Wes Gay is a writer, entrepreneur, and marketing consultant. He is a StoryBrand Certified Copywriter and Guide, helping businesses clarify their marketing message and strengthen their position in the marketplace. As a regular contributor to Forbes.com, he discovers how millennials change the workplace. He lives with his wife and two young sons in the suburbs of Atlanta, GA.
In this episode we discuss:
- How to learn from a situation even when you feel pigeon holed in it
- The not-so-complicated way to bridge any generation or relational gap in your company or life
- How to use your perspective to help shift a global conversation
- STORYBRAND book
- UNFROZEN book
- Find a special gift for you from Wes at www.wesgay.com/voi
Hey, hey! It’s Andrea and welcome to the Voice of Influence podcast. Today, I have Wes Gay on the line. He’s somebody that has actually helped me with my own copy, which means the words that I’m using to try to figure out what it is exactly that I’m trying to say I do. I will talk about that a little bit more later.
Andrea: But Wes, it’s good to have you on the Voice of Influence podcast!
Wes Gay: Thanks, Andrea. I remember, it was five or six months ago when you and I first met and worked together. You already had the ideas for this podcast so it’s been really fun to watch and the last couple of months as it’s grown and you’ve got such great traction and had such great feedback. So I’m really excited for you. I’m glad to be on today.
Andrea: Well, thank you, and I appreciate your voice of influence for me. I always really appreciate that. That’s one of the things that I love about starting the podcast. I don’t know how long this will go. But so far, I’ve pretty much interviewed people that really have had an impact on me. So I’m just really glad that we could connect today. So Wes, why don’t you tell the listeners what exactly you’re up to? What are the different facets of your job, your career right now?
Wes Gay: Sure. So it really breaks down into three lanes, is the best way I can think to describe it. The first one is, and this is actually how Andrea and I met, through an organization called StoryBrand. I’m one of their certified copywriters as well as one of the certified guides. That means I help business owners and leaders and influential folks like Andrea use seven basic principles of storytelling to create a clear message so that they can resonate better with their customers and ultimately grow their business.
I’ve done it with both profit organizations in the billion-dollar range even down to, all the way, including different nonprofits, established ones and ones that have just launched out. So that’s the bulk of what I do, spending a lot of time on the phone or on video calls or helping people work, what exactly is their message? What are they trying to communicate? And how do we do it better so that they can help more people and serve more folks with the good products or services that they offer. So that’s the Lane One.
Lane Two, I am a Forbes.com contributor. I’m one of the paid writers for the Under 30 section, which means I specifically cover millennials. Typically, when I say the word millennials, I can just feel everybody’s eyes rolling. They’re like, “Oh gosh, we’re talking about millennials again.” I just sense it.
But what I specifically talk about is millennials in the workplace, how it’s kind of shifted the nature of workplace culture and benefits. I’ve talked to a lot of really interesting millennials who are leading some really interesting companies and doing great work. So that’s Lane Two.
Lane Three then is speaking. And the reason I separate Lane Three is because sometimes I speak on the marketing and the messaging side. Sometimes I speak on the millennials side. It just depends on who the audience is and what’s they’re asking for. But those are the three lanes or the three primary things that I do really every day.
Andrea: So do you see a connection or what is the connection for you between StoryBrand and the millennial message? Do you have a connection there in your mind?
Wes Gay: Yeah, it is. Rarely do those two lanes overlap. Nobody is really calling me to do StoryBrand for millennials, which is fine because it’s such a hard thing to do, because millennials are the largest generation in history. They’re the most diverse generation in history. So to try to pinpoint them down to any one overarching stereotype is impossible.
Andrea: Nobody wants to be thrown into a box like that.
Wes Gay: No, nobody does.
Andrea: Especially millennials.
Wes Gay: Oh gosh, you’re not kidding. I’m right in the middle of them so I get it. To me, the way it overlaps is StoryBrand is very consumer-focused. So what I’m trying to do is help people use a framework to create a clear message to communicate to their consumers, because that’s how they grow their company. Now, in the Forbes side, what I’m discovering is that companies needed to do a better job, and they’re doing a better job of communicating their story to their employees.
So at the end of the day, it’s two different side of storytelling. It’s an external story. What are we telling the people who we want to buy our product or services? And then it’s also an internal story. What do we want the story of our company to be so that we can engage, specifically millennials, because that’s what I talk about, but it’s also because this is the largest generation in history. It already represents a third of the American workforce. It will represent half of the American workforce in just a few years.
One of the individuals I’ve gone and talked to is the Chief Human Resources officer at Hilton. They have 350,000 employees worldwide. And Hilton projects within the next three years that 75% of the entire workforce will be millennial. That’s unheard of to have that many people… I mean, I’m from public school so I’m a little slow in doing that kind of math. I have to use my calculator.
