1706 – The Most Effective Marketing Strategy for Businesses: A Relationship-First Approach with Hughes Integrated’s Rob Hughes

In this episode of the Thoughtful Entrepreneur, your host Josh Elledge speaks with the CEO of Hughes Integrated, Rob Hughes.

Rob started the conversation by highlighting a common issue many businesses grapple with – ineffective marketing strategies and wasteful spending. He likened this to branding cattle with multiple branding irons, leading to confusion rather than clarity.

Instead of this scattered approach, Rob advocates for a relationship-first strategy. This method focuses on connecting with the audience and nurturing that relationship rather than bombarding them with mixed messages.

Rob also shared another case study involving a local luxury outdoor living space installer, ABC Landscaping. Their name was not aligned with their services, confusing potential clients. By pivoting their messaging to focus on their ideal audience, ABC Landscaping saw a significant increase in qualified leads.

Rob currently leads and manages a growing team at Hughes Integrated, consisting of six internal staff members and a nationwide network of contractors. He emphasizes that they are looking for organizations that value win-win-win relationships, indicating a bright future for Hughes Integrated.

Key Points from the Episode:

  • Ineffective marketing strategies and wasteful spending
  • Relationship-first approach to marketing
  • Success story with Sea Foam and ABC Landscaping
  • Importance of storytelling in marketing
  • Rob's background in executive coaching and transition to marketing consultancy
  • Discovery of Donald Miller's story-based framework
  • Disruption of in-person coaching due to COVID-19

About Rob Hughes:

Rob Hughes, a former vice president of sales and marketing in the manufacturing industry, transitioned his expertise into becoming a renowned executive coach for business owners and entrepreneurs throughout North America.

Currently serving as the CEO of a successful marketing agency, Rob empathizes with the challenges many brands face in marketing. His mission revolves around aiding small businesses in accelerating their growth by refining their messaging.

Through his venture, Hughes Integrated, a StoryBrand Certified Marketing Agency, he guides businesses in clarifying their messages for maximum impact.

Rob's influence extends beyond consulting; he is also a respected marketing keynote speaker and podcast host. His sessions on marketing and branding captivate audiences, offering engaging, interactive, and inspiring insights that resonate with entrepreneurs seeking to enhance their marketing strategies.

About Hughes Integrated:

Hughes Integrated is a dynamic marketing agency that empowers businesses through clear messaging, effective strategies, and functional websites. With a dedicated focus on helping businesses craft compelling narratives, the agency excels in refining clients' messages for maximum impact.

By understanding the essence of a brand, Hughes Integrated devises strategies that resonate with the target audience, ensuring a strong and memorable market presence. Moreover, the agency emphasizes the importance of a functional website, recognizing it as a cornerstone for successful online engagement.

With their expertise, Hughes Integrated guides businesses towards an online presence that looks appealing and functions seamlessly, enhancing user experience and driving meaningful interactions.

Hughes Integrated equips businesses with the tools necessary to thrive in today's competitive market landscape, making them a valuable partner for companies aiming to enhance their online visibility and customer engagement.

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Links Mentioned in this Episode:

Want to learn more? Check out Hughes Integrated website at

Check out Hughes Integrated on LinkedIn at

Check out Hughes Integrated on Instagram at

Check out Hughes Integrated on Facebook at

Check out Rob Hughes on LinkedIn at

Check out Rob Hughes on Twitter at

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Josh (00:00:05) - Hey there, thoughtful listener. Would you like consistent and predictable sales activity with no spam and no ads? I'll teach you step by step how to do this, particularly if you're an agency owner, consultant, coach, or B2B service provider. What I teach has worked for me for more than 15 years and has helped me create more than $10 million in revenue. Just head to up my influence and watch my free class on how to create endless high ticket sales appointments. You can even chat with me live and I'll see and reply to your messages. Also, don't forget the thoughtful entrepreneur is always looking for guests. Go to up my influence and click on podcast. We'd love to have you. With us. Right now it's Rob Hughes. Rob, you are the CEO of Hughes Integrated. You're found on the web at Hughes Integrated Comm to a friend that's listening. Just click on the show notes. Click on the information icon. Keep clicking around in your podcast app you'll find we've got a direct link Rob to your website so folks can follow along, but it's great to have you.

