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  • feedwordpress 13:34:20 on 2022/04/07 Permalink
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    Has Innovation Died in Marketing? 


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    Caveat: This will likely be one of my longish, link-heavy Thinking Out Loud pieces, so I invite you all to pour yourselves a glass of your favorite adult beverage or rustle up a fine cannabis pairing, should you care to indulge…

    As The Recount prepares for a major launch this spring, I found myself again contemplating the state of digital marketing – a subject I’ve written about extensively over the years. To not bury the lead, I find myself profoundly disappointed in the industry, which I think believes it is innovating, but in fact, is making the same mistakes old school media companies made when faced with the rise of the internet 15 years ago. But before I get into why, some background on how I came to that conclusion. 

    The Recount will soon launch a novel live news streaming product. We’ve been working on it for nearly a year, and we’re taking exactly the kind of risks that startups exist to tackle. We’ve rethought nearly every aspect of what makes “good television” in a post-social, digitally native information ecosystem. And while it’s true The Recount has a large and highly engaged social audience (tens of millions of views and engagements each week), there’s no guarantee that audience will join us in the world of live streaming. We know we have to prove ourselves – we must build and iterate a compelling service that people will find engaging, useful, and even fun. It’s risky – hell, it’s more than risky. To succeed, we have to build a service – and a brand – that our audience will want to share with friends and colleagues. In short, we know we must deliver an experience that builds community – because no media brand thrives without community.   

    Community. The word is a bit careworn, bruised from its recent run-ins with Web2 platform leaders like Zuckerberg and the casual toxicity of places like Twitter and YouTube. But community is a fundamental element of a great media brand, and it’s central to our success or failure. We think it’s so important that we’re launching our stream on Twitch, a platform that couldn’t be more different from traditional news environments in its approach to community. With one or two rare and unconventional exceptions, news has not found its footing there. So why the hell are we trying?

    Fair question. As we thought through the implications of committing to a third-party platform for the launch of a crucial new service, and the challenges of convincing marketers that it will be worth supporting, I was reminded of a burst of writing I posted more than fifteen years ago. Back then I was struggling to navigate a similar kind of shift in how media worked. At that point, blogs and “user generated content” were an entirely new phenomenon, poorly understood and confusing to most folks in traditional media (the same might be said today of live streaming and “connected television.”) I collected my thinking in a series of posts under the loose heading of “The Conversation Economy.” The series kicked off with an insight that now feels obvious, but in 2006 was relatively fresh: Most media being made at the time was still a product of what I called a “packaged goods” mentality. Given the rise of Web2, I argued, this “packaged goods media” approach to media was certain to be eclipsed by a new, more community-driven format. At the time, blogging was several years into what turned out to be a short-lived run as the dominant form of expression on the Internet. The rise of blogs, I theorized, pointed to a tipping point in media’s evolution. Packaged Goods Media was on the decline. Long live its successor: “Conversational Media.”

    In my first post, I noted how nearly every at-scale media company – Viacom, NBC, Time Inc, NewsCorp, etc. – had recently retooled their “interactive” divisions, appointing new leaders who were less digital cowboys and more traditionally minded media execs. Even the digital giants – AOL and Yahoo! – were installing old school managers. This was 2006, mind you – Twitter didn’t exist, Facebook was two years old, Google was a search company that had just purchased YouTube. The “winners” of Web2 were still very much undeclared. 

    At the time, I questioned why the big media companies of the era were treating digital as if it were just another form of packaged goods media. Didn’t they know that this time, things would be different? For these media companies to truly win, I argued, they needed to commit to radically rethinking not only the format of their product, but their approach to community, and the business model as well. 

    So how did things turn out, 15+ years later? AOL and Yahoo! are now owned by a PE firm, Viacom is struggling to get to scale and apparently prepping itself for sale, GE sold NBC to Comcast, and Time Inc. is now owned by a billionaire philanthropist. NewsCorp relegated its digital efforts to a sideshow, and doubled down on the politics of polarization over at its subsidiary Fox News. 

    Meanwhile, the digital advertising business – a business dominated by those same large media companies 15 years ago – grew from roughly $17 billion in 2006 to nearly $500 billion last year. And we all know who reaped the lion’s share of that growth: the triopoly of Google, Meta/Facebook, and Amazon – none of which care to be described as media companies. 

    Which got me thinking: Whatever happened to the principles of The Conversation Economy? If the big digital giants beat the hapless old school media companies, did they deliver the conversational media I predicted would emerge? 

