On this week’s episode of Conversational Selling, we speak with special guest, Curt Mercadante. Curt ran the innovative seven-figure advertising agency, Gravina Public Strategies, for twelve years before offering branding and business consulting directly to entrepreneurs as the Founder of Merc Enterprises. He is also the bestselling author of Five Pillars of Freedom Lifestyle and host of the Freedom Mindset Radio Podcast.

Curt encourages business owners to listen more and talk less. We chat about creating an impact story to be memorable to clients by focusing on how they will be affected by what you offer.

We discuss attracting your ideal customers, as well as:

  • Authority brand vs. Commodity Brand
  • Becoming a valued, trusted advisor
  • Your product or service is unique because you are
  • Turning likes, follows, and views into leads
  • The four pillars of the Authority Brand
  • And more

Listen now…

Mentioned in this episode:



Nancy Calabrese: Hi everybody and welcome to Conversational Selling the podcast where sales leaders and business experts share what’s going on in sales and marketing today. And it all starts with the human conversation. I’m your host, Nancy Calabrese, and I’m delighted to welcome Curt Mercadante, founder of Merc Enterprises.

He’s built three profitable businesses, including a seven-figure public relations and advertising agency. He’s a Gallup Certified Strength Trainer, host of the Freedom Mindset Radio Podcast, and I just discovered another one, which he’ll speak of, and author of the best selling book Five Pillars of the Freedom Lifestyle, I guess simply put Curt helps businesses increase their authority brand exposure to the right clients, so they make more money. And Curt, I love making money. Welcome to the show, and I don’t even know where to start.

Curt Mercadante: Well, Nancy, I really appreciate you having me on the show. And it at the beginning of the day, I started off with a gratitude journal. And this morning, I wrote the ability to serve and help and provide value to you and your listeners in any way I can.

Nancy: Well, we’re going to take advantage of that, I appreciate that. So I had a chance to watch your webinar Four Pillars of the Authority Brand. And what you say is so true. What is an Authority Brand? And how has it set you apart?

Curt: Yeah, so you know, Authority Brand, is when you want to have customers who actually pay you what you’re worth, who value you, those ideal customers, when you become a trusted advisor. And that’s the opposite of a commodity brand, which is kind of el cheapo diamond doesn’t discount brand. And there’s a lot of people who focus when you hear the word brand, their thoughts immediately go to and I do calls with people, I say, do you have any branding challenges now? And they’re like, “No, I’m good. I have my logo. I have my website, I have my color scheme, right?” What are your challenges right now? And they get into all these challenges have to do with building a brand and turning that brand into lead generation and sales. So they really have brand challenges. But we really need to redefine that word brand of what it means to people because they think it’s superficial stuff. And in this day and age of technology and social media and shiny new objects, people focus on that stuff. They focus on likes and views. And I know people who build lots of likes and views but they have a commodity brand, they could probably tell show sell like chewing gum, right. But if you wanted to sell a high-end service, become a trusted adviser, you haven’t built a strong foundation of an authority brand that you need to do so.

Nancy: Wow. So give me an example of what you mean by authority versus commodity.

Curt: Yeah, I like to tell this story. And I’ll do this on speeches or now virtual speeches and people will be like, what the heck is that on the screen? Right? And I have a slide of mushrooms. And I’m like, Well, of course, you’ve joined a branding discussion. So I’m going to talk about mushrooms.

Curt: Well here in Charleston, South Carolina, which has an incredible culinary scene when our restaurants are open, you know, four-star restaurants you know and you can get in and out in 20 minutes. While on the menu many of these high-end restaurants have what are called Mepkin Abbey Mushrooms. Now, these mushrooms are at a premium and a lot of people listening might be like, well, I can just go to ByLo or Harris Teeter or Publix and the grocery store and get a can of mushrooms for a fraction of the cost, right? What a Mepkin Abbey Mushrooms are cool. They’re made by Catholic monks at Mepkin Abbey so cool store, you know, different Catholic monasteries, some make beers, some make grains, some make whatever…they make mushrooms. Well, the abbey was the vacation estate of Henry Luce and Clare Boothe Luce. Henry Luce founded Time-Life Publications, Clare Boothe Luce was an ambassador, Congresswoman.

