Content Strategy

The deliciously dangerous and euphoric period of a con game.

A con game is a form of marketing. How it’s different or what can make it illegal is in what you are selling.

A con or con game is essentially a process of persuasion that results in a transaction that gets one person to trade something of value to another.
A con game is essentially marketing and sales.
It can be a transaction where the “customer” gives the buyer money, allegiance, or an item of value. However, once the transaction is completed, the buyer feels criminally deceived by the value they actually receive for their trade.
Why teach content people about a con?
I’m not saying you should learn how to do a con, but a con is a sales technique. The process and techniques of a con are something that a content person should learn. Especially if you wish to improve creating content and arguments that persuade other humans.

For those who may be the target of a con, it’s important to learn how to see the signs of a con. Especially as a con can happen anywhere or anytime you are being sold something. Whether that is around politics, stocks, medical cures, products, etc. So let’s get started.
Origin of the phrase con artist.
Do you know where the term “con” as in con artist or con-game came from?

It was based on the swindles of Samuel Thompson. Who would be known as the original “confidence man.” In the 19 century, Thompson approached his victims by asking them to “express confidence in him” by giving him money or their watch. To his delight, some people complied and he kept what they lent him.

Seeing people give up something as valuable as a watch shows that the power of people to comply with a con is amazing. But where does that power to make this deceptive transaction come from?

It’s essentially a trade driven by a euphoric or unsubstantiated feeling. The “con” in confidence man, is about pumping up your confidence and emotions to take an action. The key emotional feeling: euphoria.
The euphoria period of a con (con game).
It starts soon after you buy into the game. It ends just as the illusion of the game’s prize or virtue is suddenly whisked out from beneath you like table linen on a dinner table. A quick and often jarring snap back to reality. Like when those who lent Thompson their watch realized it wasn’t going to be returned.

The euphoria period of a con game exists in that window when the promises and joy of a deceitful offer still seem possible. This period is also the hardest time for those experiencing it to see reality or risk.

While Thompson helped coin the term, con games or cons have been with us ever since human beings had something to trade with each other.

The fairy tale Jack and the Beanstalk is really about Jack lucking out after what most readers would see as a con. A cow for some “magic beans.” While those magic beans worked out for Jack, the seller sold them believing that they would not and his Jack was naive enough to have confidence in him, so the intent was to defraud or to con Jack.
The elements and tools used in any con are interchangeable.
It could be the Nigerian prince email offering your $1 million for helping them out of a financial pinch. It could be a political saying he can bring your old industry back if you vote for them.

Whatever it is, the essence of most cons is the promise to deliver a fleeting feeling of euphoria or unjustified satisfaction. The joy that you gained something or are getting away with something almost beyond what you feel you deserve or could get on your own. A fantasy realized.

That’s why the con is seductive. A magical or transformative moment dangled in front of us as obtainable.
A con game is scalable.
When a con is accepted by the masses it becomes even more powerful and scales in seductiveness among the populace. Snowballing and getting bigger as it now carries the authority of social proof.

Just a few decades ago, people excitedly followed other people who believed that buying Beanie Babies was a financially smart investment. Only to be holding worthless cloth filled with beans.
Why did they fall into the con?
To accept the con is to suspend reason and create space for the bliss of the ideal.

Imagine what you’d do with the Nigerian prince’s money?

That multi-level-marketing person is telling you that you’re going to be a successful business person by buying their product to sell to your friends and even get your friends to sell it for you. Even though the math behind MLMs say it’s impossible.
A con is a transaction. Just not a good one.
Unbeknownst to one party, it is an asymmetrical trade. The seller knows the true value of the deal isn’t what the buyer expects.

Because it’s a con, the logistics of both parties being satisfied in the end are pre-determined for failure. But until then, what an amazing world of possibilities. A feeling that everything is possible. A fleeting feeling many will pay for.

While not all religions, some televangelists fall into this category. Selling people through their TV screens that the hope of a better life is nigh you just send them money. Some send their money and that act of hope turns in to the excitement of that new life they just put a down payment on. I just need to wait for it to get there. And they wait. And wait.

The phenomenon isn’t just limited to straight-out fraud. This also happens is “legitimate” purchases of a little boy ( I won’t say who) 20-plus years ago. Like the X-ray specs that kids use to buy in the back pages of old comic books.

The euphoria for those buying the glasses was imagining all the things you could do with the Xray specs. Finally, I can see what my neighbors are doing next door.

The mix of believability and possibilities. It’s the euphoria period. The time you believe the promise is happening or will happen.

Until my Xray specs fantasy was ruined by some flimsy, cheap plastic glasses arriving in the mail that just made what I saw through them opaque, my $10.95 plus tax looked like an amazing bargain.

Was I cheated? Not really. As a kid and like many adults, my excitement focused on the fantasy and not the fine print.
For those who seek to profit from a con, the euphoric window is the key.
It reminds me of the quote attributed to billionaire Warren Buffett about investing. He says that it is wise to be “Fearful when others are greedy and greedy when others are fearful.”

He’s essentially asking investors to see and seize that window for the opportunity and look past the emotionally led hypnosis consuming others.

To do so, it’s important not to be caught up in the euphoria driven assumption of others. Like with investments or a roaring stock market, as others are caught up in the idea of wealth and are greedy for the fantasy, they may not be able to see the party end, as all economic cycles do. Or when they are caught up in the fear of a bear market, they may not risk change to jump at the opportunities.

As our emotion is powerful, you need to be able to keep yourself rooted in a truth or a principle that tethers you to reality. That firm base will give you the logical leverage and perspective to know how to act differently and the emotionally driven consensus.
Mass con. Mass euphoria.
As mentioned before, a con is scalable across the masses. Limited only by how many are willing to believe the story.

Bernie Madoff made people believe he had the secret to making them rich. Tech companies in the 1990s brought in people who invested with them, even though some were simply burning a lot of peoples’ invested money with shows and parties while not making a profit. Investors simply relied on the hope that this new thing called the internet was magic. And this company does the internet.

In housing during the 2000s, people accepted the story that housing and buying a house is always a good investment because “housing prices always go up.”
Then, one day. Pop. The euphoria of the con ends.
The companies busted. Bernie Madoff is arrested for running a Ponzi scheme of paying older investors with new investors money to keep the scam going. And having no money or facing loans re-setting to astronomical heights on homes they were told they could afford, Americans were forced out or fled homes as they foreclosed.

The game ended along with the euphoria.
How can you spot the euphoria from the outside?
Business transactions. Economic models. Businesses and political moments that are driven as cons have these components.
Clue 1: The growing belief that the rules of the game are different this time for this idea.
People see an opportunity that breaks norms, rules, and history. They understand the norms but believe that this instance or opportunity is an exception. I believed my Xray glasses had the ability to somehow get around the laws of physics so I could see through things.
Clue 2: Those who aren’t caught up in the emotion, or offer contrary information are summarily dismissed as haters.
A person who knows the truth is dangerous to a con artist as they can bust the bubble of euphoria. So a common tactic, discredit them.

A group of economists and financial journalists spoke out about the housing bubble of the 2000s as it was happening. Often the voices are drowned out by those who have a financial or emotional interest in keeping the belief going. Particularly mortgage lenders, Wall Street investors, and realtors.

The current leader of the free world tends to attack sources of information that don’t conform to the official point of view.
Clue 3: The con optimizes the game allowing more marks and allies to get involved.
Some people who do know the game is rigged, don’t speak out to burst the bubble. Instead, they want a slice. They believe they will make money by simply going along. Like the banks offering highly risky NINJA (No-Income-No-Job) loans) to borrowers who couldn’t afford homes because they knew they could resell the loan, get paid for reselling, and not be on the hook if the lender fails. It is credit rating agencies that did not label bad investment risks on these same loans because it could hurt their firm’s standing and revenue with financial firms that wanted those loans to go through.

This passive acceptance of a scheme by all parties also creates the illusion that “everyone says the water’s fine. Jump in!” Social proof that can fuel the con.
Clue 4: Those who benefit from the con won’t tell you the music has stopped.
The music I’m referring to is a metaphor for the mood around the con game. If it were a song it would be “Happy Days Are Here Again.”

What the people who set the tone around the con that everything’s great. Keep going!

Many con games often give signals that they are about to end.

However, when the con is about to collapse, that music gets harder to hear. It might have even stopped. It’s a change that might catch your attention. You might look to the people promoting the scheme as if to say “hey, what’s going on?

The con artist likely knows the game is up and the music is over and it’s time for them to get out if they can.

But to you, they’ll suggest that the pause you hear is just part of the music. A dramatic pause or “This is a momentary glitch.” Little excuses that usually buy time for the people at the top of the con to wrap up and get the hell out before the public catches on and euphoria dies.

They are the people that sell their stocks before the public knows. Or moves their money to safety or untouchable locations. The point is that they are still using their asymmetrical information about the issue to their advantage over those who still don’t understand yet.
Clue 5. The con artist. “It’s not my fault, you chose to believe me.”
When the dust settles and people invariably look for the bad guy, the con artists are quick to remind the mob with torches, that it was their decision.

Here’s the thing. You know what, they’re usually right.

In most cases, the con-artist painted a picture that was too good to be true. Loans with no assets or income? Build a wall and Mexico is going to pay for it? Ideas that were ridiculous on their face.

Ridiculous ideas pushed by people of questionable morality. But ultimately, it was the buyer’s decision. There were also two choices. One: believe the story that feels good or two: rigidly check the story and decide.

The euphoria made us feel so good, it didn’t seem like a choice, so we chose to ignore option number 2. At that moment, we chose to be lemmings.

Problem with being lemmings, they don’t look at where they are going as they run like a waterfall of animals over cliffs and fall to their death. They are only trained to follow the ass of the other lemming in front of it. Don’t just look ahead. Look ahead of the pack or what’s presented and try to see the destination or rational endpoint to make sure it’s not a cliff.

While the cliff is unfortunate, it’s still a choice.
When the euphoria of a con game ends. The choice always seems so obvious in hindsight.
And It was in real-time… to anyone using information and rationality. But in the euphoria of a con, both are in little supply.

We just have a good feeling. And feeling and hope blind us to the future. One we may not like the consequences.



Brooks Richey on
Content Strategy

Advertising agency culture. The key to solving racism in the industry.

Let’s make it clear. Not every ad agency is racist.
Nor is every person at a shop that may commit racists acts is racist. Just like it would be wrong to say every male-heavy tech firm hates women.

