Matthew T Grant


Tall Guy. Glasses.

Further Clarification

At the beginning of this video, captured by the ever ebullient Mr. Sonny Gill at the MarketingProfs Digital Marketing Mixer back in October, I explain what I do as a “thought ronin” (and talk about what I was digging at the Mixer):

Apropos of MarketingProfs, I’m currently editing the official pre-game blog for their SocialTech 2010 conference to be held in San Jose on March 25.

This conference will focus on how B2B marketers in the hi-tech space (think: IBM, Intel, Cisco, SAP, etc.) are actually using social media to achieve a wide range of business goals. If that’s your bag, you should check it out (it’ll cost you around $500 but there is also a less expensive “virtual attendance option“).

Thought Ronin

3156136099_c30649532e_mI’ve been a “thought ronin” for going on a year now.

In the same way that the lone gunslinger is a staple of the Western, ronin (“masterless samurai”) have been staple figures, and frequently protagonists, in samurai films from the very outset of the genre – an early epic of which was in fact entitled 47 Ronin.

My favorite anime film, Ninja Scroll, is the tale of a ronin, as is the more recent and rather austere The Sword of a Stranger, not to mention Kurosawa classics like Yojimbo and The Seven Samurai, to name but a few examples.

In other words, my sense of what a ronin is comes mainly from the movies (and Hagakure).

[As a total aside, it’s interesting to note that many of the most celebrated samurai films of recent years – such as the work of director Yoji Yamada, maker of the masterful Twilight Samurai – are not about ronin at all but instead about the plight of the low-ranking samurai who often had to ply a trade (e.g., building and selling umbrellas, for instance) to supplement their meager stipend. I read this as an allegory for the plight of the “salaryman” in contemporary Japan – but what do I know about it?]

Anyway, I called myself a “thought ronin” because everybody wants to be a thought leader and I guess I wanted to subtly mock that aspiration (having always been partial to the guru or “cult leader” angle).

On a more serious note, I was stating allegorically that, having served as the retainer of a thought leader and possessing many skills necessary to effective and ongoing thought leadership, I was for “out there.”

Finally, I thought the mass unemployment of “white collar workers,” including members of the intelligentsia such as myself, following on the Global Financial Crisis (is that still happening, btw?) analogous, mutatis mutandis, to the mass unemployment of samurai after the Battle of Sekigahara.

I mean, what did you think a thought ronin was?

Content Marketing and the Hegelian Dialectic


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.

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.

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.

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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Trivial Pursuits

3307392086_a9ff7132b1_mIt must have been 1995.

I was having dinner with a bunch of friends in a house where I had formerly lived in Cambridge.

It was a fairly typical evening for me back then (in the pre-kids era), partying and having hyper-educated goofball conversations with my fellow academics: the doctor of English; the doctor of American Studies; the doctor of Religious Studies; the precocious undergrad, etc.

What made this night unlike any other night was the presence of a traveling scholar, who I believe was a friend of my ex-roommate, Tom. This fellow was doing research at Harvard’s Law School and he had made his bones working on the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.

I remember sitting around the table and having a dumb argument about Madonna and Cher, or something like that, and it struck me that this fellow must think we’re absolutely retarded. Products of America’s finest schools and representatives of the prosperous American Middle Class (and, we might as well say it, American Upper Class), and here we sit, indulging in mindless cocktail banter and busying ourselves with the abstruser angles of cultural studies while other people (him, specifically), were focused on things like creating an equitable judicial process to promote reconciliation in a society ravaged by genocide.

Of course, this fellow was neither self-righteous nor confrontational and the disdain I had imputed to him was but the projection of my own intellectual self-hatred. I had devoted my 20s to earning a PhD in German Studies writing papers on Batman, the Nazis, Hans Holbein the Younger, Charles Manson, Goethe, etc., and, although I thoroughly enjoyed myself, had never been able to shake the feeling that studying history and literature, film and philosophy, was a bourgeois indulgence that served no purpose other than vanity, at its best, and the highly refined reinforcement of dominant norms and ideologies at its worst. (That last part is particularly ironic for me, given the popular view of academia as the royal roost of tenured radicals.)

“How,” you may ask, “could you have spent seven years doing something most people don’t spend one second doing when you thought that it was a bogus privilege, a trivial pursuit?”

How, indeed.

Image Courtesy of rogiro.

Using Facebook for Brand Recognition: A Live Blogging Experience from MarketingProfs’ Digital Mixer

Photo 546I’m at the Facebook sesh featuring “the Pied Piper of Social Media,” Mari Smith. If you’d like to see her presentation, you can find it here at

Mari started with some facts and stats about Facebook and the real eye-opener for me was that Fan Pages are the only feature within Facebook fully indexed by Google. I did not know that.

So far, the presentation has been very nuts-and-bolts about various apps that people can use to manage their social media presence, connect the various properties that they are cultivating, and, of  course, optimize Facebook. The main takeaway for this section was: be strategic and take full advantage of the technology.

Mari then asked Amy Porterfield to talk about some of the things that she has done to help her clients, such as T. Harv Eker and the Alan Shafran Group, build out their Facebook presence and, most importantly, engage fans through contests, event promotion, and emerging Facebook apps.

Mari is very knowledgeable about the Facebook universe and offered a treasure trove of highly technical suggestions about how people could effectively make the most of this medium.

However, I was somewhat unsettled by the undercurrent of themes from the life coaching, “secrets of wealth,” internet marketing scene, such as when Mari said, towards the outset, that the goal of social media strategy is to create “profitable relationships.”

Is it ok if I focus on building meaningful relationships and leave profitability to the fat cats on Wall Street?

MarketingProfs Digital Mixer, Here I Come!

MP_DMM_BloggerBadgeI’m off to MarketingProfs’ Digital Mixer in Chicago this morning and I’m practically giddy.

Look, I’m a people person and if there is one thing that conferences like this have, it’s people. The bonus is that in this case, I’ve actually met some of them before and am very much looking forward to reconnecting with Paul Chaney, Amber Naslund, Beth Harte, Jason Baer, Mack Collier, as well as all the great folks from MarketingProfs proper.

The super-bonus is that there’s gonna be folks there whom I haven’t yet met but, having met them, will find my life utterly transformed and the world full of bright, ever-expanding horizons. Or at least I’ll get their business card.

I must admit, however, that, aside from meeting people, “deepening relationships,” and “participating in the conversation,” I have another goal in attending the MarketingProfs Digital Mixer: atonement.

You see, at a MarketingProfs event last June, I moderated a panel on content strategy. At the beginning of the session, I asked people to put away their laptops and refrain from Tweeting unless prior to doing so they could honestly and earnestly say to themselves, “The world must know!” It was not surprising that, for doing so, I was called, by Greg Verdino among other people, a “douche.”

I don’t know if the mustache I’m growing will really help me live down my reputation as “douchey,” but, heck, I’m gonna do my darnedest to make up for this egregious social media faux pas and show everybody that I’ve drunk the Kool Aid, that I’ve gotten with the program, and that I can play well with others.

And much like my conscious decision to grow a mustache, in spite of its many perils, that last sentence was written in the complete absence of any inner sense of irony or sarcasm. See ya there!