thought process. There has to be some intensive thought that goes into marketing and a degree of serious research. Is that what I’m hearing you say?

I love the word research. I’m a marine officer doing marketing. We bring the KISS principle, Keep It Simple, Stupid. They say it wise, “Let’s keep it clean on the show here.” Research means listening. Listen to what your prospects and what your market is saying. A lot of times, when principals listen, they’re listening to sell. You have to stop listening to that bias.

Research really means listening. Just listen to what your prospects, what your market is saying. Click To Tweet

I’ll give you a quick story. When my business partner and I started our marketing firm in 2010 after the Great Recession, we started from scratch. We were fortunate to have a good reputation in the town of Wichita, Kansas. We had all kinds of manufacturing, partners, distributors, and construction coming to us day after day.

They all said the same thing. They said, “After the great recession, we think that marketing is going to be more important going forward. How do we do that? We’re thinking we need to hire a marketing director.” We said, “Based on the classical structure of advertising of category, once you have that marketing director, call us because we need a marketing director inside the client with whom we can do work.” They were all disappointed.

After 2 or 3 of these listening to these principles, Bob and Henry, we called them. We hungered in the kitchen one night, and we said, “We don’t think that they want to hire a marketing director. We think that they want us to be their marketing director.” It was a hunch. It was not common practice in our industry at all. The next Bob and Henry, who came to the office, we changed our tune.

There are four Ps, Product, Place, Price, and Promotion. I like to keep it classical and simple. Automatically, on the fly, we changed our product, price, and promotion. Promotion is how you talk about yourselves or your product. We were at an advertising meeting. At the next meeting that happened after listening and doing this research, we said to them, “We hear you. It sounds to us like you don’t want to hire a marketing director. You don’t understand marketing, how to hire one, and how to manage one. What if we did that for you?” They went, “Really? You guys could do that?” I go, “Yeah, I have a whole stable of marketing directors.”

They were called account directors, but account directors are marketing directors. We changed the title and how we talk about them. We said, “We’ll give you an outsourced marketing department. You get everything you need. That’s a product under a flat monthly subscription, and that is priced. You’ll get your marketing director on a fractional basis.” We did pricing research in the meeting. We said, “How about $7,000 a month?” We dropped it in the meeting. We said, “How about $6,000?” We settled on $4,000 a month. They would ring a ding because that’s what they were going to spend on the marketing director anyway.

Eric, believe it or not, we had to figure out we had something we knew the market wanted to buy. That new offering flew off the shelf and took us to a national level. It’s from $5 million all the way up to $250,000. That’s what they want. They want simplicity. We had to change our offering on the fly. We had to figure out how to make money at it, and we did. It took a little bit.

Let’s explore that a little bit, Mike, because you’re describing here something that a lot of people don’t do, or if they’re doing it, they’re not even sure that they’re doing it. That is having conversations with their customers. They don’t know how to set up that conversation. Put yourself in the shoes of a commercial construction company president. You’re sitting across the table from an ideal client. What questions should I be asking that client to determine how I should be shaping my marketing approach?

What we have to do is get past the commodity question. What is this going to cost? Those basic commodity questions, “When can you start that?” What we have to get to is, in this society and the American economy, we’re buying other things. We’re buying convenience and things that we don’t want to do. We’re buying intangibles.

I would not leave it up to the salesperson because the salesperson is trying to close the sale and get a commission. They’re always going to come back and say, “We got to get this done cheaper or sooner.” I don’t know what it is in that category, necessarily. Honestly, we have done this ourselves. We don’t want to work with that project manager. We don’t like that project manager. Can we work with somebody else?

What if the client doesn’t say that? The principal thinks that we like that project manager because we’ve used them once or twice before. Nobody’s ever asked us, “Do you like him or her?” We will make purchasing decisions because this is proven. People like to do business with people they like, and this is a great mistake. We talk about the great mistake in contracting. They think it’s a relationship business because people like to do business that they like, and it is.

The great mistake is relationships sour. We’ve experienced that. They let you down. They over-promise. Salespeople go away, and your relationship with that company goes away. That happened. We saw that. All of a sudden, you’ve got no relationship with the company. Basing your marketing, if you want to call it that, on relationships, relationship marketing is also a phrase. It’s got to be down there on priority.

