Matthew T Grant

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Tall Guy. Glasses.

Content Marketing and the Hegelian Dialectic

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In the olden days, the watchword was: “Content is King!” Thinking on this now, however, I’m not sure that that it was ever really true.

Certainly, if your site featured lots and lots of stuff that lots and lots of people wanted to read, look at, and/or share, if it was “explorable,” in other words, then it may have, at least for a time, stood shoulder to shoulder with its peers in the interwebs’ pantheon of much-favored destinations.

Still, though like any great house it may have owed its rank and status to the tireless service of its retainers, the site itself was the true lord and master; the content, on the other hand served as knight and page, courtier and courtesan attracting visitors to the gilded halls, making their stay enjoyable, and vanishing like the April snow when the favor of these visitors or the sovereign turned from them.

Which is not to say, of course, that content is unnecessary. On the contrary, the content on your site – and I’m thinking both of information generally (address, phone number, product descriptions, client lists, etc.) as well as articles, stories, reports, white papers, opinion pieces, user reviews, videos, podcasts, and consumable images (i.e., NOT stock photos evanescently embodying your brand’s look and feel), and so on – is your site for all intents and purposes.

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Check Out the Levels

3389077463_acfc7489a0_mIn Ithaca, my friend Art once told me that he hated it when people spoke of “levels” as in, “We’re seeing a whole other level of play on the court today.” (I had just told him that, having finished my dissertation, I felt that I had “moved to another level.”)

Years later, I’m in New Zealand hanging with this other friend, Russel, and I say, “I’ve always got to remind myself that there are other levels. Like, I imagine I’m at the highest level, but then I realize there’s another level.”

“There’s always another level,” Russel said.

I believe that there is always another level if for no other reason than that such a belief can spur us on and inspire us to be better, do more – grow, change, thrive.

Nevertheless, I also hold fast to the faith that there is a level where there are no levels at all.

Incredible Image Courtesy of kern.justin.

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Man against Nature, Nature against God

2381419316_d1b8241e05_m-1Conservative critic Ross Douthat recently took James Cameron and Hollywood to task for rampant pantheist sympathies writing that pantheism “represents a form of religion that even atheists can support.”

While I believe he is mistaken to equate, as he does, pantheism with “nature worship” – the latter being more akin to polytheism or animism and the former meaning literally that God is too be found in the totality of the All, not “just” nature – I do agree that those who seek solace in natural wonders tend to be fairly selective about those parts of the natural world that they find wonderful, failing, for example, to hear the voice of God in cancer’s fatal malignancy or see the face of God in the blue sky’s indifference to atrocities unfolding ‘neath its broad, azure beams.

Though I sense Douthat’s tacit support of the Christian side of the equation, I appreciate that, in his argument against pantheism, he actually grants atheism a kind of tragic nobility:

Religion exists, in part, precisely because humans aren’t at home amid these cruel rhythms. We stand half inside the natural world and half outside it. We’re beasts with self-consciousness, predators with ethics, mortal creatures who yearn for immortality.

This is an agonized position, and if there’s no escape upward — or no God to take on flesh and come among us, as the Christmas story has it — a deeply tragic one.

Personally, what fills me with awe is the age-old human struggle to wrest sense from the senseless and to fashion purpose in the raging forge of entropic impermanence. That these efforts have about them the air of inescapable doom does indeed make them tragic.

That they can also result in moments, even epochs, of beauty, wisdom, freedom, and love, is truly divine.

Image Courtesy of Mark Cummins.

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Arthur the Talking Trash Can

Yesterday I was to meet with a fellow, Charles Hamad, so naturally I Googled him.

Among the treasures that Google served up was this article from 1974 describing Hamad’s work as a graduate student on a talking trash can named “Arthur.”

Here’s a clip from a spot the BBC did about this novel application of behavioral psychology to the problem of environmental pollution:

Enabling a trash can to talk in an effort to curb litter reminded me of the more recent work of BJ Fogg in the area of persuasive technology.

More importantly, it reminded me also that technology can be used for good, and not (just) evil.

