Rohit Bhargava – Founder of Influential Marketing Group

[quote style=”boxed”]When you stop being curious about the world, you stop learning. [/quote]

Rohit Bhargava is a marketing expert dedicated to bringing more humanity to business. He is the author of three bestselling marketing books (including the award-winning “Likeonomics”), CEO and founder of Influential Marketing Group, and professor of global marketing at Georgetown University.

An early social media pioneer, Rohit was a founding member of the world’s largest team of social media strategists at Ogilvy and also worked at Leo Burnett, spending more than a decade leading digital strategy for large global brands including Intel, American Express, Novartis, Pfizer, IBM, Unilever, Pepsi, and Heineken before starting his own “concierge marketing” company. His popular “Influential Marketing” blog has been read by more than 2 million professionals and was named one of the top 25 marketing blogs in the world by Ad Age. Onstage, Rohit has delivered keynotes in over 25 countries, and his highly visual presentations have been viewed and downloaded on SlideShare more than 1 million times.

What are you working on right now?

I’m recording a virtual training program for B2B companies on using digital marketing effectively, which will come out in August. It’s one of the many things I was never able to find time to do over the past decade I spent working in big global marketing agencies. I loved my time working with huge brands on exciting projects, but that chance to step back and share what you know is something that’s always far too easy to miss.

Where did the idea for Influential Marketing Group come from?

The inspiration came from my desire to offer something I didn’t see in the market between brands and agencies. One of the biggest problems facing businesses right now is the rise of silos between departments and agencies. Without collaboration, time and money is wasted and opportunities are missed. I thought I could help fix that by being an unbiased voice, and I founded my own group to do what I called “concierge marketing” — working with brand leaders on an “on-call,” one-on-one basis. I’m available 24/7 to offer unbiased advice to a small group of clients on strategy and getting partners to work together, and then I help them coordinate existing agencies. If I do my job right, clients get better work and the agencies see better results, too.

What does your typical day look like?

I’m not sure I have a typical day! It depends on whether I have a keynote presentation or workshop I’m traveling for or I’m writing or virtually presenting. I have a great mix of office time and people time, which I think is the most important thing. We all need socialization and interaction with others to maintain our sanity, but you also need some “closed-door time” to think and create. The best week for me is when I get a mix of both things.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I am a visual thinker and presenter, so I get a lot of energy from sharing ideas and interacting with other smart people about them. I don’t like to create multiple versions of something working by myself. Bringing an idea to life involves making it better, but also connecting it with the right people who can amplify it and help it travel.

A story I’m fond of sharing is one of Albert Einstein when he published his theory of relativity in an obscure German physics journal. He was an unknown patent clerk with an idea that upended an entire scientific field. And worse, it was only a theory with no real proof. Why would people believe him?

They believed him because Max Planck — a man 20 years his senior with a recognized pedigree in physics — told people Einstein could be right. He collaborated with him and opened doors for him. Einstein’s ideas wouldn’t have achieved what they did if it weren’t for Max Planck.

The best ideas are often the ones that meet with the most resistance. They survive because of those who choose to believe in them and share them with the world.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

One macro trend I’ve been watching for years that I’m really excited about now is the rise of content curation. For many years, we’ve been hearing the cliché from so-called social media experts that “everyone is a creator.” That may be true, but there is more proof than ever that not everyone is actually good at it.

As the volume of substandard content rises online, there’s a greater need for people who can help us make sense of it. Relying on Google’s magical algorithm won’t be enough.

Curation is the art of finding, grouping, organizing, or sharing the best and most relevant content on a specific issue. The most exciting thing about this is that it allows anyone with expertise or passion around a topic to share his knowledge in a way that doesn’t require him to be a great writer or video producer/editor.

What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?

The worst job I ever had was telemarketing, but it wasn’t because I was bad at it. In fact, I could have been pretty good if I’d stuck with it. But the job was to read a script, deliver it genuinely, and then close the deal by being a little pushy, but not over the top. It was a line I was able to keep, and after my first week, I was making pretty good money. But I learned that making good money was never going to be enough if it came at the expense of cleverly manipulating people.

A lot of people think what marketers and advertisers do is inherently dishonest. I don’t believe that. My career mission is to inspire better marketing. Part of that means helping brands and entrepreneurs tell their stories and sell their products without resorting to gimmicks or high-pressure sales tricks. I want to help great products and ideas succeed, and I think good marketing can do that.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

I approach the world around me with curiosity, and I think that’s one of the most important skills anyone can learn. When you stop being curious about the world, you stop learning. You stop being open-minded.

A lot of negative situations in the world, from ethnic hatred to corporate greed, trace back to this lost quality of curiosity. If we want to learn more about the word and people around us, we open ourselves up to change. Entrepreneurs embrace change and are flexible. That’s one thing I would tell every entrepreneur: never lose your curiosity about the world.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

In the span of the past eight years spent writing my marketing blog, I’ve probably given away hundreds of ideas to readers. Why? Because I think anyone in a creative role working on big challenges will always have more ideas than he’s able to execute. I’ve had ideas I thought were brilliant that clients didn’t buy for one reason or another. I started blogging to share those ideas.

