Interview_Ryan-Foland

Influencer Interview With Top Marketing Expert, Ryan Foland

Hello Marketers! In today’s interview, we had the opportunity to speak with Ryan Foland.

Ryan is a global keynote speaker, author, and brand consultant who teaches people how to build their brand, get featured in publications, and grow their social media following. Ryan’s clients include New York Times bestselling authors, venture capitalists, and Fortune 500 executives. His book, Ditch the Act, helps executives and entrepreneurs navigate the waters of what to do, in the right order, to help them harness the power of vulnerability and authenticity to build a better, more relatable, more profitable brand.

In the following interview, Ryan Foland shares with us his journey and knowledge about marketing and technology.

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Hey Ryan, Tell Us About your Role and Journey in Marketing! What Made You Choose this Profession?

Ryan Foland

My journey as a marketer stems from my passion for communication. I never wanted to grow up and be a marketer, per se. But I always knew that I wanted to work with people and be creative, so I studied business and theater. Earning BAs in Business Economics and Dramatic Art from the University of California, Santa Barbara, I thought I was destined to be a movie and television producer. But after three Hollywood internships turned to “broketurnships”, I knew I was meant for something more. 

Out of money and feeling out of luck, I called my friends to see who was making money, and learned that a number of them were doing really well selling mortgages. So I jumped in, and learned fast. That was where I learned how to sell. In less than three years, I went from low man on the totem pole to a top sales agent, making more money than I had ever thought possible. I was so excited, and remember sharing with my parents how much money I was bringing in. They were proud of me, but encouraged me to start saving the money I was earning. I listened, but instead, thought I knew better, and started spending what I was making. I mean, what could go wrong?  

I bought a house, a rimini red Range Rover with matching 22 inch wheels, a Mercedes hardtop convertible SL500, and all kinds of other things I didn’t really need. I thought I had found my calling in sales, and got comfortable. That is, until the market crashed in 2008, and I found myself once again, broke and jobless. 

There were a few years where I had no choice but to take odd construction jobs, and I took out student loans to survive. But I was miserable and didn’t see how to sell my way out. It wasn’t long until I lost my house, my cars got repossessed, and my credit card debt stacked up. It was a very dark time for me, and I thought that filing for bankruptcy was my only way out. So I borrowed money from my parents to hire a bankruptcy attorney, and to keep the costs down, I decided that I would send the signed paperwork in to the government myself. I felt a sense of relief and a heavy dose of failure when I dropped the signed bankruptcy package into the mailbox. I thought all my financial woes would just disappear. 

A few weeks after I mailed the paperwork, I got my BK documents returned to me because I was thirty two cents short on my postage. Holding the returned package, it took me a moment to realize what happened. The paperwork never made it to its destination. I didn’t use enough stamps. It felt like I was being given a second chance. I was surprised, confused, and inspired all at the same time. Right there in front of my mailbox, I made a gut decision. 

I knew that I could work my way out of the hole I was in. So, I took a deep breath, tore up the application, and threw it up in the air in celebration of my second chance. (Then felt bad for littering and picked up the mess). From that day forward, I had a new drive to succeed. And I knew that entrepreneurship could be the key. 

That’s when I partnered with a friend at the time to launch a new bold company that was designed to help others in financial troubles. I learned how to market out of necessity. We built the company to twenty plus employees, a five thousand square foot office, and were managing more than $16,000,000 in business. 

All was great, until I realized that my business partner was not only stealing from the company, but was building a multi-million dollar house in Texas, under my nose, without me knowing. I was so caught up in our marketing and sales, that I missed red flags that I should have seen. I made the decision to report him to the authorities, and move out of the office in the middle of the night. That was the start to another restart of my career, and it was a dark time.

To stay afloat, I had to move fast, and joined a mobile application development company, where I was able to learn and flex my digital marketing skills. We developed the first ever anti-bully app, and one of the first apps that helped users avoid texting while driving. 

