Aaron Brazell

Welcome to a Top 100 Marketing Blog Which is Not a Marketing Blog

Welcome to the many marketing and communications professionals who are visiting this site today. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that Invesp.com listed me as the #40 most influential marketing blogger of 2008.

To be clear, while I appreciate the designation, this blog is not about marketing. That said, the internet is a space where communications are changing radically. Folks like me are at the forefront of the digital revolution, and so what we do is in many ways the marketing of tomorrow (and in some cases, the marketing of today).

If the point of marketing is to disseminate a message, it is arguable that I am in fact a marketing blogger. However, I would take it a step farther to redefine marketing as the effective, and increasingly online mode of connecting people with people, businesses with businesses and people with businesses. It is less marketing and more community. It is less message, and more trust. It is less organizational, and more grassroots.

Welcome to Technosailor.com. I hope you’ll stick around and learn. Hopefully I will learn from you as well, so feel free to comment and contribute. If I can make you think and you can make me think, then our jobs are done. And of course, I am willing to bring consulting power to your online communications as well. Drop me a note.

Aaron Brazell

Embargoes, Corporate Blogs and Getting a Story Out

Over the past few days, the way the news is done (as told by blogs) has been challenged once again. Mike Arrington, in a moment I can only assume was brought on in frustration by another mismanaged embargoed story, declared unilaterally that TechCrunch would agree to any embargo and proceed to break it thereafter.

Marshall Kirkpatrick came out on the other side re-assuring the public that Read Write Web would honor embargoes.

This morning, Jeremiah Owyang, who I skewered recently over sponsored post opinions, started asking some great questions around the communications of “hot” stories – that is, stories that companies deem newsworthy and seek coverage from bloggers on.

Jeremiah wonders why companies don’t disseminate this information themselves? The answer is: They do. Everyday, thousands of press releases are sent out, most of which fall on deaf ears.

Companies, realizing the difficulty in communicating online in an internet age, have turned to blogs as things they must have. The problem, however, is that traditional communication tactics have been applied to a corporate blogging strategy (you do know the difference between tactics and strategy, right?).

In other words, most corporate blogs are boring. Nobody reads them. Nobody cares. And so, most companies handling their own “news” stories will fall on deaf ears. It’s a numbers game. Get the story to the top blogs in the space that cover the genre of product or service, and you get the most eyeballs. Get more eyeballs, the percentage of sales go up.

The Corporate blogs that are effective are the blogs that participate in the larger community. They not only promote their own products, but they have a distinct outwardly looking mentality that helps their readers be better people, business people, marketers, wives, husbands, internet citizen, etc. They enable community, which benefits their own business.

Most corporate blogs have not figured this out. Instead, they are used primarily to shill their own products and services and let’s be honest, everyone hates getting spammed. Thus, the corporate blogs are not read and the companies are left relying on bloggers such as Mike Arrington to get their messages out.

In an ideal world, Jeremiah’s concept would be best. Businesses would have respected and competent media arms that could disseminate and challenge the community and cause effective bounce in their online presence.

If you’re a corporate blogger, I’d be particularly interested in your thoughts on this.

Aaron Brazell

Sponsored Post: Granting a Wish with Sears


This post is a sponsored post on behalf of Sears via Izea. The opinions are mine.

The economy is tough right now, and in my personal life, things are as challenging to me as they might be for you. So when offered an opportunity to work with IZEA on a Sears Grant a Wish program, it piqued my interest.

Sears is not typically my store of choice to shop. Christina likes to accuse me of being a metrosexual – that is, I like to look good and am willing to put out money to make sure it happens. I don’t think that makes me metro, but who knows.

The program that Sears and IZEA are partnering on provided a $500 gift card for me to use in my Christmas shopping at any Sears store. The point was to grant a wish, as the Sears program name suggests. As an uncle of three boys on my side of the family (Ages 3, 2 and 6 months) and a girl (14 months old), there were plenty of wishes to be granted.

