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Episode 10 Curt Steinhorst on Breaking the Scroll: How to Stand Out with Your Digital Audience

Curt Steinhorst on Breaking the Scroll: How to Stand Out with Your Digital Audience

It may seem nearly impossible to get your building material company heard through all the noise of advertising, social media, and other communication that is being thrown at your audience.

Photo of Zach Williams
Photo of Beth PopNikolov
by Zach Williams and Beth PopNikolov

Curt Steinhorst visits the show to talk about exactly what people want online and how you can give it to them.

More About This Show

The Smarter Building Materials Marketing podcast helps industry professionals find better ways to grow leads, sales, and outperform the competition. It’s designed to give insights on how to create results-driven digital marketing strategy for companies of any size.

In this episode, Zach and Beth talk to Curt Steinhorst, a best-selling author and researcher focused on getting people to be more productive in a constantly connected world.

Curt shares thoughtful insights about who’s really on social media (spoiler alert: it’s not just Millennials) and how you can capture their attention no matter what type of product you focus on.

In today’s digital environment, people are more distracted than ever before. Think about it: how many times do you check your phone every day?

This presents huge problem for building material companies. If you want to grow awareness and sales, you need to capture their attention. But attention span is decreasing across the board, not to mention more digital distractions than ever before.

To help your company circumvent these challenges, we talked to Curt Steinhorst, author of Amazon best-selling book, Can I Have Your Attention?

In the book, Curt inspires better habits in the work environment so that employees can get things done in a constantly connected era. His consultancy, Focuswise, helps companies overcome the same challenges that individuals face in the workplace.

He’s worked with companies like JP Morgan, Allstate, Nationwide, Honda, and even Taylor Swift’s record label. Curt’s background is in the study of communication and how the way we communicate changes as a function of technology. In fact, he’s part of a team that studies trends in understanding how the world, workplace, and even humans are changing.

Curt walks us through how building materials companies can effectively communicate in a world that is totally unlike any in history with customers who have more access to choices than ever before.

Multigenerational Similarities


When you start thinking about your online presence, Curt says it’s smart to have a realistic image of who’s researching or shopping for your product online. While a lot of building material companies may think that only Millennials are completing digital transaction, but these marketing trends have shifted across to all generations.

Curt has served as part of the largest generational research firms in the U.S. He points out that while people still talk about Gen Z and Millennials, the way we relate to technology has actually transcended classic generational balances. If you look at the data, it’s not Millennials who are the most connected to social media, it’s Gen X. If you throw in television as part of screen time, Baby Boomers have the biggest screen time out of anybody.

According to Curt, the reason is that technology has become so simple that there’s no learning curve anymore. 94% of the U.S population is connected to smartphone, with an average of 150 sessions a day, every 4 to 6 minutes. This behavior is often blamed on certain age groups, but this isn’t true — it’s everyone.

So if your building product company is targeting a distributor or dealer who might be an older Gen Xer or Baby Boomer, you might think you can’t reach them online. But this simply can’t be true.

Curt spotlights a couple different layers.

First, Facebook is growing in size, which is due to older generations — not younger ones. Additionally, many people have an outdated picture of who is their customer. The majority of the workforce has now spent more time in a work environment with their smartphone than without it. Curt says there is an increasing percentage of people working who have never worked without the benefits and consequences of these devices, which have radically changed how we interact daily.

Getting Attention in the Marketplace


Curt cites one of the biggest challenges right now as the volume of information. It makes it hard to know the best ways to move forward with someone. There’s quite a lot of complexity in what it looks like to effectively interact with someone in an overwhelmingly high-volume digital playground.

While the vast majority of small businesses are on social media, most have just a few followers and aren’t generating any traction. Curt says this is because they don’t understand why people go to social media. Instead, they hear they need to be on Twitter and then hire a young kid to manage the social media program. But just because someone is personally on social media doesn’t mean they’re an expert on how to market through that channel.

In a world where people have unlimited access to anything online, your challenge is no longer sending a message, it’s getting your audience to care. We tend to misunderstand the value proposition.

Are audiences interruptible? Can your building materials company effectively communicate online?

Curt says yes. But the way it looks is different. The space you occupy makes major differences. Here are some key factors Curt asks you to consider.

