by Craig Stull, Phil Myers & David Meerman Scott
(John Wiley & Sons, 2008)
[chapter excerpt:] What’s Your Powerful Idea?
Steve Cohen grew up in affluent Westchester County, where he learned magic from his great-uncle. As Cohen was getting started in the world of professional magic, he lamented that people treated all magicians as interchangable commodities who could be hired on the cheap for their kids’ birthday parties. Without seeing him perform, people just didn’t understand that he was one of the country’s great sleight of hand artists. They’d ask him questions like “Do you fold balloon animals?” and “My daughter is having a Bat Mitzvah on Sunday. Will you do it for $500?” His pride and his wallet were suffering, so Cohen decided to call in positioning expert Mark Levy to help him develop and articulate powerful ideas about his magic.
To come up with his position, Levy informally interviewed Cohen over the course of a month. “We’d be hanging out and I’d ask him about his first performance, his favorite magic trick, and the people he enjoyed performing for most,” Levy says. “I’d also watch Steve’s shows, and I’d ask audience members about their favorite moments.”
As Levy gathered a great deal of information about Cohen, a few key elements were converging to form a powerful idea. “Steve grew up near Chappaqua, NY, which is a very wealthy community,” Levy says. “He learned to perform for people who, at times, can be demanding: people with money.” In fact, Levy had discovered Cohen’s distinctive competence – he was comfortable performing in front of the rich and famous and had done so since the age of ten. “Not everyone knows how to entertain affluent people,” Levy says. “Steve, though, wasn’t exploiting this talent. He’d do shows for anyone who called, and his fees were middle-class affordable, no matter who called.”
Levy then drilled down into Cohen’s distinctive competence. “I asked about the famous people he performed for and Steve gave me a list. Many on the list were celebrities and movie stars, like Michael J. Fox,” Levy says. “But buried in it were some interesting names, such as David Rockefeller, Andy Grove, and Jack Welch. All these names had at least one notable thing in common: they weren’t just rich, they were insanely rich.”
Levy put all those pieces together and realized that Cohen’s best position would be as a performer for the super rich. “As obvious as that sounds, no magic performer was in that space,” Levy says. “Other performers were billing themselves as the funniest, or the edgiest, or the flashiest, or the coolest. Or adept at performing at trade shows, or at parties, or for children, or at functions, or they were the best at a specific kind of magic. But no one was focusing on people with insane amounts of money or clout.”
The powerful idea that resulted from all of this? The Millionaires’ Magician, Entertainment for Exclusive Events.
“When Mark first developed my brand identity, ‘The Millionaires’ Magician,’ I fought him tooth and nail,” Cohen says. “I was scared it was exclusionary and would frighten people away.”
Fortunately Cohen took Levy’s advice, because he now commands fees of $10,000 to $25,000 per gig – many times what he was making on the birthday party circuit. In 2005, Cohen made $1 million performing for such people as Martha Stewart, New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, and Paul Fireman, the former chief executive of Reebok. The Millionaires’ Magician has a weekly gig at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York and often lives the lifestyle of the rich and famous. For example, he frequently flies on his clients’ private jets to gigs at their vacation houses in places like Aspen and Switzerland. He’s been profiled in the New York Times and other newspapers and on TV for shows such as the CBS Evening News and the Today Show. Cohen appeared in Forbes magazine’s 2005 special issue about the 400 richest people in the world. “The article’s angle? ‘Who do these richest people get to entertain them? Why, Steve Cohen Cohen, The Millionaires’ Magician’,” says Levy.
The transformation of Cohen’s business based on the powerful idea of the Millionaires’ Magician has changed his life. “I’ve raised my private-show fee by 2,000 percent and often turn away bookings because my schedule is so full,” he says. “I’ve performed throughout the world, including Lisbon, London, Japan, and Paris. And I’ve so much business that I had to hire a staff to manage my publicity and bookings.” Cohen even signed a deal to write a book for HarperCollins called Win the Crowd, and is working on a television special.
All from the power of a few simple words: The Millionaires’ Magician.