I went over to the Sears in Alexandria at the Landmark Mall and began by strolling the store. I checked out the electronics department (for me), the clothing department for kids, tools, toys… I even walked through the bedding section.

I was impressed that there were actual brands, mostly at discounted prices (50% off, 40% off, etc).

Without giving away the house (as folks read this blog, believe it or not), all the cousins were taken care of (my sister and her family and my brother and his family are really strapped right now, so this is a huge bonus for them, and it gives me an opportunity to Grant a Wish not only to the kids, but to my siblings who could benefit from the reinforcements). In addition, various other members of the family will be treated to “electronic gear” including a much needed digital camera. I was also taken care of in a small way to pick up some warmer winter clothes that I’m going to need here, especially with frequent trips to Boulder, CO for work.

Of course, 5 gifts were purchased to Grant a Wish to Toys for Tots as seems appropriate.

I want to be clear. This is not a business and technology post. This is not a how-to, or advocacy for smart social media presence in the web space. However, Sears is obviously positioning themselves to be smart social media citizens through their partnership with IZEA and bloggers (some of whom are Red Carpet bloggers). This is not a SEO post that is paid placement, for all intents and purposes. This is doing good for others with the knowledge that doing good for others will do good for them, and they are merely using folks like myself to do that good. I’m really blessed to have been given this opportunity.

I don’t know how often I will shop at Sears. I hate shopping anyway. But this was a great experience that helped me accomplish most of my Christmas shopping quickly (I don’t have a lot of time this month with travel) and allowed me to give where there was real need. I truly appreciate that most of all.

Obviously, larger principles apply here to business and life. It is what many have called The Golden Rule: Do to others, what you would have them do to you. Businesses can give if they don’t limit themselves to a bottom line, but engage in a culture of positive returns.

But wait, there’s actually more…

As part of this program, Sears has given me the opportunity to give away a Holiday gift package to one of you, my readers. That means I can Grant a Wish to you as well. :)

First the gift packs (Winner can choose one gift pack):

The iPod Pack

The Playstation 3 Pack

The “Electronics for Your Car” Pack

How to Play

Official rules are here. You can enter to win up to three times per person:

  • Use Twitter and tweet out “RT @technosailor please grant my wish to win the #Sears [package name] – tweet to win your own wish http://urlbrief.com/1c5ba9”
  • Leave a comment on this post with the Sears Item #s of products you would buy (up to $500). You can go to http://www.sears.com to look for item numbers.
  • Create a blog post about the contest and leave a link to it in the comments of this post.

Aaron Brazell

Jeremiah Owyang Inserts Foot In Mouth (Again) Over IZEA Sponsored Posts

Rarely do I go after individual people on this blog. There have been a few occasions, but I prefer to talk about issues and not people. However, when the errors of a person are so egregiously over the top, I have a need to say something. This was the case over the weekend with Forrester research analyst, Jeremiah Owyang, who decided that he would depart from the typical role of an analyst, where neutrality and objectivity are key in providing unbiased advice, and instead insert himself into a conversation as a subject matter expert on a topic he really knows nothing about.

The topic is paid posting. As you are aware, I am going to be participating in a sponsored post campaign for Sears with Izea shortly. Izea recently did a similar campaign with K-Mart and a number of bloggers, including Chris Brogan participated in that effort. For longevity, here is Chris’ post, posted on his “Daddyblogger” blog.

Jeremiah picked up on this development and decided it needed to be a big issue, asking questions (in his typical braindead question asking style) about the campaign, and insinuating that Chris is not authentic in his post. This is not his role as a research analyst.


This caused a massive stir on Twitter. My instinctive response, and judging by the response I’d say most people agree, is that Chris is one of the most transparent people on the web today. He exudes leadership qualities, and is highly respected among fans and peers alike. He has a tremendous reputation.

Jeremiah apparently has since had phone conversations with Izea CEO Ted Murphy and Chris Brogan, who serves on the Board of Advisors to “get the facts” about Izea and the campaign and this evening, he has written his own response to the response (lost yet?).

