Carmine Gallo: First interview, by Bob Morris

Carmine Gallo

Carmine Gallo is the communications coach for the world’s most admired brands. He transforms executives into extraordinary presenters—working directly with the companies that touch your life every day. A former anchor and correspondent for CNN and CBS, he works directly with the world’s top business leaders to help them craft compelling messages, tell inspiring stories and share their innovative ideas with a global audience. Gallo is also a popular keynote speaker who delivers presentations to worldwide audiences. 

He  writes leadership and communications columns for several media outlets including

Gallo has also written several bestselling and award-winning books including The Innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs: Insanely Different Principles for Breakthrough Success that is the winner of an Axiom award for one of the top three best business books of 2011. The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs: How to Be Insanely Great in Front of Any Audience has become an international bestseller and has been translated into 14 languages. Carmine’s latest book, The Power of foursquare: 7 Innovative Ways to Get Your Customers to Check In Wherever They Are, reveals how innovative businesses around the world are leveraging new mobile marketing tools to attract new customers, engage current customers, and extend their brand story to an entirely new audience of consumers.

Carmine Gallo is passionate about helping others tell their own stories.

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Morris: Before discussing The Power of foursquare, a few general questions. First, who has had the great influence on your personal growth? Please explain.

Gallo: Several leaders who I have the pleasure of either meeting in person or writing about in my books. They include Starbucks founder Howard Schultz, Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh, and, of course, the late Steve Jobs.

Morris: The greatest impact on your professional development?

Gallo: My clients. I learn just as much from them as they learn from me. I learn something every day whether it’s working with Intel, HP, Chevron, and others.

Morris: Was there a turning point (if not an epiphany) years ago that set you on the career course you continue to follow today?

Gallo: Yes, I remember it vividly. I was working for a national television network at the time and for a boss who didn’t have anyone’s respect. He failed to inspire and, as a result, created a culture of fear, distrust, and discouragement. I vowed two things. First, never to work for someone like that again (which is why I now work for myself!) and second, to commit myself to learning and teaching others how to be more effective and inspiring leaders and communicators.

Morris: When and why did you develop such a strong interest in the art and science of effective communication?

Gallo: It started in college at UCLA. I was fascinated by great speakers. I would visit the library and read “Vital Speeches,” a publication that compiled the most important contemporary speeches of our day. I took a course in the rhetoric of Franklin Roosevelt. I recall being mesmerized by Ronald Reagan and Mario Cuomo. I began to think, what made them such great communicators and, more important, what techniques can the rest of us adopt?

Morris: In your opinion, who are the greatest communicators throughout history? Please explain your reasons for each selection.

Gallo: First, Winston Churchill. Remember when Churchill entered office as the British Prime Minister most of the population was ready to negotiate with Hitler and the Nazis. Churchill gave a string of speeches and, by the time he was finished, public opinion had completely turned around in favor of going to war with Germany. And there you have it. The power of his words changed the destiny of the world.

Ronald Reagan. America was in the doldrums when Reagan entered office. They were discouraged and had lost hope. Reagan restored hope with his stirring words and optimistic personality. Optimism was the secret behind his charisma.

Steve Jobs. Steve Jobs was the world’s greatest corporate storyteller. He transformed the art of presentation and turned presentations into a theatrical event. He brought out the best in us by appealing to our emotions and our dreams rather than simply trying to “sell” us stuff as the vast majority of companies do. He was also a gifted writer. His 2005 commencement speech at Stanford was one of the most stirring speeches I’ve ever read.

Morris: However different great communicators may be in most other respects, what do all of them share in common?

Gallo: They inspire us. Inspiration means “to elicit a fervent enthusiasm.” Just as Churchill inspired, so did Steve Jobs. Completely different causes and audiences, of course, but inspiration is the common theme. 

Morris:  Research studies indicate that people have a greater fear of public speaking than they do of dying. Why?

