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Great Brands In Action Series: Tom Jackson Interview

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Tom Jackson, renowned live music producer, in Nashville.

I wanted to interview Tom for several reasons. Of course, I wanted to spend some time with him, and learn from such a successful and well-rounded entrepreneur, but primarily, I wanted to bring Tom’s wisdom to my audience of artists and musicians. However, I believe Tom serves as an example of a successful personal brand in action for all my clients, regardless of career.

In brand development, likeability is critically important. Almost 80% of everything we buy —78% to be exact — including buying services from people, is not based on what they do, i.e., “content,” but on how we feel about that specific person. In other words, if we like you.

Tom has been the expert for over 25 years on how to create successful live music shows for artists and bands. He has worked with famous artists such as Taylor Swift.

Tom was born in New York and grew up in San Diego. He says he had a very “normal” childhood.

On first impression and follow up, Tom is very personable. There’s something about him people like. I set out to find out how he does it — so we can all learn from this great brand in action.

I asked Tom if he’d always been like this — even as a child — or if he learned something along the way that helped him prepare for his great career and being so likeable. His answer spoke volumes about how he is a great brand. Here are what great brands possess and do, and how Tom serves as a perfect example:

Great brand are happy. If we truly “buy” from a place of how you make us feel, there’s only one emotion that sells and that’s happiness. Every great brand must authentically “be” happy at some level to emotionally resonate and sell happiness to its audience. As a person, Tom says he still feels like he did in his early 20s. He attributes this partly to the work he does with young people. His young clients keep him on his toes. Does feeling young necessarily mean feeling happy? I’d say so, because it’s a good indicator of overall satisfaction with your career and life.

Great brands are humble. Spend five minutes with Tom and you can see how humble he really is. For instance, I asked Tom who influenced him and helped him along the way. His first answer was his faith/Jesus and his wife.

Tom’s second answer was his band mates. As he explained, he and his band were true musicians — playing 12-minute pieces. Tom professes he fell in love with music then and realized it can’t be put in a box. The band taught him how musical arrangements work — that they must be different for radio than live shows because people listen to radio in a very different headspace, especially when they’re driving. This headspace is not the same as when people listen to commercial and sitcom arrangements.

Great brands are relatable. They understand their target audience’s/client’s reality and adapt and empathize. While Tom admits he can’t totally relate to a 14-year-old artist client, he has the tools, it seems, to adapt and put himself in every client’s shoes — regardless of any differences, including age. Why and how? This brings us to the next attribute of great brands.

Great brands use their natural strengths and innate abilities well. According to Tom, no one else in his family did what he does for a living. So there really is nothing that got passed down to him and he likely isn’t emulating anyone in his family. However, you spend five minutes with him and you can see what he does is primarily a flow of his natural strengths and innate abilities.

How Tom started his business explains so much. Early in his career, he played music a lot until he got tired of playing and traveling. Ironically, he now travels over 150 days a year. However, just like any other brand that is living its purpose — using its natural strength — this travel doesn’t tire him out the way traveling and playing with the band used to do.

Along the way, Tom found out he was a better live music producer than bass player simply by doing it. He realized he could take a big picture and make it better — he could take a song and make it better musically. That’s an innate gift.

Tom says 25 years ago, he intuitively “knew” something was wrong with people’s live shows. He also knew this because he played a lot of live shows himself with his band. When he first started consulting on live shows, he would watch the artist. He would then see that something broke the emotional connection between the artist and the audience — and would figure out what caused it: was it verbal, visual, musical? Next, he would simply set out and fix it.

Tom claims to use a combination of his intuition and a set formula he applies to everyone to work with clients. The interaction with each person is what makes the process unique.

Tom claims he’s been fixing conceptually the same song/ballad for 25 years. Part of it is innate, and part of it is that he’s been doing it so long that he’s an expert based on experience and can now fix a song fast.

Tom has a method; in fact, his book is called, Tom Jackson’s Live Music Method. He looks for themes and the artist’s personality in every song. As in any industry where everyone wants to be an original by fitting in, Tom works to find who the real artist is on stage and make them relatable to people.

The key is that the song cannot be in control. Tom fixes this problem as part of his formula. The innate part, as discussed above, is that Tom knows there’s something that needs to be fixed. He then uses his formula/method to fix it.

