We look to brands for what to do, what to think, and how to feel. We want to know what to support and what to stand against. Brands are the new voice of authority. Now’s the perfect time to reveal their humanity. Welcome back to the Author Hour Podcast. I’m your host Hussein Al-Baiaty. My next guest is Deb Gabor, who’s here to talk with us about our newest book titled, Person-ality. Let’s dive in.
Hello, everyone. Thanks for joining today. I’m here with Deb Gabor. I’m super excited to talk about this book Person-ality. Deb, thank you so much for joining me today. I know this is the third book in your series. Congratulations to you. Thank you for coming on the show. Yeah. I’m really honestly, just really excited. Just reading through the first couple of chapters and skimming through, I realized there was so much good, delicious content that I just wanted to – Yeah. Just give you kudos to that, because it’s brilliant. Thank you.
Deb Gabor: Thank you. I appreciate that.
Hussein Al-Baiaty: Yeah. Yeah. Absolutely. I’d like to first start to give our audience a glimpse of who you are, where you grew up, perhaps. Just what led you into this entrepreneurship/branding and marketing world? Yeah. What brought you to this world?
Deb Gabor: Well, I grew up largely out east. I started in Ohio, went to the East Coast, New York, New Jersey, back to Ohio. Then I had been moving west ever since then. I now have been a denizen of Austin, Texas for 25 years. What brought me to Austin was what brought a lot of people to Austin, which was an independent spirit, a great environment to do business, a place where you could spread out at the time, you literally could spread out. I came from Chicago, where I lived in a postage-stamp-size house, on a postage stamp-sized lot. So I was able to spread my wings a little bit. I came here to work for a really, really cool entrepreneurially focused business and cut my teeth there. Then it’s been a trajectory ever since.
I like to explain to people that I’ve been doing this work of brand strategy and marketing for my entire adult life, my entire career, which believe it or don’t, is more than 30 years. I grew up in the technology industry. Then I moved to the consulting and professional services side of technology and then started my own company back in 2003. I’ve been at this for almost 20 years.
Hussein Al-Baiaty: That’s amazing. Yeah. You’ve been at it for sure. This is also like we talked about earlier, this is the third book. To say that you’re busy is probably an understatement.
Deb Gabor: Yeah. Yeah. I don’t think that – there’s not a word in the English language yet that describes the level of busyness that I’ve achieved, but the cool thing is, I’ve written three books, and all three of these books were natural extensions of who I am. I always tell people; I was born to brand. It really is a compulsion that I have I can’t not do it. I tell the story in my first book and Branding is Sex about John Wooden. One of the books that I read early on in my own entrepreneurial journey was a book called Wooden on Leadership. I learned that Coach Wooden, he couldn’t not coach. He literally would see kids playing basketball on a playground court, and he’d see kids with bad hand position or poor defense, and he would say stop the car, and you jump out of the car and correct the hand position. Get them going in the right direction. Help them with the game.
Hussein Al-Baiaty: I love that.
Deb Gabor: Yeah. I’m not the John Wooden of branding, but I have that same kind of compulsion. That’s where it all started. Branding is Sex was the first. Then culminating here in Person-ality. It was a natural extension of what I was already doing.
Hussein Al-Baiaty: Yeah. I love that so much because, again, that idea of honing in what you’re, what your natural gifts are and leaning into them and not trying to avoid that aspect of yourself. So tell me about this specific book. Who did you write this book for? Because I know at Scribe we very much harp on your avatar, your audience all that good stuff. So in keeping in mind with who you wrote this book for specifically, who out there could really resonate with your message?
Does the Brand Have a Purpose?
Deb Gabor: This book is written specifically for the inner authority in everyone who is a business leader, who is an aspiring, I’ll say thought leader. If you read the book, you’ll know that I bag on this term thought leadership, but an aspiring authentic thought leader, really anyone who is compelled to share information with other people for the sheer purpose of elevating the space that they share with those people. These are people who want to use the platform of their business success or their brand or cultivating a community to actually create change in the world. Person-ality, I’ve been telling people that if I were to go back and write these books in the appropriate order, I probably would have started with Person-ality, because Person-ality is really about what I call H2H, or human-to-human branding.
