As a part of our series about “Marketing Strategies From The Top” I had the pleasure of interviewing Brian Robben. Brian is the CEO of the digital marketing agency Robben Media. With clients across the US, Europe, and Asia, this agency uses its proven, repeatable marketing strategies to produce profit and sales growth.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, or readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
To get into Harvard Law School and improve my resume, by total chance, I started a blog in college. To get traffic and email subscribers to the blog, I learned digital marketing. Once I discovered my passion didn’t align with law school, I switched my path. I began using my digital marketing skills in ads, and social media marketing to service businesses. After signing my first marketing client from the dentist chair when he was cleaning my teeth, as they say, the rest is history.
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?
Yikes! We’ve made so many mistakes in the beginning it’s unbelievable. The worst one stands out as this. We charged $500 for our first website design project. Now keep in mind we were very young and naive, so we think we nailed this price. We’re super pumped. Then, after what seemed like a million revisions later, stuck in a never-ending runaway project, it got worse. We finally finished and had the nerve to calculate our hourly rate for this project — it came out to a few bucks an hour. That’s when we realized we screwed up big time! The lesson is to charge appropriately based on value, plus always have a systemized process for client deliverables. Otherwise, we might as well work at McDonald’s.
Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Are there takeaways or lessons that others can learn from that?
Actually, yes. Switching the meaning of rejection became the tipping point. In the beginning, as a type A high achiever, I didn’t like hearing “no”. It felt like I failed over and over again each day. But then I reframed each “no’’ from failing, to getting one step closer to my goal of a “yes”. This simple mindset switch helped me take the rejection like rain off a duck’s back and keep doing business development to generate new sales. Of course tactics matter. Though nothing is as important as mindset when you’re trying to create something from nothing.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Everyone says this, but we actually execute when we say we’re laser-focused on making our customers profitable. Other agencies get caught up in impressions, clicks, followers, and email subscribers. We make monthly and annual revenue the main scoreboard. Then we attach all our efforts to improving that. Specifically, our core services of paid ads and search engine optimization are in the direct-response advertising. We let creative agencies focus on brand guides and font types. Since most business owners we talk to want more profit ahead of anything else, this focus works for us.
One story of this is working with a real estate wholesaler in San Diego. His name is Shane, around 18 years old, never did a real estate deal before, and wanted our help to make revenue. We set up a landing page and website. Then we ran targeted Facebook ads with long-form copy calling out his ideal buyer. What do you know? An older gentleman sees the ad, fills out a form, and sells his house to Shane, who then sells it to another buyer. From our ad campaign, Shane nets $15,000 in about five hours of his own time. If we sold Shane on social media followers and logos, his end result would’ve been nowhere near as life changing as this one.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We recently finished a five lesson written search optimization course that we’re going to give away for free. It teaches people how to send a million views to their website. The training breaks down all the tactics we used for our clients and ourselves to achieve this same goal. It’s the course I wish I had when I first started learning. Check out our website as that will be launching soon.
What advice would you give to other marketers to thrive and avoid burnout?
Take a vacation. For God’s sake, you need rest if you’re going to operate at your highest mental ability. Because online marketers can literally work or study new campaigns at all hours of the day, finding time for relaxation is difficult but important. And if you’re not going to take a vacation, at least take Sundays off to recharge. The best marketers are in it for the long haul. You won’t last if you burn out too early.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Dr. David Puder was the first person to push me in the direction of marketing businesses. Not only did he confirm an idea in my head, he made sure he had skin in the game by hiring me to grow his social media following. After getting his Instagram and Twitter accounts to over 10,000 followers each, my confidence soared. Dr. Puder and I still work together to this day. I’m so thankful for his wisdom over the years and his referrals.
Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. There are hundreds of memorable marketing campaigns that have become part of the lexicon of our culture. What is your favorite marketing or branding campaign from history? Can you explain why you like that so much?
Great question. The Old Spice “Man Your Man Could Smell Like” campaign is still brilliant to this day. It has everything you’d want. It calls out its target audience of ladies from the start and gets their attention. The video goes on to share the problem that their guys smell like women. Then it offers a solution to buy Old Spice and get their men smelling like men. It’s all wrapped up in a catchy, punchy manner and is world-class advertising all the way around.
If you could break down a very successful campaign into a “blueprint”, what would that blueprint look like? Please share some stories or examples of your ideas.
