Jessica Ruhfus, founder and CEO of marketing tool Collabosaurus, talks to Mark Jones about “one of the most powerful ways to reach new audiences” – collaborative marketing.
Coming from a fashion and lifestyle publicity background, Jessica Ruhfus, found herself frustrated by the number of “missed opportunities” she witnessed while coordinating media launch events.
She identified that brands could leverage the audiences of event partners more effectively and approach event collateral (promotional goody bags for instance) more creatively, in order to enhance the overall brand experience for customers.
Turning these missed opportunities into a business, Jessica founded Collabosaurus – an online matchmaking platform for brands looking to collaborate with other brands.
“Facebook advertising and other tools are getting more expensive, and more and more saturated. Businesses are looking for ways to engage audiences, differentiate themselves and grow their networks,” Jessica says.
“[Collaborative marketing is] one of the most powerful ways to reach new audiences. When two businesses come together and collaborate on something, whether that be a product or an event or a social media campaign, they’re essentially doubling their reach in the process.”
Collabosaurus’ digital brand presence in its own right makes for an interesting case study into how to get social right, with the Sydney-based start-up boasting an impressive 27,600+ followers on Instagram alone. Jessica notes that Instagram is also the source of approximately 65% of Collabosaurus’ sales.
Jessica recommends that the most valuable investment you can make in Instagram is in the people behind the content creation, as authentic and relatable storytellers drive engagement. Getting the ratio of non-promotional content to calls-to-action right is also paramount.
“I have spoken to many Instagram experts about this, and they do say typically it should be three gives to one ask. You should be giving value for three posts in every four, and then you can ask,” Jessica says.
Tune in to this week’s episode of The CMO Show to listen to Jessica and Mark discuss the ins and outs of collaboration marketing and what it looks like when it’s done right.
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Host: Mark Jones
Guest: Jessica Ruhfus
Mark Jones: You know, I think we’ve all had those days in university where you’re working on a project together, and not everybody’s done the same amount of work. What does it take to succeed in teams? Also known as collaboration. Henry Ford famously said, “Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.”
Mark Jones: What does it take to make a successful collaboration?
Mark Jones: Hey, thanks for joining us. My name is Mark Jones and this is The CMO Show. Today we’re talking about collaborative marketing, and my guest is Jessica Ruhfus. She’s founder and CEO at Collabosaurus, which by the way, is a fantastic name; Australian startup doing really big things, not just here in Australia, but on the global scale.
Mark Jones: And we brought her in because we wanted to talk about collaboration marketing. It’s an idea that’s been around for quite a while and been used in different contexts and different industries to varying degrees of success. But of course, what’s happening now is it’s gone digital, and it’s gone social. And Collabosaurus, of course, is big on Instagram. There’s lots of things to learn today about how to get social right.
Mark Jones: What is collaboration marketing? And what are the best ways to make it succeed? Let’s hear from Jessica Ruhfus.
Mark Jones: Our guest today is Jessica Ruhfus, founder and CEO at Collabosaurus. Thank you so much for joining us.
Jessica Ruhfus: Thanks for having me!
Mark Jones: The very first question has to be the name. I’m a big fan of contractions, right? So, collaboration, and I’ve got to presume, some kind of dinosaur. What’s the story?
Jessica Ruhfus: Well, the story is, it’s actually a bit of a joke name that ended up sticking. It started out as Collabosaurus Rex. And it came from Supercalifragilistic-Collabosaurus-docious. I was running around in the office trying to come up with a creative name, and then couldn’t come up with anything better. And we dropped the Rex, and it’s Collabosaurus. And I think after the fact, we’ve realised that saurus and thesaurus, it’s like synonyms and similar brands.
Mark Jones: Ah.
Jessica Ruhfus: I mean, that was an afterthought, yeah.
Mark Jones: Right. It’s clever in hindsight.
Jessica Ruhfus: Yeah, totally.
Mark Jones: Okay, well, I love that. Collaboration marketing. Is that a thing?
Jessica Ruhfus: It is a thing.
Mark Jones: Now, why is it a thing?
Jessica Ruhfus: Oh, gosh. It’s one of the most powerful ways to reach new audiences.
Jessica Ruhfus: Essentially, when two businesses come together and collaborate on something, whether that be a product or an event or a social media campaign, and they’re essentially doubling their reach in the process, because a brand has more than just an Instagram account. They have email lists, event audiences, multiple social media accounts, as well as business assets they can leverage. Teaming up with a complementary business is just incredibly powerful.