    To answer that, let’s first define what I mean by conversational media. In my post defining the term, I theorized that conversational media had at least five core characteristics:

    Conversation over Dictation. This is crucial. Packaged goods media assumes a one-to-many stance – in the case of news, that means an authoritative figure stares down the lens of a camera, telling you what’s important and why. Conversational media, on the other hand, allows for the audience to engage in a journey of discovery with the journalist, who acts more like the host of a conversation. 

    Platform over Distribution. Conversational Media are driven by network effects and the platforms that harness them. PGM products, on the other hand, are driven by tightly controlled distribution – think Comcast or DirectTV. If you make PGM, you care a lot about your distribution. In 2006, the open web was the platform, but over time, the Apples and Facebooks of the world recreated the distribution chokeholds of old media models. Bummer. 

    Service over Product. If you view your output as a discrete product (article, show, book, etc), you’re probably making packaged goods media. But if you manage your business as a service (search, social, stream, arguably even Substack), you’re in the conversational media business. 

    Iteration and Speed Over Perfection and Deliberation. By its nature, Packaged Goods Media is all about creating and shipping a highly produced product. The idea of beta is alien – it’s either ready to ship, or it’s not.  In conversational media, the key is to create, launch, and then constantly iterate. Conversational media are always in beta.

    Engagement over Consumption. Related to the first point, the model of interaction with audiences in conversational media is one of engagement – “lean forward” as opposed to “sit back.” At its peak, for example, my blog had far more comments than posts, by a ratio of about five to one. And the key to a good Twitch livestream, for example, is how the host(s) interact with the community in real time.

    So did the winners of the marketing business – Google, Facebook, Amazon – build us a conversational media nirvana? The resounding answer is … hell no. They delivered us yet another version of packaged goods media – feeds, built to be consumed. It’s true, their platforms are services, but all they’ve really done is swap traditional media-as-product models for a machine-driven model where consumers are the product. The community at the core of great media brands is non-existent. We’re consumers with a doom-scrolling feed bag strapped to our face. It sucks, and we’re starting to wake up to it.  If you’re looking for quality takes on the news, it’s even worse.

    But that doesn’t mean conversational media is dead. In fact, 15 years later, I’d say the five points above offer a good framework for a large set of today’s thriving media businesses. Substack, The Athletic, Twitch, The Information, hell, even Discord – all of them focus on their communities first. 

    And guess what they don’t depend on? Advertisers. Some incorporate sponsorship or limited-scale ad units (Twitch), but by and large the core business model of conversational media has been some form of subscription.  

    Now why is that? 

    I blame marketers, full stop (told you I’d get back to that!). About the time Facebook and Google rose to prominence, marketers began to pull back on their “innovation budgets” – a percentage of their media spend reserved for learning and experimentation. In the mid aughts, most big brand marketers reserved 10 percent or more of their budgets for experimentation. The world was changing rapidly, and marketers knew that they needed to understand that change by participating in new approaches to advertising. But by 2012, the year Facebook incorporated programmatic advertising into its main news feed, those budgets were shrinking faster than the polar ice caps. 

    In my third post of the 2006 series, the longest of the three, I opined on how marketers might leverage conversational media, and what it might take to bring it to scale. Brands need safety, quality, and scale, and at the time, there was precious little of any in the newly burgeoning conversational marketing space. Regardless, brands were funding any number of remarkable experiments. I surveyed an array of innovative conversational marketing efforts, from Dice’s “conversational banners” to Open Forum from American Express. The results of these campaigns were impressive, and augured, I thought, a renaissance in how brands might go to market. Perhaps brands, I mused, might learn how to “join the conversation” and act more like members of a community. Perhaps they might even launch their own conversational media services, in partnership with media startups. After all, your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room, right? 

    Could have been, but the history of marketing over the past 15 years has not been one of customer engagement, and as for supporting innovation in news – it’s been mostly crickets. Innovations budgets have all but disappeared – one senior media buyer responsible for billions in annual ad spend recently told me that they hadn’t had money for media experimentation for nearly a decade. I then polled another half dozen marketing leaders on the same question – and got exactly the same answer from each. Sure, they were willing to test out at-scale platforms like Snap or Pinterest – but investing in startups trying new things? Not so much. Like their counterparts in big media companies, marketers gave up on learning how to create conversational media. So what did they do instead? 

