Somewhere, on some Godforsaken social media platform somewhere that bombards me with email updates I don’t trouble myself to read, I wrote a semi-tongue-in-cheek post about hating content.

If you’ve read other posts on my site, you know I don’t really hate content, but I deeply dislike the way the word “content” is commonly applied as it suggests something generic and mass-produced, the antithesis of what good content marketers should create.

In the last two days, I’ve found two interesting items that reinforce my animus. The first is this Content-free post by Tim Bray that condemns the same sausage-grinding content creation I despise. The second is this thread, which unwittingly articulates the hateful consequences (for a writer) of the sausage factory mentality: marketers soliciting “content creators” to write articles for as little as $16 a pop.

The marketer who started the thread is disappointed that she can’t find a suitable freelancer to create a “good quality” 400-word blog post for $30. Really. She said she has had “no luck.” Really? What a shocker…


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Even though the sign over the mine I descend into every day says, “content,” I’ve long held a nagging grudge against the name. “Content,” I’ve said before, sounds fundamentally generic, like grain or slop or pea gravel or the stuff slung from a hair-netted cafeteria aide’s long-handled aluminum spoon.

Fortunately (for me anyway), I’m not alone in my grudging. In today’s New York Times opinion piece, “Slaves of the Internet, Unite!” writer/cartoonist Tim Krieder goes to town against the opportunists who solicit free content from the talent in exchange for that ubiquitous Internet currency, “exposure.” (My response to this offer? “I’m quite capable of exposing myself, thank you.”)

Here is Kreider’s take on what “content” means:

“The first time I ever heard the word “content” used in its current context, I understood that all my artist friends and I — henceforth, “content providers” — were essentially extinct. This contemptuous coinage is predicated on the assumption that it’s the delivery system that matters, relegating what used to be called “art” — writing, music, film, photography, illustration — to the status of filler, stuff to stick between banner ads.”

Amen, brother, amen.

I don’t “make content” — I write and am damned proud of what I’m able to do. What about you?

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How to ruin a great tagline

Published on April 24, 2013 by in blog, copywriting, WTF?

How to ruin a great tagline

Once upon a time, this brand's tagline wasn't stupid. Really.

Growing up in the New York metro area, I appreciated Strand Books as a thing of wonder. If you loved books, here was paradise — a dim, dirty and dusty paradise to be sure, but paradise. And back in that day, the store’s tagline expertly expressed its appeal: “8 Miles of Books.”

Wow. Eight miles! The line was perfect. It captured the store’s abundance. It conveyed a hint of adventure, of hitting the road for a journey. And it communicated something of the city’s blunt pride: “Yeah, we got your books. Eight miles of ’em. Right here.”

Years later, the store made a modest, reasonable and (if anything) more boastful update to its tagline: “18 Miles of Books.”

Double wow!

Then, I’m not sure when, but not long ago, the store abandoned its quantitative braggadocio for a line that might have saucered out of the sky, streaming kombucha, from Portlandia: “Where Books Are Loved.”

Are you freakin’ kidding me? Where books are loved? Aside from its twee, hippy-dippy stupidity, the tagline stakes a claim ANY bookstore can make. Of course it’s a place where books are loved. Isn’t that true of every single indie bookstore in the world? The same cannot be said of “eight miles” or “eighteen miles” of books: in either case, that’s a claim tough to match and even more difficult to beat.

What on earth happened? Did the owners drink the water from Jersey? Were they bought out by PE morons from LA? How did this communications travesty occur?

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Which writers get paid?

Published on March 9, 2013 by in blog, copywriting, WTF?

Which writers get paid?
Cartoon guy carrying sack of money.

This writer knows what to write and where.

As you might imagine, I’m an enthusiastic supporter of the idea of writers making money. That’s why this Gawker post, “When Writers Write for Free, Who Pays?” caught my attention (even though, I will confess, the post didn’t sustain it; I found it far too easy to skip paragraphs on my flight to its conclusion).

Yes, I feel genuine sympathy for young writers — or people with writing ambitious who are not quite young anymore — and I can empathize with the pain of their struggles and the temptations to write for free, for exposure.