Rob (00:01:18) - Hey, thanks Josh. It's such an honor to be here and to be serving you listeners who are tuning in as well.

Josh (00:01:23) - Yeah, it's so funny because you and I were chatting and found out that we're both Michiganders. I've since transplanted to Florida for the past 14 years, but certainly a michigander at heart. And so to our savviest of listeners, see if you can pick out the occasional Michigan accent. And I'm I'll tell you what it is. It's rolling. Ours is a big one. And then there's, I'd say just manners of speech. I think that's sometimes come into play. But you're you're based in Byron Center, which is just outside of Grand Rapids. I know the place well because it's only about, I think, 15, 20 miles from my hometown of Plainwell. So you're looking for you really.

Rob (00:02:04) - If you're looking for really good ice cream, there's a rolling are for you there you go down to Plainwell, get some plainwell ice cream. There's a whole lot of local spots there.

Rob (00:02:12) - But hey, I'm sure that you're listening. Audience is now they're good and hungry. They're interested in Byron Center and West Michigan and also business, which I know is one of the reasons why you've invited me on today. Josh.

Josh (00:02:24) - It's really brilliant segue.

Rob (00:02:27) - There's there's a transition, my friend. Yeah. Right on. Yeah.

Josh (00:02:31) - Share with me the work that you do. And it sounds like again, it sounds like we have great alignment here. I'm just so I just so much value the relationship aspect of of marketing and not treating people like numbers, but truly, you know, listening and truly communicating, which I think the world needs more of, particularly in the world of marketing. But tell me where Hugh's integrated, like who you work with and the impact you have today.

Rob (00:02:57) - Yeah, totally happy to do so. Josh, here's the deal, listeners. We have an enormous problem in the marketplace today. So many businesses are wasting an enormous amount of money on ineffective marketing and strategies. And you know, from Plainwell Plainwell Michigan, there's, you know, a lot of dairy farms and, you know, cows, a lot of a lot of farm fields between Grand Rapids and Plainwell.

Rob (00:03:27) - If we were out on a cattle ranch and you grab the branding iron and you brand the back of a steer, you know who owns the cow. But if I grabbed a second branding iron on top of the first, the third on top of the second, pretty soon you got hamburger. And it's confusing. Yet this is exactly how most businesses are approaching marketing to try to reach their ideal audience. They've got an idea for social media, and so they just start blasting their message on social. Then they have an idea for a website, and they have an idea for email campaigns or click ads or different things, you name it. And pretty soon it's scattershot. It's 15 different branding irons working 15 different ways, and yet they're not moving the needle. But if you take a relationship first approach to connecting with your audience to piquing their curiosity to nurturing that relationship, I'm here to tell you that's the winning recipe to win more business. So when you do that, you take clarity of one branding iron to all of those different strategies, and it becomes one cohesive message, working 365 days a year cohesively to build momentum.

Rob (00:04:38) - That's how businesses win.

Josh (00:04:40) - You've been able to work with some pretty great clients. One that actually views you worked with sea foam. Which sea foam motor treatment maybe share. Like it doesn't have to be sea foam. You have a lot of other companies that you've worked with maybe share a story of like, you know, when they came in. Here's the challenge that they had. Here's the work that we did, and here are the results. Yeah.

Rob (00:05:06) - Well, it's sometimes it's hard to see the forest when you're standing so close to the tree yourself. And I think that was really the story with some of the larger nationwide and international brands that we've worked with, like Sea Foam, when they're in product development, they've got many different products that all kind of serve that motor treatment space. So our engagement with them was to come alongside of them and to objectively audit and review the messaging for some of their core and essential products. Now, Sea Foam has got a wonderfully gifted internal marketing house and team, so why would they need to engage an outside marketing firm? Well, for us, it was creating that branding iron that could create clarity over their message for each of these products.

Rob (00:05:48) - Then they could distribute that message in all of those different channels to drive down ad spend, increase conversions, because clarity is king in the marketplace. So clarifying their message using the Story Brand toolkit, that is what our agency is dedicated to, and it's what we do now. We've got other case studies of organizations that we've done more than just messaging with some. There's a local luxury outdoor living space installer. He's got a name, and for privacy reasons, I'll just call it ABC landscaping. He'd get a lot of different phone calls. As you can imagine, he installs patios, by the way, outdoor living spaces, fireplaces, those types of outdoor living scapes. But with a name like ABC landscaping. What type of leads do you think he was getting from the phone? I mean.

