The American Girl Place and Content Marketing Perfected

January 26th, 2011 — 12:56pm

While in Chicago this weekend I brought my seven-month-old daughter to the American Girl place. I’m pretty against the kind of commercialism that American Girl dolls encourages, so I figured it’d be good to take her there now while she won’t remember it.

I didn’t know a whole lot about the American Girl phenomenon, and I won’t pretend to be an expert after having visited one store. But I will say that I am amazed at how well that brand has perfected content marketing.

If you know anything about American Girl dolls, then you know I’m not saying anything new. You’ll just have to forgive me. As a new dad, this whole franchise was foreign to me.

For those who don’t know, American Girl dolls are, at first glance, simply grossly overpriced toys. But take a second look and suddenly you get it.

It’s not the doll.

It’s the story.

Each American Girl doll comes with a story. Kitt is from New York and wants to be a writer when she grows up. So-and-so grew up during the Great Depression and is working as an actress to help pay the bills. Etc. Etc.

American Girl’s primary value isn’t in the doll. It’s in the story. But because they’ve invested so much in the stories, they’re able to spin off a hundred different products from it.

And once you’ve visited the American Girl Place in Chicago, it all clicks. Books. Videos. Movies. A magazine. You name it.

They probably have an iPhone app.

(UPDATE: They don’t. But they do have an online university where girls can go to play games and different activities online.)

Comment » | Brands, Marketing

Facebook, Spokeo and the End of (Online) Privacy

January 19th, 2011 — 12:00pm

So I received a chain email that’s been going around warning people about Spokeo, a website that aggregates public information on people. (If you search for yourself, you’ll probably find your name, address, maybe even your home value and a few relatives. Spokeo isn’t new, and there are others out there, so I’m unsure what prompted the alarmist chain email in the first place.)

But the email did prompt a discussion amongst me and some family members regarding how much information is available about people online. Basically, Spokeo left quite a few of my family members spooked.

Of course, all of the information that Spokeo finds about you is already public. Your phone number and address were in the phone book. Your home sale price is on record at your county clerk office. You get the idea. Spokeo just pulls it all together and puts it at the fingertips of anyone with an Internet connection.

The problem with blaming Facebook…

Inevitably, the conversation turned to Facebook, the 800-pound gorilla in the room of online privacy. As the conversation evolved, I found myself defending Facebook for two reasons: first, people join Facebook and divulge personal information freely, and, second, the trend I’m seeing toward sharing more information isn’t unique to Facebook and, therefore, I’d rather be on Facebook framing my own personal narrative rather than allowing other people to share information about me without my knowledge.

Then again, I live and breathe digital media for my day job, and long ceded any semblance of online privacy by joining every social network I could and starting a personal blog. So it was interesting to hear the perspective from people who can say, with all honesty, “I didn’t sign up for this.”

To use the Spokeo example again, that website specifically, as well as others, haven’t done anything illegal, unethical or in any way suspect by providing the information they aggregate. Rather, the Internet in general has completely redefined the concept of “public information.”

And the $64 million question is…

So are we comfortable with that? Is our society better off for it? Is that a price that we collectively pay to enjoy the numerous benefits such openness provides (easier access to information in education, better accountability in government, the ability to do my Christmas shopping a month in advance on Amazon in my pajamas)?

I don’t have the answers, but it did inspire me to check my Facebook privacy settings again.

Comment » | Facebook, Social Media, Technology

January NAMA Luncheon – The Future of Mobile Apps

January 8th, 2011 — 3:36pm

I attended the January NAMA luncheon this past week and got the chance to hear Tim Moses, CEO of Sitemason, a web development and CMS-provider here in town, give a talk on the future of mobile app development.

He set up the talk by giving the status of the mobile app landscape: Apple’s iPhone and Google’s Android pretty much dominant the market while Blackberry users only check email. In other words, if you’re a marketer, you’re going to want to focus your efforts on those two markets.