That’s over 260,000 people who are going to be within a 20-years span and age. So how does Hilton communicate who they are and tell their stories and company in a way that engages and really recruits and retains the top talent so that they can continue to grow their company? So it’s two different sides of the story, one is internal and one is external.
Andrea: Thank you for tying all that altogether.
Wes Gay: You’re welcome.
Andrea: Okay. So I do want to come back to StoryBrand because that’s how I got connected with you in the first place, and I’m definitely a fan. But also part of this podcast, the reason why we’re doing it is because I want people to know that people that are in the space of “I’m doing what I feel called to do based on my gifting,” which is where you’re at right now. How did you get to that point?
Because so many of us grew up thinking that we needed to go to college and then we needed to go get a job. And then we kind of get stuck in this rut of being in maybe a job that doesn’t fit, or that sort of thing. Or maybe we feel a different kind of calling in our lives. So I’m really curious, Wes, what was the switch for you? When did you start moving in this direction?
Wes Gay: The general answer is by accident. I’m not one of these guys who’s like, “Hey, you can take my course to follow me to your dream career path.” I have no any idea what that is. So my journey is pretty simple. My dad has been a worship pastor in Southern Baptist Churches for about 35 years, and he’s still doing it. He’s probably going to step into eternity as soon as the choir special is done one Sunday. That’s probably how he’s going to go. My mom said on Easter Sunday, he looked at his Apple watch after the choir sang and his heart was like 108 or something crazy, because he just gets so excited about that.
So I grew up in that world. I grew up in church. I went to a Christian college. I started working in churches while in college and then after that I spent about 10 or 11 years working in churches and nonprofits in all kinds of roles. But they typically wound up in marketing and communications even though I have a music undergrad degree, which is totally pointless. I’m never going to get paid to do music ever again, but I’m one of those people who has a degree.
So I started, I thought, “Well, this is where I feel I’m good at.” I’ve always known the church world and I’ve always lived in that space. Then when I was in college, I was in a couple of music groups, scholarship groups that performed in churches all over the southeast, really. So we were in some of the biggest churches every weekend.
So that’s the world I was very familiar with and I thought, “Well, I need to go serve the local church.” So I left college, started working for a nonprofit about a year then went and served. Got involved with the local church doing marketing and communications, because that’s just where my mind went and that’s just was my natural bend.
Andrea: How did you know that? How did you know that your mind just went there?
Wes Gay: I just did. Like for me, it was a bit intuitive. And you talk about millennials getting pigeonholed. I got pigeonholed a lot because my dad… we grew up in a small churches, so when I was in like eighth grade, as I say I was voluntold into media ministry because my dad was over that. He’s the music guy. So I started doing the media production stuff in like eighth grade.
And I’ve always been interested. I’m a tech guy. I love gizmos and gadgets and all that stuff. So I always just had a natural bend for it. So what wound up happening a lot is, early on, I got stuck in this media role of production. So like how do you plan a service? How do you make sure the lights are working? Get the sound right, and all this really highly technical stuff that I knew how to do.
But for me it was one of those things that I could do it but I would be exhausted and just completely wiped out when I got done. And it wasn’t interesting day to day. I just dreaded when I had to go do it. I could do it, and I do pretty good at it, I just hated it. So I got pigeonholed in that space and tried to get out.
So one of the ways, I ended up going to another church, eventually, and doing a similar thing – media. Then I kind of took over communications. Because, again, just for whatever reason, my natural kind of bent is towards how do you communicate things. How do you make things clear? I’m not really a fluff guy so when you talk about in the space of copywriting, I’m way more in the direct response space. I’m just not with the fluff. And so we just drive right at it.
So I would notice anytime I would preach or anytime I would lead a marketing meeting or communications meeting, people would always affirm me. But when I would do production, when I would run a video shoot, when I would plan a Sunday service, when I would get graphics done, ,all that kind of stuff, they would always compliment the product.
Andrea: Oh, I like that. It’s a really interesting observation.
Wes Gay: So I realized, like the last church I was at, I was the media guy but we went over a year without a senior pastor. We run about 1500 on Sundays. So like in most the churches, the Sunday after Thanksgiving when nobody is there anyway. So I’m like, “Well, somebody’s gotta preach because we still have to have church. Hey, Wes, you’re here why don’t…” They go “Wes that was a great video,” or, “That looks great,” or, “That XYZ was great. I really appreciate that.”