You were doing some real-time research there when you were sitting in front of your client. You figured out this fractional marketing director and the pricing on the fly. I’m the president of a contracting company. I’m trying to get to some of those intangibles. One of the mistakes that contractors make is they attempt to phrase what the client is buying in the words of the contractor and not in the words of the client. Therefore, when they’re speaking in a marketing environment, the client doesn’t hear them because what they’re saying doesn’t resonate with them.

A lot of the value is not spoken. Look at best practices across the category. There’s something right here. The market would value a lot. There is nothing worse from a client’s perspective when you’re using a contractor, you go to the project, and no one’s there. You’re like, “What’s going on with my project? You call the project manager. They’re stressed out. If they have five other things going on, you don’t hear back for a couple of days, and you’re ready to choke somebody out.

Let’s talk marketing strategy. Let’s say that you know what clients want. One is they want transparency. I don’t care what category you’re in. Your customers and clients want transparency. They want communication. Let’s say you have a marketing strategy. We like strategies, Eric, that are 1 to 3 words, not more than that. If I were talking to a prospect, I would say, “You got to understand, first of all, one of our primary priorities for your strategy is transparency.”

Tactically, what that means is we set up online project rooms when you get a client login. I know a lot of your clients do this. I’m reaffirming. This is good stuff. This isn’t a website or video, necessarily. We’re going to set up project rooms and give you daily updates with the project manager, even if it’s like, “Nothing happened now.” At least that’s communication, and that’s transparency.

If something is happening and it’s something important, we’re going to take some video, upload the video, and have a chat. If the electrician is there, we’re going to have an online video real quick, “How did this day go?” Some things that might get lost in the details. The electrician may say, “We ran into a little twist.”

All of a sudden, you guys are looking like heroes. Every project has its twists, but a lot of times, those twists don’t get communicated. We continue to make our valuation decisions based on pricing and timing instead of appreciation. We found a bit of asbestos, and we removed it. We didn’t even tell you we took care of it, and we’re going to do it. Maybe there’s a reserve. We have to take some things out. I’m making this stuff up. It happens every day under a strategy of transparency.

Let me ask you this. What is the connection between marketing and brand?

Brand strategy is certainly a subset of marketing. It is perhaps depending on the category you are in supremely important. In construction and contracting, the brand is supremely important. You can call it brand reputation or brand equity. You have to protect that because if you screw up one project, especially if you’re in a local market or a specialized category like quick-serve dining, casual dining, and all those chains, they talk to one another. You could be, all of a sudden, forbode and blacklisted from serving that particular market. You have to protect your brand. You have to build that brand.

Let’s talk about this. This is the one opportunity that a lot of companies in that category don’t pay attention to. That is, you have to build your story. A brand is nothing more than a story. You have to embrace storytelling. We published a book. It’s called The Great Marketing Lie. In it, we talk about what is a great marketing lie.

I’ll tell you now what it is, Eric. Everybody thinks marketing is hard. Marketing’s not hard. Marketing communications is hard, but marketing itself is not because we do marketing every day as principles and as humans. Look around the stuff behind you. You bought all of that because you found value at some point, and you were willing to pay a price. We practice marketing every day. We know, as business owners fundamentally, how to do marketing.

You said marketing is not hard. It’s a marketing communication that’s hard. Please explore that a little bit more. What do you mean by that?

I keep going back to humans. Why is it important in humans? Humans like storytelling. We go to the theater. Thousands of years ago, we were sitting around campfires telling stories, and that’s how we evolved as humans. That’s why marketing is not as hard if we embrace our humanity and our mind’s decisions on a daily basis and reverse engineer, “Why did I make that decision?”

Let me make a point right there. Marketing is not hard if we embrace our humanity, tendency, and proclivity to storytelling. That right there is an incredibly important nugget for you to be thinking about as you’re reading this.

Let’s go back to your question about the brand. You have to develop that story. The unfortunate thing is we let stories escape us all the time. One of the best opportunities to capture and tell a story is when something bad happens. Don’t deny it. There’s a persuasion theory that says that you’re more persuasive when you embrace a weakness in your argument. You address it, acknowledge it, and move on. That makes you more persuasive.