Great brands are courageous. Every person is a bit different. Tom and I agree that overcoming fear is the biggest challenge any client has (fear of looking silly, taking a risk, etc.). Smart risk is different (winging it versus taking a risk from a safe situation, i.e., not trying something new the first time you are opening for Taylor Swift).

I find many artists are introverts and thus have a fear of the stage and being live with their audiences. So, they often just want to share their gift via recordings. This is also true of my non-artist clients, who would rather work and network from behind their computer. However, as I coach my clients, this method won’t work. You are missing the human connection, which is critical in brand development.

I work with artists on the back-end to remove their walls so when Tom works with them afterward, they are prepped and ready to take Tom’s advice and truly captivate the audience and connect. This is emotional resonance — artists are genuine and still well-rehearsed.

Every artist and client we work with has talent. It’s just sometimes we all forget the better version of “me” sells in anything in life. This requires removing our egos from the picture — and releasing our egos requires letting go of fear.

You must be willing to choose to see things differently. Ironically, ego gets in the way here, as Tom and I have seen. As with everything in brand development, we are dealing with the subconscious processing of information. As Tom puts it, it’s subliminal — every artist wants to think, “how couldn’t it (the live show) be good; it’s me?” While this is ego talking, it’s not from a place of courage, but rather fear.

How do Tom and I deal with this fact for our clients? Frankly, the only answer is giving permission to clients to sit in discomfort (and fear). As Tom says, “when I’m hired, I know I’ll make them uncomfortable, but I come prepared with the new song version so creativity and spirit can flow through the room. Then my ultimate job is managing that flow of spirit.”

Great brands have self-awareness and intentionality. In brand development, the key is being intentional and that requires self-awareness around perception and reality. Everyone should always be asking, how is this landing on my audience?

According to Tom, he doesn’t necessarily do anything intentionally to be likeable. However, he always prepares mentally, physically and spiritually to go on stage. Tom says he teaches with that same level of intention. This intention is based on his level of self-awareness of who he is and why he does what he does.

As Tom humbly proclaims, this is not just innate, but also a combination of all his experiences of sitting in the audience so many times. However, he does it intentionally by stopping and seeing what the audience sees.

Great brands are adaptable and always strive to strike a harmonious balance. In all interactions with an audience and clients, there must be some order as well as some off-the-cuff adaptation based on the audiences’ personality and its in-the-moment needs and wants. We like rules to follow because it makes us feel better. On the other hand, total randomness doesn’t land well on any the audience or client. As Tom says, you can’t be so sterile that you leave no room for new ways of thinking. But this must be harmonized with spontaneity.

Tom believes great art and a successful live show are a combination of form and spontaneity.  Spontaneity is not winging it, though. Artists get this notion confused often as do most of my clients, whether artists or professionals. However, there is a consistent thing Tom does with all artists to bring out their spontaneity. For Tom, genre is irrelevant. Tom tells all his artists there are rules in life. These rules apply in all areas of life and artists must make it work within limits. No artist can just go on stage and not put any songs together and just do a show; that’s really winging it, but it doesn’t work because artists, like everyone else, need form. He leaves space for spontaneity. But people overrate the space for spontaneity, he claims. As Tom says, just like most of us can’t just get in a car and randomly drive, every artist thinks they are more spontaneous than they really are.

Great brands are curious. Curious brands win. Stagnation is the best way to not only become irrelevant in the eyes of your target audience, but also the surest way to become forgettable and boring to your audience. According to Tom, he wants to know more about life and peel back the onion. Tom says he’s still discovering “stuff” all around him. Curiosity drives him to the point he wishes he had more time to be curious.

Great brands have empathy and compassion. To be a great brand, you must be able to emotionally resonate with your audience. To emotionally resonate, you must have empathy and compassion for yourself and others by being willing to see the world from another’s perspective.

Playing those live shows early in his career with his band helped Tom harness his empathy and compassion. Often this happened by studying the audience. For example, Tom relays the story of the time their drummer had to play with a broken arm. Tom says he noticed how much empathy the audience had for the drummer playing with one arm in a sling.

Tom says artists don’t choose to see the show from the audiences’ perspective often enough. For instance, the audiences’ adrenaline is not pumping like the artist’s is on stage. So naturally, the audience doesn’t see and feel the show the way the artist feels it on stage. To be successful, the artist must include the audience as his partner in the show.

