Jason Feifer | Creating Content That Builds Relationships and Tactics for Embracing Change

John Corcoran 12:17

I’ve heard others talk about this idea of customization that every all content will come much more customized to us to the to the reader, how do you manage to do that? without it becoming, you know, AI, written drivel? As, as you’ve said, how do you how do we make it so much more customizable to the reader?

Jason Feifer 12:37

Well, so not everything? Not every individual article needs to be customized? That doesn’t make sense. And there’s a reason why, you know, mass entertainment is still basically a very passive experience. It’s not because people haven’t thought about like, choose your own adventure, or whatever. It’s because sometimes people want a passive experience. They don’t want to actually, they, they want to, they want to participate in some kind of sharing. And so you have to know the difference between what is basically like a resource, or what is a providing of a service, be it entertainment, or information? And what does it mean to be customized? When I talk about customization, what I’m talking about is that they want a custom experience. So being in touch with me directly, that’s a custom experience, I can respond and react to them being involved in a community that I set up or that anybody else sets up so that you feel like you’re in a space that was designed for you and you can have interactions that are going to be meaningful to you. That’s also customization. But you know, there’s also I am always in touch with my audience, and therefore I’m always building their questions, their curiosities, their insights into the things that I’m producing. That’s customization. I mean, I just had a GIF earlier today, we’re talking. I did it I do a weekly Instagram Live on Entrepreneur’s account. And sometimes it’s just me answering questions from people. And sometimes it’s me talking to somebody else in today, I happen to be talking to this psychotherapist named Katherine Morgan Schaeffler, who wrote a book called The perfectionist guide to losing control. And we started by talking about perfectionism and about reframing productivity, which is an interesting subject that she talks about. But at some point, she mentioned balance, and I just watched the comments. And suddenly everyone is like, balance, balance. Everybody wants to talk about balance. So I just steered the conversation towards balance. And then that’s, that’s what we ended up talking about for the majority of the time. And that was more meaningful to people because I could see in real time what they wanted to hear from us, because what were the pain points? What were the things that they were carrying around that she with her particular area of expertise was able to talk to, and so I abandoned plan, and we just talked about balance, and that to me is also customization.

John Corcoran 15:00

Yeah, definitely. And I would have to say a bit of a radical idea to traditional journalists, you know, the son of the journalist, kind of there’s a lot of traditional dyed in the wool journalists who would say that it’s about, you know, we determine what the news is. And we’re gonna go out and write it. And we’re not going to be reactionary to what other people want it. Would you agree with that?

Jason Feifer 15:21

Yeah. And let’s be clear that there is an important distinction between important hard news and everything else. I am not in the important hard news business. I don’t uncover things. I don’t hold people to account. That is a role that press plays. And it’s an important one, and we can debate how well it’s executed. And certainly, it doesn’t, you know, media doesn’t get it right all the time. But in that case, I think that it is important for somebody to go out and report on the things that literally nobody is thinking about, but that we must know about. And I mean, it can be hard to get people to care about that stuff. But I think that that’s important. And when you look at an organization that can do that really well, at scale, B that The New York Times or the Wall Street Journal, you know, what you see is an organization that’s increasingly diversified. So that there are parts of the business that are more service oriented, or, or more joy oriented, that are going to bring in a lot of subscriptions and dollars, like, you know, I mean, I don’t know the New York Times his finances, but I would imagine that their food products and their recipes and their games, and whatever these bring it bringing a ton of people, and then that can help subsidize the important news that’s produced that, you know, advertisers may not want to run against, you know, a deep investigative reporting piece into something that’s very serious and sad. But that is important. So I think that if you have that mission at the core of your business, then you need to figure out basically how to do the things that are, are core to your mission, while at the same time making sure that you’re also diversifying enough so that you have a thriving business. But then there are other parts of the media ecosystem, like what I occupy, where, you know, my job is really to serve people. And so I don’t see myself as a journalist anymore, I really see myself as, as an entrepreneur, I see myself as all of my audience, and, and I see myself as having a bias. And that bias is just towards my audience, I have a bias towards my audience, I want them to succeed. And so that is a different thing. And I get that that’s not going to make any sense to someone at the New York Times. But it’s a different model. And it’s serving different purposes. No,

John Corcoran 17:46

no, it’s fascinating to talk about this all day. I didn’t mean to hijack the conversation, just talk about the context here. But I do want to steer the conversation more towards your book, you got this great story that you talk about butter versus margarine, and how the industry the butter industry reacted to margarine when it came on the scene back in the 19 century. So tell us about that. And then we’ll talk more broadly about the book.

