Ted Rubin is now the CMO of Photofy Inc. He is the author of the book “The age of Influence: Selling to the Digitally Connected Customer”.
I’m Aishwarya Jain from the peopleHum team.
Welcome Ted, we’re thrilled to have you.
Thank you so much for having me, Ash. I’ve been looking forward to this. I know you reached out to me a little while ago. I’ve been thinking about it and I’m really excited to get started. And by the way, I love when I’m called a marketeer. You know, here in the States, they say marketer. But I love ‘marketeer’ because it kind of reminds me of when I was a kid and I couldn’t wait to watch Disney’s Mouseketeers. So, it always brings a smile to my face.
Happy to do that and thank you so much for your time today, Ted
I’d like to dive into the first question that I had for you. Can you tell us about your journey so far? What was your vision when you started off in the digital marketing world?
Truth be told, I can’t say I had a vision. I was looking for something new with a lot of potential when I discovered the emerging digital world and I guess I was fortunate enough to see what was coming. I can’t really take credit for outright foresight. It’s more like something I’ve done my whole life listening to others and taking a cue from people that I respect or when I connect with something they’re saying. In this case, it was Seth Godin and an interview that he did in 1997. I’m not 100% certain anymore, but I think it might have been an interview with the adage. I’ve gone to look for it a few times but I haven’t found it. I was researching online and digital. I had discovered the Internet. I had two young children. I used to stay up late at night when I had free time after work, after my house duties or after being with my girls. I was reading as much as I could because I really thought there was something happening here. What really caught me was when I read this interview that someone did with Seth Godin and this was before anybody really knew Seth was. He was known in the marketing community because he was somewhat of a wonder kin on Atari as a very, very young brand manager.
But he was writing about the way things were changing and the way people would be connecting. He had a startup at the time, I believe, his first startup was called ‘Yoyodyne’, which was the first online direct marketing company. I was totally intrigued by what he was saying and then, lucky for me, at the end of the interview, the interviewee said to him, “You know, Seth, this sounds like a really cool company. Do you have any job openings?” And he said, “I don’t have any specific openings right now, but there are two things I’m always looking for. Building my company by hiring smart people. It doesn’t matter what they’ve done in the past and I specifically need people that can sell something no one’s ever sold before because no one’s ever sold these things.” And literally the bells went off. I sat there physically, raising my hand as I’m reading and going, “That’s me.” I stayed up until about two in the morning. Remember when we typed cover letters on paper?
I typed a cover letter and my resumé and I sent it to them in the mail. I remember my wife at the time who is my ex-wife now for many years, saying to me, “Why would you apply for a job where there are no jobs?” And I said, “Because this guy is looking for me.” and lo and behold, two weeks later, I got a call and I was fortunate enough to get a job at Yoyodyne and move my family back up to New York. I moved up to New York and I made a critical error. I know that we have different cultures here, but here what I really urge people to do is never move in with your in-laws, especially if they’re what we call like the ‘Costanzas from the Seinfelds’ from the show, Seinfeld, who always yell at each other. The good news was because I wanted to get out of the house every morning before they woke up, I went into Yale incredibly early every morning and lo and behold, the only other person that got there very early with Seth Godin and he just had this brilliance coming out of him.
Every morning he would hold forth on a new idea and I was smart enough to keep my mouth shut and just listen. When Seth first came up with the term ‘permission marketing’ and was sitting there writing the article of the fast company that then became the predecessor to his first best selling book, I was there engaging with him on it. I mean, my thoughts of returning relationship started the concept, not the actual actions but the transept of it started setting a course in Seth and having these conversations. So that’s kind of how I got started. Like I said, I wouldn’t call it a vision. I call it more off taking a cue from people that I think are smart and then acting on it.
Oh, that is wonderful. It is amazing that you actually listened and just heard people talking and then absorbing and then building on your own experience. I do believe that a lot of people might listen but they’re not actually hearing what’s happening. Also, to understand that you’re all about relationships and you talk a lot about relationships, could tell us a little bit about your first book, ‘Return On Relationship’ and that philosophy that you built around it?
Absolutely! But first I want to react to something you just said. I love that you said people listen but they don’t actually hear. I say this all the time. I say it on stage and every once in a while an English major or an English Lit major will say that’s not the right way. It’s that you need to listen, not just hear. And I’m like, no, for me it’s like that expression ‘ Are you hearing me?’ and so often people do sit in a room and listen and I have to say that I was guilty of this a lot when I was younger. My mom, who passed away in 2015, was an educator and she would say, “Honey, you need to really hear what they’re saying not just take notes and listen.” So I’m really glad that you brought that because to me it’s such an important thing. Back to your question about ‘Return on relationship’, just to give a very basic definition, ROR or return on relationship or the hashtag I use RONR.
