What was your vision when you started off in the digital marketing world?
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, I was fortunate enough to see what was coming. Truth be told I can’t really take the credit for outright foresight. It’s more like an extension of what I’ve been doing all my life; listening to others and taking a cue from people I respect or who have something to say that resonates with me. In this case it was Seth Godin, who was interviewed in 1997 about his start-up Yoyodyne. He had been writing about how things were changing, and the way people were connecting, and I was fascinated by it. I was researching the burgeoning online and digital world in my time after work (I was married and co-parenting two young daughters at the time) and reading everything I could. At the end of the interview he was asked if he had any job openings at the company. He responded that there were no specific openings at the time, but that he was always looking for two things: 1) building his company by hiring smart people (no matter what they did in the past), and 2) hiring people that can sell something no one’s ever sold before.
For me that’s when the bells went off. Even though online direct marketing was brand new, and there were no jobs for it yet, I felt as though I was meant for this. So, immediately I typed a cover letter, attached it to my resume and mailed it… the two most important things I opened the letter with were… I am “smart” and “I can sell anything.” And two weeks later I got a call, and shortly thereafter, a job at Yoyodyne. I relocated to New York (ahead of my family), and I was incredibly fortunate to be able to learn first-hand from Seth. He had this brilliance about him, and every morning he would hold forth on a new idea. Luckily I was living with my in-laws at the time and desperate to get out of the house before they awoke every morning so I was in the office very early like Seth, AND I was smart enough to keep my mouth shut and just listen and absorb. When he came up with the term “Permission Marketing,” and was writing the article for Fast Company that would become the predecessor to his first best-selling book, I was lucky enough to be there engaging with him on it. That’s where the beginnings of my thinking around “Return on Relationship” started—sitting across from Seth and having these conversations.
What is your Return on Relationship philosophy?
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.
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. Fight it 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.
With the recent outbreak of the Coronavirus, will our way of life and work change once we come out of the crisis? Will it make digital marketing more relevant in the mix?
I believe people and companies are now being forced to experience changes many have been resisting for a long time: remote work, truly maintaining relationships from afar, and the lack of need for many offices. I believe many of these changes will now take hold and dramatically change the way we work and interact going forward. I do not believe it will necessarily make digital marketing more relevant. However, I believe it will definitely make digital tools more relevant and much more important, and dramatically increase the pace of their adoption rate, now and after this crisis passes.
So many people are using Zoom to connect for meetings, and teachers are using it—my brother, who is a professor at Boston University and hasn’t taught a remote class in his life. At first he was afraid of it—afraid he wouldn’t be able to connect with his students, that they wouldn’t feel they were a part of the process. But he’s finding out that in some ways, he’s getting better engagement from some if his students who feel more comfortable engaging from a distance. I think we’re not only learning that we can save money or do things differently with these new technologies… in some ways, we can do things better. And I think, even when he eventually goes back to teaching at the university, he’ll probably hold remote classes at least once a month, because he feels that some students interact and engage digitally online who did not interact and engage when they were face-to-face in the classroom.
I can also tell you our intention at Photofy is to let our office go as soon as the lease expires, and perhaps sooner by simply not using it. We’ve not only found no need, but that we work more effectively, and the team has gotten closer without.
There are a lot of start-ups struggling to establish a brand name. What tips would you give them to help achieve their goals through social media marketing?
Just Do it. Get out there, share content and experiences, engage, interact, and tell people who you are via what you publish and by engaging with the content of others. With brands in particular, it’s all about what they push out: their content—their branding—their marketing and lead generation. Their content producers know how to write the brand’s message, but they should really be tasked with engaging with the brand’s customers. Engage with customer content and engage with the competition’s content. Publishing isn’t just about your own content anymore, it’s also how you engage with the content of others. Here’s a little secret about me—the majority of my own content isn’t from me coming up with ideas. It comes from me reading what other people are posting and reacting to it, whether it’s a positive reaction or an alternative view. This is especially important for personal branding and small business branding. Start looking at what your competition is writing—look at what your neighbors and other people in your business community are writing. Start communicating and engaging with them with your content in ways that matter. Now more than ever, people want to know who you are.
At Photofy we have taken the lead by trying to provide easy-to-use tools for personalizing and branding content, so even when that content is shared by others, people who see it know the source.
So start thinking about “telling your story in a way that people will care” about what you’re sharing. And not just thinking about it but experimenting in different ways–watching and reacting to what works and what does not.
Explain the term “The Future of Work.” Given the current scenario, have we already moved to the future?
