027: Putting the People and Personality in Professoring and Publishing Marketing Content

C: Podcast

William (Bill) Zahn is a clinical professor at the University of Houston’s Bauer College of Business. He started teaching there five years after finishing his Ph.D. at the same institute. His former professors and department heads have mentored him, and he now mentors his students in the ways of storytelling in marketing and how writing will always need the human element. 

Key Points + Topics

  • [1:35] William (Bill) Zahn got his formal start in marketing at the University of Texas at Austin, getting his Bachelor’s degree in marketing. This was before the days of digital marketing. He remembers getting invited to create a Gmail account his senior year. There was no Facebook, myspace, or even Friendster. Upon graduating from UT, he worked for a business under the Texas Department of Health, marketing certain health initiatives and programs. His next working position was at a software company in Houston. Once in Houston, he decided to go back to school and applied to the University of Houston graduate program. He was accepted and completed their Ph.D. program. About two-thirds of the way through his program, digital marketing started to take off, and Bill saw this and immediately became interested. 
  • [3:50] Bill credits his path towards teaching to Professor Wayne Hoyer. While Bill never had any classes with him, he did speak with him and did some volunteer and research work with him. The idea of always having questions and being at the forefront of what’s happening in marketing was fascinating. 
  • [5:25] Four years passed between Bill being a doctoral student at UofH and his start as a clinical professor. Despite this short time frame, he never felt like he was viewed as “not a colleague.” It was interesting and surprised a few people as it’s not done much in the academic world. There is the concern that people can view you as a student rather than a colleague. He thinks the fact that the man who had headed the department while he was a student retired just before he started teaching there helped with the professorial perception. 
  • [6:40] Why marketing? The idea of it appealed to Bill even from a young age. He was always fascinated by the notion you could influence someone’s decisions by changing the order or appearance of words on a package. He was curious as to the motivations behind people’s purchasing decisions. He loved the use of humor in advertising. His father worked in accounting and finance, and while Bill was adept at math, he found marketing more interesting. He knew he wanted to get a business degree like his dad and go into the business world, but his path differed slightly. 
  • [9:40] Bill has been asked to mentor others in the past, and his response is always, “What are your expectations for me (as a mentor)?” To him, a mentor is someone you can ask for advice and has been where you want to go and help you along the way. When someone has a vague, open-ended idea about what a mentor/mentee relationship will be, Bill knows it’s not for him. He doesn’t want to fail to live up to some unknown expectations. He would rather someone say, “I’d like to have lunch once a month to discuss career goals and challenges.” 
  • [11:48] Ed Blair was the head of the marketing department when Bill decided to come to teach at Bauer College of Business and has become one of Bill’s mentors. He really appreciates Ed’s leadership style. He’s observed him and his management style and sees how he is able to read a disparate group of people and lead them to become a very successful group. Ed’s quick to make a decision as well, which Bill certainly appreciates. 
  • [13:25] There are a few marketing gurus Bill considers mentors. Bob Berg, the author of the book The Go Giver that Bill often recommends to his students, helped teach Bill how to approach entrepreneurship in a new way. Charles Green has spoken to some of his classes before and has taught Bill (and his students) how to become a trusted advisor to your clients and build your credibility. Finally, Rand Fishkin of Moz.com has been a big inspiration for what can be done in the digital marketing space. 
  • [15:24] These days, Bill primarily mentors his students and those in the American Marketing Association organization at the school. His approach is usually to sit down with the group leaders at the beginning of the year and plan their goals for the group and how he can help them achieve those goals. Ultimately, he lets them drive the conversation. 
  • [18:18] The infamous Bill Zahn and Gary Vee story: Bill teaches a social media marketing class. In one of his lectures, he was showing a Gary Vee video, and one of his students (unbeknownst to Bill) recorded the class, posted it online, and tagged Gary Vee’s team. Upon discovering this video had been posted, Bill made a deal with the student – If he could get Gary Vee to call the class for a brief lecture, he would get a bonus in the class. The student tweeted about the video again and successfully got Gary Vee to speak to his class. He’s one of the more high-profile guest speakers Bill’s ever had. 
  • [20:07] Student success stories are always fun to share. Bill has seen a running trend over his years, teaching that the more effort people put into the assignments and practicing and actually DOING the things, the more successful those students will be. One of his undergraduate social media course assignments is a personal branding project. Part of that project is to create a personal brand video and post it on YouTube. Some students go above and beyond and create incredible videos with great lighting, sound quality, background, and scripting. One young lady followed up with Bill about six months after the course to tell him numerous companies had reached out to her for brand deals and employment opportunities as a result of her YouTube personal branding video. 
  • [23:37] Many students don’t know which direction to take while in school or upon graduation, whether that’s a route of study or job type. Bill says to pick the thing you’re most interested in and just try it. It’s best to get out and start doing something. It may or may not be the right thing, but you won’t know until you try. As long as you stay on the playing field of the overall direction you want to go, you’ll be fine. Also, always be planning your next position, and if you can get an internship in your desired field – DO IT. 
  • [25:25] Storytelling is a crucial element to good marketing and good marketing education. When Bill first became a professor, he was only about ten years older than his students. Whenever planning a topic, he would always try and connect it to something the students would identify with or at least find humorous so they’ll remember it. He’ll try and think about what’s going on in their lives or a current pop culture reference. Storytelling is an excellent way of communicating. 
  • [32:40] Bill has been known to tweet that if you don’t know how to write, you don’t know marketing. With the shift in the industry around using AI, that mantra has changed slightly. Now, he thinks it might be more along the lines of, “If you don’t know how to write PROMPTS, then you don’t know marketing.” Content is huge for businesses right now. You have to be able to create content. If you don’t know how to do that, you will struggle as a marketer. AI doesn’t have the experiences that humans do and can’t pull from unique life experiences for storytelling. However, once you figure out how to write prompts for AI that include those human elements, that can work. At the end of the day, though, you’re still going to have to add personality to it. Bill is currently working to figure out how to teach his students how to use it while not violating any school policies. 

