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The Business of Meetings

Dec 5, 2023

The Business of Meetings – Episode 195 - Differentiation: The Golden Key to Your Success with Mark Levy

We are delighted to have Mark Levy joining us today to discuss differentiation.

Mark is the differentiation expert! He has worked with big names like Simon Sinek and Marshall Goldsmith, and he is the author of Accidental Genius, a book about using writing to stimulate great ideas, available in 11 languages. Mark also created a magic show that got rated even higher than Hamilton in New York!

Join us to learn how to differentiate yourself through Mark's valuable insights and colorful stories.

Bio: Mark Levy

Mark Levy is a differentiation expert. The ideas Mark and his clients have created have been discussed and used by hundreds of millions worldwide. His clients include Simon Sinek (of "Start With Why" fame), the former head of the strategy unit of the Harvard Business School, and the founder of the famed cult TV show, "Mystery Science Theater 3000.” Mark is also a magician. A show he co-created, Chamber Magic, has run in New York City for 21 years and is ranked by TripAdvisor as the city's #1 live show, rated higher than even the musical “Hamilton." Mark has written for The New York Times, and one of his books, Accidental Genius: Using Writing to Generate Your Best Ideas, Insight, and Content has been translated into eleven languages. He can be reached at

Mark's Journey

Mark has had diverse experiences throughout his journey to becoming an expert in differentiation. He honed his skills as the former director of the third-largest book wholesaler globally, making over 25,000 pitches and selling over a billion dollars worth of books. Mark also gained a unique perspective on business strategies as a magician. He has worked with influential figures, like the former CEO of Popeyes and the President of UPS, where he combined his expertise in sales, magic, and business strategy.

Logic and Illogic in Differentiation

There are often pitfalls in excessive logical thinking because logic can sometimes lack the innovative edge that sets visionaries apart. Mark uses examples like Wikipedia and Red Bull to demonstrate how illogical approaches can defy all expectations and lead to groundbreaking success. He encourages business owners to balance logic and illogic when looking to differentiate themselves to stand out in the marketplace.

Differentiation Process

Mark outlines a four-step approach:

  • Phase 1: This is the Schlitz beer phase. It involves discovery and the collection of ideas and insights

  • Phase 2: The Barbie phase focuses on finding associations and meanings within all the collected material 

  • Phase 3: The Captain Inferno phase entails crafting a compelling story around your chosen point of differentiation 

  • Phase 4: The Philip Crosby stage is where you consistently practice and implement your differentiation 

Mark underscores the importance of a thorough discovery phase because it allows exploration and creativity before you narrow things down to a compelling point of differentiation.

Crafting a Differentiated Elevator Pitch

To craft an elevator speech that effectively communicates your differentiation, Mark emphasizes the importance of starting the conversation in the universe of the listener by addressing a common problem or need. He advises against being too fancy initially and instead suggests revealing the category of your work or business. Then, you highlight your unique approach to clarify that you operate differently. The key is to engage the listener by addressing their concerns before introducing your distinctive elements. That will make them more receptive to your differentiation.

The Schlitz Beer Story

Claude Hopkins, a renowned advertising man, transformed the fortunes of the Schlitz Brewery by highlighting seemingly ordinary processes, like a 3,000-foot artesian well and triple steam cleaning, turning them into a compelling narrative. The story underscores the idea that what may seem run-of-the-mill to a business can be extraordinary in the marketplace if effectively communicated.

The Barbie Phase

For the Barbie Phase, Mark drew inspiration from the strategy of Richard Dickson, the CEO of Mattel, to move beyond the toy and game business into the pop culture business. The Barbie Phase is about committing to just one single idea and going all in on it. In exploring various aspects and potential representations of their business, companies can uncover unique angles that set them apart like Mattel did when they approached the Barbie movie, transforming a toy brand into a cultural phenomenon.

The Importance of Exploring Outside Your Industry

Mark suggests exploring businesses and brands outside of your industry. By observing and analyzing what different brands are doing, even in unrelated fields, you can gain valuable insights into differentiation strategies.

Advice for Continuous Learning and Inspiration

Mark advises business owners to actively observe and analyze brands outside their industry, noting differences and considering how the strategies they see might get applied in their businesses. He emphasizes the importance of business owners learning continuously and drawing inspiration from diverse sources to stay innovative and differentiate themselves from others in their fields.

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Accidental Genius, by Mark Levy