Then Branding is Sex is more about the how to, how to build a brand and then irrational loyalty are the stories of the trials and tribulations of doing it right and not doing it so right. Person-ality, it’s like the Star Wars movies. The Star Wars movie that I first saw, in like what, 1978 was actually in the middle of the saga. Person-ality is really the beginning of the saga because it’s about the human authority behind the brand and really using the footprint of your own authority to help propel you to make change and influence other people with your message.
Hussein Al-Baiaty: So powerful. I love that you just pulled that personality idea apart. Now introducing it to your audience in a way that could really get them to understand that human-to-human branding. So let’s dive in. I mean, your work, you start us off really clear at the beginning of the first section. You call it it’s the rise of H2H, right? Rise to human-to-human branding. In that first chapter, we talk about how business is different today. I mean, it’s a very true statement. Business is different today, but can you share your thoughts on that and how those two meet one another?
Deb Gabor: Sure. The book starts in the middle of the pandemic or at the beginning of the pandemic. I think that the chapter that you’re referring to is the one that starts with this made-up letter that was kind of the amalgamation of all of the ridiculous from the CEO emails that flooded our inbox at the beginning of the pandemic that said, “Dear customer, who we don’t even know who you are. We just want to let you know, we’re thinking about you. #we’reallinthistogether. In case you need to buy a new sofa, or a lamp, or a vacuum cleaner, or whatever. We’ll be here for you.” These really, really inauthentic, I don’t know what to say, but everyone’s doing [those] kinds of emails.
That is a point in time that we can really identify where it became extremely clear how business is different today. I don’t think that the pandemic in and of itself precipitated the entire change that I talked about, but it was the point at which it became really visible to not just experts, but consumers like you and me. So how is business different today? It’s a couple of things. The main thing is that back in the day, when I started doing this marketing business a million and a half years ago, if you nailed the four P’s of marketing, which were product, pricing, placement promotion, if you nailed those, then you were guaranteed to have short success. In fact, that’s what we studied in business school. Those were the principles we were acting on.
Fast forward to today and how business is different consumers today, and when I say consumers, I’m talking about not just people who are buying consumer products for themselves or for their families and friends, but business purchase influences who are buying stuff for their offices, their companies, their buying machinery, their buying services, all of this. They require the brands that they patronize to show up with a set of values and beliefs. They want to know, they require to know of the brands that they use, what those brands stand for, what are those brands about, because how the world is different and how business is different today is that what people buy, what they eat, what they drink, what they drive, what they wear, the services that they hire, the software that they buy, the books that they read, all become part of their very identity.
Business is different today because when what people buy and what they do is part of their path to eventual self-actualization, the stakes are higher than they’ve ever been. They’re requiring of those brands a deep, deep, deep understanding so that they can bond not just with the brand’s functional benefits, but with how it makes them feel emotionally and how it elevates them in the their journey towards whatever highest level of human potential they’re trying to achieve. That makes business very, very different than it used to be.
Then like I said, the pandemic just put a finer point on it, because it really blew the doors off of everything and showed us that when organizations show their values and beliefs, and we know what retailers think of their employees, and how they treat their employees, or how large information-based businesses treat their employees when they had to send them all home to work. How they enable them to be more successful or how they applied for loans that were designed to continue payroll through the darkest times. Those activities, those actions that brands were taking in the world, were not separate from the brands, but they were the brands. That’s the main way that business is different today.
Hussein Al-Baiaty: So powerful. I just can’t agree more. I mean, I feel like just in my own world the things that I look for, the things that I read. One, helped me expand my field of vision about humanity, the world. But also just this idea of does your brand have purpose? Like I started this thing called the refugees back in 2016, after my father passed. It was about giving back to the refugee community and all these things. That was a huge shift for me. I was so inspired by Toms Shoes when I was younger. I was like, “Wow.” Like a business, you know, because you grew up thinking all these millionaires and businesses are, they’re all like greedy, and they siphon everything from our world, right? But that’s obviously not the truth, right? These are the things that we’re told in a lot of ways.