So there’s a cool story. But those monks churn out these mushrooms that are incredible. I mean, I’m not a mushroom person, and I get him every time I can because it’s consistent quality. You combine all of that people pay a premium for that consistent quality, the back story, the story, you know, and they’ve built an authority brand. Now, out of 10 people, eight people might say, I’m never paying that much for mushrooms. You know what, if you have an authority brand, you’re fine with that because the two people who do buy your product or service are going to pay a premium. And quite honestly, they’re going to be less of a pain in the neck than the other eight, who were going to pay you not what you were worth. And just because they are pain in the neck clients.

Nancy: Yeah, nobody likes those. Right?

Curt: Right, exactly. The lower end clients who want the most from you, you know?

Nancy: It is true. And so why do so many companies get this wrong?

Curt: I think it’s, it’s because you know, there, I say there are four pillars of an authority brand. And the first pillar, although I deal with it last with my clients is attention.

Curt: Most people start and stop there. And they think it’s all about getting a lot of attention, getting the eyeballs getting the likes, and the views and the exposure. And they don’t go deeper than that they haven’t identified. I mean, this is this isn’t just branding sales, one on one, their ideal client, and not just ideal client, in terms of who’s your ideal client, you say, all God’s children, right? It’s like, it’s what do they look like? Where do they shop? Where do they live? What do they value? What do they let you know, what are their needs? Getting that right message, I mean, you said at the front end, I call it an impact story.

No one cares about you, your products, your bells, and whistles, they want to know the impact they’re going to get from working with you. Some people call value prop, I call it impact story. So for instance, mine you read it off is to help entrepreneurs and business owners increase their authority brand exposure to the right clients, so they can make more money that speaks to their impact they get from working with me.

But so many entrepreneurs want to talk about how awesome they are. Oh, and I work a lot with financial services entrepreneurs. And it’s like their LinkedIn profiles, or you get them on the phone. And it’s all about I’m passionate about this, and that and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And they talk for I call it verbal vomit for five or six minutes. And then they get to like the gold of the impact they provide? Well, they all do it. They’re not differentiating themselves by talking about what’s in it. For me, that’s what the client wants to know. And companies that build a strong brand, focus on the impact they provide. And that’s why they have those stronger brands.

Nancy: Yeah, and you know, what, what I’m hearing you saying is it’s differentiating yourself as being that trusted adviser versus that salesperson? Would you agree with that?

Curt: Absolutely. You’re going to get paid more, you’re going to be valued more, you’re going to get treated better by those ideal clients.

Nancy: Yeah, yeah. You know, kind of good segue, branding, lead generation, and sales all work together. Explain how this all works, from your point of view, and why it’s so important to identify that ideal target audience. And the reason I bring that up, you know, several of the campaigns that we’ve handled over the years, they would come into the program, really not having an idea of who they should be going out to, after and I kind of feel like that’s selling one on one, you got to know who your audience is, and what their appetite is. So maybe you can add to that.

Curt: Yeah, I like to say that, you know, when it all starts with you realizing your authority and having confidence in what you sell.

Curt: About a year and a half ago, I had Victor Antonio, who’s a sales trainer on my show, and he said, You don’t have to love your product. But you have to love the impact your product or service has on your clients.