With all the background in place, let me offer my own opinion – less about Izea, and more about Jeremiah. Jeremiah is, as a representative of Forrester Research and in his function as a research analyst, expected to be a thought follower, not a thought leader. That is, his role is not to editorialize, or offer public opinion in such a way that exerts his influence outside of his Forrester client base. His role, in fact, is to analyze data, trends and the consensus of thought leaders in industry (online and offline, but largely online) and distill the data to a bottom line that is relevant to his clients.

Therefore, as someone who is not a part of the paid placements campaigns that Izea is running, his research should be more globally around paid placement/sponsored posts in general and not specifically about Izea. If he found flaws in the business, his advice to his clients might be to not consider using such vehicles. It should never have been about Chris Brogan.

Perhaps I’m being too harsh with Jeremiah. I am sure he’ll tell me if I am, and that’s fine. However, I have no patience for the riot incitement when it comes to one of the most ethical and upstanding men on the internet, and a friend. In this case, Jeremiah had no place asserting himself in a conversation that he had no information on. If you’re not part of the problem, and you’re not part of the solution, then you stay out.

If it’s a question of market research, as it should be for a Forrester Research Analyst, then the proper approach would have been private conversations with both Ted Murphy and Chris Brogan before stirring things up publicly.

If it’s a question of Izea reputation, then as a market analyst, the conversations and advice to Forrester clients should have been held within the confidentiality that I presume is expected between a client and a service provider with the above suggested advisement from those involved (Ted and Chris).

What should never have happened was the allowance of character assassination of Chris based on misunderstood premises and recycled arguments from two years ago.

I also don’t appreciate the condescension toward me when I challenged him on the matter.

@technosailor im listening, but you should call @chrisbrogan and @tedmurphy just as i did on the phone to get full story. Check your facts

For the record, I have spoken to both of them in great detail about this and other topics over the past year. Thanks, Jeremiah.

Venture Files

Bail Out Entrepreneurs, Not Big Auto

So, the Auto Bailout bombed in the Senate. Good. (Never thought I’d be writing about it in Venture Files . . . but then, I never imagined it might affect entrepreneurs — including me — directly.) It’s an intriguing tale of desperation, fear tactics, and ironyLa-192-car-pileup2003.jpg.

Desperation because the auto industry leaders are out of options, and doing everything they can to avoid the only solution that makes sense: filing for Chapter 11 protection. (I used the word “˜protection,’ rather than “˜bankruptcy’ because it’s exactly that — a means of legally keeping at bay those who might otherwise come after you for moneys owed.) I’ve been through it with one of my startups, and I’ve written about it here.

Fear tactics because the auto industry leaders would have us believe that the world will end if they file for Ch. 11. In fact, it makes survival possible. It enabled the airline industry to survive. So why would the industry leaders oppose it? It wipes all the existing stakeholders clean — all stockholders, creditors, pension plans, and — most important of all, the unions. And it will wipe out industry leaders’ individual stockholdings . . . and probably cost many of them their jobs.

But it’s the only solution. Lending the big automakers money to make payrolls is a short-term fix at best. There’s nothing they can do in the next six or even 12 months to turn their battleships around. I get as sentimental as anyone about GTOs of the past, but the model is broken, and dead. It’s time to clean house, start over. I feel for the folks who will lose jobs, but sorry — your management screwed up . . . and they’ve been doing it for decades. Instead of spending on R&D for new technologies, Big Auto spent on lobbyists to get relaxed efficiency and emissions standards.

It’s not about casting blame, or punishing anyone. It’s about survival. The crushing debt burden, inflated wages, and inefficient manufacturing infrastructure will never enable a US auto maker to return to profitability, even if it had a next-generation car ready to go. Unions are an antiquated and unnecessary burden, a throwback to times when bosses literally beat employees to make them more productive. The tech industry works fine without them (although there were several attempts to unionize them over the decades). More to the point: Foreign automakers have set up shop in the US without them.

I wonder if auto workers were given a choice of losing their jobs or taking a comparable job at two-thirds of their current salary at an electric-vehicle plant, which would they choose?