Tom’s ability to read people and see their point of view allows him also to have this understanding of the audiences’ emotions. In this way, he can coach his clients how best to connect emotionally with their audience.

Great brands prioritize themselves and maintain internal control of their environment. It’s almost impossible to build a following and loyal audience or client base, when we are falling apart and don’t care much about ourselves or feel in control of our own lives and destiny. People can sense this and flee from us. Although Tom wishes he had more time to himself, here’s how he does it.

For Tom, the most important time is the morning. He has a slow start morning like I prescribe to all my clients. He gets up and jumps into a closet where he reads the Bible, listens to his inner voice (i.e., meditates), speaks, and groans. This ritual, which unfortunately doesn’t happen every day due to his travel schedule, takes anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour. In the evenings, Tom puts on his favorite music and relaxes with a glass of wine. Tom doesn’t watch much TV, but prefers to think and be entertained otherwise. He chooses what influences him and his environment and uses it to intentionally create what he wants in his life. That’s what a great brand does.

Great brands persevere with patience because they know their passion and purpose in life and have faith. This notion does not allow for living in fear. I asked Tom how he found the patience to keep going and growing the business and what motivates him to keep persevering.  Very simply put, he loves music. Tom claims he didn’t really have a Plan B if this business failed.

Oddly enough, I never had a Plan B when I retired from the practice of law and started this business a decade ago. Tom and I both agree that more often than not, a Plan B doesn’t work. Why? Most people we both know who had a Plan B revert to it when their real plan gets tough. What kept Tom (and me) going? As Tom says, he did have some great breaks that helped him along the way. However, his faith kept him going. I sincerely believe if you do what you feel you are aligned with, you keep going and persist. You don’t feel like a fraud; you feel authentic and real. For example, I don’t offer insincere advice to my clients because I genuinely believe in my advice to them.

You don’t need a Plan B if you do what is your natural talent and persist.

Of course, keep in mind, branding is a marathon and not a sprint. Everything takes time and patience. As Tom says, his career didn’t grow overnight. Back when he started, he used to charge $25 for a four-hour consultation and he worked much slower, of course.

Great brands have fun. Having fun establishes the emotional connection of your brand because you are automatically more likeable when you are having fun. This is true despite your occupation or the musical genre you play. Enjoying what you do sells it.

As Tom claims, over the years he has spent a lot of time on the content and can naturally deliver from the stage. He does so without fear and while having fun with his artists.

Great brands are confident. As my formal, documented research[1] has shown, there is a direct, inverse correlation between our stress and our self-confidence. As our stress naturally increases, our self-confidence will decrease proportionally. This is true even for the most self-confident person. Enjoying what you do sells it. As Tom and I realize, every one of us could have high self-confidence.

While I believe the stress trigger is critical to confidence development, Tom says confidence comes from preparation. He says that then, and only then, can authority manifest. In other words, once you have confidence, you get to be the authority by being humble and accepting the role you have been called to do.

Great brands take responsibility. Tom always asks his lead singers: “what role are you called to do and will you accept that responsibility?” If they won’t accept the responsibility, Tom claims that’s false humility, which is accompanied with false authority to affect an audience.

Tom and I believe we are each here to fulfill the role we’ve been called to do. As Tom puts it, it’s not enough to “let your music speak for itself” and not learn verbal and stage skills. That’s a mistake.

This notion transcends music.

Each of us must take responsibility for the good, the bad and the ugly. I always tell my clients that if you are signing up for something, it is your responsibility to make a difference for your audience and teach them something. You can be grateful for the audience/opportunity, but now what do you do to make their life better?


Every one of us is capable of having a great brand and resonating emotionally well with our respective audiences. There are certain attributes all great brands share and Tom Jackson is a perfect example of them all. This doesn’t apply to just artists and musicians, but everyone.  As Tom Jackson shows, it takes intentional devotion and drive.

[1] The Impact of Stress And Self-Confidence On Your Brand, Katy Goshtasbi, JD. Updated April 2017.

How To Be An Inspirational Leader

The other day I had to tell a colleague that I didn’t agree with one of their actions. I sat and thought about it for a very long time. How should I say it? Should I say it? When should I say it?

Sometimes it is so hard to have certain conversations with others. It literally feels painful. That’s just human nature.