Guest + Episode Links

Full Episode Transcript

Danny Gavin     00:05 

Hello everyone. I’m Danny Gavin, founder of Optidge, Marketing Professor and your host of the digital marketing mentor. I’m really excited, we have a very special guest today, Professor Bill Zahn, who’s actually a close friend of mine and a colleague we’ve been teaching together now for almost 8 years. So it’s a real opportunity to have Bill on the podcast, Bill Zahn or Williams on, in more official terms, marketing professor of practice and a senior advisor of marketing at the Bauer College of Business at the University of Houston. He’s been published in numerous journals discussing the intricacies of marketing and sales. He received the Presidential Excellence Summer Grant two years in a row while working and researching at saint Edwards, as well as the inaugural Experiential Learning Award at Bauer College of Business. He’s been a clinical professor of marketing and the Masters of Science and Marketing program at the University of Houston for eight years now, teaching, mentoring, and leading countless students on their journey to marketing excellence. Bill, how are you?


William (Bill) Zahn    01:24 

Great, Danny. I feel even better after that introduction wow thank you.


Danny Gavin     01:29 

Yeah, it’s fun when you get to hear it all together, right? You’ve accomplished a lot.


William (Bill) Zahn    01:33 

Not too shabby. Well, thanks for having me on.


Danny Gavin     01:36 

Let’s talk about your educational background. You know, where did you go to school? What did you study? We don’t have to start with elementary, but you know, I guess starting in the UT days.


William (Bill) Zahn    01:44 

All right yeah so I did, I did study marketing at the University of Texas at Austin. This was back in the day before we had. Digital marketing. And so that clearly was not covered in my class. I think maybe I had a Gmail account my senior year. So that would kind of, you know, that was a big deal to get invited to Gmail. Definitely no Facebook or Myspace or even Friendster at that point. I don’t think was quite around yet, but studied marketing there. Yeah, I guess graduated and went to work for a consulting company that worked with the Texas Department of Health. And I was doing some marketing work for them, trying to promote some other programs and get people to start taking care of themselves with the Department of Health and take advantage of the Health Steps program. Did that for a few years and then I went and worked. Actually, what moved me to Houston was a job in a software company in the oil and gas industry, so. I did that. At that point I decided I wanted to go back to Graduate School and I applied. I made it into the program at the University of Houston and spent my next four years working my way through my PhD program. I studied mainly marketing and Salesforce management, with some psychology as A and management as a sort of minor, and my field really still focused on marketing. And right about the middle of my program, about when I was about 2/3 of the way that was my dissertation, I really started to see digital marketing start to take off and blogging and sort of that inbound marketing, upspot style marketing begin to take off. And I thought, oh man, this is going to be an interesting field to be in, but I’m 3/4 of the way down here. Let me just finish my dissertation and I’ll fit your things out later. So that’s what I ended up doing awesome so obviously you decided to go into the PhD program and become a teachers. Especially the fact that you’re a clinical professor means that you more of what you do is on the teaching side of things. Are there certain moments, like when you’re at university that maybe that you look back that inspired you to become a professor?


William (Bill) Zahn    03:55 

I never directly had a class with him, but there was a professor by the name of Wayne Hoyer who used to. But he might still be the faculty chair of the American Marketing Association at UT And I got to speak with him quite a bit because I was pretty heavily involved with a MA And he allowed me the opportunity to do a few volunteer assignments with him for like a research projects that he or some students of his were working on. Where I would go in and help run a study and just kind of get to experience it and talk with him about the implications of it, sort of as he was going through the program. And that idea of like having questions and, you know, really being on the forefront of what’s going on in marketing was really sort of interesting to me. And even to the point where I would see some people come in and talk with him about like what’s going on in the industry and how problems need that needed to be solved. And I could take those conversations into my interviews and look a lot smarter than I probably actually was at the time. But I knew what I knew, what was relevant to these people based on some of the conversations that I was Privy to. That was fun. And that really got me interested in it. And just some of the teachers I had there were really good teachers that inspired me. But really that academic freedom and questions was important amazing it’s like they say, keep your friends close, Keep your professors closer, right? So I think it’s fascinating, right? So like, Austin, Houston, Austin, Houston. Kind of an interesting back and forth, but how is it returning to your all the matter, at least one of them so soon after being a student, right? So now you’re coming back to be a professor in that exact same environment, like how is that whole experience?