But one of the most interesting things I think he did was to pull a quote from Matt Cutt’s blog, supposedly penned in 2008, but published January 3rd, 2011:

“More people will realize the inevitable truth that Bill Gates saw years ago and that Apple has chased since the introduction of the ROKR: of all the devices in your pocket, the only one you’re not willing to give up is your phone. Therefore, all personal gadgets will eventually be subsumed by your phone. Camera? Already part of your phone. Pen and notebook? Quite close. Video camera? Almost there, give it a couple more years. Car keys, wallet? It will come. In five years, your phone will have fingerprint authentication and be able to start your car or pay for groceries with contactless/RFID chips. It’s all coming. In 10 years you’ll use your phone to authenticate yourself at the doctor, authenticate prescriptions, and store your personal health history, not to mention all your desktop preferences, bookmarks, browser add-ons, and keys to which music you have permission to stream or download from the cloud.” I call this TRUE. Most people now agree that your phone is a personal computer in your pocket. Back in 2008, not everyone realized this.

I think that was (if true) a great prediction. Moses also followed that up with a stat that the most frequently used camera to upload photos to Flickr is the iPhone.

It’s amazing how we take all of this granted now. “People use an internet-enabled device that is with them at all times more often than their $1,000 (with lenses) Canon Rebel? Duh!”

Moses also shared a great anecdote of how his 7-year-old son asked to use his phone the other day because he lost something under the couch. It’s perhaps unsurprising that phones have become our cameras, our computers, our internet connections and, yes, our flashlights.

The two trends I keep hearing more and more about, as far as smart phones go, are the implications for e-commerce and augmented reality (AR). I hear less about accessing and managing personal medical records, but those implications are interesting as well.

Comment » | Communication, Digital, Mobile, Nashville, New Media

How Clay Shirky Inspired My Nashville Flood Relief Efforts

July 6th, 2010 — 11:03pm

In early June I watched the following video in which Clay Shirky, a professor and consultant who writes and speaks on all things Web-related, talks about two broad ways people use new media tools to contribute.

It is 13 minutes long, so if you don’t have the time to watch it, here’s my summary and takeaway.

Shirky uses two examples of participatory media: LOLcats and Ushahidi, to distinguish between two ways people use new media tools to collaborate. The first, of course, are the incredibly adorable kitten photos with captions, such as “i can haz cheezburger?” added on top:


That kind of participation is communal. It adds value (how much value is debatable) to a community of people who find LOLcats funny. And, arguably, no matter how seemingly inane it is, it beats the heck out of sitting on the couch and watching television because, hey, at least you’re doing something.

Ushahidi, on the other hand, is a free, downloadable open source platform that allows people to collaborate by contributing information that is then added to a map. It was created by a few developers in the violent aftermath of 2008 elections in Kenya, but has since been used more generally in crisis management situations all over the world, including the earthquake earlier this year in Haiti. This kind of participation, Shirky argues, is civic. It generates value that can be enjoyed by society as a whole, not just a small community of folks.

The West Nashville Flood Recovery Network

The reason I wanted to make mention of this now is because the above talk was a main drive that inspired me to pitch in help build a website for The West Nashville Flood Recovery Network here in my neighborhood in West Nashville.

I used a day off from work to build the site (and, admittedly, some extra time on nights and weekends), and I have since wrote up some more about it on our company blog here.

I tip my hat off to Shirky, because he poses a great question. How do we as a society collectively decide to spend more of our free time on collaborative efforts such as Ushahidi, or establishing networks for sustained flood recovery, rather than LOLcats?

Comment » | Clay Shirky, Web

Nashville’s MAD Mixer and an Indigo Press

April 24th, 2010 — 1:56pm

AMP Logo

Just wanted to give a shout out to everyone at Advocate Marketing & Printing for their mixer Thursday night: Marketing + Advertising + Design.

I never know what to expect as a young, Nashville nonnative when I attend any kind of networking event. This one landed quite well in the middle of the spectrum from overly stuffy to too laid back.

Plus, owner Matt Sims gave me and a friend a tour of his Indigo Press.

Thanks, Matt!

Comment » | Nashville

March Nashville Pulse Article Published

April 11th, 2010 — 9:10am

Digital Nashville Logo

I have agreed to write a monthly article called “Nashville Pulse” for Digital Nashville, the free-to-join networking group dedicated to all things digital in the Music City. The idea is to survey what’s going on in Nashville every month in the digital world, and this month’s installment takes a look at how digital companies are pulling through the recession.


This fall, more than 60 school districts across Tennessee, including Davidson-Nashville Metro, will receive $20,000 to serve home-bound students, supplant English Language Learner curriculum or even offer more Advanced Placement courses.