Simply put,it is the value that is crude by a person or brand duty nurturing a relationship. I like to say that ROI, return on investment is simple dollars and cents, whereas ROR is the value both perceived and real that will accrue over time through connection, trust, loyalty, recommendations and sharing. I learned this early from my parents, especially my dad, that it’s all about relationships. My Dad stressed this to me when I was young that relations weren’t just about what you could get from someone now or what you could even get from them ever. He just impressed upon me, doing for others without expectations of anything directly in return. As a kid, of course, you say “But what am I gonna get?” Because that’s the way kids think or at least that’s the way they think here in the U.S.
I think maybe everywhere and he really did a good job of explaining to me and more importantly, showing that by demonstrating is that it’s not necessarily what you get back directly or from that person. It’s what you build as your reputation on how people think about you. The fact that you’re always doing people will notice it and others will do for you. And that’s been a huge part of my life and my success, that people reach out over to do things for me. For a while I remember saying Why? Like if someone offered to translate a lot of my blog posts into Spanish, and I’m like, Well, I don’t really have a budget for it now.
They’d say “I didn’t ask to get paid”. I’m like, “Why would you do that?” “Well, I see you online doing for others every day. Why wouldn’t I want to do it for you?” they’d say. So let’s just shift a little bit into the business world. We talk about marketing and business you know, ROR hashtag uses RONR and that’s another story which, if we have time, we can get to. I consider it greater than ROI. Since ROI will match a fixed period of time or perhaps be income related, whereas return on relationship or ROR will have what I call a ‘halo effect’.
You know, for example, two projects can have the same ROI, whereas one was done with better relationship management. So it’s an additional benefit of a satisfied customer relationship. It’s like I plus compassion and what happens is when people are satisfied or happy, they share that. And there’s a misconception: I believe, in the digital world that people complain more than they talk about good things and I don’t really believe that.Sure,. I think a lot of people get tired of hearing people complain but no one gets tired of hearing people say, ‘Oh my God, I had a great experience with this brand’ or ‘You have to go check out the store.’ or ‘This restaurant was amazing.’
People seek out those kinds of references much more than they seek out the negative. And then, a brand that steps up its engagement game will not only protect and extend its brand and it’s 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 all know there’s way too much content out there with quality content and engagement
With every post, update and comment, please ask yourself, “Is it adding something meaningful or simply adding to the noise?”
Absolutely. I think content is King but then you need to have the quality in it. You just cannot keep string and drink all the time because that would really add to the noise and what you’re saying is right, It’s about a value that you’re ultimately adding and it kind of changes the way we work and the way our life revolves around content and what we’re kind of getting into our systems, because there’s just so much out there. So, how do you differentiate yourself or your content? And it’s very interesting that the times that we are in right now, with the recent outbreak of the Coronavirus. How do you think that our way of life and work will change once you come out of the crisis? And would it make digital marketing more relevant in the midst?
Again, I need to comment on something you said and I hope you don’t mind because I love how we see eye to eye on so much, so I agree and I like to say content is king. But more importantly, I like to say the connection is queen and she rules the house. In other words, creating content is important but how you engage with people via that content is really what helps you achieve your result. Another thing I say often is that content is not necessarily king, Content that helps you achieve the result you’re looking to achieve is key.
Those two kinds of things go hand in hand as far as the Corona virus and way of life is concerned. I believe people and companies are now being forced to experience changes that many have been resisting for a long time. Remote work, truly maintaining relationships from afar, the lack of need for many offices, I believe many of these changes are now going to take hold and dramatically change the way we work and interact going forward a lot faster than they would have. I don’t believe that it doesn’t actually make digital marketing more relevant, but I believe it will definitely make digital tools more relevant, way more important and dramatically increase the pace of their adoption rate, now and after this crisis. Like again, we see people using zoom dramatically. We see teachers using it. My brother is a professor at Boston University. He’s never taught a remote class in his life.
He was frightened of it. My brother is 65 and a top level professor. He’s been doing this for his entire career and now all of a sudden he’s realizing that in some ways he’s getting better engagement from his students remotely versus the fury he had that he wouldn’t be able to connect with them, that they wouldn’t feel like they were a part of the process. So I think that it’s not just about where we’re gonna learn, maybe that we can save money or we can do things differently.
