Hi there and thank you for listening to The Business Storyteller Podcast. My name is Wilson and I’m your host for today’s episode. In today’s episode, we are taking a journey to explore how to build your personal brand through authentic storytelling.
I’m thrilled to be joined by an expert and thought leader in this area, and we’ll be picking his brains on this topic. Today, it’s my privilege to be speaking with Aazar Ali who is currently the Head of Growth at Vitals. Aazar is an expert in growth marketing and was the former Head of Growth at Userpilot. Prior to that, he has successfully founded two startups. Aazar is also a field-sales guy turned marketer in the last 10 years, and he is a specialist at SaaS companies with an ARR of up to 7 million USD. Additionally, he’s also the host of his podcast known as Growth Marketing Stories. Today, Aazar will be sharing his experience and insights with us.
Hi Aazar, welcome to The Business Storyteller Podcast and I’m so excited to have you here with us today. How are you doing?
I’m great, same here. Really excited to talk to you about my podcast stories and also like growth marketing general.
Well, I’ve introduced you a fair bit, but I’m sure our listeners would love to know you better. Maybe you can just introduce yourself and tell us how you got into growth marketing and also how did you land your current role at Vitals?
I actually wanted to do a master thesis after my graduation and I knew there was something about online marketing. I said, “Okay, there’s something about online marketing and everybody’s doing it.” I was actually a field sales guy, so I did not know online marketing that well. And then I stumbled on the word “growth hacking” in my master’s time, and it was coined by Sean Ellis and Hiten Shah. So I read the book and found the growth hacking is great, so I’ll do a master thesis on it. Basically, I read the book and after certain months or years, we started doing growth hacking anyway. In my first Silicon Valley startup where I was a sales guy and growth guy, I was doing inbound sales and we were hacking all the LinkedIn profiles and we’re actually reaching out cold to them where there were no tools like Dux-Soup or stuff like Hunter, nothing like that. We were manually building these tools. And so we did that growth hacking before having those tools and I used to love it. At a certain point, I started hating it. Growth hacking is like a very obtrusive way actually to reach out to somebody. That’s why I started my podcast on growth marketing but what happened was before my podcast into growth marketing, I actually was really interested in marketing in general and did not know how to break into it. So I became a co-founder of a company that I became Head of Marketing without knowing any kind of marketing. That’s my career.
Then there was another company, Userpilot, where I helped them with SEO and inbound marketing running their sales engine and customer success. I got the entire funnel perspective from A to B by understanding growth marketing is all about from the point customer comes into your door or even doesn’t know about you to the point where he says, “Hey, I love this tool! You should try it.” I loved the different stages of marketing and so that’s where I fell in love with growth marketing. I wanted to teach people that growth hacking is first of all the term itself has no problem, but the people that use it are wrong. Like it’s a hack and a hack is a short-term thing, but anything that grows has to be sustainably growing over a period of time. It has to be like a compounding effect and hacks like one or two or three, and it cannot compound that much. It’s like one peak of traffic and it goes away. So I wanted to teach people to focus on sustainable growth marketing strategies and tactics and mindset and framework. Because if you have these tools, you can go ahead and actually become a better marketer than following these hacks, which will actually die in two years. That was the main point of the podcast and that’s how I dive into growth marketing. Now I just talk to people who anyway were having conversations like with you so why not just record it for folks like me who are really into growth marketing.
It seems like you have a wealth of experience going all the way from startups and then being part of Head of Growth at Userpilot and now at Vitals. I’m really excited to learn from you and to get our conversation going. Today we’re going to be speaking about personal branding and authentic storytelling. From your perspective especially as a growth marketer, you’ve just given us so many golden nuggets a while ago, why do you think personal branding is so important at the present moment?
It’s a good question. I think now there’s a point where we are in the phase of creator economy and in the creator economy, everybody is an individual who has a personal brand, voice name, a specific IP of that person. And every person has a voice like what they want to talk about it – like everybody can write a tweet. It’s basically everybody is a one-person media company if they want to become that person. I think companies are not utilizing it that much. So that’s the reason why I think personal branding is too important because you stand for something, you’ve learned something, you know something and you are passionate about something. If you just do it, the companies can utilize that and you can utilize it.
