Starting a Reading List for the Modern Marketer / Need input?

Starting a reading list of stuff for a couple soon-to-be Modern Marketers who are joining my team. Add your suggestions in the comments or tweet them at me (@jcuene).  This will (hopefully) be updated soon)


Presentations online: 


(updated 9/11/2013)

Content Designed for Sharing

We’ve all been watching examples of great brand efforts that
resulted in a lot of sharing and discussion of brand content.  That is, content that gets shared or passed
around (like the first Man Your Man Could Smell Like or the Darth Vader VW
spot) or talked about a lot (like Old Spice WolfDog efforts or the recent Dove
work). We all get excited about the idea of this kind of content for the right

  • Friend to friend sharing is a much more efficient way for
    your content to get reach. You don’t have to pay for the media
  • Friend to friend sharing comes with an implied endorsement,
    so it’s more likely to be received well
  • Word of mouth drives interest in the brand
  • It’s generally done digitally, so you can often see the data
  • And, when it’s digital, it can live pretty much forever in
    the Google search results (for better or worse).
  • Ultimately, it just makes your paid media work harder

 A lot of the examples we see seem like viral magic, an
alchemic reaction cooked up by a lucky wizard. But, increasingly, we’re seeing
examples that are pre-planned and pre-programmed for sharing; creative efforts
that were specifically designed and built for sharing, which is different than
how we typically approach it. We generally plan a great TV idea, then seek
something else – “surround”, social content, magic influencer dust – that gets
our stuff shared.  In the worst cases, we
try to engineer the sharing of a tv spot, something that is, by almost all
definitions, content for a passive audience. It’s doomed to fail. Except for
some edge cases, nobody cares enough about your tv ad to share it with their

 So, how do you design creative and execution specifically for
sharing? No one has the secret, but the two examples below characterize the best
of what I’m seeing when brands try to generate a lot of sharing (vs. simple
awareness) and discussion.

– Wonderfilled

You can almost hear the brief on this one. “the Daily Twist
worked great; we’ve got 33 million fans. How do we get people – young people –
talking about our product, preferably online?” Or, put more simply: Get as many
people as possible creating content about our brand: sharing it, talking about,
reacting to it, etc. From the very conception, this was an idea that was about
social sharing and discussion as much as it was about the product and brand.

First: What is it that they created? Is it an ad? A music
video? A song? A commercial? Social Object? All of the above?

 Second: the idea was open ended and designed for a consumer
response – “What would happen if *you* were given an oreo?” It almost
demands the consumer think about it and perhaps respond.

 Third: The execution was truly talkable. Remarkable, even.

  • Owl City is either loved or loathed, depending on who you
    are. Hipsters in Brooklyn probably moaned, but the tweens and young adults
    cheered. They all did it on social media.
  • The song is, depending on your perspective, either awesome or
    sacharine. No middle ground. Lots of debate.
  • The idea of top of the pops singer writing a love song to a
    ? Sellout! Savvy! Debatable.
  • Even the animation was discussable

 Fourth: The rollout was designed for sharing:

  • Stunt media buy: They launched it as a 90 during madmen, when
    all the ad nerds were watching, knowing it would generate discussion. Lots to

    • A 90! Who does those?
    • Visually, it was SO different from the show, it was
      noteworthy just by juxtaposition
    • They did a 90 so the ad skippers would  HAVE to see it and go back (“What was
  •  They rolled it out via their FB page (33 mm fans)
  • They had OwlCity tweet it to his fans (>1M) and Twitter
    followers (>1MM)
  • They supported it with lots of PR and events (again, to get
    the kids talking)

 In hindsight, it’s really, really clear that their goal was
to do something remarkable, in a remarkable way so that people would talk
about, giving extra reach to their efforts. TV was just the stimulus to get the
talking started.


Sharing as part of a Collaborative project

 REI recently launched their 1440 project with the goal of
capturing 24 hours of people doing what they loved in nature (1440 minutes).
Pictures for every minute of the day. It’s one of my favorite projects I’ve
seen. For REI, “sharing” was a way to generate both incremental reach (through
the shared content) but also a way to create a marketing asset.  For every picture contributed, REI asked the
contributor to share it to *their* networks. And, each image became part
of the overall collection, available for all future visitors. Plus, this effort
resulted in at least 1440 pieces of content that could get shared out to REI’s
network over the course of the year, and presumably each of those 1440+ images
were good enough that when published to REI’s feed, the fans/followers would
then like/retweet or favorite the images out
to their network.