William (Bill) Zahn    05:35 

That was interesting at first. I think it surprised a few people that I was coming back so soon and it’s not something that’s typically done. And one of the tricks that they are worried about and why they don’t do it so much is can people see you? As a colleague as opposed to a student. And the person that I worked mostly under while I was at you age as a student ended up retiring. I don’t think there was too big of an issue with not being seen as a colleague, and even here you I think would have been fine with me being a colleague there. We had a good relationship. I don’t think it was that hard. I mean, it wasn’t for me. It just sort of jumped in and started hopefully making a positive impact on the student body. And once you start doing that, I think people appreciate you being.


Danny Gavin     06:21 

There, yeah. And even if you may have been there a couple years before, as a student, it makes no difference. Like you’ve already made yourself as a new entity.


William (Bill) Zahn    06:29 

I hope so. Will you So far, eight years in, like you said, so far so good.


Danny Gavin     06:32 

Something I forgot to ask you is you know what let you down the path to getting degrees in marketing in the 1st place? Like you could have done management, supply chain, organizational behavior? What’s the reason? That you decided to do marketing in the first place?


William (Bill) Zahn    06:45 

No math? Really no, I’m kidding. To me, it was just the idea of marketing had always been appealing to me. It was interesting to see what made people make certain decisions, how you could influence people to do one thing versus another by maybe just changing a word. Or changing the order that something’s presented in using humor and advertising and understanding when it was effective and when it wasn’t. I guess from an early age, I just kind of had this critical eye about that and like, you know, understanding like, hey, this commercial was funny, but it didn’t really, you know, sell me on anything. And so I was always just sort of curious about it. And so when I had to make a choice, you know, my dad had an accounting and finance background and. I knew I wanted to do something business related, but for my joke I was pretty good at math, so I could have gone that route, but it just wasn’t as interesting to me. The other field that I was most interested at the time was MIS and so I ended up minoring in MIS which I think sort of helped it early in my career and then AS. We did get into digital marketing topics. You know that having a basic understanding of some of those concepts is helpful, but marketing and just I thought, I think maybe captured my imagination more than those other fields.


Danny Gavin     08:02 

Sometimes kids follow in the steps of their parents. Sometimes they go in the opposite direction. Do you feel like with your dad being in accounting and finance, it was kind of like, you know, I’m going in a separate direction? Or was it never really about that?


William (Bill) Zahn    08:14 

No, I don’t think it was about that. I think it was sort of along the same path, just yeah. I knew I want to do business and I didn’t really think at the time as my dad is like, you know, accounting or finance, but you know, turns out that’s what he was. But I knew he had gotten the business degree and I knew I wanted to do that. So it’s sort of like a slightly divergent path from him.


Danny Gavin     08:34 

But you got the inspiration like ooh, you know, he did this i want to do something similar.


William (Bill) Zahn    08:38 

I was going to make a joke about being a liberal arts major. If I if I wanted to completely veer off the path from, you know, going the opposite direction to him, that would have taken me to a different college altogether.


Danny Gavin     08:51 

Or starting a travel company in the Far East right and.


William (Bill) Zahn    08:56 

What about your mom? Like, we’ve never spoke about your mom before. What did what did your mom do? She worked for at T for a few years. For the early part of my life she was a mom and worked at home. Then about 3rd or fourth grade she started working at T Just customer service. This is the day back in the days when it would have cost like 100$ to call. Not to South Africa if you were making a phone call from Texas. And so she had a lot of customer complaints to deal with. So you know, I guess maybe I learned patience from her and at some point she ended up leaving at and t and worked at an elementary school for a while, just sort of helping out. And then I am retired and she doing fine.


Danny Gavin     09:38 

Well, let’s move on to mentorship. So, Bill, how would you define a mentor?


William (Bill) Zahn    09:44 

I’ve never really thought about. I’ve been approached and asked directly to be a mentor before and I’ve always went when I asked that i have to ask well what’s your expectation of me as a mentor. I don’t have a clear path that I would do for one, for one person or another. So I kind of would hedge a little bit on the on the topic, but I would say it’s somebody that you can go to. Who can give advice on a situation and hopefully that advice is useful and used. If it is, then that relationship I think can continue. And as you have more and more conversations you get more and more out of the relationship and eventually the, you know, the mentee can begin helping the mentor on certain elements of it as well. But basically I think it’s somebody who’s been where you want to go. And they can help you along the way to get there with their advice.


Danny Gavin     10:37 

So breaking that down a bit, so obviously when someone approaches you like in the college environment or maybe outside of it wanting you to be their mentor and you ask them like what are your expectations, what would the expectation be where it’s like, ah, I don’t know if I am a good fit.