Marketing each app was a unique opportunity to create segmented marketing campaigns with multiple touch points. This experience helped me better cut my teeth on marketing projects, as we landed large clients like Del Monte Foods, and even some government contracts. With more clients and more revenue, more problems started to happen, and I soon found my working relationship there to be unhealthy. After being physically threatened by the owner, I reached my breaking point, and left the company, once again, leaving behind everything that I had built. 

These failed business ventures taught me a lot about myself. If I look back on the successes, and more importantly the failures, I think the biggest takeaway I’ve learned is being patient in finding the right business partner. 

I’m guilty of getting very excited by new opportunities, especially ones that have the potential of turning into a successful, profitable, and sustainable business. But just like a romantic relationship, when you are starting with a new business partner, people are usually on their best behavior during the courtship and honeymoon phases. What I have learned, and I can’t stress enough to fellow entrepreneurs, is the importance of really getting to know a potential partner before you start a new venture.

The thread of my successes came from my entrepreneurial mindset and passion for solving problems. So the next part of my journey was launching the first ever undergraduate entrepreneurship program at the University of California, Irvine (UCI). Since the UCI mascot is an anteater, we called the new center the ANTrepreneur Center. The timing could not have been better. And I landed a dream role, teaching college students to become entrepreneurs. 

Marketing this new program on campus allowed me to take all I had learned, and I created a lot of buzz on campus. Using a comprehensive online and offline marketing strategy to market to students, the ANTrepreneur Center became well known on campus, and the program became so successful, university leadership offered me a new position that put me in charge of 20 other campus programs. 

It was during this time that I realized that marketing is just as important for an individual as it is for a company. I was fascinated with the idea of personal branding, and started to dive deeper into what it meant, and how I could start to market myself, both inside and outside of the university. This was also the time that I started to become passionate about becoming a professional speaker. I researched, and learned what it took to build out my public profile, and got more interested in how to leverage social media platforms. I was good at marketing products and services, but I had never really tried to market myself. It was an exciting new angle of marketing, and I dove in head first. 

I wrote fifty blogs over the summer, got active on social media, and applied to all sorts of speaking engagements. But I got a dose of reality when no one read my blogs, no one followed me online, and no one wanted to hire me as a speaker. 

I was used to my ‘brand’ always being tied to my business ventures. This is a cycle that many entrepreneurs get stuck in, “hiding” behind their companies. I learned that creating content alone won’t build relationships or trust. And at the end of the day, marketing is about building trust.

It wasn’t until I started to share both good and not so good life events that I was able to really connect with people. Because at the end of the day, if you are not open with others, then they are not able to relate to you. And if they can not relate, then they have no reason to invest their time in your content. This is when I learned the marketing insight that people don’t really care about your story of success. Instead, they care about how they see themselves in your story.

This period of time is where I realized that the best way to market myself was being vulnerable and letting people get to know the real me, shortcomings and all. This is the basis for my book, Ditch The Act. When you share both good and not so good things, then people will see that you have something in common: you are both human!

And when you can humanize yourself as a leader of your company, you in turn humanize your corporate brand. This creates relatability, which can ultimately lead to trust. 

Using what I have learned from my journey, I have built a successful speaking and consulting business, authored an award winning book, given four TEDx talks, have been featured in almost every major publication, and have been named a top marketer, and top personal branding expert. But when I look back, there is no individual moment that made me a good marketer. Instead, it was my many failures, and the lessons learned, that have made me who I am today, and it is someone I am very proud of. My journey also shows that the profession of marketing is something that ultimately chose me.

Still at UCI, I have since been promoted to the Communications Manager for the Office of the Vice Provost for Teaching and Learning. My responsibilities increased drastically, now overseeing 300 employees, 20 undergraduate units, and three main divisions. And my experience in building a respected personal brand has also given me the opportunity to work with academic leaders at UCI like Vice Provost, Michael Dennin, to build his personal brand. 

I also have a thriving consulting and professional speaking business, where I work with executives, give keynote speeches, and do corporate training. If you want to learn more about working with me, it is as easy as checking out my website, ryan.online.

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You’re One of the Most Influential Thought Leaders In the Marketing Industry. Tell Us, How Do You Create and Maintain a Vibrant Online Community?

