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Elton John beats the Arctic Monkeys in a battle of the bands: Making Conversations about magic in marketing Count!
Episode 1188th December 2023 • Making Conversations Count: Honest, relatable conversations with business leaders • Wendy Harris
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The Magic of Authentic Marketing: with TV magician Ben Hanlin

In this episode, I, Wendy Harris, am talking to magician, comedian, TV presenter and now marketing agency owner, Ben Hanlin to discuss authenticity in marketing.

Ben discusses how he transitioned from performing arts to co-founding a digital marketing agency during the pandemic.

His unique selling point is his authenticity, which he brings into the agency's mission to create engaging content and be 'client obsessed'.

We discuss effective digital marketing strategy, focusing on providing value to the audience, ensuring authenticity, and giving more than selling.

We also touch on strategies for content idea generation and execution, particularly using our favourite channel, LinkedIn.

And just what do we mean when we say Elton John beats the Arctic Monkeys in a battle of the bands?...

01:13 Transition from Magic to Marketing

03:20 The Importance of Understanding Your Audience

08:15 Strategies for Successful Storytelling in Digital Marketing

14:21 The Role of Authenticity and Consistency in Content Creation

21:26 The conversation that counts

21:43 Finding Purpose in Your Work

Other related episodes we'd like you to check out

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Welcome to Making Conversations Count.

I'm Wendy Harris, your host, and every episode, I bring you An expert in their field to help you with that particular topic. Are you missing the magic in your marketing? if you are, you're going to want to listen on as

we're joined by Ben Hanlon, comedian, magician, TV presenter, and now marketing agency owner, as we dive into putting the magic back into your marketing. So

Being a magician.

being a TV host and presenter, MC, all of these different skills that you have, . I'm most interested, I think, in

Ben: pull the pin.

Wendy: Sort of a lockdown baby, I'm guessing.

Ben: How did a magician end up being a co founder of a digital marketing agency?

The way this happened, it was exactly in the lockdown, as you say, so me as a magician, was completely, completely scuppered during the pandemic. I had no audiences, all of my work cancelled overnight. And I had a lot of thinking time, which we all did and. we all started to go, I've been doing this, I've been doing this thing like on a hamster's wheel for years.

What else do I want to achieve? And everything I'd ever done in my life is all about me at the focus. So as a magician, performer, presenter on telly, you are the project. Is great. As you get older, you don't always want to build an entire business around you because you want more challenges. So I had that in the back of my head.

Can I be part of a bigger thing? And then my best friend Sam, is a digital marketer. And over the years, my world of making funny entertainment, entertaining content, engaging social media posts for entertainment and his world of brands wanting to create content have gotten closer and closer together.

Till it me and him were having such similar conversations that I was working with brands from a creative point of view and he was working with brands from a performance point of view. And we went, hold on, why don't we create an agency where we care about the ROI and the spend and the data, because ultimately you're going to spend money, better give a return, but at the core of everything we do, let's create engaging content, video content, storytelling content.

And put our two worlds together, really. So that's where it came out of. And it's been two and a half years and it's going well, going well. I'm learning a lot. It's growing. It's really good.

Wendy: Well, it's funny because when these collaborations come together I'm on the start of a journey with a new collaborator here.

And I summed it up that we had different words, but we were saying the same thing. which is a wonderful place to start off from. you've got sort of three or four different strap lines or, phrases that you use in Pull the Pin.

You know, you're educators, first and foremost.

You need to, need to be letting the audience know something. Telling them something. Insight driven. Do you know the one I loved most? Client obsessed.

there are so many mistakes made when looking to connect with your audience that. often the mistake is talking all about me, my product, my company, my brand, my this, my everything else.

Instead of Here's what you get. Here's how it'll make you feel.

we say we're client obsessed [:

to understand who you're talking to.

and what their purpose is and what they're about and where they want to be.

