“The most powerful person in the world is the storyteller”

A lot has changed since Steve Jobs said this in 1994, but indeed almost all customer and generational truths lie in shared stories.

What Jobs understood better than most, is that the narrative between companies and their customers, the identification between products and people’s view of themselves was the key to marketing personal empowerment.

This is a universal truth, then and even more now.

We need to acknowledge that along with the possibilities of a more personal medium, there are more demands to master it.

I think there is a narrative truth that is more akin to the relationship we have to an episodic storyline than the well encapsulated and closed reality of a film that starts and stops. Or to an image in an ad or gif.

Why does this matter?

Getting the narrative right is one of the most important things that companies do to ensure their market success.  A must do.

People simply react to what feels right to them.

No matter how busy or distracted they are, each individual in the market is open to a narrative that connects them to things that matter to them.

To the clothes, they want to buy. The people they want to vote for. The tools to make work better or charities to support. Or the sense of power and hyper-charged chutzpah that pervades the personae in the decentralized world of incentivized networks on the blockchain.

Think about this in relation to your company or even to your ability to communicate more effectively as an individual on your social nets to raise some funds or front a cause.

Each and every individual is open to information or connection around most every decision they have to make. Even those pieces of their lives they don’t know can be better or different.

We just need to get the narrative right and orchestrate how and when we tell it. We need to play the role of being the mouthpiece of what they need or want to hear.

Nontrivial certainly but always where we start.

Building products is hard and a process. But no more I would argue, or more complex than touching individuals we have no prior connection within their very hearts and beliefs to move them to thought or action.

What marketing does, the engine of the narrative process, when done right, is to figure out how to make this possible.

All of us have a huge arsenal of data and networks available to us. Tools and rules of thumb to guide our actions but the soul of the machinery is in what touches people. Otherwise, it is just machination. Just exercise and technique.

I would always rather have my narrative at an emotive and true connecting point than an infinite amount of resources to roll it out. If I can nail that, funding, market connection and community engagement all have a better shot.

What is it that ties this all together?

It’s more than simply a story. Or talking points.

Jobs (so the story goes) was thinking of Disney at the quote at the top of this post.

We, however, need to think of ourselves as the creator and pulse of our own narrative. Forget being the most powerful in the world and think about the right way to touch your own world.

Many of us in marketing were brought up with the corporate communications mantra of vision, mission statement, elevator pitch, one liner, short para on who we are and on and on.

There is value in that exercise but our narrative is not exercise, it is the language we speak in.

This is not getting it perfect, it is getting it true and engaging.

Success is not a pitch, success is touching people who are not looking for you and doing something else. Who you don’t know, who don’t in most cases even know that what you have is something they care about.

This doesn’t come from an image or ad.

It comes from finding the words that speak to the value that someone else needs to hear. Finding someone else’s aha point in a common language.

Ask yourself—

Why someone chooses you or your product over another? Why in the midst of all the noise and distraction, it is possible to connect and touch someone?

How can you from a very cold start create something new in the world that finds its way into a mass market of connection? Not through code, through connection and belief?

Stories are the force that shapes our world. The answers to all the questions not yet asked.

What’s yours?

Father’s Day









I’ve written about my dad and my family growing up many times on this blog.

About his story as a first generation immigrant raised in the blue-collar community of Paterson, NJ. In the mist of the Passaic Falls that drew his parents from Ozorkova, Poland to work in the silk mills there.

So much time has passed since his death that the melancholy of loss has become more pensive, more useful and inchoate at the same time.

I’ve turned the ache into thought, longing into something that I can hold onto and pull out as needed.

This morning with his image in my mind, I’m thinking about how our lives are shaped and powered by composite memories of people and events even as they change and crystalize over time.

My memory of my dad is so transfixed by the passage of years. So nuanced by a lifetime of my own experiences that have transpired since we laid him to rest.

It is less about a litany of learnings than one image that I see when I close my eyes.

It’s become clear to me as I get older that memory is not about the past, it is what we carry forth into the present as character and strength from what we’ve learned.

Being old by definition is spending your days looking back as the best part of the present. Being alive is longing for the new, taking what we’ve experienced as pieces of ourselves to pave a new future.

When I think of my dad, the picture at the top of the post captures it for me.

Me, probably seven or eight years old, him in his late twenties at the time.

Snuggling into him on a family vacation to the Thousand Islands.

Me, the precocious middle child grabbing a moment of ownership and connection from my always busy, ever attentive, forever teaching father.

It feels like a lifetime ago.

Loss though is not what I iconize about my dad.

It’s more a hyperlink to a place in time. A wrinkle that you can crawl into as needed and peel back parts to feed what is ailing you. I stare at this picture often, a scan of an actual Polaroid that my mom took and noted the place and time on the back in pencil.

It makes me think about how lucky I was to be brought up in a family that truly cared, that made sacrifice normal, that worked like crazy, that did everything they could for each of us.

This is a pictogram of love. Of safety. Of security. And of thanks.

This is the good stuff of life, these memories as fuel for the future.

They become more rounded at the edges over time, more framed images than motion pictures with a plot. But still, a narrative that belongs to me alone.

