Digital-First Leadership

Podcast

Personal Branding with Gail Mercer-MacKay

January 19, 2021
Richard Bliss

This episode’s guest is Gail Mercer-MacKay, founder and president of Mercer-MacKay solutions, a digital storytelling company. Gail is an advocate for the digital executive social voice and has been a thought leader on the concept of Digital First Leadership since 2007. Richard and Gail discuss the idea of “controlling your own narrative”. During the conversation, they talk about Imposter Syndrome and other struggles Leaders can run into when adapting to the Digital-First world. Gail gives her advice on how to navigate those potential pitfalls.

https://www.linkedin.com/in/gailmm

Narrator:

Welcome to Digital-First Leadership. The podcast that focuses on helping leaders and teams understand how to master the language of social media in today's digital first world. Now, here's your host Richard Bliss.

Richard Bliss:

Welcome to the show. In this episode, my guest is Gail Mercer-MacKay, president and founder of Mercer-MacKay Solutions, a digital storytelling company. Now, Gail is an advocate for digital executive social voice, as well as being a thought leader on the concept of digital first leadership since 2007. She and I have known each other for many years, and I asked her to come on the podcast to discuss the idea of controlling your own narrative. Now, this is important because online it's so important that we control our digital narrative. And for many executives, a challenge that they have is that the concept of imposter syndrome, that they're not comfortable being online and they don't know what their authentic voice is. Gail gives her advice on how to overcome this obstacle as well as many others. Let's go ahead and dive in. Gail, thank you very much for joining me on the show.

Gail Mercer-MacKay:

Richard, thanks for inviting me. I'm excited to be here. We've known each other for a long time and I'm so impressed with what you've been doing and your success, and I'm really happy to be here today. Thank you.

Richard Bliss:

Well, thank you. And as we talk about that, you and I have known each other for quite a while, and that success seems to be almost symbiotic, doesn't it? Is that over the years we've worked together and we've kind of gone through this experience and this journey together. It's been a lot of fun.

Gail Mercer-MacKay:

100% agree. We've done it together, and I always found that you were amazing about willing to step up and help me in anything that I needed without looking for necessarily monetary gifts at the time. And that's that old Zig Ziglar quote, "You always get everything you want in life if you help enough other people get everything they want in life." And I think that's maybe been, yeah, a foundation of our relationship. So-

Richard Bliss:

And that is a great quote, because one of the things I learned early on working with you was your great ability to understand the needs of people. You are out in front of this idea of the strength and the importance of having this digital presence of having your online presence and getting it out there. And while I joined you, you and I connected early in that career of that process, but there were things that you went through to get to that point where you started to understand the importance of that online presence. You want to tell me a little bit about that?

Gail Mercer-MacKay:

Sure. Yeah, that's a great question. When I first started my company, which was back in 2007, I had no brand, no recognition, and I was starting this marketing firm to help technology companies market themselves. And I thought, "Well, I'm going to Google my name and see what comes up." And I Googled my name. I only came up in a couple of searches. There's actually a law firm in the UK called Mercer Mackay, which dominated page one of Google, which now longer dominates Google. I'm on the first 10 pages, if you Google me. But I realized that the searches returned information that was not relevant to what I was doing now in my career. And it didn't represent what I was now standing for and what I'm trying to do. And I thought, "Somebody else is controlling my narrative. I am not in control of my narrative. And that is going to need to change if I want to attract clients. I need to be able to show up in the first page of Google saying the kinds of things that I want people to know about who I am and what I'm doing."

Richard Bliss:

That's a good point. And I use that for my own, because if you Google my name, particularly because I lived in San Diego, I'm from Olympia, Washington. And I don't know if I've told you this story, but if you Google my name and insert one of those criteria, the first entry is a Wikipedia entry about Richard Bliss from Olympia, Washington, living in San Diego who was arrested in November of 1997 as a spy in Russia. It's not me, but there are two Richard Bliss's from Olympia, both living in San Diego, both in the tech industry. My mother called me, "Where are you?" And I'm like, "I'm not in Russia."

Richard Bliss:

I use that as an example though of, yes, if you don't control your narrative, somebody else is going to dominate. Not they're going to take your name away. And by the way, it is a true story that there is a Richard bliss. He got arrested in Russia, but you get to exert that control. What were some of the steps? You talked about kind of how you started to do that. You stepped out and started to make some of those changes and adaptations. What were some of those steps you took?