Why does that make you more persuasive? We don’t want to do that. We want to present to the world, “I’m awesome, and everything is fine.” You are telling us to do exactly the opposite. Why is it that we struggle with that?

Humans have a tendency to distrust somebody who does not tell the truth. If it doesn’t pass the smell good and the taste good test, it’s not going to pass the sales test. One thing we know as humans is nothing ever goes 100% right. If somebody is telling us they’re blowing smoke up their ass, we’re going to see that. We’re going to go, “Thank you so much. I have a meeting I have to get to.” Meanwhile, there’s somebody who was like, “I do a lot of sales for my company.” I straight up tell, I said, “We’re running fast. We’re blowing, going, and trying to get your marketing on the road. There’s a lot of clicking in the kitchen that you’re going to get to see.”

Humans have a tendency to distrust somebody who does not tell the truth. Click To Tweet

We allow you in, transparency. We have the courage, and we trust you to be able to take the spillage and the breakage that occurs in the kitchen. Not everything is going to be right. If you see something that isn’t right, point it out. What I’m doing is transferring responsibility onto the client. Don’t come after everything is done saying, “I never liked that message and color.” Call it out early. An anvil is our logo because that anvil as a logo helps us tell part of our story. We throw stuff on top of that anvil. We’re banging away on it. Smokes, sparks, and sweat are flying.

We tell this story, Eric, like this, and clients and prospects love it. We say, “If something’s not right, we’re going to throw it right back on that anvil, and we’re going to hammer away on it until it’s right.” If you read what I’m saying, it’s part of our story. I’m saying, “Mistakes happen, especially when you’re moving fast, and we’re going to make it right. It will not cost you.” We say because it’s under subscription.

On the one hand, we want to protect ourselves and project to the world this competency. Competency is vital in construction. I’m not trying to overstate this. We’re not saying it’s okay to be incompetent because it’s not. At the same time, we’re talking about building trust with people. When we do embrace our humanity and tell stories around mistakes that have happened and how we have then recovered from those mistakes, that lends a great deal of credibility to our messaging. Is that what I’m hearing from you, Mike?

That’s correct. The first strategy is transparency. The second strategy is storytelling. If you need to understand as a business owner how strategies, objective strategies, and tactics work, get the book The Great Marketing Lie. We can talk about it. I’m not trying to pitch anything. This is a need. A tactic underneath the storytelling strategy is what I would call articulating the pivot. Another tactic underneath that is going to be video. Another tactic under that is going to be a website. Another tactic underneath that is going to be blogging.

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What happens all of a sudden is marketing is no longer random. It’s like, “We’ve got a marketing strategy of storytelling. How we’re going to do that is we’re going to tell every project we do has a pivot in it.” In a pivot, it is not bad. It could be bad depending on how we handle it, but a pivot is when something unexpected happens, and we have to pivot. What we’re going to do as a company is we’re going to tell the story of that pivot over and over.

What is it about the pivot that makes it compelling? Not a specific pivot, but why is that pivot thing important?

As a buyer, I’m going to expect something’s going to go wrong with my project. What I want to know, and this is a differentiation between the three companies I’m talking to, is how are you going to handle that pivot, especially if a company can say, “We have a term for it.” It is brand vernacular. We call it the pivot. If I’m talking to three different companies, and one is like, “Let’s go golfing and have lunch.” Another one is like, “We’re the lowest price.” I got somebody over here saying, “A pivot always happens. A pivot can destroy the project or budget. I want to tell you some stories about these pivots.” I’m going to go to this third guy. I’m not even going to be talking pricing yet. I’m going to be going, “That is fascinating. Tell me more.”

Another question about it is sometimes people’s marketing messages. There’s a question around the number of messages. Sometimes, people get diffused in their marketing efforts because they’re trying to tell too many stories, and the stories aren’t articulate enough, or they’re not pointed enough toward the particular person. How many stories should I be telling through my marketing? Let me ask you three stories.

I try to boil it down to three. Have three strategies, no more than three, and have no more than 1 to 3 words per strategy because otherwise, people get lost.

Can you please give me an example?