But few, if any, of those additional students will sit in traditional classrooms. Rather, they’ll be taking the courses online.


2 comments » | Digital Nashville

December Nashville Pulse Article Published

December 14th, 2009 — 10:54pm

Digital Nashville Logo

I have agreed to write a monthly article called “Nashville Pulse” for Digital Nashville, the free-to-join networking group dedicated to all things digital in the Music City. The idea is to survey what’s going on in Nashville every month in the digital world, and this month’s installment takes a look at how digital companies are pulling through the recession.

Digital Game Development

At BarCamp Nashville 2009, at least 58 different presentations offered a veritable plethora of options for Nashville’s digerati to learn about, get involved with and participate in topics as varied as search engine optimization to producing original content for Microsoft’s Xbox platform. At least seven of those sessions, a significant minority in a town known more for honky tonks and healthcare, touched directly or indirectly on a topic for which Nashville garners little clout: gaming and game development.

“It’s picked up really in the last year or two,” says Caleb Garner, who since 1998 has been trying on and off to grow the Nashville game development community.

Gardner and fellow game developer Scott Southworth run Part12Studio, an independent game development company, as well as the Nashville game developer’s group.


Comment » | Digital Nashville

November Nashville Pulse Article Published

November 6th, 2009 — 8:48am

Digital Nashville Logo

I have agreed to write a monthly article called “Nashville Pulse” for Digital Nashville, the free-to-join networking group dedicated to all things digital in the Music City. The idea is to survey what’s going on in Nashville every month in the digital world, and this month’s installment takes a look at how digital companies are pulling through the recession.


It’s taken over a year, a number of meetings, plenty of online chatter and the wrangling of three distinct initiatives, but it looks like Coworking may finally come to Nashville.

Led by Chuck Bryant and Jackson Miller, with support from the Nashville Technology Council, Coworking Nashville hopes to make an announcement soon regarding available space and a tiered membership plan for coworking aimed at Nashville’s budding technology and general geek audiences. Although Bryant offered a tour of the proposed space, the group is on the cusp of forming a formal LLC and signing a lease, and will wait to divulge details until after a formal announcement is made.

Coworking, for the unfamiliar, targets independent creative types who desire the sense of community and collaboration that comes from a shared work environment, without the bureaucracy of a corporate job.


Comment » | Digital Nashville

What Newspaper Journalists Can Teach You About Interactive Marketing

October 27th, 2009 — 7:44am

(This is an excerpt from a blog post I wrote over at, my employer’s blog.)

Amid the financial turmoil plaguing the newspaper industry as a whole, accusations and general finger-pointing has abounded as industry players scramble to figure who’s to blame. You’ve heard the culprits:

* Greedy owners took on huge debt while banking on unrealistic future profits.
* The recession.
* The Internet.
* And then, of course, many have argued that newspaper journalists themselves were too slow to adapt to the digital landscape.

A recent report by Northwestern University’s Media Management Center, “Life Beyond Print: Newspaper Journalists’ digital appetite,” sheds a bit of light on this last one at least.

Read more…

Comment » | Journalists, Marketing, Medill

Business Matters: Four Lessons Learned from Nashville Startup Weekend

October 12th, 2009 — 6:41pm

Nashville Startup Weekend LogoThis past weekend I attended Nashville’s Startup Weekend. If you’re unfamiliar with the Startup Weekend concept, here’s a primer. I attended the event last year as well, and my two experiences couldn’t have been more dissimilar. Here are my lessons learned:

1. Leadership Matters

Leadership Matters

Last year, I voted for teams based entirely upon how impressed I was with the person pitching the idea. I was new to Nashville, and therefore figured I may as well just align myself with someone who (at least in all appearances) knew what they were doing.

This year, I shifted gears a bit.

My criteria for ideas was simple: “Does this sound like a fun way to spend a weekend?”

Having taken those two different approaches, I can say that picking a team based on leadership makes an enormous difference.

If you want to spend a weekend working in a creative environment, go with the idea.

If you want to launch a business in a weekend, go with leadership.

(I want to add the caveat that we had an awesome team with some really interesting people. We just didn’t have any one person, myself included, who decided to step up and provide the leadership necessary to carry the idea through to execution.)

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2 comments » | Nashville

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