William (Bill) Zahn    10:51 

In undefined relationship where it’s going to be, I can come in where whenever I need you like I might have questions. To me it’s sort of like if it’s too open-ended I don’t want to do it because I just don’t know what I’m giving myself into and i don’t want to commit to somebody and then not be able to live up to that commitment. So if they don’t have a clear, I mean, I would almost rather say, I’d rather somebody say I want to meet you once a month to have a lunch once a month for next 12 months and we can discuss various problems versus, Oh well, I just want to be able to reach out to you whenever I I’d much rather have a clear expectation of what I’m giving myself into.


Danny Gavin     11:32 

Yeah, I agree with you and i think that’s whether it’s in an academic environment or even in a corporate environment having that structured time set up that’s when you have the most value. Ad hoc I don’t think works in any situation. So i agree with you on that one tremendously. Let’s I dive into your mentors. So you mentioned Wayne before, you’ve also mentioned to me in the past regarding Ed, Ed Blair is the head of the marketing department at Bauer. Love to know why you consider him a mentor.


William (Bill) Zahn    12:00 

I think just his leadership style and what I what I observed from him in terms of his management and his ability to lead a disparate group of people, like just very different people from all walks of life to a very successful group has been interesting to watch. And just my interview with him when I was coming back to school, I pitched an idea to him. And it was like, you know, very quick, like yeah, that’s the direction we need to go and we want to do that. And so i appreciated his decision making process and being able to talk with him through different decisions and seeing how he thinks about things has been really eye opening for me. And he’s super smart that can pick apart different problems. He was on my dissertation committee and. So I was just able to really get to the gist of what was going on very quickly and understood like this is how I perceive my role in your paper and what you want me to do for you, Is this right? Is this something you want? And just again, you know, he kind of set that up for me in terms of okay if I’m going to be part of this team for you. This is the role I see myself happy. Do you agree with that? And so again it’s that it goes back to the clear the clear structure of the relationship and what is involvement would be.


Danny Gavin     13:23 

So obviously you follow a lot of different marketers and gurus. Do you consider any of those people mentors? Maybe you’ve never met them before personally, but you kind of feel that if like mentored the way you think about marketing or the way that you approach education?


William (Bill) Zahn    13:39 

Yeah, so there’s a few people that come to mind. One would be a guy by the name of Bob Berg. He’s a writer and he wrote a book that I really liked and have shared with some of my students at some points. Called the Go giver which is all about sort of a mindset to approaching business and not necessarily being hungry to go out and build your own business, but rather to be thoughtful about what you’re offering to people and making sure you’re helping people get what they need and being more of a service, more of service than like a typical go getter attitude. And by being of service you actually start having more value brought into your life, so. He would be 1 gentleman by the name of Charlie Green who wrote a book called The Trusted Advisor. He spoke with my Class A couple of times actually and so Bob spoke with some of my students at one point too. The Trusted advisor sort of how do you become a trusted advisor with your clients to where they’re wanting you to be the person to come up and really building up your credibility as a person? And having the opportunity to speak with those two guys was really big. You know I think back early in the days of Mas before I really liked reading like Grand Fishkin’s writings online and stuff. I think he and seeing his videos and stuff, he was sort of a big inspiration for me in terms of what can be done with digital and his approach to business I think was really fantastic. I haven’t read Lost and Founder yet to be honest, but probably should. It would sounds like a good one, but those would be 3 that I would. I would think would be pretty good.


Danny Gavin     15:15 

Now, those are great recommendations and just amazing people to be able to look up to and to formulate who you are today. Let’s now move on to how you mentor others. So in your current position, you’re obviously mentoring a lot of students. You’re an advisor for the AM A. We mentioned that before. For those who don’t know, it’s the American Marketing Association. It’s a national organization, but they also have chapters in every single city and also at a lot of universities. So I’m sure you get a lot of those students. Tell me a little bit about advisory, you know, at the AM A.


William (Bill) Zahn    15:44 

It’s been weird the last couple of years with the with COVID and no in person classes because I haven’t had as much personal contact with the with those students in the past. But typically the my approach to it is sit down with them at the beginning of the at the beginning of the year what are your you know, what are our goals for the organization as a whole. What do you see yourself doing as the leader of the organization? I typically sit down with maybe the president and the vice president of the organization have that conversation. Just okay. What’s your plan? You know, how can I help out? And me having been the president of AM A when I was in college, I’m able to bring in some of my own insights into the conversation. Here’s why that. Here’s why I think this would work. Here’s why I think this might not work. But ultimately at the end of the day, I let them take that conversation and run with it however they will. If they if they request more help, I’m happy to help them. But then it’s sort of fire away and you know, I’ll see how things are working and you know, adjust is necessary. And I guess that’s sort of my part of my approach to mentorship is if you see something you want, you can take my advice, you can run with it. And let me know how it goes. And if you if it works for you, great, come back. If it doesn’t work for you and you still want to talk to me even though I maybe gave you the wrong advice, you can come back and we can walk through another iteration of it. Like what else can we do is a mentor. That would be the one thing that I would really want people to do from a mentee standpoint is don’t just come in and talk to me without acting on the advice. Or if you’re not going to take some sort of advice, you know, tell me what you decided to do instead and why. I’m not, you know, I’m not all knowing. So you might have a different way of approaching a problem. But let me know what you did and why. I just want to see you’re making progress towards the goals that we started talking about at the beginning.


