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Podcast: ft. Mark Richardson - The Evolution of Digital Media & Marketing Strategy

NetWise Sep 8, 2021 4:52:21 PM

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Show Notes:

Our guest this week is Mark Richardson, Special Program Manager at NetWise. He dropped by to talk about his background, how he landed at NetWise, and the evolution digital media, data-driven growth and marketing that we've all lived through.

- Mark is the closest to "data" as people are probably thinking about it because he's got his hands on the levers of our whole paid ad machine.

- Why you only want so many people "in the weeds" of the analytics and ad data.

- How a creative background in drama, philosophy, and storytelling has been important for Mark's (and Adam's) development at the edge of media evolution.

- Why not to disrespect whatever the kids are doing, and theories on why millennials aren't as programmed to assume that whatever media the younger generations are consuming is "stupid." (Or are we?)

- Adam and Mark jump into their work together in the early days of digital media and web 2.0 when they worked at Adam's first company, at digital media and marketing company.

- The emergence and evolution of SEO and SEM tactics, starting with sketchy things like keyword packing and hiding white keywords on a white background.

- The evolution of this eco-system into data-driven marketing and even data-drive content creation and the modern influencer eco-systems we see today.

- Name check for some of our favorite early "influencers": Matt Cutts, Kevin Smith, Tim Ferriss and others.

- Ferriss's early A/B testing for the 4 Hour Workweek title by running fake Google Ads.

- The old days of testing things via focus groups.

- Things we thought would exist by now, but still don't really work as we hoped and why mostly this is because it turns out that every new layer of data adds new complexity in addition to new simplicity. This also means that as software and automation eats the world it always seems to create more jobs than it destroys. Including: unified dashboards, sentiment analysis, the fact that the bars on your phone still don't tell if you have internet signal and trans-media.

- Why Adam thinks that TikTok is the way that it is.

- Pop music as cyclical algorithm for finding what people like to listen to.

Links:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matt_Cutts

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/View_Askewniverse

https://adamkerpelman.com/teaser-rules-of-the-league

https://adamkerpelman.com/fracturedfridays-webcasts-movies-music-mayhem

Join the Data-Driven Marketer Discord: https://discord.gg/XtueptFubh
 
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Transcript:

Adam Kerpelman:

Increasingly, I keep hearing people call the F.A.Q. A "FAQ" (pronounced like fack). It bothers me, I don't know why. What do you guys call it?

Mark Richardson:

I used to call them FAQs (like facks) until I realized that people thought I was talking about a fax machine. Like, "Can we fix the F.A.Q.s on the website?" And they're like, "What? The fax phone number? The number to fax us documents?" I'm like, "No, the FAQs." They're like, "Oh that, just call them FAQs."

Brian Jones:

That's hilarious. I thought you were going to say something completely different. That really caught me off guard.

Adam Kerpelman:

Which if that's that type of fax and I say faxes, now I sound like Gollum.

Brian Jones:

Yep.

Mark Richardson:

My precious. My precious faxes.

Adam Kerpelman:

Silly hobbits. Hey everybody, it's the Data-driven Marketer sponsored by NetWise. I'm Adam.

Brian Jones:

I'm Brian.

Mark Richardson:

I'm Mark.

Adam Kerpelman:

Welcome back for another hang in the data basement. Down in the data basement, we just had a ridiculous semantic argument on our Slack about if you're in or down in, or how exactly we should... We spent way too long workshopping the line of the introduction.

Brian Jones:

What's up? We're down in the data basement. I also have imagined the data basement as one word this whole time. And seeing you type it out as two words was disappointing to me.

Adam Kerpelman:

I'm not sure. Yeah, I don't know. Again, we have talked about this one at length. I'm not committed to one or the other, but anyway, thanks for joining us. Special thanks to our guest this week, Mark Richardson, or as I've known him, my whole life Dickey. What is your title at our company?

Mark Richardson:

My title at this, it's program manager and senior program manager. Which I got that title at my last job, and I realized they had paid media attached to it, but I realized that with such a generic title, I was getting way less annoying in-mails and stuff from people trying to sell me shit. I was like, "Oh, if they can't tell I'm in growth or digital marketing-

Brian Jones:

That's hilarious.

Mark Richardson:

..."If you just take the digital marketing out-

Adam Kerpelman:

Then they don't try to sell you the platforms for... Yeah, that's actually brilliant.

Mark Richardson:

Precisely.

Brian Jones:

[crosstalk 00:02:26] only market to yourself.

Mark Richardson:

Right.

Adam Kerpelman:

As you might be able to tell from the tone of the podcast thus far, Mark also works with us at NetWise. He's a NetWise team member. So another episode with somebody in-house talking about what we do over here. Mark actually just recently joined, although Brian and I have worked with him on various projects throughout the last 15 years. So, you'll also probably hear that in the tone of the conversation thus far.

Brian Jones:

Friends.

Adam Kerpelman:

It's an awesome example of the work your network thing, but also just an example of having a network in which you're still just like, "Hey, I know a guy who's the manifest expert on this because we have learned about it together the whole time that this technology has been evolving." I think that's ultimately what we're here to talk about. But more specifically, so program manager, what are you actually overseeing day-to-day?

Mark Richardson:

What that means, what I actually do is I make sure our marketing budget-

Adam Kerpelman:

Other than batch emails?