The other reason why I think personal branding is really important is because you keep changing the companies, but you stay you and people should know you. People should know your stories. People should know what you stand for and people should know what have you done. Everything was hidden pre-2015-18. Everything was hidden and everybody was like I do a job, I get out of my job at 5 PM, I close my door, that’s it. But now everybody is a media company. The power of media is so much that everybody is and can become that personal brand. And so everybody should become a personal brand so that it’s easy to get hired. It’s easy to get side income, side hustles. It’s easy to be admired from other folks who are in the same industry. Basically, you actually create content that can help other people to be like you or to be better than you. So it’s a chain, we are in a vicious circle of learning from people and then teaching it to people. And so that’s where personal branding is really important.
Let me tell you one story about why I started doing personal branding. There’s this guy called Justin Jackson and Justin Jackson is a co-founder of Transistor.fm and is one of the podcast hosting software. Justin Jackson was a product manager in 2010, was working for a SaaS company, and he started this community called MegaMaker. It was marketing for developers kind of thing and he started in 2010. So he has this paid community where people come and listen, share their insight and stay for the community and stuff like that. And so MegaMaker was making money for him on the side. In 2014, the company he was working for shut down. This guy already had three different side incomes which he was making money so he did not have to stay as a product manager. Then, he wanted to start as a co-founder of Transistor.fm, but he’s 40 plus years old. He has four kids and he wanted to start a company. He always wanted to start a company. He never started his own company. He had this wish. The reason why he was able to pull through this whole thing is because although he wanted a lot of money to sustain his family, it was through his personal brand and through his side hustles. If those things were not there, he wouldn’t be the founder of Transistor.fm. You wouldn’t be making more than seven figures in revenue, just three or four employees. And he would not be able to achieve his dreams. And so this personal branding gives you leverage and the leverage to do whatever you want. I think that’s the reason why you should start doing personal branding now.
I appreciate the fact that you mentioned about pre-2015 and we’ve seen the shift of personal branding and people becoming more thought leaders in this time and age. Really good point that you brought up over there. Now that was the present and also, we talked a bit about the past before this. Let’s talk a bit about the future as well. I’m curious to hear from you, how do you see personal branding affecting both brands and individuals in the longer term?
I personally think that brands will become multiple personal brands. So one brand will have multiple personal brands and each personal brand will be doing their own thing at the same time, but also helping the company to leverage it. So a good example is a Peep Laja from CXL. He’s the voice, he’s the mindset, he’s talking about a lot of mind-shifting marketing ideas. He started CXL. Now with CXL, he has started four other projects. One is Speero. The other one is called Wynter. The fourth one is that I am actually kind of invested in called Adeft. So he’s building these projects and he’s leveraging the same audience for his projects. And so Peep Laja is a founder. So right now there’s founder-led branding is happening, but I think everybody can actually help. It’s like you go to football teams and there’s a club which is called Manchester United. And then there is Paul Pogba who is a personal brand as well. I personally think that when you bring somebody to your team as a marketing team, you should treat them like a football player is coming to your team because they are such stars. So this is how Paul Pogba is helping Manchester United by selling more t-shirts and merchandise. Manchester United is getting more tickets sales because of Paul Pogba and Paul Pogba is getting more traction because he’s now in Manchester United where he’s getting fans where he was never living before, which is England. So it’s like exposure and exposure from every side. It’s like a win-win for everybody. That would be the future. That’s what I feel like everybody will be like an individual creator in their own perspective, but they will still be working for a company.
I really enjoy that analogy, especially when it comes to football because I’m a huge United fan. Like you said, it’s true because sometimes all of these personalities have more followers than the club or the brand itself. So definitely they’re carrying something for them. I know that recently you did something incredible which is you grew your Twitter following by over a hundred percent within just two months. That’s an amazing feat. Could you share with us some strategies that have helped you to achieve this impressive growth within the span of two months?
That’s a really good question because I have not wrote my thoughts about it for Twitter because everybody’s doing it on Twitter, but I’ll share a couple of ideas from my side. So first of all, why did I want to grow my Twitter following, and why suddenly I am crazy about it? I find Twitter is a place where a lot of intellectuals are hanging out. They want to have this dopamine hit through somebody talking about a topic and they want to go, “Oh my God, that’s insightful.” You know, like when you go to TikTok, it’s like, “Oh my God, that’s a funny video.” But for Twitter, it’s “Oh my God, that’s insightful.” I think a lot of intellectuals are hanging out on Twitter or people who want to become an intellectual, more intelligent, more smart. That’s why I chose Twitter as my platform.