Danny Gavin     17:36 

Now that’s so important, like going through a bunch of these episodes. I don’t think I’ve heard that point yet, Bill. But like the mentor it, it’s good to give him feedback, right? Like, what did you actually do? Did it work? Did it not? And you know, if you don’t return that feedback then number, one the mentors, I guess less motivated, but also that you know they don’t know what worked and went didn’t. So I love that bit of advice because sometimes the mentee like you speak, you know, you only kind of tell your mentor the problems but you never come back and say the wins. And I think it’s always good to share both things, right, Celebrations as well as, you know, sometimes failures definitely so.


William (Bill) Zahn    18:13 

Now let’s segue into deeper into the life of a marketing professor having a podcast with you, Bill. We have to tell the story of Gary Vee because it wouldn’t be complete without it. So why don’t we tell the listeners the special story of Bill Zahn and Gary Vee? One of my undergraduate classes I teaches social media marketing. One of my students had happened to like just I was talking about. I think it was showing a Gary Vee video in class he. Basically I think recorded some of the without my permission by the way recorded some of the class and posted it on Twitter and Tad Gary Vee and Gary’s team in it and somebody from the team liked it and responded to his tweet. And i think i made a suggestion that hey if you get the Class A phone call with Gary Vee, you know you don’t have to worry about your grade or something to that effect and he ended up you know. Tweeting it one more time and Gary Vee said okay, let’s do it. And that was pretty cool. He came on and talked to us for about 2020 minutes or so. Nice conversation, answered a lot of questions, you know, suggested some of my students. I hope they did apply, but that they had some open positions at his agency. So that was a fun conversation to have definitely probably one of the. More higher profile people I’ve had in class.


Danny Gavin     19:34 

Yeah, I’m sure when you said it, you were like, yeah, it’s never going to happen, but then, yeah, the student actually ran with it, right?


William (Bill) Zahn    19:41 

Yeah, you know, it’s I think one out of every, you know, 5000 students might be able to pull it off and just happen to be the lucky 1. So he did. He did it. And i told him, I said you still have to do the work.


Danny Gavin     19:54 

It wasn’t a free A completely.


William (Bill) Zahn    19:56 

No as long as you do the work you’ll be you’ll be OK.


Danny Gavin     20:00 

That’s awesome.


William (Bill) Zahn    20:01 

Yeah, good times.


Danny Gavin     20:03 

So as you’ve measured students over the years, are there any particular good success stories you can share, or a student that perhaps really took your advice to heart and used it to truly push themselves?


William (Bill) Zahn    20:13 

Without getting too specific on the student or the position and you know this from our class like the more the more effort people put into the assignments the more and like practicing and doing and going above and beyond what you what you say the better those students are going to. Do and the better they’re going to turn out. And so one of my undergraduate assignments in social media was is been a personal branding project and you see a wide range of quality when it comes to this project. But part of it is a YouTube video they have to do where they introduce themselves. And you know I checked to make sure they know how to optimize the videos and that they’re doing. But at the end of the day, I say like look quality is my secondary concern here. You know like my primary concern is that you displayed these skills right and I go through it with them. Some of the students who at the end go above and beyond really do try to make nice videos. They really think about how they’re presenting themselves. They get the recording right. They get the you know, the mic, the lighting. You know, I’m looking at you with your set up and thinking like, yeah, that’s it, right? One young lady followed up with me maybe about six months after taking my taking my class. And she had gotten offers from just all sorts of companies like that. She was like basically like she didn’t think she would stand a chance with. I asked her like what the deal was and she was just like 100 %. She said that personal branding video. Three of the companies that came back and talked to me about it, said they when they searched for me and they were doing background research on me. She had earned the interview herself. But she said like. They saw that video and they saw the creativity and everything and they just said we at least have to talk to her and she ended up really doing well. And there’s a couple of stories like that I can share. One of my students, excellent content creator, even before she took my class, you know, like you could tell she had a pretty good background in it, right? Her ability to create graphics and do video and do all sorts of things. She’s a major tik tok manager for a major makeup account. Now that you would probably know just really some cool stuff like that has come in and I don’t know if it’s you know so much mentorship on my part but you know that idea of just seeing them run with an assignment that I’ve given them take some you know go a little bit above and beyond in terms of their creativity do well has been a very cool thing to see and just you know, I mean some of our students in the in the master’s program so. Have gone on to like jobs and salaries that they couldn’t have imagined before taking the program but me and I now they have the confidence and the ability to go out and say hey, I know how to do this stuff or even if I don’t know how to do it. I know I can figure it out right? Like i I’ve learned how to learn so to speak and. Uncomfortable saying I can take on new challenges and I think that’s been really cool to see.