So we know where they want to be, then we create the strategy to help you get there. So if they, what they care about, we have to care about where they want to be. We have to really think about it. So there's no other way of doing it really, other than

really kind of getting under the skin of a client and trying to really pull back, ask them a thousand questions, figure out what their client's pain points are, all that stuff.

Once we figure that out, the

rest should be relatively easy, we can apply whatever skills we need to on top of that. It's something that

Wendy: I say often, which is, once you run out of questions, you've gotten to the, to the murkiness through the waters, haven't you? But then it leads you to be able to actually focus on the conversation.

Ben: Yeah, and

also there's, weirdly, in my other world, so this is where the

two worlds cross over, so I do keynotes about engagement and connection. I saw you were at Google. Was at Google. It's very good. In Dublin. It's a very good time. And one of the points you always talk about, how can anybody walk on stage and engage with an entire audience?

I mean,

I do a whole talk on this but one of the key points, really, really simple is you


to, truly, in that moment, care about your audience. Yeah, it's as simple as, you know, I


to why you

Wendy: feel

Ben: nervous, isn't it? Yeah. But the moment you stop caring or the moment you have an interaction with somebody where you don't care about them, even at a one on one level, you get disengagement, and they switch off and they don't feel they connect with you.

So as busy and as confident as successful as you are, you can never lose sight that you have to always care about every single audience as big or as small as it is. Which again, let's look at the client obsessed mantra. It's exactly the same. It's the same starting point that before we walk into a client meeting, we have to want to care about them.

It's quite simple, really, in that sense.

Wendy: Yeah, I mean, I'm historically a telemarketer, which means marketing by phone. So you're qualifying in or qualifying out. Phrases like cold calling, which is pretty horrible. come to people's mind and you're

going to, and I think, you know, people say about the fear of rejection and all of this sort of business, but, but ultimately it's not until you start to have a conversation and you hear tone of voice and you start to feel a culture or persona, they might match your ideal client on paper, but then not be a good fit for.

Who you want to work with this sort of sort of

Ben: style or workplace. funny. My background was in sales back in the day and in recruitment and the

I always found the best sales because thinks that sales is about who's got the loudest mouth that can that can charm you into buying anything.

But actually the best sales people, they're just the best listeners. Right. And they basically just go. Do you have a problem? What are your problems? And do I genuinely think I have a solution for your problem? And if I do, great. And if we don't, best of luck. It's like, that's, that's all it has to be.

Wendy: So with, with pull the pin and all those, other things, Because things change, and I hear this all the time, sales is changing.

Often that's just, you know, some kind of software that's come out that's going to make your life easier and, you know,


it's complicated and it can take you backwards. For me, I prefer the sort of social selling, the storytelling. That people can hear and get overused word authenticity, you know that you're genuine about what it is that you're doing.

I have a simple strategy. I live on LinkedIn. I share everything else everywhere else, but everything starts with LinkedIn. That's my strategy. When it comes to sharing stories, there's lots of different pillar content and this sort of thing.

t we're like the Brexit vote.[:

We're over 50s and founders or, you know, leaders in our business, or we're that sort of young 18 to 30, don't have any kind of fear about what they're doing.

I mean, it's two completely different geographics of age, but what would your recommendation be for storytelling, successful storytelling now with the digital landscape that we have?

Ben: let's look at some trends that we know for a fact on LinkedIn, right? So. First of all, and all of this changes and it just so happens to be right here right now. We're talking about LinkedIn. We're talking about personal branding in 3 or 4 years time.

It might be gone somewhere else. But right now. For B2B especially, if you want to grow, get engagement and nurture your community and reach a new community, pound for pound, that's probably the best way to spend your time, as you're saying, right? So, massive tick. Something that everyone needs to understand is, for years and years and years, it was

all about the brands.

