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Think Narrow and Harness the Power of UnPopular

Authors: Jay Baer Jay Baer
Posted Under: Social Media
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Excerpt of my interview with Erika Napoletano. Transcription services from our friends at Speechpad. For full conversation, watch the video!

Speechpad – Transcription Services

Jay:  Hey everybody it’s Jay Baer from Convince & Convert, joined today by a very special guest, Erika Napoletano, author of The Power of Unpopular: A Guide to Building Your Brand for the Audience Who Will Love You (and why no one else matters). Erika, how are you? Thanks for being here.

Unpopular-BookErika: Any better and I would be twins.

Jay: Wow, I don’t even know what that means. It’s freaking me out a little bit actually.

Erika: If the world could handle two of me, there would be two of me right now.

Jay: There you go. How’s the book doing? I loved it. It was such a refreshing read. I really, really enjoyed it. I tore through it. It was great.

Erika: The book is doing great. The publisher is absolutely stoked about digital sales. You know from when your book came out last year, Amazon releases the Kindle edition when they like.

Jay: No kidding. Surprise!

Erika: Somebody’s like, “Hey, I just ordered your book,” and I’m like, “You, you, you did?”

Jay: No email, no notification. It’s just appears. It’s the craziest thing.

Erika: So, it’s boom. Kindle edition just manifests, but the feedback from the Kindle edition has been great. Hardcover sales are going fantastically. The initial feedback, even unsolicited feedback on Amazon from people who didn’t get advance review copies, I’m just grateful. People are sharing feedback and we’re looking at really kicking off the forum for the book this next week, so. It’s exciting. Thank you, guys.

Jay: It is exciting. One of the things that you actually say in the book is that the book itself didn’t turn out how you had planned it necessarily. What did you mean by that?

Erika: Well, anybody who follows my online persona, which is RedheadWriting, is probably opening the book. Even the early feedback I’ve gotten, they were expecting me to smack people around. Because that’s what RedheadWriting does and people who are fans of that brand enjoy that style. But this book is by Erika Napoletano, and when I went through the book and even through the editing process, I got to the end and I looked at it and I was like, I learned something in this process.

It’s really cool to get to the end of your project and go that’s not where I thought it was going to go, but I’m really happy with where it’s at. It’s a lot like owning a business because when we start a business, and you have started multiple businesses yourself, some successful exits.

When you start a business we have these, I’ll call them daydreams, about where we think things are going to go and how they’re going to be on a day-to-day basis and the reality is much different. So when you can get to a place where you’ve got your own project and you go, not what I planned on, but it’s in a really awesome place. That’s a great place to wake up to every morning. It was a great place for me to end the book and that’s what the epilogue of the book talks about. Not what I planned, but a really cool place to be.

Jay: Fantastic. I love the examples in the book, too. Tons of great companies that you used as examples of how to brand and how to be unpopular on purpose, and a lot of companies that are not household names intentionally and I think that’s really interesting. How did you come up with those? I saw at one point you sort of reached out to HARO and asked people if they knew of a company who kind of did this sort of thing. Talk about that a little bit.

Erika: I don’t know about you, and I’m a huge fan of Zappos and I fly Southwest Airlines all the time, but if I read one more case study about them, I’m probably going to explode all over my screen. And I thought that maybe my readers were going to be exactly the same way because the target audience for this book, even though it applies to brands of any size and scale and whether they’re new or established, most of us wake up every morning and we just want to run a business that makes us happy, that gives us the time to do the things that we love doing and allows us to own a business instead of have our business owning us.

So what I did is I went out and found businesses that were privately owned, and in a lot of cases family owned, and asked for examples of, especially with HARO, which is Help a Reporter Out. It’s a place where anybody who’s writing or researching anything can ask for resources and I asked for companies that thought that they fit the mold. Two of the companies in there actually came from research for my column for Entrepreneur Magazine, which was Narragansett Beer and Marination Nation.

Jay: And when you talk about branding and brand personality, I think it’s oftentimes easier for smaller businesses to do that well anyway because you’re closer to the customer. You get into big corporations and it’s like layer, layer, layer, layer, layer, layer and the founder or the sort of C-Suite is so far away from the front lines that it’s hard to get that kind of cultural alignment. So it’s usually easier to sort of turn that battleship when you’ve got a little smaller company anyway.

Erika: And what businesses can take away after reading the book is how do I build a brand that has an audience robust enough to support it through any economic cycle? And that’s where I came up with the five principles for the unpopular brand. A lot of people think that being unpopular means being unlikable, In fact, it’s the exact opposite. The blog that I just put up on the website for the book today, with is today, talks about a recent ad campaign by Reebok which was actually just pulled because it advocated infidelity and it alienated 50% of that brand’s audience base.

So to me, that’s an unlikable decision because it degrades and insults your audience. When you make an unpopular business decision, it’s about honoring your audience. It’s about saying, I appreciate the fact that you’re here. You are the reason that I get to be in business today, tomorrow and the next day. This decision I’m making, while it may not resonate with everyone, it’s going to ensure that we’re here to do business for you and with you long into the future. That’s what being an unpopular brand is about.

