Skip to content

The One Way to Stand Out in the Crowd of Content

This story begins in the present.

Brian Fanzo is a founder, CEO, and keynote speaker. He does 70 speaking engagements a year. Over the past four years, he has done more than 4,000 live video broadcasts.

Brian works with leading brands, including Dell, Adobe, IBM, and SAP. He did influencer engagements at Mobile World Congress and the Super Bowl. Chances are you know Brian.

But where did Brian’s story begin?

At a frozen yogurt shop in Virginia Beach.

Brian shared his story during a Content Marketing World presentation, Press The Damn Button: How To Stand Out From the Bad News and Fake News On Social Media.

How does David beat Goliath?

In a little shopping district in Virginia Beach, Brian’s family opened a frozen yogurt shop. Working there as a teen, Brian learned life lessons.

Brian’s dad is a firm believer in community – both the concept and the tight-knit community they were a part of. One could argue that their frozen yogurt shop was a center of the community.

“We held the baseball draft for our local community. My mom was the president of the PTA and the PTA meetings happened at our shop. It became the central idea of anything we were doing in the community,” Brian says.

Deeply connected with his family business, Brian got the nickname “yogurt boy” and embraced it.

Then one day, trouble arrived.

Dairy Queen came to town. Even worse, the national chain opened a store next door to the Fanzo’s. Brian’s thought was that the family business was ruined.

How could the Fanzos’ frozen yogurt shop, aka David, stand any chance against Dairy Queen, aka Goliath? They banked on the relationships and trust they accrued over the years – the strong sense of community rooted in their shop.

Brian’s dad didn’t worry for one second. “My dad knew we weren’t competing with Dairy Queen. Competing with that logo of Dairy Queen, we were going to lose. We competed with the fact that we knew the people of our community. It’s the connection that we had with people,” says Brian.

In the end, the Fanzo frozen yogurt shop not only survived, it thrived. Brian’s dad wasn’t running a business so much as he was building a community. His dad knew the importance of telling your story and connecting with people at a deep level. Brian would take these lessons as he embarked on his career.

At his family’s yogurt shop, @iSocialFanz learned the importance of telling your story to connect w/ people via @cmicontent. #CMWorld Click To Tweet

A setback of sorts

Brian took a job with a government contractor, doing cybersecurity work for the U.S. Department of Defense. He had a budget of $19.9 million and a team of 32 employees. His work took him to South Korea, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

In the Middle East, he spent a lot of time with locals. He became fascinated with the culture, and realized that his early perceptions of the Middle East weren’t accurate. “Growing up, there were so many stories about the Middle East that were wrong. Stories that the media was putting in front of me, the news reports that I saw,” Brian says.

To shift others’ misperceptions of the Middle East, he published a few blog posts:

He shared those posts with his boss at the government contractor and received unexpected feedback:

Sorry, Brian. I love that you want to blog for us, but you write like you talk. You tell too many stories, you talk about experiences. I can’t figure out where our sales numbers are going to be drawn here and I really don’t think you should ever be writing for a company.

With one swift email, Brian’s dreams were nearly shattered.

A breakthrough sets everything in motion

Brian was posting on the major social platforms: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, etc., but he was struggling. The words of his old boss’s feedback years earlier still reverberated.

“I was told, ‘Your story doesn’t matter and you’re telling too many stories and focusing on experience.’ Not only did it hurt, it hurt so bad that it put me into not telling stories online or sharing myself at all,” Brian says.

He would spend an hour crafting a single Facebook post, striving for perfection, to give his followers precisely what they wanted.

He was feeling social media burnout. He spoke to his mom about it.

On Nov. 2, 2013, his mom spoke three sentences that would change Brian’s life forever:

Well, son, the thing about you that’s always stood out is that you are unapologetically yourself. You had no problem wearing a hat and crazy shoes, being who you are. Are you doing the same thing online?

That was the aha moment for Brian. He took a Sharpie pen to his mirror and wrote “be yourself.” Almost six years later, Brian was wearing a T-shirt with #BeYourself during his Content Marketing World presentation.

How does that relate to content marketing?

Brian says “being yourself” extends to “knowing yourself” – knowing the mediums in which you are most comfortable.

Brian’s next discovery moment came at the 2015 Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. A friend told him about the then-popular Meerkat, a live-streaming mobile app. Brian did a live broadcast from the conference. A viewer, Gary from Indiana, posted a question, “Is that the Microsoft booth over there? Any chance you could go show me their new phone?”

From that one request, Brian saw the potential of live video: connecting with an audience in real time and creating the content in real time to address their on-demand needs.