Then like a fun company comes along, and it’s like, ice cream, but that also helps kids, and like – it’s just like, there’s something about that idea that just so happens to also do XY or Z. It’s very human. I love that. I love even like emails that come from some of these brands, right? It’s like, as if the copy is written so well, it’s as if they not only know me, but like, they are speaking to me in the way that I speak, right? This idea of personalizing the human, like you said, personality. You give this identity of personality that can really resonate with who you’re trying to speak with, is so astounding, it’s so powerful. You’re right.
Today, modern-day world, I went to a print shop for a while too, and like, that’s the thing. Even when I bought my heavy machinery, I’m like you were really like in my mind, even when I bought mine. I’m like, I want to know that I’m going to be taken care. Like, I want to talk to the person, I want to – you know what I mean? Those are the small little things that actually make up the promise of that brand. You’re 100% right. Obviously, you talk about this, too. The strong theme throughout your book is defining and outlining the idea of authorities. How do you see that play out in brands and brand building?
Establish a Footprint of Authority
Deb Gabor: Authority is really identifying the human billboard for your brand or becoming the human billboard for your brand. One of the ways to think about authority is to look at examples of it all around us. There’s positive and negative authority. One area of authority and one particular authority that’s top of mind for me right now is Elon Musk. With regard to Twitter, right? As the walking billboard now for the Twitter brand, he seems to be not only the arbiter and creator of all the chaos. He also isn’t really doing his brand any favors, and to some extent, his purchase of the Twitter brand and what he wants to do with it. The moves that he’s proposing to make with it and some of the botched things that have occurred over the last week or so. It is a way for him to establish a footprint of authority.
What is authority? Authority is your level of influence over the prescribed change that you want to see in the world. So his acquisition of Twitter really is something that is all about advancing his desire to create this unedited and uncensored, purely free speech world and using Twitter’s the platform to do that. He ported his existing authority, which he achieved by being a successful entrepreneur, by being a professional provocateur, by being a very, very outspoken human being that leverage both his personality, as well as his proven track record of success.
A lot of his popular and unpopular opinions and moves in the world, he put those all together in this authority recipe. He ported his authority over to Twitter is taking the platform of the Twitter brand and also lending the authority of his own brand to the Twitter platform to transform what that company was originally created to do. Then what he wants it to stand for to precipitate the change that he’s looking for in the world. Does that make sense to you how these things are all connected?
Hussein Al-Baiaty: Yes, absolutely. I love the, obviously modern right, what’s happening right now, your translation of it. It totally makes sense when you break it down like that. This idea of, you’re able to move your authority over and impact something else, as well. But it’s the idea of leveraging that first and knowing what those levers are. I think that’s really powerful. Yeah, I like how you broke that down. It really makes sense. What’s one lesson that you yourself have learned in the years? I mean, obviously, been doing this for a very long time. In the years of helping others build these brands and identify these things that can create this authority. What’s the one thing that you feel like brands have a hard time with and do not really fully understand?
Deb Gabor: I would say that the biggest lesson that I’ve learned is less from working with other brands and more from trying to establish my own authority platform and my own authority to achieve the goals that I’m looking to achieve in the world. You probably know me as the irrational loyalty person. I have this idea that irrational loyalty is this condition that you develop as a brand that creates these bonds that are so strong that your customers would feel like they were cheating on you, if they were to choose an alternative. Well, I don’t just do that, because it makes good money. I do that, I create a rational loyalty with brands, because it makes their businesses more successful, and makes those businesses more sustainable, and successful, sustainable, economically positive.
Businesses create healthier economies. We know healthier economies are good for people. Basically, to encapsulate that whole thing in a nutshell, I do this because it makes businesses better and better business is good for humans, right. So I personally am on a mission to impact a million brands by 2029. I estimate that I’m about halfway there through all of the various things that I’ve done, writing books, doing media, doing podcasts like this. Speaking to be groups of people and working with 40 or 50 brands a year in my personal Laboratory, which is the company that I run.
