Automattic, Tumblr, Healthy Online Communities

Automattic’s acquisition of Tumblr is one of those small events* that I hope will pay big dividends for the future of the Internet. Automattic is the team behind WordPress.org, which powers ~35% of the world’s websites. Tumblr, before languishing under the care of Yahoo!, AOL, and Verizon, wasn’t just a microblogging brand but was one of the more positive communities on the web.

The web has gone from dominant walled villages (looking at you, AOL) to the explosion of blogs back to walled villages (hello, Facebook). An open, decentralized web is healthier for community and conversation. I hope Automattic can turn Tumblr into a healthier alternative to other social platforms and find an audience to sustain it.

*Tumblr, once a $1.1 billion company, sold for slightly more than $3 million.

Website for Morbern

Morbern.com has been an evolving project, for all the right reasons. We launched a new brand site for this Canada-based commercial vinyl manufacturer that incorporates online sample ordering while simplifying the staff’s management of more than 800 SKUs.

In collaboration with Morbern’s team and other marketing partners, we continually listen for opportunities to improve the user experience, and have added numerous site updates including a product finder application, sales representative search, and integration with a third-party fulfillment system to improve the speed and quality of sample deliveries.

Video for ESR Entrepreneurial Ministry Program

Seminaries continually explore how to remain relevant at a time when interest in some traditional religious institutions is declining. Earlham School of Religion introduced a Certificate in Entrepreneurial Ministry. The program guides and supports ministers who perform ministry in non-traditional contexts. As the program reached the end of its first year, I had an opportunity to interview members of the class about their experiences.

Exclusion is a strategy

Pity the finance bros who want to rock “power vests.” The supply chain has dried up after the news dropped softly and without fanfare that Patagonia is no longer interested in selling co-branded apparel to corporate accounts in industries that aren’t aligned with their mission. Instead, they want to focus on selling to B Corporations or businesses that focus on community or the environment. The stance is on-brand for Patagonia, which is overtly political and includes this statement in its mission: “We’re in business to save our home planet.”

Organizations spend a lot of time defining who their customers are, but as I pointed out in a workshop I taught a couple of weeks ago, exclusion is a powerful strategy that can’t be overlooked. Every brand should understand who isn’t a fit for them, and who will never buy their products and services. The clarity that comes from knowing who you want to exclude can improve your focus on the customers you care about – the ones that are aligned with your brand.

Email isn’t going anywhere

“Email is going to be replaced by [fill in the blank].”

That’s a repetitive riff I’ve heard for the last twenty years, as I’ve worked with brands on email and marketing automation campaigns. Email is infuriating and intrusive and there are good reasons to wish it would disappear. And there were times I could see it happening. But now, in 2019, there are better reasons it won’t and shouldn’t. That could change (I’ve replaced a lot of email with Slack), but I’m a believer in focusing on the here and now, and what resonates with people today. Email resonates.

Email is a cost-effective sales tool, but I’m going to put that aside for the moment. A sweet spot for email is delivering timely, useful, educational or thought-provoking commentary in a measured way. Social media is all hyperactivity and reaction; email can stand apart from that and project an air of authority and thoughtfulness. Done well, it leverages sound editorial judgment and focuses on what’s right for the brand, without just responding to the daily zeitgeist.

Content varies from newsletter to newsletter, but the best have one thing in common: A strong point of view. Content is an expression of a set of values that are constant from issue to issue. That’s why editorial judgment is so important–knowing what to cut is as important as deciding what to include. What ends up in great, compelling newsletters can be delightfully varied. There are case studies; updates that pull back the curtain on projects, products and processes; and, unexpected perspectives on widely shared stories. Often, narrow focus creates a deeply invested audience.

A few examples

I’m not suggesting any of these will line up with your interests, but these newsletters fit the model I’ve described and are part of my media diet.

Studio D Radar shares perspectives from a design, research and strategy consultancy that works in out-of-the-way places, on under-the-radar projects around the planet.

Noticing takes a deep dive into interesting corners of the Internet. Along the way, it catalogs the changing nature of the web.

Craig Mod is a thinker and innovator in print and digital publishing. In his weekly newsletter Ridgeline he shares thoughts about walking, art and photography.

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Lazy Marketing

I just read the announcement of a new brand position for a famous cycling brand known for its inconsistent approach to capitalization and my immediate thought was, I’m reading The Onion. I won’t shame this brand by name, but will share samples of their overwrought prose: “[Blank] is introducing a powerful new brand position with an inclusive foundation, designed to bring-to-life and directly tie to the depth of its Mission and Values. This positioning will also clearly complement the Brand’s critical efforts around Social Responsibility and a refreshed product line for 2019.”

There’s more: “Here we go” is anchored by one simple, powerful word: Go. Sometimes it’s a word of encouragement. Other times, a call to action. It celebrates the individual, as well as the collective, and elevates riding to much more than a competition. It acts as a rallying cry for all the good that cycling has to offer.” 

To quote The Wire’s Clay Davis, “Sheeeeeeit.”

I’ll offer this anonymous brand some unsolicited and sure-to-be-unheeded advice:

A) Write like a person. 
B) Say it an a way that another person can understand it.
C) “Here we go” is what the lead singer of a shitty band said just before launching into the six terrible songs that drove me out of a club far too early in the evening. It’s what I might say when I want to signal a desire for progress but lack the energy to say anything smart or witty. It’s lazy marketing. 
D) “Go” doesn’t celebrate anything. It’s an instruction. It’s a vague imperative. It’s, you guessed it, lazy marketing.

I know they’re not going to listen. I hope you will.

Video for JDRF Hope Gala

The JDRF Piedmont Triad Hope Gala raises over a million dollars for type one diabetes research each year. I was asked to produce this year’s Fund a Cure video, which focuses on the story of the gala honorees and their family, and kicks off a series of donations to the organization. This video features Wake Forest University Athletic Director Ron Wellman, JDRF advocate and volunteer Linda Wellman, Ron and Linda’s daughter Dr. Nicole Wellman Rice, Nicole’s family, and JDRF volunteers Red and Marinda Maxwell.

Work on the video included story development, principal photography and editing.