For me, LinkedIn is more like people who want to follow job titles and Twitter is for people who want to follow thought processes and ideas. Then what happened is that I saw a couple of people I was following suddenly they grew from zero to 200k in followings by having some viral tweets. One of the guys called Shaan Puri, very famous now. He recently had a course on power writing and that course made more than a hundred thousand in revenue. Although he was working for Twitch, he has his podcast, he still made like a hundred thousand revenue from this whole thing. He’s still doing the second course now and then he will stop. But the idea is that Twitter is this machine where you can teach people and they can subscribe to you, follow you as a creator, and whatever you’ve learned, people can pay you for what you have those golden insights and nuggets to make money out of it. And not just money out of it, but also like to get more people to share your message with more people. That was the reason why I eventually tried to build my personal brand to get more people to follow me. If more people follow me, then obviously at some point, I will have social leverage and if I have social leverage, then I can do whatever I want. I will own the social capital basically. That’s the main idea.
But then the reason why also Twitter was interesting is because it’s very hard to grow. It’s very hard to grow. And I wanted to challenge myself and I took a course, try to learn from different people, had people on my podcast. I had to write down all the tactics and strategies that are working on Twitter and just applied those things. So one of the things that is working on Twitter is threads and threads have to be something not normal. Usually, on social media, people go on Facebook, they say what’s on your mind. But on Twitter, it’s not about what’s on your mind, but it’s like, “What have you learned? What have you thought? What is something that is insightful thing that you’ve just realized and you want to tell it to the world in a microblogging way?” What I learned is that it has to be counter-narrative, counter-intuitive – it has to invoke emotions. The emotion could be, “Wow, it could be LOL.” It could be, “Oh my God, I didn’t know this.” It could be like, “I’m sad.” It could be like, “Okay, I agree with this.” So they’re like six different emotions. And if you make those posts based on emotion, which is counter-narrative, counter-intuitive, and something insightful that people can bookmark and read later on, then more and more people will share it. So once I learned that thing, I studied big Twitter accounts with a big following and see how they got viral.
Eventually, I realized that the way to grow Twitter is your first hook. Like your first tweet is the main decider if people were going to read it. The more they read it, the more they learn about it, the more it will get viral. Previously, before coming to Twitter, I thought sharing a link would even sometimes get viral, and that was not true. When I look at really famous people have more than 10-20k in following and they get very few engagements. So I didn’t want to be that guy growing my Twitter following, but not getting engagement. So I said I want to learn about a topic that has to be insightful that is interesting for me and that might be interesting for others in the world that I can find and will appreciate it. Something that is interesting for me and I have to write it in a way that is counter-intuitive that is insightful. People can take this and use it later on somewhere. So I did a lot of research and about what topics I like, and then I just take the same thing. I saw that the same after looking at the hook, the same thing that I did for the people that I was actually liking, retweeting, sharing as well from those big creators have started happening to me.
One of the things I realized in one of the tweets that got really viral and this is the main learning that I found out is that people love stories. Sometimes something is factually correct and sometimes, it’s just your personal experience. People appreciate your personal experience. So I just made a story out of me. I was fired six years ago from a job, and now I’m a Head of Marketing. So there was a before and after. It was counter-intuitive like somebody got fired and now is Head of Marketing. How is it even possible? And then I said my 10 key learning and each tweet, if you go and look at at the back and you will see each tweet is counter-intuitive. I’ll just give you one example. You can see what I mean.
Usually, people say go work for a big brand. I said don’t work for a big brand because big brands are like everybody goes for it. If you work for a smaller brand and make that brand big enough, then you have a much better leverage. You have a story.
That was one. The second one is from my podcast. It’s about experiments, not hacks. Everybody goes for hacks, but nobody goes for experiments. The more experiments you do, the more you find out what’s working and what’s working. And then the more you know how to leverage that.
Most people say if you want to be a T-shaped marketer here, you need to learn coding. I said, don’t do coding. Go learn copywriting, because that’s more important. If you can make people invoke emotions, they can go and become better writers and they can make people do something. You don’t have to always learn coding. All those insights that you can put it in your show notes as well are all about counter-intuitive insights that people usually don’t think about it. It’s always counter-intuitive advice that I have personally experienced. And that’s why it worked out really well. Now that one tweet got me like 1,500 followers and I doubled my Twitter followers. I’m planning to continue to that thing over the period of time.