Well, the big lesson I learned and truly what was the inspiration for Person-ality, the book, this book about cultivating human authority to grow your brand was my own experience of creating an authority platform. I learned a really, really expensive and resource and time costly lesson several years ago when my first book came out. I wasn’t intentional and thoughtful about how I wanted that book, not just to serve me, but also to serve the world. Like I told you, I’m compelled to share information about branding. I was jumping out of my skin to be able to share my message with the world, which is a terrific idea for writing a book. I mean if you want to write a book, you need to have something to say, and you need to have a compelling reason to say it.
What I wasn’t prepared for was the success of that book, and how resonant my message would be with the right people, and how I wouldn’t be able to enter all of these conversations that I previously was unable to enter. It’s probably another topic for another Author Hour Podcast that was probably already recorded years ago, but it’s a legendary story, but I was propelled very, very suddenly into a space where I was really given this opportunity to use my platform to share this concept of irrational loyalty with the purpose of making businesses better, but I wasn’t prepared for it. I hadn’t thought through specifically how I wanted to do that. I mistakenly went out, and I hired somebody who I thought was a hotshot copywriter and designer.
We tried to create a product out of my branding methodology to take what was typically delivered through the humaneness of my human authority in person, hands-on with clients and try to make it into an app. I wanted to try to make it into an app. When it went out to the world, I was met with crickets, mostly because I had taken all the humanity out of the brand. Then secondly, I hadn’t really cultivated and earned the trust and empathy and credibility that I needed with a community of people. So I had a miserable fail. I spent a lot of money. I created products that never saw the light of day, beyond just doing a smoke test in the space. Then I learned a big lesson. I was like, “Why didn’t this work?”
Well, first of all. I hadn’t really attracted and engaged and built enough trust with a community of people. What I learned when you fast forward, and this is all covered in the book, my own story here. What I learned when you fast forward to the beginning of the pandemic, March of 2020, when I was getting ready to go on like a life-changing, speaking tour, and most of my business, I was monetizing my authority through products, and books, and speaking, and consulting, and things like that. I wasn’t really working day to day in my business, the pandemic ripped the rug out from underneath me. I lost my platform to be able to share my ideas and engage with other people. Basically, conferences got shut down. Airplanes got shut down. There were no opportunities for me to go hands-on and spend eight hours with an executive team kicking their ass around a brand, right.
I also learned at that time, people were struggling. The single biggest move I made was to use the power of my knowledge, my authority, my experience, my network, my ecosystem, to help other people without asking for anything in return. I basically took to the airwaves, and started sharing my information with lots and lots of people without obligation, without asking for anything from them. By giving to this audience, by giving very generously of my time, and my energy, and my effort, I earned their trust, and I earned their affection and their admiration. Then this magical thing started happening, which was they were leaning forward, starting to tell me what they wanted to buy from me, which was in stark contrast to the way that I tried to monetize authority six years ago, when I wrote that first book. I was like, “Yeah, I’m going to build an app out of this. I’m going to build a software platform that’s going to do branding for people using my methodology.”
Hussein Al-Baiaty: Yeah. I think everything you’re talking about is so, it’s personal, right? There’s so many stories and layered stories, especially now, right? Like when you started to turn your angle and go really deep, and just offer the help that without receiving, right? You’re just like, you know what? I’m just going to give as much help as I possibly can, because people are struggling right now. I have this wisdom. I have this knowledge. Then low and behold like, when you start giving people are like, “Yo, this is so helpful. I’m happy to pay for x, y, or z.”
That obviously helped you reach handle your energy in saying, “Okay around what I give what is the most valuable? How can I turn that into a profitable thing, so that I can continue surviving and growing my voice, and all these beautiful things.” It sounds profound. You’ve put so much time, energy, and resources into everything you’re doing, but then it’s that realization, right? That realization within yourself on that you can take and now experience, can take a lived experience, and go share that with someone else that can obviously impact them in a beautiful way. This is really profound.