The blueprint looks like: knowing the ins and outs of your target audience, discovering where they visit on the internet, running a direct-response ad to that audience, bringing them to a landing page designed for conversions, and using a risk-reversal guarantee to produce sales, consultations, or email sign ups.
Companies like Google and Facebook have totally disrupted how companies market over the past 15 years. At the same time, consumers have become more jaded and resistant to anything “salesy”. In your industry, where do you see the future of marketing going?
Personally, I love “salesly”. But you’re right in that most people hate it. The marketing trend I’m seeing is using education to persuade future sales. Since only 3% of the market is ready to buy now for any given product or service, using education in the form of videos, social media posts, PDF downloads, free courses, or email newsletters, will teach the other 97% of people who are aware or are unaware of the problem. And this education then puts a company in the authority position to cash in on sales when buyers are ready to purchase.
Can you please tell us the 5 things you wish someone told you before you started? Can you please share a story or example for each.
First, know what type of advertising you want to do. If you’re not genuinely interested in it, then it will never work for the long term. For example, I love running ads campaigns. Looking at the numbers and using the scientific theory to test different parts of a campaign to improve results is the best form of mental stimulation. But video marketing brings me no satisfaction and it’d be dumb for me to personally chase that because a client asked if my firm does it, or it’s trendy in the market right now. Choose your interests first, then a successful career will follow.
Second, be selective in the companies you choose to market. The world is huge and limitless, better to be picky instead of taking any Joe Schmo with a business who wants your help. One time we advertised a dog grooming business, before we started filtering out potential clients, and it was a nightmare. The lady answering the one was rude and had no sales ability. So, we ran Facebook ads for mobile calls and each time someone called they’d end up not taking their dog to the rude lady on the phone. The business owner was upset with the ad performance, even though our ads nailed it, they didn’t produce a solid ROI.
Third, always keep testing. It can be easy to settle into one way of marketing, especially if it’s getting you results. However, once you stop innovating, you’re on the way down as a marketer. We had a Google Ads campaign running for a law firm that performed extremely well for months. Then, just out of curiosity, I decided to switch the location targeting. In my head I thought, there’s no way this works. Then, I’m proved wrong and the new location targeting performed even better.
Fourth, nothing great is accomplished in a few years. As a young professional, or starting a new career as a marketer, the temptation is to want results immediately. That’s just not how life works. There’s a season of learning, testing and implementing, refining, improving, and then you’ll produce fruit. If you quit before you give your marketing a chance to be great, then you have no shot.
Fifth, say yes to projects even if you don’t know how to do them yet. If you’re excited by the challenge and have the will to do right by the client, you’ll find a way to deliver results (or find someone else who knows how to).
Can you share a few examples of marketing tools or marketing technology that you think can dramatically empower small business owners to become more effective marketers?
The results we’ve produced for clients has soared since using Ahrefs.com. It’s incredible for building backlinks, checking organic rankings, and publishing better content than your competitors. Another tool we love is Text Optimizer. This one analyzes your page and applies Google semantic analysis to come up with a list of missing related concepts in your copy. Between acquiring links and having dynamite content, you’ll see your rankings get a major bump up.
What books, podcasts, documentaries or other resources do you use to sharpen your marketing skils?
Easy question. Books, always and forever. Some of my favorites that involve marketing, and business, are Blue Ocean Strategy, Traction: How Any Startup Can Achieve Explosive Customer Growth, and Buy.ology: Truth and Lies About Why We Buy. Each one of those three has hidden gems that you can implement to discover crazy successful results.
Who is your hero? Can you explain or share a story about why that person resonates with you?
For marketing, David Ogilvy. He’s commitment to consumer habits allowed him to write ads that cut through the noise and told customers what they desired before they even knew they desired it. One of my favorite ads of his was for Rolls-Royce and included this beautiful prose, “At 60 miles an hour the loudest noise in the new Rolls-Royce comes from the electric clock.” Amazing!
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
Given the power of inspiring a movement, I’d start one where every individual on the planet is living their soul purpose. By soul purpose, I mean doing the exact work they were designed to do. With no accountants who wish they were firemen, and no engineers who wish they were teachers, the world would flourish. We’d get the most potential out of every soul, young and old. Political strife would be significantly reduced because each individual would be fulfilled in their work, and contributing value to the world. That’s my vision for a glorious future.
How can our readers follow you online?
Visit our company website robbenmedia.com. We’re always publishing new marketing blog posts and case studies. Check them out and steal what works.
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.