Yet despite education and talent, certain groups can’t either make it in the door or move very far through the ranks with these firms. Many more simply leave in frustration. What we are talking about is why race has been an ignored and systemic problem in the industry.

In the wake of George Floyd’s death and protests, a lot of firms in media and advertising did their traditional “we think racism is bad” statements.

Nice. And thank you. However, for many current and former African American employees of these companies, watching these statements probably elicited groans and eye-rolling.

What gets many firms in trouble with these “we support racial equality” messages is that they instinctively reached out to their PR and social media team but didn’t check with their history and employees first.
People of color know the real day-to-day experiences of ad agencies and racism.
That’s why it feels like a slap in the face watching agency leadership give platitudes of support and inclusiveness. Statements where black employees’ personal experiences know the reality is different.

I also think that it is why many African Americans in the advertising industry are speaking up this time. Including the 600 professionals that put their names on a letter to the industry speaking out about systemic racism. I’m guessing they feel that by not calling it out this time, their silence would be taken as support. It’s one of the reasons why I’m more vocal on this issue than I normally would be.

This is combined with enough is enough.

Advertising is an industry that has faced controversy about race and hiring issues for decades. In that time it has had many chances to “support” minorities but still has little to show for it. Even now only 6.6% of African-Americans work at ad agencies. The ranks of African Americans that do make it into the door quickly drop off as seniority level increases all the way up to the C-suite where employees are 88% white.
Advertising and marketing firms are designed and paid handsomely to solve problems. And for, some reason, hiring talented minorities is a problem it hasn’t been able to solve for more than 30 years. Ad folks are smart people. Wickedly smart. People who know how to figure out how to get people to buy products and change their minds about issues.
With all that intellectual firepower, there’s a point where you have to ask yourself, maybe the problem isn’t being solved because people really don’t want to solve the problem. That or diversity conferences apparently must be cheaper or more beneficial than action.

Advertising professionals have well-publicized discussions and seminars about diversity. Year after year. They wouldn’t do that for a client problem.

Instead, some team would lock themselves in an office for two weeks and be showing the client an action plan soon after. Or if a client said, I want a diverse client team, the firm would find them, tomorrow. No chief diversity officers required. Which, in a quick micro rant, has always bothered me. If you have to hire someone whose job it is to help hire minorities, doesn’t that mean your HR system is broken?
Does advertising have blatant or intentionally hostile racism?
In most cases, no. In my experience at firms, I find its racism subtly infused, enabled and protected by culture. So let’s talk about culture.
What is culture?
Culture is our anchor for “what’s considered normal” in our environment. It is the habits and norms that people in a group or tribe do.
Culture’s true power over an organization and racism.
Steve Bannon once said that politics is downstream of culture. What he means is our cultural standards define the morals, values, and vision that will shape and direct how people make political decisions.

I’d argue that racism is downstream from culture. That the culture of an organization will eventually define its hiring practices. Because the culture is considered the norm or the standard. Problem is, culture is not a fact or a principle. It is merely a construct and a point of view. A fraternity or sorority has a culture. And when that Greek house or a company team shares or is indoctrinated in that specific point of view, you can create a workplace culture bubble the filters out other perspectives. However, that on its face is not immediately bad. This is why.

There are work cultures and there are social cultures. Work cultures can be that everybody in the office works 15-hour days and enjoys free lattes on Friday. The kind of stuff that is documented and put on the agency’s careers page. It’s clear and you know what to expect if you take the job. That’s not what we are talking about here. Here we are talking about social culture. The unspoken work experience standards.

These two different types of culture often get smashed together when the hiring managers say, “we want to see if you have the right cultural fit.”

Why is social culture important? This culture is the filter that defines who gets in but more importantly who gets to the top. This is not just for race. This includes issues that hinders womens’ roles in ad agencies and tech as well.

Agencies, like all organizations, have social cultures. Where I think agencies differ from their clients is that those social cultures are also part of their work product.

Agency people, especially as they become more senior, must interface with clients. So the agency team is also the agency’s product or client experience. And firms want their product to project a good experience. Many times that is making decisions that people on a team project a certain look, exude a certain socioeconomic background, or a way of speaking.

As a result, agencies want people and a culture that a client feels comfortable with and is comfortable giving money to. And sometimes that does include race. Especially if the client’s culture or a key individual client’s preferences hint that is an issue.

This does happen. I can tell of a story where a senior-level client, upon being shown a concept of Santa Claus in dreadlocks, got angry claiming Santa is white and then quickly devolved into a rant that if his son’s black roommate in college ever wore dreadlocks, he’d drive down to the school and cut them off.

The agency got the message. Not just about the concept.

The social culture at agencies seems to magically screen for certain things that have nothing to do with talent and more with presentation and what makes people internally and external clients feel comfortable.
How many overweight people do you see at an ad agency?
Over 30% of Americans are obese. So there are no obese people of high caliber who can do marketing?

Cultures, from bro companies to the recent stories about Refinery 29 can be seen making cultural decisions that signaled to others what cultural ideas were in and out. Take Refinery 29, where the editor-and-chief was recently ousted. A place where employees wouldn’t use black images except for Beyonce and a few other women of color the editor liked. Her decisions set and affirmed the organization’s view and/or comfort with a culture and different cultures. This rather than being a place open to variations that a more diverse society might bring in.

It’s a culture that can become a fertile ground for and indirect form of racism because it creates a narrow idea and filters what it believes is culturally acceptable. And it is subtle in its enforcement.

Don’t imagine a Saturday morning cartoon villain yelling out his devious plans about racism or giving a bold and hearty laugh as they execute them. It’s a hiring manager or boss making an internal decision that is more akin to asking “what sofa looks good in the living room?” They are looking for something based on how it matches the style or look of a certain environment. And guess what? They happen to be an “oak person.” So if you are a walnut sofa….

Over time, that agency has a lot of oak. It matches. Fit’s together. And we like the look. You were encouraged to add a walnut shelf at a conference. And, yea, it works, but you could take it or leave it. I know! Let’s get some more oak.
That was ad agencies and racism. Until now…
Then George Floyd came. And firms now grapple to get on the right side of this issue. And they are finding it hard. Most because their words today are so far divorced from their years of inaction. For any firm that puts out a statement about how they support our black employees or black lives matter, can be quieted with a single sentence…
“Great, let me see your stats on hiring.”
Others around marketing are stepping into do-do (that’s a technical term) as you can clearly tell the people trying to engage are overwhelmed and out of their league. Like if I had to give an impromptu lecture about nuclear fusion. Something I know nothing about. That would not go well.

But this isn’t nuclear fusion. It is about knowing something about 13% of the population that, unless you are really culturally isolated, should encounter often.
How can I hire you if I don’t know you?
That’s also part of the problem. Ad people, especially as income rises, increasingly have the wealth to live in communities and schools that keep them in that cultural bubble.
Money won’t cure the racism problem in advertising. Here’s what will.
For those trying to support black lives and causes, it’s nice that you give money. That’s quicker and you can write a good press release. But there is a solution that is cheaper. What BLM and others are asking for is to truly understand their pain, their situation.
Show that you are paying attention to racism, not just cash.
In the frantic need to fix the problem, I’d argue that culture has blinded agencies and companies to that focus. You are the problem because you really don’t know or care enough to honestly engage and solve the problem. Money or another conference with a better hook seems easier.

Here’s an analogy I hope makes you think about both you and minority worker’s experiences around culture and race and how to improve the experience.
In this time of racial unrest, agencies, you might try thinking of any race or culture as a language.
Languages speak about the same objects, people, and events, just in a different way from each other. The people who speak it know what you know, have the abilities you do, they may just use different words.

Sometimes when they try to talk to you, you may say, “can’t you just speak my culture’s language?” Or you might ignore their value because how they speak is not the way you would speak.

In the workplace, when something happens around that language or culture, you go to one of the few people who speak that language and say, “you know this language, how do you say this word?” What eventually frustrates the person who speaks the language is they feel they are becoming siloed or put on display as “the language expert” instead of the really great values and skills they offer and may get passed up.

When large social issues happen, you find yourself desperately struggling to try to communicate that you support those social issues. Never bothering to study those other languages or cultures, you find you have a limited vocabulary to engage.

Stringing words together with little understanding of meaning or context, you may say something unintentionally offensive or sound like you’re speaking gibberish.

To those firms struggling with the language, Get a good translator or, better yet, learn more about the language.


Brooks Richey on
Content Mindfulness

Headphones. The condoms of content.

Before I get started, I could have easily said, headphones are the new “content diaphragms” instead of content condoms. Content condoms just had the alliteration.


A condom is a prophylactic. What does a prophylactic do? It’s a protective barrier or measures designed to keep a disease or other unwanted things from entering and affecting your body.
Headphones have become our condoms for the psyche.
They are our way of restricting content from getting past our ears and distracting our attention. Content that can unleash mischief on our minds like little content gremlins.

Am I wrong? Or does your neighbors’ music coming through your walls at midnight while you try to sleep fill you with bliss and joy?

In today’s society, there are now fewer walls and more ways for your ears to encounter unsolicited content and anxiety-producing stimuli.

To avoid unwanted thoughts that tease and distract, we slip on our headphones.

The biggest place where we see the most apparent rise of the headphones in the office. Openly donning headphones in the office is post-cubical-age phenomena. Pre-cubical, it would have been previously frowned upon as a rude, anti-social, or a poor-work habit.
What made headphones acceptable in the workplace?
The headphones came on when the walls went away.

Over the years, a lot of workplaces moved to open offices. The official justification was that removing walls and cubicle walls would create and encourage collaboration. On the fiscal side, it made office environments cheaper. More people in a smaller space and less office design requirements.

For business, it was a win/win. Get the credit for being innovative and hip while cutting costs. As most of us know, this experiment has run its course and the results are in.

My summation of the following stats shows worker response to this innovation is essentially the same as being on a crowded subway car. They want out!

A survey on open offices by company Room, found that in exchange for private space:

13% said they’d give up their end-of-year bonuses.

13% said they’d give up five vacation days, and 16% said they’d do away with summer Fridays.

17% said they’d give up access to a window or natural light.

27% said they’d give up their office’s coffee machine.

Our privacy and barriers between us and our environment mean a lot to us.

Workers find that being so close to others with no control over privacy feels more like an opportunity for invasion than collaboration.

The lack of walls not only lets you see other people but hear them.

Hear them eat. Have small talk. Even if you weren’t on the meeting invite for their conference call, you might as well have been, as you can hear most of it.