Ironic. Because there’s already a fully approved $25,000,000,000 in loans available to car makers. That’s right — $25B in direct low-interest loans (the Federal Funds Target Rate, currently at 1.0%). It’s the Department of Energy’s ATVM Loan Program (for Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing), and it’s fully approved by Congress, under Section 136 of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. So why aren’t they taking advantage of it?

Because they’d rather keep operating as they’ve been for the past 50 years, than do what they should be doing. And they’re woefully unprepared to shift manufacturing to projects that meet the ATVM criteria.

So, despite the fact that, it’s all there, fully approved by the House and the Senate, with applications due by the end of this month, and decisions to be rendered by March 31, 2009, there’s that hitch: applicants have to have bona fide projects that meet the criteria of an Advanced Technology Vehicle. That could be anything from new high-efficiency gas-sippers to plug-in electrics. (You can read all about it in the Interim Final Rule.) The funding is not designed to resurrect Oldsmobiles.

For decades, Big Auto chose to avoid the transition to alternatives. Not that they didn’t do some work on them. (If you haven’t already, be sure and rent the documentary, “˜Who Killed the Electric Car?’ GM built one — the EV1 — people loved it, and every last one of them was destroyed . . . by GM.)

The automakers should be forced into bankruptcy. And rebuilt. Federal funding should be provided — but only to fund the new businesses emerging from Ch. 11.

If I seem personally peeved, I am. On behalf of my new company, I attended the DOE public meeting for the ATVM Loan Program in Washington DC last week. See, the loans are also available to makers of components for ATVs, which is what we are. I’m fairly confident we’d qualify for the program (although not in time for the year-end deadline, but no problem — there will be rolling application deadlines — and 90-day decisions — every quarter.)

But there are a couple of gotchas: 1) the bailout that just failed (thank God) was going to “˜steal’ $15B from the program (since the money was already approved); and 2) even though it will go forward, a subtle point came up in the DOE public meeting — once a ‘magic number’ of $7.5B targeted for bad debt (based on the committee’s analysis of aggregate applicants), after which the loan program is ended. That means, say, GM receives a $4B loan to set up a plug-in hybrid plant, but the committee calculates a 50% probability that GM won’t be able to repay the loan. Then $5.5B is left for the others. You get the picture: the DOE might only end up lending a total of $15B — mostly to the big guys — based on a 50/50 chance that they won’t make good on the loans.

And us little guys — the entrepreneurs who should be getting the money for new technology — will be squeezed out. We were all there (at two separate meetings) at the DOE meeting last week — lots of technology companies developing radical new engine designs, patent-pending alloys with greater strength at a fraction of the weight, energy-efficient components, electric alternatives (including Tesla Motors). Oh, and a few representatives of Ford, GM, and Daimler, and the Japanese car contingent.

And although the Interim Final Rule makes no provision for ensuring that small companies get a piece of the pie, there is still hope: Section 136 also provides for grants, but the lawmakers haven’t gotten around to defining that part. Let’s hope the new Administration sees the wisdom in targeting that money for those who will put it to best use — the entrepreneurs. (They’re ahead of us in the UK on this one.)

Still, the (sitting) President is pushing the rescue, this time from the bank bailout fund. I reiterate: ‘Oh, Thank Heaven . . . for Chapter 11!’

Aaron Brazell

IZEA, Social Spark and Redemption

Update: This contest is now closed.

IZEA is one of those companies that everyone loves to hate. Why? Well… PayPerPost, the ill concieved program that when launched offered to pay bloggers for reviews of companies and products without disclosure and requiring positive reviews.

Many stories have been written about PayPerPost over the years, most of them negative. Ted Murphy, the CEO of IZEA, is a stand up guy though and adjusted PayPerPost to not require positive reviews and to allow for disclosures. This was better but wasn’t palatable for many bloggers. To his credit, Ted has been very open with me in the past year since I had a memorable conversation with him atop the rooftop bar at the Iron Cactus in Austin Texas for SXSW. We discussed the complications of IZEA programs. He noted that he wanted to provide a way for bloggers, particularly longtail bloggers who might not have direct access to large ad deals or corporate sponsorships, to be able to make a decent amount of money. My argument was that many longtail bloggers are new or inexperienced in the mine fields that are the internet and endorsements and that not enough education was presented around the concept. Bloggers could hurt their reputations or audiences simply lusting after the concept of “cheap money”.