Jason Feifer 18:10

Yeah, so the reason so the book is a book about it’s called built for tomorrow. And it’s a book that’s written for anyone who’s going through change in their career or their lives. And what I offer are tactics and strategies and ways to reframe the experience to recognize the opportunity and find opportunity in this instead of being afraid of what’s coming next. And one of the store I love history. And the reason I love history is because the story has been told like we know how the decisions that were made play out which is different from what we’re experiencing today where you and I are making decisions about our own businesses and careers. And we don’t really know how they’re gonna play out we hope we know but we don’t really know how they’re gonna play out. But in history we do. And so one of the stories that I tell in the book is about what happened to the butter industry. So in the in the 18, hundred’s margarine was introduced to America margarine actually, it was not what you think of as margarine right now. Margarine was originally it was called oleomargarine. And it came out of France. It was it was originally an effort to provide the troops with a easy to travel source of protein. So basically, how could you create something that they could eat that wouldn’t go spoiling immediately. And, and that was that was oleomargarine. And then it made its way over to America. And the butter industry just started freaking out about it. And they started to do this thing that industries do which is called regulatory capture, which is basically they work with politicians to try to pass laws that favor their industry over their competition. And, and so one of the things that they started to do well first they started to just tax the hell out of margarine. And then the next thing that they did was that they they started passing these laws that mandated that margarine which Oh again I just also to be clear margarine at the time I said it’s not like it was today it’s basically beef tallow at that point like it’s it’s a kind of it’s like beef fat it’s not the thing that you think of now that came later. And but it’s spreadable. And it kind of functions like butter. And and so anyway, they were having margarine die like distinguished passing laws that would get you margarine had to be dyed weird colors, black, pink, these kind of unappealing things. So that said, I mean, the the butter industry was claiming so that it wasn’t confused with butter. But obviously it was to turn people off of margarine. And this actually all the went went all the way up to the Supreme Court at the time that ultimately struck this down and said you can’t mandate that margarine be dyed random colors. But you can stop margarine from being dyed. So margarine couldn’t be dyed yellow to look like butter, it was that it was sold in its kind of white gelatinous looking substance, and it would come with powder that you would mix in to make it yellow. And anyway, the reason that this story is fascinating aside from just the weird history of it, is that what ultimately happened was that margarine took off. And the reason it took off was because it was solving a problem that butter wasn’t margarine was cheap. Butter was expensive. Margarine stayed, whereas butter got bad fast, because this is an age before refrigeration. So most people couldn’t afford butter. And if they could afford butter than their butter went bad very quickly. This was a problem. And people needed a solution. Because we’re talking about a mostly poor America, where people did not have enough money to buy the food that they needed to sustain themselves. And a lot of people just made their living off of stale bread and some cheap protein that they could spread on it. Margarine solved a problem for people, they needed it and the butter industry in seeing that instead of trying to shift and solve that problem for people as well just started to try to fight margarine. What could the butter industry have done, they could have maybe figured out how to improve their processes. So that butter became cheaper, they could have invested in this nascent refrigeration technology and been a part of bringing refrigeration to the world which of course, once that happened, butter could last a lot longer. They could have done all sorts of things they didn’t instead what they did is they fought it. And they made ridiculous decisions that ultimately just drew more interest to margarine. And then for margarine sales are much higher than butter sales. And that is what happens when you panic when instead of trying to understand what people need and then evolving with them, you instead just try to hold on to whatever position you previously had. We all do some version of this, it is a terrible critical mistake that businesses made Do not be the butter industry of the late 1800s be the margarine.

John Corcoran 23:18

You know, I know we’re short on time. But there’s so many modern parallels now to that story. I love that story. I mean, I think of like, you know, Blockbuster versus Netflix and that whole fight or I think about, you know, like evey cars versus legacy automakers or AI and how people talk about regulating that or crypto or something do you want to pick just you don’t need to take take one of those you want to pick one of those a modern, you know parallel where you’re seeing this unfold a similar type of dynamic?

Jason Feifer 23:45

Oh, sure. Well, I mean, you know, the the literal parallel is the way in which the the milk industry has tried to pass nut milks. Yeah, try to pass laws saying that like the nut milks and oat milk, can’t use the word milk, which is just outrageously stupid, just just incredibly, incredibly stupid. Because instead of doing that, what you should be doing is just figuring out how to be more relevant to your consumer. That’s what should matter. But I’ll tell you a story that that it also reminds me of his. So are you familiar with the franchise? edible? edible arrangements?

John Corcoran 24:27

Yes, yes.