Authority Should Be about Helping, Not Selling
Deb Gabor: Yeah. The biggest lesson that I learned and that I think other people have learned about authority is that authority should be about helping and not selling. The world has commoditized authority. Actually, the pandemic accelerated this. When the pandemic sent everybody home and put us all behind our laptops, and gave us webcams and microphones, and ring lights like literally everybody who had something to say, could stand themselves up as an expert or an authority on something. I mean, there were entire gigantic platforms that were launched that were dedicated to having people bring their content there so that they could be the self-proclaimed expert on underwater basket weaving, cat care, baking, whatever it was, right?
To some extent, authority got commoditized, and authority also got a big shot in the big toe, when people started using their audiences and cultivating authority to sell to them. That actually did a lot to both lower the barriers of entry to become an established authority, meaningful, authentic authority that’s going to grow businesses, grow brands, create movements, change the world. It lowered the barriers, but then also, it made a lot of that stuff just look like utter bullshit. So it’s really hard for somebody who really does have something that they are compelled to share and something that they are moved to give to other people. It makes it harder for them because there’s just so much noise out there.
My hope is that this book helps people who want to do the hard work of establishing authentic, meaningful authority that doesn’t come overnight and isn’t about selling something. I promise you authority monetizes in the whole second half of the book is all about how to monetize authority. But the care with which you build your authority platform, and you establish your authority brand, and you manage that identity and the platform that you build for that, and the amount of controversy, and slings and arrows that you are willing to invite, all goes towards, it all adds up to the strength of that authority that you earn.
Authority is not something you bestow on yourself or that you can give to someone else. It is something that is truly earned through hard work, through having a strong, clear, concise brand that connects with the most important people who are going to help you advance your cause. Authority is created by giving, by giving generously sharing generously without obligation, your ideas, your thoughts, your passions with other people, all for the purpose of elevating them and not you.
Hussein Al-Baiaty: It’s so powerful. Your enthusiasm alone for this work makes me want to call my friends and be like, “You guys got to talk to Deb. Like, you need help with your branding. You need help with your authority.” No, this is so great. I’ve learned – you’ve inspired me today, seriously. I’ve learned so much. Honestly, it’s just congratulations to you. I mean, three books, one is tough enough in putting out three, is incredible. Again, congratulations. I hope it makes plenty of time to celebrate and get it out there with friends and family. I just want to ask you like, if there was one simple concept, one principle, someone can walk away with from this book, what would that be?
Deb Gabor: The simple concept that they can walk away from this book with. I can boil it down to one thing is that brands are like people, and people are brands. That it is your mission to create that condition of irrational loyalty, which, like I said, is when people are so indelibly bonded to your brand that they feel like they were cheating on you. It’s like your mission to do that using your authority. The main principle, like the one main takeaway that I harp on throughout the entire book, is that when you establish your authority brand and you build your authority platform, it has to be authentic. It has to be rooted in your values and beliefs. It has to be compelling, consistent, clear, meaningful, and it has to be about elevating others and giving to others, not serving yourself.
If you create an authority brand that’s really about serving yourself if you’re a shameless self-promoter and we all know who these people are out there. Your shameless self-promoter or you’re like like I called the Elon Musk before a professional provocateur, or Kanye West or any of these people out there. When you do it, people can tell, people can sniff it out. When it’s inauthentic, they don’t want it. It’s yucky, right? So true authorities are authentic to their values and beliefs and they do it with very, very pure purpose, which is to serve others, not serve themselves.
Hussein Al-Baiaty: It’s so powerful. I love that so much. Thank you so much, Deb for sharing your stories, and your experiences with us today. The book is called, Person-ality: Cultivate Your Human Authority to Ignite Irrational Brand Loyalty. Besides checking out the book, where can people find you, Deb?
Deb Gabor: People can find me at debgabor.com. You can find me on all the social stuff. I’m Deb Gabor on everything. My company is called solmarketing.com. Sol like the in Spanish, and I hope people will look me up. Just let me know where you heard me.
Hussein Al-Baiaty: That’s amazing. I love that so much. Thank you so much today for joining me, giving me this time, this opportunity to pluck some of that knowledge and wisdom out and share it with our audience. You’ve been amazing. Thank you again for your time. I really appreciate it, Deb.
Deb Gabor: Thank you.