Mentally we try to focus. However, that’s a bit like if your office has wall-less urinals and people just said, “don’t look.” Even if you don’t, you can hear. And for both parties, it feels like an invasion of privacy. For creative types and those doing focus strategy and complex thought, that disrupts our focus and getting into the flow of problem-solving.
Headphones reclaim space and control.
We use technology to build new virtual walls to manage exposure to content and engagement. Apps like Teams, Slack, and Meet are “collaborative” tools are now being used passive-aggressively used by workers to control when and how they talk to someone (I’ll ignore your text and talk to you when I feel like typing).

The apps help. But the true content-blocking goalie in the new content defense team. The headphones.

Not only can you block people and stimulus with your music, but headphones have also taken on the metaphorical tie on the dorm room door. A signal to your roommate (and now co-worker), “I’m busy. Go away.” If a coworker sees you have headphones on, many immediately back off. It’s assumed that you could be in a conference call. Or that you just want some privacy.
Headphones. It’s the “talk to the hand” for society.
I’d argue in the workplace headphones are a matter of sanity. Outside the workplace, it’s our attempt to control our larger environment.

In this regard, I’m as guilty as anyone. When I’ve lost my headphones, as I did at the airport a few months ago, I repurchased new ones with urgency the next day. Why?

Babies on the plane. Ignoring the flight attendant’s safety lecture. Signaling I don’t want to talk to the person seated next to me.

Same with the gym. The gym’s pumped in muzak. The guy grunting his bench press next to me. Or for help to ignore the news channel on the big screen. Headphones, make it all go away.

Headphones allow us to manage the introduction of content in our mind space, which allows us to control our environment. In today’s polarized world, we talk about information bubbles.

With that in mind, I can’t argue that headphones create an engagement bubble. To say, “People, ideas, and thoughts, go away!”

Which over the long term, is probably not good. Particularly if this type of disengagement to the world around us becomes a habit.

Keep on headphones too long or too much, you won’t give birth to new thinking.


Brooks Richey on
Content Strategy

The power of consistent content. What Facebook’s content lawsuit reveals.

Consistency is the key to creating results in life. This also applies to the effectiveness of content. Consistent exposure to content can be good, or as in this case with Facebook, it can be horrifying.
Facebook and their psychologically damaged content moderators.
It’s a story I’ve been following with interest for more than a year.


Facebook content moderators, most being contractors, have suffered trauma and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) from looking at the relentless torrent of content, some of it vile, that gets uploaded to the site by users every day.

The company recently settled a class-action lawsuit and agreed to pay 52 million dollars to many of those contractors for damages inflicted on their psyche.

I think if you understand how a person’s exposure to content works, the effect of Facebook’s content on the human moderators was unavoidable. Well, save, not hiring them in the first place. As I’ll explain shortly, most humans are no match for the frequency of content. But first, some might ask this question…
Why not just use Algorithms to review Facebook content?
Algorithms, artificial intelligence programs, can look at a lot of content that humans and identify clearly defined offensive content (e.g., Black people smell or a picture showing blood and murder).

However, they have a very limited ability to detect the nuances of content that may feature depravity or hate. For example, depending on if you are talking about a slot machine or Asians, saying “ching, ching, ching” may or may not be interpreted as offensive. According to Bloomberg, the current algorithms can only detect around 38% of hate speech.

Due to the limitations of AI, Facebook hired people to apply human judgment to reviewing appropriate content. This had them looking at a cavalcade of hateful messaging, conspiracy theories, disgusting images, and political rhetoric over and over.

An article from last year from Bloomberg described the resulting trauma of being presented with an endless procession of graphic violence, demented thoughts, and disturbing sexual activities.
The exposure to content featuring depravity and conspiracy theories wore the moderators down.
As many contractors developed post-traumatic stress disorder, they attempted to cope by drinking and, according to the Bloomberg report, sex with each other in the office. One contractor viewing conspiracy theories posted on Facebook noted that, despite knowing better, he began to believe them.

These are people who consciously attempted to steel themselves against vile and deranged content. Yet, many were still traumatized by it. Why is that?
I would argue that it’s the power of relentless content.
Think of content like water. It seems harmless on its face. You can drink it. Play with it. It absorbs force to the point we are not afraid to dive into it.

However, its enormous power is seen when it is allowed to constantly flow. Think of the drip, drip, drip of Chinese water torture. The cold water slowly dripped onto the scalp, forehead or face on a restrained victim for a prolonged period of time can make them go mad.

Or think about flowing water that carved and created the Grand Canyon. Twenty million years ago, water of the Colorado River passed over the surface of hardened rock. The liquid carved and carried away stone, grain by grain, until it became a tourist trap my family dragged me out to see on a summer vacation when I was eight.

Seemingly insignificant in the short term, over time, the constant flow of content changes everything it touches, especially you.

I use to go to focus groups for advertising. There, I’d hear a constant refrain. People, usually want it on the record that they are not influenced or swayed by content like commercial messages. I noticed those proclamations were said as they wore wear brands, status items, and products they were sold to them through advertising.

They were persuaded via content. It’s just that the change they make over time seemed so small, it barely registered to them.

Unless you’re Bruce Wayne watching your parent die in front of you, it’s rare that exposure to a single thought or image radically changes you. A change that is too quick or to severe allows us to notice it and be alarmed enough to cut it off.
Content works to change a person over time.
Hence the power of consistency. That’s why we have content marketing. Information presented in stages to move people’s perception or understanding of a product in stages or mental milestones of change. One piece of content here. Another here. Then another…

Each piece of content seems harmless. But when it’s consistent, it becomes a powerful source of change. Anyone who has seen friends watching cable TV news shows who gradually change political views over time has seen this process in action.

Digital marketing experts estimate that most Americans are exposed to around 10,000 ads each day. That logo. That ad. That YouTube Video. That promo in your Facebook feed. News stories. Your social media feed. Over and over and over.

It’s one of the reasons most of us fail to realize just how acclimated we are to consumerism-based concepts. For instance, we don’t question the idea that spending money during a store sale is saving money. Even though we have less money in the end.
Constant content exposure is a Facebook moderator’s job.
That experience of being exposed to content was their daily job. Like water, the flow of content rushed through them, eroding them. Little by little. Until it made a big difference. It’s possible their lives will never be the same.

In marketing, this concept is very similar to the idea of frequency. How a person needs to be exposed to an idea multiple times in order for it to sink in.

There’s a saying a cucumber gets brined more the brine gets cucumbered. And that’s our personal battle against been changed by the constant flow of media. Exposed enough times, will change us more than we change it.

Brooks Richey on
Content Strategy

Businesses have a plan for essential workers. Automate the essential part.

What is essential?
By definition, something that’s essential is something that is absolutely necessary or extremely important. But when we talk about “essential workers” we may be making a perceptual mistake – especially in terms of how businesses think.
When we call people like delivery people, doctors, nurses, grocery workers, meat producers vital, are we really referring to the person as essential or is the service they are providing essential?
What these workers are doing is extremely valuable to the consuming public and we must honor (and tip well for) the workers putting themselves at great danger to do it.

However, look closer with business logic and we can argue that they are currently considered valuable because right now, in our current urgent situation, it’s critical that a person be involved in delivering those services and goods. That can change.
Essential services, meet automation.
In my years as a content designer, I spent years helping to design experiences around automated and smart products for different companies. That include IoT (Internet of Things) and voice assistants.

Their use and adoption has been consistently growing quietly in the background. While the public may think of robots and automated devices as cute things to do small tasks and cute tricks, thanks to the pandemic, their time may now be upon us.
Essential services will be automated.
What would essential services be like during the pandemic if they were automated? If you are not thinking about it, you can be pretty darn sure businesses and industries are – for risk mitigation reasons alone. For more check out this article about why IoT is the future of business.
What essential services can be automated?
Anything that has routine.

The cashier. The delivery service. The person taking your order. Truck driving. Any job or service that has a set of group variables (do you want beef, chicken, hair spray?) and fairly set processes (order X, pay Y, deliver to Z location).

Here’s a bigger list of what is subject to automation.

With that in mind, imagine if this pandemic hit and you could simply enter or speak your order to a robot or virtual assistant. Then it just shows up at your house.

No imagination is necessary.

Amazon’s ability to do that in the current crisis is behind its growth this quarter. Well, almost, save the average person’s reluctance to start orders through Alexa. Then again, two months ago, most people over 35 and not in a city didn’t use Instacart. Now there’s that people are moving to apps that deliver essential services.

55% of the public has now purchased groceries online. Up from the around 32% last year. 500,000 contract workers now pick grocery items in-store to support customer fulfillment. An essential part of the customer experience that’s ripe for future automation.

Now according to research from Apptopia, Instacart, Walmart Grocery, Shipt, and Target represented an increase of 218%, 160%, 124%, and 98%, respectively, over the average number of daily downloads in February alone.

Things can change fast.

Amazon also benefits from automation on the fulfillment side. The company is already known for its increasingly automated warehouses. Machine workers able to mitigate operational and supply chain risk in the age of COVID-19. A robotic order picker isn’t vulnerable to viruses made of DNA.

And companies are experimenting with automated delivery robots. Like the robots from Starship Technologies that could replace the part where humans are essential, getting food and services to the last mile.
Business can’t help but take note of the value of automating essential services.
The argument against full automation of essential services would be that a machine-driven process wouldn’t have the human touch.

No argument there. But for companies who are more worried about keeping the lights on, that won’t be the priority right now.

Only the most commoditized or short-sighted business would be foolish not to think about keeping a human experience around their product. Brand and competitive advantage would suffer. This means we don’t have to think about enacting automation for customer experiences in extremes. It’s possible to have humans with AI as the fail-safe if a future pandemic occurs. In fact, here’s some cautionary voices asking to use reason in automation of functions and essential services.

Automation may need to be balanced. But it will certainly be inevitable. As Bob Dylan sang, “a change is gonna come.”

What do you think?


Brooks Richey on
Content Mindfulness

Breathe. You do it to live. Now use it to live better.

They say, “Agony visits the head of a writer.” With that as context, I tend to view anxiety as the annoying relative who often drops by for a visit.

In this pandemic period, a writer, or anyone right now, is finding that grating and unwelcome relative has not only come to visit, but wants to stay in a room, rent-free. You know, until this whole public crisis blows over. Many of us feel anxiety’s presence as we are worried about job prospects, the health of a loved one, or due to what seems to be a world turned upside down.
What can you do? Breathe.
“What? That won’t work” Some would say.

Years ago, I might have said that. Which is ironic, if not hypocritical. I’m a person who used to do breathing exercises ever since I started in martial arts as a kid.

