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10 Jul, 2013 – 3 comments

digital strategy 101

Digital Strategy 101 is an overview of the current state of digital strategy and an exploration of core concepts, deliverables, and thought-leaders relevant to young practitioners.

I’ve been earning a paycheck from the web, in one form or another, for the last 17 years. I owe any professional success to the web and to the generous people who have used it to freely share what they know with others. With this presentation, I’m trying to pay back some of that kindness by giving away whatever I know about the relatively young and constantly evolving field of digital strategy. I am by no means an expert, but I have spent several years as an amateur. I hope you find this useful and I hope someday you too feel compelled to share all of your secrets.

This is just the first edition, with many more (better) versions in the future I’m sure. So, please use the comment field below to suggest edits/adds/etc. Especially when it comes to the voices and tools, this really represents only a fraction of the brilliance out there. Any omission was certainly not conscious and will be remedied on the next run (which could be sooner than you think).

02 Aug, 2010 – 11 comments

who pays for strategy?

There are two types of clients that pay for strategy work.

There’s the client that is deeply curious about outside perspectives and looks for a strategy partner with a set of skills that compliments their own. Client No. 1.

Then there’s the client that feels too busy to do the strategy work for themselves, and who reaches out to a strategy partner to think on their behalf. Client No. 2.

And for each client type, there’s really only one course of action to satisfy their needs.

For Client No. 1, you better be ready to commit yourself to spending a good deal of time with the client, learning their business, and then deep diving on your own. Your work should be the product of rigorous exploration and synthesis.

For Client No. 2 you should brush up on your mind-reading skills. Whatever you deliver, it better sound exactly like the client’s inner monologue. Because, in their minds, if they had the time, they’d do this work for themselves.

In the world, there are more Client No. 2′s than No. 1′s. It’s by far the bigger market. A bigger, less rewarding, market. Client No. 1 will demand more of your time and an overall better product, but the return on your time can be huge. Client No. 1 is looking for a partner. Client No. 2 is looking for an intern. Client No. 1 understands the value of good strategy. Client No. 2 , by the very fact that they haven’t made strategy a personal priority, doesn’t understand your value, and won’t pay you what you’re worth.

Working for Client No. 1 makes you better at what you do. Working for Client No. 2 just tests your patience.

Client No. 2 is a dead-end.

Once we accept a client, we owe them our very best work; it’s something we owe ourselves, as well, come to think of it. But we have a choice of whose money to take. If you keep saying yes to Client No. 2, you’ll never find Client No. 1. You won’t get better at your craft. You’ll only improve your ability to deal with a difficult client.

08 Jun, 2010 – 126 comments

project in process: what is strategy?

click any of the images in this post to see the full size graphic

I’ve been working on a little project … and I’d like your help.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what exactly strategy is, and though I have a few answers myself, I happen to know a pantsload of clever, strategy-minded people who might be able to help me answer the question (that’s you, silly) more thoroughly and set the record straight(ish) for a large swath of our combined social graphs. Think of it as partly codifying the term to yourself and also finally explaining to dear ol’ mum just what you do all day.

So what is strategy?

Here’s my first crack at it – but I do need your help to really attack the question (how to help is below).

How you can help:

Option # 1 – Drop your response to the question in the comments below. I’ll try to think up a clever image for every comment that lends itself to one (but don’t let that box you in).

Option #2  – Grab the blank card image and go to town. Upload your finished product to Flickr and be sure to tag it ‘whatisstrategy’ – in case you’re wondering, I’m using the Knockout family of fonts (but feel free to make your contribution in your own flavor).

Option #3 – If you’re stumped right now, you can still share this post. Go ahead, twitter to your heart’s content.

03 Jun, 2009 – 327 comments

how to be happy in business – venn diagram

venn diagram

click the pic for a full size image


UPDATE!: I’m blown away by how this spread, the comments I’ve received back, and the links across the web. In almost every post about the image, someone asked for a poster, or mentioned printing it out to hang somewhere close by. So I’ve created a poster, using Zazzle, with a much higher res image:
Get the smaller (and cheaper) version
Get the larger size with better paper

I’ve been working at start-ups and small businesses since I was 14 years old. My father and his father before him owned and operated their own small businesses. There’s something about the fight for survival for a small team that’s coded in my DNA. It’s one of the reasons I enjoy working at Undercurrent so much. We’re small and thus we’re nimble. We’re lean and thus we’re malleable. And our age and our medium demand both.

I doodled this little venn diagram in my notepad the other day when we were talking about our own kung-fu and I realized it’s basically the conversation I’ve had for the last 12 years.

Over the years, I’ve found myself facing the following scenarios. (and I’ve added my two cents on how to move forward)

We can’t determine how to make enough money from the things we want to do, and do really well. I’m constantly surprised at what can be monetized. And on the web, there’s a market for almost anything. But this problem requires you to rapidly iterate your positioning and the type of clients you serve. Often, we’ll get transfixed on a single direction early on (because we’re desperate to solidify our business) and we’ll miss our chance to radically experiment with the market.