Gallo: I question that research. I’d rather be talking about the person in the casket than being the person in the casket. But I understand. It’s a very common fear and I see it even in top executives who are worth millions of dollars. It’s natural because as primitive man evolved, it was important than man be included in groups. So the “fight or flight response” kicks in when you are afraid of not getting a group’s approval. It can be very debilitating. Don’t try to eliminate it, but control it instead. Find ways of taking the attention off you and put it on your audience. For example, ask a question every now and solicit responses. It also helps to practice a lot because it helps with confidence.

Morris: What are the most common mistakes that people make when speaking to a large audience?

Gallo: Boring the heck out of them. Putting them to sleep. The brain is not programmed to pay attention to boring things. It must be stimulated by the way someone speaks, the words they use, and the visuals they display.

Morris: When speaking to an audience of strangers, does it tend to be more difficult, less difficult, or about the same as when speaking to an audience in which most of them are familiar? Why?

Gallo: I find that people are much more nervous about speaking in front of their peers—or their boss—then they are about speaking to strangers. I think it has something to do with the fact that strangers will come and go but your boss will be in your face every day. It adds a layer of pressure, no doubt.

Morris: Now please shift your attention to The Power of foursquare. When and why did you decide to write it?

Gallo: I had the idea in the summer of 2010 when foursquare was really booming as the hot new social media tool. I heard these great stories from small and large businesses that were using foursquare to reach the mobile customer and completely reinventing their business by doing so. I love inspiring stories so I decided to pursue it.

Morris: Were there any head-snapping revelations while accumulating the material for the manuscript? Please explain.

Gallo: One restaurant owner in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, told me that he had generated more buzz in the community in 18 months on social media (Twitter, Facebook, and foursquare) than his closest competitor had achieved in ten years. Social media saved his restaurant (AJ Bombers). He credits foursquare with at least 30 to 50% of his social media success.

Morris: To what extent (if any) does the book in final form differ from the one you originally envisioned?

Gallo: Well, I knew that there had to be principles used by successful brands — principles that could be used as lessons for the rest of us. I didn’t know how many principles I would end up with after I interviewed business owners. I came up with seven and my wife turned to me and said, “Checkin” has 7 letters. So we used CHECKIN as an acronym to outline the 7 principles. It works quite well. We cover everything from how to use foursquare to connect with your brand’s unique voice, how to use foursquare to attract, reward, and engage your customers in ways that were never possible. I also did not originally intend to write a special section titled, 10 pitfalls to avoid. But some brands were doing such an awful job of using social media, it had to be addressed.

Morris: For those who have not as yet read the book, please explain (a) what foursquare is and (b) what it makes possible.

Gallo: foursquare is a relatively new (two years old) mobile social media app that lets users check in to places and share those locations with their friends. There’s a gaming aspect to it. Users earn points, badges and special recognition for checking in. It unlocks your city and makes your world a more interesting place. For businesses, it can help attract new customers, reward loyal ones and engage everyone on a much deeper level than a simple web site. Businesses of any type and any size can—for free—use foursquare to create special rewards, promotions and incentives for their customers to “check in.” There are well over 10 million users on the platform that is growing by about 35,000 new users every day. People are checking in from every city in every country in the world.

Morris: How can a company become involved?

Gallo: The first step is to visit and “claim your venue.” That’s it. You can start offering specials immediately. In its simplest form a brand like Chili’s can reward customers by offering free chips and salsa just for checking in. But businesses can be far more creative. The person who checks in most frequently is designated “the mayor.” Tasti D-Lite ice cream shops show photographs of the mayor on digital displays. Westfield shopping malls reserve a parking stall for the mayor and Baltimore restaurant Miss Shirley’s lets the mayor cut to the front of the line.

Morris: What are the major advantages, once having registered?

Gallo: Users can save money and get rewarded for their loyalty by businesses that are actively promoting themselves on the foursquare platform. But many users simply love the game of being named “the mayor” of a place or winning badges (there are about 160 virtual badges that people can get such as the “Bender” badge for checking in four nights in a row or the “swarm” badge earned when more than 50 people are checked in to a place at the same time).