    Again, you guessed it. The majority of their budgets funded Google, Amazon, and Facebook. These large platforms have perfected their data-driven marketing services, and they offered brands an irresistible trade off: Pour your dollars into my finely tuned black box, and our machines will kick out the results you want to see. From 2012 to the present, marketers learned how to spin the dials and pull the levers of the machines, but they failed at the one thing that should be setting them apart: Interacting with actual customers. They thought the big platforms would let them engage with their customers, but truth be told, they’d been disintermediated by the machines.

    This is not an idle observation. In the past few years, top CMOs have begun to publicly break with the platforms. On the record, they’ll say they are concerned about the inability to moderate unsafe content, but privately, they’ll acknowledge the elephant in the room: They’ve become too dependent on an intermediary they don’t quite understand – and they fret that they’re about to be made irrelevant. They’re also deeply concerned about the impact of these platforms on our national dialog – the loss of tens of thousands of journalism jobs, the rise of mis- and disinformation

    They’re right to be concerned. The platforms’ algorithms are spectacular at identifying a potential customer and placing a marketing message in front of them, but intentionally ignorant as to the context in which that customer might be engaged (I’ve written extensively on this phenomenon, which I call Lost Context). The results are great KPIs, but an increasing disconnect between big brand marketers and the customers they supposedly excel at understanding. Marketers have over-rotated on media buying – to the detriment of innovation. It used to be that the people who bought media had roles that let them be creative – they took risks, they tried new things. But now, smart CMOs are investing in building sophisticated media-buying machines of their own, replete with first party data, machine learning algorithms, and endlessly complex dynamic creative optimization services. It’s as if the answer to their dependence on the big platforms is to replicate those same platforms inside their own companies. I’m all for independence, but  true innovation means trying something entirely new.  

    The media landscape of 2022 is far messier, far more complicated, and even more unsettled than its 2006 incarnation. Television, the largest and most powerful of the traditional media sectors, is in full digital metamorphosis, and once again, the winners and losers are up for grabs. If ever there was a time to experiment, to learn, to try new things, it’s Right. F*cking. Now. And to not put too fine a point on it, there’s really only one way to innovate in any business: You have to spend money on things you aren’t sure will work. So I’m here to say it, loudly and proudly: It’s time to bring back the innovation budgets in media, and it’s time for media buyers to take back their profession. Our industry can’t afford to make the same mistakes we made over the past 15 years. If you agree, you know how to reach me – and I’ve got something cool I’d really love to show you. A few brave souls just might light the path to change. 

     
  • feedwordpress 14:08:39 on 2021/10/28 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , ,   

    The Recount Turns Two  


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    Two years ago The Recount moved out of beta with our first daily product. A short summary of national news, The Daily Recount was designed to cut through the bullshit endemic to mainstream media. As we grew, The Recount cultivated an incisive voice that never wastes time, rejects tired tropes, and focuses on the core values of journalism: Identifying the truth, holding powerful interests to account, and reflecting the world as it is today, not the way it used to be. 

    Twelve months later, that voice had found a huge audience on Twitter – which in 2020 was pretty much the white-hot center of the political narrative we were covering. In my post summarizing that first year, I laid out what we’d learned, and how the audience who had gathered around our work was responding. And I indulged in a bit of boasting: “Since launch one year ago,” I crowed, “our work has been viewed more than half a billion times.”

    We’ve shot well past the billion mark since then, with more than 3 billion audience impressions along the way. The past year has been full of milestones, lessons learned, and big plans for the future. Here are a few of them:

