“Your brand “feeling” has to be backed up by your products and values” with Sean P Finelli and Chaya Weiner

I am a finance guy so it’s all about short-term and long-term gains. Products have a lifecycle and many are inevitably replaced. It is an investment that eventually will stop paying out. Brands can last forever. You will most likely have to evolve your brand over time, but if you brand yourself correctly, it could […]

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I am a finance guy so it’s all about short-term and long-term gains. Products have a lifecycle and many are inevitably replaced. It is an investment that eventually will stop paying out. Brands can last forever. You will most likely have to evolve your brand over time, but if you brand yourself correctly, it could pay out in perpetuity. That said, your brand “feeling” has to be backed up by your products and values.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Sean P Finelli. Sean could be sitting in his apartment in New York, donning power suits, striding down Wall Street each morning and living a life many finance and economics graduates have always dreamed of. But he’s not. After graduating University, Sean, now better known as The Tour Guy, walked away from a career on Wall Street, boarded a plane, and swapped his career in finance for a life in Italy. With Italian and American dual citizenship, Sean had always made the most of his heritage and would travel back and forth to Europe during his summers at University. He would find summer jobs and through living and working in Italy, he became obsessed with the country. Over the years he discovered more about his Italian origins, tracking down relatives, learning the Italian language, immersing himself in the history of the country and experiencing the real Italy. But that wasn’t enough. During his Italian adventures, Sean realized that the Italy he was experiencing was not the Italy he’d heard others had experienced during their vacations. His was the real deal and it was about time someone shared it with the world. Sean got his foot in the door and soon became a tour guide in Rome, a career he never imagined having. With a wealth of knowledge now under his belt, Sean’s obvious connection with the country, methods of storytelling, approaches to experiencing sites, attention given to his clients along with attention to detail made him an overnight success. He soon earned the title “The Roman Guy”. But it wasn’t until Rick Steve’s guide book recognized him as one of the top tour guides in Rome that he realized his decision to leave New York was the best decision he’d ever made. Sean soon put “The Roman Guy” name to good use, creating one of the leading tour operators and Italy travel companies in Rome, which has subsequently earned accreditations from the likes of Forbes Travel Guide, Lonely Planet, and many more. Sean believes that the years of sleepless nights and liters of espresso were worth it, because he now gets to share an accessible, adaptable, fun, cultural and often hidden Italy with the world every single day. Add these ingredients to the base of his business, which is made up of exceptional customer service, and that’s how you create, what Sean calls, The Tour Guy’s Italy “vacation equality”. Now Sean is living the dream. His background in finance and interest in marketing communications has helped him lift The Tour Guy off the ground in what was already considered a saturated market. His self-taught practices have earned him a place in Entrepreneur Magazine’s 360 List and inclusion in INC 5000 list of fastest growing American companies in 2018 and 2019. He and Brandon Shaw, co-owners of The Tour Guy and its suite of brands The Roman Guy and Finelli & Shaw, are not only leading tours, but building people’s dream Italy vacations. Together, they’ve traveled “the boot”, met the locals, explored the sites and happened upon the best places to eat and stay along the way. They have opened offices in Rome, Paris, and in the United States and have a team of Italy fanatics that is growing year on year — all because “there’s no place like Italy”.

Founded in 2019, The Tour Guy is an emerging tour aggregator and parent to The Roman Guy and luxury travel planning firm Finelli & Shaw. After nearly a decade of producing, selling and operating tours in Italy, co-owners Sean P. Finelli and Brandon Shaw applied their tourism expertise to the e-commerce space. With a quarter million satisfied customers, The Tour Guy and company offers over 65 curated and tested experiences across Europe and continues to expand its services globally. Customers can book online or speak with an English-speaking travel expert, and expect one-of-a-kind experiences at beloved tourist destinations including access to areas restricted from the general public, after-hours and early morning entry, and skip the line privileges. The company’s tour guides are English-speaking locals who know the rich history of their respective cities. With offices in Philadelphia, Rome, and Paris, The Tour Guy and company operates around the clock to ensure clients are well taken care of. For a full list of services, tours, and experiences please visit TheTourGuy.com

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

My father is an entrepreneur as well. When I was young, someone approached him with an offer to purchase his company. He was thrilled at the idea, however, the buyer wanted him to sign a 3 year contract as part of the purchase deal. I was about 12 at the time and assumed he was thinking out loud more than asking a tween for advice. He said, “It’s a lot of money, but I have never worked for anyone and I don’t think I want to start at 40.” That remark had a profound effect on my subconscious.