There will be so many futures that it is important to understand which future we are referring to. I believe, like we discussed a bit earlier, that what was the more distant future has been now expedited dramatically. I believe a great deal of offices, as soon as the leases expire, will go away. I can attest to the fact that at Photofy we will most definitely move to a fully remote workforce after this is all said and done. Who needs an office when we have discovered we can not only work effectively without one, but that many of us are actually accomplishing more, not less? I’ve been talking to people all across the country, and it’s amazing how many are tremendously surprised at how effective people can be without being watched over—without being next to each other. Without having to spend the time commuting and moving in and around office for too many meeting, that last way too long. People have thought for a long time that there are too many distractions at home, which makes working remotely less efficient. But this experience is changing that outlook. Just think about the commuting time that’s saved. In our business, we’re also engaging better and listening better to each other. We’re getting more done than we did when we had an office, so I think you’re going to see a lot more of that. I also think you’re going to see companies using more tools like Zoom, and that the telephone is going to have a resurgence—picking up the phone and hearing somebody’s voice. Every cell phone on the planet gives the user the ability to dial numbers and speak to someone voice-to-voice. You don’t have to use emoticons to express emotion! You can laugh, you can shout, you can whisper, you can cry. People are calling more because they’re seeking that connection. And in many instances you can get more done in a phone call than you can with 20 emails going back and forth between people. There are some people, like many millennials or Gen-Zs who don’t like to use the phone. They would rather text. But even that is changing. More and more of them are re-discovering the value of the phone call to connect. I think that and other tools are going to change the landscape for a lot of us. It’s not about innovation, but about adoption right now.
How do you think the engagement of millennials and Gen-Z workforce on social media platforms are changing with time? How do you craft a strategy for digital media across generations?
Truth be told I cannot say this is something I know a lot about… other than to say I believe we all are human and crave the same things. A lot has been made of different generations, but for the most part I believe it is more about environment than genetics and that it is about what we experience. Later generations grew up with tools older generations didn’t have access to. Like I have said before, try different things, experiment and pay attention, and then drive a truck through what works… and keep on doing so until it stops working.
When you’re thinking about marketing in digital media (and this is incredibly important), ask questions of your target (“matched”) market. You really should be in the matchmaking mode rather than the targeting mode, especially when you’re trying to develop relationships with people. I can’t tell you how many times over the years I’ve been in big marketing meetings (mostly with ad agencies), where they’re talking about selling to a group that isn’t in the room. A room full of 40-year-old men talking about whether they would or wouldn’t buy something, when they’re trying to sell it to 25-year-old women. Why are there no 25-year-old women from Middle America—your “target” demographic—in the room? Why aren’t you asking THEM? So when you’re talking about developing a marketing strategy for millennials and Gen-Zs… ASK THEM. And don’t do it as a survey. Don’t do it as an official session in a room, have a conversation… because that’s when you get real answers.
I tell every group: stop worrying about who’s coming to your page. Go to theirs! Start seeing what they’re talking about. Require every person in your marketing department to go to the social media pages of at least 10 of your customers every day and see what they’re talking about. See the remarks they make when they’re not necessarily answering your questions or conversing with you directly. There is so much information out there that you can get in its natural environment—where you can see how people really think—that everybody is overlooking.
What key things do you think people should be thinking about right now?
One thing that’s relevant to a lot of what we’ve talked about here (especially in this environment) is: A brand is what a business, or a person does; a reputation is what people remember and share. Brands are so busy trying to sell people things at a time when their customers have other things to think about. It’s insulting to the customer. Please take this to heart.
Something that wraps into that is: A network gives you reach; a community gives you power! For years we’ve talked about networking, and I’ve always considered myself a networker. Everywhere I went I met people, I reached out, I built relationships. But I learned over time where my real strength came from. Somebody told me once that I’m not just a networker, I’m a “community builder.” I bring people together and all my friends know each other, people I meet becomes parts of different community circles if which I am a part. You’ll learn that when you build a community and support that community, it gives you power. Networks connect, but communities care.
And I guess my favorite sound bite is: Relationships are like muscle tissue, the more you engage them, the stronger and more valuable they become. It’s true! Exercise those relationship muscles. Now is the prefect time, when we have a little more time on our hands, to let people know you care—to say to people: “What can I do to support you today?” And most important, #BeGoodToPeople in ways you believe are important… and remember being good does not always mean being kind, being good also means standing up for others and for what you believe. It makes a difference—especially now—and it always will… because it leads to all important relationship building, community nurturing, and a reputation you can be proud of and that will carry you through difficult times.