But there’s an ugly truth this whole kerfuffle seems to overlook: as in any glamorous industry (like fashion, theater, film, art, publishing, etc.) there’s a glut of would-be talent and an under-supply of appealing opportunities. As a consequence, the opportunities are dear, while talent comes cheap: for those willing to exploit this market reality, finding willing creators who’ll work for nothing or virtually nothing is easy. Want cheap talent? Swing your elbows on any Manhattan street corner.

Part two of the ugly truth: there is money to be made in writing, but it’s not in the kind of writing most people find attractive. It’s not what Kerouac hit the road for, not the stuff of literary daydreams; it’s what I do, commercial writing. Creating “content.” Writing web pages, emails and brochures. Ghosting articles and white papers. Making ads and direct marketing mailers.

It an’t sexy, but the work I produce and the money I’m paid for that work is real. Hence ugly truth number three: if you want to make money writing, make writing that makes money.

Is this helpful? You’re welcome. Please leave something in the tip jar.

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Best email opening ever

Published on February 19, 2013 by in B2B marketing, blog, WTF?


I got this today and just had to share it with the world.

The subject line was run-of-the-mill spam: “Best SEO Services and Link Building Service.” (Okay, sure, who am I to argue?)

This is what I found when I opened it:


Greetings for the day!

I am Alok, Online SEO Consultant.

We need not bother with the rest. I just love, “I am Alok, Online SEO Consultant.” You can just imagine a scene from Star Wars — you  know, the gang knocking back a few cold ones and introducing themselves to each other:

“I am Yoda, Master Jedi.”

“I am Han Solo, Galactic Mercenary.”

“I am Darth Vader, Prince of Imperial Darkness.”

Then: “I am Alok, Online SEO Consultant.”

Tremble before him, worms! He is Alok, Online SEO Consultant.

I am not worthy. None of us are worthy!

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The End of Social Media

Published on September 27, 2012 by in B2B marketing, blog, social media, WTF?


Am I really predicting the end of social media? No, I’m just being a provocative jerk.

But I am concerned about cracks in the walls upon which we’ve built delirious dreams of “engaging” with our markets, blah, blah, blah.

Case in point: As part of my research into podcasting (stay tuned), I signed up with Spreaker recently. Yesterday, I poked around the site a bit but please keep in mind — and this is important — I didn’t add a single meaningful piece of content to the site. I didn’t record a podcast, I didn’t upload a picture, I didn’t write a post. Hell, I didn’t even complete my freakin’ profile.

And yet…


This morning, I found not one, but three “follows” from Spreaker in my inbox. Three.

Why? On what grounds could these people have possibly determined that I would be a person they would want to have a “relationship” with? I have nothing on my Spreaker page; for all they know, I’m an empty suit.

“But Jonathan,” you’re thinking to yourself, “you naive fool. They don’t want to relate to you at all. They just want the follow back.”

Yeah, I get that.

And that leads to my initial point. Just as regurgitated brochure crap isn’t “content,” random trolling for followers on Twitter, etc. isn’t “building a network,” it’s building an illusion. An illusion of connection, an illusion of communications, an illusion of engagement.

On one level, this is all very amusing. (Picture me holding my elbow in one hand, a cigarette high in the other. Tres amusant.) But on another, it’s a little disturbing: to the degree that we pump fake content and build fake relationships online, we’re poisoning the social media well.

And the real result will be poor results. For us.


I don’t just whine and complain and gnash my teeth: I teach better content strategies, too.

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Revealed: Louis Bellson IS the Crimson King
Louis Bellson on the left, King Crimson on the right.

Coincidence? You be the judge...

It’s one of the most iconic images in rock-and-roll history: the 21st century schizoid man looking over his shoulder, In The Court of the Crimson King.

So imagine my surprise when I found the much more obscure gem on the left, a Verve jazz relic by one of the few drummers who could challenge Buddy Rich over a different kind of kingship, that of best big-band drummer of all time: Louis Bellson.

The album cover similarities are obvious, but let me explain why I don’t think they can be dismissed as mere coincidence:

  • On both covers, the face fills the entire “frame” of the image
  • The color palettes are virtually the same, composed of reds, violets and blues
  • Check out the similar shapes in the eyes, cheeks and nose
  • The killer: Look at the teeth, mouth, dimples and most of all, the tongue.

Observe, especially, the teeth in the lower right-hand corner of the mouths and the shadow of the tongues, on the left side, in both images — they’re just too much alike to be an accident.