I started to realize that dichotomy of, okay, the things that people are personally affirming me on or the things that actually energize me, I can do them all day long. Yeah, I’m tired but I’m not drained, and those are two are different things. So once I started to realize that more and more, I thought, well, this is actually what I’m pretty good at. I began to get really comfortable with it and say, you know what? Because I’m good at this, I also am not good at these things, and started to delineate where I’m good and where I’m not.
Andrea: Okay, you were pigeonholed into doing media and what not. Did you ever feel guilt over the fact that you didn’t want to do that? Because I think some people do. I think some people are like, “Oh I’m in this thing. I’m doing this way. I’m doing the right thing. I’m supposed to be here, but I really don’t want to be here, but I should be here because…” And they kind of end up with really a martyr kind of complex, “I shouldn’t enjoy what I’m doing.”
Wes Gay: I never felt that way. I always felt frustrated because, again, I thought I’m doing the things I feel like I’m supposed to be doing, or I feel like I’m taking the steps I’m supposed to take. I’m just making the progress I think I should make. So like in the middle of all that, in January of 2014, I started doing Seminary Online, thinking what if I get a masters degree? That will help me break out of this rut of the media guy and tech boy who everybody thinks all I can contribute is changing batteries on a microphone, or I’m the guy that gets yelled at on Sunday, or beat up Monday morning because the guitar was too loud or whatever.
So I thought, that’s not me at all. I don’t enjoy that. And my personality is not bent to really thrive in that environment. I went to seminary distance degree for two years, and really flew through it. I thought, well, this is the next step. But I just kept getting frustrated. And I would be told by different leadership, “Hey, if you do these things then you can move in the roles that are better fit for you.”
Again, in the comparison trap of 2017 and before with social media, I’d see all these friends of mine, they were doing what they wanted to do. This is exactly what they say it in college that they were going to go do now they’re doing it. So for me, it was more like frustration and annoyance in like, “Why not me?” I didn’t really ever feel guilty about it. I just got annoyed with it.
Which ultimately led to, we had a really… unfortunately, for your listeners who don’t know this, there’s a lot of bad experiences that can happen in churches, and we had a really bad one in the church staff, which put me on an opportunity to take a different path, and say, “Okay, God, where are we going next? What is our next step? Where do we need to go?” That eventually led us to StoryBrand.
I’ve been reading down on Miller’s books for 15 years, or whenever Blue Like Jazz first came out. In fact, when clients do a video call with me now, I’ve actually got two of his books on the shelf behind me. It was pure accident, but I realized that one day when I was on a client call.
But I’ve always been a fan of his work, always been a fan of his writing. I was a big fan of the StoryBrand process when I started hearing about it even when I was on the church staff. Then I went and I thought, you know what? I think this is the next step.
So I took the plunge, made the investment in a copywriter certification and that’s opened up doors I would never even imagine. I mean, sometimes I sit back and go, “This is a little ridiculous because I’m a guy with a church background from the seminary and I got, literally, one of my clients is like $1.4 billion-a-year company, and they’re asking me all kinds of marketing questions. And they’ve got people who have been at some of the top brands on the planet on their marketing team. They’re looking at me like I’m the expert. So I now have to be the expert.
So it’s crazy how it’s… and again, I’m not going to run Facebook ads and say, “Here are seven steps to find your true path for life,” because I don’t know. I’m still kind of in the middle of that myself. But to see how it’s pivoted and even my church experience is a huge asset to me now in the space I’m in. And you know, as you were growing up, when you’re in that space, you’re very much on the frontline, so to speak.
You’re constantly dealing with people, but you’re also serving people and helping people and that’s kind of your bend. So it’s that mindset and mentality that’s so natural for me, because that’s the world I came out of, it’s been a huge asset for me in the marketing space. Whether and regardless of faith background, it’s just the mentality of how you approach and serve.
So one thing I would tell your audience is, if you’re frustrated in where you are now because you don’t really feel like that’s where you’re supposed to be, at least figure out what can you take away from where you are now and what are you learning that can help you in the future. For me, it was how do I interact with and approach and deal and serve my clients? That’s a lot of my perspective on that comes from by background in the church.
Now, could I go back to that one day? Not production, heaven help me. Nobody wants to pay me money to do that anymore. But it’s that mentality and kind of those things that I learned, and all that process that I think really has helped me get to where I am on the journey today.
Andrea: You know, I see a thread and I had a theory before I started this podcast, but I definitely see the thread that people are often drawn to and are able to move down a path toward perhaps their calling after something really difficult happens. A lot of times, it’s that pain point that really moves them and gives them that permission or sets them on that path where they’re like, “No. No. Now, I need to really figure this out.” It sounds like it happened to you too.
