Posts by Josh:

    Marketing is Magic

    October 30th, 2013

    If you have an hour to spare, watch this talk or listen to the podcast from magician x marketing consultant Ferdinando Buscema (I listened at the gym this morning).

    He says three things that are absolutely brilliant:

    “What we see and how we see it depend on the arts that have influenced us.” –Oscar Wilde


    Any company that wants to thrive and survive profitably better devote some energy to the creation of an experience which is engaging, immersive, pleasant, and meaningful.

    He also borrows a military term to describe the world we live in today: VUCA — Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous. He argues, as I do, that leaders and marketers have to be able to relate to consumers who are immersed in that way of thinking. Influencing perspectives and behavior is much less about command and control and much more about going with the flow.


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    How To Make A Viral Video

    September 5th, 2013

    Or maybe it’s how to make a video viral.

    Anyway, our newest intern, Benjamin Espiritu, is a filmmaker who has at least one viral video to his credit.

    Check it out here and learn how a combination of passion, talent, and innovative thinking combine to create success.

    Nice work, Benjamin!


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    What You Can Learn From A Three Year Old

    August 28th, 2013

    My son says a lot of crazy shit. My Facebook friends already know this. He’s about to turn four, and for the last year or so he has consistently blown my mind with funny, insulting, insightful, and generally just really honest comments.

    One thing that stands out is that as he continues to learn to speak, he makes a lot of mistakes. That is, he violates the conventions of the English language, and it’s often because the rules of our language violate the rules of common sense. For example, at a recent visit to the park, he reminisced:

    “You throwed the ball, and I catched it.”

    As I started to correct him, I realized he was right, in a way. “Throwed” is a perfectly logical conjugation of “to throw.” And it makes a ton more sense than “threw.” Don’t even get me started on “caught.”

    This blog is not about linguistics, so I won’t go into the finer points here about how language will continuously evolve and change based on the actual usage by native speakers.

    My point is that somewhere along the way, some guy (I’m guessing old white guys) decided that the word was “threw” and not “throwed.” In doing so, they made life harder, albeit possibly just a tiny bit harder, for potentially billions of consumers of the English language to buy their product.

    You might do well to ask yourself what rules you’ve set up, or accepted without questioning, that make it harder for people to buy from you, to engage with your brand, or to evangelize your message.

    Think about it. Or give us a call and we can help you figure out what’s standing in the way of success and how to clear the path.


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    Four ways to make SXSW better

    August 21st, 2013

    I’ve just returned from year one of SXSW V2V — a Las Vegas spinoff of what has become an annual cavalcade of emerging music, technology, film, and an increasing number of really bad brand activations. You can read my take on V2V here, here, and here.

    What attracted me to V2V was the fact that it was smaller and more focused. I go to Austin for most years, and while I do enjoy it, I find it harder every year to justify from a business perspective, since the throngs of semi-pro tourists and the democratization of festival content seem to have taken a lot of the power out of the conference. I figured with only 1,500 people, and content narrowly covering innovation and entrepreneurship, we could collectively create a bit more value.

    I was right, sort of. In general, I’d say that most of the presentations were at the Beginner level, but the small size and concentrated area kept the vibe more intimate and made for more productive conversations.

    That said, here are five suggestions I’d like to offer the SXSW crew, not that they asked:

    1. Do more to facilitate connections between attendees. Sure, there are plenty of networking breaks, but that’s not enough. For example:
      1. The app and website should contain a social network. Contact me if you want to see examples of this done well.
      2. Badges should be scannable by smartphone. I met a bunch of folks without business cards. Their fault, to be sure, but you can still create more value here.
    2. Curate an Advanced track with speakers who push the boundaries of what practitioners need to know. The most common feedback I heard from friends after most sessions was “that was a lot of common sense.” I’d argue that common sense is good for people to hear over and over, but balance that with folks pushing the envelope.
    3. Offer videos of every talk for registered attendees to watch on the site. We can’t make every talk and sometimes have to skip one. We should be able to go back and watch it later.
    4. Let Behance (or someone) work with all of the presenters to design their decks. Some folks have great things to say but don’t have expertise in Keynote. Your audience shouldn’t suffer because you can’t make a good deck (although you really should work on your deck skills).

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    You Need to Pay Attention

    August 19th, 2013

    Day 3 of SXSW V2V was short for me, thanks to the impending feeling that work is piling up while I sit in conference sessions.