Mark Jones: Okay, two CMO’s becoming friends and sharing their budgets.
Jessica Ruhfus: Not only budgets. It can also just be assets as well, and audiences, leveraging existing communities.
Mark Jones: Okay. I, way back in the day, come from a technology channel, media background, so in the trade press looking at the computer channel. And you may or may not know much about this, but ostensibly, you’ve got a supplier of technology, they use a distributor, then they’ve got a reseller, and ultimately gets to the customer.
Mark Jones: In those environments, there’s a lot of collaboration that goes on in terms of who’s selling this product, how does it get to market? It can get very complicated. That’s, if you like, a form of collaboration. Is that the kind of thing? Or, you probably mean something different, don’t you?
Jessica Ruhfus: Oh my gosh, there’s so many different definitions and I think everyone uses it very differently. I mean, there’s influencer collaborations, and then internal collaborations with different stakeholders within the company. But there’s also what we use it as, like in our context, it’s really collaboration between two complementary businesses for promotional partnerships. It’s essentially a new way of looking at strategic partnerships.
Mark Jones: Got a great example for us?
Jessica Ruhfus: Yeah! Gelato Messina have just done one with Drumstick, and they’re all in the supermarkets at the moment.
Mark Jones: Okay. Sorry, a Gelato Messina Drumstick? Is that what it is, or … ?
Jessica Ruhfus: It’s a Gelato Messina-inspired drumstick.
Mark Jones: Yeah.
Jessica Ruhfus: They collaborated on a limited edition series of flavours.
Mark Jones: Okay.
Jessica Ruhfus: There’s also ones like Chandon and Seafolly. Chandon have released, every year, for summer, a limited edition sparkling wine that features the Hero swimwear print from Seafolly’s range.
Mark Jones: Okay.
Jessica Ruhfus: Yeah, it can be products like that, or it can be event collaborations. Businesses collaborating with venue spaces, to leverage networks that way. Or there’s social media collaboration, as well, which can be content. Collaborating with photographers and videographers to produce content. Or, there’s things like social media competition and giveaway collaborations, which, if you’re running a competition on your own as a business, you’re kind of limited to your organic audience, and whatever paid rates you can get. If you collaborate with another brand, you’re essentially doubling your organic reach capability.
Mark Jones: Right. Presumably, as you say, there’s a cost efficiency or a scale model that … but what else drives people to do this? What’s the … ‘Cause it’s, also, can be, I imagine quite complicated.
Jessica Ruhfus: It can be complicated. I don’t think it has to be. I think at its core, it’s really about tapping into new target markets and growing your network as a bit of a byproduct.
Jessica Ruhfus: Typically, what we find with Collabosaurus, people will come on board to our platform, and they’re looking for opportunities to reach new people, new potential customers through collaboration. However that might look. And I think collaboration can be super unique to the partner that you end up collaborating with. You know, it can be very different if you collaborate a fashion and beauty brand, with a fashion and a food brand. That can look super, super different.
Jessica Ruhfus: So people come to collaboration marketing for a multitude of reasons, but at its core, it’s really about reaching new potential customers.
Mark Jones: Right. Well, I wasn’t going to ask you this sort of Dorothy Dixer about what do you do, but clearly you’ve got a software platform that lets people-
Jessica Ruhfus: And obsession with collaboration markets.
Mark Jones: Do this right. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Where do you fit in sort of the scheme of things? Is this an idea that you’ve pioneered, or you just sort of latched into something you saw in the market space?
Jessica Ruhfus: My background was fashion and lifestyle publicity. I used to pull together media launch events for fashion clients all the time, and really saw opportunities getting missed when it came to collaborating on goody bag inclusions, and making them really valuable. Or catering partners, and really looping them in and making that exciting and engaging as part of a brand experience.
Jessica Ruhfus: Pulling them together, what we typically used to do was look at Social Diary, which is essentially-
Mark Jones: Yes, we know it.
Jessica Ruhfus: Yeah, like a newsletter platform. Right place, right time. Or scramble our existing PR friends’ contacts and be like, “Who has free coconut water?” Or, “Who has free … ” Whatever.
Mark Jones: Yep. Give me an event space.