It’s gonna be about, in many ways, how we can do things better and in the very least, if my brother doesn’t continue to teach remotely, which I’m sure at some point he will be back at the university. But I am certain that at least once a month he will probably hold his classes online, either because for some reason he can’t get there. He lives a few hours from where he teaches. He goes down during the week and then goes home. But more importantly, because he feels that he gets certain students who interacted, engaged digitally or online, who did not interact and engage when they were face to face in the classroom.
Absolutely, I think that makes a lot of sense and you can actually use these tools to enhance your experience and to really connect with people even remotely. And isn’t that wonderful? It’s just very, very strange that if you cannot adopt technology in these times you’re kind of missing out on a lot right now and I completely agree with you regarding how we can use these tools to make our lives more productive and more enriching. Talking about social media marketing, there are a lot of startups that are still starting to establish a branch name. So what would be your tips that you give to them to help achieve their goals for social media marketing?
Well, first and foremost, I would say, Just do it. A buddy of mine, Brian likes to say ‘Push the damn button’, which is a great way of expressing – get out there, share content and experiences, engage, interact and tell people who you are via what you publish by engaging with the content of others. There’s something that a lot of people overlook what I just said in the second part of that sentence is it’s not just about what you post, it’s how you engage with others, like brands in particular, it’s all about what they push out, their content, their branding, their marketing, their lead generation. Instead, I try to tell you about my work. There’s about a room full of people here whose job it is to create content, which means they know how to write, they know what to think.
Get them out there engaging with others, engaging with your customer’s content, engaging with your competition’s content. It’s so important to understand that it’s not just about what you published on your own, publishing is also how you engage and interact with others. Now, I’ll tell you a little secret. The vast majority of my content doesn’t come from me sitting in a room saying, Oh my God, I got a brilliant idea and I’m gonna write about it. It comes from me reading things other people are posting and reacting to it.
Whether it’s a positive reaction like, “Oh my God, that’s brilliant!” and I want to extend on it or just agree with it or “Oh my God, that’s so wrong” This is how I think it should be done or I don’t agree with it and I think it should be shape shifted or changed a little bit. And then I start writing as an action to what I’m reading and what I’m engaging with. Especially when it comes to personal branding or small business branding, start reading other people’s content. Look at what your competition’s writing looks like. Look at what your neighbors and other business people in the community are writing about and then start communicating and engaging with them with your content in ways that matter.
People want to know who you are NOW, especially now more than ever
We’ve taken the lead here by trying to provide easy to use tools for personalizing and branding content. So, even when shared by other people who see it and know who the source was, start thinking about it. It is so important to tell your story in a way people will care and not just think about it, but experiment in all different ways and watch and react to what works and what doesn’t work in this respect.
Well, that is a very, very interesting take that you have, you know, and it’s a lot of learning that I think of us will also benefit from because what we also see is you know, we have a company. Also, we’re trying to kind of get our content out and we’re struggling. We don’t have engagement. We’re looking at stats and we are really frustrated. So, I think the engagement would actually be key rather than just creating content and just putting out there and that is, very, very insightful. Thank you for that. I also wanted to know your opinion on what is termed as, ‘the future of work’ and given the current scenario, do you think we’ve already moved to the future? Or what is the future of digital marketing?
You know, there will be so many futures that it’s important to understand which future we’re referring to. I believe, like we discussed a bit earlier, that what was the more distant future has now expedited dramatically. I believe a great deal of offices, as soon as their lease expires, will go away. I can attest to the fact that Fortify will most definitely move to a fully remote workforce after this is all said and done. After all, who needs an office when we’ve discovered we cannot only work effectively without one, but that, actually, many of us are accomplishing more, not less. I mean, I know this is not just us, because I’ve been talking every day to people all over the country and a lot of people are tremendously surprised at how effective people can be without being watched over or without being next to each other. People think that when you’re at home, you’re looking at everything. You’re distracted by other things that are going on around you, either the phone rings or your kids start screaming. But what people are finding is that when they are at home, they can get more accomplished.
They don’t have to do other things from afar. They don’t have to travel every day. Just think about the commuting time that’s saved and we have found particularly that we’re engaging better with each other. We’re listening better to each other because it’s not just nods across the room and we’re actually getting more done than we did when we had an office. So I think you’re going to see a lot of that. I also think you’re going to see a lot of companies using tools like Zoom, understanding that everyone doesn’t have to be in the same room. I also believe the telephone is gonna have a resurgence, actually picking up the phone and hearing somebody’s voice. I have a thing I do when I’m on stage.