Since that conversation, Ted and I have stayed in touch about new programs such as SocialSpark which seems to take the same principle of making money for bloggers and executing in a wildly different way. While I personally do not plan to jump in on the paid review arena, I would note that I am giving IZEA a chance with a big outreach happening next week. It’s redemption time and I’m putting my neck out for a company I’ve had odds with. However, I believe in the principle of redemption and I also believe that it’s really difficult to come back after making big mistakes. People remember mistakes, not the things done right. I feel like IZEA has started to execute well and that they deserve a chance.

As I said, I am participating in an IZEA/Sears program for the Grant a Wish program. The details of that program, and the benefits to you my readers as well as a Charity during these Holidays will be seen in the days and weeks to come, but considering the history, I wanted to stake my position on IZEA, Social Spark and Ted Murphy today.

Aaron Brazell

Welcome to the Machine

Welcome my son, welcome to the machine.
Where have you been?
It’s alright we know where you’ve been.
You’ve been in the pipeline, filling in time,
Provided with toys and ‘Scouting for Boys’.
You bought a guitar to punish your ma,
And you didn’t like school, and you
know you’re nobody’s fool,
So welcome to the machine.

Welcome my son, welcome to the machine.
What did you dream?
It’s alright we told you what to dream.
You dreamed of a big star,
He played a mean guitar,
He always ate in the Steak Bar.
He loved to drive in his Jaguar.
So welcome to the Machine.

Remember that song? From the album Wish You Were Here, Pink Floyd in an almost prophetic motion saw a generational change coming years before it actually arrived. The song was widely believed to be about the music industry and the “slurping” of fresh blood artists into the controlling depths of the recording industry, but I see something far more nefarious and relevant to today in light of the economy and business.

Photo by <a href="http://flickr.com/photos/tonivc/382150181/">ToniVC</a> Photo by ToniVC

In fact, we are so out of our league with the concept of open innovation in a web environment that the generational, societal and economic corrections are about to kick in. The economics are already kicking in with the entire marketplace shrinking, if you look at market conditions, 50% in the last year.

I asked a VC a few days ago what he was investing in in a down economy and his answers indicate low-risk investments – that is, investments that are cash flow positive with an existing customer base. Yeah, not much risk and certainly different than the VC market we’ve been used to. If this is the mindset that is prevalent, there will be fewer innovators as less cash is available to be had. Fewer, or smaller innovations. Welcome to the Machine!

Generational corrections occur when a generational mindset changes. While my friend, Jessie Newburn is the resident generational expert in my circle of influencers, I believe she would point out that the individualistic Generation X that helped create the internet by challenging the established norms of the 1970s and 80, and who possessed the innovative prowess to create two generations of web companies is being replaced by a generation that is more likely to band together and hunker down for the nuclear winter. Hibernation, in a way. Those corrections are beginning to occur, I believe, as consolidations will likely become the name of the game. Welcome to the Machine!

Generational corrections beget societal corrections. Societal corrections merely reflect the mood of the workforce, the innovators and the money movers. When the finances dry up, the companies move into a mode of slow burn/slow growth as opposed to high burn/high growth, then business decisions are made safely. The Machine is safe. It is robotic and automated, programmed with computer-like precision. The Machine makes few (if any) mistakes, yet it is uncreative. It lacks pop and sizzle that innovators provide. When the society corrects itself away from innovation, it becomes precise and routine, but loses the juice that can be risky but productive. Welcome to the Machine!

If you’ve read this far and feel like I desire the demise of innovation, you have read me wrong. I do not. However, there are corrections happening that could last a long time (far beyond the 18 months experts think the economy will take to come back). It is a generational impact that could delay a proverbial Web 3.0 for 10 years or more.