5-15-2013 3-57-32 PM
But, to me, the best part of this project is that it comes
right from their values – celebrate being out in nature – and their core
purpose as a coop: A collective effort to help their members have their own
kind of experience, to  inspire and  celebrate others who are doing the same. This
whole project demonstrates their values perfectly.


The Well Deserved Fortune of Satoshi Nakamoto, Bitcoin creator, Visionary and Genius

The more i read about it, the more fascinating the whole Bitcoin thing is becomeing. How could a whole ecosystem grow up around a fake monetary system cooked up by guy in his bedroom? 

TL;DR version: The creator, a mysterious guy named Satoshi, set it up so he got a super small amount from every bitcoin his algorythm created into the future. 

"The graphs were made by a new block chain analysis technique I tested that consist on tracking the ExtraNonce fields in the coinbase field of the coinbase transaction, which is the one that creates bitcoins. As far as I know, is hasn’t been done before. In the following graphs each dot is the creation of 50 BTC. I have only analyzed and printed graphs from block 0 upto block 36288. I wonder what will I get when I process the remaining three years.
The extraNonce fields increments every time the nonce fields (which is 32 bits) overflows, so it’s a slow realtime clock, until the application is restarted, in which case it goes back to 1. Note the X-Axis in the graphs is not time (as it’s said on the graph). It’s the block number (that’s a mistake)." 

Dealing With Native Ad Formats

This issue – the rise of native ad formats – is one to watch.
Love it or hate them, banner ads provide websites a common currency for

This article focuses on content-driven experiences on websites,
supporting what they call “Content Marketing” (geez, I hate that term! ) as
advertisers seek deeper engagement beyond the box of ad units and publishers
seek better ways to monetize (Most can’t sell more than 40% of their available
display units, anyway) at a higher rate.

What this article DOES NOT discuss is an issue that I think
is even more important: What the mobile/app centric publishing model will
unleash. With the exceptionally fast uptake of a mobile-dominant experience,
there will be a proliferation of “native” ad formats that are app/platform/media-title
specific. Examples: Promoted tweets in twitter, sponsored stories in FB. Tumblr
has them, Flipboard’s ad formats are unique. Foursquare will have them. iAd is
unique, for the most part.

Key implications:

  • Media buying in the digital space may get even more
  • Long term, we may see a rise in eCPM’s
  • Cross-publisher comparisons will be more difficult, due to
    the differences in the ad formats
  • Measuring “engagement” will get easier
  • Measuring the sales impact – always a challenge – will not
    get even more difficult

What's a brand to do in the short term? Monitor closely and do small tests and learn on your own. 

Brand Ecosystems

TLDR version: Brands can create strategic differentiation by delivering a fully realized consumer experience across an entire ecosystem. By moving beyond simplistic persuasion messages, mass marketed brands can now offer a richer, more relevant value proposition for consumers. 

Doing a quick scan of how others are talking about brand ecosystems. It's a pretty suggestive term, but still nebulous enough that there's plenty of room for interpretation. I know we've been using the phrase here for years (but it's never gotten an especially warm embrace), but it seems like it's gaining steam more broadly. 

Jennifer Rice talked about way back in 2004 and i know others were using the term way before that. Forrester's been talking about it for years too, most notably Nate Elliot's recent work on ecosystems and how to balance presence across paid/earned/owned touchpoints. Here's a useful, publicly available deck that lays it out visually. The official Forrester stuff is worth buying, by the way, if you're just getting your head around the subject. 

Brandmdna  take a different approach, looking at the various elements that make up a brand itself, suggesting the facets – Brand DNA, goals, purpose, vision, visual identity – form an ecosytem of sorts. I don't think this is the best use of the metaphor though, and i think it misses the importance of the connections the brand has elsewhere and to other contributors.  

I think Dan Pankraz was onto this theme years ago, suggesting the best brands need to embrace their role in a broadly connected community. Extended quote: 

it’s an organic model,  where the role of the brand is to listen to the conversations happening around it, energise those conversations with interesting content and experiences. It’s all about giving the ‘brand community’  something to talk about within their own personal social networks and ‘influencers’ in youth culture are then able to add velocity to your idea penetration …eg: make sure it hits the mainstream as quickly as possible. It’s a virtuous circle that keeps re-inventing itself, so brands need to be listening to whats happening in culture so they can quickly react and create conversation around topics, new experiences. If you stop contributing, you’re dead. 