Now take that same difficult conversation and make it about business. It’s even worse, right? Now you have your job on the line possibly, if the conversation doesn’t go well.

A client last week was dreading having this conversation with a subordinate who wasn’t performing well. She just couldn’t figure out how to make the conversation easier. I asked her why she was really having this conversation with her staff member. She replied that she wanted him to enjoy his job and be a contribution to the company. All of a sudden, the conversation didn’t seem so bad. Why?

Here’s what I’ve found helps. You just have to change your mentality. What do I mean?

What if you choose to see the conversation as a way for you to be a good leader? Set a goal to have these conversations be about you inspiring your staff. If you look at it in this way, then you can also see how these tough conversations are also a way for your staff to inspire you to be a better leader.

What does this mean for you? Next time you have to have a tough conversation with someone at work, ask yourself:

  • what do you really want to achieve from that conversation? If it’s just to be “right”, then rethink whether you really should have the conversation at all.
  • How can you look at the conversation as a positive, instead of dreading it? Look to the outcome you want to achieve to set your mood.

Top 3 Branding Tips For 2017

Right around this time of year most of us go into a bit of a panic. After all, it is a new year. What did we not do so well in 2016? How can we be better in 2017? Will it be painful and how can we ensure success?

I am guilty of this line of thinking, too, at the end of each year. Over the years though, I’ve fortunately managed to shorten how long I stay in the grips of fear.


First, I stop and realize that just because it is a new year, it doesn’t mean I necessarily have to do anything differently if I don’t want to do so. It’s a bit hard to get motivated in the dead of winter in January. I’m better motivated at the beginning of Spring. After all, Spring signals re-birth, the earth coming out of winter hibernation and fresh starts.

So does this mean you get a free pass for the next three months until March? Not necessarily, if you can help it. You can choose to see things differently at any time of the year.

As a personal branding expert, here are my top 3 tips to keep top of mind in 2017 in order to shine. Once you master these three areas, then your brand is more solid in general.

  1. Self-awareness– in my world the only brands that succeed are those with self-awareness. First and foremost, just be aware of: a) how you come across and b) how you want to come across to others. Is your real message coming across and resonating with your audience? If not, just step back and take a good look at what is coming across. Don’t feel compelled to change it yet. The first step is to just observe what is NOW. After all, if you don’t know what is and what isn’t working, how can you become better and improve your brand resonance with your audience?
  1. Clarity– There are “two Cs” in developing your brand for your audience in general. The first is clarity: are you clear about who you are? This includes who you truly are outside of work and how you want to be of real service to others.

As emotional beings, we only engage and buy from those with whom we connect. That emotional connection only comes when we, as your audience, really “get” the authentic you. Without being clear with yourself first, there is no way you can come across with clarity to your audience at all.

Finding and defining your brand with clarity may start off somewhat painful. Why? Because I’m asking you to go into the truth of yourself. This part really has nothing to do with your career or profession. That’s what makes it hard. The spotlight is all on you. I’m asking you to remove the cobwebs and search your memories to find the real you.

  1. Consistency- once you have clarity around your brand, now you need to share that brand with your audience consistently. We are all over-texted, over-tweeted, and over-caffeinated. That means our recall capacity is lower. So you need to ensure that you share your one true message with your audience with consistency. Consistency increases our feeling of safety with you. It means you are going to deliver what you said you would. It helps us trust you. In turn, this will help ensure I remember you.

Does that mean you say the same things over and over again the same way on your videos? No, not at all. That means you understand that we need to hear your true core message and meaning many times in order to have it trigger recall of you. Then I will be moved to act and follow up with you, engage with you, hire you, etc.

So what does all this mean for you and your brand? Ask yourself:

  • Are you genuinely motivated to choose to see things differently in 2017? If not, then no worries.  Relax, take the stress off yourself until you are ready.
  • Do you have self-awareness around how you: currently come across AND want to come across with your personal and business brand? 
  • Do you have clarity around who you are as a person?
  • Do you consistently share your clear personal brand with us.

Lessons Learned: What The Election Meant For Your Brand

united-states-flagAs the dust starts to settle on yesterday’s presidential election here in the United States, my goal is to learn positive lessons about our own branding goals and challenges from the election.  It is a great tool to use because the election played out nationally (and internationally, too).