We’ve found things we want to do, and can be paid for, but we’re not the best game in town. Mediocrity is not a sustainable strategy. Being able to recognize your own weakness is a profound strength, and acting to improve what you do is key to any kind of long term growth and stability. Find the best talent and steal them. Learn how your competitors run their businesses, and copy what works.

We’ve come across things people want us to do, that we do well (or at least better than the competition) that we really don’t want to do. This is perhaps the most fatal trap for any business I’ve worked in. These are the sirens calling you to shipwreck. You’ll hemorrhage your best people, you’ll stop loving what you do, and you’ll lose the passion that built your business in the first place. Start saying ‘No.’

Have I missed anything? Does this resonate for you?

30 Mar, 2009 – 15 comments

what i do


I’m always searching for a jargon-free sentence to use when someone asks, “what do you do?” This is the best I’ve come up with so far. What do you think?

06 Aug, 2008 – leave a comment

who, meme?

Via LaughingSquid, BK G. over at Dipity has created a timeline of all those fantastic internet memes from the past.

21 Jul, 2008 – leave a comment

a word of advice from stephen colbert

My job is pretty cool.

08 Jul, 2008 – one comment

an entirely too deep look into the monkees

Last Train to Clarksville — The Monkees’ first number one hit in August 1966. It actually preceded the airing of the hit television series by a few weeks.

You might remember that yesterday I was mulling over what seems like a cultural shift from the copycat to the remix, and I asked Mike Arauz his thoughts on the subject. He asked a good question, ‘What made the Monkees so successful? Was it just the tv show?’

My immediate answer, was that while there were a glut of bands trying to ride the wave of the british invasion and the beatles’ sound, ‘The Monkees’ was an incredibly self-aware and self-deprecating clone. And that’s true, the tv show itself employed a variety of self-aware techniques like breaking the fourth wall and talking to the camera well before it was an established technique in episodic television (not to mention music videos before music videos existed). I also think it shouldn’t be taken for granted that The Monkees was a ground breaking show in premise alone: it was a tv sitcom about a fake band, composed of real musicians (as their later albums demonstrated), using their real identities (mostly), that launched the real band. American Idol, America’s Got Talent, et al, eat your heart out.

But I’ve been thinking it over some more, and that immediate answer isn’t enough to account for the popularity of the group. And I think the real answer lies somewhere still in the discussion between copycats and remixes.

In the 60′s, TV was hitting the height of its power as a persuasion medium. And it definitely functioned as the tastemaker for popular music during that time. Following the ‘pre-fab four’ around on their totally random adventures sold records. Furthermore, the powers that be were running the show. Bob Rafelson (director and co-writer of Five Easy Pieces*) and Bert Schneider (son of a Columbia Pictures President) were the producers — and at their disposal was the entire writing team at Columbia Records’ Brill Building. Hence the ability to drop a single BEFORE the show ever ran and see it hit number one. The Monkees are an example of supreme copycatting, launched at a time when the copycat was also an incredibly powerful model. (has this model worked for P. Diddy in the last decade with his groups? And he has a powerful brand to launch these groups, which are more like brand extensions than The Monkees ever were)

So, why were The Monkees so successful? So far we’ve got 1) the rise of tv’s power to persuade and 2) it was an excellent copycat, produced by heavy weights in both tv and music. But there’s a third ingredient missing-scarcity.

These days, copycats abound. Any hit has copycat products following close behind like the tail of a comet, especially in music. Its just gotten easier to produce almost anything these days, and with social networks, copycat bands have a hell of lot easier time reaching fans of the hits. Not so in the 1960′s, however. Copycats had a hard time getting noticed at all, siphoning off much less of the hit’s fanbase. The Monkees were different though, they had an incredibly visible platform to launch from and again, an amazingly powerful vehicle of persuasion. This put them leaps and bounds ahead of their copycat competitors.

Ok, I’m satisfied for now. Off to non-Monkees thoughts…

*Weirdest trivia I uncovered during this research: Jack Nicholson co-write The Monkees film, Head.

07 Jul, 2008 – one comment

the remix versus the copycat


The Monkees — copycats — one part Beatles, one part Small Faces, one part the Mamas and the Papas, and all parts trying to capitalize on a popular meme.

I’ve been thinking a lot about copycats, cover songs, and club mixes. What’s the key difference and which is more culturally authentic? On one hand, people have been covering songs as long as someone has been writing them, but remixes seem like a different beast altogether. Copyright law itself establishes the possibility that a remix could be so entirely removed from the original to be considered a unique property. (covers not so much)

The copycat is a massively successful business model (wait for a hit, then rush to market with clones — one recent example in book publishing comes to mind), but is the remix emerging as a model too? Are the two differentiated enough to make such a case? I can think of plenty of copycat products, but what about remixes? Copycats seem to be more top-down driven, while remixing is very bottom-up (it requires less actual manufacturing and more hacking). With that said, is the remix just the 2.0 version of the copycat?

What’cha think?
I’ll provide a little entertainment while you mull it over…

The Monkees’ Porpoise Song, arguably their most derivative and yet their best.

Travis Barker puts a little elbow grease into Soulja Boy, where does his version begin and the original end?