I hold up my iPhone and I say to the audience, “What is this?” Everyone shouts out, Phone iPhone and I say “What’s the biggest word in iPhone?” And always people say ‘i’ and I have to look at them and I laugh and say “It’s not about you, actually, the biggest word is phone”, because this phone comes with something that most you guys are not even aware of. We all have apps on our phones and I’m sure everybody in the audience has apps on their phones. But what they forget is that every one of these phones come pre-installed with an app that has 0 to 9, 10 different digits on it and If you press a certain number of them, you can actually hear somebody’s voice. It’s remarkable. You don’t have to use emoticons to express emotion. You can laugh, you can shout, you can whisper, you can quiet and people know it. And right now I don’t know about you, but I am getting phone calls all day long because people are seeking that connection and then all of a sudden they’re figuring out how much they can get done. Collective bias is a great example.
The company that John Andrews and I built and got acquired in 2016 that was a predecessor in our content marketing, Photofy, that there would be 30 emails going back and forth trying to solve a problem and I’d pick up the phone and in literally a one minute phone call, it would all be resolved because there weren’t 20 people going back and forth trying to figure out something instead of just asking the right person the right question. So I think we’re also going to see a big resurgence in some of the old technologies like the telephone and we all know that most millennials or Gen Zs don’t pick up the phone. I don’t know about what happens to you but like I like to tell a joke: You ever try to call your kids,? You’ll immediately get a text bac saying ‘What’ with an exclamation point and that’s their way of saying I don’t pick up the phone. But that’s changing because even kids are picking up the phone now because they’re seeking connection and I think I think that and other tools are just gonna really change the landscape for a lot of us.
I absolutely agree with you, Ted.. I mean, I can go on for 5-10 minutes, just typing. but I can just pick up the phone and resolve it in one minute. Tools like slack where you’re just typing the entire day and then your fingers so tired.. Hey, just call me. I’m available on a call and you know what? Now everything is free of cost and that makes a very, very big difference.It’s amazing how you think like that. That’s very important for the newer generations to understand. Talking about new generations, how do you think the engagement of Millennials and Gen Zs workforce on social media platforms are changing with time? And how do you craft a strategy for digital media across generations that connects with all kinds of people. How do you do that?
Well, truth be told, I can’t say this is something that I really specialize in or know a lot about., I believe we’re all human and crave the same things. A lot has been made of different generations. For the most part, I believe it’s more about environment than genetics and that it’s about what we experience. So you know, Gen Z, millennials, they grew up differently. They experienced different tools that we didn’t have access to or I shouldn’t say ‘we’ because actually we belong to very different age groups. When I say we, I mean baby boomers. So, like I’ve said before, try different things, experience and pay attention, and then I like to say drive a truck through what works and keep on doing so until it stops working, and I think just like we discussed with what you asked me right before this is I think some of this is just gonna shift a little bit because a lot of different generations now are starting to recognize more the value of a phone call, the value of connecting with someone.
Like my business partner, John Andrews has always driven this home to me. He desperately seeks voice connection and he makes a habit of connecting with people regularly.He’s doing it a little differently now because he’s not driving. but what he’s done for years is that he has always driven to work. When I first started working with him, our company, collectivized, was based in Bentonville, Arkansas, so very different from the city environment now Photofy is based in Raleigh. So, John used to always drive to work every morning. When he drove to work and when he drove home later, he’d call people every day, you know? And the first words out of his mouth were ‘Hey, good morning. What is there that I can do for you today.’ Sometimes, people would have time to talk other times they wouldn’t.
But he connects with people in a very human way. And although, I talk about ‘return on relationship’ to connecting with people, I like a lot of people but I had a little resistance to the phone. You get caught on it, you have to be on it too long. I don’t love talking about for a long period of time, although I do recognize how you can get things much more efficiently done. But John’s always driven me and influenced me to pick up the phone and call people like that. And I think that a lot of people now again with what’s happening and with separation people are having with social distancing.
They’re seeing that value. I believe Gen Zs and millennials. Are seeing it too. So I think that’s gonna be a big thing and then incredibly important, which I think so many companies don’t do with whatever demographic they’re trying to approach. and I like to say we need to move from a world of targeting to matchmaking because targeting is having a target and hitting something and moving on and nobody likes to be the target of something. Matchmaking is bringing things together that work and asking them. I can’t tell you how many times over the years I’ve been in big marketing meetings, mostly ad agencies, where they’re talking about selling to a group that isn’t even present in the room and then there’s people who consider themselves the experts, saying, “Oh, you know, I wouldn’t buy that”. I can’t say how many times I’ve been in a room with a 45 year old man talking about things that nobody would buy when we’re trying to sell it to 25 year old women. Why aren’t there 25 year old women from Middle America who are your target demographic? Why are they not in the room? Because you’re thinking of it as a target instead of a match. When you’re thinking about matching one opinion, you want to know how they feel. So when it comes to millennials and Gen. Z and how things are gonna change and how do you craft the strategy? Ask them.
