Influencer Interview with The “Return on Relationship” Expert: Ted Rubin

Influencer Interview Series with The Return on RelationshipTM Expert Ted Rubin

There’s an African proverb that says, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go with others.”

Works in real life, works better in business.

See, while everybody loves fast, business is a marathon, and what matters is finishing the race — not starting with a bang (and finishing with a whimper, or not at all). It follows that the stronger your relationships are, the farther you’ll go. It’s a pretty simple idea, but there’s somebody who can reduce it to its simplest term.   

Just ask Ted Rubin, (who actually doesn’t need an introduction but I’m doing it anyway for the benefit of the 0.01% of you guys who don’t know him) acting CMO of Brand Innovators and one of the most popular and loved social marketing strategists in the history of social marketing strategizing. Really, he’s a legend in his own right.

In this episode of our Influencer Interview Series, he talks about the value of relationships in marketing, millennials, and the evolution of marketing. And of course, his wild socks.

The Savvy Marketer: You’re the most outspoken and passionate proponent of the importance of “relationships” in marketing. Tell us how the concept came about. Was there an epiphany, or was it the product of experience?

Ted Rubin: I have always been a relationship guy, built them wherever I was, and took them wherever I went. Over time as digital developed and social scaled I realized we are at an incredibly important time in the evolution of “relationship commerce” (buying from people you know and trust). This is the time when our actions will decide if “relationship commerce” ends up as simply a phrase on a list of buzz words, or becomes an effective – and meaningful — way of doing business worldwide.

The deciding factor will be whether or not enough brands and marketers are willing to go beyond just talking about relationships… to actually building and sustaining those relationships with consumers, peers, employees, and others in their social graph.

How many of us believe in the business value of relationships enough to put in the effort required to turn a one-time contact into an ongoing meaningful interaction?  How many of us even believe that “business value” and “authentic relationships” even belong in the same sentence?? I do, because I have seen this play out time and time again.

As CMO of e.l.f. Cosmetics ( from 2008-2010, I pioneered a program to develop and utilize blogger relationships to exponentially increase and sustain the e.l.f. brand visibility, and because of the blogger energy, talent, and networks,  the program provided the e.l.f. brand with a unique approach toward not just beauty, but also accessibility, interactivity and consumer engagement. At that time, the jury was still out on the business value of social media, but the success of this program confirmed for e.l.f. (and a few other previously skeptical businesses) that building relationships with consumers is absolutely of value to the company.

That e.l.f. experience is what formed my ROR (Return on Relationship™) philosophy, and with each conference I attend, each new interaction I have with bloggers and consumers, and all the stories I hear and see about the impact of social media in influencing purchases… I see confirmation that it really is all about relationships. 

The key to continued success for any brand/retailer/etailer is building relationships and identifying with the customer. – Ted Rubin tweet this

Related: Building Tremendous Credibility and Make Clients Refer You

TSM: Investing on “relationships” isn’t like you’re reinventing the wheel as far as marketing goes, but why is it so appealing and effective at the same time?

TR: Relationships are the new currencytweet this not because this is something new, but because now anyone can do it 24/7 without ever leaving their home.

TSM: Social media is working wonders in marketing. Do you see it being the great equalizer in the foreseeable future? Or is it already slowly leveling the playing field?

TR: Welcome to the ‘Age of Influence,’ where anyone can build an audience and effect change, advocate brands, build relationships and make a difference.

TSM: What are the challenges in social media marketing today?

TR: It’s hard work and brands and marketing departments do not like that you cannot simply lock and load our plan, and then execute. In today social marketing world, it is a constantly evolving process.

TSM: How do you incorporate “return on relationship” in content marketing?

TR: Let’s say, in my humble opinion, Conversation is the best Content… and conversation is at the heart of Return on Relationship. A brand that steps up its engagement game could not only protect its organic reach, but also find a significant competitive advantage. We all love when someone listens to us. When your fans hear from you, their excitement will spread along with your reach and reputation.

Related: SOCIAL INFLUENCERS: The Powers-That-Be

TSM: From politics to pop culture to business, it seems that millennials have a significant impact. Are millennials really that big of a factor in marketing goals?