In the construction category?

No, it doesn’t have to be in the construction category, so that can hook it in.

Let’s say there are three strategies. I’m making this up. Strategies don’t have to be entirely custom and creative. There’s a finite number of strategies. Tactically, you can get creative, but let’s say that I’m a large contractor, and these are my three strategies. One is transparency, the other one is storytelling, and the other one is expertise. The expertise one is interesting. You can get deep into that and define what that means, but let’s say those are my three strategies.

To my ear, transparency, and expertise, I get that. Storytelling sounds like something like, “That’s what I’m going to be doing with the transparency and the expertise.”

You can be transparent without telling the story. Let’s re-architect this. Transparency, brand, and expertise. A tactic underneath the brand could be storytelling. We’re always going to be building our brand part. A tactic underneath that is storytelling. It’s helpful to have a guy like me with gray hair because it can get a little confusing at this level by architecting. Once you have it done and baked, you now spend several years executing against these strategies.

COGE 264 | Pivot Stories
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Here’s the key challenge question for your readers. What are your three strategies? If you can’t articulate them, you need help. Here’s why you need help. Things may be going great now, but what if there’s another Great Recession around the corner? What if there’s some unexpected thing that happens, and all of a sudden, you need to have built a moat around your company at that time? Building a moat around your company takes some time, and it has to be strategic.

I had to see this over and over. Many categories with many clients act tactically. We try to get them to act strategically, and it’s hard. That is a little hard because, as a business owner, you have to get your management team aboard. Bob or Sally has been there for several years. They don’t understand it. Maybe it’s time for Bob or Sally to be retired. You need some fresh blood. You have to handle it from the head shed level.

Let’s go back to this pivot because this is important in terms of how you even integrate that. Let’s say you want to articulate three messages. It sounds like that pivot should be baked into each of the messages, that idea of the pivot.

Intertwining things makes it stronger, whether it’s steel, yarn, or rope. It can make your strategy stronger when they support one another. I love that, Eric. That’s cool. You can make the pivot part of the expertise, story, and brand. I love the fact that you can say, “When the pivot happens, you have to have the expertise in-house.” That could be part of what that means. We have the expertise in-house. As a buyer, what we saw when our project went off the rails was that the contractor that we were using was using many subs. It got out of control quickly.

What we learned something was with at least some core services, we need that expertise in-house. It’s an example of how we rely on in-house expertise. I’m not saying anything new to anybody, but let’s architect it strategically and put that out there in our marketing communication. It’s not something that we’re taking for granted. We expect people to understand. We have to say it in a way that is differentiated from our competitors.

If our competitors and we are saying the same thing, we need to get into an exercise, Eric. We call it a repositioning analysis or exercise. It’s an XY axis. It’s simple to do. It’s in the book. Anybody can use it to get their management team to say, “We’re competing head-to-head with this competitor over here, and we need to reposition them away from us. It’s not repositioning us away from them. All we have to do is change our XY axis and how we’re talking about stuff.”

I’m interested in this pivot thing a little bit more. I want to go into it because I think that there are a number of pivots that take place when someone is purchasing and using construction services. Let me articulate it and see if you can go with this, Mike. Let’s say we’re in negotiations around a contract, and the client is considering me and another contractor or two. It’s not a low-bid environment. It’s a negotiated environment, and we’re talking.

There’s a pivot there that causes the client to want to pick me over the other contractor. There’s one pivot. We’ve engaged our in-services, and we’re going through the project. Inevitably, some crisis comes up, and a pivot occurs there where we go from pain to pleasure. We go from a scheduling issue or a quality issue, and we overcome that. Because there are multiple pivots that go on during a relationship with someone when they’re going through a construction project, it’s my thinking that I need to be able to understand those multiple pivots and articulate that in my marketing message. Does that sound right?

Eric, you’re getting it. You’re there. It’s not necessarily easy. I can say what makes it easier. Let’s say there’s a pivot, and it’s a negative. Part of our marketing strategies is embracing the pivot. We embrace the pivot. We don’t deny the pivot. We don’t act embarrassed about the pivot. It happens. The second strategy was brand. When a pivot like that happens, and wherever it is in the life cycle of a project, from selling to completion, the brand is also a strategy. It helps when a pivot happens.