Jay: Yes, there is a big difference between being unpopular and unlikable. So much of what I was reading in the book and the theory of being unpopular is you say stop focusing on pleasing people who are never going to like you. It’s this notion of really segmentation and focus. A lot of things that we do are with agencies, and that is very typical agency problem, where it’s like, well, we’ll be the agency for anybody who will hire us. And that is a sort of road to ruin, right? You’ll be great at one thing instead of being okay at a million things, and I think that’s the key.

You’ve got a little chart methodology in the book where you actually have an exercise where you say, “Let’s figure out who is never, ever going to hire you.” Right? So you do it opposite. It’s really hard for people to say here’s who this business if for. That sounds easy, but it’s a hard exercise to do. It’s easier to say here’s who this business is definitely not for. And by a process of elimination you get to your core audience. I love that mechanism. Do you do that with your clients?

Erika: I do. We come across businesses all the time that are in the middle of a life cycle. They’re not just starting off, they’ve been around for a while and they’re wondering why they’re not growing. How can I get traction on the next level? I’ll go all the way back to, why are you here? You know the Simon Sinek’s “Start With Why,” hugely powerful concept, and from that why we figure out whom are you talking to. A lot of times they go, well, everybody needs what we have to offer. That’s when you put the brakes on. It’s an ah-ha moment because once you figure out that that’s the problem.

Jay: I think there’s this pervasive belief that niche means lesser, and all it really means is focused. Right?

Erika: Right.

Jay: In addition to the sort of focus on a particular audience, which is sort of a theme of the book, there’s a lot in there which was really resonate for me because it’s similar to the things we talked about in The NOW Revolutionabout culture. You wrote that businesses and brands begin with the people behind them. That there really is no such thing as a brand. That a brand is a who. It’s never a what, which I think is artfully put. Talk about that a little bit and how important sort of the personality side of it is.

Erika: For me, personality is job one for a brand. Ford thinks its quality, I think its personality. But think about, you know if we want to use Ford as an example, why would they come out and say that quality is job one? Because they want you to understand that their products are reliable, they’re there. They’re concerned about your experience as a customer and that quality is something that you’re never going to have to worry about throughout your ownership and your experience with their brands.

Think about the friends that you sit down to dinner with every now and then. You have the friend who, without fail, every time you call him, he’s there to take you to the airport. It doesn’t matter what time of the day. You have a friend who will go off the grid for a week, if he even catches wind that you’re moving. You have the person who will always add extra money to the tip when you’re eating as a group, and you have the person in your group who just has the best jokes, hilarious. Your world is a collection of those personalities, but those people aren’t just the joke teller. They’re not just the reliable ride to the airport. There’s people behind them, but those leading qualities are what makes you go for everything you are, and more importantly, for everything you’re not, I’m glad you’re in my world.

If business owners think about their brands the same way as they think about the people in their lives, then you can begin to understand how people keep brands in their lives as friends. When you have that friendship established, there’s a whole other world of dialogue that opens up to you, and it’s having a brutally honest customer base.

Jay: It’s a challenging concept for a lot of companies though because they assume, because they’ve been taught to believe this, that business is about transactions and that it’s about talking about yourself and marketing the business. What you talk about is that we need to sort of transcend the transactional and that 80% of the things you talk about should not be about your company.

Erika: Without a doubt. I’ll go back to the people that you sit and have dinner with. You don’t invite the person who is a me, me, me, me, me, me and you do this, you leave. It’s the same when you’re at a business function and somebody walks up and interrupts your conversation and derails it. You want to be surrounded by people who don’t just, they empower you to talk about yourself when it’s appropriate because they’re genuinely interested in what’s going on, but you’re way more interested in what’s going on with them because as a business owner, that’s data. That’s the most powerful information you can have to shape your future business decisions because if you audience is saying, responding to things and going, “God, you know, money’s tight,” or “God, you know what? I love this product,” or “I wish it came in orange,” or “I love it. I would pay twice as much for it.”

Jay: The book was awesome. I really, really enjoyed reading it. It is a breath of fresh air, as are you. It was really, really useful. Very well written, too. No surprise given your background. But I’m super proud of it and I know you are, too. Everybody should pick up a copy of it.

Erika: Thank you so much. It’s been a labor of love and I’ll tell you this – not all of you who decide to buy the book you’re going to love it, and that’s okay. But, hopefully, you take some great things for your business out of it and the one thing that I’ll close out by saying is remember how I said there’s no case studies by those behemoth brands that we’re tired of? There also aren’t any of those crappy end of the chapter workbooks, which some of us have publishers that say we have to put those in and I was like, “No! I’m not going to do it!” So what I did is I built a fully interactive forum.

So if you have ideas to share about the book, head on over to and click the tab “Get Into It.” Also, at the end of the book there’s also an appendix that tells you how to use the forum. We want to hear from you.

I thought it would be great to just have the conversation start when somebody closes the back cover and to carry on those ideas and have it be a continually growing kind of wiki knowledge base for other entrepreneurs, even if they’ve never read the book, to go to the forum and go, “Hey, I have that question, too.”

Jay: Look at Erika, eating her own dog food. How about that! Nicely done. I will be on the forum. I’ll be in there. I’ll mix it up.

Erika: Please, go start stirring some stuff up.


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