Josh (00:06:41) - Just it's going to be an incredibly transactional like ABC means nothing to me. You're just one of a sea of other landscapers. I've no connection. Yeah.

Rob (00:06:54) - So they're not lawn fertilizing company. They're not a lawn trimming company.

Rob (00:06:58) - They're an outdoor living space installer. Yet they're living with their name. That may be the their biggest nemesis in that. So what we did is we didn't change their name, but we changed their message. We pivoted their entirety of their message and content campaign centered around the ideal audience. And you know what? In the first year, we were able to win them 40 qualified leads for luxury outdoor living spaces, where the previous year he had five, he navigator five. And then the second year we navigate, we brought in over a hundred qualified ideal target leads, and the last count in this current year is over 200 already and we still have months to go. So when you create clarity, it's like the magnetic force that draws a unique audience forward. That is the process our business installs. And ultimately, whether that's as a consultant or as a fractional CMO, we come alongside brands to help them do just that.

Josh (00:07:52) - Yeah. You know, just because I'm doing some sleuthing here a long while, you're while you're chatting here, listen to this outdoor living spaces that bring people together like that's that's it.

Josh (00:08:05) - It's a story. So immediately, instead of thinking about how much is this going to cost, you know, the transactional decisions, we're thinking about this image of, like, I want my family to get together and, you know, enjoy this space. My brain goes a completely different place. That's the power of story. And, you know, can you share this? Because I know that this is a challenge for us sometimes to do this on our own. And I've been through this process a number of times with great consultants, through the the story brand process, through, you know, a guide who can walk you through this. It's probably up I'm talking to you, founder. That story is probably up in there. But I think by default, I think most founders do a pretty poor job in communicating that story.

Rob (00:08:57) - I think you're spot on with that. Josh. Intuitively, I think it's true. And objectively, you know, it's back to like seeing the forest of the trees. It's hard to see the full narrative when you're the founder yourself.

Rob (00:09:08) - You built this thing, some of you listening, perhaps even bootstrapped this business from the ground up or inherited a good sized team. And now you've got to kind of learn the context, and maybe you're just trying to figure out which way is up. Here's the thing. I'm classically trained, you know, I've got an MBA in business school. I'm classically trained to know feature and benefit marketing, and we're trained that that is the story we need to tell. These are the features. These are the benefits. Here's what our product or service provides. But the reality is that's irrelevant to our audience unless it matters to their story going well. So the whole pivot in this is to begin with, who is the audience that you're trying to reach, who's your target client? And once you've identified that persona, begin to tell their story and position your brand as the secret sauce to helping that story go well. Yeah, that's the essence to position yourself as the guide. As you mentioned the word guide, you are the guide to your audience winning the day.

Josh (00:10:12) - Yeah. Rob, how did you get into this? And can you share maybe just a little bit about what Hugh's like, talk about the company who's integrated, who is it and how do you run it? Like how have you grown it, that sort of thing.

Rob (00:10:26) - Yeah. So so kind of interesting. First ten years of my career was in a family business. Josh now we're just chatting about that. A minute ago in manufacturing, I oversaw vice. I was the vice president, sales and marketing for a manufacturing company in Plainwell, Michigan. And I would get folks calling on me, marketing agencies calling on me, saying, hey, I'd like to sell you a brand new website for $50,000 or $100,000. And I would always ask them, can you prove to me that this will actually win me new business? And they would choke up and say, I can't. And then we'd end the call. Fast forward to 2011. I spun out and sold my shares of equity in the business at that point and launched my own independent business, actually an executive coaching business with a business partner.

Rob (00:11:13) - And we grew that business into 33 states across the US and Ontario, Canada. We had customized and built a curriculum that we were teaching business owners and kind of going around the country. Our business model was to go around the country speaking at different events, curating those relationships and drawing them forward into memberships, into our coaching program, which met in person in Grand Rapids, Michigan, four times per year. So these clients from 33 states across the US would fly to West Michigan, which I'm, you know, calling attention to that because Josh knows exactly where I'm talking. And we would meet with them for a full business day of executive and leadership masterminding and then send them home to be coming back 90 days later while we were in 2017 at an event in Orlando, Florida, speaking to a group of financial professionals and a gentleman by the name of Donald Miller gets on stage. And Donald Miller, for those of you listening, is the author of the book Building a Story Brand. And so to this point, I had successfully grown the marketing and sales of our executive coaching business.