    • First and foremost: THANK YOU TEAM RECOUNT! We made it through the worst of a pandemic that shut down production, sparked confusion and contraction in media markets, and forced our entire team into their homes for the past 20 months. I can’t say enough about how extraordinary the folks at The Recount are – and how happy we were to re-open our new offices earlier this month. 
    • Even as Delta raged, we raised our Series B this past summer. This gave us the capital we needed to grow our edit staff, our coverage areas, and our distribution. 
    • Since then, we’ve doubled the size of our team, including nearly 50 full time editors and producers focused on our unique brand of visual journalism. And we brought on Ryan Kadro as our Chief Content Officer. Among many other things, Ryan will oversee our editorial strategy and lead the expansion of our streaming product. 
    • The Recount Wire, an expression of our editorial voice which I described last year as the “human algorithm” underpinning all of our work, has expanded its coverage of “moments that matter” to the people and narratives driving business, technology, and culture. 
    • We produced countless stellar features on everything from CEO pay to Basic Income, Bitcoin to the US Senate
    • Our signature style of “bringing the receipts” journalism tore up social platforms for yet another year, whether it was Dr. Fauci, Ron DeSantis, Trump, Zuckerberg, or the local police.   
    • You can view all our work on our newly redesigned site, which got a refresh for the first time since its launch two years ago.  
    • We added two extraordinary people to our Board of Directors: Maya Wiley, a respected legal expert and social justice advocate who recently ran for Mayor of New York, and Elisabeth Sami, a savvy veteran of the television and news industries’ shift to streaming who recently left NBC. 
    • We completely redesigned our daily newsletter, which has grown significantly and become my morning ritual for understanding the stories that matter across our four pillars of coverage. Sign up here
    • We launched our podcast unit straight into the teeth of the pandemic last year, and since then, have logged 7 million downloads. If you’re not listening to John Heilemann’s signature pod Hell & High Water, for example, you’re really missing out – it’s a gem. 
    • We kicked off new partnerships with amazing companies like P&G, Comcast, Yahoo!, Acast, Roku, YouTube and more. 

    It’s been a hell of a year – one that John Heilemann and I will recount in our annual “Recounting 2021” conversation this December –  but the next 12 months promise to be even more eventful. We’ll be debuting a new streaming service, launching new programming (like The Long Game featuring LZ Granderson and Will Leitch, coming next month), and adding even more talented journalists to our ranks. We’ll expand our presence on selected social platforms like Snap and TikTok. And we’ve got a few curveballs working as well – more on those as they land. And throughout the coming year, we’ll continue to keep close and knowing tabs on the worlds of politics, business, tech, and culture in order to help viewers beat back information overload – and keep the bullshit at bay. 

     
  • feedwordpress 12:46:08 on 2021/07/15 Permalink
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    Goodbye Logic+Emotion, Hello Armano Design Group 


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    ADG

    This will be the last blog post I'll write on this Website. 

    Let me take a step back.

    In February of 2006, before TikTok, Snap, Facebook, and Twitter, there was a form of social media built on the open Web where like-minded people found others like them, (as well as audiences). They were called blogs. 

    I picked a weekend during this coldest of months in Chicago to dig into what it would take to learn more about this space. I was intrigued by the potential and had become a reader of blogs myself. I started writing about what I knew most about back then—my first blog post was about user experience design (we call it UX now). 

    Blogging opened up a whole new world to me as the Web started becoming more social. Before I knew it, I had built an audience, started getting invited to speak all over the world, and I had new career opportunities which stretched me in entirely new directions from advancing leadership abilities to learning communications and public relations to expanding my knowledge through practice in the broader category of marketing as well as business transformation. 

    The world has changed much since 2006, and a recent Pandemic has accelerated decades of change and transformation in less than two years. We're only just at the beginning. Like many others, my career was unceremoniously disrupted and faced with uncertainty; I started my own venture with the fortune of securing some early contracts while dealing with my own fairly substantial case of Covid. I am happy to report—that which doesn't kill you, does in fact make you stronger. Yes, I've learned firsthand about the over-hyped word "resilience."

    And as it turns out that when change is accelerated—experience in managing change comes in handy. I've found myself working with some amazing partners and hope to share more on that later when the time is right. 

    So, a new chapter begins. I'll still be writing and sharing insights, but not here. You can find me at the following places:

    Armano Design Group
    We’re a design-inspired strategic consultancy that untangles complexity with purpose and passion so projects can be executed with precision.
    We help organizations solve complex marketing, communications, and business problems—by design.

    David by Design Newsletter on Substack: Personal thoughts, observations, and insights 
    Subscribe Here

    @Armano on Twitter

    DavidArmano.ME

    Linked IN

    Forbes

    "I have noticed even people who claim everything is predestined, and that we can do nothing to change it, look before they cross the road."
    ~Stephen Hawking

     
  • feedwordpress 17:34:22 on 2021/06/16 Permalink
    Tags: , , mentorshio   

    The Mentor / Mentee Value Exchange 


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    Mentor_mentee

    Originally posted on David by Design

    For the past five years or so, I have been informally mentoring people. I’m happy to report that some of the earliest are ridiculously successful and I still keep in touch. I’m also a mentee to a few people I look up to. Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

    Understand Your Motivation Before You Become A Mentor or Mentee

    You’re entering an informal agreement and you should know what’s motivating you and clearly articulate that to the other person. In my case, I realized I had not been seeking out mentors so becoming one was an intentional act.