Wes Gay: It did. And where I’m at now, I’m only 30, I turned 30 a few months ago, and I said for years, even right out of college, I was serving in a nonprofit that worked with a lot of churches all over the country. And even at 22/23 I thought, you know what? One day, I wanna be able to serve a lot of churches, because I grew up in it. I’ve seen the good, bad, and the ugly. I mean, I know all sides of it and I thought, I wanna be in a place… But like most people, I thought, well, I’m not old enough yet. Like the people who are doing that are in their 40’s, 50’s and 60’s. I’m 22/23.
So now, I have the opportunity to be of a voice of influence to people who are older than me. But because of my experience already and the things I’ve gone through and the things I’ve kind of watched and observations and some opportunities I’ve been able to have so, already, I’m now able to do that much sooner than I ever thought I would.
So for those of your audience who’s younger, I would say two things. One, don’t discredit where you’re at in your own journey because you can be more influential than you realize. And two, and I was going to say this earlier, everybody gets frustrated in your 20’s. So it’s not a uniquely millennial problem. Everybody who’s ever been in their 20’s have been frustrated about their life and career at some point.
But what I finally realized one day is that, I was about like 25/26. Lord willing, with good health, I’ve probably got 40, 45, or more years of fulltime work in me easy, maybe longer because I don’t know that I could really be fully retired. That sounds miserable and boring to me. So I thought at that point, I have almost double of what I’ve lived so far left in potential working years. So if I don’t hit that job in a year or so that I really want, I’m okay. Like I’ve got 40 or 50 more years to figure this out, so I just need to calm down and just keep pushing forward and then keep taking opportunities where they come.
Andrea: Sounds good advice for yourself.
Wes Gay: Yeah.
Andrea: So Wes, how long ago was it that you went to the StoryBrand workshop? Because I think now we should probably give some context for that and explain even what StoryBrand is.
Wes Gay: Yeah. I went to StoryBrand with what they call the copywriter certification in late October 2016. I didn’t realize that I actually had been a copywriter. I just didn’t realize that’s what I did. The easiest way to define a copywriter was the definition for over a little hundred years ago which says, “You’re a salesman in print.” What that means is you’re trying to write words, write phrases and create a message that will sell somebody on something.
So like in the churches, I was trying to sell people on the ideas that we were talking about, whether in sermons, or I was trying to sell people the idea of coming to our events, or getting involved in our small groups, or whatever it was. I was trying to convince them of something by what I was writing. So I already had that skill set. I just didn’t realize, I didn’t have a way to define it.
So I went to the copywriter workshop because people were going to StoryBrand and saying, “Hey, I now know what my company’s message is. I know how to talk to my customers. I’m just not a good writer. And when I write it, it sounds terrible, so can you help me?” So they created a certification.
StoryBrand, I guess like you said to give a context to that is a workshop created by a guy named Donald Miller. He’s got six or seven, I should know the number. It’s six or seven New York Times Bestselling Books under his belt. He’s been a writer for 15 or 20 years. His stuff is great. In fact, one of my favorite books of all time, and he doesn’t pay me to say this, but one of my favorite books of all time is called A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. Have you read that one?
Andrea: I haven’t read that one.
Wes Gay: It actually points to the origins of StoryBrand if you read it. It’s fascinating and such a well-written book. It will really change your perspective on a lot of life. I read it seven or eight years ago. But anyway, StoryBrand takes the seven basic principles of storytelling and walks businesses and leaders through it to create a clear message where your customer is the focus of your marketing so that you can tell them that you can communicate how you solve the problems that they face.
So an easy example is think of all these dumb infomercials that are on TV. When they talk about the features and benefits, it’s always about, “Are you frustrated by X? Are you tired of shedding tears when you chop an onion?” Well, yeah I am, actually. “Well, we have the No-Tears Onion Chopper Matic 3000,” and you’re like, “I need the No-Tears Onion Chopper Matic 3000 now because I don’t wanna shed tears when I cut onions, because I shouldn’t have to.” Because they’re now marketing in a way that it says, “This is a problem I have. They understand my problem and they can fix my problem.” That’s when customers engage.
I help companies take their message and turn it into websites and email copy and other marketing collateral they need. Then fast forward to April 2017, I became one of the first StoryBrand certified guides. So I’m one of about 35 folks that StoryBrand has spent about five days in Nashville, Tennessee. StoryBrand has certified us to be able to work as coaches and consultants with people who have either gone through StoryBrand or just familiar with it.
So I’ve got one lady, for example, who’s doing weight loss coaching for busy career women. I’ve got one client that does high-end security camera installs in the southeast. I’ve got clients covering all the spectrum, but what I do is I literally just walk them through these basic principles and we just keep talking about it and try to find and dig into as much as clarity as we can to help them find the message that’s going to resonate best with their audience. Because what I want to do deep down is I want to help good people tell better stories so that they can grow their business and be more generous with the ones around them.