When I competed in martial arts tournament fights, deep, slow breathing is how I would concentrate and calm myself before fighting. A calming state before launching into a very active state (giving and receiving punches and kicks).
Why I didn’t give breathing credit.
I thought of breathing exercises as a just tool to enhance focus on being an intense fighter, not one with a calm mind and body.

That’s because in a fight, with blood pressure surging and harder breathing, you don’t remember the calm state before – or even if it helped you and your body keep calm. What you remember, after the stressful situation, is your body trying to recover from the stress of fighting. You forget that your breathing also kept your mind and body from being overwhelmed or nervously overreacting and making mistakes driven by fear.

As a result, I never gave my breathing exercises any real credit for helping me face challenges. That is until, years later, when I incorporated better breathing in my daily meditation.
Why breathing exercises?
Adulthood is when I realized the physical and mental power of breathing.

That was when my body and a few medical professional set me on my path.

For a few years, the blood pressure tests from my doctor and eye doctor visits were registering that I had high blood pressure. Some of it caused by White Coat syndrome, and some more systemic high blood pressure causes. I dismissed it for years. Not smart and stupidly hardheaded.

Over the years it got to the point my doctors demanded that I go straight to the emergency room after each visit. Seeing numbers that were extremely dangerous, I finally gave in.

My primary doctor had prescribed medication. Through a prescription mix up, and my weekly travel schedule, I couldn’t get my first blood pressure medicine prescription. In the meantime, I took some advice and tried to start mitigating the danger through breathing.

I found that adding breathing exercises in my day and meditation helped reduce my stress and anxiety and bring my blood pressure reading closer to normal.

This difference was clear. If I checked my blood pressure before breathing, then after practicing breathing for 5 minutes, the spignometer would show a 10 to 20 point difference. For the record, a Mediterranean diet also helped get my blood pressure to normal – but that’s another story about medical information I’ll write about later.

I’m not a crystal and vibration kind of person. I like harder evidence and facts. I was curious and in doing some research about breathing, I found out why. Turns out, it comes down to the two phases of breathing. Parasympathetic and Sympathetic breathing.
Parasympathetic and sympathetic breathing.
Parasympathetic and sympathetic breathing are different parts of how you breathe. Specifically how you move air in and out of your body and their effect on your nervous system. Sympathetic is related more to how you inhale. Parasympathetic is how you exhale.

Each acts to serve and affect your body and nervous system in different ways.
Sympathetic breathing.
Sympathetic breathing is meant to support more stressful body conditions. Like fighting or fleeing related to conflict or danger. Linked with your nervous system, it increases your heart rate and opens the airways to make breathing easier and get oxygen to parts of your body that may need it. Energy is released and muscles are enhanced in order to mobilize the body to take action. Your blood pressure goes up.

Back in my fighting days, this is what was released in times of fighting. The body is working to supply the body with the resources it needs to work at a heightened state.

It also happens with stress in the office place or a romantic date. When you are nervous or anxious, you can find your breathing speeds up and becomes shallower, that’s sympathetic breathing. Anyone whose been nervous or angry has felt that overwhelming feeling of their heart racing and blood pumping. If you were like me, you’ve had to fight that feeling that your body wants to jump out of your own skin while you are trying to remain calm.
Parasympathetic breathing.
The counterbalance to sympathetic. Parasympathetic breathing stimulates actions that calms sympathetic nerves. It consists of nerves arising from the brain and the lower end of the spinal cord and supplying the internal organs, blood vessels, and glands and keeps them from going to def con one.
How to breathe to reduce anxiety.
Breathe in a manner that favors the parasympathetic nervous system more. The way to do that is to practice breathing in and out, where you exhale at least twice as long as you inhale.

When I do it and listen to my body, I can feel the changes almost immediately. I can feel and hear my heart rate slow and skip a beat, especially as I breathe out.

And because I’m thinking about my breathing, my mind also moves away from thoughts that would cause anxiety. All those things together create the setting for relaxation and a better meditation.

It also works when I get stressed before writing or as a way to mentally let go of something that is creating anxiety, like the news. Freed, I can get back to my work.

So when you want to be freer from feelings and thoughts that might be holding you back. Breathe.

Brooks Richey on
Content Strategy

Voice experiences will be the future or the end of your business.

How big will voice-driven experiences like voice search and voice assistants become for your business?

Remember how smartphones took off after the introduction of the iPhone?

In just a few years, everybody had one. Especially as smartphones hit the tipping point of having abilities that appealed to both personal and business use.

As consumers and businesses rushed towards adoption, a whole new e-commerce ecosystem evolved. This was because the smartphone increasingly became the prime intermediary between an individual and their ability to access services and product information. From the company email to concert tickets.

It was also the way to communicate with someone wherever they were located. No longer did you have to wait for them to get back to their desktop or for you to find a place to crack open your laptop.

With such rapid change, the desktop, once the traditional access point, lost its dominance for both groups. Mobile became dominant. Soon after, unchallenged.
That’s happening with voice. Just a whole lot faster.
Devices that use voice interfaces, like the iPhone’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa devices are growing at a faster rate than the smartphone. According to Pew Research, 46% of people already use them to aid them in making purchases.

And while most of us have just one smartphone. 40% of us likely have access to multiple voice assistants and devices. For me, there’s Google Assistant on my phone. Google Home, Alexa devices or Siri on HomePod in my house and in my car.

Pew Research confirms my own experience. They report that while the under half surveyed use voice interfaces with their smartphone, more than 50 percent of other users report voice use spread between their computer, tablets and other devices.

All those options mean that, in 2020, over 94.2 million smart speakers among a total of over 125 million devices will have access to consumers. A rise of 75% from 7% in 2016.

Juniper Research is even more bullish on voice. The firm estimates there will be 8 billion digital voice assistants in use by 2023.
Let’s not forget business adoption for voice assistants.
More and more sectors of the economy, like healthcare and the automotive industry, are finding uses for the speech recognition technology.

Industries like healthcare are building voice assistants designed to allow patients to ask questions around a diagnosis in the doctor’s office or call for medical assistance.

Businesses including one I’ve worked for are building assistants for the enterprise. A way for employees to get quick company information and actionable project data through voice requests. As support for employees, these voice assistants can streamline or replace internal management apps and HR services.

Tractica, a market intelligence firm, reports that the voice assistant growth in the business world is expected to increase from 155 million users in 2015 to 843 million by 2021. With that kind of projected growth, revenue is forecasted to grow from $1.6 billion in 2015 to $15.8 billion in 2021.

All those smart speakers and voice assistants for business and consumers are estimated to become a 40-billion dollar market.
So why should your business adopt voice?
Why do you rob a bank? Because that’s where the money is.

As a business, sooner than later, you will need voice to capture if not simply maintain market share. Not to mention that voice is quickly becoming a touch point that consumers are pivoting to.

I’m not talking just voice search. While voice search on platforms like Google is important. It’s also any device that serves as the conversational layer between the user, a business or product information.
Voice assistants are your business.
TVs, cars, refrigerators, wearables, doors, medical devices and more will eventually become enabled with voice interfaces. Those products and the voice services that align with them can establish relationships with future customers. Often within your customer’s own home or on the go; far away from any retail locations you or your competitor may own.

Also, we are coming to an age where customers don’t walk into retail locations until they need to. A trend likely hastened further due to the pandemic.

An example. I have money in the bank and do transactions, but I rarely walk into a bank. I’m not alone. So “Jane” the bank teller in the bank isn’t building a relationship with me. I don’t’ see Jane’s smile. Jane and I can’t meet to joke and laugh together about the weather. The bank isn’t a personal Jane experience for me. Instead, the ATM and the banking app on my phone is my point of contact.

Now imagine if I could talk with the app or services on my phone to make a deposit. Check my balance. Ask about new services. And my engagement is happening through a helpful friendly voice that creates an amazing and brandable customer experience. One that the customer would usually avoid by not going into the bank.
With voice and the AI behind it:

Your business becomes more efficient and beneficial to your customers
You create an incredible brand experience
Your customer experience can be anywhere the customer is
Voice is frictionless. Don’t know what buttons to push? Doesn’t matter. just ask
Personalization. Once I have an experience with your voice assistant, it’s learning about the customer and interaction. Next time, it can deliver an even better experience. It may know your name and remember your preferences from the interaction before. That’s opposed to meeting a brand new human on your next interaction and starting your new transaction from scratch

You can do all that with voice. Or not. The choice. And your businesses’ future, is up to you.

Why voice assistants will be a vital part of how you do business or even if you stay in business in less than five years.

Brooks Richey on
Content Mindfulness, Content Strategy

How Can I Help?

I recently wrote to friends in Facebook as to why I feel we have a personal responsibility to step up for others facing challenges. An excerpt:
”The essence of morality is essentially what kind of person are you and how do you respond when you have the freedom from legal compulsion or retribution. For example. I found a wallet. The law won’t punish me if I don’t give it back. I have the freedom to keep it. So do I? Character fills that gap. People volunteer as nurses, for the military. They don’t have to. They do it because their character fills in the gap between their freedom not to do anything, and their need to support others. It’s the reason we cheer them and honor them.”
As we know, there are people right now who are feeling the stress of change or just need a little nudge in navigating their new future post-COVID-19. Looking back at my Facebook micro rant about character, I thought to myself that it’s time to act my words. So…
“How can I help?”
I’m offering to one individual in my LinkedIn contacts and one person outside social media some of my spare time, copywriting, and content strategy skills outside of my current job obligations. Specifically to help someone who might be struggling to keep moving forward in these challenging times. For my skill set, that could be things like:

Help with a resume or menu content
Messaging around a business plan
Website structure or SEO
If you got a voice assistant you need help with, not sure you really need my help, but hey, let’s see
Or something else in my wheelhouse (using spreadsheets, Facebook marketing, etc.)

Folks on LinkedIn can reach me quietly via LinkedIn. I’ll make some phone calls to find a person offline as well.

Either way, in return, all I ask is that you pledge to offer someone else in need the benefit of a skill or gift that you have. In turn, challenge them to pledge to do the same.

For instance, if you are a graphic designer, help someone design their resume. A strategist could help someone test and hone their thinking on a business plan for what could be their new life post-COVID-19. Know how to fix a car? Help someone who is petrified of even a modest car service bill right now. You know your skills and where you excel better than I do. The important part is to give someone the spark to ignite the change they need to make to be better. To feel secure.

Like I said, steal this idea. Don’t give me credit, just give someone an extra edge or a chance. Good enough.

If we pass it forward, help just one person a little bit, together we can help many.