The brand is something we’re concerned about. We are now going to define our response to that pivot in light of building the brand. That helps inform that pivot. I’m not saying that we’re going to write it off. It means we’re going to have to approach this from a brand-building perspective rather than a costing perspective or a timing perspective.

I’m thinking about design-build contractors. You’ve got the design stage, build stage, and warranty stage of the project afterward. In each one of those areas, there’s going to be potential pleasure and pain associated with each one of those three areas. To be able to understand and articulate the pivots that occur within each one can help you to hone in on your marketing message and communicate in such a way that your clients are saying yes every time you’re going through the communication of how you guys do business.

Let’s go through the warranty phase. I’ve been there. It pisses us off, as clients, when you find out something is wrong and all of a sudden, you’re informing the contractor, and they’re not caring or busy. They’re blaming a subcontractor. How do you get on top of that? How do you get on top of anything? Eric, it is through a process.

Even in that warranty phase, from a brand building, expertise, and transparency perspective, you build a process in there where you are like, “We’re going to have a meeting at several months in a year.” I’m making this up where we’re going to sit down and talk about, “How are things going?” You get ahead of it. If something does pop up, it’s like, “We had a process for that, remediation.”

I want to bring you back to 9/11 here and the marketing message. When it comes to transparency, there is a limit to the transparency aspect. This is important with construction companies because, on the one hand, we do want to be transparent, but on the other hand, we’re making sausage a lot of times in construction projects. At the end of the day, the client wants the sausage. I’m not sure I want to take them within my factory and show them the different parts that are put into the sausage. I’m not trying to lie or deceive my client, but you are paying me to make sausage. What are the limits of that transparency, Mike?

I’m going to tell you an interesting story. This is going to be a mind-blowing concept for business owners, but it’s true. I’m going to answer your question with a one-word answer. I’m going to illustrate how that played out in 9/11. Your culture that takes years to establish will define you in a crisis. I was there. You’re not going to see this in an article or a book. Maybe we should write a book about what happened on 9/11 there at NORAD.

On 9/11, I was the only Marine in that public affairs division within NORAD. The Navy, Army, and Air Force were there. The whole unit was led by an Air Force Colonel. We even had a Coastie in there. You had all the military services represented. Each of them had a cultural background that was different. When that crisis hit, I’ll tell you exactly the story of what happened.

The Army said, “Screw the media. We’re pissed off with them about Vietnam. They don’t deserve to hear a thing.” I’m not kidding. That was said. The Navy said, “We can’t do anything until we get a hold of higher command inside the Pentagon. They evacuated, and we don’t know how to talk to anybody. We’re not going to say anything until we get a hold of higher headquarters.” The Air Force said, “We’ve got to have lots of meetings. We have to meet with these people.” I’m not kidding.

I’m the only Marine there. The Marines have a culture of transparency, candor, and communication. I said, “We can’t say nothing. The one thing we can’t do is say nothing. We have to say something. There’s always something that we can say.” Unfortunately, I was a junior officer. That didn’t get taken to the bank immediately, but it sure did after that call at midnight on 9/11 going into 9/12. What you see is that the culture is defining the reaction in a crisis.

You have to understand what your culture is. Your marketing strategy is going to come out of not only what your clients are saying to you, which is important, but also the culture of your company. You’re going to be marrying together the market realities with the culture that you bring to those market realities.

Our culture within our company is defined as, and we took it from the Netflix culture, stunning colleagues. That’s how we define our culture. If you’re not a stunning colleague, you don’t work at RSM. We have a stable of stunning colleagues. This works. It is incredibly powerful. Think about it from a contract perspective. How can you articulate your culture in 1, 2, or 3 words? We define it as stunning colleagues.

When you’re trying to recruit people, you’re saying, “Hey there, new grad. Do you want to be part of a company of stunning colleagues? We only hire stunning colleagues, and we define what that means.” From a contractor perspective, we say, “We have a culture of entrepreneurship.” Everybody in our company has to run their function like it’s their own business, which means they’re not making excuses. They have ownership. They’re looking for solutions rather than passing off the buck.