    Embrace That It’s A Two Way Learning Street

    Regardless if you decide to seek or provide mentorship, you are accepting the role of both teacher and student. As a mentee, you will be teaching your mentor on a daily basis. Understand this dynamic works both ways.

    Be A Mentor Means Being An Active Listener

    If you want to become a valuable mentor, you either are a serious active listener or want to get better at it. Don’t become a mentor if you don’t value listening. It’s the number one requirement.

    Being A Mentee Means Being You

    If you’re not comfortable being yourself, you may not be ready for mentorship. Being a mentee means bringing your true self to the informal arrangement. There’s no room for anything less.

    The Mentor/Mentee Value Exchange Transcends Professional Development

    Being professional is a core value of my being. I strive to act ethically. I’m also a follower of radical candor and encourage mentees to explore a degree of personal life as part of professional development.

    Trust Is The Literal Foundation Of Mentor/Mentee relationships

    In every engagement where I have been both mentee as well as mentor, I seek to build trust. It’s the bedrock of the Mentor/Mentee value exchange. And it also flows both ways.

    Don’t Become A Mentor or Mentee If You Can’t Make The Time

    Time is our most precious asset and it’s limited. We have demanding projects, family duties, self-care, etc. all competing for time. If you can’t prioritize being either, you aren’t ready for it.

    The Mentor/Mentee Value Exchange Is A Human Investment

    In the age of crypto and a red hot housing market — becoming a mentee or mentor is an investment in another human being. If you value the ROI that comes with human investment, you’ll benefit from being either.

     
  • feedwordpress 16:25:04 on 2021/06/06 Permalink
    Tags: career transition,   

    Six Thoughts On Career Transition 


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    This past week I “celebrated” a year of career transition. It seems like a strange thing to celebrate as I didn’t find career transition, it found me. But unless you’re one of those rare creatures in life where everything goes according to plan — a career transition is just like one of any other’s life curveballs like the end of a relationship, or an accident, or maybe getting some news from the doctor that impacts your health and lifestyle. During this time, I have kept busy with contract work and conversations — lots of them. Not just career-focused conversations, but relationship reinforcing ones. I realized that this is not a topic people discuss openly, even though so many people go through it in some shape or another. There’s something not right about that — it’s like not talking about any other significant life milestone or even death for that matter. The fact is, some version of career transition, reinvention, reframing, or transformation comes for all of us — or we come for it. Either way, it’s a learning experience.

    So, I took to Twitter to share a few things that I have learned during my career transition experience. Here are six things you’ll learn if you keep an open mind and heart:

    You’ll find out who’s really in your corner:
    And it will be surprising. Some of the surprises will be pleasantly unexpected and truly wonderful. Others will be a surprise that you didn’t see coming. The good news is, knowing who is truly in your corner is AWESOME.

    You’ll experience loss, gains, and personal growth:
    Life without the security of full-time employment (if this has been your career path) is transformational. Some days you wake up feeling like you lost something — other days, you take in the gifts. Either way, you grow.

    You’ll learn to lean:
    On others for support. That’s something I’ve traditionally been not great at and have taken pride in my self-sufficiency to an extent. But career transition underscores the importance of connections, relationships, and even being vulnerable.

    You’ll learn:
    A ton, if you’re really smart. I’ve been much more observant of how others are navigating careers and life and challenging myself to get out of my comfort zone. Since a career transition naturally removes comfort, it’s a no-brainer.

    You’ll adapt:
    A forced career transition + a global pandemic + a summer of social unrest + a year of “new normal” = adapt or die trying. Having had Covid induced pneumonia on top of it all tends to underscore the old adage “that which doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger”.

    You’ll get perspective:
    And that’s the most important thing. A career is a huge deal because we spend so much time doing it. But I have other identities… father, partner, brother, friend. Your perspective on life broadens and if you allow it, becomes enriched.

    I hesitated greatly when I hit the publish button on the first tweet of that thread. But then I thought about all of the people and leaders that I admire. They aren’t the ones with iron-clad armor who are always ready for professional battle and climb up the corporate ladder, stepping on others to climb higher — they are the ones who embody strength through relatability, who lean into their humanity and genuinely care about others. They aren’t afraid to share their experiences and help others along the way.

    And the thing about transition is that it’s temporary. Like that butterfly about to emerge from the chrysalis. It’s a period of incubation between here and there. We’d all be better off openly discussing the in-between moments as much as the milestones because there’s a lot we learn during the transition.

     
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