So for instance, you know, I’m pretty much clean-shaven on my head, I don’t have to love combs or a brush. But if I truly believe in the impact that that comb or brush has on my client, I can sell the heck out of that, right? And when you’re not confident in your product, and the value you provide, what do you do, you’re not confident that you can really focus on a niche and focus on the ideal client. So you default to “Well, I better have the universe of a million because I’m not confident that I can sell to the universe of 10.” When in reality, when you speak to everyone in your branding and your messaging, you speak to no one because you’re not really focusing in and people will just walk by you. I like to say you end up with a vanilla message. And to me vanilla, is equal to poverty. Right, because it’s just no one hears your message. No one knows what differentiates. And more importantly, they don’t know that you’re there to specifically serve their needs.

Nancy: Yeah. You used a word in your webinar at which is near and dear to me that branding should lead to lead generation, which should lead to conversation, right? Lead Generation filling your pipeline with qualified appointments but then leading to conversations. Tell me why having that connection and the conversation is so critical to then take it to the sale.

Curt: You know, there’s a lot of folks out there and social media gurus they call themselves branding coaches because they went viral on a few videos. And so really what they are is vendors. They’re selling likes or views, or they’re selling, posting on Twitter and Facebook, and they’re probably very good at what they do. That’s, that’s fine. But those are tools, those are tactics before you got to build that foundation. And so a lot of people stopped with attention. And they’re like, I don’t know, you know, three years ago, I really started using, I shut down my seven-figure agency because I really wanted to work with entrepreneurs and small business owners. Through my agency, I’ve been working with large associations and corporations. And so I really started focusing more on my message on LinkedIn, for instance, they had just come out with LinkedIn video, and I created a following. I was getting organically, sometimes 300,000 or 400,000 views. And you know what I learned, I can’t deposit those at the bank. Right. And so I really a lot of people stop, start with that attend or stop with the attention and the eyeballs and the views. And what you have to do is use those to cultivate them, whether it’s five views or 100 views, to move them into leads to have those conversations and a lot of people just don’t do that they stop with the attention. And they’re like, “I don’t know what to do.”

Curt: You know, and I think it’s, you know, I believe in the law of attraction. But what a lot of people misunderstand about the law of attraction is that you just put yourself out there and you sit on the couch and stuff’s going to magically come to you. No. You have to put it out people come to you. And then you got to engage them to have those conversations. Not I hate the word pitching. I urge my clients to get the word pitching out. But like you said, that’s why I love your focus on conversations because that’s what it is. And they can opt-in or opt-out of your service rather than you trying to, like, push them into it.

Nancy: Yeah, you know, we come up against a lot of organizations that just say, you know, cold calling doesn’t work? Well, yes, it does. You know, and when you think about what’s going on in the world today, field reps are becoming inside sales reps. And the way they’re generating their business, hopefully, is by picking up the phone and having conversations. So what I was hoping to talk about is, you know, the conversation, you have said, commodity and then features and benefits. Right? Wouldn’t you agree that conversations as you said, it has nothing to do with what I do, it’s what I can help them with. And the approach then allows you to become that trusted advisor because it’s all about them. And not about us. Would you agree with that?

Curt: Absolutely. And you know, one of the hardest things, I’m a talker, you know, and I grew up in a Chicago Italian family were to be heard you had to talk over other people yelling right at the dinner table,

Nancy: I know that feeling.

Curt: And so one of the hardest things to do, you know, I, for instance, first thing this morning, I had a call. And it was a secondary call, I call it the interview call. And I call it the interview call, I don’t call it a sales call. Because I’m interviewing a potential client, the toughest thing for me to do is, you know, that person talked for 15 minutes before I jumped in and said a word about me.

Curt: And for me, gosh, that goes against every grain of my being. But in doing so, I let them give me the roadmap of what they need. And then I envelop my value proposition within the outcomes they desire. So by the end of that call, they’re like, “Oh, my gosh, yes, I need you.” Versus starting it off with saying, alright, I’m going to tell you more about me. And here’s why you need my product. The vast majority of people do exactly that. And you know what, I’ve been guilty of that in the past too. And when I changed that fundamental piece, it made all the difference in the world.