Ryan Foland

First let’s look at the word influence. There are many definitions, but there is one in particular that I like. I see influence as the art of persuasion, where two things occur: 1. You fundamentally change the way people think, and 2. You inspire them to take action. 

This definition helps to guide me in growing and maintaining my influence, and allows me to have a framework in building and maintaining my growing online communities. To do this, you first have to define your personal brand, be solid in your core messaging, and really understand the problem that you solve. When you do these things at the start, it helps you focus your content, and helps people easily identify if they want to follow you, engage with your posts, and ultimately consume your content.  

Just like the analogy of putting on your oxygen mask first, you need to develop your personal brand first, then build a community around your mission, vision, values, and goals. And to do this, you must have a consistent amount of content that inspires people to take action. 

My passion for marketing is helping people learn how to market themselves. Some call it personal branding, but let’s just think of it as marketing yourself. So naturally, my content is focused on this topic. This core topic has helped me to decide the type of content that I create. I write on personal branding, I have a podcast for professional speakers, and a podcast to help people and companies tease out their core messaging

My advice for people who, or companies that want to build online communities, is to define the problem that you want to solve, and work your way backwards. 

The problem I solve is that if your business is not relatable, people won’t get to know, like, or trust you.

My solution is teaching executives, leadership teams, and front line employees how to be more human, and thus more relatable. 

I think most companies have it wrong when they only focus on marketing their products and services and forget to market the people involved with the company. The companies of the future will encourage their teams (at all levels) to begin discovering and growing their own personal brands. This can be as simple as employees feeling empowered to share their expertise, insights, stories of failure, and lessons learned. When you do this, you start to humanize your corporate brand. Doing so will ultimately make your business more relatable. When you are more relatable, people will get to know you, which can lead to trust, and ultimately brand loyalty. 

The reality that I see us moving towards is that people want to do business with people, not businesses. 

Personal brands put the personality into your products and services. 

And growing online communities is all about being the real you, and relating to others who share the same mission, vision, values, and goals. 

To maintain your community, it can be as simple as being consistent with content. 

I know many people who want to build communities and grow their following online, and then wonder why it never works. Most of the time it is because they simply stop creating content. It is not easy to post regularly. Life gets in the way. Also, you have to understand that building a community takes years. 

Yes, years. 

In a world where there is a growth hack for everything, you may not want to hear this. But it is true. It has taken me over five years to build my online communities, and I know that if I stop showing up, stop drawing stick figures, and stop writing, that community will fall apart. 

So start small, and stay focused. 

Not everyone will want to join your community, and that is okay. Your community should not be for anyone and everyone. If you first focus on what your personal brand is, then you can build your content around your expertise. If you double down on your niche, and invest in creating high value content for your followers, overtime, that community will grow. 

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You Are the Author Of the Book “Ditch the Act”. Tell Us Something About Your Book

Ryan Foland

Ditch the Act is more than a book. It is a new type of lifestyle, that gives you permission to be human. Over the three year process of selling the book concept to McGraw-Hill and actually writing it, I’ve had the opportunity to deep dive into the concepts of the book – to be more human and not be afraid to be vulnerable. 

It’s not easy, but it’s the one thing that you must do to be successful in today’s world.

Being vulnerable is something I continue to work toward on a daily basis; but while I was writing the book, I really learned to explore and listen to my feelings and emotions. I became more connected with myself, which actualized my working relationship with my co-author and ex-business partner, Leonard Kim.

Leonard taught me a lot about how to push past my comfort zones to connect with others. But like starting a business, writing a book is intense and in this case revealed major weaknesses in our working relationship. Through really living what we were writing, I was able to identify that I was not happy with the direction our partnership had taken. The negatives overshadowed the positives and I could not move forward if I was not honoring the principles of the book – so I chose to leave the company we built. 

I learned not to be afraid of making tough decisions because at the end of the day I needed to honor my feelings. And yes, that made me more vulnerable. I was concerned about the optics. I was concerned about how we would sell a book when our partnership did not work out. I still get anxious about promoting the book because of choices that he has made since I left the company. But the reality is that I practice what I speak and write on, and that is honoring the good, the not-so-good and what makes me human – and I’ve learned and continue to be reminded that we are all just human. 

