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Throughout the relatively short history of The #AskGaryVee Show I’ve fielded numerous questions from people convinced that their especially dull or outdated industry or uninspiring job poses a special marketing challenge. It’s stunning how many remarkable reasons and circumstances people can come up with to explain why they haven’t met with success. Of course, the problem doesn’t usually lie with the type of industry or job. The problem lies with the individual who can’t see opportunities when they’re right in front of his or her face. There might not be any easier place to make your mark than in an environment where few people, if any, are putting much effort into making their mark, or where everything has stayed the same since the dawn of time.

What I find heartening is what often happens after I answer these kinds of questions. A high percentage of people will email me afterward to say, “Hey, you were right,” and tell me that my answer sparked the beginning of a mind shift that led to rapid gains. I have no interest in being a motivational speaker, but it’s scary and exciting to see how little it sometimes takes to change someone’s perspective. Maybe we all look for excuses to explain why we don’t achieve what we want to, and we should be more self-aware and recognize how much control we actually have over our own fate, even taking into account the barriers like racism, s@xism, and nationalism that many of us have to face. It’s amazing how as soon as you make the shift from “I can’t” to “Why can’t I?” you go from defense to offense, and as everyone knows, the best place to score is always on offense.

imageHow do I create interesting content for a boring product or a stale industry?

A white lawyer defends a black man in a small southern town. A spoiled rich girl gets married three times and survives the Civil War. Boy meets girl. Recognize any of these? Shaved down to their core, To Kill a Mockingbird, Gone with the Wind, and Romeo and Juliet sound pretty damn boring. Their lasting power lies in the fresh, imaginative, daring, surprising storytelling of their creators. There is no boring if you tell your story right.

If you’re asking this question, your problem isn’t your content; it’s your mind-set. You have to shift your thinking immediately. You cannot change your output unless you change your input.

Start by thinking of every possible way your business, brand, or product touches people, from what they eat, to their hobbies, to their conversation topics. Don’t box yourself in. Use your imagination and map out all the options if that’s helpful. For example, a hardware store. You are sadly mistaken if all you see are tools, adhesives, and paint. Other people see their dream home, their kids’ fort, a finished honey-do list, a new vegetable garden, or a bird feeder. They see their problems solved, their rainy days filled, or their closet space doubled. They see Habitat for Humanity or Eagle Scouts or Pencils of Promise. They might see sweat and exercise, or inspiration, change, craft, and fun.

Next, think outside your industry altogether. When I was still selling wine, people would always tell me about other retailers that were doing interesting things and suggest I go for a visit. You know what my answer was? “I don’t give a crap.” The truth is despite all my years in wine, I spent an amazingly little amount of time within the industry itself. The same can be said for the agency industry, even though I’m working in it now. I’ve been to maybe six other agencies in my life. I don’t follow industry news. I try not to listen to what else is going on.

And that is why I have been able to innovate over and over again. I don’t want to copy what everyone else is doing—I want to stand out. So I stick to what I’m really good at, and I search for inspiration where everyone else isn’t looking. My experience in toy collecting and baseball cards gave me the perspective to attack the wine-collecting world in a new and fresh way. I looked to Silicon Valley and Hollywood to create Wine Library TV. I used my business skills to create an agency that focused on business results more than creative, I used what I had learned from SEO, email marketing, and content marketing in the late 1990s and early 2000s to figure out how to create strategies for the new social media platforms. If you’re launching a fitness app, pay attention to what’s happening in the food industry, the rock climbing industry, even hip-hop or sports. Think completely left field. The best way to stagnate is to pay attention to everyone else because they’re doing the same crap over and over. And guess what? The same old crap sucks.

Taking an open, optimistic attitude will keep your content fresh and exciting, and allow you to change the world’s perception of your “boring” product.

imageHow can a nonprofit that works to solve a serious problem, like human trafficking, make depressing content dynamic?

No one ever said content had to be fun or light. You have to respect your topic and contextualize it for your platform. Though you probably can’t make your content light, you can certainly work on keeping it simple and easy to absorb. Create narratives through infographics, slide shares, videos, pictures, and quote cards that get your story across without requiring people to dig too deep. Make sure you pay attention to the colors you use and the music you choose.

imageMy goal is to wake the dead, aka the funeral business. What are your thoughts on bringing relevance to a gray-haired industry?

I’m fascinated by this business. This wasn’t the first time someone in the funeral industry asked me for some ideas. I once recommended to a funeral director that he should become the number-one flower content site on the Internet, thus creating a positive connection to his work. That’s what I’m talking about when I say that companies need to become media companies and start writing content for and getting involved in areas that are related to them. Don’t comment on your competitor! Instead, comment on something completely out of the ordinary yet surprisingly relevant.

Whenever someone breaks new ground in any industry, especially one with as much history as funeral direction, they will likely be accused of disrespect. And maybe they’re right. Maybe innovation is inherently disrespectful of what has come before. Anyone in a highly sensitive business, such as funeral directors, hospice workers, and the like, would have to tread especially carefully, of course. Their job is to guide people through a difficult time when they’re at their most vulnerable. But even as we entrepreneurs and innovators disrespectfully bring progress to our industries, we can avoid offending consumers by being understanding, compassionate, and empathetic. And that’s not just people whose business is to help the grieving. It’s true for all of us.

Innovation is what wakes up sleepy, gray-haired industries. When I started in the wine business, wine was serious and sophisticated, and its experts were sixty-year-old gentlemen, not twenty-five-year-old Jets fans from Jersey. So I came in and I innovated. I started a dot-com in 1996. I started a YouTube show less than a year after YouTube launched. I started posting content on Snapchat and Pinterest before almost any other entrepreneur knew what to do with them. When you get in early, you have the freedom to play and improvise and figure out what works best.

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