Nancy: Yep, I, I’m with you, we believe in the 70-30. Write down 70% of the time, the prospect should be talking 30% would be us. The rest of the time, we just listen, to really hear what the prospect needs. Right?

I want to go back to the four pillars. And I really want you to help my listeners learn how to be able to look at this and listen to it. But the four pillars, can you just outline what they are? Maybe Yeah, very quickly at a high level why they’re important.

Curt: Absolutely. So the first is attention, and everyone starts and stops with attention. But of course, you have to get exposure for your brand and your ideas, etc.

Curt: But the second pillar is accuracy. You got to share get exposure to the right clients. We talked about that clearly and radically and aggressively defining your clear customer persona.

The third pillar is the alignment. And so it’s that alignment of “Yes, I got a cool product and service and a purpose for what I’m doing. But I got to align that with the impact my product or service has on my clients put together what we call your impact story.”

Then the fourth pillar is authenticity. And you build authenticity that “know, like, trust” factor that’s so key to sales, by consistently communicating that impact story to your ideal clients showing up every day and doing it, doing it, actually doing it. Building it with some third party credibility as well. Podcasts are a great way to do that.

And then and only then actually, I said, you know, attention is the first pillar because that’s what people want, and it grabs their attention. It actually is the end. Because only after you have the right message with the right clients, do you look at putting together that branding lead gen sales process, to consistently deliver it in the best way?

So a lot of people try to start with what social media networks should I use? That’s like the last. That’s the end of the line. You know, Ernest Hemingway’s novels, the quality of them wasn’t determined by the type of typewriter, because his typewriter is a tool, just like LinkedIn, or Twitter, or email or whatever you’re using now. So you got to focus on timeless principles. And then the tools you build toward the end, based on your roadmap and your strategy.

Nancy: Yeah. Awesome. And as you summarized, and this creates authority. Right? To be that expert. in whatever field you’re in.

Curt: Yes, because within, you know, every business started out as a thought, those thoughts turned into ideas. The ideas then became actions that resulted in your business, which is a manifestation of those ideas. Well, your ideas, every single business, and if you don’t think this about your business, and you need to get out, every single business is there to improve someone’s life. I don’t care if you’re selling golf balls or widgets, or high end consulting, you are improving someone else’s life in some way.

Curt: So the idea is for your business, within those ideas, lie your authority for how you’re improving their lives because you do it. I don’t care if you’re selling widgets and your competitors selling widgets, you’re doing it in a unique way. Because your business started out with your unique thoughts and who you are. So once you realize that, and by the way, I tell people this if you’re looking for a job, right? There’s a lot of people looking for work right now, if you’re sitting across from someone, and you have eight competitors, and you are now relying on the fact that you went to Harvard, well, guess what, what if your eight competitors went to Harvard, right? You’ve got to realize that your authority does not lie in what’s on a paper your resume or what you list on LinkedIn. You are the X-Factor, and you differentiate by communicating how you are an authority, how you are specifically going to provide impact to the person on the other side of that desk, whether it’s a potential client, potential employer, I don’t care who it is. I tell people, I have four kids, I got a brand and sell to them every single day.

Nancy: That’s true. I get it completely so how can my listeners access this webinar?

Curt: Yeah, so if you pick up your cell phone, and to the number 55678, text, the word YOUTHORITY. It’s like you combined with authority. When you text that you’ll get an auto-text back with a link, you can jump on there. There’s not only my four pillars of authority brand webinar, but there’s also a webinar about how to build authority through podcasting. And we’re going to continually add goodies and free goodies and resources to that link. So please check it out.

Nancy: I love it. Now, you know, we can go on and on. And I wanted to, you know, just let the audience know a little bit about your Freedom Mindset Radio Podcast and the one you just mentioned that you just launched. So maybe you could spend a moment or two talking about those.