If you want a roadmap to being yourself, you can get the book on Audible or on Amazon.

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In Your Vast Experience, What’s The Secret Sauce in Marketing and Branding That Has Always Worked For You?

Ryan Foland

If I had to boil it all down to one single, simple, piece of advice, I would say that the secret sauce is in reading the room. In my experiences, great marketers have a great grasp of three things. 

  1. The problem they solve
  2. Their solution
  3. Their target audience 

These three elements are the core to my 3-1-3® Method, that I believe holds the key to understanding your core messaging. And when you can nail down your core messaging, it enables you to truly read the room. 

In my experience, I have found that people don’t care what I do. Instead they care about the problem I solve. Additionally, they seem to really care if they, or someone they know has the particular problem that I solve. 

The reality is that every day, half a million new websites are created. Hundreds of hours of video are uploaded to YouTube each minute. Thousands of tweets are tweeted each second, and there are over 850,000 active podcasts and over 30 million podcast episodes. 

So how do you stand out in all the noise? 

You have to know how to read the room. 

What I find, time and time again, when working with clients, is that many people are doing the right things, in the wrong order. 

And what should be at the top of your list is clearly understanding how to communicate what you do, in a way that is compelling to people who have the problem that you solve. 

No one has time to consume content that does not serve them. So find out what they need, and then serve them.

A great marketer knows that consumers are selfish. Consumers are interested in content and solutions that serve to solve their problems. It is a simple equation that is too often overlooked. 

On one of my podcasts, The 3-1-3 Challenge, I take people through my process of discovery, and truly challenge them to answer simple, yet not easy to answer questions. 

  1. What is the problem you solve?
  2. What is your solution?
  3. Who is your target audience?

Even the most experienced guests stumble through their answers. I truly believe that once you clarify and lock down the answers to these three questions, it will act as a compass for your social media strategy, ad campaigns, website, blog content, and overall brand.

The secret sauce is knowing what your ideal customers want, and you can discover that by reading the room, listening to what they want, and giving them what they need.

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What Are the Biggest Marketing Trends to Prepare For in the Next Couple of Years?

Ryan Foland

With the globe struggling with COVID-19, we have to accept that the world we use to market in, has fundamentally changed. Though we might find ourselves in a new normal, it will be new. In order to be prepared for how to market in this new normal, I suggest the following. 

Continue marketing

As HBR points out, “On average, increases in marketing spending during a recession have boosted financial performance throughout the year following the recession.” You need to let your customers know that you are not going away. Be careful to make sure your marketing is not tone deaf to what is happening in the world, but don’t be afraid to stay visible. 

Be cautious of too much self-promotion

In an era of dealing with a pandemic, and civil unrest about civil rights, it is important that you put your self promotion in check. Try to find ways to relate your content to what is happening in the world. Revisit your content and consider leveraging your platforms to help participate in national and global conversations. 

Don’t only focus on crisis-related content

It is okay to write about, tweet about, and talk about things other than the pandemic and civil unrest. But the balance needs to be right, and you need to make sure you are not tone-deaf to the world. Light-hearted content, or slices of life, is still valuable content. Use some of your influence to inspire others beyond what we see on the news each day.

Real time marketing

If I am bombarded by you trying to get me to “subscribe now!” it might turn me off. Now is a time to double-check and evaluate your content calendar for the rest of the year. If you have an article or video that you planned on sharing that does not seem to be relevant right now, then consider putting a pause on publishing them. 

Help how you can through action

There are many opinions that are circulating, and many leaders are taking to social media to share their thoughts. We need people with influence to help inspire others. Thinking of creative ways to tap into the larger conversations can help to get organic exposure to your personal and corporate brand. Be careful though, as right now, just saying you support a cause might not be enough. We live in a world where actions speak larger than retweets. So don’t just say you support, show you support. Your customers are likely watching how you and your company get involved. Let your actions show them how much you care. 

Let’s discuss more about your marketing needs!

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