Brooks Richey on
Content Strategy

Working from home? Meet your new boss. Structure.

Want to think outside of the box?

First, have a box to think out of.

The definition of creativity or exceptional productivity is all about solutioning a work product that’s able to rise above an existing set of norms and boundaries.

Those of us in marketing, product or experience design are continually trying to create results that exceed those existing rules and boundaries. When we do rise above, we also exceed our clients’ expectations of what’s possible.
Structure guides our work.
As a writer and interactive linguist, I must work with boxes.

My creative and problem-solving process is framed and guided by a bunch of rules.

I must work with rules of grammer (like having to spell “grammar” right). In conversational design, I work with rules of language, meaning, and the information processing rules for both humans and machines. I also work with rules around deadlines and tech requirements related to the agile process.

So many rules. Yet by leveraging those existing rules and structures, I’m able to build new ideas and new experiences that go beyond them. Solutions that, birthed from the womb of rules and norms, have a familiarity to a reader or user. At the same time, they seem refreshingly different and delightful.

So thanks structure.
Where structure goes to die. Working from home.
For those of us who usually work in an office, home is often the place we retreat to in order to be unstructured and get away from the boundaries of work.

When we get home, we jettison our business or professional attire like we’re tossing off the shackles of structure and conformity.

Now due to the pandemic, many of us have to now attempt to do focused work in what was once our emotional and professional sanctuary.

In doing so, we often discover there’s an enemy (or perhaps frenemy) in the house. Choices.

Like a cheetah in the wild, choice is a seductive, devilishly clever predator that will stalk you at home, smelling and tracking you by your desire to enjoy the comforts and pleasures that your home provides. Patiently, it will prey upon you, your work and your creativity.
Working from home can make you a victim of choices.
Having no structure is like having a car and no clear roadway set out in front of you. You are awash in choices.

The good news: You can go anywhere.

The bad news You can go anywhere.

While most of us say we want and love choice, many of us don’t do well with choice. Because when we have a choice, all the results, effort, direction, decisions and motivations now flow back on us. Now WE must define the goal, the direction, the reasons for moving in a particular direction. And even when we do, because “anything is possible” there is no clear promise of a positive outcome.

With no structure, that’s all on you.

So unless we have some deep overriding goal or desire (usually a hard deadline or deliverable from work), we’re not ready to accept, take personal responsibility and be proactive for those choices.
You can do anything. And ironically, that makes it hard to do something.
This is a different experience than when we are working in an office with other people. A place where we tacitly let people and social norms enforce choices and actions on us.
Your office was the structure.
You got up out of bed and to work on time to avoid a boss’ stare when you strolled in a 9:45. Social pressure made you wear pants, skirts, shoes (hopefully), shave and keep the breakroom clean.

Without that pressure at home, there’s’ a lot of people going over the sales figures with marketing in Winnie the Pooh pajamas. A lot of people binging on Hot Pockets daily because the fridge is just a few feet away. A lot of people not going to the gym because “no one is going to see you anyways.”

Free from the office’s social norms, it’s you that now has to drive personal performance.

So what do you do?
Get a new boss for your work at home. Their name is routine.
We’re not talking about imposing totalitarianism by setting up some highly granular or completely unforgiving level of habit and work process. Rather just enough to give you purpose, focus and so you don’t lose the drive for action that you took for granted at the workplace.
My work-from-home routine.
Besides what I just mentioned, my routine has a personal why in it.

What it means for me is to take advantage of the larger productivity dip (people who give in to being at home and around a million distractions) and use that time to make myself a little better.

So what do I do?
I dress up.
Each morning I still get dressed up like I would as if I went into the office. This creates comments on my morning video stand up meetings (often from people still in near-pajamas).

I’m totally fine with it. You act how you dress.

A man stands up a little straighter and walks with more confidence in a nice suit. A woman feels more elegant and composed and confident in a great outfit.

Not saying you wear those at home. Just something that speaks a little more to your professionalism. I’ll be honest, I have to do a lot of video conferences during the day. And I’m speaking to people who normally dress up but are clearly taking advantage of not having to at home.

In group video chats, all I can say is that I’m getting a good idea of what the Hollywood Squares would look like if all the people in the boxes didn’t give a crap.

And here’s the thing. I work with some amazing, dedicated smart people. And no clothing changes that. But when you see them a little too casual, like in something that you know that they are wearing slippers off-screen, it dings their brand a little. And some of that brand perception will come back with them when offices reopen.
I keep some rituals.
In a previous post I mentioned that, wherever I am working, I usually go to Starbucks before I drive in to work as a hack to make sure I get to work on time. Now working from home, I still get coffee from the local Starbucks drive-through near my home (I and the barista share mask tips). That action triggers a mentality inside of me that I’m getting ready for work.
I work out.
Yes. The gyms are closed. Which is why I’m currently using my condo’s stairs as my gym’s stair machine. And two chairs for dips. I started doing burpees for the first time.

Which, for the record, sucks and makes me wonder why they weren’t used in the government’s enhanced interrogation techniques. However, the idea of adding something new to my routine makes my home workout a little more interesting. Also, I will need a healthy body post-COVID-19. Health is wealth. Why lose all the pre-pandemic gains you’ve made?

Also, it’s hard to worry about work issues and COVID-19 when your immediate concern during a workout is where your next breath is coming from. Exercise is an amazing stress reliever.

What is also great about exercise? For content creators and other problem solvers, exercise often helps provide a level of inspiration and clarity that informs our work. Clinically, it helps decrease anxiety, depression and stress. Something we can all use in the face of COVID-19.
Keep writing this blog from home.
Like Steven King says, writing is like weightlifting. If you want to get stronger, do it every day. This blog was my writing routine on my weekly plane travel back and forth to Miami. Originally designed as a personal meditation on my craft and thoughts to be shared. As a lot of us have a lot more thinking time on hour hands, the need to process things through my writing is even more reason to keep blogging during this period.
I learn.
Whether training at work or attending seminars or programs I’m always learning. In tech, it’s almost a must. The more you know, the more you’re able to integrate what you know into your work.

Right now, I’m brushing up on my Tableau skills. Studying Python as it relates to NLP. And a personal chatbot. Oh, and my Spanish.

One of the reasons that I learn…
Some are losing jobs. The last thing to do right now is to lose skills.
Tiger King is fun (a glorious train-wreck) to watch. But don’t just focus on keeping yourself entertained. Keep yourself sharp. What skill can you learn during this time that will make you an even better employee, freelancer or consultant when the virus all-clear is given?

My career has survived through multiple economic downturns. A lot of that I credit to proactively pivoting my skill set and business offerings while my peers and firms were comfortable with the status quo. While it’s tempting you can’t stand still in life. Life will move without you.

Businesses (like advertising) are often the first expense to be cut when the economy turns. Already Ad Age reports that 90% of work for freelancers and contractors in advertising in NYC has stopped cold. Advertising may be the first cut again, but in what is likely a deep, global economic slide and reordering, it won’t be the last. And like after re-emerging after the brutal 2008 recession, advertising was never the same. That will be the same for many industries.
This is your time to get ready while you are at home.
Let’s be honest, for those of us who may have lost or will lose jobs during this time, you will be out on the street competing for your next job with some pretty skilled people.

Some people will have a skill set that some companies will be dying to snap up. Others will be a harder sell. Especially now that we’ve instantly pivoted to being an employers’ market for talent.

In such a competitive market, many freelancers and contractors will fight to justify $30 an hour to money-tight clients only months after casually turning down work offers less than $100 an hour.
Routine is the boot camp for building work skills.
Keep learning and keeping your edge in mind, body, and career. To do that, you must forge successful habits and skills through a routine. Know-how will be your best weapon. Especially if the time comes when you have no job.

Brooks Richey on
Content Strategy

The B(r)and is breaking up. How music services like Spotify are killing artist brands.

Many of us love music streaming services like Spotify and Pandora.

We find it easy and comforting to have the music we love streaming in the background while lounging or working around the house.

What’s also great about it. Through analyzing our music selections and feedback, the music services are using AI and machine learning to get better and better at predicting what we like.

As a result, they are able to really hone in on playing the type of music that we want to hear.

As one friend mentioned about one of the streaming services, it “feels like they know me.”

While the streaming music services may “know us” and are savvy at delivering songs that we like to listen to, here’s something that you may end up not knowing: the name of the artist or song you are listening to.

You may not realize it, but the streaming services that we are increasingly listening to through our voice-UI devices like Alexa, Apple’s HomePod and Google Home are slowly divorcing us from the metadata (data that describes other data) around our music content.

Anyone familiar with these devices will know that any interaction with these devices either exists through your voice requests or via the audio the device delivers in response. No graphics or visual content is presented.

So while you hear a song, metadata such as the artist, the artist’s label and product information, like the album cover, get ignored or made invisible to users without a request by the users for that specific information.
Nice song. What’s the name? Who’s the artist?
Unless the user is already familiar with the artist or song, the user is essentially blind to artist information they hear on many streaming services. Instead, they are only able to see what their ears hear: the song. Not the artist metadata, like the album cover, artist picture, etc.
That metadata makes a difference for identity and brand.
Remember what music was like pre-streaming or if you had digital music that had metadata built into the music file? If you do, you probably realized you gained an extra connection to parts of an artist through that data.

AC-DC’s bold logo on their album covers or iconic covers like Nirvana’s baby-swimming-in-a-pool Nevermind album gave identity and a visually memorable brand context around their music.

A visceral connection because the images around an artist you listen to often become so closely tied with the moments you experienced with the music. For that not to happen would be like going to the senior prom and not remember what anyone wore or the decorations. Just the songs. Not likely. They’re inseparable.
Yet in streaming music and metadata they’re being separated.
Your interaction with the music through a streaming device is usually about telling the voice UI what you want to hear. In playback, the service rarely tells you who the artist is. Unlike radio, there is rarely a DJ telling you that the song was “Closer” by Halsey to help brand the music experience you just had or are about to have.

So with little exposure to branding cues, your music service is adding new artists that you like into your feed without a second thought or glance by you. Or without those special, brand-able connections.

Soon, the ratio of great songs you are discovering may soon begin to outweigh the contextual information that you know about them. Unless you ask Alexa or use a music scanner like Shazam, the song and artist are invisible.

On streaming services, artists make percentages of a penny in royalties for each song you listen to. For many money isn’t in streaming. It’s in touring and merchandising. Two things where a good brand is extremely valuable.

So for artists who need their name and brand recognized in order to promote and make money in merchandise and on the road, losing their identity via streaming services could be a problem.