Danny Gavin     23:07 

Yeah, I agree with you. I think the largest satisfaction that I get is seeing, you know these people who come into our class, they might even be like an MBA and like oil and gas. But then they take this one or two marketing, digital marketing classes and it like changes the world and they end up going and getting a digital marketing job. And yeah, like it’s just, it’s amazing the people that we’ve touched and like kind of change the trajectory, you know, So when I see someone getting a digital marketing job. It yeah, it’s just total excitement. If there was a student undecided of which way to go in the industry of marketing like whether it’s position or degree plan or anything like that, how would you advise them?


William (Bill) Zahn    23:43 

Take what’s your most interested in and try it out. You know, I mean, like that’s the thing, like even at the professor level, a lot of the especially clinical professors have taken on different paths in their career and they’ve gone from one industry to another to another, you know, and I would say like. It’s best to get out and start trying something, and that may or may not be the right thing for you know, I had two jobs before I came back to grad school. You don’t know how you’re really going to like something until you’ve tried it. And so if you’re going along the way that at least keeps you in the playing field of, you know, your ultimate decision, then I think you’re okay, just hey, let me try this out. Let me sample it and see how it how it goes and just. From that point, like you know, I’ll always be planning your next position. So you take, you take the job. Do you want to grow in that position to something else or do you need to develop some side skills because you think you’re going to transfer somewhere else. But I think the important thing is to not wait too long to make a decision and try something. You know if you can get an internship in your field prior to graduation, right? That’s another i didn’t go through with a half dozen or so internships I had while I was in college, but I had all sorts of different jobs and I had different programs while I was in school. And you know, you kind of just get a sense this is an area that I’m interested in. This is not an area I’m interested in you know, your trial and error, I suppose yeah we’re very pro internships on the digital market, inventor podcast we mentioned it at least once an episode, so thank you for reiterating how important it is. In various posts online, you’ve mentioned the importance of storytelling and marketing And in general, like when we talk, and I hear you teach, storytelling is a big part of it. How do you integrate the learning of that skill into your classes when I first started teaching, I was only about 10 years older than my students. Now I’m about 2022 years older students. So I think I try to think. How do I connect whatever topic I’m talking about to something that they’ll identify with, or at least something that they’ll think is humorous so they remember it? And so I always try to think about, like, what is going on in their life, like, what’s a pop culture reference that I can bring into this? This may be a good example of it, or all sorts of things. But just like here’s the end of what I want them to learn. And here’s an example of it in my life. Now, how can I tell that story to where they’re going to be entertained, but also they’re going to remember the key points of this, of this message. And I think storytelling is a really nice way to have lessons wrapped up into a broader narrative that you can share with people that, well, hopefully they remember it. You know, test scores would say that the stories usually help people remember better. Then when I try to get something across without the story, but I put a lot of time into my lectures and coming up with the right story. And this was one of the great things about when we were doing more in person classes is I did have the same class back-to-back to back and by the time I had the third class I had the story down, you know, and I was hitting, hitting the right nose. It’s harder now that we’re online and we only have one shot. You know, we’re recording things and playing the video and you know, hopefully the story still hits, but yeah, I definitely like to wrap up my lessons into a story.


Danny Gavin     27:16 

I think that’s a good we can move to like the change into online learning. I had a story last night, you know, it was the AM a Crystal award and thank God opted one two awards was really excited i saw your post congrats thank you and you know, and an exstudent, I’ll. Colorado, because she’s awesome. Shelly Stewart, she had two extra tickets from her company and she reshon said. Danny, can you let me know if there’s any students of yours who would want to come? And I think it’s great, right? Marketing students, young marketing students, be able to come to a big event like that, you know, it’s really inspiring. So I was able to find two of our students and it was funny because like, they both came up to me around the same time, like during like the cocktail time hour. And I they didn’t realize that they were.


William (Bill) Zahn    28:00 

In the same class.


Danny Gavin     28:01 

I literally had to introduce them like you guys realize. Because you were in this same class and to give some background, you know, Bill and I are social media class has ballooned to, you know around 40 people, which is crazy. And yeah, it’s possible that there’s individuals in there who don’t know each other and it it’s just crazy. So i know you have some strong feelings about it. Bill, you want to I mean you don’t have to go all the way but you know, love to hear your thoughts on. This move, right We’ve, you know, our graduate class is basically online and you know, there’s a lot of pros and cons to it.