This is a composite of memory.

Of want and need. Something that I deem sacrosanct that holds me tight. And gives me strength.

I feel lucky.

He was a really good man and a great father.  I don’t miss him as much as I try to be as good a person as he was.

In retrospect, life is as we craft it in our thoughts.

Can you hold 50 years in a snapshot of something that feels out of body even if the body was your own?

A lifetime of experiences, reflections, and uncertainties in this framed view of where you came from and where you are going?


Happy Father’s Day to all.

Token-based attention economies and marketing

I’ve been both obsessed and puzzled with the question of what marketing means to a token-based attention economy.

Like Steem as an example.

I asked Nick Grossman on his blog this morning:

“So what does marketing mean to this model especially when the core of the community is attention ala Steem and not a service or product like cloud storage?

He responded:

“…steem is “full stack” from the start, rather than layered. For example, you could take the new Kin token and apply it to a different social network — so the currency and the user experience are detached.

“I suspect that ultimately the layered model will win out — people will build consumer experiences that are several layers detatched from the underlying tech / currency — the way that most users don’t know or care whether this website was built using wordpress or ruby on rails, etc.

An interesting reframing of the question.

I believe that in many ways, token-based economies are as close to natural value systems as I’ve seen.

They work smartly where the marketplace is focused on goods and services like cloud storage, where the value is a quotient of availability, price, and reputation.

That’s the aspirational basis of all marketplaces, like many in the food and supply chain worlds.

But with attention-based systems like Steem, really social nets of sorts, this has flown in the face of what traditionally is thought of as social behaviors and group dynamics in community structures.

Maybe Nick has restated this appropriately.

There is a core distinction between a community and a marketplace. Most every community aspires to a marketplace status but it is not always a natural state, especially those based entirely on the popularity of subjective content or personalities.

Steem in Nick’s terminology is full stack, in my words, they are using an exoskeleton of economic functionality where in actuality the value is a behavioral metric.

Where the true value of socialization or individualized brands ala Facebook or Twitter is not the token or monetization model to an individual, it is, or I think should be, simply the plumping.

I believe that behaviors are platformed at times. That behaviors while they certainly evolve, maintain social and group dynamic norms. It was true when I ran a large open source project a decade ago, is still true today unless I am falling prey to my own experiential bias.

Ask yourself:

-If you are in charge of marketing for a community like Steem, what are your measurable goals?

-How do you know if you are doing a good job?

-How do you avoid the social media trap to use the value of the token as a metric for the ROI of your community activities?

And another one I can’t shake:

-How do you involve the large brands with massive budgets that want to participate in your community, not as individuals but in a yet-to-be-defined variant of advertising and sponsorship?

I spent some time at the Token Summit last week talking to people about this.  I’m focusing on Steem as an example, as it appears to be at an inflection point where these questions will soon begin to be relevant to their continuing success.

Just because you democratize access and economics, doesn’t remove the necessity to lead the narrative with your community relevant to your goals or even a greater good.

Just because you are a community with a built-in economic model that eliminates the need for interruptive media, doesn’t mean that the human dynamics of leadership and engagement, don’t play a telling and formative role. Or even that token scoring is not interruptive in its own right.

I think the first tactical steps to figure this out will come where proven community expertise and behavioral marketing meets the leap to this new market communities model.

Marketing really does matter and it is just starting to find itself in this developing world.


Thanks again to William and Nick for offering me a seat at the conference to lend a different point of view to the discussion.

Can emerging brands coexist with Amazon?

I think the answer is an unqualified yes.

Certainly, the majority of what we buy today online comes through Amazon.

Luxury items like wireless headphones. Appliances like dehumidifiers and refrigerators. Sundries like Q-tips and toothpaste. Cleaning supplies, fast chargers, and cat treats.

Amazon does so much right and they have platformed new consumer behaviors equally as much as the social nets.

For both commodity sundries and name brand goods, they have won the war.

But in actuality, Amazon doesn’t have a lock on the future of retail.

I believe they will crush the aggressive but uninspired Walmart rollup effort and continue to own the massive volume, logistically focused, low margin part of online commerce. A huge market obviously, but not the most interesting one.

Remember, we go to Amazon to buy stuff we need. We buy little there we didn’t know about prior.

They are the truly the grandest automat of catalog goods, but not a platform for emerging brands and consumer communities.

The more disruptive future belongs to an ever-increasing number of brands who are transforming our buying habits in dramatic ways. We are already in a world where buying jeans and suitcases, socks, shirts and boxers, even shoes without trying them on first is the developing new norm.

These micro brands are cracking the really difficult puzzle of how to build emotive brands solely online, incubate communities and sell branded product direct to the end user. Figuring out how to make this digital process personal and scalable. How to inspire me as a customer so that I’m impelled to share my joy with others.

That is their true innovation.

To illustrate my point, these are new brands that I’ve become attached to:

  • The luggage brand Away, speaking to design, innovation, and quality at affordable prices with hand-holding customer service and no-questions-asked return policies.
  •  Allbirds, my new favorite, making $99 all-wool-footwear that fits literally like a glove, looks great, are every so light and machine washable.
  • FreeFly Apparel, making bamboo fibered, highly affordable casual clothes. Wearing their mid weight hoody right now as I write.
  • The now big one’s–Mott & Bo for jeans and towels, Mack Wheldon for boxers, tees and socks.