Morris: In the book, you provide more than 50 mini-case studies that involve many of the world’s largest, most complex organizations. However, you also suggest that foursquare can also be of substantial to almost any  to any company, whatever its size and nature may be. Please explain.

Gallo: It’s free. That means major brands can use it like Starbucks, McDonald’s, TGI Friday’s, Bravo, and many others. But any small business can use it as well. In fact, since its’ free and people are already on the platform, it offers a unique strategic advantage for small business owners. I’m not sure why a business wouldn’t at least try foursquare. It’s a free and simple way to get started in the mobile revolution. Also, foursquare offers incredibly robust data for businesses. You can see who is checking in, what time of day, male/female, etc. The merchant platform (dashboard) is information that would be difficult to get anywhere else. Again, it’s free.

Morris: Your book is not an operations manual for foursquare. Rather, your focus is on how and why seven “innovative ways” can attract and then sustain significant customer involvement. By which process – and by whom — were these “ways” identified?

Gallo: Good old-fashioned boots on the ground journalism. After you speak to the founders and more than 50 companies around the world, you see a pattern. It’s not a “how to” manual because the how-to takes up about a page. Visit, sign up, download the free app to your smartphone and get started. That’s the how-to. I find stories of business success far more interesting.

Morris: With which of the seven initiatives do most companies seem to have the greatest difficulty? Why?

Gallo: Having fun and engagement. I saw a major department store brand recently join foursquare and they’re pushing the same old coupons they promote in the Sunday newspaper. Boring. And people don’t want their mobile phones to be turned into coupon pushers. You must be creative and involve your customers. For example, visit the Bryan Park Grill in New York that is built in an aviary. Take a photo of a bird, show it to the bartender, and get a free dessert or drink. That’s fun. Check in to a Walgreens during flu season and the store will donate a voucher for a free flu shot to a person in need. That’s creative.

Morris: To what extent is foursquare global? What are the economic implications of that for those who have become involved?

Gallo: Foursquare is available in about half a dozen languages but it is used all over the world. This summer I visited Japan, Germany, Malta and Vienna. I found foursquare being used actively by businesses and users everywhere I went. It’s a global phenomenon.

Morris: Thus far, foursquare’s growth (i.e. registrations, usage, and market penetration) has been extraordinary, perhaps unprecedented. Why?

Gallo: It puts the social in social media. People love to check in and share their location with friends. But foursquare takes it one step further and adds the gaming element to the mix. People love games and they really, really love being the “mayor.” Even virtual recognition is a big deal!

Morris: To what extent (if any) is that growth dependent on the growth of smartphone sales?

Gallo: Foursquare is a smartphone app. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to “check in” on your laptop. It’s not an engaging. The explosion of smartphone use around the world has led to an explosion in the use of foursquare. If the iPhone hadn’t changed everything in 2007, we wouldn’t be talking about foursquare.

Morris: In your opinion, what (if any) could be a barrier to foursquare’s growth in months and years to come?

Gallo: Businesses need to get more involved and I know that foursquare business development is actively working on this. The more people who are rewarded for the loyalty, the more the platform will grow and everyone benefits. At foursquare, they are a smart group of people. They are constantly working at evolving the platform into a tool that not only allows you to check in but actually recommends what to do based on your checkins, your friends’ checkins, and other data.

Morris: Also in your opinion, what will be foursquare’s single greatest opportunity within (let’s say) the next 3-5 years?

Gallo: It’s going to get so smart that it will recommend places to go and things to do and push it to you automatically, without having to check in. It gets smarter every time you use it.

Morris: Let’s say someone reads your book and registers her or his company with foursquare. Next steps? Any do’s and don’ts to keep in mind?

Gallo: Visit and use it as a personal user before engaging as a business. See how other businesses are using it. Check in to a bunch of places. Use the “explore” tool to see what type of recommendations it offers. See how people leave tips and photos. Then you can claim your venue and get started as a power business!