Gail Mercer-MacKay:

Well, I think some of the first steps I took... Well, first of all, I didn't know anything about social media at the time. I had heard of it and I had some kind of a LinkedIn profile, but it was more of a resume than anything that I have today. And I started asking around. I was looking for resources and there was no resources online to tell you how to do this. And so, I started asking people that were posting frequently in LinkedIn, or Twitter, or Facebook, "How did you do this?" So, to get some one-on-one help, to get past that fear factor of posting something online, because the moment you post it, it's out there. And I was terrified I was going to post something stupid. So, I got a little bit of help with that. And then the second thing is I looked to how companies build brands to try and figure out how can I take that learning and apply it to myself for building a personal brand or a small brand of myself as an expert, because again, today you'll find all kinds of information.

Gail Mercer-MacKay:

I had to build a personal brand, but there was nothing back there or very little back there in 2007. And so, that's how I started. And I began to hone what I wanted to stand for. And I'm a big believer if you write things down on paper, you make them happen, your goals. There's all kinds of studies that say if you write your goals down, you reach your goals. So, I thought I'd better write down what I want to stand for. And I did some exercises and I tried some things and I got it all down on paper. And it actually became the foundation of one of the programs that we run today called the Digital Executive at Mercer-MacKay. It's building out who you are and what you stand for. And then that gives you a framework or a guideline of what you are going to post online, what you're going to post socially, how you're going to see yourself and be represented online.

Richard Bliss:

It's part of that guideline that I used as part of the book that I have written on digital leadership that I use part of your section on that whole assessment. Who are you? What do you stand for? What message do you want to put out there? And so, that's been a great tool and asset that I think a lot of your clients and my clients have been able to draw upon is kind of that assessment tool.

Gail Mercer-MacKay:

Well, I was really tickled when you wanted to ask if you could use that in the book, I was thrilled. And yes, we both used that framework a lot. I also want to say, I know the book, I don't know if it's going to be out by the time the podcast is released, but the book is amazing. I feel privileged that I'm one of the early readers. And I think what I loved about it the most is it is a combination of why executives need to do this with some real great stories of executive success. But more than that, it's the how to do it. And I think executives that read your book are going to be shocked to learn that for them to have a really powerful online presence, they only need to commit seven minutes a day, seven minutes a day. And I think a lot of them are intimidated by social. And I think if they knew that they could do this in just seven minutes a day, you'd get a lot more people jumping in.

Richard Bliss:

Yeah, I appreciate that. The book, I worked on it for two years. You and I talked a lot about it. We worked together on it. And I guess if there was a single word or two to use to kind of describe the philosophy that I've come into my career has been empowerment and adaptability. And that is helping the readers of the book, the listeners of this podcast, those who follow my postings on LinkedIn, how to empower you to take that next step to overcome the one thing that's holding you back. Sometimes, like you just said, it's this false belief that I don't have the time. All right, let me introduce you how you can find seven minutes and now take those steps and get going. And there's a great book out there called The Motivational Myth that basically identifies that motivation comes from success. Success does not come from motivation. And so, once you start doing it and becoming active at it, then you get the motivation to keep doing it. And so, I think that's a key element of that.

Gail Mercer-MacKay:

Yeah. And I want to correct something you said, which was we worked on the book together. I know at the start, you said, "Gail, let's work on it together." And I wanted to and I never gave you anything. This book is you, man. You did this book. I would love to take credit for working on the book when you, because it's an amazing book. And when it's a number one New York Times Best Seller, I'm going to say, "Darn it, I could've been on that book too," but no, it's you. But yes, you and I have talked about many of the concepts over the years, for sure.

Richard Bliss:

And I appreciate that. That's what I meant to say. Over the years, we have talked and as we have talked, a lot of the lessons of our discussions have gone into that book. So, thank you.

Gail Mercer-MacKay:

Now, I'm happy if you want to put, "And Gail Mercer-MacKay," as one of the authors, even though I didn't write a word of it, that's-

Richard Bliss:

Tell you what, we'll get one of those praise quotes. We'll have you have one of those praise quotes on the back. That's what we'll do. And you get recognition in terms of the book, because one of the things I wanted to include in the book and is included is this story of some of the success that you have had once you got this going and once you made this happen, you have stories of real-world, walk in the door, surprise you kind of results. And that's one of the stories I wanted to capture and I wanted to share with the audience here. So, tell me about that story.

Gail Mercer-MacKay:

Well, it's such a great story. I mean, the big thing that I wanted to do by establishing myself as an expert and having some consistency in terms of the content that I was sharing and posting online on a regular basis, it was when people search for me that they would know what I stood for. What I didn't know was going to happen is that it would actually sell for me while I slept. So, when you get a really strong digital footprint and you've got consistency, you are going to attract people to you who have problems that you can solve for them. They're going to become interested in your content. So, everything that I did coincided with the new buyer's journey, that people do 67% of their purchasing decision before they ever talk to a salesperson, or they've done the research, and they've gone online, and they've read things, and they've researched before they're ever ready to talk to a salesperson.

