Sunday, September 11, 2011

BJJ’s Best Branding: Grapplearts-Stephan Kesting

Now...for the inspiration of the Branding Series:

One promotion, one little promotion from Grapplearts totally woke me up to branding in BJJ.

This promotion has an interesting back-story, with 400 DVDs originally being given away, then after a decision by Stephan , another 400 being sent out, with the chance for three people to win a complete library of his material. Because of my lax email checking, I missed the first 400, but I was ready for the second. I set a phone alarm, told a friend to help me out (in case of any computer issues) and set up an Outlook reminder for the 12PM EST kickoff. Well, at 11:55, I decided to test the link. A video started. It was of Stephan driving, transporting and unpacking the DVDs. Almost instantly I felt a kind of excitement that I hadn’t felt since I first started watching Lost (you know…before it got annoying).

Stephan is nothing short of masterful at taking you along for the ride in his promotion and development process. He’d hinted at his “evil plan” for weeks through the Grapplearts Newsletter and even brought it up in individual communications. By the time it actually came around, I felt like I was watching a film from the Dharma Initiative.

That personal experience, combined with a purposeful focus on “concept-based grappling” is the foundation of Kesting’s/Grapplearts’ branding. It is very heavily based on the experience of the reader/practitioner with the express purpose that they understand grappling from the top down.

Check out one of his videos below. It’s his take on two of the worst martial arts techniques ever taught (below), gives you an insight into his sense of humor, which contributes greatly to the personal feel of all of his materials.

His DVDs have a conversational, relaxed tone, with live explanation as he demonstrates—giving the feel that you’re looking in on a private lesson, moreso than watching an instructional DVD.

The apps have gotten me through quite a few boring flights…and prompted quite a few questions from my fellow travelers. They’re positionally focused (pin escapes, sweeps, etc.) crazy affordable (though I know $3.99 is like, platinum level app-priceage) and I give major props for using a small female (Jennifer) in the pin escapes material.

A Roadmap for Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is probably my favorite of all his materials…mostly because it saved my sanity in those first few months of training. For someone like me with no background in the martial arts or even seeing jiu jitsu in action, it was invaluable to my understanding of the basic elements of grappling, AND planning the foundations of my individual learning. Again, a deep focus on what the newbie grappler is experiencing (confusion, frustration) and specific steps to tackle those issues.

Like the DVDs, very conversational with a frequent focus on questions he gets from individual readers. Kesting writes very much likes he speaks (a lot of people don’t, most that do, probably shouldn’t, but it’s a good thing in this case), and combines that with a general focus on describing positions from the perspective of someone in the position in question—something all his materials have in common.

Getting a feel for them all is almost daunting. Between Grapplearts, Beginning BJJ and, there’s an absolutely massive amount of material. From articles to Q&A (I swear he must have saved every question anyone’s ever asked him), to hand picked videos and technique breakdowns, I feel like I could spend years going through and working on the free material alone.

I consider Kesting to be the Seth Godin of the BJJ world (no, not just because of the hairstyle). His take on the art and on instruction is so simple it’s profound and you’re left with the impression that he genuinely wants you to improve and succeed at what you do. He has more than 30 years experience in various striking and grappling arts from Jeet Kun Do to Gong Fu. This video sums up a lot of that training, and explains his open and honest take on relating information in the martial arts.


slideyfoot said...

I was a bit worried when Kesting started to fall into what appeared to be Lloyd Irvin style marketing, but I think he's pulled it off. Tough to go down that route without being incredibly obnoxious and spammy, but I'm still on Kesting's email list, unlike Irvin's (which soon ended up in my spam).

Speaking of which, I'd be interested in seeing you do one of these articles on Irvin. I suspect you'd get more than a few comments. ;)

Megan said...

lol...uh...yeah. I really don't have a lot of experience with his materials, but for the sake of objectivity, I might check some out.

Anonymous said...

@slideyfoot - I think the thing that differentiates Mr. Kesting from Lloyd Irvin is the delivery style. While Kesting still sells stuff, most of his material feels like he genuinely just enjoys teaching jiu jitsu, and wants everyone else to enjoy it too. Irvin's material always felt a lot more "salesman"-y, if that makes sense. Plus I like Kesting's deadpan humor as well. Or I guess I should say humour in this case. =p

slideyfoot said...

Yeah, I think you have a point regarding the humour. I was talking to somebody about this topic earlier, and they were saying how Irvin's marketing style comes across as cocky. Kesting is a lot more self-deprecating: I hate arrogance, so that appeals to me.

The authenticity you mentioned is important too, and tough to fake (though certainly not impossible: I have to admit, the tendency for advertisers in the UK to use Scottish and other regional accents to sound more trustworthy totally works on me! ;p)

Megan said...


Whichever spelling you use, it makes all the difference. They could be putting the exact same information together, but the personality itself will affect how open the audience is to purchasing and absorbing. Good point@ Anonymous.

Now I'm curious to talk to some Lloyd Irvin material fans and see what they like about it.

slideyfoot said...

Heh - yeah, you can often tell where somebody learned English if they use -or instead of -our. I'm not technically from the UK, but I've been in the British education system from a young age. :)

I would say the biggest fan of Lloyd Irvin's material is Lloyd Irvin, and he delivered an interesting interview to the Fightworks Podcast a while back, if you haven't heard/read it (there's a full transcript there too).

So, if you do write a post on Irvin, you can expect to see a c&p of my Grapplers Guide response to that interview in your comments. ;p

Ashley said...

I was on board with the second round of DVDs, too. =)

I actually started watching it last night and thought it was very good quality (like other materials I have of Stephen's). The structure, organization, and the way the technique was laid out was incredibly effective. Quality is certainly important in marketing. Without it, you're basically...well, a sham, like Irvin says in the interview.

After reading the Irvin interview, I better understand what Anon was getting at and I would have to agree. I get the distinct impression that Irvin may love money even more than BJJ. Though I realize all of Kesting's promotional efforts is to make money in the end, it definitely seems more genuine to me too. A fact that is really interesting to ponder in terms of branding.

@ Slidey: Link your response to the interview in this post, pretty please?

Thanks for the discussion, Megan!

slideyfoot said...

@Ashley: Sure, link is here. The reason I didn't put it up before is that it's on the Grapplers Guide, which is a paid membership site: I don't think that link is public access, but I could be wrong. :)

A.D. McClish said...

LOL! That first video is AWESOME!! I must master these techniques at once!

Ashley said...

@ Slidey: it's asking me to register, at least, which I do not want. sad face.

slideyfoot said...

I'll c&p it when I comment on Megan's Irvin post anyway (which obviously she now has to write, after all this discussion ;p).

Mattias said...

I started out with the ebook as well. Kesting is really generous, and has answered some of my questions directly. With generous I mean that he shows, describes and teaches in a generous way.

Before I knew it, I bouht some of his ios apps. And I did it without hesitating since I know that he delivers.

Of course he sells stuff, nothing wrong with that. But it seems that the passion for bjj is the force behind his "evil plan"

Megan said...

Exactly@Mattias. He establishes trust early on. I took almost the same bath as you product wise and have never "wondered" what I was getting myself into.

Ha@Slidey...yeah...that one's going to take me a minute though.

Georgette said...

FYI-- another great website chock full of ridiculous quantities of info (including my favorites, the grappling game plan flow charts and the 2- and 3-move chained attack videos) is Grappler's Guide by Jason Scully. I mean, SERIOUS OVERLOAD POTENTIAL. :)