I don’t want to help jerks. I almost helped a jerk a few months ago and didn’t realize it, until about a week ago. I found out the guy he actually hired told me that the guy I thought I was going to work with turned out to be a jerk. I was like, “Well, I’m glad I didn’t work with him because then I’d wasted my time and that wouldn’t have really fulfilled my purpose. I wanna help good people tell better stories so they can grow their business and be more generous with the ones around them.”
Andrea: That’s good. I like your…what do you call that? For me, I would call that a core message, but I mean…
Wes Gay: Yeah. Simon Sinek calls it your ‘why’ or your purpose or your vision, and that’s not something I started with. I think sometimes, we get in this mood of, “If I’m gonna do something, I’ve got to define my purpose from Day 1.” I didn’t. And finally, it was like six, seven months in, I thought, I don’t know that I’ve ever done this. So I sat down one day and started thinking about why do I like doing this so much. Not like the actual work itself but deeper than that. What is it I’m most excited about when I do this every day? And that’s what I came up with.
Andrea: Yeah, I like that a lot. So how does that phrase or that sentence help you? What does it do for you in the way that you approach your business and life?
Wes Gay: So in my business, I want to work with good people. I feel like I’m pretty good at sensing who’s somebody I really want to spend time talking to, because in my work, I spend a lot of time talking to my clients. So I want to have somebody who’s really good at what they do and they’re great people, like they’re somebody I’d want to have lunch with or somebody I’d want to hang out with for a little bit. The old Road Trip Test. Do you want to take a 4 or more hour road trip with them?
And then how do I help them tell a better story. They’ve got a good product, they’ve got a good service, they’ve got a good message, they’ve got a good opportunity but they just need a little help getting across the line. They have it in them, I just need to help them get to where they want to go. When you do that well then you’re able to grow your business, and I tell people all the time, like this is going to sound so basic, boring, whatever. Sometimes people think it sounds bad. But some people think when I say this, they think it’s not good. And really what my job is is to help people make money, period.
And I tell people that sometimes and they’re taken aback, especially people with faith backgrounds. Like it’s not a bad thing to make money, it’s what you do with it is what matters. What I want to do is help people make more money so they can be more generous with those around them, whether it’s generous to their employees, whether it’s generous with their family, generous with their friends, generous with charitable organizations that’s what it is, because that’s what I want in my own life. I want to be able to give more and help those around me more than I could in the past. So if I can grow my business by telling about our story then I can be more generous with those in my life.
Andrea: Yeah, it’s like there’s an immediate goal, which is making more money, but it has a greater purpose in order to be able to be more generous.
Wes Gay: Yeah. And money is not a bad thing. Money just gives you opportunities, opportunities to do good stuff or opportunities to do bad stuff. Money is amoral. It’s just what you do with it is what makes it good or bad.
Andrea: Why do people come to you to work with you about this? I mean, are most of the people that you work with, are they people that have already gone through the StoryBrand program? Now, that you’re a certified guide, you can just teach them the process as well?
Wes Gay: Yeah, so people who I typically work with are somewhat… maybe they’ve gone through the StoryBrand workshop or they’re somewhat familiar with it. So for example, Donald Miller in the StoryBrand process is really well known in the Dave Ramsey circles with the EntreLeadership and all that.
So I work with a few people who are familiar with the StoryBrand but haven’t gone through it. So I kind of walk them through it. I don’t actually teach them the seven principles but I’ll help them create the message they need by just asking them a ton of questions. I mean, I spent two hours on a video call last week with a lawyer in Texas talking about his practice. And I don’t know… all my understanding of the legal industry is when I used to watch Law and Order marathons, so it’s not accurate at all.
But I had to dive into his business, his customers, people he serves, how he grows his business, what his message is, what’s resonates, all the stuff. So now I’m going to create some messaging for him that would then turn into a website. Just about everybody I work with has either gone through StoryBrand or is familiar with it in some way. I’ve decided, and I’ve gotten really comfortable with saying, you know what? I’m just not going to work with people who aren’t familiar with it, because I have to explain to them the value of it.
Andrea: Right, you don’t want to sell it.
Wes Gay: I don’t. And the beauty of it is the StoryBrand has done so much marketing with their podcast and some of the other things, a lot of the kinds of people I want to work with are already familiar with it.
Like Donald Miller talked about StoryBrand in an event in May with a 100,000 people simulcast worldwide. There’s plenty of people in that space who are going to come and need somebody. If they talk to me, that’s probably the kind of person I want to work with because they’re going to be a good person. They’re not going to be like trying to sell… I don’t know. I’m trying to think of something that’s not good. They’re not trying to sell more drugs or not trying to sell you, traffic more guns across the border. Like they’re doing good work and they’ve got good solutions that people need that can help their lives and I can help them do that.
