The Importance of Storytelling in Business in the Social Era, with Gary Vaynerchuk.

Episode 42

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Gary Vaynerchuk builds businesses. Fresh out of college he took his family wine business and grew it from a $3M to a $60M business in just five years. Now he runs VaynerMedia, one of the world’s hottest digital agencies. Along the way he became a prolific angel investor and venture capitalist, investing in companies like Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Uber, and Birchbox before eventually co-founding VaynerRSE, a $25M angel fund.

Gary also currently hosts The #AskGaryVee Show, a way of providing as much value as possible by taking questions about social media, entrepreneurship, startups, and family businesses and giving his answers based on a lifetime of building successful, multi-million dollar companies. The show is also available as a podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, and SoundCloud.

Click to tweet: Gary Vaynerchuk shares his outstanding experience and insights on Onward Nation!


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A Few Steps Ahead:

  • Don’t be crippled by trying to quantify success — use all the tools at your disposal — try to be four to five years ahead of everyone else

Technology and Innovation:

  • The company’s of now will be done in eight years if they refuse to adapt and change — to grow you have to ask dumb questions grounded in the future of business


  • Every business has a story to tell — don’t disrespect social channels — they are a living and breathing channel of communication


  • We live in an ever-changing transparent world — if you’re company’s in the yellow-pages or newspaper because you’re afraid of social — then an opportunity will be missed

Humanise It:

  • People will follow the story — communicate the story — humanize it — where is the personality

Give or Push:

  • Old fashioned rules — you have to become a giving business through social channels — before you ask and receive


  • A good value-proposition shows your consumer the value they will receive


How best to connect with Gary:


Get ready to find your recipe for success from America’s top business owners, here at Onward Nation, with your host Stephen Woessner.

Stephen: Good morning Onward Nation. Welcome to episode forty-two. We’re gonna continue the theme of doing something a little bit different here for this episode of Onward Nation.

We talk a lot about mentorship with our guests and they have all shared invaluable lessons with you so that you can take those and apply those into your business. I ask the mentorship questions because I know first hand the value of surrounding yourself with quality mentors. People who have either done it in a different industry, or perhaps in the same industry, but are much further down the road than you are. And yet they’re willing to share some of that insight and knowledge.

And one of my mentors has been Gary Vaynerchuck, founder of VaynerMedia and author of three best selling books called “Crush It,” “The Thank You Economy,” and literally the best social media book ever written, “Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook.” I would highly suggest that you add all three of those, and read them, study them into your business library just as I have.

When I met Gary in person, I’d be lying if I said I was calm, cool, and collected. Because I was a wreck. I flew to New York City to meet Gary at VaynerMedia, at their office on Park Avenue. And our video crew had flown in from San Diego. Lights were on, cameras rolling, and just Gary and me. Gulp. And so, you know I do get over it in the conversation, we jump in, it’s amazing.

Well, I mean truth be told, Gary was amazing. I was still nervous, eventually I kinda got my legs here in the interview and then I calmed down and had the presence of mind to ask some decent questions. Gary shared some outstanding insights into social media, why storytelling on social is so critically important, what platforms you ought to be watching, and how important it is to work at things that don’t scale.

And yeah I know that sounds counterintuitive, but you wanna actually be working on things that are kind of inefficient right now. Really engaging with customers, taking the time. You can always then systematize and scale once you understand what the opportunity is. So we converted that video interview into today’s episode. You’re going to love it. Gary is awesome. So without further ado, Gary Vaynerchuck.

Here we are in the headquarters of VaynerMedia on Park Avenue in New York City with this unprecedented opportunity to be able to pull out of Gary his greatest insights and trends, those things that nobody else on the planet is paying attention to because that is one of his gifts, and be able to share that with you so that you can apply it for maximum results. So Gary, thank you very much for taking the time to be here.

Gary: Thanks for having me. That whole Park Avenue in New York City makes me feel very bougie. Good thing I dressed down. Thanks for having me.

Stephen: Well thanks for allowing us to come in and take some of your time. One of my favorite quotes from you is when you say, “Don’t be that person that refuses to play life that you’re the [inaudible 00:03:15].” And I know that that’s really deep, there’s a lot of meaning to that.

Gary: Yeah.

Stephen: So let’s start there, because I’d love to get your take on that.