Jason Feifer 24:28

So edible arrangements. For those who don’t know, it’s a franchise and their kind of core product is fruit in a basket of flowers, right? That’s right. You’re in a basket, it looks like flower. And so that company’s been around for a long time. And, and the founder who I interviewed a number of years ago, was telling me that there was this he said the company was called edible arrangements. And then it just became known and then they changed the name to just edible and then when California many years ago passed After the nation’s first cannabis law that de criminalized cannabis. The word edible was in there to refer to edibles which almost everybody knows to be pot cookies and candies and whatever. So, but he had the founder of edible arrangement had never heard of that. And he saw it and he freaked out. And he thought, Oh, my God, I’m losing control of my, my brand name. And yeah, everyone’s gonna think of edibles as this thing. And he started trying to put together like a, you know, it’s like a kind of lobbying effort. But the expensive lawyer is trying to go state by state to try to stop people from using the word edible to refer to cannabis edibles. And which is, of course, a completely losing fight. I mean, it couldn’t be a dumber thing to do with your time and money. And then at some point, he said, somebody told him this, they were like, Look, you need to when something’s coming out, you you need to decide, is this a? Like, is this a? Is this a, I’m trying to think of the world like a tsunami? Is this like a tsunami wave that’s going to crash down upon you. And there’s nothing you can do to stop it. And so you just need to run as fast as you can out of the way? Or is this a really nice surfable wave that you should grab your surfboard and try to ride? And it you know, he, he thought about it? And he said, Well, I guess I don’t really know which one this is and started to get to understand the cannabis industry discovered CBD, which he had never heard of realize that, like moms are buying CBDs and he’s like, when moms buy edible arrangements to maybe actually there’s an opportunity for us in that space. And so he basically grabbed a surfboard and decided to ride it, he opened up a CBD store and and has been experimenting with that ever since. And that is the smart way to be right. He had a gut reaction, it was panic. I have in my book, The build for tomorrow, this kind of four stages of change, panic adaptation, new normal wouldn’t go back, he was at panic. And that panic was causing him to try to hold on as much as possible to thing that came before. And eventually what he realized was that the path forward was through adapting.

John Corcoran 27:18

Hmm, that’s great. Sorry, I know, we’re almost out of time. So we’ll wrap up with a question. I love asking. I’m a big fan of gratitude. You know, if you look around at your peers and contemporaries, others in your industry, however you want to define it, maybe it’s other writer entrepreneurs, like yourself, who do you respect? Who do you admire? Who are people that you’d want to publicly call out? And, you know, thank them for what they’re doing?

Jason Feifer 27:40

Oh, my God. I mean, the, it’s a nice, very nice question. The list is, is so incredibly long, you know, I’ve never had what some people would describe as a mentor to that, like, I’ve never had like a singular person. Instead, what I’ve had is the great fortune to work with just an incredible number of really talented people who I’ve stayed in touch with over the years and have been a resource to them. And they’ve been a resource to me and, and there’s just sort of endless names from my time at Boston Magazine and Men’s Health and Fast Company. But if I if I instead of naming like, 7000 people, I’ll just say, you know, I had mentioned at the beginning of our conversation that the first publication I wrote for was, was a public at a music magazine in Florida. And the editor there, his name was, or the at least the, the editor who I was in touch with was named Julio Diaz and, and Julio, he was just like a local guy who loves culture. I mean, he’s, he today is still like a basically a local culture writer in Florida. But he, he was the first person in any professional capacity to take my work seriously, and to want to work with me and to publish my work and to encourage me to do more. And I wrote for it was called Ink 19 I don’t think it exists anymore. I referring 19 for years, and I was always you know, I was always writing for Julio, and you know, we’re not really in touch anymore, but we’re Facebook friends. So I see what he’s up to. And, and I you know, that that just meant a great deal that somebody who was a few paces ahead of me, said, You know, you’re young, you’re raw, but you got something and I will take you seriously and that matters.

John Corcoran 29:32

That is such a nice lesson. You know, I really admire what you’re doing Jason You know, I look back on my career and I and I realized that there’s these windows in time where you know, you have the kind of a world is open in terms of opportunity for you and you know, I had and they tend to come and go throughout your career you might be up in one day and the next year down, you know, and I love that you’re leveraging it taking advantage of it building your personal brand, you know, when I was little Whitehouse we didn’t have social media. But if if we did, I would have tried to use it to, you know, build my personal brand so that I could, you know, have an impact at some point in the future no matter regardless of whether I hold that position in the future or not. And I think that’s what’s really interesting about what you’re doing is you’re doing both you’re, you know, you’re you’re honoring the company that you work for. And you’re also, you know, you’re making your personal brand, an extension of the values you stand for, where can people go to learn more about you connect with you, Jason, check out the book.

Jason Feifer 30:28

Yeah, I really appreciate that. So Build for Tomorrow is the name of the book. And it’s available in audiobook I narrate it myself, or ebook or hardcover. And you can get that wherever you got your last book, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, wherever. And I’d love for you to check it out. And then one other thing is, is that I write a newsletter called One Thing Better every week, I give you one way to improve to build a career or company you love. And if you go to my website, jasonfeifer.com. Just look up at the top you’ll see newsletter, and I would love if you subscribe, and say hi.

John Corcoran 31:01

And follow him on LinkedIn as well, because he put a lot of good content on there as well. So I do need thank you. Thanks so much, Jason.

Jason Feifer 31:07

Thank you.

Outro 31:08

Thank you for listening to the Smart Business Revolution Podcast with John Corcoran. Find out more at smartbusinessrevolution.com. And while you’re there, sign up for our email list and join the revolution. And be listening for the next episode of the Smart Business Revolution Podcast.