Gail Mercer-MacKay:

And so, my story is that I got a call to attend a meeting with somebody who was looking for a marketing company. And I knew nothing about this individual I was meeting or the company. I just showed up at the meeting. And I was prepared to do my normal sales pitch, walked through my deck. "Here's what I can do for you. What are you looking for?" And then have them tell me, "Thank you very much. We're going for two other quotes and we'll get back to you." So, what happened in this meeting is I walked into a boardroom. A woman was sitting there. She got up, she ran towards me. She embraced me in a big hug and she said, "I can't believe I'm meeting you. I've read all your blogs. I follow you on LinkedIn. I follow you on Twitter. I know you can help us. I've got money. Let's get started. Tell me what you can do."

Gail Mercer-MacKay:

It was the shortest sales cycle of y life. It was less than 30 seconds. We started working that day. And so, I think the main thing is that it's important to have your digital foundation, so that you can connect with people digitally and begin to form a digital relationship with them, so that there's been an emotional exchange before you ever meet them face-to-face or meet them virtually on a call.

Richard Bliss:

The challenge though, Gail is that it doesn't come natural for so many leaders, whether they're salespeople reaching out to customers' prospects, executives stepping into this digital world for the first time. It does not come natural. What type of challenges are they faced with as they're trying to step into this? I mean, I have my perspective of the clients that I've worked with and you have yours. What are some of these challenges that they're really struggling with?

Gail Mercer-MacKay:

Well, first one is the imposter syndrome. So, I think, you and I've talked about this too, is a lot of executives, "I don't know what to post about. I don't know what I should be talking about online. I'm not even sure I'm the best expert in this area." And so, again, when we go through the framework with people and get them to write down and work with them on building a brand statement and all of those other things, probably the number one comment that I get back over and over again is, "I've gotten past my imposter syndrome. I really felt like an imposter, but now that I'm reading this in black and white, I'm feeling a lot better." So, that's the first thing is getting past and seeing that you've got expertise in whatever that whatever your area is.

Gail Mercer-MacKay:

And then the second piece is building out a framework, so that you know what you want to talk about. We always... Oh, I'm losing my headset there, but we always talk about four pillars. It could be three, it could be five, but picking four areas that you want to cover. And in our space as leaders, it's often 21st century leadership, how to lead through disruption. A second one might be a particular expertise in a particular type of technology or typical type of business process. The third pillar might be around employee engagement, internal engagement, and being seen as a real expert in that. And then the fourth pillar might be, in my case, it's diversity and inclusion. So, my pillar is about how do we bring up new leaders?

Gail Mercer-MacKay:

How do we get more women in the workforce, especially in technology? So, the fourth is a mix of kind of personal passion and some business. But as soon as you have that framework, it makes it so much easier, because now you don't have to post about everything in the world. You're very specific. You read an article in Harvard Business Review that morning that really spoke to you. Now you're going to re-share that article and comment on it. And maybe that's where you want to jump in and talk about how important it is not to just share, but to comment.

Richard Bliss:

Yeah. I was going to say that as you say that, the biggest challenge again is that in the beginning, anybody who's sharing content on social media believes that the content itself is what's important, so I'm going to share it. But in essence, they're becoming just a newsfeed. Okay, I appreciate that. You read interesting articles and you find them and you share them, and occasionally I read them. But I'm connected with you on social media, not because you're a newsfeed, but because of what you're thinking in your head about the things you're sharing. And I teach this to the sales teams I work with, to the executives I work with. Look, if you're going to turn around and share the Harvard Business Review article, or a Forbes article, or anything, I want to know why you think this is relevant to me. What is it inside your head that caused you to go, "Aha?"

Richard Bliss:

Because I'm guessing that based on your experience, your seniority level, all of those things, you have a different horizon view than I have. Maybe you're a little higher up on that horizon and you can see a little further, and you're going to inform me about something that you see that this article points out. Otherwise, if you just send the link over, okay, I read it, but now I have no idea. Maybe I'll pull something out of it, but this is why it's so important that it's the perspective that an executive or leader has on the topic that is incredibly interesting to their followers. And I got to tell you, Gail, one thing that I think a lot of leaders are forgetting in today's digital world, particularly because of COVID and what we've gone through in 2020, your own employees no longer get to see you.