Gary: You know, I round that quote often, right now … it probably … do it at the event that I’m with, which is, you know, this is now 2014. Ninety-five percent of the [inaudible 00:03:30] is marketing like it’s 2004. So that’s where it comes from. It comes from the fact that much like you, you know, we get to work with a lot of great companies. And we’re working mainly with Fortune 500 companies where you think plenty of budgets, no excuse of money, right. You’re talking about the biggest companies in the world and yet they continue to ask questions that make me laugh, you know.

I come much more from Silicon Valley and entrepreneurship than I do from Madison Avenue. And what we’re getting is a lot of people, whether big or small, large or small family business, whether it’s dollars or mentality, they’re not using the tools that are at their disposal. And so for me that’s always been the case.

I launched in 1996, right. We were, you know, nobody thought you needed a dot com for a local liquor store, that was the business I grew up in, my family. In ’99 I was doing SEO marketing, right. This was four or five years before people felt like it was something to do. You know I was buying the word “wine” on Google for five cents. Before the minimum even went up. You know, banner ads and then YouTube in 2006 … And then Twitter in 2007.

My whole life have been people asking, “What’s the ROI? Does that really drive results?” I mean there’s people that are watching this video right now and they don’t wanna admit it, but there are people watching this video right now that thought the internet was a fad. That they didn’t wanna build a website because it was gonna be a waste of money. And so this is a rinse and repeat thing. I’m not that smart, it’s just I know that most people don’t realize all the opportunities that are at hand because they’re more crippled by the fact that they don’t know how to quantify success, and to me, I’m crippled by not actually doing the things that are relevant today. Because you’re overpaying for things that have been established and you’re underpaying for the opportunity.

Stephen: So that reminds me, in many ways, of … well there’s direct correlation there with what our mutual friend, Abash [inaudible 00:05:23] from Google …

Gary: Yes.

Stephen: What he said to me a couple weeks ago, and that was … the companies that are gonna be successful moving forward are the ones that don’t have the eight years of hangups.

Gary: Of course.

Stephen: You know if they don’t adapt and change and be proactive and actually start to lead, play like they year that we’re in, then they’re gonna be done in eight years.

Gary: Yeah, I mean …

Stephen: Or just out of it …

Gary: You know, it’s … music, right? Like where’s good music come from, great music come from? It comes from people that are growing up, being influenced by things but it’s naivete. Being native … like that’s what happened here in VaynerMedia. I didn’t know anything about the agency world, and that’s why we’re growing one of the fastest agencies because I’m asking dumb questions. But those dumb questions are grounded in business.

And so, you know, when you know what the rules are you play within them. I mean, this has been long figured out, right. There’s science and psychology that wraps around like … you know … listen I wasn’t a great student, right. And I’m not well-read. And I’m gonna tell you right now that’s my advantage. Like there’s a lot of things I don’t know. I say things that people think are brilliant statements, they’ve been said before they just were said in different ways. And if I actually knew how they said them, I would use that quote, but I don’t.

And I think that it’s a funny thing to think about, I think about that a lot. That I get a lot of credit for a lot of things that are actually grounded in weaknesses, not strengths. And so there’s a lot of strengths when you’ve been an eight-year company and you have a hundred locations. But there’s a ton of weaknesses, and those weaknesses are in being a fat cow. You’re doing well, you don’t know that … you know, the guy that owned four thousand horses for transportation, he might have heard about that Henry Ford thing but he was doing well. And he didn’t wanna worry about that. And then technology and innovation killed that business.

You know, Barnes & Nobles and Borders and Waldenbooks, they didn’t wanna hear about that Amazon thing in ’95, right? Like fine, but that innovation put them out. Blockbuster was aware of what Netflix was doing but they didn’t wanna hear it, in their brain not their ears. Not hearing it in your brain is very, very dangerous.

Stephen: Well and one of the things that I just, I can’t wait for your next book. I mean you’ve written two best sellers already, “Crush It” and “Thank You Economy.” Can’t wait for “Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook” to come out …

Gary: Thank you.

Stephen: And you know as I watch your videos and I see the bits and pieces that you’re putting out there right now, one of the things that is so compelling is how you’re teaching people to not only tell stories but you’re teaching people how to tell stories through social. So it’s sharing not pushing. So why do you think that that is so important? That people understand that it’s not pushing, it’s about telling stories through social?

Gary: Because, let’s go top line, really important number one, because the attention of the consumer is there. You know, this great guy right here, this San Diego resident that does not like the Chargers, he, exactly him fifteen years ago, would have watched a lot of television and read the newspaper. And his attention is now in his phone and other places. And every business in the world’s only job is to tell people their story somewhere along the decision-making path.

Stephen: Okay.