Mark Richardson:

Right. In between in-between doing matrix backbends to avoid the sales In Mails, as I know where you probably all are as marketers, I realized that program manager is just boring enough of a title to keep me under the radar from other marketers like me, which is nice. Ultimately, I'm doing growth hacking, media budget deployment management, as well as ad writing and A/B testing, which all of that clusters into what I would call audience development, certainly at this stage.

Mark Richardson:

It's taking assumptions, taking what you know about your product and putting those into marketing materials and resources for people to react to. And ideally, the people who are reacting to them, we've targeted with some level of intelligence. So that's been my evolution through this whole space. We started at One Step Production company, and SEO wasn't really about paid media at the time. It was all organic. We weren't running any ads or anything. It was all just, we were building content, building some links, running blogs and videos and live streams. It was all digital engagement, digital relationship building.

Adam Kerpelman:

Yes. You mentioned SEO in that context. And in terms of the breakdown on our marketing team at NetWise, you are the closest to what I think everyone is thinking about when they say data in this context, like every day. You are a full knee deeper than I am in the data every day. That is I think what people are thinking about when they say this. You're the one looking at audiences, manipulating keywords, assessing incoming signals and using those to make decisions regarding where we target this and that and another thing. It's really like you're working the most granular set of levers-

Brian Jones:

Yeah, you're deep in the basement.

Adam Kerpelman:

... To actually do stuff with the data.

Mark Richardson:

That's right. I am.

Adam Kerpelman:

In comparison to-

Brian Jones:

You're in the crawl space sometimes.

Mark Richardson:

I'm in the crawl space.

Adam Kerpelman:

The, what do they call them on starships?

Mark Richardson:

The hold?

Adam Kerpelman:

They call them Jefferies Tubes or something like that?

Mark Richardson:

The ships hold? No. I thought you were talking about-

Brian Jones:

Specifically on Star Trek what do they call them?

Adam Kerpelman:

No. Specifically on Star Trek, they have a name for those tubes that occasionally engineering has to climb into to fix a panel or something. They're just small enough to still be a little cozy, but not-

Brian Jones:

Great for drama, chases and stuff.

Adam Kerpelman:

... Not really claustrophobic. Yeah, you need chases, but also sometimes you need three people in there at once and it can't be two claustrophobic and two cameras.

Mark Richardson:

That's actually really good. That's a great analogy or a metaphor for being in an ad platform. It's like, "I want no more than maybe one or two other people besides me in this platform at any given time." I'm not the guy who's like, "Let me take you on a tour of Google ads because, to explain all of the things that you're going to get distracted by," and I say you meaning the client or a boss really. It's like, "If you're not intimately familiar and in researching or educated on what any of these screens mean, you're going to ask so many questions and we're just going to waste our time." Do it does feel like a crawlspace. It's like, "I know exactly what I'm looking for. Let me crawl there and then come get you the answer in the living room once I'm done."

Brian Jones:

A common theme that Adam and I have hit, do I call you Adam on this podcast?

Adam Kerpelman:

I don't know. Karl called me Kerpelman and I'm sure everybody was like, "Huh?"

Brian Jones:

I get real confused at work because it's a big crossover for me, still having you in a professional day job and hobby time.

Adam Kerpelman:

I sign all my work emails Kerp too.

Brian Jones:

Okay, it's Kerp then. So one of the themes Kerp and I keep hitting on here is how similar modern digital marketing is to software engineering. And on some levels, you're actually writing software too. There's a lot of code that's needed to make things work. But like the project management and the depth of the complexity of what you're looking at, and the analysis, and the program management and execution, there's just stuff structured similarly, projects are handled similarly. It's really just an extraordinarily technical profession now.

Brian Jones:

And like your example of not needing people to look at Google analytics or looking into the Ad Sense account, is the same as sitting down for a high-level meeting and everyone pulling out their code and starting to read through the code line by line. It's like, "That's not going to go anywhere."

Mark Richardson:

Yeah. Exactly. Then it is going to... The whole meeting is going to be-

Adam Kerpelman:

There's only a very specific context in which you want the CEO involved in a code audit.

Brian Jones:

Very true.

Mark Richardson:

Yeah. I would say those, they're similar in that there can be-

Brian Jones:

That's the last meeting our CEO wants to be in.

Adam Kerpelman:

For sure. So I think we should start back at your background and stuff. Basically, let's track through the evolution of this stuff in terms of what you and I have always been working on, which is creative marketing targeting for this kind of stuff. But let's also step further back, because I've realized I haven't revealed yet that you may also be doing hosting duties for this podcast. So anybody hanging out here and listening also get used to Mark's sexy NPR microphone voice. You might hear him-

Mark Richardson:

I'm here for you.

Adam Kerpelman:

... In my role on occasion. But even before that, we should talk about, you studied drama in undergrad, right?

Mark Richardson:

Well, yeah. That's my whole thing.

Adam Kerpelman:

Which I should say for context, I came up through filmmaking and went to an MFA program that I then dropped out of, and now here I am in marketing. But even before that, I studied philosophy and I frequently mention how that aspect of the route up that was indirect, it's a part of my brain I still access on a regular basis as I try to figure out what a strategy is, or where a technology is going, or where did the cheap attention real estate is going to be as media evolves. That kind of stuff. Because that is not... You don't learn media evolution in an MBA, certainly not law school.

Mark Richardson:

I love that Brian compared it to engineering, because there is... I look at this landscape as there's two sets of players in marketing. It's like the people who are out there, failing forward, testing, doing crazy shit, innovating a platform, we don't even know why. Why are we putting video together in these tiny little three second edits back to back? Then all of a sudden people are like, "How do we monetize this?" You've got the people out there taking the risks, creating the content and just doing it. They're not thinking about, "Is there ROI? Am I selling? Am I gaining clout?" Yada, yada. They're just out there entertaining people. They're just putting content out there because they love failing forward.

Mark Richardson:

And then there's people up in the C-suite going, "What's this trend? What's everybody doing? Everyone's getting excited." So they hire people like us, smart people who are also creative to make sense of it. It's like, "What's this thing that everyone's getting triggered by, everyone's reacting to, everyone's laughing at? Whatever." whether it's TikTok or Instagram or Vine. I think that what an MBA can't necessarily do, it can give you the macro, it can give you historical, and it can give you the tools to assess, obviously from a business perspective what's going on, but it can't give you that inspirado that like a filmmaker or I would say like an actor might have. You were like, "Let's just jump in and do it. Let's take an idea, do something, see what happens." There's-

Adam Kerpelman:

Yeah. Sometimes you've just got to run the scene and go, "No that was trash. Thanks guys though," and go rewrite it.

Mark Richardson:

Right. You're like, "Okay, that failed miserably, but hey, we did something."

Adam Kerpelman:

That's why I think comedians end up really good. That's why I think the first wave of influencers in podcasts has been comedians. They're used to going out and iteratively testing spoken word. That's stand up comedy. You hit the road, you grind it out. Everybody has stories about bombs that then evolve into better jokes. You just can't... That's the only way to refine jokes. There are science to it and you can line up all the blocks, but then occasionally a thing works and you go, "I don't know what magic happened, but I did the best I could to stack the deck. But the last little piece, that's this magic." That's why we give out Academy Awards, because the people that can repeat it actually have something very special.

Mark Richardson:

Yeah.

Adam Kerpelman:

I don't even know how to articulate what it is. So that actually relates to a thing that I say constantly, that's big time, oft repeated for me marketing advice. I have throughout a 15 year career, always been stunned that this never becomes an irrelevant thing to say to the people that are paying me money. "Don't disrespect what the kids are doing. You may not understand it, but if they're doing it, it's more fun than what you're doing. And so it's going to be the future." It just is, especially with the two way communication channel open now where they're actively playing a video game instead of just watching TV.

Brian Jones:

Are you trying to tell me that the younger generations aren't just a bunch of losers?

Adam Kerpelman:

How about they discovered the Beatles first?

Brian Jones:

Isn't that trope-

Adam Kerpelman:

They discovered Elvis first.

Brian Jones:

... So old now. How do older generations still fall victim to, "What are the kids doing? They're all messed up. They're just getting-

Adam Kerpelman:

They must be stupid.

Brian Jones:

I'm not the young generation anymore. When does that flip in my head and I'm like, "Oh my kid's so dumb and what he does is so silly. What's he involved in?" I'm like, "Well, I'll be all right."

Adam Kerpelman:

I have a theory that I think I can legitimately back up. That millennials onward, and I would say that we're elder millennial.

Mark Richardson:

Yeah.

Adam Kerpelman:

I grew up at this point with most of my life in the digital sphere, but the first 15, 16, 17 years weren't really. I asked girls out via Instant Messenger in high school, that's about level six-

Mark Richardson:

ICQ baby.

Adam Kerpelman:

... For digital technology being legit in my life. I took that seriously. It's how I got dates. But also, that's evolved to G-Chat, and then we saw email. And just the way we talk to everyone else in our cohort has changed every three years our entire lives.

Mark Richardson:

Yeah. You were talking about this on LinkedIn.

Adam Kerpelman:

It's stabilized, but now we've got Slack. Let's back it up. The first thing that you and I worked on together was my student film in which you played the lead.

Mark Richardson:

That's right.

Adam Kerpelman:

Constantine, who was the CTO at one of my startups later down the road and also worked at the production company, was the producer of that student film.

Mark Richardson:

Yeah, Drawing Lisa.

Adam Kerpelman:

I could surface it, if anyone cared. But it's funny because, half of it's not there because half of it was supposed to be hand drawn animation. I had somebody who was super fired up to do it, who then got hired and was like, "Sorry, I've got to go do the paid thing." So I just filled in those slots with literally rudimentary animation of the storyboards I'd drawn out for the framing of the cameras, so I could put it on a portfolio reel.

Mark Richardson:

You've got to show me that.

Adam Kerpelman:

Although, that's just beautiful though. We both ended up in LA a few years later, and so you came to work with me at a video production company, which is really where we started using... We were successfully making enough money off of client work, that there was budget overrun to work on crazy stuff. So a lot of the stuff that you talked about was like, we'd have bands come through to talk to us about music videos. So we shot a live streaming show out of the back of the office where they would just play a couple songs and talk about the music, stuff like that, that we streamed on-

Mark Richardson:

We'd stream that on-

Adam Kerpelman:

... Now a defunct platform, Livestream, Ustream, stuff like that.

Mark Richardson:

Yeah, Livestream. We put it out on YouTube as well, early, early days [crosstalk 00:16:31].

Adam Kerpelman:

Music, Movies, Mayhem.

Mark Richardson:

Music, Movies, Mayhem, yeah.

Adam Kerpelman:

That was the side project of One Step Productions.

Brian Jones:

Yeah, I remember.

Adam Kerpelman:

We got, Mike Dowdy came on.

Brian Jones:

Yeah. I was there for his Feature Friday, I think.

Adam Kerpelman:

Yeah. We had a few of those that-

Brian Jones:

No one knows those things. They don't give a shit about any of the stuff we're talking about on this episode.

Adam Kerpelman:

No. Who cares. Whatever. It's just as much for us and the people there.

Brian Jones:

It's a good throwback though.

Adam Kerpelman:

We also tried to do podcasts with you, Jones.

Brian Jones:

Yeah. I remember doing some Walking The Streets of LA.

Adam Kerpelman:

Which means I probably have a record somewhere, a recording somewhere of you, of me being frustrated at you for not yes and-ing probably.

Brian Jones:

Well, it wasn't my my background quite as much as yours.

Adam Kerpelman:

It takes practice to be certain. But in addition to that stuff, you've handled the whole promotional side of all that stuff.

Mark Richardson:

Yeah.

Adam Kerpelman:

So for all these projects, and we had legit projects like a documentary we took to can, stuff like that. Where, we'd be making websites and running ads and doing all this stuff. Again, at the edge of technology, if you're trying to push a web series, the best place to go advertise is a place where people are already on the web. So we have a couple of different web series we did while we were working together there. This is before... There was barely an idea of SEO. This was like 2006, 2007 I feel like.

Mark Richardson:

Yeah. This was when it was Wild West. It's still Wild West, but this was when it was really, really crazy, when you could still get away with stuff like keyword cloaking in your background, doorway pages, all this fun, manipulative shit.

Adam Kerpelman:

So that's another funny thing that I don't know... Depending on the age or experience of the people listening to this, I don't know if people realize there was a phase of the web where you could game getting your page ranked somewhere like Google, by taking a giant cluster of keywords, making the same color as your background, and putting them at the bottom of your page.

Mark Richardson:

yep. Or at the sides, in the margins worked. You could slap it in the margins and just-

Adam Kerpelman:

Then eventually, you could just put it in Meta and it would get crawled. SEO has always been this really interesting... Now it's evolved to what we call data-driven marketing, and it's legitimized. But when we first started, it was like, "Oh, let's see if this worked." And every once in a while, Google would call us and go, "You shouldn't do that. You're going to get locked out of our ad system."

Mark Richardson:

It's almost like hackers fighting hackers really. That's the way I think of it. People have this image of Google now as a behemoth, as like a God force. We look to Google as the end all be all. They call them the Goog Father. It's like Google will determine what is right and wrong and your place in the multi-verse of digital. But before, it was really, they were just trying to compete with other search engines too, which was other engineers, other developers, other hackers trying to come up with the best listing system. And that's all. It really was like everyone just trying to create a digital yellow pages, which we even still get searches for that now.

Mark Richardson:

Here's a little NDA. We're still pulling in people to NetWise searching Yellow Page online. And you look at it, I'm like, "What? Are we in 1998?" People are still thinking in that way to get-

Brian Jones:

How's this person getting on the internet?

Adam Kerpelman:

Right.

Mark Richardson:

How'd you figure out how to verify an email? How did you change a password? You're searching Yellow Page. It just blows my mind.

Adam Kerpelman:

Right. This is the part Brian, we've talked about this on other podcasts before, so I know you can sell them this one up quick. Before Google invented page rank, which caused them to really... With page rank, they were like, "We just figured out how the net organizes itself and now we can map it and give you the best answers for everything," at least relative to the technology at the time. What did we have before that?

Brian Jones:

You mostly just had self-contained contextual search. I'm sure there was more complexity than this, but the general idea was, before the idea of pay rank really, you just had the page itself to go off of. So if you searched for, I don't know, penicillin, it can only look at the all the pages that have penicillin. You're like, "I don't know which one the person wants. There are 100,000 of them." Well, these days it would be 10 million of them.

Brian Jones:

So Google had the idea of, what did the other pages think is the most important page? So it's like they layered both the context of what you were searching with, with a ranking algorithm for which of those things is most likely to be relevant for the context you're searching for.

Mark Richardson:

This is why they gained, why they ultimately were able to capture that position as the Goog Father, as this all-knowing Buddha of the internet.

Adam Kerpelman:

Right, for sure.

Mark Richardson:

Because they were taking this open source thing that we're all like, "Yeah, yeah, we can all..." It's this big community. Again, we talk about communities. That's what the internet was. We're all feeding our information, we're feeding our facts. This was before disinformation and fake news ruined everything. But it was this place where everyone could feed off the collective intelligence of the rest of the community And so Google was the one, they elevated because they were able to figure out a script, an algorithm that properly credited all of that interaction.

Adam Kerpelman:

If you want a really good traumatized version of this period of the evolution of this, the fourth season of Halt and Catch Fire.

Brian Jones:

It's so good. I love that show.

Adam Kerpelman:

[crosstalk 00:22:15].

Mark Richardson:

Hold and Catch Fire.

Adam Kerpelman:

Halt and Catch Fire. It's the only show that I aggressively push on other people in the world.

Brian Jones:

It was the best. I loved it.

Adam Kerpelman:

It's such a good show. All four seasons. But the fourth season covers this part of the evolution of all this stuff. But it was just lists. It was just indexes. It was like, "Okay, we're going to do the Yellow Pages again." Yahoo jumped out ahead because they immediately started employing a lot of people to curate stuff. That's not how you scale this, because you immediately hit the point where you're like, "Oh, this is more complex than you can ever just throw humans at, because there's so much data." That's how you eventually get to the emergence of I think what we talk about on here, the data-driven mindset, where it really starts to filter back into everything that you do.

Adam Kerpelman:

I think that's a little bit how you and I have been living our creative lives forever. So I've forever been involved in these creative brainstorms where sometimes on a project, and the point is you're supposed to come up with the best idea and then present it, which is what it's like being at a marketing agency. Working at the edge of this stuff, every creative conversation you and I have ever had has ended in, "Let's try these five and see what happens." Because you get feedback, you get views on YouTube and you go, "Oh, that worked."

Mark Richardson:

You test and if the test failed, then you ask yourself, "Okay, should we create a better test? Why did that fail? Was there anything successful about it?" If so, try to iterate off of those successful factors. If it's just a bad idea, sometimes you just throw your hands up and say, "Okay, time for a new idea."

Brian Jones:

The exciting part, and the fun part, and the functional part is you can do that really fast now. Once you've got the foundation of how you're going to operate a department, a marketing department, you can start to test things blindingly fast. Some things still, you need weeks and you need months to get real big strategic business decisions, but to be able to get going on things and start to learn a lot is days and weeks now, which is insanity.

Mark Richardson:

Yeah. It's almost like you're getting almost a real-time response. In a lot of platforms, you are getting a real-time response. I think that's why streaming, why you see a lot of creators and what we would call influencers nowadays, or there's a big crossover I would say between the creator and influencer space, because you've got guys that are taking a subject matter expertise and really creating a Venn diagram of key channels. They're taking the live aspect from Twitch, pushing it into a YouTube where the content can be syndicated essentially, and live evergreen.

Mark Richardson:

Then they've got the Patreon where, if you really like the content, you come onto the Patreon and you pay them extra money in addition to the ad dollars you're getting.

Adam Kerpelman:

To assure a persistence of your beloved project. It makes sense when you break down how people actually want to behave toward the content that they consume. You know that way, you know that that's in part how they want to behave because you can watch it happen with music as music got digitized. I am happy to pay for the music I love in my life, just not 20 bucks for one song because there's 11 trash singles on there that the company didn't put much work into because they didn't have to.

Mark Richardson:

Yeah, one album. Exactly.

Adam Kerpelman:

Because they choked the means of distribution off at the level of physical plastic. I've thought about this one a lot. What's the first influencer you can think of that caused you to be like, "Okay, this is a different thing right here, than we've known before."

Mark Richardson:

Well I would probably say, I'm going to give a very boring answer to that just because it connects to SEO. The first influencer I would probably say is Matt Cutts from Google.

Brian Jones:

Interesting.

Mark Richardson:

He's the first person I felt influenced by, but it wasn't to buy anything. It was just he created SafeSearch, which also helped elevate Google after page rank and made it less porn focused than the other search engines. So Cutts was like... If you're trying to learn the basics of good content marketing and website construction, Cutts was the guy. He's now working for the government. He works for the Cyber Command now.

Adam Kerpelman:

Was he out there talking about it though? Do you know about him because you were also consuming content?

Brian Jones:

His blog is how I was consuming him, through a feed reader I think.

Mark Richardson:

Yeah, his blog. Once I started-

Brian Jones:

He was the only source of what was going on in Google for SEO. He was the day-to-day. I wouldn't have even thought of it as influencing really at the time, because I don't even remember if he was sharing like Facebook and Twitter. Twitter was just new, so he just had a blog where he was, "Hey, here's what's going on this week and how Google made decisions about SEO." It was a time period where he was just revealing information that he was leading, projects he was working on that was just helpful to get out to people. As opposed to the idea of like, "Here's a bunch of stuff, buy my thing."

Mark Richardson:

Right.

Brian Jones:

It was the true nature of how everyone dreams the internet is supposed to be.

Mark Richardson:

It's truly altruistic. Exactly. It's like, "Here's your problem. I understand you've got a problem. We're creating stuff on our side, and we know it's slightly opaque. Let me help demystify it."

Brian Jones:

He was doing what businesses are supposed to be doing. They were transparent. He was telling you what a really critical part of their business, that affects everyone in the world, he was telling you what was going on. I'm sure there was oversight on what he could reveal too. There were limits. He would say things like, "I can't tell you more about this algorithm," or whatever. But that's what we're supposed to be doing, is educating people.

Mark Richardson:

Yeah, he would be notoriously cagey on certain things.

Adam Kerpelman:

I don't know if this docks me some nerd cred, but I didn't follow that blog. I didn't know about it, no one told me about it. There was no big discovery mechanism. But you two were way more so in spaces where actually knowing what's happening with the algorithm was really important.

Brian Jones:

Yeah, I needed it. It was like an engineering resource for me.

Adam Kerpelman:

My first, I would say Kevin Smith probably. I was a member on the message boards on his View Askew website that went along with Clerks and Mallrats and chasing it.

Mark Richardson:

Smodcast.

Adam Kerpelman:

He was doing this behavior before social media was even invented. He used to hang out on the message board for his movies and just talk to his fans about the same nerdy shit that the characters all loved, and that he loved, and that brought everybody together. He has only increasingly as influencer culture has blossomed, continued to be his own property, almost distinct from the things that he makes. For a while it was distinct, and now it's pulled back even more where he just has a self-sustaining ecosystem of people that he influences, who fund him making silly movies that they watch and give him enough money to keep making the movies.

Brian Jones:

It's great.

Adam Kerpelman:

And doing what he wants to do. Super interesting. The Smodcast, he was out in front with podcasts and stuff too.

Mark Richardson:

Way out in front of there, yeah.

Adam Kerpelman:

But there's another example that we also talked about before this, that I think was for all of us, one of those times when the future of all this stuff crystallized. It was Tim Ferriss, who you could call an influencer in his own right. Talked about how he picked the name for The 4-Hour Workweek. That was really in that space of, I don't know if I'd have bought the message of The 4-Hour Workweek. I certainly as a marketer understand why it's an attractive property to learn how to only work four hours a week, but he is a master marketer. He talks about how he A/B tested A, B, C, D E F, G, whatever, tested the title for 4-Hour Workweek just by running Google ads with all 13 options, and having them go to like a, "Sign up and we'll tell you when it's ready," page.

Adam Kerpelman:

Which this is best practice behavior now, but at the time, it caused me to go, "Oh, okay. This is not even what I thought it was." That's really the birth of the data-driven mindset, was that moment of going, "Oh no. You can use this to ask questions and people tell you what they want." You don't have to sit in a room anymore and go, "I wonder what these people want. I hope I strike gold."

Mark Richardson:

Or getting them together in a focus group, you don't have to pay market research.

Adam Kerpelman:

Yeah, or paying them to be in a room eating donuts and then asking them 12 questions.

Mark Richardson:

"Now, how does this affect you? Are you happy about this image? Does this image make you confused?" No. People aren't going through that checklist of their anxieties, emotions, desires, and problems they need solved in that moment of clicking or watching an ad. They're not doing that. They're just reacting.

Adam Kerpelman:

I think honestly below a certain age of marketers out there now, people may not even believe that that behavior actually happens. When I first moved to LA, outside of almost every movie, there'd be somebody targeting you based on knowing that you probably left one of five movies recently based on the times. They would hang out on the sidewalk and invite you to free screenings of upcoming movies, which sounded exciting because you're already seeing the ads for them and stuff. And you're like, "I'll see Transformers early." But then, you have to fill out a questionnaire at the end of it. It's literal market... They're testing the edit to see if the sad ending makes you feel a different way about the movie than the happy ending, and then they plug in one or the other. It never guides, good creative decisions.

Mark Richardson:

That's because it's this big game of telephone and that's... That's a Hollywood rabbit hole. That's a whole podcast topic itself. My goodness.

Adam Kerpelman:

So A/B testing and that kind of stuff. Here's another question. Maybe this is a good place to wrap it up in terms of just bringing it to the even further future. What's the secret sauce for the data-driven market that's 20 minutes away from here? But I think the fun way to attack it, what's the thing that when we used to talk about this stuff 10 years ago we thought might exist, that still has not, it does not work properly? It turned out to be a harder problem than we thought. When the internet was invented, we went, "We can point this tool at everything."

Mark Richardson:

We certainly didn't anticipate the need for seven different tools to get a set of answers. The ad tech, MarTech industry has just exploded over all the little questions that people are asking. It's like it's not enough as we know. It's not enough to get a lead in the door now. We have to know how that lead was acquired, what pieces of content did they consume, what other competitor websites? And now, you've got companies that are pulling in all that intelligence to understand not only just SEO, it's SEM, it's UX, all of those things go into your conversion funnel now.

Mark Richardson:

If you have a talent drain or a gap in any of those areas, that could be a pain point. You could be losing a customer based on, "They had a red CTA and I like clicking on green CTAs." So that's what people are A/B testing because just what you said, they're asking you, "What do you like? How do you like to experience a website? How do you like to have your questions or problems solved?"

Mark Richardson:

Now we have this plethora of segment and Brays and Branch and everybody, all these companies out, MuleSoft and data warehouse, it's an endless rabbit hole of technologies to get these really granular answers to make sure people aren't wasting money.

Adam Kerpelman:

Right. If I can repeat what I think you're saying there, you thought it would still be one dashboard and it's turned out that you need a whole workshop of tools, which probably we should look at the real world and be like, "There is no workshop that has only two tools." But somehow we thought it would be so streamlined and it's like, "No." It goes back to the thing that we talk about all the time on here, which is that, everything that software eats, it just creates more jobs because everything just fractalizes and breaks off into 100 new versions of a job that you can have, because of a layer of complexities.

Adam Kerpelman:

So the idea of, automation on one end, it makes some set of jobs go away, but on the other end, it almost always creates more jobs for a different set of people that are not always the same set, which is the problem.

Brian Jones:

Almost never because, it creates more complex jobs. What we're chasing that seems to be so challenging in the world.

Adam Kerpelman:

Related to this is the thing that I would call out is the thing that I thought would work and still isn't. Actually I have two, so I can fill in one for you, Brian, if you don't have anything top of mind.

Mark Richardson:

I'm trying to think of one here.

Adam Kerpelman:

Sentiment analysis. There have from the beginning been projects that are like, "We're going to listen to Twitter and we're going to tell people how people feel about your brand." That shit still doesn't work. There are still giant companies trying to sell it to me, and it's always like the signal you get off it is meh at best. There's just too much weirdness in human language. I think maybe in 10 years we get there, now that ML and AI sort of working. But the idea that Brian and I could build it on a weekend 10 years ago, no. Not effectively.

Brian Jones:

It's just the problem with a lot of stuff like that is that, we think as humans that the way we do things is a smart way that results in critical decision making being based on important facts. But what you realize when you start to do that stuff with a computer is that, humans are mostly making dumb decisions based on little, little, tiny trinkets of information, and we just feel like we're making smart decisions. So it's really an access to information problem. I've got mine.

Adam Kerpelman:

Do you have one?

Brian Jones:

Yeah. Mine's the fact that the little bars on your phone still don't really tell you if you have any internet signal.

Adam Kerpelman:

Is that because they keep rolling out new tower technology?

Brian Jones:

I don't know.

Adam Kerpelman:

So the scale of how you can possibly even measure that radio signal keeps changing, because they're like, "It's ultra microwaves now."

Brian Jones:

I'm in the process of upgrading my Wi-Fi routers around my house to what I think are supposed to be the best ones right now. I've been doing a bunch of research into what software to run and what to measure, to test the quality of Wi-Fi in different areas, and there's nothing around. I can't find anything that's easily-

Adam Kerpelman:

It's not a fix to the problem, yeah.

Brian Jones:

It seems like Apple blocks you from accessing that level of information on their phones so you can't build apps.

Adam Kerpelman:

Some of it is that but I'll say, over on the PC side where I still pay attention even though I prefer Macs, it's still not solved. There are a whole bunch of ways to... But part of the problem is, they keep rolling out standards. So like Wi-Fi 6 is out now. They completely changed the standard for the radio design and how packet handling works and all kinds of stuff like that, to make it potentially faster at the upper threshold. But it means all the hardware cascading down is obsolete. So those radios literally can't tell as well I think, to answer the question.

Adam Kerpelman:

That's what I was saying is, I think tower mismatch between radio technologies is frequently the reason those bars are... But it is a good example of a thing that's like, "Come on. It seems like this should be easy. Just tell me if my shit is good or not."

Mark Richardson:

Do I have a signal or don't I? And if I do-

Brian Jones:

Why can't-

Mark Richardson:

... Why isn't my Apple-

Brian Jones:

... My app tell if I have a signal or not? It'll just sit there trying to load. It should say I don't have enough signal.

Mark Richardson:

Why are you telling me I'm offline? When I can see three bars, Verizon, on the top left corner?

Adam Kerpelman:

Because what's missing is its ability to talk to the thing that tells it if it has signal or not. Systems design. Anyway, my last one was what I think these days they would call transmedia, has still not gotten to the place that we tried to make it as early as 2009. We did a web series where all of the characters had Twitter accounts and had conversations between one another in between episodes and stuff like that. And it turns out, the people's appetite for that is more like they'd rather watch real J-Lo talk to real Ben Affleck, and then they both just continue to play characters in movies that don't exist, except video games.

Adam Kerpelman:

Video games have become even more immersive, but at the same time, we haven't tried to make a TV show where there is this secondary connected transmedia associated with it, that could possibly even do like choosing your own adventure things. I thought the world that I was used to consuming, TV and movies and stuff like that, would be way more choose your own adventure than we have so far. There's a couple of novel projects. And I guess you could argue that picking the streaming-

Mark Richardson:

The Black Mirror. You had the Black Mirror.

Adam Kerpelman:

Yeah. I guess you could argue that picking your streaming provider is how you do this, and that has fractalized into you could go and watch only football games if you wanted by picking the right channel.

Mark Richardson:

It was kind of a la carte connected TV universe that's rolled out for us.

Adam Kerpelman:

But like I always say, some version of that still exists. And so thinking about the world that way is how I find the nuggets inside of what exists, where you can see how TikTok is a two way street. It's just not what I imagined for transmedia when we were working on that particular project.

Mark Richardson:

Talk about distraction factory.

Brian Jones:

That's powerful. That one's real powerful.

Mark Richardson:

I guess my answer to this would be something like, and I could be wrong. If they're doing it differently, I'm actually looking it up right now to make sure I'm not a fuddy-duddy behind the curve. But I was thinking of Nielsen, like the way people report... Like how you report your viewership. It was all manual survey the way people... You'd get a phone call.

Adam Kerpelman:

Yeah, we've talked about it before. It's literally, it evolves from you fill out a thing, you fill out a scan-tron with a piece of paper into phone calls, but you still had to opt into it and get a gift certificate or something, to TikTok, tapping to like a video. Not really any different.

Mark Richardson:

Exactly. Now Nielsen one, I don't think they have really updated their technology that much so they can tell based on... You can't really cookie your TV, but you think you should be able to cookie your TV.

Adam Kerpelman:

They've got a great blog on user experience though. They have all kinds of UX data on that, their reports website. So maybe if... I'll probably edit this part out. Maybe a fun way to wrap this up is, I have my, I didn't want to call it a hot take at this point. I think I know why TikTok is the way that it is, if you want to hear it.

Brian Jones:

Of course everybody wants to hear it.

Mark Richardson:

I do. I'm on the edge of this seat.

Adam Kerpelman:

It's a fundamental combination of two aspects of their media discovery feed that are different from the other things, even Vine. So first, all of the social networks that we're used to now, YouTube included, you follow people at the account level. That's how they get into your feed. You invite them. You say, "Okay, I'm following you. You can put your stuff in my subscription feed." TikTok doesn't have that. The main thing... You can follow people and then they get favored in the algorithm, but the main thing in TikTok is just the for you page. Where they just stream you 60 second videos they think you'll enjoy based on the algorithm, and there isn't another way to consume.

Adam Kerpelman:

You can load into the following tab, but it ends up being a similar experience because, it's all people that you followed who were first shown to you through the for you page. So the first thing is, they don't have you tethered to actually knowing an influencer necessarily, to control whether you see something or not. Then, that gives them the power to only actually surface stuff that's good. So as a creator, it's really low stakes because, if you put out something that sucks, five people see it and then it dies in the algorithm.

Mark Richardson:

It's like SnapChat. It just goes away.

Adam Kerpelman:

It's not like YouTube where people go back through the channel and go, "Oh, I don't actually like what you make except that one viral video. I'm not subscribing." All they do is like the one video and it informs the algorithm. And if you're actually good at making things over and over, even though some of it is crap, you get served back up.

Brian Jones:

That removes a lot of anxiety for the creator, because there's so much pressure to make sure everything you do in an environment where you're being followed directly is good. That sucks. That eliminates creativity big time. Instagram feeds all look the same to me.

Adam Kerpelman:

Yeah, because that media stream has standardized around what's effective on there, the same way pop music to some degree standardizes in cycles around what people want to hear. Pop music is literally just an algorithm for finding on an ongoing basis what is pleasing to the human ear this year, or for the next five-ish years.

Mark Richardson:

It's funny you bring up music. Talk about a trending space where there's so much copycat. It's like Billie Eilish drops her debut album, and now you've got seven other teenagers or 20 somethings who sound a lot like Billie Eilish doing-

Adam Kerpelman:

Billie Eilish-ish.

Mark Richardson:

Same sort of things, some more dubstep crossover thing. You've got Olivia Rodrigo, you've got Julian baker, you've got great artists, but they're all following Billie Eilish in similar [crosstalk 00:45:50].

Adam Kerpelman:

Part of it is just an influence cycle. The reason you get synths that come in and out of popularity is because we grew up with synths. So I'm like, "Oh, that sounds like the cars or whatever." But anyway, that's-

Mark Richardson:

Part of that too is that, part of why a lot of music is cyclical and culture is cyclical and trends are cyclical.

Adam Kerpelman:

That's a real nugget in there for anybody who's looking at... Anybody who's listening to Gary V, tell them that TikTok... There's an influencer for you. Gary V, tell them that TikTok is cheap attention real estate right now. The only way to test it is you've just got to start making stuff. That's how TikTok works. Just start making stuff and you'll get signal. And if you run out of budget before that test ends, then it wasn't meant to be. That's how you attack it from a business standpoint.

Mark Richardson:

Well, you also should not be spending... Don't spend a shit ton of budget on your TikTok.

Adam Kerpelman:

True. I mean the budget to pay the person who's making the videos. But it's also why it's good at advertising because, taking that piece out lets them... The algorithm has an idea of your persona. That sounds creepy when I say it that way because it's very nebulous. But the reason TikTok is so addictive is because, I can create a new account from scratch right now and within six days it's showing me the same creators again. Because, it can that quickly figure out that I like these stupid Monte Python jokes because I'm on TikTok for four minutes in between things, and I'm like, "I just want to not think about work for a minute, and absurdist humor does it for me."

Adam Kerpelman:

It figured that out. I've set up five different accounts now and it figured that out within six-ish days every time, which on one hand is creepy. On the other hand, it's like the imaginary ideal of ad delivery that we constantly talk about on this show.

Mark Richardson:

Well part of that, the constancy, like the constant delivery, I think it's intentional, intentional but constant. I think the key, once you're pushing out a bunch of content, when we talk about being data-driven, to bring this thing full circle in an audience perspective, it's like, don't go for the thing you think you should be getting if it's not what you're getting. Go after the thing where you're winning. If you're creating a bunch... If you have a service you want to sell and it's not resonating on TikTok, but some other goofy, just offhand joke that you push out because you thought it was cool, and that's the thing that's getting all the engagement, well that probably means you should keep doing the jokes. Stop trying to sell the service and just do the jokes.

Adam Kerpelman:

Yeah. I think that is a good place to wrap up. Good future tech tips in that section, I'll leave it at, you should follow the Washington Post account. Regardless of political leanings, the dude who runs the Washington Post TikTok was clearly like, "I am now locked in my house. Can I have permission, whoever runs the marketing department, to just make TikToks?" He's really good at it, and he TikToks about making TikToks. He's just good at it, and it's his job for a very legitimate institution. It's because occasionally, he's delivering the news, occasionally he's just making jokes about TikToking. Sometimes it's trolling the fact that we feel like we're living in a parallel universe loop right now because of the pandemic, which is so many layers to the emergence of this stuff but-

Mark Richardson:

It's very metatheatrical. That's the beauty of TikTok. It's like it is itself watching itself.

Adam Kerpelman:

Metatheatrical transmedia. It's branded. Anyway, thanks everybody for hanging out and thanks for jumping in for this rollicking version of one of these, Mark.

Mark Richardson:

Yeah, absolutely. This was fun. Look forward to the next one.

Adam Kerpelman:

Thanks everybody for listening. Like and subscribe if you want to hear more of this stuff and more of Mark, as he picks up host duties, possibly.

Mark Richardson:

Yeah, definitely.

Adam Kerpelman:

This is the Data-driven Marketer sponsored by NetWise. I'm Adam.

Brian Jones:

I'm Brian.

Mark Richardson:

I've been mark.

Brian Jones:

Take it easy, everybody.

Mark Richardson:

See you next time.