TR: Depending on where you get your marketing advice, or if you pay any attention at marketing conferences or just about every marketing newsletter, you might be reading a lot about a newly discovered species called “Millennials.” We’re not sure what planet they came from, why they’re here, or what they plan to do with all of the shiny, high-tech gadgets that they’re constantly staring at. We just know that there are a lot of them, they seem to have disposable income, and we’d really like them to spend some of that income at our businesses. It’s just too bad that we don’t have any data or historical insight that might help us better understand the strange new creatures living among us.

If that sounds ridiculous, it should. Marketing will always evolve with the trends and technology of the times, but the core qualities of good business appeal to customers regardless of their generation tweet this (or their planet of origin). So lighten up… Millennials are not that scary! They’re human, like you and me.

There’s no doubt that Millennials, as a group tend to rely on social channels, research, reviews and each other when making a purchasing decision. The thing is, so does everyone else who owns a smartphone and has friends. How you connect matters, but it’s really just an introduction. The most important thing is how you treat them after you’ve made the initial connection.

TSM: You’ve been around for quite some time and have earned the respect of the industry. How has marketing evolved in the past decade in terms of the best practices? What direction is it headed in the next couple of years?

TR: Things ARE changing. Traditional advertising certainly isn’t extinct, but there is simply too much noise out there, and people are sick of it. They’re shutting out the blast advertising that has crept into every aspect of their lives and centering in on the things they truly care about—friends, family, personal interests and need, and social connections. You need to take a step back and study this shift in order to take advantage of it.

For brands, that doesn’t mean you can simply move your blast advertising campaigns into social channels. You actually have to make real conversation with real people and help them get what they want. That means knowing your prospects well enough to understand what they want. It also means creating content that’s helpful, entertaining, educational, or all of the above—content that helps them make a decision; content they want to share with friends.

Related: You Can’t Hit Two Birds with One Stone: Creating Content for Demand Gen & Lead Gen

Smart brands have noticed that we’re moving to a “connection economy,” and they are producing ongoing content that meets the new search “relevancy” standards. They’ve studied their audiences, listened to their social conversations, and have developed plans to use that content in their social profiles to emotionally connect to their audiences and encourage conversation. When it resonates, it gets shared and receives comments and likes, which makes that brand more visible.

What it all boils down to is that in the new world of content marketing, the Content “IS” the Ad. Sharing, conversation, and emotionally connected content will be the ads of the future. tweet this Instead of thinking in terms of “Convince and Convert,” start thinking in terms of “Converse and Convert.” tweet this Helpful content gives your customers reasons to stay engaged—not just react—and also increases brand advocacy.tweet this

So start thinking like a publisher because the more relevant, helpful content you create, the better you can drive engagement. And as my Return on Relationship (‪#‎RonR) formula illustrates…

Content drives Engagement, Engagement drives Advocacy, and Advocacy correlates directly to Increased Sales. #‎NoLetUp! tweet this

TSM: What’s the deal with the socks? Are they some sort of lucky charm (do you even believe in them?) or you just love them like that?

TR: The “sock thing” started as a happy coincidence, more or less, but it ultimately confirmed much of what I believe about marketing. I’ve long enjoyed wearing wild, vibrant socks, and I would show my latest pair off at speaking engagements on occasion or simply sit with my feet up where people could see them.

Photo credit:

Photo credit:

After one such engagement a few years ago, Sandy Jenney, a blogger friend whom I like and respect, asked to take a photo of me and my socks, and I was happy to oblige. She posted the photo to Twitter, as did I, then went about my business.

When I returned to Twitter, my feed was jumping—people loved the socks, especially the bloggers attending the conference and those following the conference via social media. They were sending me pictures of their crazy socks. They asked where I found mine and offered sock-shopping tips for when I visited their city. The next day rolled around, and my socks were still a hot topic. Yesterday’s socks were great, but what pair is Ted wearing today?

These days, my social connections get a little worried when I haven’t posted a sock picture in a few days (#tedsockie), and I’m as likely to be asked about my socks by a CMO or CEO as I am by an online acquaintance. Most people are willing, or even anxious, to join in on a sock photo—my socked feet next to theirs—and let me share it with the sock-loving public.

Ted Rubin

Ted is a leading Social Marketing Strategist, Keynote Speaker, Brand Evangelist and Acting CMO of Brand Innovators and in March 2009 started publicly using and evangelizing the term ROR: Return on Relationship™.

Check out! Influencer Interview with The Modern Marketer: Matt Heinz

Influencer Interview with The Modern Marketer: Matt Heinz

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