William (Bill) Zahn    28:31 

Yeah, there are. It’s definitely, I think, a cover class to teach in the sense that you don’t get the immediate feedback that you would get if you have somebody in the same room as you. Part of the challenge with that is maybe some cultural things where students don’t want to speak up or don’t want to ask questions because they’re afraid that it’s insulting The professor and you and I are like, no. We want you to ask questions. As a matter of fact, part of our online approach now has become you get credit for asking us good questions, right? Like we say at the end of every what questions do you have? And you have to type in a question in order to get credit for the assignment. It’s a little bit tough. You know, when you’re teaching in person, you can kind of tell when somebody’s eyes blaze over and you’re like, oh okay, either either my examples not to be home or maybe upstate on this topic too long. I need to adjust, right? Now you know it’s zoom and you know it’s like for everything to that that’s done, I think it’s been fine. And you know, I mean it we’ve been able to keep class going and that’s been good. But we really have to adjust how you teach and I think we’ve done, we’ve done a particularly good job of, you know, setting up the lessons in front and then bringing the practical stuff into class which more forces people to ask questions because they’re not going to be able to do that practical stuff if they’re not. Engaged in the earlier assignments, so I do miss the in person aspect of teaching them from getting to know my students a little bit better. It definitely helps that to get to know them better and see that.


Danny Gavin     30:02 

And I’m glad you bring it up because so often when we talk about current situation when it comes to education at universities and online, you know, we talk about how amazing it is and how flexible it is for students. But very often we don’t hear the side of the educator, of the teacher, of the professor and how’s it for them, right? And yeah, in some ways and in a lot of ways it’s a lot more complex and you know, i think it’s important for institutions to take that in to count as well. I don’t know if they are, but it’s something to consider as well.


William (Bill) Zahn    30:34 

I think they do. But I think the main thing is you know are the students still being served and that’s you know like I said, you know we we’ve changed how we how we did our class based on it. I mean and it wasn’t just a small change. We completely overhauled how we taught the class and you know and frankly in the like we’ve had students who come up come up to us and said like I don’t know how you didn’t teach this class when you’re back in person because this was so great like this and we hope you don’t change it. You know that was unique to hear i was I don’t know if that’s everybody who says that but you know it is kind of fun when we when we have the. People come in, you know, we had one this year who was sort of a, let’s just say, skeptic about how things were going. And then by the end of the semester, Oh my gosh, this was like the top class. I thought you really did real world stuff. This was amazing, it’s gratifying to hear that, you know. But you know, it’s just one of those things. You it’s hard to know until the end of the semester because you just don’t have the same feedback and you know, like the not seeing the people regularly is difficult to manage, so. It’s not. It’s not. It’s pluses and minuses, I’ll say.


Danny Gavin     31:44 

I’m always thinking like on a Sunday when I’m in Costco, you know, I’m going down with the kids and buying stuff. I’m like, for all I know, there’s people walking past me that took my class, but I don’t know them because they never turned on the video screen. So it’s pretty crazy. But yeah, I think, Bill, you definitely deserve a kudos for figuring out such an amazing system of flipping the classroom and for those people who aren’t familiar with what we do at the at the university. But we make our students watch all the videos and lectures first and then when they come to class, we do a lot of practical assignments and discussions and questions. It’s worked out tremendous. So definitely kudos to you, Bill, for like having the foresight of like what do you need to have in order to make a successful class cool thanks. Yeah, and thanks for your help with setting everything up and your flexibility and getting it built. I think it’s been fun. I don’t know.


Danny Gavin     32:38 

It’s been cool. It really has been. So back in March, you tweeted if you don’t know how to write, you don’t know marketing. With the world of AI generated content swiftly approaching in the world of digital marketing, how does this impact your stance on writing in the marketing world?


William (Bill) Zahn    32:55 

If you don’t know how to write comps, you don’t know marketing. So do you want to elaborate? Well, I mean, I think writing and getting a message across and this could be like writing copy. It could be writing a video script, it could be writing a brand plan, it could be writing emails to communicate with somebody and influence an idea, right. Lots of different elements of writing that are really important. Let’s just take it from a content generation point of view. Content’s huge for companies right now and you’ve got to be able to create content. And if you don’t understand how to do that, then you’re going to struggle. It’s an important part of this. I’m a firm believer in the inbound marketing model, that you create content for your customers for when they’re looking for it and you know that attracts them to your business. They’ll find it when they’re looking. If you have good content out there, you’re more likely to be found. Now with a I kind of changing the game now what a I can’t do is have the unique, flavorful experiences that you or I have, right. They don’t have your background in music or your international background your you know growing up in South Africa having this really diverse and unique life that you could pull from and your experiences and your storytelling. So you’re still kind of getting like chat g p t. With that’s sort of, I don’t want to use the word soulless, right, Like, but it’s sort of like plain Jane right now. But I think the more you can maybe write pomps to tell chat, you can be a story like, hey, this is an event that happened in my life and this is how I felt about it. And I want you to write a piece of copy that talks about how my life was impacted by this and how this product could help in that situation. You know, i definitely think. A I is something important to be discussing in our in our classes, because I’ve even experimented a few with a few of those folks that you may be referenced earlier using a I to help me generate some ideas. But at the end of the day, it’s still you got to add some personality to it, and I think the way to do that is just becoming more familiar with it, playing with it, practicing trying out different prompts, and really like figuring out how to make. The A I is interesting as you can make it. I hope that makes sense, but i think prompt engineering is going to be a new field in marketing that we need to start discussing and. Hopefully we can have some time to set it up for our search engine marketing class in the fall, because I think the implications for things like chat gpt and some of these other AI rioters is going to be really huge. So I’m looking forward to it.