He's got a unique visualization that's worth checking out, too. 
image from


BRR does a direct comparison to a true ecosystem, visually laying out the brand analogues to the biological counterparts. Their focus is on nurturing and adapting the brand overtime in a sustained way. 

The brand ecosystem is not just an integrated network; it is a living system that functions by the interaction of each of the system's elements. When you think of the external factors of the brand ecosystem, like climate to a biological system, your competitors, markets and the economy can play an unexpected role in your company and brand. So its about quickly adapting and realigning every aspect of your system – not just about changing your logo or updating your website.

Here's their visualization: 

image from
The seemingly unstoppable David Armano has a useful visual that articulates increasingly complex connections a brand has to have to thrive. The write up is really useful too, arguing businesses are social, brands must be social, and the focus has to be long term and essentially generous for brands to thrive
image from

@Quarkstone's write up of the engagement ecosystem is definitely worth reading, too. He's squarely in the "networked world" view, and his approach blends a descriptive overview of what the components of the ecosystem are with a strategic role the element plays in helping the brand meet its business objectives. 

Most recently, Cindy Chastain presented her talk about brand ecosystems at the 2012 MiMA Summit. While her primary focus was on the way work will change for experience designers as a result of the many touchpoints, her overview of ecosystems themselves as a business model strategy drive was really helpful. Most importantly, she articulated a critical shift in our thinking about messaging and the creative experiences that drive it. The ecosystem approach enables brands/businesses to focus primarily on a multi-faceted value proposition vs. a simple persuasion message. For mass-marketed brands (e.g. breakfast cereal, clothing, snack items, beverages, etc.) this is a huge deal. The competitive field for high-turn, consumables is no longer constrained to the product itself or the effectiveness of their mass advertising. Brands can now seek ways to differentiate and win over a full consumer experience – inclusive of inspiration, persuasion, service, support, promotion, and expression. Example A: Redbull.  

Blown up Articles? the Future of News Publishing?

A couple really good articles on the future of news publishing in a digital age to remind us of the power of our mental models.

Key point: we have to shake the mindset from print, when you only had one shot to publish something.

This article from Mathew Ingram sparked some challenging thoughts about how to reframe what it is we do. His message: the "article" as the atomic unit of the news is the wrong unit. 

The always thoughtful Jeff Jarvis is pushing my thinking hard via posts like this one, where he breaks down the "article" into it's component parts. It's part of his effort to rethink and, um, reimagine, what news will look like when we don't have to jam it into its old containers (like articles). 

Just Don’t Call it “Content Marketing”; It’s “Marketing”

For the last three or four years, the term "Content Marketing" has been bubbling around the fringes of digital marketing. Originally the domain of SEO guys, it's become clear to many that content does more than juice your organic rankings. It's key to building modern brands. 

Let's all agree to not ghetto-ize content by putting it into it's own marketing specialty. While we have to be strategic in how it's created, managed, and maintained, i don't believe we really need dedicated "content strategies". We just need good marketing execution. I don't want our brands thinking about a "content marketing strategy", i want them to understand that content is the blood of great brand building, and thus is a cricital consideration at the core of their holistic brand building efforts. 

The brands we all hold up as exemplars of great content are not doing it as part of a content marketing strategy. they are doing it because they've got a clear purpose, a reason for being. And values that guide their decisions. And act according to those values to acheive their purpose. Content comes out naturally, not as some effort to game the latest Google algorythm. 

Constant Content: An Agency Business Development Opportunity

(note: this is an incomplete post. Theres lots more to explore here, so i'll need to come back to this one)

Most brands that are heavily active in social media have already discovered just how important content is to their marketing. More and more, brands need to act like publishers in order to keep their fans/followers and close community active and thriving as well as to keep their marketers learning. this flow of "constant content" can be significant burden for marketers, but if done well, the "constant content" can also be an amazing source of insights and ideas (i'll cover that in another post sometime)Note: i'm not going to wade into the discussion of "content marketing", which seems like a neologism for "marketing" and a phrase that seems highly correlated to SEO guys and social media "experts".