#1: Understand that humans are humans. What we’re looking for hasn’t changed. We want to connect to people, not stodgy brands. For your company, that means you should reveal your humanity and show that you value your audience.

#2: Recognize we have to give people what they want in these interactions. How are you making them the hero? They like to be cool, so think also about how you can like their posts and share their content. You need to provide value across the places they want to be on anyway.

At the end of the day, Curt says that people don’t care about your company. You need to show that you care about them if you want them to listen. This looks differently depending on your building product, but you need to realize why they’re on Facebook or Pinterest or Instagram. They’re not just there to look at your tradeshow booth.

Successful Real-life Examples


In order to stand out with your audience online, you need to get their attention in a way that’s different.

Orangetheory Fitness is a classic example of how a company has successfully differentiated within their space and created apostles. In short, Curt explains, fans view it as part of their identity.

Check out a sample Facebook post.


Within just five hours of posting, more than 150 people commented on a post asking followers to comment with a gif on how they’re feeling. You can even see that the company has well over 250,000 followers.

What can you learn from this?

According to Curt, the value proposition of work and companies changed when the world went from an information economy defined by limited access to one that is all about unlimited information. Access is no longer the bottleneck for consumers. They’re moving from wanting a transaction to a relationship that makes them want to share. It needs to be an emotional, human, and experiential connection.

For example, people don’t care where they buy their hardwood floors. But they do care about the lifestyle they can get with those floors. When you can align yourself with how you're facilitating a lifestyle AND have a personality while doing it, then you’re interesting.

How Building Material Company Can Make Sense of a Digital World


Curt says that one of the biggest problems today is that people think you need to be on every single platform. There’s a lot of noise about what you’re “supposed” to do, which can make it hard to make sense of what is actually driving these changes. More important than whether or not you should be on Instagram is knowing what does your customer need.

Then you can make better decisions on how you choose to interact and engage online.

Historically, companies wanted control over their entire product category and they also wanted the ability to reach a customer however they wanted to. But today, there are no barriers to the customer and vice versa.

Curt says that online consumers are seeking three things:

#1: Control. If you think you can control the experience, you’ll lose them. Your audience needs to be in control.

#2. Convenience. Any obstacle in the sales cycle can cause you to lose your audience.

#3: Connection. People want more than just a simple transaction, they want to know who is behind the brand.

How to Create a Connection


Curt points out that our society today is more isolated and fragmented than ever before. People go to digital channels and live channels with an explicit goal of creating a real connection.

How do you make sure that people actually see the humans behind your product? Show your personality. For example, you can’t have a boring website. No one will remember you! Because the world is so global and expansive, you need to make sure you understand the personality and tribe of the people you want to reach. That way, Curt says, you can facilitate a desire in them to share.

Otherwise, people automatically default to the easiest and cheapest options. If you can’t create a connection, you better win on convenience.

What online channels should you be on?

If your product doesn’t make someone look cool using it, Curt says you probably shouldn’t post tons of pictures of the installation process. But there are still some ways to be successful in this area.

According to Curt, your salespeople need to be creating consistent messages so that people know them as experts. They should also be available in all channels, including text and social media so that someone can reach them as easily as possible. This helps with both convenience and personality, especially if you’re not selling an aesthetic product.

Our attention resources are the most limited thing that we have. Every step you add to the process of customer service and sales decreases the likelihood that a consumer will ever work with you again. Sometimes there are industries that regulatory structures allow for continued control of products. But eventually, Curt says, they’ll get disrupted.

In the car industry, for example, Carvana has earned a huge valuation because you can just click a button and buy a car.


There are some simple ways Curt suggests streamlining your own communication strategies. First, make sure you only send digestible summaries of the information your customer wants. Every step of the journey, think of what work you can do so that your customer doesn’t have to.

Curt asks you to remember the further you are from a direct-to-customer product, the more you need to excel when it comes to convenience.

Don’t overload your website with too much technical information because in all likelihood, your customer is only there to get one question answered. All of your clients, no matter their age, are probably using Amazon one-click shopping at some point. That means they value convenience and it’s your job to ensure that the decision making process is as easy as possible.

Want to talk to Curt more about being heard through the noise of social media? Email him at [email protected] or visit his website for more information. You can also connect with him via LinkedIn.