    I did manage to catch one talk before the flight home. Liz Bacelar of Decoded Fashion and Jennifer Taler of Stitch Factory spoke about how technology is impacting the fashion industry. Stitch Factory is a co-working space for designers, part of the Downtown Project, and Decoded hosts fashion-centric hackathons in partnership with major fashion events around the world.

    Both are on the cutting edge of what’s driving all modern businesses — not limited to fashion — collaboration. The key takeaway here was that you aren’t going to be successful anymore by just keeping your head down in your own industry. You have to pay attention to the ways that technology is shaping consumer experiences, and you have to look for inspiration and ideas from other industries.

    They also gave a long list of companies doing interesting things in the space. Email me if you want a copy. Also check out my take on Day 1 and Day 2. And come back tomorrow for a bit of unsolicited feedback I’m going to offer the folks at SXSW.



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    Lessons from SXSW, Day 2

    August 16th, 2013

    Part of the theme of V2V seemed to be promoting Tony Hsieh’s Downtown Project, and the big nighttime party on Day 1 was designed to get us off the strip to a venue that Tony may or may not own called the Gold Spike. It lacked all of the swag that has made Vegas a place that people flock to, but the hometown vibe lent itself to interesting conversations. I met an eccentric tech developer who explained his theory of not handing out business cards because it makes people more interested in contacting you. Unfortunately, I don’t remember his name.

    I kicked off Day 2 at a talk by my friend Toby Daniels, ringleader of Social Media Week, which I think is one of the more interesting conferences out there.

    His talk touched on the theme of personal effectiveness in a world where we’re expected to be “on” 24 x 7. The highlight was a service called Headspace, which Toby uses for daily meditation, and I’m trying it out in my own meditation practice. Here’s a fantastic sketch of the rest of his presentation by ImageThink:

    AOL founder Steve Case gave the day’s keynote, an interview session in which he championed the cause of entrepreneurship, as well as his own efforts to reshape healthcare, education, government, and immigration.

    • He makes a persuasive argument for entrepreneurship… The reason we’re the leader of the free world is that we’re a startup nation. We’re a nation of entrepreneurs.
    • For healthcare, education, and government… Education, healthcare, and government are more than half the economy. If we want to fix the economy, fix those things.
    • And for immigration policy that makes sense… 40% of the Fortune 500 were started by immigrants

    All interesting stuff, but the key takeaway for me was that we have to stick with it:  After seven years, AOL had only 186,000 users. Investors were telling him that obviously his company didn’t have mainstream appeal.

    The highlight of the day’s talks was from Brian Solis, analyst at the Altimeter Group.

    He’s one of those guys who constantly says the things I’m thinking, in ways that are more eloquent. Here are a few of those lessons:

    • The connected consumer (he calls it Generation C) is not an age group, but people living in a way that’s fundamentally different from what we’re used to. It includes a lot of Gen Y and younger, but also a significant number of Gen X and some Baby Boomers. If you’re still thinking along demographic lines, you’re missing the boat.
    • You are not in a position to compete for this consumer’s money, until you have successfully competed for his attention
    • Marketing is about experience. Period. Online, social, offline, in-store, product, support. Everything you do creates experiences (or worse, they happen without your input) that impact the way people perceive your brand.
    • Your job as a marketer is to address the Experience Divide — the gap between your brand promise and your customer’s experience. That’s it.

    Here’s the deck below. For further reference, check out the Cluetrain Manifesto, and Brian’s book What’s The Future of Business

    Brian Solis: What's the Future of Business from Adobe Marketing Cloud

    Coming up, lessons from Day 3, and some notes for the SXSW team about how to make the next one even better…


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    Three Things You Should Learn from SXSW, Day 1

    August 15th, 2013

    This week I attended the first ever SXSW V2V conference — a gathering of 1,500 startup entrepreneurs, innovators, and me.

    Since you’re too busy working on important things to hang out with me in Vegas, I’ve distilled a few of the key lessons worth noting.

    The first session I attended was by a group of Thiel Fellows. Rich guy Peter Thiel gives free money to entrepreneurs under 20 who look smart. Mostly, it was a bunch of guys starting out who didn’t have too much to say, but seemed like they will someday. However,  Zach Hamed is a senior at Harvard and ran down a long list of free and inexpensive tools you can use to launch a digital product for around $100. Pretty badass. The list is too long to post here, but send me an email and I’ll send you the list.

    His big lesson: You can do things for a lot cheaper than you think, especially if you’re going to start something, test, learn, and improve, which is of course what you should be doing.

    Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh gave the keynote for Day 1, an inspiring presentation about his efforts to revitalize Downtown Las Vegas, including a $300 million investment in real estate and entrepreneurship. He’s already created one of the biggest e-commerce sites on the web, and influenced the way we do our business at Rebel, and is now tackling a much bigger challenge: how to create a real world community that increases in value as it grows. One of my favorite parts of the project is an outdoor mall made out of shipping containers, designed to be fun for kids and adults, and with both education and commerce built into the experience

    For me the key takeaway was the power of what you can create if you’re really focused on what’s important to you. Sure, he has a lot of money, but there are a lot of people out there with a lot of money who aren’t making any meaningful investments into their communities. What if the big money in Detroit was thinking this way? See his presentation here:

    SXSW V2V – Zappos and Downtown Project – August 12, 2013 from Delivering Happiness

    Tony’s presentation was passionate, and the work he’s doing is amazing. The one downside was the graphics, which was sort of a common theme throughout the day. Makes me wish that SXSW had engaged Behance to design all of the presentations for the speakers.

    Behance CEO Scott Belsky gave an extremely well-designed presentation about lessons he’s learned from connecting a creative community.

    He spoke about the concept of “credible mass” vs. critical mass. Too many marketers focus on the number of people they’re reaching, without considering how much each of those people can do to help their businesses. He argued that if you can get 150 of the right people to like something, that can be more important than thousands of randoms, citing an example from 55DSL, who used Behance to crowdsource a new logo design. They got 15,000 entries, and found that each designer had spent 3-4 hours — six years worth of labor. Imagine what they could have accomplished if they had been more deliberate about how to use six years worth of people’s time.

    Finally, Jenn Dearing Davis of Union Metrics ran down lessons we can take from movie marketing. Here’s the deck, and a few key points:

    Market Like the Movies Without the Studio Budget from Jenn Deering Davis
  • Let users peek behind the scenes. We tried to get a client (their agency, actually) to shoot b-roll of their TV commercial and release the storyboards and interviews with the creatives, so fans could see the process they go through in figuring out how to advertise their product.
  • Build up to an event. A lot of the speakers touched on the importance of cadence, which is essential to success in social media marketing, and all marketing, and everything else.
  • Run contests and other promotions that let people play with your content. Don’t just give away iPads in exchange for entries.
  • Invest in high quality content. She referenced a couture fashion photo shoot with the cast from Hunger Games. We say that if you’re only going to post pictures from your website onto your social channels, you shouldn’t even bother.
  • Enlist opinions from your audience. Run polls and surveys. Make them feel heard, but also take their feedback with a grain of salt.
  • Ultimately, she says the key to success is good content shared consistently over time with lots of engagement.

    Stay tuned for more coverage from Day 2…




    Why Jeff Bezos Buying the Washington Post is a Good Thing

    August 7th, 2013

    Image borrowed from

    You might have read the news this week that Amazon’s Jeff Bezos is buying the Washington Post. You probably didn’t read that in a newspaper.

    Jeff Bezos has built possibly the most important company of our time. Amazon is fundamentally changing the way the world shops. And after all, shopping is the heart of business. If anyone is going to figure out how to build a thriving media company out of something like the Washington Post, it’s someone like him. No disrespect to the geniuses who have been shepherding print media’s graceful decline into irrelevance, but it’s safe to say that they aren’t the ones to figure out the new model.

    This deal matters because it’s an important bridge between new media and old. So far the model hasn’t been very productive:

    • New media or technology disrupts an old, staid, and marginally troubled industry, sending it into a downward spiral (music, news, retail)
    • Most of the new companies have no real business models, no idea of how to build brands, and generally terrible leadership, so they go out of business or at least struggle to become relevant from an economic perspective (anything from to MySpace, and thousands in between)
    • We, the buying public, are left without any leadership, and no idea how to make the best use of the new tools available to us. So we collectively lose millions of hours of what could be productive lives, and our trust in marketing, and the companies behind it, continues to diminish.
    • The cycle continues

    I’m sure you can see that this isn’t good for anyone. So, let’s take this opportunity to learn a few lessons from the guy who might be able to lead us to greener pastures, especially if he can figure out how to keep my hands from getting all inky.