I’m making this up, but if you can say something like that, it’s going to mean something to a prospect, a recruit, and your employees because it becomes a challenging question. Mike, are you running your function like it’s your own company because it doesn’t look like it? Thanks for taking that initiative. You weren’t waiting a week to hear from me. You nailed it. Maybe it even cost a little bit, and you made a mistake, but I’m going to reward the initiative of that employee.

I know one thing, Mike. I could sit here and talk about marketing for hours. What I’d like you to do is to sum up our conversation. If I’m a construction contractor, what are the 1 to 3 things that I need to do immediately to start to make progress on my marketing messaging and success?

Number one, you have to take ownership of it yourself. Don’t delegate. As the owner of the company, you have to own it. It is powerful if you do it and you do the second thing. You articulate your three strategies. The third thing, and the last thing that you focus on is the execution of these things. It’s like building out a project, and in marketing, you have to execute, measure, and evaluate. That’s where you hand it off to your management team to start executing. I’m not even saying, “You have to hire a marketing person or marketing agency.”

COGE 264 | Pivot Stories
Pivot Stories: You have to take ownership of the marketing message yourself.


The immediate thing that companies across the board need to start doing is capturing their stories and telling their stories on their websites. If you’re not doing that now, it can be so much fun using drones and mini-cams on hoists or lifts. You’re telling your time-lapse photography and the stories of your projects. The get-out-of-jail card is doing that while you embrace your strategies and what we need to be doing over several years with the management team to transform the brand of our company and our differentiation amongst our competitive set and strategic messaging. Is that a fair enough answer?

Tell us a little bit more about your company, Mike. How people can get in touch with you? All that good stuff.

There are two companies that we have. We broke it out. The first one is RSM Marketing, and that is the execution, doing all the tactical and communication stuff. That’s If you’re looking for some higher-level consultation, I love getting on the phone with business owners for 30 minutes to an hour at no cost going through some of these. How do we do this with the management team?

There are models. We can throw models at these things because it’s not gas and mirrors. Scientifically, this is how you do it. That brand is Raptors USA at That’s how you can set up a meeting with me. If you want to do this all yourself, buy the book The Great Marketing Lie, and you can get some free chapters on If you’re a business owner, don’t do nothing. Do the Marine Corps thing. Do something strategic.

What I’d recommend is if you’ve read this far, you need to go back and read again because there were some incredible insights that Mike shared during this conversation. Mike, I appreciate it. If you’ve found some value here, feel free to contact Mike. I do appreciate your time here. Thank you very much.

Thank you, Eric. I enjoyed it a lot.

Thank you for reading. I hope you enjoyed my conversation with Mike. I know I did. I could talk about marketing all day like I said in the interview. Feel free to reach out to Mike on his website. One of the things you can do, and this is a good idea, is take the transcript, copy and paste it in multiple parts into ChatGPt, and ask it to give you a summary of the show. That will give you some bullet points that will help you to process the information and use it effectively. Feel free to give the show a rating or a review. I appreciate you reading.


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About Mike Snyder

COGE 264 | Pivot StoriesMike Snyder is a partner with RaptorUSA, a marketing consulting firm whose principals have worked with hundreds of middle-market companies nationally. He previously co-founded RSM Marketing, a firm providing an Outsourced Marketing Department to companies across all industries nationwide. Mike was CEO of a Kansas ad agency serving larger clients such as Cargill and Cox Communications. Mike founded and sold a technology company. He is a retired Marine Corps lieutenant colonel who served as a public affairs officer in New York City, the Pentagon and NORAD where he led media relations in the aftermath of 9/11. Mike is a graduate of Marine Corps Command and Staff College. He has worked in the accounting and nonprofit industries. Mike has a master’s degree in marketing communication from the University of Kansas and taught strategic marketing for years in an MBA program where his unorthodox approach to marketing and instruction earned him the highest student scores within the program. In his work Mike helps business owners escape fruitless efforts in endless tactics and marketing spends that produce little to no ROI. Instead, he helps owners and their teams focus on making big strategic leaps that unify marketing efforts as well as management teams, all to produce long-term, unfair competitive advantages. The goal, as he says, is to build a moat around your business filled with sharks with laser beams.