Andrea: That’s exactly the reason why I came to you because I took the StoryBrand course about two years ago now. My husband and I went down to Nashville and we went through the whole thing. At that time, I really was totally and clear about what my message even was. I think that was something that I didn’t realize that I needed to clarify before coming to the process, before coming to the framework. I didn’t even know exactly what my calling was or what I was trying to accomplish. So for the next year and a half…well, I actually used the StoryBrand framework to help me write my book. That was helpful.
Wes Gay: Yeah. Great book, by the way. I read on a plane to LA earlier this year, and that was great.
Andrea: Thank you so much! It really means a lot to me that you took the time to do that. I don’t know why, but I still feel surprised when people say that they’ve read it. Isn’t that funny?
Wes Gay: You should because it’s really good.
Andrea: Thank you. I think it was better because I had gone through this process, because I had an idea of the StoryBrand elements. So I think that that really made a difference. But then it really became a question for me what is it exactly that I’m trying to accomplish here? What is my “why”? What is my core message? And what am I really trying to help people do, and all that sort of thing?
So that’s when I came to you. I had an idea of something. We kind of worked it through. Then I thought we had something and then you came back to me a couple of weeks later and said, “I read your book. I think you need to change things a little bit and focus more on this writing thing.” I was like, oh man, I really appreciated that feedback and just the process and working with you. So thank you for that.
Wes Gay: You’re welcome.
Andrea: So how did you get involved in Forbes? How did you get to the point where you’re actually writing for them?
Wes Gay: So I first heard from Forbes a little over a year ago. I got an email from one of their editors at the Under 30 section and they had just launched the Under 30 section to focus on millennials six months before. So I had written a few pieces for a blog site that’s somewhat popular. The young lady who runs it is pretty influential in the millennial conversation nationally.
So I’d written a few things there. They had seen my work and said, “Hey, would you write a guest post?” And I thought, well, that is the easiest yes of all time. So I did and then I wrote another one, and then it opened to more conversations about being one of their contributors because they were trying to build that section up and were looking for contributors.
So I think I brought a little bit different perspective. I’m not the typical voice in the millennial conversation. Most people who are millennials like me will say, “You know, millennials is the greatest generation ever and old people are dumb and just get out of the way because you messed everything up and we’re just going to fix it all.” Just like “I’m a millennial. Hear me roar,” kind of thing which is complete and utter nonsense.
And then you have the other end of the spectrum who tends to be the older crowd who says, “Well, you bunch of kids just sit down. You’re terrible. You just clean, you just wipe, you just polish your participation trophies and sit down.”
Well, that’s not really true either. We fall more in the middle and so I tend to be a bit of a contrarian voice to a lot of the nonsense that’s out there. I know some of your listeners who are business leaders and business owners and managers and all that. You’ve probably read millions, seemingly, articles about millennials and most of them are just fluff.
Andrea: And what is fluff about them?
Wes Gay: It’s bad data. That’s the biggest one. Everybody has got a study they can cite, but most of the studies, when you actually read them, are incomplete or inaccurate. I read one a few months ago in a really reputable business site. The headline said, “Millennials would delete the phone app instead of SnapChat.” And I thought, well, that’s not true. Let me read it.
So I read the article and the actual data said like a third of millennials 18-24, so college students, use SnapChat more than their phone app. So if they had to delete one or the other, they would delete SnapChat. I thought well, that is completely and utterly misleading. And any leader who just sees that headline thinks they need to go all-in on the SnapChat strategy, for example, to reach millennials when they’re just talking about college students. They’re not talking about those of us who have kids and who’ve had to test drive a minivan.
You know, 50 million millennials in this country are between 27 and 37, so everything that comes with that stage of life going into your 30’s is who the millennials really are, more so than anything else now. And so a lot of it is people I know. It’s just basically is that they’re to get clicks, they’re trying to drive traffic, they’re trying to be the next big thing to something to go viral, and a lot of it is not just true.
When I talk to leaders in companies, what’s said online is not what they believe. It’s also not what they see in their own companies. These are not like Mom & Pop shops of eight people. These are companies of 10, 20, 50, 100, 400,000 people who are telling me this. So when it comes to generational issues, a lot of it is overplayed, a lot of it is nonsense. What we’ve done is we’ve confused what I call these principles of humanities, like everybody struggles with entitlement.