    In the back of Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh’s audiobook Delivering Happiness (Zappos is an Amazon company, and so is Audible, where I bought the book) is a speech Jeff Bezos made to Zappos employees shortly after the purchase. He offers the following five lessons:

    • Obsess over customers. He says he doesn’t worry about competitors, even though he’s in one of the most competitive industries. Instead he worries constantly about keeping customers happy. The competition takes care of itself.
    • Invent. Bezos says you can invent your way out of any box if you believe that you can. At Rebel, we have four rules that push us in this direction:
      1. Be tenacious. Never stop finding better solutions.
      2. Ask more questions. People will often give you the answers you need if you just keep asking questions.
      3. Learn every day. Don’t wait for an annual review to find out how you’re doing. Don’t wait until the project is completed to figure out what went wrong. Take a few minutes every day to examine what is working and what isn’t and make adjustments in real time.
      4. Win as a team. Leverage the collective wisdom of other Rebels, vendors, partners, clients. And while you’re doing that, don’t just cover your own ass, but make sure you have their backs as well.
    • Invent on behalf of customers. Don’t expect them to tell you what they want. I had a client recently suggest that asking the brand’s Facebook fans “What do you want from us?” would be a good way to develop a marketing strategy. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. Customers pay you to figure it out so they don’t have to.
    • Think long term. Quick fixes probably don’t work, and too many companies are in a perpetual cycle of fixing their quick fixes. Be willing to be misunderstood and stick with what you know. That will create long term value for your customers and your brand.
    • It’s always Day 1. Don’t let the mistakes of the past become the mistakes of the future. Put another way: It ain’t where you’re from; it ain’t where you’re at. It’s where you’re going.

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    Four Steps To Becoming a Marketing Rockstar

    August 5th, 2013


    Recently, one of our Young Rebels asked for my recommendations for classes she could take to learn more about marketing.

    First of all, props to you, Andrea, for your curiosity and for taking the initiative to ask. Those will serve you well at Rebel and in life. Big up yourself!

    Any guesses about my response to her? Well, you might guess that my answer was probably a little more complex than she had hoped.

    First, I cautioned that traditional marketing education probably wasn’t the best use of her time and money. She expected that from me. I did mention a couple of my friends who teach at UCLA Extension.

    But mostly I recommended that she turn the world into her classroom:

    Find people at similar stages in their careers and build her network of friends that she can compare notes with, trade ideas and create a support system. In my opinion, this is the most important thing someone can do to build a successful career in any industry.

    After that, read the trades. They’re far from great, but they at least provide a baseline of knowledge about what’s happening in our business and they key players she should be watching.

    Next, study our our work for clients. What challenges do they face, and what solutions do we recommend? What works and what doesn’t? She can look beyond the projects she’s directly involved with and gain a broader understanding of the landscape real-time. She’ll find a lot more detail and context in our activities than she can get from reading third-party case studies, which tend to be overly optimistic and gloss over all of the pitfalls that plague marketers and agencies.

    Last, read lots of books that offer new ideas and perspectives. Don’t accept everything you read, but constantly challenge your own beliefs and conventional wisdom. To get a little help with this, I went to my Facebook friends and asked for recommendations for her. The best suggestions:

    Permission Marketing, Seth Godin
    Grow, Jim Stengel
    Simplicity Marketing, Steven Cristol
    Guerrilla Marketing, J. Conrad Levinson
    The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell
    Positioning, Al Ries and Jack Trout
    Good to Great, Jim Collins

    To start, I gave Andrea a copy of Permission Marketing, because I think it sets the stage to the unique approach we take at Rebel. We are by no means permission marketers in exactly the way that Seth intended, but his theories have guided a lot of what we do, and the book signaled a fundamental shift away from the status quo, which has proven over and over not to work. I think that’s the right mindset to get her started.

    What other books, classes, or ideas would you recommend to help a young marketer, or an old one, continue down the right path? Leave your answers in the comments.



    Work from home

    March 15th, 2013

    This article about Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer banning the company’s work-from-home policy is shocking. I’m shocked that Yahoo! is still one of the country’s 500 largest companies. The decision by Mayer has caused a lot of debate on both sides of the issue. It has also garnered more publicity than Yahoo! has seen in a decade.

    Personally, I’m a fan of the Results-Oriented Word Environment. Give people more freedom and treat them like adults. I understand this doesn’t work for every company, but I think it has a lot more potential beyond the companies who have embraced it.

    I get the point, which is essentially that desperate times call for desperate measures. But I also think that under stress, leaders resort to the practices they’re most comfortable with. That’s really when they need to dig deeper into the things they profess. What’s happening is that Yahoo! employees are learning what leadership truly values, which may be different than what they’ve been saying up to now.

    Below is the memo in full. Your thoughts on the work from home ban?






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