Jessica Ruhfus: Yeah, exactly. And it wasn’t leveraged very well, and it was a bit of a nightmare to pull together. Collabosaurus kind of was born out of that, and making that whole process a hell of a lot easier, and opening up opportunities all over the world. What Collabosaurus is, is an end-to-end platform that connects brands for promotional partnerships.
Mark Jones: Right. Tell me about Instagram. It’s so hot right now.
Jessica Ruhfus: It’s so hot right now.
Mark Jones: But aside from that, you seem to have a very shiny Instagram page.
Jessica Ruhfus: Thank you.
Mark Jones: And I mean that in the best possible way. Tell us about how to make that work.
Jessica Ruhfus: Oh, wow. Instagram is really interesting.
Jessica Ruhfus: We actually say about 65% of our sales come from Instagram as either a first, second, third touch point for potential customers. We really put a lot of time and effort into curating Instagram, and engaging on Instagram, and we’ve been building that for about four years now. I think it’s a very different game now than it was four years ago.
Mark Jones: Why’s that?
Jessica Ruhfus: When I started, uh, the Collabosaurus Instagram account, very few software companies were doing anything even remotely cool on Instagram. We had an advantage from the get-go building a brand there early. But honestly, I mean, what I used to do, I used to spend two hours a day sourcing people on Instagram, commenting on their stuff, finding people on hashtags. I’d even like hack the hashtag. I was a super early startup, did not have the budget to be going along to every business event. But I’d find the business event hashtag and then comment on everyone’s stuff who have attended and was like, “It was so great to meet you,” you know. And we kicked off so many relationships that way.
Jessica Ruhfus: I think the key to succeeding on Instagram, I suppose, is actually treating it as an extension to real life, but engaging on the platform. I think so many brands just post, and sit back and wonder why they’re not growing or seeing leads come through on Instagram, and it’s because it should be a two-way conversation with customers.
Mark Jones: Yeah. Yeah, I mean, obviously, that’s a 101 in social, right, is that you don’t want to be treating it as a publishing platform alone. Right? Unfortunately, the legacy mentality that comes through from EDM’s and other forms of publishing is, it’s one way, right? I’m done. I’ve sent it out.
Jessica Ruhfus: Sell, sell, sell.
Mark Jones: Right? And why didn’t they come back? It’s like, well.
Jessica Ruhfus: Yeah.
Mark Jones: People actually want to talk to you, right?
Jessica Ruhfus: And there’s just such a saturation of information out there. If your social media platforms aren’t providing value in a really engaging way, people aren’t going to stick around.
Mark Jones: What does value look like in this context?
Jessica Ruhfus: I think the businesses, I mean it’s going to be very different from business to business, but for Collabosaurus, providing marketing tips, and behind-the-scenes information on our team and stuff like that, can really build relationships. It’s valuable because people are interested in making connections and participating in that story and being part of it, I suppose, rather than just … I mean, if I posted every day about, “Sign up to Collabosaurus, and here’s why we’re so great,” that’s just not gonna fly.
Mark Jones: No, no, right. Do you have a rule of thumb? I mean, where are we at on the percentage of mix of content versus promo?
Jessica Ruhfus: That’s a good question. I actually run that a lot off gut feel, but I have spoken to many Instagram experts about this, and they do say typically it should be three gives to one ask.
Mark Jones: Okay.
Jessica Ruhfus: You should be giving value for three posts in every four and then you can ask.
Mark Jones: It’s interesting when you look at a lot of consumer, FMCG brands, it’s kind of the other way, generally speaking. Right?
Jessica Ruhfus: Mm-hmm.
Mark Jones: Why do you think that is? Why, in this … ’cause I think it’s a relevant point to collaborating. It would observationally seem to be that we’re actually still stuck in a sell mentality with social. And why do you think that is?
Jessica Ruhfus: I think to drive engagement on social, because it requires so much actual time investment of someone sitting there, and outwardly engaging with people rather than just posting.
Mark Jones: Yep.
Jessica Ruhfus: That requires a person to basically take on the brand personality, and run with that. And that’s pretty hard to do.
Mark Jones: Yeah.
Jessica Ruhfus: In terms of finding a big, big brand, putting a person in charge of that, and it’s like, “Go talk to people. Go outwardly talk to people rather than just responding to comments or posts.” It’s very easy in a-
Mark Jones: Well, ’cause you’re delegating it, right? I mean-
Jessica Ruhfus: Exactly.