Rob (00:12:20) - But I listened to Don Miller in 30 minutes share a story based framework that solved every marketing riddle I had carried with me through my career to that point. I said, there is something to this. So that fall I flew down to Nashville, got trained by Don Miller, J.J. Peterson, and the Story Brand team, and since then have been on a pathway to help install that, creating a parallel track from the executive executive coaching to marketing consultancy. Then a little thing called Covid 19 occurred. I don't know if you've heard of it. Josh, I wish I didn't. Right around 2020 ish. An in-person coaching. Rose across the world. Just two weeks, and then two more weeks, and then two more weeks. And before you know it, two years later, the world finally began to reemerge into in-person events. But in that void, digital marketing and messaging went through the roof. I like to say the world moved from brick and mortar right into click and order overnight. And by God's grace in that moment, we happen to be at the right place at the right time.

Rob (00:13:32) - And Hughes integrated, our digital marketing agency, stood ready and positioned to help businesses around the globe create clarity and a brand messaging system that drew their ideal audience forward online. And so today, that's where I stand as leading and managing that growing team. We have six staff member here internally, W2 staff member inside of the company, and we've got a team of contractors around the the country as well. Depending on the needs that we have that emerge. We can send them out as well.

Josh (00:14:05) - A Rob who would make just a perfect introduction for you. Like. And mostly I'm thinking about number one, maybe the size of company or you know what they do, but primarily like where do their values need to lie in terms of like that? Josh is someone I can work with and create some great stuff together.

Rob (00:14:27) - Yeah. Back to the Stephen Covey seven habits book. For those of you who've read that or reread that book, seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Core values wise, we're looking for the organization who truly is seeking the win win win.

Rob (00:14:41) - They want to win for their clients with any marketing partner. They want to be able to win more business. Of course they want to win for their their business, to be able to sustain that investment with an outside agency. And they're not looking to take advantage of any vendor or partner. They're seeking the win, win win, true relationship partner. That would be one thing they probably have. There's probably some metrics in there, two of 500,000 or more of net profit for the business. So it's not a startup. It's probably somebody who's shown the ability to be able to produce profitable company, profitable business. In some cases, that means a top line revenue is scaling between 1 to 10 million. But not always. You could have a $10 million top line revenue company that's not making any money and and kind of having some real challenges there too. So top line is not necessarily the only metric to look at. But the biggest thing of a good partner client for us is that they are growth minded.

Rob (00:15:35) - They're not looking to just maintain status quo. They're not looking for somebody to just be an entity of their overall game plan. What they want is a quarterback that can join them in the locker room, understand their growth goals as an organization, and build strategies to effectively execute on that to win. That is the mindset that we bring in as huge, integrated to partnerships that we serve.

Josh (00:15:58) - Yeah. Rob, your website is huge to a friend that's been listening to our conversation and they're like, I really love how this conversation is going. I'm so grateful I found this episode. Where do they go from here? If they if they want to have a conversation with you or I don't know if you have any resources you'd recommend?

Rob (00:16:17) - Yes, we do have some downloadable resources on our website. Again, who's integrated? That's spelled huge h e s In addition to that we offer complimentary consult to anybody. So for 30 minutes we'll sit down on a zoom call and we'll see if we can't solve some of the marketing riddles that you're facing, whether that means that we work together or not.

Rob (00:16:38) - It's a complimentary consult that we add value to everybody first. So that's absolutely a free offer. You can also find me over at LinkedIn, so feel free to search. I'm sure Josh will put some information in the show notes on that as well. And I'm also a speaker at industry events. So if you're looking to bring a mainstage keynote or breakout session together, you can inbox me through LinkedIn and or on our website to connect in that way.

Josh (00:17:04) - Yeah. Hughes Rob Hughes, you're the CEO. It's been great. Great conversation. Thank you for the work you're doing I love it. Thank you so much for joining us.

Rob (00:17:15) - Thank you Josh, great to be with you. And blessings to all of you who tuned in.

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