Sad song goes here. I don’t care which artist. Just play something I like, Alexa.


Brooks Richey on
Content Mindfulness, Content Strategy

Don’t fear, embrace uncertainty. Opportunity waits on the other side.

Uncertainty never leaves our lives. Time to time, it will come up from behind and tap you on the shoulder to remind you it’s around. How we choose to see uncertainty, accept it and respond to it makes all the difference.
“I don’t know.”

As the changes brought on by COVID-19 are becoming more pronounced, people have either thought or uttered those three words this week.

Unfortunately, that includes a lot of people. Some employed. Others working freelance. Some, unfortunately, now unemployed in the business like creating experiences around content. This week, I’ve personally seen incredibly talented people’s suddenly have to negotiate a career transition and deal with the uncertainty of figuring out what comes next.

With over 10-million unemployed and even more now worrying about the possibility, many are now saying to themselves…

“I don’t know how I’m going to pay the bills.”

“I don’t know when I’m going back.”

“I don’t know if I’ll have a job after this.”

“I don’t know if I’m infected.”

It’s totally reasonable for people to feel like they are walking blind towards their future. Feeling anxiety from lack of clarity is almost expected.
“I don’t know” and uncertainty feel especially stressful with COVID-19.
I’m seeing it. Posts from friends on Facebook and LinkedIn announcing that they are now “in transition.” As a large part of the economy has shut down, a former work colleague recently reached out. Suddenly being without clients or income, they were extremely distraught not knowing how they were going to pay for a place to live in their extremely rent-expensive city.

I could feel the stress and worry they had as they grappled with uncertainty. I helped best I could.

Disruptions like a sudden job loss can rudely separate us from the luxurious feeling we feel when we’re able to rest on the soft, comfortable bed of certainty. As human beings, we crave it. Certainty makes life simple. Certainty doesn’t challenge us. It frees us to focus on more pleasurable pursuits and distractions.

Employed or working on a steady gig? Until that intervening moment by fate, there was a warm comfort in knowing that the sun would rise. That your spouse would leave another annoying note about picking up milk on the fridge. That today, you’d be sipping your first cup of coffee at 9:30 am before really settling into your workday.

Then one day, and one change, it’s different.

Suddenly we don’t know what’s next anymore. We suddenly realize that we actually savored both the good and bad we experienced when we had certainty. You miss your prickly boss. Or that client that killed your great ideas. As if repetition, work frustration was actually emotional comfort food.

But now, we must look into the dark abyss of uncertainty. We try to see a path forward. When we do, it is frustrating to feel like you looked at the universe for insight or a vision and it just shrugged back at you.

“Some help you are, universe.”
But here’s the thing about uncertainty.
While we may be shocked when our future becomes unclear, we forget that the future has ALWAYS been unclear.

At any given time, we “don’t know” a lot of things about our future. We often confuse the fleeting stability, repetition or boring calm for certainty. But like the financial disclaimer that you hear from investment firms, “past results are not a guarantee of future performance,” the future is not set in stone.
What’s certain is change. What’s uncertain is when and how.
While some of us may live successful lives, tomorrow, we could have our lives upended getting hit by a truck. A truck that was rude in not telling us it would be changing our lives in advance.

A person who jogs to stay healthy can be blindsided with a heart attack even though, health-wise, they were confident because as a runner, “they did everything right.”

There are lots of people who do their jobs right, every day. I work with a lot of them. People who do superior work in UX, content and software development. Work that seems unrelated to a wet market allowing a virus to pass from one animal to another on the other side of the world. Yet the two events have collided. Known and unknown things assert themselves into our lives at their own pleasure, destroying our precious feeling of certainty.

To understand this is to also understand that we have no control over everything around us (except for us). the concept of certainty, at best, is an illusion. Change will always happen. With or without our permission.
Certainty has always been an illusion.
If it is an illusion, then we are the magician performing the trick.

The illusion is created when we, as human beings, choose to view our lives in ways that mentally screen out the probability and risk related to uncertainty. In short, we ignore it.

Any time I get on a plane to commute to my work office, there is a statistical 800,000 to 1 chance I could die. But I and other self-entitled passengers get on the plane more concerned about finding a good place to store my carry-on luggage in my section or what the in-flight meal is because I’ve filtered out the risk and uncertainty of flying in my mind.

I feel and project the illusion of control. In my mind, not landing by 3:30 pm to get to the gym by 5 on a Sunday afternoon is the worst thing that could happen on the flight. A perception that assumes I believe my plane’s arrival in one piece is a given. While the risk is indeed low, I’m sure most of us have seen stories about planes, so it’s not 100% certain.

Now when the plane encounters strong turbulence, as it did a few times early this year, all of a sudden, some of the uncertainty filters get removed temporarily, and I consciously remember there is risk in air travel.

Nothing changed, odds wise, before I decided to get into the plane. A few violent rocks of the cabin created new signals that tapped me on the shoulder to remind me of uncertainty. Now I see the same situation I didn’t care about or took for granted, in a way that temporarily creates anxiety about my future. Still, a few days later, I get on the next plane because even when reminded, I embrace that risk. Why? More on that in a moment.

For some, COVID-19 is that turbulence. That tap on the shoulder that reminds us that uncertainty has never left our side.
This is not saying to be paranoid about uncertainty.
Quite the opposite. Face it. Embrace it.

Uncertainty will always be your partner in life. I have a personal saying, “Challenge is my girlfriend.” What I’m talking about is knowing that you are in a life-long relationship with uncertainty and it’s important that you be comfortable with it. It’s not your enemy. It’s more that you need to learn how to work together.

Uncertainty can only truly stop you from the things that you want when you learn to fear it and let it freeze you in place. When you embrace uncertainty and see it as an opportunity that you can learn and grow from, rather than just a place for chaos, you can find and seize success from it.

As a former business founder and owner, I can tell you entrepreneurs are people who must embrace loads of uncertainty. Uncertainty in the form of an untested idea. Lack of funding. Unproven market demand. When you’ll be paid next. Building a business or product is stressful, ambiguous and an environment where failure IS an option.

And yet, people we hail as titans of industry like Steve Jobs of Apple or Sara Blakely of Spanx arose from that uncertainty. Faced with uncertainty about the business’s cash flow, the founder of FedEx, Fred Smith, gambled the then-fledgling and struggling company’s last $5000 in cash reserves at a casino in the 1970s to win enough money to keep the company operating a little longer.

Parents face uncertainty in raising children. Will the child you have be successful? Healthy? Happy? There are no promises, but millions do it anyway and succeed.

Celebrity and entertainer, The Rock, was fired from a football team with 7 dollars to his name. Imagine how he felt being cut from what he thought was his life’s career. Now, not only was is career up for grabs but also how would he support a family with 7 dollars in his pocket? He could have been resigned to accept a fate. Instead, he embraced the unknown, moved forward and a superstar was born. But then again, he made the eye-rolling Baywatch movie, so it’s hard to argue that his effort was a complete success.

Despite the uncertainty and unclear odds, those people and others found a way to move forward and thrive. When faced with uncertainty around COVID-19 or a job loss, we can, too.
Uncertainty is not a stop sign. It’s just a choice.
It’s a fork in the road that we all repeatedly come to on our journey through work and life. One way leads to fear and paralysis or hoping things stay the same. The other can lead to a new success, even a new you. When you meet the fork in the road in our own lives, be ready to take the road not taken.



Brooks Richey on
Content Strategy

Call To Action (CTA) tips

This might take some of you back to high school.

You want to take someone to the dance. You can tell them how great you are. Talk about how great the dance will be.

Oh yeah, one more thing…

If you want them to go, you’ve got to ask them to go to the dance.

Just because you provide data and information doesn’t mean you’ll naturally create the response you want. While it may seem blatantly obvious to some, the connection to meeting an internal need or desire and a person making a response in kind isn’t apparent to everyone. Sometimes you need to “connect the dots” for people. That’s why you have to direct and ask for a specific course of action.

That is true across all types of sales presentations. Especially digital.

For web design, that means having a call to action (CTA).

Below are some tips for creating powerful call to actions.
Six tips for better CTAs.
1. Make sure your content creates desire.
No one was ever bored into taking action or buying something. Make sure your words create or connect to pent-up demand that the action your CTA suggests can relieve.
2. Make sure your content creates urgency.
Without the need or desire to act now, your CTA is just a wish list. Just something to do sometime in the future or something to be lost in a busy future timeline and simply forget about later.

Get the user to focus on right now. Adding a limited time to take action, like adding an expiration date, helps.
3. Make your action statement simple and clear.
Simple. Ask your user to do only ONE thing (E.g., View PDF, Download Brochure).

When you ask users to act on multiple tasks (E.g. Download and Read Document), you exponentially dilute the power of the call to action by making it confusing or giving the user additional choices they aren’t prepared to make or go forward with.

Clearly write your CTAs so the user quickly understands what to expect or how their desire will be met if they respond.
4. Match the CTA with the level of action or commitment your user is likely to make.
“Donate 100 dollars” as a CTA is a much heavier climb and commitment for users than “Donate one Dollar” and will likely result in few clicks on the call to action. Asking them to download a free brochure or music is more value and less commitment on their part and will likely increase click through rates.
5. Design your CTA button so it stands out.
Your site likely has a lot going on in terms of words and overall design. Not saying it’s clutter but your user still has to make an effort to visually navigate all the content and determine what they need to pay attention to. Make it easy for them to take action by making the CTA button easy to find and use.
6. Learn from analytics and feedback.
Actions on the web are trackable. Track using analytics connected to your website platform, a mail program, or look into third-party analytics. Use the analytical data to gain insights to refine your message and how you deliver your CTAs.
CTAs. Overall, the biggest thing to remember…
Make sure your message gives the user an easy way to take action on what you’ve told them.

Ask, and you shall receive.


Brooks Richey on
Small thinking leads to big things
Content Mindfulness, Content Strategy

As careers navigate COVID-19, big wins must start with small thinking.

With COVID-19, industry, and many careers now face big changes, here’s why it’s time to go small.
If you could fold a piece of paper in half 103 times, how thick would it be?

Mathematically, it would be larger than the observable universe. 93 billion light-years. It’s true.

We often forget small steps, consistently executed, turn into incredible things.
The power of thinking small.
Yes it’s counterintuitive. Regardless, when big events happen, sometimes the best approach to take them on them is not through some grand gesture, especially a giant overreaction. Instead, it’s better to go little. Keep moving forward and keep taking the little steps that exponentially build on top of each other to get to the big win.