Brands, brands, brands. So, if you work for a company, it's all about the company page. Now, what the way we all think these days is, on LinkedIn, I don't want to hear from the company, I wanna hear from the experts behind the company. That's what interests me. So I'm not gonna Google. I'm gonna follow the leaders of Google because I'm interested to hear on their thoughts there.

So that's why personal brand is rising and rising and rising because we've seen it. We post the exact same post, one on a company, page one on a personal page, and the personal stuff gets way more engagement. So as a brand, as a company, if you've got 10 leaders. That's 10 times you could be posting and sharing your message to 10 communities.

So that's essentially the landscape. So to your question, right, how do you, I suppose, how do you approach it? What's the effective way of doing it? again, I'll give you the real basic thing. Exactly what you just said is have your content pillars. So in a nutshell, you should be posting consistently three times a week is the goal.

How do you do that in a way that's not going to completely blow your brains out and tear your hair out and. Because you've got a job to do. So there are a few ways you can do it. And this is not me selling my services. One way you can do it is you outsource the entire thing and just go, I am just not going to do it.

It's not for me. I need to find somebody else or an agency that can take my rough ideas and do that for

Wendy: You have, you have a point there though, as well, Ben, is that some people are not capable of actually creating the content either. Yeah, it's

Ben: really simple.

We, you know, I speak to a partner at a law firm that's on over a million pounds a year. Does he want to be sitting there a few hours a week trying to scratch his head, trying to figure out what, no, just... Give it to somebody else so that they can, you do your job well, let somebody else do their job. If you're not interested in it, don't even bother, yeah. But if you're not going to post, understand you are missing an opportunity. So, you've got to be present one way or another if you want to grow Violink. Second of all though, so let's assume you do want to post. Really simply, like you said, you've got your content pillars. the stress is, cheat's way of doing it, the way that content creators, people like me, churn out so much content, is we batch, batch, batch, batch everything.

So, what I do, really simply, is I come up with my three or four content pillars, and I'll break these down, and this is pretty much that everybody could use. So first of all, please, if you take one thing from this conversation, stop selling and start giving on social media. Yeah. There is a massive guy called Gary Vaynerchuk, who's a Gary V.

you know Gary V, Wendy?

Wendy: Oh yes,

our paths have crossed.

Ben: So, anybody who's in marketing or social have heard of Gary V. He's been saying it for 15 years and it's still true. When you're thinking about making a piece of content. just ask yourself, who are my audience and what value can I give to them?

ll like and take value from. [:

Or when you're about to sit down and qualify a customer, what are the first 10 questions that you get asked? Should I even be on social media? Should I be doing this? Should I be doing... Whatever those questions that are in your industry, write those questions down and there all of a sudden, just answer those 10 questions on 10 different posts.

There's 10 ideas. The next phase down from that is again, reiterate, who are you talking to? So, who is my client? What are their current problems? And. answer their problems. So after you've asked your first 10 questions, go, what other problems does my solution solve for my clients?

And then just ask, answer those. So this strategy is very much helping, helping, giving, giving. That's what I would say. We can get into how you craft story after that, but in essence, if you go with that approach and then every now and again, like one, every 10 posts, one, every eight posts, Drop in a little thing that promotes yourself so that people go, oh, that that's what that person

Wendy: I run a LinkedIn local and it's a great way for me to connect really quickly in one place with people that I know online.

So it's bringing my online connections into the real world and they, they ask all sorts of questions, uh, about content they've heard some advice about got to post four times a day. I'm just like, you managed to get a post out a week, I'd be really proud of you because if you're running a business, Sub five people or just on your own getting one post out a week is, is enough of a challenge because you've still got to hopefully there'll be enough interest in what it is that you've talked about for somebody to comment.

You need to be able to engage back. So I think people get hung up on this algorithm of activity and virility. And put less effort into the, what it is that they've got to say, the, you know, the headline hook, adding personality being themselves.

Ben: sO the word authenticity.