Can you share a story about the funniest marketing mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When Pokemon Go had its flashpan moment, I stopped my team in their tracks and said we had to create a live Pokemon Go video in Rome along with a Pokemon guided tour. It took about 4 days for 3 people to produce. The video received a few thousand views, but did not generate any new business…what a waste of time. This is what we at The Tour Guy call a golden apple. A Golden Apple is something that sounds like a good idea at the time, but ends up being an impediment to our medium and long-term organizational goals.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Our name, The Tour Guy, stands out. I think our product stands out amongst the industry as well, and for good reason. We sell and operate tours so the main elements are tickets, guides and attractions. We develop relationships with the best attractions in order to receive access to areas that the general public can’t. Next, we find the best local guides and approach those relationships as we would any full time staff member — they are part of our family and we provide compensation significantly above industry standards. The combination of best attractions, best tickets and best guides makes our products the best.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

We are! We’re currently creating shorter tours for families with young children and people who want topline background on a site, as opposed to a full blown “college course”. If you have young children, you know it is difficult to keep them engaged during a three-hour tour. We recognized a hole in the marketplace as most, if not all the major our companies sell 2 hour + tours. The guides are extremely passionate and feel bad skipping over interesting details. Rightly so, but not everyone has the attention span.

There is a significant amount of people want to hear cool stories and anecdotes, be guided through an attraction, and move on. These short Rome tours dubbed “Flash Tours” will provide exactly that.

Ok let’s now jump to the core part of our interview. In a nutshell, how would you define the difference between brand marketing (branding) and product marketing (advertising)? Can you explain?

Brand marketing is about the feeling you get when you see a brand. Product marketing is about how that product makes your life better. Brands will obsess over logos, fonts and colors because these visual effects all paint a picture and convey a set of feelings. Brand marketing starts there and transitions into public relations.

Product marketing is about what the product solves. A great example was the iPod. MP3 players were available in abundance before the iPod, however, competitors tried to market features like 10MG of storage. The average non-tech savvy consumer did not understood what that meant. Apple redefined the message when they said, “500 songs in your pocket.” Nobody ever stopped running on their treadmill and screamed, “Damn! I wish I had 10MB of storage instead of this CD player skipping all the time.” That’s product marketing.

Can you explain to our readers why it is important to invest resources and energy into building a brand, in addition to the general marketing and advertising efforts?

I am a finance guy so it’s all about short-term and long-term gains. Products have a lifecycle and many are inevitably replaced. It is an investment that eventually will stop paying out. Brands can last forever. You will most likely have to evolve your brand over time, but if you brand yourself correctly, it could pay out in perpetuity. That said, your brand “feeling” has to be backed up by your products and values.

Can you share 5 strategies that a small company should be doing to build a trusted and believable brand? Please tell us a story or example for each.

Businesses are like children — everyone raises them differently with respect to their own upbringing and unique family quirks. It’s the same approach to growing a business. My general advice would be to read a ton of books, understand what stage your company is in, and solicit peer and industry leader mentorship.

In your opinion, what is an example of a company that has done a fantastic job building a believable and beloved brand. What specifically impresses you? What can one do to replicate that?

Everyone picks Apple and Amazon here, but Ihave a company I love named “Gusto”. It’s a payroll service that streamlines many important business and human resource functions. Their website is beautiful and they solve a massive business issue. Payroll is an enormous undertaking for new businesses. I went through company after company pulling my hair out until I found them. Their brand feels the way their website and services work. I refer them to friends and business owners all the time.

In advertising, one generally measures success by the number of sales. How does one measure the success of a brand building campaign? Is it similar, is it different?

Net Promoter Score is the ultimate measure of a brand. A brand isn’t solely a website or logo. It’s how your company makes people feel. Net Promoter Score measures how likely people are willing to recommend you to friends.

What role does social media play in your branding efforts?

For The Tour Guy, social media is used to communicate with our clients. Social media is like the clothes you wear — it’s the first thing people see, read, hear, and judge. It’s a platform to help us stand out amongst the crowd. It gives the customer direct access to us where there’s complete visibility to the world. It builds brand equity.

What advice would you give to other marketers or business leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?

Buck up…working hard is par for the course.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Buy the ticket, take the ride — Hunter S. Thompson

We are blessed that very prominent leaders in business and entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world with whom you would like to have a lunch or breakfast with? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Elon Musk

Elad Gil

How can our readers follow you on social media?

I don’t have social accounts, but they can see my adventures on my company youtube channel https://www.youtube.com/user/TheRomanGuyTours

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.

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