Gary: As we started going to desktop computers, SEO and SEM mattered. Banners mattered, pre-rolls mattered. As we go to mobile, new dynamics. Tough [inaudible 00:08:40] those banner ads on a mobile device. The game changes. Social networks are very fertile grounds to do marketing and storytelling. The problem is most people disrespect them.

See what’s happened is, every other platform pre-social, all of them, was a place to distribute your message. Social is living and breathing. A customer can have a profile just like you can, the company, and that dynamic changes. A customer can say something about your company and lots of other customers can see it at scale, that changes the dynamic.

Most of all, we’re disrespecting the psychology of why somebody’s in a phone scrolling through their newsfeed or their tweets. And so what I’m trying to do is help people understand that a three-hour movie needs different creative than a thirty-second commercial, which needs different creative than a radio ad. A radio ad is a great place to do a jingle. You’re not gonna get a jingle on a billboard on a highway. Understanding how to tell your story within Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, Instagram, Vine, Snapchat, is very important. Because they have hundreds of millions of users, tens of millions on the lower scale, but they’re all very different. But everybody who’s watching this video buckets them as social media and the way they really default into is just using it to distribute other information. They go to their Facebook wall, their company page, they put three words and they put a link to something else and they think of social as distribution, not as a place to natively tell a story. That’s where I think the opportunity lies in the next half decade.

Stephen: So then what do you tell a company that says, “Hey Gary, that all sounds fantastic. You know, give you the story thing … but we have this policy here where we don’t want our executives or managers even participating on Facebook … “

Gary: Right.

Stephen: “Because what happens if, Gary, one of our executives is at a party on a weekend and … “

Gary: Yup.

Stephen: “And they’re, you know somebody snaps a photo of them doing something unprofessional, whatever, goes out on Facebook, they get tagged in it, spreads like wildfire. That hurts us.”

Gary: Well, let’s talk about that real quick because your scenario actually has nothing to do with whether those executives are on social or not. The one that you just painted me …

Stephen: Yeah.

Gary: Was not that the executive did a drunken tweet. The one that you just told me was a third party person took a picture and put it out there.

Stephen: Yes.

Gary: Whether you’re on Facebook or Twitter or not, that was not stopped by that policy.

Stephen: Exactly.

Gary: I mean we’re living in a very transparent world. Now the notion of, “We don’t wanna put our executives … we don’t want them to have Twitter accounts,” believe it or not, this may throw you for a curve ball, fine. Like okay. Because I think people that are on the defense lose. I have no emotion to convince anybody that they should be doing this. I actually prefer they lose, it allows me to get more. And if you really want [inaudible 00:11:28]. Like, you know I’m not in the business of commencing you something like that.

There are a lot of financial institutions, there are a lot of pharma, alcoholic institutions, that their legal department dictates what they do more than the marketers and the business people. And those companies are gonna be in trouble in a very transparent world. Because if you’re not talking, you’re not talking. And if you’re only talking in the Yellow Pages, and direct mail, and industry trade magazines, you’re in a little bit of a problem. And so, you know, I get it. But like, you know, that scenario you painted me does nothing.

Stephen: It doesn’t mitigate risk whatsoever …

Gary: It mitigated risk zero …

Stephen: Right.

Gary: And it took away opportunity.

Stephen: Exactly.

Gary: That sounds terrible.

Stephen: Right. Huge, huge downside.

Gary: But I also on the flip side, because I wanna make it clear … we don’t tell all of our executives of our companies that your CEO has to be … a big thing three years ago was everybody’s writing articles, every CEO should be on Twitter. Of course everybody came and asked me what my opinion was. My opening question is, “Well tell me about your CEO.” And if the CEO is like, you know, out of touch and a jerk and just cares about money, doesn’t sound like a very fun consumer-facing person.

Stephen: No.

Gary: So, not everybody has to do everything. But the company logo needs to be everywhere. And so I’m less worried about the individual humans. But the company logo, humanizing that logo, creating an account on Twitter, Facebook, Pin … all those. That to me is a must. I think craving content for the social internet is literally the cost of relevance in today’s society.

Stephen: So how do you blend that, with the logo but then also humanizing it? Because when you were in front of the group BizBash, if I’m right …

Gary: Yes.

Stephen: Great video.

Gary: Thank you.

Stephen: And you talked about how, look whether you wanna believe it or not, I mean you’re a media channel. You know essentially through these social media accounts, I mean that’s the type of responsibility that you should take. I mean, that was a pretty powerful message to all of those event planner, or you know the complexion of that group.