For example, I shared one a few weeks ago that involved Crayola creating a subscription-based partnership program for family restaurants so they could ship out a new coloring page (and crayons) every month for restaurants to give to kids who come in. The pages could be branded by Crayola, feature marketing messages, and add a lot of value for restaurants as well. We’ve gotten the same sheet at IHOP for months; I know I would appreciate the variety!

Tell us a secret.

I leave my phone at home on purpose. As a guy who’s spent most of his career in digital marketing and done lots of work to help big brands use social media, a lot of people put me in the technophile geek category, but I love my offline time.

Often when I’m writing, I’ll shut off the computer and just use sticky notes and a Sharpie. I turn my phone off or leave it at home on weekends so I can just enjoy the moments I’m having with my family. And I do love to take notes with a pen in a Moleskine notebook, despite the fact that I type much faster than I write. The bottom line is that I believe in the power of non-digital things like writing something on a piece of paper and enjoying the company of someone in person without digital distraction.

What are your three favorite online tools and what do you love about them?

The first one on my list has to be FreshBooks, an online invoicing and financial management tool for freelancers. When I started my own company, I knew I didn’t want to spend a lot of time on boring things like invoicing and expenses. After leaving my day job at a big agency, I celebrated the fact that I would never have to do timesheets again. FreshBooks makes invoicing super easy, and I love it for that.

Another tool I have loved for years (put this in the “oldie but goodie” category) is Alltop. The site is a compilation of RSS feeds organized by topic and curated by an editorial team. If I want to learn about a new topic, it’s a wonderfully useful resource to be able to see important headlines in one place. It may be the greatest visual solution to information overload that you can find online.

Finally, I like to try to bring videos into many of my keynote presentations, and often, the videos you find on YouTube are not downloadable. A tool I’ve been using to solve this problem is KeepVid, which lets you download YouTube videos to use. It’s probably illegal, but it gets the job done and is the perfect example of the micro solutions we can find online to help with the small tasks we need to do.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

One of my favorites is “Save the Cat,” a book about screenwriting from the late Blake Snyder. He was a famous Hollywood spec writer who taught hundreds of aspiring screenwriters how to create and promote their screenplays. He was an inspiration to them, and his first book looks at storytelling in an entirely new and different way. It changed the way I thought about the power of storytelling for marketing and was a big influence as I wrote my first book back in 2008, “Personality Not Included.”

What’s on your playlist?

My playlist always includes Latin music. One my long-time favorites is the Mexican band Maná. I’ve also recently been listening to a lot of Juanes. I’m usually a fan of acoustic music and used to play drums in a few bands, so live music is something I really love and appreciate.

If you weren’t working on your efforts under Influential Marketing Group what would you be doing?

I’d probably go for a CMO job at a larger brand, trying to redefine their approach to marketing and launching new products. For the time being, it’s far more appealing to have my independence or lead a brand in a new direction. After 10 years in consulting, I’ve realized I love it as long as I have the final say in selecting which brands I work with. I have a tougher time if I’m assigned to work on something I don’t have passion for.

Three people we should follow on Twitter and why?

I’m not sure I have a shortlist of “must-follow” people on Twitter. I follow people I want to connect with. As a broad rule, I tend to follow writers, journalists, stand-up comedians, and anyone who has the ability to write well. Twitter is a great medium for one-liners and headlines, so it makes sense that the people who have the highest-quality things to share are the ones who write professionally.

When was the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?

I’d say it was the same thing that usually causes it these days: my kids. I have an 8-year-old and a 5-year-old, and yesterday, they were watching a DVD together. The younger one had to go to the bathroom and missed some of it, so when he came back, he asked his brother if he could “fast-forward it backwards” to the part he missed. Kids are an endless source of entertainment.

Who is your hero?

I look up to and learn from a lot of people. One person I deeply admire is Queen Rania of Jordan. Everything I have read and watched about her portrays an amazing woman who’s changing the world around her and empowering women in a culture that often holds them back. If I could meet one famous person in real life, she would be at the top of my list.

What eBook do you plan to write next? Tell us where the inspiration came from.

My next eBook will be a compilation of the best pieces of advice for entrepreneurs and small businesses curated from over 1,000 articles I’ve written for my blog and publications like Fast Company, Open Forum, Digital Media Wire, and others. I’ve been thinking for a long time about building a book out of the content I’ve previously shared on my blog, mainly because I think there’s a lot of great thinking I’ve written that’s still relevant but buried in the archive and not readily accessible anymore.

If you had the opportunity to spend a day as any actor’s stunt double, whom would it be and why?

I’d spend it with anyone playing James Bond. The actor and stunts don’t matter. I’d just love to be James Bond for a day.


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