Me, I’m convinced: the King Crimson artist used the Louis Bellson cover as his model. We have discovered the crimson king.




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Would you welcome a referral from this guy?

Yeah man, thanks for the referral!

In the last two days, I’ve received two automated email messages with the subject line, “Are you taking on new clients?”

Curiosity getting the best of me, I followed the link to a site called Referral Key. In the latest (and probably inevitable) iteration of social media networking, Referral Key offers a referral exchange platform that removes the inconvenient work of having to actually know people and understand their businesses before exercising professional judgment.

The promise? Hey, if you give rewards, you get referrals. If you give referrals, you get rewards. Whatsa’ matta’ wid dat?

Let me back up a bit to explain my own referral policy. Many people think I’m crazy, but…I won’t accept cash or percentages from professionals I’ve referred my clients to. Conversely, I won’t “reward” people (other than with gratitude, good will and maybe some in-kind services) for referring me.

Why? To maintain client confidence. Whether I’m the one referred or I’ve referred someone else, clients can be sure the recommendation was made, not on the prospect of obtaining a “reward,” but in the belief that the recommendation is in their best interest.

Which isn’t exactly the modus operandi of this referral model, is it? In fact, Referral Key extends the weakness of LinkedIn one step further: instead of exchanging contacts among people we barely know, we can now dilute our credibility even more by exchanging referrals with virtual strangers.

Put yourself in the client’s shoes: How would you feel about hiring professional talent based on an exchange that emerged from a social media site that encourages spam-messaging of your LinkedIn network base?

Call me crazy. Call me old-fashioned. But if you want a recommendation for marketing or creative talent based on my first-hand experience working with legions of professionals, call me on the phone. I may not have the right person for you in mind. But if I do suggest someone, it will be because I genuinely trust that person’s ability to help you. And nothing else.

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Here, Kitty Kitty: Social Media “Experts”

catEvery day, I get follow requests from so-called “social media experts.” Funny, but when I go to their home pages, I don’t find any evidence of actual social or business activity. You know, experience in sales, marketing, public relations. Experience in communications or community building. Experience in any meaningful way that has connected reaching people to building enterprises.

So what makes these people social media experts, other than spending a whole lot of time on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, what-have-you?

I’m reminded of an anecdote my wife shared with me regarding a recent guest lecturer at Boston College. The speaker, a noted author famed for her salty language and realistic take on hard issues such as faith and alcoholism, told a story about the time she announced her conversion to Catholicism to her ex-husband, a professor of comparative religions.

He scoffed at her, saying that in his position as an academic expert on religion, he knew what was worth knowing about any religion — and there wasn’t anything to her faith. Her comeback: “That’s like a guy who spends all day watching porn thinking he knows the first thing about p****y.”

Well put. And that, in a nutshell, pretty much sums up my opinion of so many self-titled “social media experts.”

For real expertise, check out this book on effective corporate blogging.

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Call Centers — The Wasted Brand Opportunity

Call center phone tronImagine this marketing scenario: You have a chance to talk one-on-one, not with mere prospects, but with actual customers. And they’ve gone out of their way to talk to you. With an issue of great concern to them.

You’d kill for that, right?

But companies kill that opportunity all the time. When customers call for help, that’s when you should really shine if you want to make a lasting, favorable impression.

Case in point: Friday, I had to resolve some difficulties with an Amazon book I had tried to send to a friend. It didn’t get to him, but was instead routed to an unknown post office. So I contacted Amazon.

First of all, they had a feature on its site for an immediate call-back and they were true to their word; I had hardly finished typing when the phone rang. Within seconds, I was talking to a live human being — a real person, not a “if you want X, press 1 now” virtual anger-stimulator. And she was competent; once she understood the nature of the problem, she called USPS herself, while I was on hold, to reroute the package. Then she returned to me with a promise that she’d call me Monday with the latest update on the package.

Now, how do you think I feel? Yes, I’m satisfied. And I have renewed appreciation for Amazon; I can shop with them confidently, secure in the knowledge that one way or another, this is a transaction that’s going to work.

But is your call center making the same impression with customers? Or are you so enamored with cost-cutting that you’d rather blow a critical brand opportunity to save a few cents on customer service? Instead of “saving” money, save your customers. Your bottom-line will thank you.

Another way to seize an otherwise missed opportunity, this time with surveys you can turn into ebooks.


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