Morris: After reading the book, a thought occurred to me: with appropriate modifications, of course, foursquare could also provide its services and benefits as a cable channel. Include visits to specific locations, as does The Food Channel. What do you think?

Gallo: Haha. Nice idea.  I think the team has its hands full but I’ll pass along the recommendation.

Morris: It also occurred to me that adding the foursquare application would provide a powerful incentive and impetus to business leaders to improve customer service at all levels and in all areas of current operations. Better yet, its capabilities and potentialities could guide and inform those change initiatives. Your own thoughts about all this?

Gallo: Foursquare improves customer service by adding a customer experience to the retail experience. By “checking in,” uses can now engage and have conversations with businesses in ways that where never possible. I checked in to a lobby of a hotel and, since my foursquare is connected to Twitter and Facebook, I got a response from the hotel on Twitter. They thanked me for checking in and offered a discount at the bar. Via twitter. Successful companies are using a combination of social media to engage their users — Twitter, Facebook, and now foursquare.

Morris: In Chapter 15, you identify and discuss ten pitfalls to avoid. Which of them seems to create the most serious problems and cause the most damaging consequences? Why?

Gallo: No employee training. I can’t tell you how many companies start a foursquare special (or other social media promotion) without bothering to tell their employees about it. Look, if you have terrible training and horrendous customer service, don’t sign up for a foursquare. Why would you invite even more people to experience your terrible customer service? Fix your customer service before joining foursquare. Please!

Morris: How best to avoid or recover from that pitfall?

Gallo: Chili’s has 80,000 servers and they all know about the foursquare special. It simply has a promo code at the bottom of the special for its servers. If you have fewer employees, and most of us do, there’s a simple fix. Tell people about your new promotions and show them how it’s used. 

Morris: You include an interview of Dennis Crowley, CEO and co-founder of foursquare, in the final chapter. Of all of his responses, which do you think will be of greatest interest and value to those who are about to become associated with foursquare? Please explain.

Gallo: I like when Dennis Crowley said, “Our vision hasn’t changed. We make tools that make the world easer for people to explore. Nobody has done what we’re trying to do. It was groundbreaking two years ago to be able to follow your friends. Now we want you to be able to stand anywhere on the planet, open your phone, and foursquare will tell you something to do.” If you start with a vision such as “make the world easier to explore,” you are free to create some very magical tools that we can’t yet imagine.

Morris: Today’s newspaper wraps tomorrow’s fish or lines the floor of a birdcage. Fast-start companies such as foursquare must constantly innovate as well as re-energize themselves or, like a shooting star, they will soon fall from sight. In your opinion, why will foursquare avoid that fate? Indeed, why do you think that it will continue to thrive in years to come?

Gallo: Well, they are innovative and are always adding new and exciting features. People are getting more comfortable with check in services (40 percent of teenagers use location based services) so that will help. Also, some major brands such as RadioShack and Tasti D-lite are finding very real ROI. That news will spread. RadioShack finds that foursquare users who unlock specials spend 3.5 times as much as the average customer.

Morris: Here’s a follow-up question. To what extent will foursquare’s own customers help to ensure the company’s on-going success?

Gallo: The followers are fanatical and I say that in a good way. There are more than one hundred user groups around the world. Foursquare even has ambassadors, non-paid fans who are signing up companies all because they want to!

Morris: Which question had you hoped to be asked during this interview — but weren’t — and what is your response to it?

Gallo: “Which case study most inspired you?” I met a restaurant owner named Joe Sorge who owns AJ Bombers in Milwaukee. The restaurant was facing tough times in 2008 so Joe locked himself in an office for six months and learned social media. He started with Twitter and Facebook, then added foursquare in 2009. He threw foursquare-themed parties and offered special promotions to loyal customers. Joe said that in 18 months, he earned more buzz in the community than his nearest competitor had generated in the previous ten years. Now [begin italics] that [end italics] ‘s powerful!

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Carmine Gallo cordially invites you to check out the resources at this website.


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