Episode 37 – Talking with your audience, not at them with Brian Fanzo

Episode 37 – Talking with your audience, not at them with Brian Fanzo

About Brian

Brian Fanzo inspires, motivates and educates businesses on how to leverage emerging technologies and digital marketing to standout from the noise and reach the millennial and generation z consumers.

He has a diverse background working for the Department of Defense in cybersecurity, then as a technology evangelist at a booming cloud computing startup and is currently the founder of iSocialFanz which has helped launch digital and influencer strategies with the world’s most iconic brands like Dell EMC, Adobe, IBM, UFC, Applebees and SAP.

A proud pager-wearing millennial and Dad of three girls, Brian hosts two podcasts (FOMOFanz & SMACtalk), has traveled to over 70 countries and has spoken at many of the worlds largest events including SXSW, Social Media Marketing World, CES, Mobile World Congress.

Brian’s One Hot Thing…

  • Talking with your audience, not at them

Connect with Brian


We hear a lot about community, about the power of content and about authenticity and transparency. But Brian’s One Hot Thing is how can you focus everything you’re doing in the digital world so that you’re talking with people, not at them.

Since 2013, Brian has invested hard in growing his personal brand. He has a simple mantra: “Be yourself,” and tries to be completely himself in everything he does, from the business he runs, to the content he creates. He believes that when you’re being yourself, when you’re trying your best to put yourself out there, it can be scary and it can be a long journey.

But one of the things Brian knew from the start was that he didn’t want to build a following on a social network, or to build content for contents’ sake. He wanted to build a community that would follow him wherever he went. That meant that he could pivot and enjoy the chaos that is business and life today.

The future of business is community

Brian believes strongly that the future of business is community. “It’s this ability to feel like you’re building something that people are a part of. That everyone has a shared purpose and a common passion.”

But one of the big disconnects is that as you grow your brand, as you start creating content and establishing thought leadership, we sometimes have a tendency to distance ourselves from our community.

“I would argue that, right now, one of the keys to your content being successful is shrinking the distance between you and your audience, not making the distance greater.”

For the last nine years or so we’ve been using social media and digital marketing to distance ourselves from our community. Brian does a lot of studying of the psychology of this, and believes a lot of it comes down to how we position ourselves. Are we letting people know that we’re on this journey with people? Or are we telling people what they’re wrong and we’re better than them?

He makes the argument that nobody wants to be marketed to in 2019, nobody wants to be sold to. Our consumer, our audience, our customer, has never been smarter, ever. They’re more connected, there’s more opportunities to learn. If you really want to do anything in life, you can pretty much just watch a YouTube video and figure it out. So the question now becomes, “How do I build trust with people and bring them along on that journey?”

People want to feel included, people want to know that you care about them. People want to know that you can relate to their problems.

Whether you’re creating a podcast, a video or simply writing a Facebook update, use words like “we”. This is the problem that we are having. “Today is a great day for all of us to do such and such.”

Traditional sales copy, is written more like, “Hey this is a problem you’re having, this is what you’re doing.” In this world where we’re trying to shrink the distance, every time you make it feel as though people need you to solve something, there’s a distance between us. And I think this comes down to one of the things that I hear the most: “Brian I really want to stand out from the noise. I really want to be able to have my content, my business discovered.” And they say: “Brian, how do I reach this audience and stand out?”

I really believe the way that you stand out, the way you build community, the way you establish trust, is by consciously thinking about everything you do when you’re online about how whether you’re talking to or with your audience.

If you really value the importance of being relatable and building trust, you really have to have this mindset and frame of mind that says, “How can I address this problem? How can I present my services, my business objectives in a way that it’s not me telling people I’m better than them?” Rather, letting people know, “Hey I’m with you, I understand. I relate, and then let’s together solve this problem.”

Not everyone wants to be marketed to or sold to. But I would say almost everyone wants to feel like they’re included in something, and they want to join a group that together is going to make change.

What about the importance of being perceived as an expert?

We’ve often been told, or we often read in books that there is a desire and a need for us to be an expert. And for us to be presented as a thought leader.

But, according to Brian, this is where there’s a disconnect.

“Let’s think about us and our day-to-day life. If you had two options where you were able to listen, learn or consume something from someone that is conveying themselves as an expert; or you could listen, consume and learn from someone that says, ‘I’ve seen your pain. These are the things that I’ve done, and I’m gonna tell you how I’ve done it.’ Which one would you select?”

It’s almost a no-brainer that we’re going to go to the person that’s been there with us.

In the world we’re living in right now, authenticity is more important than anything else. Every business is in the business of trust. When you’re trying to build trust the question becomes: “How can I authentically tell my story? How can I authentically put things out there?”