Absolutely. That is indeed very insightful. I think a lot of people forget to ask questions and they just assume things and that’s where there is a big gap and the big disconnect. But you’re right. It’s about asking questions. Just ask them. That isn’t me.
I also want to say something .Don’t do it is a survey. Don’t do it as an official session in a room. Have a conversation because that’s when you get really answers. When you ask someone a part of a survey or in a focus group, it’s presented first. Well, they usually get the information in advance. They have to think about it. They think, what answer does this person want to hear? Rather than in the form of a conversation where you get information about the way people are thinking and living? I tell every group to stop worrying about who’s coming to your page and go to theirs. Start seeing what they’re talking about. Make every person in your marketing department required every morning or throughout the day to go through at least 10 pages of your customers social media presence and see what they’re talking about. See the remarks they’re making when they’re not necessarily answering your question or conversing with you. There is so much information out there that you can get in its natural environment where you’re seeing really how people think, that everybody is overlooking
Aishwarya: Absolutely, You know, I love how you bring that up. It’s about conversing and not really saying what the other person wants to hear because you’re just not being genuine. I love that.Thank you so much for that. Lastly, any advice that you’d like to leave to our viewers with.
Ted: Well, clearly you’ve been following me because you know that I love sound bites. And I do have a lot of things that I think are important and things I’d love for people to take away. The first one that’s very relevant to a lot of what we talked about here and again, especially in this environment, because I think brands are so busy worrying about what they’re going to sell right now that so many are insulting people. Don’t try to sell me a car, where am I driving? I’m being told to stay home. Don’t solicit me to come into your medical practice when you should be saying to me, ‘stay home, you shouldn’t be here unless you have an essential service that’s needed.’ So I’d like to say that a brand is what a business or a person does. A reputation is what people remember and share. Please take this to heart, just like I was talking about when my dad used to have me do things for the neighbors. Or we would drive through the neighborhood and there would be garbage cans on the street. We didn’t know anybody there but he’d get out of the car and put those garbage cans back where they should be. And I remember asking, “Why are you doing that?” He says, “cause it’s the right thing to do. And wouldn’t you want someone to do that for us?” And of course, as soon as I was old enough, I was the one that had to get out of the car and move them.
But it taught me a valuable lesson. He’d say to me, “This is how people come to know who you are and what’s important to you and then something else that wraps into that is that a network as you reach what a community gives you power. So, you know, we all talk about networking, and for years I considered myself a networker. Everywhere I went, I met people. I reached out. I built relationships, but what I learned over time where my real strength came from and somebody said this to me, “You’re not just a networker, you’re a community builder. All my friends know each other. I remember when Google had circles and there you had all these different communities that were part of it but some of them overlapped. I bring people together, and it’s important for other people and businesses to do that too.
But you’ll learn that when you build a community and you support that community, that that gives you power. I like to say that networks connect but communities care and then again leading into my favorite line, ‘our relationships are like muscle tissue. The more you engage them, the stronger and more valuable they become.’ Exercise those relationship muscles. Now is the perfect time. Everybody has a little extra time on their hands. Use that time to reach out, to engage, to let people know you care, to say to people, “What can I do to support you today?” And then most importantly, to wrap this all up and you can see it right here is : be good to people. It makes a difference. It will, especially now, and it always well and again. It leads into that relationship building communities and what your reputation is within those communities.
I think that hit home, Ted. That was wonderful and I think people would really, really benefit out of what you said. It’s about engaging. It’s about communities and not just about networking. It’s just beautiful how you put it. It was really, really wonderful. It was a pleasure talking to you, Ted. I really appreciate your time and sharing your views with us. It’s really been a learning experience for me personally and surely would be for our viewers. Thank you so much.
Well, thank you. I have to say that I do this somewhat frequently and you are very skilled. You do a great job. You make your interviewee feel comfortable. You ask really intelligent questions and I love your commentary after each one. So thank you very much.
That means a lot to me. I will definitely stay in touch with you and I really hope to do this often. We can probably do this whenever you’re free and another time. I’d really love to have a conversation with you.
I’d love to do it again. Do remember, be good to people.
Absolutely. Thank you so much for your time, Ted.