Who are your biggest influencers?

My business Partner John Andrews for sure… he is a retail thought-leader, a dedicated entrepreneur, and he inspires me to think the way I do, and to create. My daughter Niki Rubin influences me with her passion, drive, and dedication to changing the world for the better. And what/who inspires me daily are so many via the content they share that allows me to listen, learn, engage, and think.

What do you enjoy doing in your free time and how does it inspire you?

I read a lot in my spare time, although I don’t really think of it as “spare” time, for me reading, learning, and educating yourself is a constant and necessary part of every day. But one of the silver-linings of the pandemic has been the additional time to read more… about history (so much more to learn than the white-washed history I was taught growing up), politics, racism, how to effect change, and so many other topics that interest me.

I also workout daily… some as set-aside workouts, and very often a great deal of #wycwyc (what you can when you can) getting in push-ups, squats, stairs, reverse-dips, and pull-ups, etc. in and around everything else I do. This keeps me fit, helps clear my mind, and gives me “thinking” time.

Finding time for nature, especially beach and mountain time, is what sets the stage for a lot of my creative thoughts.

How was the “Return on Relationship” (#RonR) concept conceived?

ROR: Return on Relationship, #RonR, simply put, is the value that is accrued by a person or brand due to nurturing a relationship. ROI is simple dollars and cents, ROR is the value (both perceived and real) that will accrue over time through connection, trust, loyalty, recommendations and sharing. AND is used to define and educate companies, brands, and people about the importance of creating authentic connection, interaction, and engagement.

For me, and I learned this early on from my parents, especially my Dad, is that it is All About Relationships, and he impressed upon me to “do for others without expectation of anything directly in return.” It’s more about what you build as your reputation and how people think about you. As you continue to practice this, others will notice, and will reciprocate in a spirit of giving. That’s been a huge part of my life and my success despite numerous setbacks. And listening to others is an important part of that. So many times we listen to what people are telling us but we don’t really “hear” what they’re saying. Are you really hearing what I’m saying—actively listening—and truly paying attention? My Mom, who was an educator, would say to me as a kid, “Honey, you need to really hear what they’re saying, not just take notes and listen.” To me, it’s such an important thing.

When I was the CMO of e.l.f. Cosmetics in 2008 – 2010 I built their brand, and took the brand from online to in-store (specifically as an in-line brand at Target nationwide), leveraging social media and it’s exponential word-of-mouth capability. Much of this was accomplished with something I first started talking about and scaling in 2009… Return on Relationship ROR, #RonR.

Early on I was building an engaged following, growing our presence, and protecting all that was social from any of the promotional proclivities of the founders. Within months, by myself and with the help of a few interns, I had built the most active social presence for a cosmetics brand against the likes of Estee Lauder, L’Oréal, and Sephora… and the very first social aggregated content site for a brand, called ASKelf.com, as an adjunct to elfcosmetics.com. In all fairness, they had legal departments to deal with and I did not, so I drove a truck through that advantage.

Every week the founders and head of email marketing would ask when they could start promoting deals via social, and every week I said… “NOT YET, it’s not about selling here,” can’t claim to have “known” that then, but it all seemed so clear to me. So finally after a few months of this I was called into their office. At the end of the meeting they tried to pin me down to a date for offering discounts via social with all this talk about ROI, and I blurted out… “It’s not about ROI with social, it’s about ROR, Return on Relationship,” and I just shut up and sat there staring at them. I didn’t know what they would say, no one to the best of my knowledge at the time was using that term. They stared at me for what seemed like forever, then told me they had another meeting but were very intrigued by ROR and wanted to schedule a meeting for the end of the following week to discuss. I got out of there as fast as I could and immediately tweeted out to my then large number of followers, 2000 of them… “It’s not just about ROI, we have to start thinking about ROR, Return on Relationship,” and within minutes there were dozens of RT’s and responses.