To say, the COVID-19 virus has caused big changes in so many jobs, industries, much less the world, would be an understatement. Last week I was working in a hotel in Miami while cities and states were shutting down. As I watched cars stream down I-95 and planes still taking off like clockwork outside my hotel window and continuing to do work, I knew the moment was surreal. The normalcy of zipping traffic that I saw with my eyes belied the sound I couldn’t hear; the way of life of millions around the world screeching to a halt. No one asked for it. Life just came out one day and said, “this is happening.” But as a result, a chain started…

Clients halting projects
Companies cutting back, if not suspending, operations
Employees and freelancers nervously asking in Fishbowl app forums if they’ll be laid off or where their next gig could come from
The tone of LinkedIn changing over the week from project promotion to more of a support group

As a student of economics and a veteran in the marketing business and financial markets, I’d be lying if I said this will not cause massive upheavals in businesses for some time to come. What will come back, and it WILL come back, will be different. We emerged a different country after 9/11, then after the 2008 financial crash. History will go for the threepeat.

As big changes are actively happening. I know it feels like everything is up for grabs. In this environment, we can feel afraid. Lost. Often, overwhelmed. Big is overwhelming. Like trying to swallow food 5 times the size of your mouth. With that analogy in mind, we also instinctively know that taking smaller bites is how we conquer something big.
After all, That’s how the COVID-19 virus got started.
Yes, “boo” Coronavirus. I’m not an admirer. But any marketer or strategist can tell you that you learn from your client’s competitors. It’s our enemy, but our enemies are often our best teachers on how to raise our own game. So let’s look at its strategy, why it’s effective and how we build on it.

The virus, microscopically small, attaches to one small cell in a person’s lungs or liver. It then adds an infinitesimal bit of generic material into that cell. That small code tells that cell to make duplicates of the virus’ material. That genetic material, essentially more blueprints of itself, leave the cell and repeat infecting and taking over other cells the same way. Again and again exponentially, until it may overwhelm and fatally destroy a whole organism. Passed on to other organisms, the threat to communities of organisms also increases exponentially. Affecting markets, industries, livelihoods and finally our way of life. At least, for a while.
Think like the virus. Start small to do big things.
Turn on the TV and you are likely being bombarded by bright red news alerts and talking heads pontificating “what if” scenarios until the cows come home. If you’re a rational human being with feelings and responsibilities, there are likely many “what ifs” in your head ranging from the mortgage to the health and safety of family members.

Problem is, all that attention keeps our focus on the future and an unclear big picture. Focusing too much on the future is also when we are playing on anxiety’s home court and driving that feeling of being overwhelmed.
We need to break that pattern and get back to focusing on the present.
Yes, we all need to be mindful of what’s happening, but even more, we need little (smaller) present-time things to focus on and take “snackable” steps, today, that keep us moving forward. Do that, and then another little thing. And then another. And if we can all do all those small things, the add up and will end up making a difference for ourselves and for others.
How to have “small” wins.
A phone call to see how someone is doing.
For me that means “Hi Mom,” but you can reach out to a colleague that may be in financial stress. Or even just lonely. With the exception of those who already work from home, we often don’t realize how much work and school is a big part of how we socialize and receive social energy.

In a time where we are essentially mandated to disconnect from each other, we ironically need each other more. Work-wise, I and my team video conference in the middle of the day for 15 minutes just to shoot the breeze and sometimes dance on screen. That little connection with other humans means so much.
Work on that resume. Even if you have a job.
When I worked more on web projects, I always found a client’s website redesign projects also serve as client therapy sessions. Because things like analyzing taxonomy and content structure of the site often demand that the client self-reflect about things like the company’s structure, product organization, corporate messaging. Such a review is needed so it can critique, reflect or improve its corporate essence and how it communicates in their website or other digital experience. It also allows them to see if their structure and action is in alignment with the organization’s overall mission.

Use reviewing your resume as that opportunity for yourself. Don’t just edit and spell check, critique. Punch up “you” on paper or digital document.

In my experience, most resumes read like a data sheet. Not a highlight reel. It says what you did, not why you are amazing. I bet there are great things you’ve done that you are likely taking for granted. Something that is buried in or totally absent from your resume. Look at things, that seem like a warmup for you, that others think is amazing. Does your resume reflect that? If not, here’s the time to make it happen.
Build a new skill that will make you more competitive.
“I’m not retreating I’m reloading.”

Not sure who said that, but the idea is valid. Use this national “time out” to Improve and weaponize your skills while others take this opportunity to rest, binge on Netflix or let the unstructured temptation of working from home lull them into complacency.
Plant seeds of connection. Network.
Fast fact. Social media is good for more than posting pictures of your trip to Arizona and what you ate. It’s true!

Most of us are sitting at home, hungry to connect with others. Do it. Lookup people on LinkedIn that you’ve connected with or from your personal contacts list on your phone that you can help in some small way.
When I say help, I don’t mean sell.
If you do the first right (help), commerce comes later and even better. Focus on giving others value. Help them make a small difference that could lead to something big for them.

Or find someone with a non-business interest where you can truly connect. For me, that would be someone who agrees that last’s Star Wars movie was terrible (yea, probably a small contact list, but I’m sure we’d talk all day ‘cause there’s so much to criticize). It doesn’t matter what you talk about, more than topics or issues you can be human about.

Remember, when you get past all the talk about products or listen to a professional spewing out a billion different buzzwords as they present a slide deck, at its core, business is all about just one person getting into a relationship with another. Together, they make a sale rather than a baby. With that in mind, take the time to listen, learn about others. Be human. Be empathetic. You’ll plant the seed that, when watered with integrity and concern, will grow into opportunities.
What are you waiting for? Go little!
We don’t know when we will get back to “normal.” Even when we do so, normal will certainly be different. Take the time now to work on becoming the difference that the world of the new normal is going to need after COVID-19 recedes into the background.

To win big and be different, start with the little steps.

Brooks Richey on
Content Mindfulness

The gods of technology demand a sacrifice.

I write for a living. Yet, in terms of actual handwriting, I write horribly.

I mean, really, really horrible.

If I wrote to you on a piece of paper a list of pizza toppings and handed them to you, you’d likely read it and immediately call the police thinking it was a plea for help from someone being held hostage.

Yea, that’s how bad my handwriting is.

It wasn’t always that way.

There was a time when my standard and cursive writing was pretty legible. In fact, beautiful. It had to be. Not just for my teachers and for mailed letters you’d share in the pre-word processing days. It was also for tests. When you had to write an essay in a college blue book, legibility was also important. Not being understood by a blue-book grader could lead to a big misunderstanding or even an F.
The gods of technology offered writers the gift of word processing.
But then, our content creation and word creation completely became part of an electronic keyboard world. Computers at work. Your mobile phone. Why hand write a letter when you can just type and email one?

I, like everyone else, joined in.

As I typed more, my handwriting skills, ignored, began to atrophy.

Beautiful, legible writing turned into a crude EKG heartbeat diagram. One with sharp spikes that would scream out to a doctor that I was having a heart attack.

In fact, like abandoning the gym and letting yourself go, very soon, hand dragging a graphite pencil or pen across paper began to feel like drudgery and a heavy burden.

Ugh, so much work to write the word “work”….and no spellcheck!!

What? I can’t just delete a word!
Better writing through technology extracted a personal cost.
Don’t get me wrong, word processors and the new world of text and voice entry for content are clearly an advancement. One that I don’t want to give up. But, make no mistake, in exchange for adoption of the technology, they do demand personal sacrifices.

Trading up to technological convenience makes it harder to constantly drill or remind ourselves on the fundamentals of how to self-produce the things we enjoy or benefit from.

Which, for the most part is fine. But technology is an ever-increasing stack of cards we stand upon. Each card of technology supports us and our lifestyle saying, “I’ll handle that.” “Don’t worry, I’ll take care of that.”
Technology is now taking care of things humans used to know and do.
I have a friend who was a submarine navigator in the military. He’s talked to me about how technology has replaced the older, manual processes a sailor had to use to get a sub’s bearings for navigation.

Is that new technology faster and less hassle for navigators? Absolutely. But that same friend noticed that more navigators don’t know how to use a sextant, a navigation device as old as sailing itself, if they had to fall back on it to do navigation.

If, one day, those stacked technology cards fail, the skills that we’ve allowed to atrophy may not be able to step back in and do the work ourselves.

A decade ago, if a car broke down, a lot of people had enough skills to open up the hood, tinker with something and fix it. Today, while cars give us more convenience and features, if they break down, most of the systems in modern cars are far beyond the average driver’s and a lot of mechanics’ ability to repair.

Both (me and the mechanic) would just likely order a replacement part.

Or, in the most extreme scenario, in a situation where society collapses and would put us back into the 1800s, who in the cities has skills to function and survive?

Or another way of saying it. How’s your farming and blacksmith skills?

What’s worse than that. I’ll have to use pen and pencil to write letters. Ugh.

Technology is great. It lifts us up. Often, to discover that we have a long way to fall, when it fails us.


Brooks Richey on
Content Strategy

When function follows form. And how content strategy is affected.

What happens by not incorporating content strategy upfront or when you make it an afterthought.

“Form follows function” is a design maxim.

Unfortunately, many times, it also ends up being the unrealized ideal of a completed design, content or marketing project.
Most executions in life end up being “function follows form.”
“Form follows function,” attributed to architect Louis Sullivan, is the idea around industrial design that the shape of a building or object should primarily relate to its intended function or purpose.

In the age of digital design and digital product design, that’s expanded to the idea of designing or building a product or experience around the desired task or experience the user wants. Aesthetics are based on functional requirements designed to delight or satisfy the user.

Conversely in “function follows form,” what happens is the product is built around satisfying non-user focused or distracted objectives with the hope that it, while not optimal, will be still acceptable to the end-user.
Why the reverse of “form follows function?”
The short answer: because we are human.

Somewhere in the process, the needs of humans for feeling beauty, massaging a participant’s ego or some other non-aligned urgency or desire tend to rise up and distort the form. When the form is hijacked for odd reasons, it inevitably perverts the function.
Function follows form happens for a bunch of reasons.
Some valid and non-valid. Including:

A cut budget
Limited resources
Internal politics
A lack of actionable information or insights.
The ego of the client or members of the design team
Monetary. An overweighted need for a firm or designer to sell a site or digital experience to pay the bills

Each one alone can prove to be greater than the need to optimize the digital or content engagement experience.
Function follows form creates a passive-aggressive experience.
When the function of the project is pre-determined by some existing form (say an unvetted decision is made to do an email campaign) and that form does not align with real-world situations or user needs, the design or product eventually delivered becomes a passive-aggressive experience, if not a hostile one towards reality or the end-user.