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Is Marketing Mainly Manipulation or Might It (also) Be Education?

3232486691_16a0553f54_m-1Last spring, while attending a lovely brunch, I got into an unexpectedly heated dispute with the host and one of the guests, professors at a local business college, about the Nazi philosopher, Martin Heidegger.

Having told me that they sometimes taught Heidegger’s essay, “The Question Concerning Technology,” to their students, I told them that Heidegger’s unrepentant allegiance to the Nazi cause, coupled with his very conscious desire to provide the philosophical groundwork for an as yet unrealized hyper-elitist society in which the Many served the Few, made such a pedagogical choice highly problematic.

To my way of thinking, I explained to them, introducing impressionable minds, or any minds for that matter, to the diabolical musings of the old, forest-dwelling, Swabian sorcerer was to fulfill his clearly articulated plans and, therefore, to be avoided at all costs.

Naturally, they thought me mad.

Flash forward to a recent dinner party featuring many of the same characters. Recalling our bygone dispute, one of my erstwhile protagonists found it ironic that I considered teaching marketing the better alternative to teaching Heidegger. Ascertaining that he equated marketing with manipulation I asked if he didn’t in fact try to manipulate his students, an imputation he vociferously rejected before absenting himself.

There ensued an illuminating discussion with his colleague concerning the way “marketing” had supplanted “sales” in the college’s curriculum. Whereas the institution had once upon a time striven to steep students in the subtle and not-so-subtle arts of persuasion proper to business, this was now deemed “kind of sleazy” and had been replaced with the more oblique, and ostensibly scientific, rigors of marketing.

On hearing this, I remarked that, funnily enough, with the ascendancy of “content marketing,” it was now education that provided sales and marketing with its dominant paradigm. And so we sat down to eat.

Customers don’t want to be marketed to anymore than they want to be sold to. They are, however, hungry for information, if not knowledge (or, perish the thought, wisdom). For this reason the contemporary marketer begins to increasingly resemble a research assistant or a reference librarian and, in some cases, a teacher.

Which is why I would like to suggest that, while education may, in its way, be manipulative, we must also allow that manipulation, in its turn, may also be, at times, educational.

Don’t you think?

Image Courtesy of coyote2012.

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Eric Clapton & Concrete Abstraction

3677353847_fd9462898c_mListening to this Derek and the Dominoes boot is like eavesdropping on the dream of a drunkard.

I can imagine being at the show and perceiving it in the same befuddled way as it is presented in this recording: blurred, remote, and overwhelming. In other words, for all its distorted obscurity here we actually get the real thing itself, the event as it must have unfolded in the delirious ears of those present.

Akin to a lot of Dead audience tapes, the main thing you can hear is the guitar with everything else melting into a gray (or in the Dead’s case, “day-glo”) sludge. The lo-fidelity of the recording makes the performance densely abstract; you get the sense of the music’s general contours, its velocity, its trajectory, but your bewildered mind has to fill in the details.

Except, of course, for that guitar, the one identifiable, concrete element around which the otherwise chaotic noise organizes itself.

There are moments in Eric Clapton’s playing where I’ve said to myself, “That’s why people dig Clapton,” and some of those moments can be found in this ancient maelstrom’s aural whorl. These are the moments when the legend and hype of Clapton (his abstraction) take on solid form and exercise an uncanny, even mesmeric, force.

(Oddly enough, I don’t believe these are the same moments that Clapton appreciates in his own playing, but what of it? There’s no accounting for taste.)

I draw your attention to the following instances of Clapton’s concrete abstraction as worthy of further study: “Had to Cry Today” and “Sea of Joy” from Blind Faith; “Deserted Cities of the Heart” from Live Cream, Volume II;  “Roll It Over” and “Pearly Queen,” from Rainbow Concert; and, if you can find them, any Cream bootlegs from their 1967 tour (like this one from Detroit’s Grande Ballroom).

Clapton was hardly God, but at times He was close enough.

Image Courtesy of deadheaduk.