But, how do marketers make that shift? For many of the larger CPG companies, the demand for constant content is especially hard, as their whole organizations are designed for maximum efficiency, and social media publishing runs completely counter to efficiency. Just as importantly, most larger CPG's are highly leveraged, staff-wise, relying heavily on their agencies partners. And, guess what: This is another job traditional agencies are not ready for.

Ambitious agencies will build content studios as separate businesses to help their clients ease into the publishing stream. They'll design around user stories like these:

  • Client needs a 100 word blog post from the ad shoot. Needs it to cost less than 200 dollars.
  • Client is very happy with the content project they completed for 10K, where we delivered 4 1 minute videos and supporting blog, twitter, and facebook posts over the course of 2 months.

They'll focus on solving a significant executional problem with superb efficiency and, at the same time, bringing the best creative makers to the projects. That operational double-play is what clients will pay for.

Here's how to do it.

  1. Set it up as a separate P&L. The cost structures, the salaries, the working model are going to be completely different than your standard business. For instance, large agencies can't show up to a meeting for less than $5K. In a content studio model, you should be able to deliver 3 or 4 projects for that. 
  2. Hire lean. You probably only need a couple people, not a full staff of creators. With so many ad-hoc project creators out there, you can work with freelancers for almost everything you need. 
  3. Hire two key roles: A project manager and a talent coordinator. The project manager works with the clients (or your normal account people) to define the projects and deliverables. The talent coordinator works her network of writers, bloggers, photographers, video experts, makers etc to find the right people for the job. Then, both work together to package up the cost & timeline for the clients. 
  4. Focus on fast turn, low complexity projects with "good enough" output – Not every post is going to be gold. Not every video should aspire to win awards. Sometimes, brands just need good content to flow out: Blog posts, social media content (twitter updates, facebook posts, curated experiences, etc.).
  5. Avoid the urge for to go for the "Big Idea" – Keep it super simple. Work through the deliverables fast. Focus your "big idea" efforts on the main part of your business, not the content studio. The studio is all about executions, not huge ideas. 
  6.  Charge for the deliverables, but not too much – Avoid the urge to charge regular agency production costs for this content. These aren't ads and they are not "broadcast quality" so to speak. It shouldn't take as long to create, it shouldn't require as much polish. 
  7. Work with the best talent you can possibly find, especially the ones that don't work in your office – Avoid the urge to utilize the extra capacity of your production bench. Seriously. Go find the exciting, cool makers out there, the designer in Montivideo who has awesome skills, the videographer in Copenhagen that did that cool short you like so much. your client will be happier, you'll have more fun, and your network will expand. If you have your junior production artist do the work, your client will be pissed that a) you haven't searched for someone new and b) that person isn't working on your other project and c) that you're double charging them. 
  8. Avoid the term "Content Strategy" – Amitious agencies have presumably helped the client figure out who they are, what they believe in, what they make, and how they want to communicate that. So, the content should fall right out of those other strategies. 

There are a number of agencies already pursuing this model, and some are completely organized around it already. Should be interesting to see how innovation flowers here. 

Any examples of companies or agencies doing this especially well? 

Updated: Agile Methods to Solve Sticky Business Problems? We’ll Try it!

We're going to try something on a project we're kicking off here at work: "Agile" programming methodologies in the service of sticky business problems. We're not coders, but we're going to apply what we understand of the approach. We'll use "stories" to get our focus on the problems we need to crack for the marketers we work with, the stories we want to be able to tell when we've solved them. We'll have a list of these stories and work through them one at a time. We'll do that in quick (2 weeks), focused efforts (aka "sprints"). And, we'll if we don't get it right, we'll iterate through them again until we've got it right. We'll be focusing on "shipping", that is getting the project done and implemented. We'll focus less on the beauty of a comprehensive, centrally controlled process (ie. "waterfall), and more on getting working "software" (ie the tools and methods) into the hands of the teams we work with. Lastly, we're going to try to dramatically improve communication via "huddles" and may even try full team huddles to communicate with a much larger audience. The IT group will probably laugh at how we're doing it, but we're going to take a shot and get it right over time if the first efforts aren't spot on. 

Any suggestions on how to apply agile programming methods to a non-programming problem? 

Updated: 8:30 PM

Lots of good suggestions from folks around the web. For sure, check out Rohn J Millers post on the subject from last year. Lot's of good ideas in there. And, here's a pretty good overview from PJ Shrivasta. Finally, i look forward to re-reading Greg Meyers Agile Marketing Manifesto in a couple months to see how we're doing.