Curt: Yeah, so Freedom Mindset Radio I started a couple of years ago. And it’s really about realizing that you have the permission to define the life you want. And a lot of people want to break free and start their own business, or they want to break free of a job that they hate, that leaves them unfulfilled, or maybe their relationships suck, or they’re just not living in the place they want, etc, etc. And so freedom mindset radio is about how to get your mindset in a place where you are free to have those thoughts that turn into the right ideas and actions and results. And you can get that on. You know, we’re on iTunes, we’re on Spotify, we’re on Google as well. And then this week, it just went up live on Spotify. It’s not on iTunes yet. It should be there, hopefully, today. It’s called The Authority Brand. If you go to Merc.Enterprises, which is my website, there’s a link there it says podcast and you can get all my episodes right now. There are three up right now. And it is all about what we talked about here. And I’m going to have two episodes a week one is with a guest who talks about sales branding, that branding lead gen sales paradigm Then an episode of meat solo, kind of reviewing what we learned in the interview segment, and really getting in deep on some tactical pieces of how you can apply it to your business.

Nancy: Well, you know, just listening to your passion, everybody who is listening in, I take advantage of what Kurt is offering, you can tell you, you’re good at what you do, but you also love what you do. So I think we could all pick up a nugget or two, certainly, by listening in. And so tell me something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

Curt: Yeah. So I would say that there is a myth that in order to be successful, you got to grind yourself into the ground. And I say that the secret is in the flow, not the grind. And you see people on LinkedIn, whatever and, and they “Oh, my gosh, I slipped under my desk at WeWork and I didn’t get any sleep this week.” And they’re like hamsters on a wheel. And they watch a lot of the grind talk from like a Grant Cardone and a Gary Vee. And there’s nothing wrong with working hard. But many times because they think it’s all about the grind, they’re working hard on the wrong things. They’re in the forest. They’re chopping down trees, but they’re so into the grind that they’re chopping down the wrong trees, or they’re chopping down like 100, all they need to do is chop down three. So that’s why it’s so key.

Curt: When you set your goals and you set your outcomes. Don’t move toward them, set those goals, your outcomes, and then reverse engineer and so you find the straightest, simplest shortest route there. It’s not about being lazy. It’s about flowing toward your goals. Anyone who has run distance, or Sprint’s or anything like that, you know, that when you try to grind, you get your butt kicked. It’s harder to go you go slower. When you get in that flow when things are just coming to you. That’s when you really experience success. And you said and I thank you for saying it that you can tell that I love what I do. Because that is my first priority every day, getting in the flow every single day. So I don’t feel like I’m grinding and stuck in quicksand.

Nancy: Yeah, I agree. And what’s the one takeaway you want to leave the audience with?

Curt: Yeah, that notion of brand, not just equaling likes and views and logos, because out of 10 calls I do, I’d say eight are, “Hey, what are your branding challenges? Well, no, I’m good. I got my logo.” But then you do get into their real challenges. And they’re all branding challenges, because it’s, as you’ve repeated branding if you’re not connecting, branding, the lead gen, and then sales, you’re doing it wrong. And you’re just thinking about artwork, right? Yeah. instead of actually growing your business.

Nancy: Oh, wow. Well, Curt, you’re amazing. And I hope that you’ll come back on, and we continue having conversations with you. I know you shared some of how we can reach you, my audience can get to you. Why don’t you repeat it? So they have a chance? In case they missed anything? What’s the best way to contact you?

Curt: If you want to get that that free webinar, text YOUTHORITY to 55678. You know what, I’m also going to give everyone my personal cell phone because I love having conversations. That’s 843-300-5075 that comes right to me, it’s not a bot. It’s not some automated thing. You will get me and then we can have a conversation.

Nancy: Well, you’re going to be a busy guy in the next couple of weeks. Hey, it was great having you on and if nothing else, you gave us a good dose of “let me get out there and do the right thing.”

Thank you so much.

Curt: Thank you, Nancy. The pleasure was all mine.