With the trends of the incoming Presidential administration, my feeling is that the next generation of innovation could occur within the public sector itself, but won’t have the exposure or sexiness of that which was considered “hot innovation” in the last 20 years. Less private sector bling. More public sector growth.

What are your thoughts?

Aaron Brazell

The Roadmap For Building a 21st Century Newspaper

Yesterday, I weighed in on the Tribune Company bankruptcy filing, noting that where voids might be created by the disappearance of established newspaper brands, there was opportunity for those nimble enough and digitally savvy enough to adjust. In my mind, as I wrote that, I was thinking primarily of alternate newspapers, but had a dream somewhere in the recesses of my head that there would, or could be an answer from the blog world. That there were blogs with enough presence and notoriety that could fill the void left by a major daily. Of course, power players exist but are generally single vertical sites (i.e. Engadget operates in the tech gadgets space) that don’t have the wide-ranging appeal that a daily newspaper does.

However, since I wrote that piece, I’ve carried on a number of private conversations with folks inside the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times. The questions seem to be, “Aaron, what do you think we can do better?”

Interesting question.

2125669268_6aa230b967_oOrlando Sentinel Newsroom. Photo by wcouch

I think the New York Times, as mentioned yesterday, has road mapped a lot of where the newspaper business needs to be in the digital age. All of their content is robustly tagged in a machine-readable way. It’s possible to find all content from Author D between the months of June and October in even-numbered years having to do with the auto industry.

The fine level of meta-data (data describing the stories) has been applied in such a way that the entirety of the Times is opened up to ambitious people who want to use their data and mash it up, re-apply it and, by nature, extend the New York Times readership.

The roadmap is there.

Interestingly, with a New York Times approach to metadata and the variety of Tribune Company properties (not just the Baltimore Sun, Chicago Tribune and LA Times, but also the Hartford Courant, WGN, Orlando Sentinel and more), it should be possible for users to create their own newspaper, and the newspaper to suggest content by behavior. Facebook is all over behavioral advertising and might be a willing partner.

If you provide a common sense approach to content discovery, across all Tribune properties, and allow readers to assemble and find content that is not only localized, but also relevant to their interests and concerns, with the understanding that the 21st century American is transient and not likely a loyalist to a metro area or a metro newspaper, then you have the basis for breaking the newspaper out of the early 1950s.

It is not simply good enough to provide a way to have external content (a la “Add an RSS feed”). That does not help the greater company to be coherent in the digital age. You must provide a way for Tribune Company content from all properties to be searched (Talk to me about Lijit – we can do a deal that works), discovered via meta-data analysis (NY Times approach) and user behavior feedback and offerings (a la Facebook).

There, my friends at the Tribune Company, is your road map to building a 21st Century newspaper business.

Aaron Brazell

WordPress Plugin Pack: Real Estate

We continue our WordPress plugin pack series that we started yesterday with the Photography pack, by announcing the Real Estate Pack. While I am not a real estate professional, I do know that real estate folks need as much help as they can get right now. Fortunately for you folks, you do not need to manage a mortgage to get these plugins. As usual, Akismet is included by default as the recommended anti-spam plugin. Keep in mind commercial licensing (you do have to pay, but it’s not much. Go to Akismet.com for more info) and the All in One SEO pack is necessary for marketing and search engine reasons.

Aside from that, here are five plugins you might consider grabbing if you’re in real estate:

  • Great Real Estate – turn WordPress into a full featured Real Estate management center.
  • Insights – Allows quick additions of photos, videos and other “bling” for posts.
  • Lightbox Plus – Similar to the Lightbox 2 plugin listed in the Photography pack.
  • WordPress Word of Mouth Marketing – adds the ability to “share” content across a variety of mediums. Personally, I prefer AddThis but AddThis is not GPL compatible so cannot be bundled in this pack. We use AddThis on Technosailor.com and it can be seen in the “Bookmark” button below this post.
  • WP-Realty – Useful for integrating listings into WordPress

Download the Entire Pack