Wow! Thank you for sharing your secret sauce with us now. I really appreciate your approach as well where you said that it’s really about evoking emotion and being counter-intuitive. I think those tips are really helpful and the strategy that you’re putting in place we can see it coming to fruition. Well done and congrats! Hopefully, you’ll be able to hit more than a hundred percent in your next phase of your strategy.
We talk about storytelling and you mentioned that as well. Since we are on this podcast and we are focusing on storytelling, how has authentic storytelling in your case benefited your own personal brand?
First of all, I want to emphasize storytelling. I think a lot of people don’t understand storytelling. In order to do storytelling, the story has to have a status quo on what’s going on right now. Then the story has to have a problem that person faces, and that problem has so much conflict and tension that you want to find out. Sometimes you go to watch a movie and they show you the end first. And they say I want to know what happened and exactly why that happened. For example at the beginning of the movie, somebody got shot and say why this person got shot. They have so many reasons – why this person got shot, how he got shot, what is the motive behind? A hundred questions. The story is to answer those questions and that builds tension. You have to include the tension in the story by telling there’s a problem. There’s a conflict and there’s tension. Then you take the user or the reader or the watcher or the listener on a journey. You take them on a journey and you answer one question, which basically opened a lot of loops. And there’s your answer in one loop, which is basically, I want to know what happened with this. And then you don’t answer all of them. You answer one at a time and then it’s okay for the next one to follow the next one. You know like a cliffhanger that happens in an episode. At the end of the day, what you do is you show the struggles, you show how this person went through, you show the solution. And then at the end of the day, you show the goal. Like this is what the goal that was supposed to happen. Maybe the goal was to meet the love of the life or whatever that is. So you have to make it in a way that actually is interesting. That was about storytelling.
But now you’re talking about authentic storytelling. The authentic storytelling happens when you personally go through it and then you learn about it. And I think we all are in a very micro-macro stories going through. Right now, our story is like we are in the podcast. So we’re going through these stories all the time, but we don’t realize it. So I think if you just keep counting down like what stories are going through and one that is worth telling that people would love it. So this is what I think about authentic storytelling is like – what are we going through and make it in a storytelling way that actually is something that people can take learning out of it and just tell it. I think we all humans are prone to stories and we love stories. As a kid, we learned it, we watched all the cartoons. And so now it’s prime to us. I think the best way to tell authentic storytelling is by your personal experiences.
That’s a great insight. I think if you think about it where you mentioned every experience that we’re going through, even right now in this podcast, it is storytelling itself. If you can just translate that and start sharing it in an authentic way, it will actually resonate with some people. I think that’s a really good way to see storytelling. It’s not that complicated. Everyone has it on a daily basis. We just need to be able to see it and then tell the story.
Well, you are a great storyteller with the success that you found on Twitter and even being in growth marketing. You mentioned just now about storytelling, but now I want to hear more about your top three tips if you could give in terms of doing authentic storytelling the right way. What would be your top three tips for doing that correctly?
Let’s narrow it down. People who are in your audience are people who are either marketers, people who are listening to business so they are from business. And so the three tips to find authentic storytelling is to first of all note-taking. Write it down. What story happened today? That’s one thing like what story is worth telling. Something that has you like an eyebrow moment and say oh, that was different. Maybe I should tell that one. So that is like one, which is note-taking.
The other part of the storytelling is to find out the tension. Because tension is the reason why people listen to it and tension could be a negative emotion, a positive emotion, or emotion that could actually make people say this guy actually took me till the end. Like when you watch an ad and say I want to know what happens to this guy. So tension is something.
The third thing is before and after. To tell authentic stories, you need to have before and you need an after. If you have these three things in place, you can tell an authentic story by just combining them all together and make sure it’s personal. If it’s personal, then it’s like the cherry on top. You can tell other people’s stories.
Those are really three great and very practical tips that can be done very easily. Thanks for giving us insights into those three tips. I’m sure that our listeners would also appreciate that as they implement that in their own personal branding.
Well, we’re coming to the final question now and I’m sure you have your favorite brands and individuals who inspire you in this area of personal branding. I’d like to hear from you, what are some of your favorite examples of brands or individuals who you think are excelling in authentic storytelling?
I listened to this podcast called My First Million Podcast and the hosts, Shaan Puri and Sam Parr – they both tell really good stories about what they go through and it’s just engaging. So they are doing really well.