“I believe we all have a story to tell. The question becomes where do we tell it … I needed to find my medium. I needed to find my outlet. Live video ended up being my outlet,” Brian says.

I believe we all have a story to tell. The question becomes where do we tell it. @iSocialFanz via @cmicontent #CMWorld Click To Tweet

The future is relatability

Brian says the future of marketing is relatability.

The future of #marketing is relatability, says @iSocialFanz via @cmicontent #CMWorld Click To Tweet

He spoke about John Legere, CEO of T-Mobile. An AT&T customer for seven years, Brian didn’t know who the CEO was, but he learned on social media.

“On a weekly basis, (John) has a Sunday cooking show where he does a slow-cooker Sunday on Facebook Live. He cooks in his penthouse in Seattle, gives you different recipes. When he’s in New York, he runs around Central Park and if you can find him, he gives you a free iPhone,” says Brian.

When it came time to buy a new phone, Brian went with T-Mobile. “I understood who (the CEO) was at his core. I trusted him. I didn’t need to trust T-Mobile. I trusted the person there,” he says.

Sound like our earlier David vs. Goliath story?

The Fanzo frozen yogurt shop won because the owners were known and trusted by their community – their customers related to them. Similarly, the much smaller T-Mobile won Brian’s business from the larger AT&T because its CEO built trust from relatability.

In her Total Annarchy newsletter, Ann Handley covered the topic of relatability: “Relatable means that you infuse your marketing and writing with point of view and perspective.”

Ann shares how you can be relatable:

  • Show your personality.
  • Celebrate the actual people behind the brand.
  • Talk to your prospects as peers.
  • Take some risks.
  • Tell the truth.
  • Screw up sometimes.

Ann also details the honest and relatable way Mindy Kaling revealed herself to the audience at Content Marketing World:

  • She doesn’t view her work as something that has moral value; she does stuff because it’s funny and her friends like it.
  • She publicly made a bunch of charitable donations for her birthday in part because of how others would admire that.
  • She’s competitive.
  • She bought her prom shoes from DSW.
  • She feels guilty because one of the six phrases her toddler knows is “mommy busy.”
  • She admits her ego is huge.

Press the damn button

Many things can prevent you from creating and sharing content, “pressing the damn button.” For the most part, the barriers come down to three letters:


Inertia is a convenient state, as it requires no action. Asking questions can reinforce that inertia. For example, if you approach video content by first asking about the equipment you need, the question indicates you’re looking for a reason to take no action: “I don’t need to do that because I don’t have the right equipment.”

If you really want to press the damn button on that video, eliminate all obstacles and barriers.

It can be as simple as using your smartphone. For an influencer campaign at the Super Bowl, Brian didn’t need a camera crew and satellite trucks. He did the campaign from his iPhone.

Once you eliminate the obstacles, Brian advises two things:

  1. Understand that perfection is a fairy tale. Even if you give the appearance of being perfect (e.g., those polished Instagram shots too good to be true), you’re less relatable. Showing mistakes, flaws, and errors makes you relatable.
  2. Know that control is an illusion. When you go live on video, you give up a lot of control. Your phone battery may die in the middle of the broadcast or you might capture something crazy on camera. But those challenges are relatable to your audience. Brian loves it because he sees it as the essence of being the real you.
Relatability in #marketing requires you to give up on perfection and control, says @isocialfanz via @cmicontent. #CMWorld Click To Tweet

There’s a beauty to this element of putting yourself out there,” Brian says. “There’s a beauty to this idea that says when you’re honest and true to who you are, the trolls have no power because there’s nothing they can say that would throw you off.

Are you ready to activate?

Brian ended his session with a call to action:

I challenge everyone … Write one thing down and execute on it. Press the damn button on it. Push forward because this is how we start making a movement, this is how you start standing out. Ultimately, it’s how we move things forward.

Write one thing down and execute on it. Press the damn button on it. It’s how we move things forward, says @isocialfanz via @cmicontent. #CMWorld Click To Tweet

Find the medium you’re comfortable in. If live video isn’t your thing, that’s OK. The “button” could be the “publish” button on your first blog post. The important thing is to act.

After Brian’s session, I was so impressed that I pressed the damn button to record and post a thank you:

Are you ready to activate? Let us know where (and how) you plan to press the button. Enjoy the ride.

Here’s an excerpt from Brian’s talk:

Want to watch Brian Fanzo’s presentation in its entirety AND get access to over 100 more presentations from Content Marketing World? Get video-on-demand access today.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute