Matthew T Grant


Tall Guy. Glasses.

Vot Are You Voorking On?

299311799_75ebae8abe_mI’m in the middle of a bunch of projects right now.

One project has me writing about security in the cloud.

Apparently, security concerns are one major obstacle to adoption of the cloud, in spite of the many advantages this computing model offers. My client is trying to change all that.

Another project has me mapping out a strategy for a blog focused on outsourced (sometimes called “offshore”) product development (OPD).

While the offshoring of IT services is hardly new, for the last several years we’ve seen outsourcing move up the value chain to include what were once considered core functions like R&D and new product development. As you might imagine, there are myriad challenges associated with this approach. My client is trying to solve (some of) them.

In addition to the above, I’m doing content strategy (“what kind of content do you need to generate leads, close sales, and improve search rank?”) and development (actually producing the stuff) for an array of B2B firms.

Bigger-picture-wise, I’m exploring various business models for content marketing services. If you’ve got ideas about that, let me hear ’em!

PS. The title question of this post was posed by Irini Galliulin to Ensign Chekhov in the classic Star Trek episode, “Way to Eden

Image Courtesy of Dollie_Mixtures.

Secret Teachings of the Botnet Masters, or “Have You Had Your Daily SQL Injection?”

2942203842_59f1e655b2_mDid you know? “[Infected] URLs have really and truly become the most dangerous force in the world of cybercrime.”

Well guess what? One method used for corrupting them is called “SQL Injection.”

I learned about SQL Injection while exploring the weird world of botnets: vast networks of “zombie” computers used to produce spam (“90 percent of all e-mail worldwide is now spam“) and steal information from people. Turns out computers are enlisted into these vast zombie armies via websites that have been infected with malware (sometimes called “badware“) using technique’s like SQL Injection.

(On the continued use of this rather mature hacking method, Matt Hines wrote, “Once again we’re seeing that when it comes to online malware and data theft, attackers seem to have little motivation to create altogether new breeds of assaults, as well-known practices such as SQL injection remain so effective.”)

I did not realize that there were people on Earth known as botnet masters (as in the phrase “the topologies used today by botnet masters“). Nor did I realize that there are competing botnet developer kits and that descriptions of them, such as this one from Damballa‘s Gunter Ollman, read surprisingly like rather typical techie on-line reviews:

Zeus is an interesting DIY malware construction kit. Over the years it has added to its versatility and developed in to an open platform for third-party tool integration – depending upon the type of fraud or cybercrime the botnet master is most interested in. Along the way, many malware developers have tweaked the Zeus kit and offer specialized (and competing) major versions of the DIY suite (for sale). As such, the “Zeus” kit has morphed and isn’t really even a single kit any more. You can find Zeus construction kits retailing between $400-$700 for the latest versions – dropping to “free” within a couple of months as pirated versions start circulating Torrent feeds.

I think I understand how the sales process works for these kits (which go for between $400-$700). What I don’t understand is how the marketing function works for them.

For example, is there a hard division between sales and marketing in these organizations? Do the kits have product managers? What kind of market research leads to the final decision to go with this or that set of features? Is there after-sale support or is that all community based? And so on.

Can anybody out there give me some answers (without, you know, assimilating me into a botnet)?

BTW: The botnet masters have found a novel business benefit for social media: they use it to avoid detection. Marketers take note.

The Concept of Ad Space Hits a Pinnacle of Ridiculosity

Checked out a story on the New York Times site. It looked like this:

banner example

I know you can see Ford’s prominently displayed banner, but you’ll also notice a wee-little banner up in the right-hand corner.

If you can’t really tell what it’s for, here’s a closer look (more or less actual size):

lame banner

I don’t know how much the distributors of The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus paid for that (it was undoubtedly part of a package deal), and maybe a banner ad that obscure gets some clicks (can anyone out there provide stats on the effectiveness of something like this?), but I can’t help seeing the decision to sell that tiny bit of white space, let alone the willingness to buy it, as an act of desperation and a harbinger of worse to come.

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“).

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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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.