Is super key on social media and the reason being is what people who have got half a brain tend to do and they, they, they look at LinkedIn and they, they analyze it. They go. Oh, there are certain types of posts that are doing really well. I will copy that and be that kind of post and you end up then starting to do posts that you don't really believe in or it's not really you, but you know, it's going to get the likes.

The moment you go down that route, there's no consistency, you're not building a long term authentic brand, essentially. And the only thing that's going to keep you consistent in the long term is that

it's, always you. It's always my views, it's always my opinion, so actually, whatever comes and goes, I'm the consistent thing.


Wendy: otherwise, isn't it always just the keys in the pint glass?

Ben: I always say, when it comes to authenticity, my only USP as a magician is that there's only one me.

That's it. So there are thousands of magicians that could learn the exact same tricks that I do. They could see my act and replicate it. But the only, same with comedians. The only thing, the only point of difference is my viewpoints, my lived experience. of the experiences I've had mashing together equals me.

No one else has that. So I have to lean into that as much as I can. It's

Wendy: interesting because we've just not, uh, I think a couple of episodes ago talked specifically about USP and boiled it down to just the uniqueness, which is you. find out what you, what you stand out from the crowd

Ben: for.

re thinking about, if you're [:

So, yeah, so if there's anything going on in the wider world, look at it and go, Ooh, can I relate to that, very global thing? To my industry and link it

back to something relatable to what I'm doing. So for example, the best performing post I've had this year, I unpicked the Arctic monkey set at Glastonbury because I felt that they lost their audience engagement and connection.

So I took a real trending, massive thing that was Glastonbury and I related back to what I'm doing, which is engagement.

Wendy: And my opinion of that

is with a 15 year old who's into the Arctic Monkeys was, I didn't know half of the set.

Ben: deliberately was slightly provocative because I knew people would pick up on


But it's how I felt at the time. I was watching it and I thought, you know what, this is how I'm feeling. I'm not going to

regret saying this because I genuinely believe it. And I think, it relates to everything I'm doing at work.

Wendy: And it's that comparisonitis that can really paralyze us, isn't there?

Because if you were to compare Arctic Monkeys to, for example, Elton John's set, where we went on, you know, a masterclass with Elton, didn't we? The whole time, there wasn't a moment dropped.

Ben: every moment that Elton John was on that stage, he looked like he wanted to be there, and he was loving every minute, and he wanted everybody to have the best time ever.

That was his starting point. Whereas the Arctic Monkeys looked like, we're doing this for ourselves, and we're going to play the set that we're going to enjoy. Two different starting points, two different outcomes. Yeah.

Wendy: And we know which one got positive and the negative from

Ben: that. one thing that we can all do, and I say it's a lot, is start batching your content. So, as you said, how do we get all this content in the bag each week, each month? I break it down into two processes. Step one, block a chunk of time in my diary to batch just ideas, I literally write all those questions I said before, and I just write ideas of what I think posts could be.

I leave that there, and that becomes the next 20 ideas. And I pat myself on the back that. I'm happy with that. In that session, I don't try and create any content and turn them into posts. I don't try and turn them into videos. I don't try and do anything with them. Because I want, like, mentally, I'm quite tired and I'm done by that point.

Too many times people try and come up with an idea and execute the idea at the same time. Yeah. So what I do is I then return and put another date in my diary a week later, a few days later, just to execute previous ideas. And then I'll have one session that is ideas and one session that is then turning those ideas into the post themselves.

And it also gives me three or four days of space to reflect. And sometimes in the four days later, I actually don't like the idea as much as I liked it. Four days ago, the advice I would always say

is just have an idea session, then have a

Wendy: execution.


you've led me to an interesting question that I had set up my sleeve for you, which I'm sure will resonate with the listeners as well.

Is you mentioned a best performing post, And you've talked about how you. Have your ideas and then you execute them. Are your favorite posts the ones that perform the best?

Ben: no. Funny that, isn't it? the thing that happens the most, just to flip that question, is posts that I really think are going to be brilliant and do really well get zero engagement.

So there are posts where I'll literally go, I love this. This is brilliant. And it's quite similar to


and I go, this is brilliant. [:

you go, Oh, there's big learnings in that.

And the first learning is if you're posting content only to get engagement, you're playing the wrong game. Because if you post, put a post out that you don't even like, and it flops. Well, it's just annoying, but if

I put a post out that I'm proud of and I believe in and I enjoy it, then that should be enough.

That's the end result. If it gets engagement, that's a bonus. You have to think. So there is that, and the second thing is what I've also learned is I have no idea which post is going to be the best post in the month, even as long as there's much attention that I put on stuff. what I have to

do is consistently post three or four times a week, and one of them in the long run will be good.

So if I assume one in ten posts is going to get more engagement, I don't know which ten, but the quicker I can put out those ten, the more often I'm getting the engagement.

Wendy: And it's like building a snowman, isn't it? You have to start with a small snowball to build up to something.

So that you can look back and test, you know, that you've done the testing and the measuring to see what the audience likes, as opposed to what you like

Ben: to give them.

Wendy: We will, of course, let everybody know how to find you and to reach out to you, et cetera, to carry on the conversation.


I'm interested to know that one conversation. That changed your life or career.

If you'd have not had that conversation, you know, nothing would have changed.

That opportunity would

Ben: not have There are a few opportunities, especially in what I do. There are some opportunities that

literally change your career. Me getting my first TV show, the phone call to say you are going to have

your own TV show and it's going to air in the

autumn and it's going to be

on. for six weeks and it's backed by ITV.

If that wouldn't have happened, that takes me down a whole different route.

I did have a conversation with an amazing man, year ago, a year or so ago. He was like a life coach and we sat for three hours and he let me talk at him and he gave me his thoughts and he condensed a few things down quite simply.

And he basically said, okay, so you're quite successful, you know, on paper, things tick boxes. He said, but unless you

find real purpose in what you're doing, no money, no day to day job is going to fill that hole.

So the next best now in your 30s, after you've, or late 30s, going into your 40s is You know, your

expertise, you know what?

you're good at, you know your skills, now you need to really

double down. Everything you?

do, is it giving me purpose? And if that purpose is only monetary, on a highway to nowhere there.

Very sage advice. obviously, you know, it's easy to say once you, people say, that's easy to say when you're not starting out, you know, people who are broke, they're all about the money, but if that's your only reason to get up in the morning. it's a little bit of an empty chest at the end of it.

Wendy: Yeah. Well, let's hope that everybody finds their own piece of treasure in whatever it is that they're doing. Ben, thank you so much for

your time today. I really have been delighted to have you on the show. Thank you.

Ben: Thank you, Wendy. Cheers.

that you could miss the mark [:

Their new music hasn't really hit the spot and audiences weren't ready for that kind of set at Glastonbury. Yeah, interestingly, the magic is always around Elton and you just know every single song. And one song can blur into the next, which is just simply Elton. That's the magic, isn't it? In your marketing.

Being client obsessed, as Ben describes. Being audience obsessed. And what stops us from doing that is often that anxiety. Or fear of rejection. So if you found this really interesting, I would urge you also to go back and listen to

a few other episodes. Talk the same language but use different words because every guest has a unique take on this.

Please do look up Marcus Sheridan and his infamous They Ask You Answer. Bryn Tillman also talks about LinkedIn. Neeraj Kapoor. Everybody is in sales and Al Tepper, the great guy, really just

wants you to

look at the uniqueness of you in your marketing and me, goodness, I would

love to hear from you if you need help making your conversations count.

Until next time. We're going to be talking to Mike Southern, the bay mat entrepreneur. Can you really have a business idea and write it down on the back of a bay mat? Oh, yes. And Mike's going to tell us all about that.