One thing this blog is not meant to do is to make any political statement. As a former federal lobbyist, I am not expressing any opinion on the merits of the election results.  I left those type of comments on the Hill steps when I left lobbying and Washington DC long ago.

Here’s the deal.  Last night there was so much commentary from the “experts” regarding what this surprising upset meant and why it happened.  However, there was one commentator that read my mind.

How and why? He spoke plainly about the slogans and tag lines of each party.

All along during the election, I have wondered why it was that the core of Hilary Clinton’s message (and tagline) was “Hilary Clinton 2016”, while Trump’s tagline was “Make America Great Again”.  In fact, Clinton had about seven tag lines including “Stronger Together” and “I’m with her”.

Remember that 78% of everything we buy (including voting for politicians) is based on how we FEEL about them, and not necessarily the content of what we are buying.  The only emotion that sells is happiness. It’s all about emotions, not anything else- especially in politics. Yes, despite how much we want to believe that it is about the platform and the agenda, it’s not.

So aside from the politics of it, which slogan motivates and emotionally resonates with you more: “Hilary Clinton 2016” or “Make America Great Again”?

I’m not saying that the slogan or tagline alone bought Trump the victory, I’m just saying there is a good branding lesson here for all of us.  So what does this mean for you?

Stop and consider:

  • How often do you forget that the only reason people buy your great brand (hire you, promote you, elect you) is based on how you emotionally resonate with them?
  • How often do you instead focus too much on  your substantive brilliance and left-brain knowledge?
  • What’s one thing you can do to remember to emotionally resonate more and stay in your right-brain?
  • How can you keep your emotional message consistent and in integrity with who you are?  Remember, one tagline and slogan is all you need- one genuine one.  More than one, confuses your audience and may make you seem insincere.


Societal Brand Booster: The Impact of the Olympics

olympics2016I love the Olympics. Summer, Winter, all of it. It doesn’t matter to me the sport or the level of competition. Thinking back, I’ve always loved the Olympics. Not only was it inspirational to me as a little girl to see the athletes, it was fun to get into the spirit of the celebration of working on a dream and setting out to achieve it.

Nowadays in my family, we still get excited to watch the Olympics. And there’s more of a reason to love the games.

My husband and I have both developed a theory around the Olympics: The Olympics are good for our individual brands AND for business brands. How? Why?

Consider that 78% of everything you and I buy is NOT based on the content, but on how the service provider or product makes us feel. The only emotion that matters, sells, influences, attracts and engages is happiness.

The Olympics are high-toned and happy. For the two weeks or so that the Olympics are on, the world is a happier place. As a result, people are more motivated- motivated to help one another, to cheer one another on, to take care of themselves and be happier.

As a dentist, each Olympic season my husband notes a noticeable difference in his patients’ tone and willingness to take care of their teeth and oral health.

People are better brands. They (consciously or subconsciously) want to be better and be a part of something greater than just themselves. The Olympics fosters teamwork and support, which then leads to better business brands.

How could you not watch the athletes, hear the stories of the years of sacrifice and training they have made and not want more for yourself, your family, your business and your colleagues/career?

Contrast this with politics and the 2016 Vote. Blech…

The Olympics have been such a nice respite from the mud-slinging, fake-ness and low-toned campaigns we have to endure. That’s all we hear about. As a former lobbyist in Washington DC, I didn’t like it then. As a branding expert, I really don’t like it now. Nothing about politics is high-toned, including the candidates’ brands.

What does this mean for you?

• If you have a business/are an entrepreneur, take notice of how your business does during the Olympics. You should show a sign of increasing profits and sales. This would be the optimal time to take the momentum generated by the Olympics and boost your employees’ morale and drive – this will impact retention and production.

• If you work for an organization, notice how the staff and your colleagues are performing. This would be the optimal time to take the momentum generated by the Olympics and create a brand culture based on values and what drives your team as people.

• Stop and notice your own brand. Do you and your brand sell happiness at some level by showing up as happy? You should be happier and more motivated to allow success in your life. Take this extra brand boost and run with it for these two weeks. Hopefully, it will become a habit for you beyond the Olympics.

Questions? Comments? Suggestions? Call or email me to discuss how to harness your own brand and that of your teams’ brand to be optimal and happier and succeed more.

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