There are two key begging questions:

1. How can these brands rise above the deafening market din and ever shrinking consumer attention span?

All of these brands are manipulating the following pieces, each in their own way, exceptionally well:

 -Uniquely crafted product and authentic positioning tied together in one brand emotion from the onset. Invariably in tech products, positioning comes way later and is always a struggle which is often not overcome.

-Community as the key channel, morphing the genius of the Kickstarter innovation to have community exist across the web, not just on their site where the transactions take place.

-Highly customized and perfected, buy and return process. It is now much simpler to buy jeans online and return them seamlessly, then it is to buy them at a store and try them on.

 -Brilliant understanding that the brand narrative gets told differently in each different social channel and a redefinition of how best to use advertising, especially on Facebook.

-Embracing fully that they are lifestyle brands, an extension of what the fashion industry always knew and what early Apple did so well for its more innovative product launches.

-Superlative premium products, smartly priced to feel like it is a deal without always being on sale.

2. Can these brands scale large without the logistical machinery of an Amazon?

Free shipping. Multiple SKU inventory. Open return policies are tremendously hard logistically and require enormous capital.

Can any of these become a billion dollar brand on their own and the next gen household name clothing or accessories brand?

Or is the entire ecosystem in your Facebook feed, simply a feeder for Amazon or Walmart to buy up these properties and let them self-manage on top of their logistical backbones?

Friends who are experts in this world think that at the end, Amazon will simply suck up the best and platform them. Or more so, create copy cats and force them out of the market.

It’s too early to know in my opinion.

What I do know is that when core impulse behaviors across the global mass market shifts dramatically, pay attention.

When the web again feels agile, unbounded and optimistic, like an open incubator for emerging brands, applaud this loudly and dissect it fiercely to understand what is truly going on.

That’s what I’m doing.

Mother’s Day

I’ve been very apprehensive about this day honestly.

My older brother sent a note to me yesterday with a similar recognition of unease as he realized that this is our first Mother’s Day without our mom being around.

The first since her passing last July.

I’m feeling deeply pensive about this, realizing that we discover over time that there are a never ending series of first experiences that stretch along the continuums of our lives.

That a visceral malaise comes with this as we realize that many of these firsts are as well our lasts, bringing equally as much sadness as joy as time goes on.

Today in that context is a profound first for me.

My mom’s passing was a closing of a doorway to an active connection to my childhood and a holding on to that special group of characters, that each of us has that define family and the norms of our lives.

And invariably when fortunate as I consider myself to be, the keys to values and beliefs that have shaped who I am.

We all come to grips that in the hurt of these losses there lies a balance of who we are in the face of these inevitable changes.

As I watched my mom age with considerable grace and experienced her death suddenly with such dignity, I can’t help holding on the loss of it. To the the hurt of it.

It reminds me of the powerful distinction that Buddhism makes between the states of remorse and regret, and that in the nuance of understanding this you either find stasis and unhappiness or comfort and forward momentum.

I’m realizing that there is a similar dichotomy between sorrow and sadness that is relevant to my feelings today.

I am truly sad when I think of my mother. Painfully so, not for her but for me. But in this sadness, there is no real sorrow.

Just as in the best of times, I don’t regret the passage of time along this continuum of my own timespan.

My mom was a really terrific lady.

It was my great pleasure as we both aged to see the switch of my role as the child to her as one in many ways.

To her as the needy one. To her the center of attention. And to her whose presence required attention, even in the most insignificant thing.

My mom, and all of ours I’m sure are exceptional because they are ours. Yes, some are more accomplished in the eye of the world. Or successful. That matters really not at all.

In our own lives, looking back, we see ourselves young and raw. Needy and taken care of. Foolish and protective. Loved in spite of all the shit we did. It’s a messy warmth that bears no equal in life.

I’ve already written in my memorial post how much she meant to me.

Today I simply share this with my family and community who may have similar thoughts of sadness today or something they can file away.

Life is better for the things we remember that helped us become who we are.

My mother. All of ours, are as formative in making this so as anything can be.

This is an opportune time to celebrate their unique importance to those who are with us still. To say thanks to those that are not. To find a place for sadness that is a type of joy in its own special way.

I’m going to head up to the MoMa today to visit the Jackson Pollack painting that my mom and I so loved together.

We made a trip to the museum a few times every year over the past decades.

She would get dressed up with the special clothing and jewelry that I bought for her as presents. We would have lunch at the café overlooking the sculpture garden and then we would sit in front of this magnificent painting.

For some unexplained reason, abstract expressionism touched us both. And this painting more than any other.

There was approachability in its shapelessness. There were so many nooks and crannies for both of us to find our own meaning there. To experience the strength and power and inspiration of it.

I’m leaning hard today on intellectualisms about the inevitability of life and change.

It’s truthful but I need a heavy dose of something we touched together, that is palpable and special to the both of us.

I’m off to find it.

Happy Mothers Day to all mom’s everywhere!