If you go back to the gospels in the Bible, in what had James and John asked Jesus in the last days of His life, “Hey, Jesus, which one of us gets to sit at your right hand?” If that doesn’t reek of entitlement, I don’t what does. A participation trophy for Little League is not entitlement. So that’s part of the problem. I think for too long we’ve had the wrong conversation and nobody is changing the conversation yet, but it’s starting to shift.
I think what we’re seeing in the millennial conversation is people are getting more clear on what they’re actually talking about. They’re realizing a lot of it is nonsense and a lot of it is just really, really unhelpful. I think data is great because a lot of the stuff I write is driven on data, but it’s good data from valid sources. It’s not like Jimmy Dandy’s Jerky Shop saying, “52% of millennials prefer beef jerky.” Well, yeah, he’s trying to sell beef jerky, so of course he’s going to say that.
Some of the most reputable organizations in the world are saying, “Hey, we’ve surveyed tens of thousands of people, here’s the data we’ve come back with.” Okay, that makes sense. So again, I feel like I’m going back to high school, just check your sources. That’s the biggest thing _____ when reading about millennials.
Andrea: Right. That’s really interesting. I think that there are a number of people listening, so the Influencer that’s listening right now is probably somebody who wants to dig into a conversation and wants to see a conversation shift, like you’re talking about wanting to see this millennial conversation shift. How do you see your voice contributing to the shift of that and what kind of advice would you have for other people that are wanting to shift conversations?
Wes Gay: Yeah, I can only speak from my perspective. So my perspective is not that of a millennial living in… and I live in Atlanta, Georgia. So I’m not living in midtown Atlanta in a loft taking Uber everywhere and not owning a car. I live in the suburbs. We have a fenced-in yard. We have a dog. We have two kids. We drive SUVs. So I can only speak from my perspective, So because of where I sit, and I understand it’s an incomplete view, but I also understand in my specific instance, I can speak from where I sit because it is a rapidly expanding perspective for my generation.
So I can start talking about these things and point out things and people go, “Oh, yeah, you’re right.” There is a big difference between older and younger millennials, for example. A lot of older millennials now are parents, so we are different. Half of our phones have apps that are like kids’ books and drawing games and racing games and farm animal games and all that as opposed to the latest social media network that’s out.
So what I’ve done is I have decided, okay, this is where I sit. This is what I see is based on where I live every single day. So because I understand I have that lens, I just start talking to through that lens. What happens is, inevitably, you’re going to attract people who already feel what you’re saying. They just don’t have the way necessarily to say it. You’re giving them the language from your voice, you’re literally putting words in their mouth to help them understand what they’re seeing and the frustrations they have.
I do this thing every now and then on Facebook where I’ll have a statement that says, “Younger millennial” and then some goofy thing that somebody in their early 20’s says. And I’ll say “Older millennial” this is what somebody in their 30’s would say. For example, a younger millennials says, “I have 10 pairs of fake glasses because it helps me with my Instagram image.” An older millennial says, “Hey, did you know Costco now has their own brand of contacts?” Which is what I said about three months ago when I “discovered” Costco had their own brand of contacts, I was really excited how cheap they were.
So I’ve gotten countless messages from people, which started as a joke. I did it almost every week. Where people are engaging with that and they’re resonating with it because it’s helping them process and understand things from their own perspective in a way that they didn’t know how to say it. So I would say, if you’re trying to shift the conversation, I would love to say, first, make sure that conversation is shifting. I have verified my perspective with other people that I respect who are also in this space who say, “Yeah, I do see these trends happening.”
Then also Facebook is the best way on the planet to test those ideas. You don’t have to go on to blog. You don’t have to on to a bunch of content. Start putting some things on your Facebook posts a couple of times a week to kind of share your perspective as you’re trying to shift the conversation and see what conversation happens around your voice and around your perspective and then go from there.
If people are resonating with it, if people are engaging with it, if people are saying, “Yeah, you know, you’re right.” If you’re getting direct messages, private messages that say, “You know what, I really appreciate you saying that because that’s exactly what I felt. I thought I was the only one who felt that way, or I didn’t necessarily know how to say it.” So that’s where I would start. Just start giving little drops of your opinion or your perspective on Facebook and then see how it resonates with people and the more it resonates then see how you can expand that conversation, whether through a blog or a YouTube channel or whatever it is.
Andrea: That’s great advice, because I can definitely attest to the fact that I also, that’s exactly how I got started in, truly, Facebook. It was the exactly same thing. I was like, well, I’m just going to start throwing out some ideas on Facebook and just see how this lands. And start actually putting my voice out there in a way. Even though it was just an experiment, it still was really hard for me. And I don’t know that it is for everybody, but for me it was a little intimidating, because if I put my voice out there, what are people going to think, and that sort of thing. But the more that I had people messaging me and saying things like, “Oh my goodness, I’ve never been able to say it like that but that’s exactly what I was thinking.”