I spent the next week putting some meat on the bone, and Return on Relationship, as a way to build a business, was off to the races. It then took a lot of time to expand on the ideas (still doing that every day), publishing the book in 2013, and finally getting my hands on the ReturnOnRelationship.cm URL shortly thereafter.

If you shift that into the business world, I consider ROR (#RonR) greater than ROI, because ROI will match a fixed period of time, or perhaps be income related, whereas ROR will have a “halo” effect. For example, two projects can have the same ROI, but if one was done with better relationship management, it has the added benefit of a “satisfied” customer or relationship… it’s like “I” + compassion. What happens is that when people are happy and satisfied, they will share that. There’s a misconception in the digital world that people complain more than they share good things. I don’t think that’s true. I think a lot of people get tired of hearing others complain all the time—but nobody gets tired of hearing, “Oh this restaurant was amazing,” or “OMG I just had the most awesome experience with this brand—you’ve got to check out their store!” People seek out those kinds of references much more so than they seek negative ones. A brand that steps up its engagement game will not only protect and extend 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, which is what I call Return on Relationship. Fight quantity, clutter and filters because we know there’s way too much content out there… with quality (content & engagement). With every post, update and comment ask yourself, “Is it adding something meaningful or simply adding to the noise?” Content may be King, but Connection is Queen, and she rules the house. How you engage with people via the content you share is what helps you achieve results.

What advice do you have for creating relatable content?

When you tell your story in a way that people will care, you create a relationship, a connection, a value that goes beyond immediate $’s and cents. It is what creates conversation, the content that creates trust, loyalty and advocacy.

All of this will scale no matter the follower count because the vast majority do not actually converse themselves, but participate vicariously via the conversations of the minority who do. In addition, if you empower your employees to be a part of, and participate in, these conversations, you can be having many more in the name of the brand, and make them personal and “human.”


Remember the power of storytelling, and use it in your communications. People can’t resist a good story. It’s an emotional connection bridge that is built into our human DNA. Social enhances it by allowing more followers/consumers to share more stories about more of the products they see, buy, and use.

Another thing to remember about stories is that people are already having conversations about you and your brand, and you can’t necessarily control that. Companies who try to stem the tide of a bad story by trying to control the message find this out the hard way. However, you can INFLUENCE the kind of stories that are told about you by being involved in the conversation, transparent in your use of social media, and responsive to the needs of your customers, both online and offline.

What are your top sources of inspiration to create content?

The vast majority of my inspiration comes from absorbing content every day, via various mediums, having conversations, testing the water with ideas (usually via Twitter) then expanding upon it in longer form, frequently as a Facebook and LinkedIn post, and then very often as a blog post.

Take your most popular tweets and FB posts, or the ones you feel most passionately about, and use them to develop blog posts. You don’t have to write three pages; you don’t even have to write four paragraphs. Seth Godin is one of the most successful bloggers in the marketing world, and he writes a full blog posts in two- to three sentences. He’s a master at expressing ideas that are thought-provoking and easy to read. People are time-pressed these days and content can be overwhelming, so make it valuable and easy to read.

Another way to get ideas is to start commenting on the things you read, such as other people’s blogs and newsletters, media publications, and anything else relevant to your business. You’re already absorbing the content and you probably have opinions when you’re reading it; go ahead and comment on those blogs. One benefit of commenting is that people will start recognizing your name, another is it gives you material for a blog post.

For example, I save the comments I write in my email Drafts folder. I use the subject line as a label for the topic. After I’ve saved the drafts I can come back and turn these comments into blog posts. I can even make the comment itself, the blog post.

Does your offline influence affect your online presence and leadership? How?

For me, they are heavily intertwined. I travel a lot and get a significant amount of face-to-face time with people in all different walks of life. I share it all, via my content, about everything I do personally and professionally. And both of these create a great deal of conversation… which also get shared online and off.

My feeling is that very often “Conversation is the Best Content.” Old marketing was dictation… New marketing is communication. It’s time to Change from Convince & Convert to Converse & Convert!

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