Richard Bliss:

And sometimes the only way they interact with what's going on in your head is what they see online, and not through a stilted email that you wrote, or your PR team wrote, or through a press release, or a Zoom call. I mean, that Zoom call's nice, but no, they want to see what are you thinking about? And it can be a wide variety of things. That's the other challenge that we get with people is to help them find topics to talk about. And as you just identified, if you understand where you're coming from in the beginning, it makes it so much easier.

Gail Mercer-MacKay:

And just to build on what you've just said, Richard, is this is how a digital relationship starts. It starts the same way as a real relationship. So, if you think about it, if you went to a trade show and you sat down at a bar beside somebody, you would start to talk to them. You wouldn't rip out a piece of paper from Harvard Business Review, hand it over to them, and put your head down. You might go, "Hey, I was just at the keynote? Were you at the keynote? What did you think of it? I really liked the way Satya Nadella talked about tech intensity and how important it is." That's how a digital relationship starts. It's because it starts the same way a real relationship starts.

Richard Bliss:

Yeah. And that's a perfect example of what you've just identified. And I think this is part of the hangup that so many are having on the digital side is that you act as if you were there physically, but we are so unused to disconnecting our physical body from our virtual presence that it's not natural. And so, we feel uncomfortable, those type of things. Those are what we're trying to help people overcome. As we wrap up here, Gail, I certainly appreciate your time, is there a couple of pieces of advice that you would pass along for people to, those who are listening, executives, salespeople, teams, what advice would you give to them as we wrap up about what you see, how this is working, what they can do to be more effective?

Gail Mercer-MacKay:

Yeah, I would say the one thing is don't lead with a product and try to sell something. That's the other big mistake that we see when executives get into digital is they... All they are posting about their product. And again, if we take it back to the example of the trade show, you wouldn't sit down beside somebody and have them say, "What'd you think of the keynote?" And then you would respond and say, "Buy my flux capacitor, it's going to save you 15% on your next cloud decision."

Richard Bliss:

And your next trip to the 1950s. Yeah.

Gail Mercer-MacKay:

Yeah, exactly. So, it really is about real dialogue and thoughts about what's going on and comments on what's going on in the world to do that. But I was talking with a very small technology company yesterday and they, about 30 people, and they said, "We really need to get into this digital world, but we don't have a lot of money and we don't have a lot of resources." And I said, "There's only two things you need to do to be wildly successful in marketing and attract the kinds of buyers." And you don't need a lot of buyers if you're a smaller company. You might only have 100 people following you, but they are following you because they care and they'll buy from you is build your digital foundation, understand what you want to post, and then post regularly, post with some consistency, maybe two or three times a week.

Gail Mercer-MacKay:

That's all you need to post. Look at seven minutes a day. And the second thing, and you and I've talked about this before is I'm a big, still a big fan of email lists. And so, get your email, have some way of capturing people's email on your website, and begin to email out regularly to these people as well and people that are following you. And keep them short, keep them personal, and keep them packed with value. Never try to sell. And over time, that list will start to reach out to you, to buy from you, and to do business with you.

Richard Bliss:

Yeah, that's great advice. The first time I stepped out, and this was just recently, starting to build that list was to offer a winning tip on how to win at monopoly. If you'd like to hear a tip on how to win at monopoly, sign up for my newsletter, and that had nothing to do with what I'm doing, but it kind of worked. People were really interested in how to beat their kids at monopoly. A lot of businesses there.

Gail Mercer-MacKay:

I need that tip. I need that tip.

Richard Bliss:

Have you signed up for my newsletter? I think you have.

Gail Mercer-MacKay:

I haven't.

Richard Bliss:

I'll go ahead and send it to you. Gail, thank you so much for joining me. This has been great also to dive in and tap into your expertise. Quick question, how do people find you and your organization?

Gail Mercer-MacKay:

So, we are easy. We are at mercermackay.com. And that's our website and they can sign up for our newsletter online. On LinkedIn, it's Gail Mercer-Mackay. So, simply reach out, connect with me on LinkedIn. I'd be happy to connect with you.

Richard Bliss:

Perfect, Gail. Thank you very much for joining me. It's always fun.

Gail Mercer-MacKay:

Thanks, Richard. It's great to be here. Appreciate it.

Narrator:

You've listening to Digital-First Leadership, the podcast where you learn to leverage and build your expertise on digital platforms. For more valuable tips on mastering the language of social media, subscribe to our newsletter at blisspointconsult.com. If you'd like to stay in touch, feel free to add Richard on LinkedIn and join the conversation.