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Two Thoughts on the Link Economy

This Sunday past, Richard MacManus published an article on ReadWriteWeb.com entitled, “Content Farms: Why Media, Blogs & Google Should Be Worried.”

MacManus believes that Google et al. should be worried because ranking algorithms use in-bound links as an indicator of authority but, due to the rise of “content farms” such as Demand Media and Answers.com, which can effectively generate links to their own content at scale, the number of in-bound links may indicate little more than the ability for an organization to generate in-bound links.

A conversation that I had with two SEO jedi back in October at the MarketingProfs Digital Marketing Mixer caused a similar thought to haunt the darkened corridors of my tortured mind. That is, it became clear to this novice that building links is, in part, merely a question of resources and effort. If, like the one jedi claimed, you have “guys in India” who can help by Digg-ing content and taking care of directory submissions, you’re gonna rank. If not, good luck.

Thought #1: If link-building is primarily a question of effort, then search results in Google primarily reflect this effort, rather than some quasi-meritocratic invisible hand.

In other words, the problem with this aspect of the link economy is that, in effect, people can print their own money. Now I ask you, how many “real world” economies could survive that kind of devaluation of its currency?

Still curious about the link economy, I hit the Googles and discovered a raging conversation about the value of links being waged from the content producer side. This dispute started with an article by Arnon Mishkin on “The Fallacy of the Link Economy” in which he argued, in effect, that links ARE content so that link aggregators should be paying the sources for these links.

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Metal Age

Looking for Slayer videos on YouTube I came across this: “Reek of Putrefaction,” by Carcass.

Apparently the video was shot on the “Grindcrusher” Tour in 1989. The tour got it’s name from an amazing compilation which I bought on cassette back in 1990 at a store that no longer exists.

In addition to the studied metal stylings of Carcass, said cassette introduced me to some of my favorite metal bands – Bolt Thrower, Morbid Angel, and Entombed.

The cassette also introduced me to Earache Records, the grey lady of grindcore labels. In fact, it was while rummaging through a bin of cheap Earache cassettes at the first big Metal/Hardcore festival in Worcester that I came across Sleep‘s enduring classic, Holy Mountain, originally issued on Earache.

I paid like $3 for that thing and then listened to it about a ten thousand times.

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What Is a Social Media Expert? PJA’s Mike O’Toole and MarketingProfs’ Ann Handley Discuss

photoI once attracted unmitigated ire by openly trumpeting my credentials as a SMexpert.

On account of the ego-bruising I suffered at that time, I very eagerly tuned in yesterday to PJA‘s weekly internet radio show, This Week in Social Media. Not only was the scheduled guest my good friend, Ann Handley, Chief Content Officer at MarketingProfs, but the topic was, for me, peculiarly hot:

“What is a Social Media Expert?”

The choice of topic was driven in part by a much-shared article in BusinessWeek, “Beware Social Media Snake Oil,” which derided social media’s “self-proclaimed experts” and “wannabes” for asking companies to invest in their services and the super-hyped emerging media without being able to promise results or even prove that they have achieved anything in the past. (Note: I was pleased to see that the “snake oil” in the title was taken from a quote by the appallingly handsome, David Armano. – MTG)

In fairness, the actual gist of the article was, “Social media are powerful tools so don’t let the charlatans turn you off completely,” and this idea was at the center of the conversation between Ann, Mike O’Toole, President of PJA, and show host, Doug Zanger (which can be heard in its entirety here).

Reflecting the shared opinion that the social media expert was not an entirely mythical figure, Mike and Ann sketched out what a true SMexpert might look like.

“We’re leaving the ‘belief’ era, marked by the ubiquity of social media ‘Gurus’ and ‘Evangelists’,” as Mike put it, “and entering the era of ‘get stuff done.’” To whit, while still willing to spend money on social media programs, marketers are, in Mike’s words, “asking harder questions” about forecasts and results.

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The Aesthetic of the Raw Nerve

At times, the philosophical artist will produce a work which primarily expresses the thought that somewhere in the world, right now, there is an open wound.

This tendency reaches the stage of decadence, however, when said artist produces, either actually or metaphorically, said wounds himself.

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