Mark Jones: Okay for you to do it because you’re the founder and you can personify the brand, but to actually empower somebody, and generally speaking, it’s the younger people, career-wise, right?
Jessica Ruhfus: Yeah.
Mark Jones: So, it’s risky.
Jessica Ruhfus: Yeah. And there’s so many … I think the higher up you go in corporate, there’s so many more brand guidelines that they’re super strict on following, to the point where it becomes petrifying.
Mark Jones: Yep.
Jessica Ruhfus: Posting and also communicating on behalf of a brand’s persona. But I think that’s why micro-influencers and stuff are so powerful, it’s because it’s the individual that has absolutely taken on that personal brand, or small businesses who can absolutely personify their brands in themselves.
Mark Jones: How are costs for brands changing in that context? The expense of doing social, is it still the people cost, or is it assets? ‘Cause I’m seeing a lot of video, and handheld selfie videos, fine. But if you want to get this kind of well-curated, clever stuff, you’ve got to put a bit of money into it.
Jessica Ruhfus: You do. I think that the cost really varies from brand to brand, and what they’re prioritising, and investing in. I would say that one of the most valuable investments you can make in Instagram is people still, and making engaging stories. If you look at the stories that you engage with as an individual, it’s usually the not so highly produced stuff that ends up being more catchy and engaging.
Mark Jones: Yeah, yeah, good point. And I think one of the reasons is that, not just the authenticity, but for me, I think the story that that person is telling, if it’s relatable.
Jessica Ruhfus: Yeah, absolutely.
Mark Jones: Then, again, how do you connect those dots in a collaboration environment? Because do you want two brands that are completely different, for the Yin and Yang vibe? Or do you want a “No, we really get each other, we’re best friends,” that kind of idea.
Jessica Ruhfus: I think it can actually work both ways.
Mark Jones: Okay.
Jessica Ruhfus: And it completely depends on a couple of main things. And I think one of the biggest things to look at is a shared target market. No matter what, even if the brands are super different, you want to make sure that both brands’ target markets have crossover. Otherwise, any cross promotion won’t be valuable.
Jessica Ruhfus: A great example of this is, again, a Gelato Messina example. They’re collaboration kings. They actually collaborated with Ambi Pur, which is the most random collaboration, you actually wouldn’t have even thought.
Mark Jones: Yeah, right? This is the … those things you stick in the-
Jessica Ruhfus: Air freshener, yeah.
Mark Jones: Thank you.
Jessica Ruhfus: Basically, they collaborated on a limited edition range of gelato flavours. And because it was so quirky, they attracted so much media attention. Social media blew up because it was random. I think the unique, different collaborations can actually work really well.
Jessica Ruhfus: And then on the same token, very predictable, I suppose, complementary brands collaborating, like a fashion and a beauty brand, it makes so much sense as long as there’s value adding to the audience. So I mean, there was one, Mecca, you know, the beauty stores.
Mark Jones: Yep.
Jessica Ruhfus: They collaborated with Remedy Kombucha for a weekend where, if you came and shopped at Mecca, you got a Kombucha at the door.
Mark Jones: Yeah.
Jessica Ruhfus: Which, you know, isn’t revolutionary, but it really added to a shopping experience and engaged people, and had people share user-generated content on the day.
Mark Jones: What about, then, if we look at advertising spend and marketing spend, what impact or influence is that having on this conversation, right?
Mark Jones: We’re seeing still more and more money being spent on paid social, less on TVCs and so forth. how is that shaping this conversation?
Jessica Ruhfus: I think in collaborations, advertising absolutely has a role to play. At the core of it, businesses are exchanging assets in terms of reach and resources, and some of those resources and reach can absolutely be rolled up into that advertising spend category. For example, Gelato Messina and Drumstick; I’m not sure how that collaboration came together, but if you look at the value exchange, Drumstick are offering the supermarket exposure and foot traffic and also the brand alignment. Gelato Messina have come with the developing of the flavours, for example, as well as their cult social media following.
Jessica Ruhfus: And they together can either split the cost of paid ads running from both accounts, to drive more eyeballs to that campaign. Or, if the collaboration is maybe uneven, in terms of mutually beneficial value exchange, maybe one brand’s offering a hell of a lot more than the other, sometimes paid advertising can level that playing field a little bit, so the brand who’s not bringing as many eyeballs to the table can offer paid ad boosting-
Mark Jones: Right, to make up for it.