Danny Gavin     35:41 

Yeah, me too. I’m really excited on adding that component to our classes, and I’m sure you’ll be adding it to all of the other classes that you teach as well.


William (Bill) Zahn    35:50 

Yeah, gonna try. The trick right now is like, how do you encourage students to use? Stuff, but not to completely rely on it, right? The school has some policies about like hey chat GB T is considered plagiarism, but I want my students to use chat GB T to help create, you know, because like that’s what they’re going to be doing and in the real world. So some of my assignments are going to be along the lines of. You know, outline A blog post that would go over these topics and so it’s going to be super interesting to see over the next year how things change.


Danny Gavin     36:24 

All right. It’s time for the lightning round. And I think it’s going to be a little surprising for you. But it happens to be that my family and I are going to be in Orlando for one day on a stopover. So we are going to go to Disney and I know you went recently, so I wanted to know the top three things are keeping me top five. Things that someone has to see when they go to Disney Parks in Orlando.


William (Bill) Zahn    36:48 

Oh wow. Which park are you gonna go to? Disney World? Epcot or you don’t?


Danny Gavin     36:52 

Really got to tell me which park to go to if I had to go to one, which one would it be? And then tell me, you know?


William (Bill) Zahn    36:59 

So I might get wrong with which parks are or which. I thought Epcot was amazing. There was a ride in Epcot called Soren which was incredible. Worth the wait. The food and Epcot was really good too. I think Epcot would probably be a top recommendation for me in terms of which part to go to. It’s the Guardians of the Galaxy ride. I think that’s Epcot. I’m not 100 % sure on that, but I don’t like roller coasters. I have an issue with heights, but this was an indoor roller coaster. No height, it’s just it goes really. It feels like it goes really fast, but it goes fast and turns and spins and the way they bring music from the movie into the ride, it just makes it. It’s one of the top experiences I’ve ever had on the ride. A lot of fun, lot of fun. And now moving over to Hollywood Studios. If you’re if you’re a Star Wars fan, Hollywood Studios was incredible. The way they have the Star Wars area set up is really cool. That was a lot of fun. I would definitely recommend recommend that. Let’s see. I mean. The Magic Kingdom was great. The kids had a lot of fun. I mean like it’s going to be a fun experience no matter which part you do. So we had a blast, so, but those would be my main takeaways cool i love it. Thank you. So before we wrap up, what are you currently working on? What’s the next big project?


William (Bill) Zahn    38:21 

Aside from adding a I to my class, I’m working on a research paper right now that’s in a second round of revision. It’s you know, about Salesforce management and. How perceptions of feeling threatened by competition affect the salesperson’s approach to selling. And so that’s been pretty interesting project. Hopefully I can wrap up my part of it in the next two or three days because the girls are about to be out of school. That’s going to be big. Other than that, you know, I’m trying to just come up with new courses, new ideas for people. You know, like I said, like, you know the that’s the fun part about teaching digital marketing. it’s. Always changing so you know staying up to date with the trends, you know, getting ready for G A4 coming out is another big one. Updating classes for that and you know, maybe creating some one or two assignments around, you know the new reporting and all that sort of stuff that’s going on in GA four is going to be something I work on here. And yeah man, it’s just it’s fun and then just maybe take a couple of weeks to recharge and get ready for the fall semester. It’s getting years go by fast, man. I can’t believe we’ve been doing this for eight years together.


Danny Gavin     39:38 

Yeah, it’s crazy. And when you break it down into semesters, it’s like 15. It’s great. But it’s but it’s been awesome. It’s really been awesome.


William (Bill) Zahn    39:45 

Yeah, it has.


Danny Gavin     39:46 

Where can listeners learn more about you and your different activities that you do? What’s the best way to follow you?


William (Bill) Zahn    39:53 

Cool probably LinkedIn. I’m I know I teach social media but I’m sort of boring. But i would say LinkedIn would be the best. Yeah, I think I’m Williams on LinkedIn. I’m not 100 % sure but you know if you see me in the in the tile you probably got the right guy so i would say go there Twitter if you if you want to hear me complain about the Astros, it’s Wj’s on it. Twitter haven’t had much to complain about recently, though it’s been a good few years. Those would be the two places.


Danny Gavin    40:22 

Thank you, Bill, for being a guest on the Digital Marketing Mentor. And thank you listeners for tuning into the Digital Marketing Mentor. We’ll talk to you next time. Thank you for listening to the Digital Marketing Mentor podcast. Be sure to check us out online at the DM mentor.com And at the DM mentor on Instagram. And don’t forget to subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to your podcasts for more marketing mentor magic. See you next time.


Suscribe Now