Wes Gay: Yeah, because if you are an Influencer, you’re helping people live better, do better, be better, whatever it is. How are you trying to help them by the problem you solve for yourself or the problems that you can’t solve based on your skills and experience?
Facebook is great way because it’s a community of people that you should know, unless you’ve added friends you don’t know. But it’s people who are going to probably support you. You’re not going to get bombarded with a ton of trolls. And it’s people who are going to be honest and say, “Yeah, that makes total sense,” or “I get it.” The best part is it’s free. You can do it anywhere.
I mean, Facebook is a great testing ground to make sure that your perspective and how… like if you what to shift the conversation, to make sure that that is a conversation that is indeed shifting and you’re going to be one of the ones leading that direction.
Andrea: I like that a lot. Okay, so one last question about the millennial thing. I’ve heard about this generation crossover…
Wes Gay: I’ve heard people call them “cuspers”. My favorite one is people who say like me, born in the ‘80s, we call ourselves Generation Oregon Trail, because we played the game as kids. But I’ve read all that kind of stuff. What it really boils down to is we have played up the generational distinctions a little too much. Again, it goes back to there are certain things that everybody wants because they’re human, but the difference with millennials that nobody has really quantified well is how technology has changed everything, and how the sheer size of the generation has changed everything.
For example, Generation X, there’s like 60 to 65 million people in that generation so the generation out from millennials. Depending who you read, there’s anywhere between 85 and 92 million millennials in the U.S. So literally, you’re talking anywhere from 20 to 32 million people difference between back-to-back generations. All of those people hit the workforce about the same time as with the millennials. So you have these massive waves so problems get magnified, right?
So if you have a light rain in your house, you don’t have any idea you have a roof leak. But when you have a massive thunderstorm, you know really fast when you have a leak. So millennials hit the workplace, it’s more like a thunderstorm because there’s so many at one time. So that’s the numbers game. And then technology has changed everything too. I mean, we know the digital world has changed our lives but what we forget is that we grow up in a middle school, high school, and college with the device that came out 10 years ago called the iPhone and where we said, “Hey, you can tell the world everything that’s going on in your life. Do Facebook and Twitter. They’re still brand new. Nobody will understand it yet. So just live your life.” And we did and we lived out the immaturity of our adolescence before the world. And then it shaped us as a generation in ways that I don’t think anybody has really seen the full impacts yet.
But yeah, I’ve read about generational crossover. Again, I think part of me that’s the cynical side of me says it’s somebody trying to drive clicks and drive traffic. But I do think there’s some validity there because anybody that I’ve talked to who’s over 30 for Forbes, they’ve all been like, “Well, I’m not really sure if I’m a millennial. I just don’t know. I just can’t…” You know, they give me that runaround. Because most of the millennial conversation is about a 23-year-old selling essential oils in a coffee shop, not like 34-year-old marketing director or senior vice president, or whatever.
Andrea: Yeah. It seems like everybody is wanting an answer to why people are the way that they are.
Wes Gay: Good luck!
Andrea: And they’re always looking for something like this generation gap and what not to explain things. Then I think we often then just sort of push away the actual mess of trying to understand the other person. So we just kind of put it in these categories. But if we were to dig down and just ask how are we, like you said, there’s these fundamental things that we want as human beings. And if we can tap into those and speak to those then we’re going to be able to speak to anybody.
Wes Gay: Yeah, if you want to solve the generation problem at your workplace, or with anybody you know that’s of a different generation, spend $10, take them to lunch, and just get to know them. It’s that simple. It really is.
Andrea: Yeah. Oh, that’s good. Well, Wes, thank you so much for taking time to share your story and your expertise with us here today. Where can the Influencers listening find you?
Wes Gay: You can go to my website. It’s wesgay.com. And if they go to wesgay.com/voi, that’s for Voice of Influence, I’ll have some more information about StoryBrand and then also a special offer for your listeners as well to help them clarify the message so that they can increase their influence.
Andrea: That’s awesome! Thank you so much for that. And we can find you on Twitter and Facebook, I know.
Wes Gay: Yeah. You can find me on Twitter, it’s just @wesgay. I’m totally unoriginal. And then I’m on Facebook. I think I’m facebook.com/wesgay. On LinkedIn, I’m Wes Gay. On Instagram, I’m Wes Gay. And I’m not on SnapChat. So there you go.
Andrea: Not on SnapChat. Okay. Perfect.
Wes Gay: I tried it, got tired of it.
Andrea: All right. Well, thank you so much!
Wes Gay: You’re welcome.