How to Become Stephen-Colbert Level Successful

Late last year, Stephen Colbert took over as host of The Late Show.

The move was a long time in the making. From The Daily Show, to The Colbert Report, to a rabid social media following, to being dubbed the “most trusted name in news” by Rolling Stone, to his breakthrough into network television, one thing is sure: Mr. Colbert knows how to take over a market.

And thankfully, you don’t have to be a celebrity to learn from his success.

In fact, you can apply Colbert’s own entrepreneurial recipe directly to your business by following these five steps and investing in practical tools along the way:

1. Focus on your team.

While Stephen Colbert is indisputably a star, the truth is it takes a village to take over a market. Case in point, like Jimmy Fallon and Conan O’Brien before him, Colbert brought the majority of his team—both writing and production—from The Colbert Report with him to The Late Show.

At the interpersonal level, leading collaboratively— i.e., focusing on your team—means investing in traits like transparency, humility, and a shared approach to both success and failure

It also means staying dead set on the real goals behind those working relationships. As Colbert’s head writer Opus Moreschi told The Huffington Post, “I sit in a room full of incredibly talented, funny people and make sure they don’t have too much fun.”

2. Then… focus on your audience.

Again, it’s not about you… it’s about them.

Colbert hasn’t just built an audience and connected with them—he’s championed the “Colbert Nation” and constructed his entire persona around them. His audience’s love extends well beyond TV and includes contests, charities, social media and even audience submissions.

As Colbert himself said during a micro-debate on social media with expert and author of the book Connected James Fowler: “I have a very close relationship with everyone who watches my show. They’re like my children.”

And he’s right. Colbert even made a strongly backed-by-followers push to take over the Swedish government’s Twitter with #artificialswedener in 2013. While taking over countries probably isn’t on your to-do list (yet), take it from Colbert: Networks work.

In other words, taking over a market comes down to how deeply you connect.

Prioritizing the “human touch” is especially vital if you operate in the B2B space. Capital One’s Spark Pay blog captured this principle in their recent examination of B2B versus B2C.

“Don’t make the mistake of thinking that B2B cuts out customers. Instead, bring the human face to the B2B space.”

At the end of the day, “People don’t buy from businesses. People buy from people”

3. Flood the market.

Colbert has been spotted all over recently, and it’s no surprise.

From Thursday Night Football ads to launching a “Lunch With Stephen” segment, the guy is good.

Amy Vernon, social marketing consultant, co-founder and CMO of gives this advice when it comes to being where your fans are: “Find out who’s talking about what, where they’re talking about it and then start listening there.” Search out topics that are important to them and make them important to you.

Don’t be indiscriminate.

Focus on “being” in the places that research reveals are the richest. Even better, create those spaces—just like Colbert—not merely on social media platforms, but with branded webinars and meetings tailored to fit your company and your audience.

4. Dig serious data.

You don’t become Stephen-Colbert level successful without doing your research.

And, as an organization, you won’t be taking on more customers—let alone taking over your market—if you haven’t spent the time gathering data and making the most of what you know about your market.

Colbert has a whole team sifting news coverage for nuggets of comedic gold, but most of us aren’t that lucky.

So what’s the key? Economist and data analyst David Maher recently told WorkflowMax, “You want your intelligence system to point out (or at least point you in the direction of where to look further) what is a good product, client, supplier, staff member, site, tool or any other moving part in your business—versus a bad one.”

That can sound obvious, but the problem is not that most companies have a lack of data, but instead they have too much data. Most notably, too much siloed data sitting in departments and assorted programs, platforms, spreadsheets and databases.

Combing your disparate data into a single, all-in-one dashboard brings the separate pieces of the puzzle together and places social media and marketing metrics next to sales, IT and project management.

Regardless of the platform you use, be sure you’re not just collecting data, but that you’re collecting it in one place.

5. Truthiness trumps all.

Lastly, what really sets your company apart and leads to market dominance is not making up quippy-yet-useful terms… but by being honest.

Colbert Nation can count on one thing: bite-sized truths wrapped in comedy.

Customers flock where their trust takes them.

Being an honest company is easily overlooked, especially when you’re taking over a market. Offer stand-apart customer service to support any issues or questions. Be transparent when it comes to policies and procedures. Don’t change deals under your customer’s feet. Set their expectations and follow through on promises.

Most importantly, create an honest community following, not with spendy ads or flashy promotions, but with value.

Build customer loyalty by embodying “truthiness” from the inside out.

Taking Over…

Stephen Colbert did it. And so can you. Just remember these five points to taking over your market:

1. Focus on your team.
2. Then… focus on your audience.
3. Flood the market.
4. Dig serious data.
5. Truthiness trumps all.

Related: The Jimmy Fallon Guide to Customer Love


Aaron Orendorff is the VP of Marketing at Common Thread Collective, an ecommerce growth agency helping DTC brands scale beyond $2M-$30M. Previously, he served as Editor in Chief of Shopify Plus; his work has appeared on The New York Times, Forbes, Mashable, Business Insider and more. If you’d like to connect with Aaron, reach out via social — he’s a sucker for DMs about content marketing, bunnies, and rejection.

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