A brand that is doing a really good job in storytelling is Gong, my favorite brand. Everything they do is amazing. Everything is related to stories. Every content is a story. So that’s what I will tell you like these are two good examples.
Recently I think in terms of a person who has actually become a really good storyteller would be there’s a girl called Amanda Natividad on Twitter. She really is taking advantage of her storytelling abilities and content writing abilities to level up and to actually share stories which are personal in a way that you actually like her a lot. She also grew her Twitter following from I think 3,000 to 15,000 lately just by good storytelling. Do follow these people. I think they are inspiring me so perhaps inspire you as well.
We’ll definitely leave this also in our show notes so you’ll be able to find the link. You’re definitely not the first person who mentioned Gong. Even our guests in the past episodes mentioned Gong as one of the brands that they really enjoy following in terms of storytelling, so they must be doing something really right. Thanks for sharing some of your insights!
You’ve shared a lot of valuable insights with us today and I’ve learned so much about building a personal brand especially through authentic storytelling. Thank you for breaking it down for us in such an easy way that we can right away apply it. Now before we complete this episode, I’d love to ask you some fun questions related to storytelling. I think it’s a great way for us to wrap up this episode and also for our listeners to learn about what inspires you. My first question for you is this, what is your favorite movie?
My favorite movie is Now You Can See Me. That is my favorite movie. I love magician movies and the way they show it is amazing.
It’s funny because I just watch it like three weeks ago, so I remember it very clearly. That’s a really good movie. Now, this is a different form of storytelling and this is in the form of a book. What about your favorite book?
That’s a very hard one. I’ve been reading a lot of books lately, so I’m going to look at my bookshelf. I’ll tell you one book that really changed how I think about things – it’s actually Atomic Habits. I learned that I’m not a good process and mindset person. I thought process and mindset are the way to go, but actually building good habits, create systems, and create stuff. So if you want to build any process, anything, and you can achieve anything, you need to build habits. Atomic Habits is something that helped me personally a lot and I try to follow it. I’m on track to following it and I try to gamify it for me now. So yeah, build better habits.
Yeah, that’s a great book. I think it won book of the year in 2020 or 2019. I’m sure our listeners would enjoy those as well. Now I want to ask you some lightning questions and it’s basically this-or-that. So I’ll give you two choices and you just have to choose one in less than five seconds. In terms of story, would you prefer fiction or nonfiction?
In terms of going somewhere to see something, would it be a theater or a cinema?
Theater for sure. I like to see live.
And what about reading or writing?
Writing gives me more clarity.
Now I know this is probably going to be a challenging one for you because you mentioned your love for this, but this is a social media. Would you choose Twitter or LinkedIn?
Twitter, for sure any day. Twitter has helped me become a better person, a better marketer, a better writer. I’ve bought so many courses on Twitter, so it’s a very clear answer.
Yeah, that’s true. And it does have like streaming platform, would it be Netflix or Disney Plus for you?
Oh, I’m only Netflix. I would love to try Disney Plus, but there are like two movies that I want to watch. So it’s still Netflix. I’m still a Netflix fan and I’m getting to be less Netflix fan because the quality of content is going down. It started really well but now that it’s hard to actually be binge-watching anything. I hope there is a better Netflix coming soon.
Finally, in terms of movies, would it be Lord of The Rings or Star Wars for you?
Lord of The Rings any day.
Nice, that was fun! I love your take on these questions and I trust that our listeners are also enjoying listening to your responses to this. Definitely do check out Now You Can See Me, one of Aazar’s favorite movies, and also the book Atomic Habits, a great book. Before we conclude, Aazar, for our listeners who would like to be connected with you, how can they reach you?
They should definitely follow me at Twitter (@aazarshad) because I’m sharing all the latest things that I learned on Twitter. They can follow my podcast and they can find it on any podcast app called Growth Marketing Stories. And I have a newsletter called aazarshad.com/newsletter, where you can actually get all the latest frameworks and mindsets that I’m learning from the growth marketers out there.
We’ll definitely be linking all of those in the show notes, so do be sure to follow him on his Twitter account, his newsletter, and his podcast series as well. Once again, Aazar, thank you for coming on this episode of The Business Storyteller Podcast. It’s truly a pleasure to be speaking with you and that’s all for today’s episode and until the next one. Thank you.
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