Here’s the hard truth about this, is that nobody knows everything. Nobody is perfect and if you’re conveying yourself as someone that knows everything or almost everything, or you’re conveying yourself as someone that wants to be portrayed as perfect, you immediately lose trust.

Because we all know that there’s not one brand, one person in the entire world that is perfect or who knows everything. So when we believe in our head that we need to be an expert in order for someone to purchase our services or to hire us to do something, Brian argues that we don’t need to be an expert for them to hire us. We need to be able to simplify the process and either save them time, provide a process, or a procedure that they can implement. Entertain them, inspire them, motivate them, because more often than not people aren’t looking for an expert, people are looking for a shortcut, a way to get back time.

The one thing we can’t buy more of no matter what country you live in, is time. So it’s less about being an expert and more about being someone who can convey something and allow someone else to be able to see that.

Telling your story

When it comes to building your personal brand Brian says that everybody has a story to tell and that we must, as a world, be better at putting our story out there. The world needs to be more empathetic, we need more empathy in our lives, and it starts  with us.

We need to let people know our vulnerabilities. We need to talk about who we are and what we’re about, when we start doing that, everyone starts telling their story.

One of the questions Brian always gets asked is, “If I’m telling my story I don’t think I’m an expert. How am I going to stand out from the noise?” The funniest thing is that you stand out from the noise not because you’re claiming to be an expert or better than someone, but because people are hiring you for who you are.”

This comes back to the old adage that people buy from people they like, but people also buy from people they can relate to. That is the biggest gap.

So Brian pushes back on the need to be portrayed as an expert and firmly believes it’s more important to be portrayed as a trusted resource than it is to be an expert.

Being vulnerable is something that’s not innate in us as humans because there’s a lot of fear the unknown. We’re living in polarizing times where there’s a lot of fake news, there’s a lot of bad news. There’s a lot of people selling things that aren’t truthful so Brian works really hard at putting himself out there, but it isn’t always easy.

Being transparent

Transparency has been his secret weapon for growing my business and brand.

People sometimes think of transparency and oversharing as the same thing. The way Brian sees it is that transparency does not guarantee trust. What transparency does is give your audience an authentic window to look into who you are, to decide if they’re going to trust you.

Talking to people, not at people is something that you have to decide for yourself whether you want to do. It’s something that you consciously need to work at, but you also have to test things to see what works. Brian’s level of transparency might not work for someone in a certain business line. His level of vulnerability might not work for someone that’s in a different country, that works in a different job. It’s all about risk versus reward but the underlying piece of it is that people will relate more often than not with what your vulnerability.

Brian says, “The things that scare you scare me. The things that I sometimes have to think about ‘How am I going to put this out there’, they are without question the bond and the links that people end up hiring me to speak about on stages.”

Everyone learns from everyone, and that we are all are a part of this journey together.

The way that you will truly stand out today is building trust, being authentic, talking with people not talking at people, and being willing to be unapologetically yourself. It takes practice, it takes time. Even once you think you have it, things will change.

One to one conversations

As Brian puts it: “I really do believe that we can change the world together by good people doing good things, and us highlighting those good things. But the way that we do that is through trust and authenticity. It often  starts with the mindset that we have before we create content and before we do anything online.”

That mindset for Brian is: “‘Think like a fan.’ My last name’s Fanzo, cause that works pretty well. But when I’m creating any piece of content no matter what I’m doing, with every post  I visualize somebody that is going to be consuming it. I visualize who they are, where they are in their life, even where they are. Are they riding in a car? Are they sitting at their desk at a job they don’t like? Are they working late hours and they’re consuming this late at night?”

I think about their problems, I put myself directly in their shoes. Then just before I create that piece of content I say, “Okay. How can I help them and let them know that I can feel their pain, or I’ve been there?”

“It doesn’t matter if you have one follower, or half a million followers. If you treat social media as one-to-one conversations that happen in public, you will be amazed at how many more people respond and connect.”

My passions and what I want to accomplish have all changed by simply investing and building a community and caring about other people, and really doing my best to be my authentic self.

If you’re struggling to create content, to understand the value of digital marketing or social media, Brian explains that, for him, everything changed when he stopped trying to be like everybody else, when he stopped trying to tell people what their problems were. He started just being himself in everything that he does.

“It comes down to that simple idea, that if you’re yourself in everything that you do, it just all becomes easier when you meet somebody offline. You’re the same exact person. Because the hardest thing about the world we’re living in right now is if you’re trying to portray someone that you’re not, or trying to sell something that is not authentic. Or trying to build content that doesn’t match who you are, it’s a heck of a lot of work. It’s really time-consuming and in the long run you’ll be exposed.”

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