Two Thoughts on the Link Economy

This Sunday past, Richard MacManus published an article on 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, 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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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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A Quick One on “Content Strategy for Marketers”

Doing some research on content marketing and how companies source or buy content and came across this concise (don’t let the slide count fool you), thorough overview of the steps involved in the creation and management of a solid content strategy:

It was produced by Melissa Rach at Brain Traffic. I like it because it introduces the skimmer to the doable nitty-gritty stuff demanded by the content strategy process while giving the aforementioned skimmer a healthy sense of its (almost) overwhelming complexity.

Good work, comrade!

The Long and Short of the Digital Marketing Mixer

tallshortNote: I’m cross-posting this on the MarketingProfs Daily Fix blog, but they have an elaborate and painful approval process so I wanted to get it up here in the interest of time. – Matt.

It’s a week ago today that I departed Boston for Chicago in order to attend, and blog upon, Marketingprofs’ Digital Mixer.

While I live-blogged a number of sessions – on creating effective webinar programs; on developing corporate social media policies; on using Facebook for brand recognition; on deepening customer relationships with Twitter; on SEO plus Social Media; and on the exceedingly clear thoughts of Dr. BJ Fogg – I wanted to take this opportunity to highlight some of the grander themes or gaudier threads that I noticed running through the event.

1. It’s the humans, stupid

Again and again I heard people talking about “personalizing” or “humanizing” social media efforts, which makes sense to me since I’ve always viewed blogs and such as “personal genres.” This humanization needs to take place both at the organizational level, by creating social media policies which encourage participation on the part of employees and other stakeholders, as well as on the tactical level. There needs to be a living person behind your blog or Twitter stream or what-have-you who will take the time to listen and respond to folks looking to interact with your brand or organization.

2. Personal Brand vs. Professional Brand

Of course, if you are asking people to put themselves into social media efforts, there is always the possibility that they will develop relationships with customers or recognition within a community that begins to outshine the connection to the brand. While many people raised questions concerning the proper mix of personal and professional in brand-related social media activities, the bigger fear seemed to be about retention. Specifically, they asked, “What happens when someone becomes so associated with the brand via social media that their departure leaves a gaping hole in your company’s online presence?”

3. Social Media is Growing Up

There was a palpable dearth of 101-type sessions on social media and its application to business. Instead, we were treated to a lot of pithy studies describing what real companies – Best Buy, Intel, Hansen’s Natural Soda, Pitney Bowes, SAS, etc. – have really done with Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Slideshare, blogs, podcasts, etc. Yes, Dell, Comcast, and Zappos all got mentioned, but it was clear that emerging social media technologies have not only entered the cultural mainstream but have become a permanent and rapidly maturing part of the commercial landscape.

4. SEO = Great Content + Grunt Work.

I got into a rather lively conversation by asserting in a loud, boorish tone that “SEO is a scam,” a conversation in which I was duly schooled but which also clarified my understanding of how optimization happens. In fairness to me, there were plenty of folks who were warning attendees against “SEO snake oil,” but they contrasted such efforts with the legit, white-hat things that people can, should, and must do to optimize their content for, as Liana E. Evans sagely pointed out, “Optimized content is king.”

That being said, I discovered that there are certain link-building activities – directory submissions, Digg-ing, even blogging – that approach data entry in terms of complexity (ie., “not very) and labor intensivity (i.e, “very”). Hiring an intern or “some guys in India” to do this for you isn’t scammy, at the end of the day, but it’s not brain surgery either and reminded me that search engine rank not only reflects quality of content but also quantity of effort.

5. States Rights

Finally. while discussing the assassination of President Lincoln with Apogee’s Bill Leake, I considered for the first time the effect that the 17th Amendment had on states’ rights. This amendment “… restates the first paragraph of Article I, section 3 of the Constitution and provides for the election of senators by replacing the phrase ‘chosen by the Legislature thereof’ with ‘elected by the people thereof.'” (read more). The result of this shift, which made senators beholden to their constituents rather than state governments, was the further consolidation of federal power at the expense of the states insofar as senators no longer needed to concern themselves with pleasing their respective state legislatures and could focus on perpetuating their own careers through the maintenance of voting blocks representing diverse local and private interests.

I never really thought about that before. But then again, I’m a damn Yankee.

Image Courtesy of MarketingProfs Live.