Gary: Yeah.

Stephen: So how do you take this logo and then make it also that personal type of connection, which is so important?

Gary: You talk like a human being and not like a press release. A lot of companies have put up their corporate site and it’s like a press release, like they put out on PR News.

Stephen: Yeah.

Gary: That’s not what people want on Twitter. They wanna communicate. So you find somebody within the organization, or an outside agency, that can capture the voice you’re looking for and you go. You know what you’re asking me, “How do you have a good personality?” I don’t know, I have a good personality. Be funny, listen, be reverent, right? I mean you gotta execute, and so it’s actually very easy. The thought of making a bottle of water a interesting thing to follow is actually a lot easier than you think. Meaning … here’s a good analogy for people watching.

Stephen: Okay.

Gary: If you were a chef, twenty-five years ago, as a profession you were the help. Right? You know a lot of daughters brought home chefs to their dads thirty years ago and they were scared, appalled, angered. Today it’s incredible. Very sexy to be a chef.

Stephen: Right, right.

Gary: Why did that happen? Here’s why. The Food Network came along. And they story told. That’s it. You have to tell a story. If a bottle of water can be interesting around sports, people will follow it.

Stephen: And they build personality around all those different show characters …

Gary: Correct.

Stephen: Yeah.

Gary: And that’s what it is. I mean, whether you’re … like I can’t believe that nobody’s become America’s lawyer. We have Dr. Phil, we have Dr. Oz.

Stephen: Right.

Gary: That can be done through social if somebody takes that. America’s dentist, could be done.

Stephen: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Gary: I became America’s wine that, that was my first move.

Stephen: Right.

Gary: As a stepping stone. So …

Stephen: Which I just learned recently that you had turned down, was it Food Network who wanted you?

Gary: Bravo.

Stephen: Bravo. Bravo wanted you do the show and then you backed away from it because you wanted to go …

Gary: Because I realized somewhere in that courtship that I was more proud that I was the marketer behind me becoming known, than that I was the wine guy.

Stephen: So I love the, “Give, give, give, then ask” philosophy. I love how you say, “You know I’m a firm believer that I can guilt somebody into doing [inaudible 00:15:44].” Just really good stuff.

Gary: I really do.

Stephen: Yeah so tell me some more about that. Because …

Gary: About “Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook’s” philosophy? So “Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook” stands for “give, give, give and then ask.” That’s what I want to happen on social media. For the people that are watching this video, that are fortunate enough to be paying attention and following brands and people on social, you know that ninety-nine percent of people are jerks. They just push, “Buy my book,” “Buy my wine,” “Come to our conference,” “Watch this video,” just push.

Social at it’s best is you giving. You putting out free videos of keynotes, you answering people’s questions. And then every fifteenth tweet, that would be jab, jab, jab, jab, jab, jab, jab, jab, jab, jab, jab … every fifteenth tweet or Facebook status update, you’re putting out, “Go to Amazon and pre-order my book. It would mean a lot to me.” It’s just old-fashioned rules, right. The reason you did things for people back in the day is because they did things for you.

And so that is my overall thesis in business, but specifically it’s translated very heavy to social because people stop following people that are pushing all the top or at worst, if they don’t unfollow them they tune them out. And so we are in a very noisy world. Everybody’s got email services, everybody’s got banner ads, everybody’s got pre-rolls. Everybody’s got direct mail, and radio, and television, and websites, and Facebook accounts, and Twitter accounts, or some mix of those. If you don’t figure out how to bring value to your end-user along the way of you pitching them, I think you become very irrelevant. I mean look at open rates on email and click-through zone banner ads, and click-through zone SEM. It’s changing.

Stephen: It is changing. And changing rapidly.

Gary: We’re living through the collapse of open-rates and click-throughs on email. The collapse of … I mean Google reported that AdWords click-throughs are down fifteen percent.

Stephen: Yeah, which was astonishing. And you shared that with event party.

Gary: I mean, Google, so what is the real number right? I mean so … but think about it, I mean … think about this. When I used to want to go out to a restaurant ten years ago, I went to Google, “best restaurants in New York City.” Now I tweet, right? I tweet, “What restaurants are people going to?” And my collective community is giving me insight with context versus somebody who bought an ad on Google or was good at SEO. It’s a big shift.

Stephen: Well you have been such a great mentor to me. I’ve learned a ton from you but this type of stuff is exactly why I’m very excited for you to be in front of our group. [inaudible 00:18:13] Because this message is very, very important for them to be able to hear and so you’re “give, give, give, then ask” philosophy is perfect for them.