Jessica Ruhfus: Exactly.
Mark Jones: Yeah, okay. No, that makes a lot of sense. I think it’s kinda like, again, brands are media companies. We’re really comparing our audience sizes. and how we can sensibly come up with something that’s greater than the sum of the two parts.
Jessica Ruhfus: Exactly. I love that Aristotle quote!
Mark Jones: Right? Thank you. I appreciate that. So where to from here, then? How do you see this unfolding? How do you make sure that this grows as a valid category, and doesn’t go the way of social trends?
Jessica Ruhfus: Well, like you said, I mean, strategic partnerships had been happening forever. They’ve just been really time-consuming, really frustrating, and particularly small businesses are missing out on opportunities to collaborate with big businesses.
Jessica Ruhfus: I think it’s not going to die as a social media trend.
Mark Jones: Yep.
Jessica Ruhfus: I mean, at the end of the day, Facebook advertising and everything is getting more and more expensive, and more and more saturated, and businesses are looking for ways to engage audiences, differentiate themselves, grow their networks and collaboration marketing has always been an incredible way to do that. Collabosaurus is effectively simplifying that process and opening up global opportunities.
Mark Jones: Well, look, it’s great to see you guys doing well as an Aussie startup, rocking the marketing world.
Jessica Ruhfus: Flying the Aussie flag.
Mark Jones: Right? It’s fantastic. And presumably. you’re getting some traction globally, as well?
Jessica Ruhfus: We are. We’ve seen just over five and a half thousand brands sign up. and we’ve just come back from the U.S., and Walmart and Gap and the Honest Company and Glossier, we’ve had some very exciting conversations with. And we’ve attracted brands big and small. We’re seeing a lot of fashion, beauty, lifestyle, food and beverage, be the first kind of industries to really take up collaboration marketing. But we’re growing by about, I’d say 200 brands every month organically, which just goes to show how much collaboration marketing is finally making an impact.
Mark Jones: That’s stunning. Congratulations.
Jessica Ruhfus: Thank you.
Mark Jones: And before you go, a bit of a shout-out, too; you also do a podcast, I understand.
Jessica Ruhfus: I do!
Mark Jones: Stop, collaborate and listen. How many people get the reference? But …
Jessica Ruhfus: Hopefully, hopefully a few.
Mark Jones: I really like what you did there. Well, look, if that’s where people can find you.
Jessica Ruhfus: Yeah.
Mark Jones: Look up that on your favourite aggregator and look, I think it’s really interesting to see how you’ve taken an old thing, given it the social spin, and the platform spin. And it’d be fun to see how it continues to grow and and evolve with the industry. So, well done, and thanks for being our guest today.
Jessica Ruhfus: Thank you so much. Thanks for having me.
Mark Jones: All right.
Mark Jones: I’ve got to say, I get really encouraged by hearing from entrepreneurs, and just seeing how you can take this idea of something has been floating around, you could see there was a problem. In her case, being able to see where partnership opportunities were going missing, and then turning that into a business. And also, the lesson for me and the great reminder, is this idea in social where we want to be … the metric that she gave is three gives and one take.
Mark Jones: A really good reminder about how to give value, and to make sure that you’re thinking about your audience. I mean, we talk about this all the time, but you’ve actually got to continue to put it into practise. And of course, when you’re up against corporate regulations and guidelines and different attitudes to the sales process, it’s always good to come back to these core ideas and really simplify them, and make them powerful.
Mark Jones: Lots to think about there. And, look, it’s a good encouragement. If you’re not doing collaboration marketing, then give it a thought. Who’s in your sphere of influence? Who are your partners, who are your stakeholders? How well are you engaging them? Have you had an intentional meeting around, what’s the scale and the reach of your various social networks, and all the other digital and above-the-line assets that you’ve been using?
Mark Jones: So, make the most of it and get creative.
Mark Jones: That wraps up the show for this time and, as always, it’s been great to bring to you a really interesting conversation about how to be creative and tie together collaboration and marketing and social and digital trends.
Mark Jones: As always, you can get us at our blog on the socials, and in all your podcast aggregators. Please do like, share, comment, and send us your ideas. I really want to know, who should we talk to? We get lots of great suggestions every week, so, please keep it up. TheCMOshow@filteredmedia.com.au. It’d be great to hear from you.
Mark Jones: My name is Mark Jones, until next time.