Because we’re gonna have you know kind of a compilation of people who, some early adopters, some people who are you know now just kind of hitting their groove, and then there’s gonna be some people there who this is gonna be, “Wow, really? This is what’s totally happening? That can’t be true.” So I think your message in front of that group is awesome.

Gary: And I think what’s important is I’m like everybody in that group. I’m not as brilliant as [inaudible 00:18:46] and other people of that nature. I grew up in a bricks and mortar family liquor store business. Like everything in my life is about selling. I’m not here to be Mother Teresa or some great philosopher or thought leader. I’m here because I like selling stuff. And I think that matters. I come from a very business filter. This is not about making the world better, I wish I could say that but it’s not. This is about consumer behavior this year. And does that mean there’s plenty of people watching right now saying, “Yeah but my customer … ” Yes, your customer, but please recognize that’s exactly what Borders and Barnes & Noble said. They said, “My customer likes coming to the store and touching the book.” Blockbuster literally in the quotes in their board meetings said, “Yeah but people like the experience of touching the DVDs.”

Stephen: Not really.

Gary: It’s just, you know. People like having the horse. They trust it. The car is scary. “Does that mechanical thing work?” Yeah that’s a two year, three year conversation, and then when everybody comes out on the flip side of course that’s how they want it.

Stephen: The fact that they’ve spent millions of dollars building the infrastructure to justify that, so they need to figure out a way to kind of defend that …

Gary: Of course.

Stephen: Right?

Gary: Listen, I’m the same way. Like I … I tell wineries all the time, “You should be good at selling direct to consumer now that you can ship to them. Because if you don’t I’m gonna take your money.” You know, but if they get really great at it my wine retail business is out of business right? If you can but it directly from the winery and everybody does. So you have to continue to find your value proposition which is why I started the show. I said, “Wait a minute, I’m vulnerable.” And this is 2006. Seven years ago I started an internet show because I was worried about the vulnerability of us having wineries sell directly to consumer. And I figured if I became influential that me as a curator would protect me again wineries selling direct.

Stephen: So why do you not think that that’s brilliant?

Gary: I do, I do think that’s smart. I do think that’s smart. But I think what … it’s fun. It’s business. Because I started with that seed but then I evolved in opportunities and I learned about Twitter and I became a media company. Oh by the way, I’m looking at the camera, I think everybody’s who watching this video’s in the media business. Whether you’re a human being or an organization. Everybody has to realize that we’re in media now. Because media’s been decentralized. Anybody can start a video show. Anybody can start a radio show. Anybody can do this now. For free. Free! Free for distribution. Free for cost of doing it. Now, promotion becomes the variable. How do you get people aware of it? The quality is a funny way of getting people to be aware of it.

Stephen: Yes. And being able to produce good quality content consistently. I mean, it’s not easy to produce all of those episodes that you did.

Gary: Which is why it’s fun that I won because I deserved to win. I did it for six years. Every day for thirty minutes. And I knew what I was talking about.

Stephen: Right.

Gary: Like quality rises to the top now more than ever.

Stephen: Like when people read Seth [inaudible 00:21:37] blog. They know that he’s doing that every single day. And he’s done that for years that way.

Gary: Almost ten years now.

Stephen: Right. He’s just a dependable expert that people can rely on.

Gary: Yeah I mean it matters.

Stephen: It does matter. Well, thanks for today. This was definitely in line with the “give, give, give.” I mean it’s fantastic stuff.

Gary: Thank you.

Stephen: We can’t wait to share with our audience. And you’ve been very gracious, your hospitality here today at VaynerMedia is awesome. Thanks for us being able to use the conference room downstairs …

Gary: No worries.

Stephen: To prep and so forth. And also thank you for granting to do the Q&A session with our VIPs.

Gary: Which is gonna be the … which by the way is like, I mean, it’s … listen, I love being on stage and having everybody listen to me but when you can answer people’s questions you’re giving them tangible … you know in an hour, forty-five minutes on a keynote stage I have to go general because there’s three or four or five or fifteen different groups of people in different places. I try to get as detailed as I can because I want to crush. But when you could do Q&A, you’re really putting the pedal to the metal which, you know, I like doing.

Stephen: For sure. I mean it’s going to be outstanding.

Gary: Thank you.

Stephen: So thanks for your time.

Gary: Thank you so much.

Speaker 1: This episode is complete. So head over to for show notes and more food to fuel your ambition. Continue to find your recipe for success here at Onward Nation.

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