A predetermined function creates an arrogance or indifference in the design development that demands that other components, elements, and content that might delight the user instead be subservient to the perverted function. And in serving the perverted function, lets down the user.

For example, if a digital product becomes subservient to something say, like cost, the result may affect the level or quality of content, or the speed of the website experience for the users by using a cheap server.

When you give reality and users the middle finger, via this kind of arrogance or indifference, both reality and users tend to push back.

Reality can push back in terms of affecting SEO and reducing the ability of the content users want to be found. Users can push back by simply not finding slapped together content unsatisfying and seek competitor’s content.
In “function follows form” content is greatly affected.
Such an approach of pre-deciding form makes something like a website not the place to optimally deliver content, but all too often, merely a place, like a shelf, to hold content that’s been created, often content structured or created for other purposes.

And without designing and structuring content based on the situation or user’s situation, that shelf may not even hold the content people want. This as the focus of delivering content has shifted to the perverted “function.” In most cases, that perverted function is “keep cost down” to avoid time optimizing content for users.
Why can’t function follow form?
In doing so, you are designing backward. Pick a solution first.

Then, when it’s done, look at the problem that needs to be solved in the real world later.

An example. Imagine if you were designing a gun (just an object. I’m not promoting them). You design the gun to be really cool. Wow, is it sleek. The trigger is delightful and responsive. The weight of the gun is balanced. So cool.

Just as you finish production on the cool gun, someone asks the question, “Hey, what exactly are we using this for?”

Shooting a bad guy is very different than taking down an elephant or a heavily armored tank. And like content, good planning, and success require a different type of bullet crafted and delivered that matches the user requirement or task.

If the team started with the endpoint, the bullet design to complete the task would be very different.

Function following form usually happens when phrases that pre-dictate the form go unchallenged like…
“We need a website (or mobile app or voice assistant)”
What’s not asked:

Why exactly are we doing this?
Who’s this for?
Is this the right forum for our audience?
Is this the best way for users to access content?
How will it help our particular audience?
Are we going to structure our current content to work and be consumed optimally on those given platforms?

With a form pre-determined, a ripple effect is often created. As the form is destiny, there’s little reason for or additional energy and effort and cost in optimizing. Just completing the form. So content-wise, in the name of cost, or laziness, content from another platform or experience is simply cut and pasted.

A situation that can lead to an event like creating a mobile app with endless scrolling and too much content that is a turn off to read. Or sites with content not structured as to be unfindable in the experience or unattractive to growing customer demands like voice search.
“Just send an email (or a notification on mobile).”
What doesn’t get challenged here in pre-dictating the form:

Is selling the user the same as delivering a great brand experience? Spoiler alert: it’s not.

Left unchallenged, this request ignores, often arrogantly, the long-term value in delivering a good content experience to a customer.

This is often because the people proposing it are not valuing the form and how it will satisfy the user. It’s just a vehicle. Instead, they are salivating over what the form can offer to benefit the marketer. In this case, the marketers are more interested in the fact that the medium is a captive channel and the end-user will likely be forced to view the content.

Email is one channel where people constantly check their inbox, so a message sent there (at least the subject title) will likely be viewed.

Another good example. Push notifications.

I’ve worked on notifications for mobile experiences. I have to constantly push back on groups that want a push notification to deliver messages that are not relevant, urgent or actionable to the user. And not to use them as sales channels.

Departments, especially marketers, tend to salivate over notifications because they know the message will be pushed to all the users. Plus those users will at least have to acknowledge the notification message, even if to just dismiss it.

Marketers think about sales and exposure offered by the form more than user experience. That function is more attractive to the marketer more than crafting a form that helps the user.

The function perverts the form because marketing is more short-term thinking and considered more of a numbers game. For them, tactical, not experiential.

Nor is it customer focused with the exception of how to extract attention or value from the customer. That’s why there is the temptation to use the forms like email and notifications as more of a brute-force experience. Send the message to enough people and while many others will be annoyed, someone will respond. And a sale can be made.
When function follows form, frustration follows, too.
The definition of annoying is providing content or experience to those who don’t want it.

Understanding the function or purpose or need of the user for developing and distributing that content goes a long way to avoiding “annoying.”
Design or even design-centric-thinking is about solving around the function. Then finding the right form.
While the pull can be tempting, and sometimes, necessary, working from a predetermined or perverted outcome is the surest way to create a mismatched solution.

The ultimate job of any website, mobile device or screen is the effective delivery of valued information.

When function follows form, user frustration also follows.

Brooks Richey on
Content Mindfulness

Hey kids, want some yummy apps?

The new Stranger Danger for kids and adults. Your apps.
New rule: Don’t take candy (and apps) from strangers.
Like a stranger with candy, you may focus on the yummy candy or the stated “fun” part of the app you just downloaded. But like a danger stranger’s ulterior motives, we may fail to see the true purpose of the app or offer.
We forget apps can walk and chew gum at the same time.
An app is not a product you purchase for a singular function, like a chair. A chair offers one function: a place to sit (okay, holding up and using it for lion taming is the other).

On the other hand, apps consist of code to handle a variety of tasks. The number of task that are solely determined by the ability and the desire of its creator. It can include code where you can write and run a program to allow the user to play a game or see a picture.

At the same time, other code can run within the same app that quietly performs other tasks that may have nothing to do with delivering that game or picture. Like “borrowing” your personal information.
Essentially some apps can be like a Trojan horse.
Software can act like its namesake horse-looking subterfuge. A wooden horse secretly filled with soldiers that the Greeks used to sneak into the city of Troy and win the war.

Most of us with computers previously experienced this as a type of computer virus that hides within software code. Today’s apps don’t pillage your system as much as infect it. In either case, the story is the same: “what you see in an app is not always what you get.”
Safe from malware. Apparently, not mal intentions.
A recent example. Avast, a company that offers free malware protection (I am a user..but not for much longer) was revealed to be sharing information gathered from the computers it was installed on with third parties.

Through its relationship with a division called Jumpshot, Avast used it’s computer security monitoring services to produce and share its harvested user data with clients including Google, Yelp, Microsoft, McKinsey, Pepsi, Sephora, Home Depot, Condé Nast and Intuit.

Some of Avast’s clients paid to gain access to data from its products that were able to track detailed user behavior, clicks, and movement across websites. Some of the data is reported to include:

URLs visited, in what order and when
Google searches
Lookups of locations and GPS coordinates on Google Maps
People visiting companies’ LinkedIn pages
YouTube videos
Videos users are watching on Facebook and Instagram
People visiting porn websites

For those who downloaded the free security software app (like me), do you really feel secure now?
Swipe right while some apps swipe your privacy.
Think you’re just sharing your profile with “HotG” on dating apps like OkCupid, Tinder, and Grindr? You might be surprised.

Sources, including the New York Times, report that these dating services share user information like dating choices and your location to advertising and marketing organizations. Grindr, a gay dating app, sent user-tracking codes and the app’s name to more than a dozen companies, essentially sharing and even disclosing a user’s sexual orientation without the user consent or knowledge.

Hmmm. I’m using an app for one service. I’m being used for another. Where have I seen that before….

Ok, ok, extreme. But you get the idea. You need to do a cost benefit analysis to separate your benefit from using an app from the maker’s benefit and gains.

Getting back to Avast. There is an irony about a company offering an application to protect you while secretly sharing sensitive data with people you don’t know so they can learn more about you without your knowledge or control.
Sometimes they do it even when you exert control.
In fact, reports from researchers revealed that more than 1,000 Android apps harvest your data, even when you expressed for them not to.

Apps that are not given permission by users are still able to leech and capture the data they want via other apps that do have permission to your data. According to the researchers, these apps can gather data from your Wi-Fi connections as well.
How can you tell if apps are working behind your back?
Are you having a deja vu feeling as you start seeing ads on apps or in your browser for items you looked up in a completely different app? You might be witnessing the apps slurping up data from your phone or device.
Sleeping? Data harvesters are just getting to work.
While your data may be collected during the day, it often continues even while your phone is at your bedside and you are asleep.
A very eye-opening example.
A reporter, Geoffrey A. Fowler for the Washington Post, used software to track the activity of apps on his smartphone. He learned that some of the apps he was using were sending data from his phone to business and companies, including some firms he didn’t recognize.

Some excerpts from the article of what he found in his reporting:

“On a recent Monday night, a dozen marketing companies, research firms, and other personal data guzzlers got reports from my iPhone.

At 11.43 pm, a company called Amplitude learned my phone number, e-mail, and exact location.

At 3.58 am, another called Appboy got a digital fingerprint of my phone.

At 6.25 am, a tracker called Demdex received a way to identify my phone and sent back a list of other trackers to pair up with.

And all night long, there was some startling behavior by a household name: Yelp. It was receiving a message that included my IP address.

But we’ve got a giant blind spot when it comes to the data companies probing our phones.

iPhone apps I discovered tracking me by passing information to third parties – just while I was asleep – include Microsoft’s OneDrive, Intuit’s Mint, Nike, Spotify, The Washington Post and IBM’s The Weather Channel. One app, the crime-alert service Citizen, shared personally identifiable information, in violation of its published privacy policy.”
Creepy is an unauthorized attempt for intimacy. This is creepy.
It is a bit disturbing that apps not only ignore or bypass your privacy settings but then robustly share your data on your phone with people you don’t even know.

Why is this no different than someone sneaking through my house when I’m asleep, rifling through my papers and files and then sell that info to a third party? It’s not.

And I’ll just take a moment to remind you, your kids probably have smartphones, too.
Then the next question, why isn’t anyone doing anything about this digital “Danger Stranger?”
Probably because there are clauses in the Terms and Conditions for these apps that make it hard for me or any of you to take significant action.
Steps to help users fight stranger danger.
To Facebook’s credit, it recently introduced a “clear history” button at the top of the page. The new feature will allow users to erase all the off-Facebook data presented. You can also click on each app or website in the list to see how much data they’ve shared and stop them from doing so.

Make no mistake, this visibility can give users greater control over how their data is used. Control that can hurt the financial model Facebook and app partners rely on.

So why offer the service? Executives, off the record, give away the game. They offer such features, not just for the upside of PR, but because they are betting that consumers don’t care enough about access to their data to use it.
What did I do?
I recently downloaded Jumbo, a privacy app for iOS. It is a “privacy assistant” that helps to tell me what happens with data and helps manage my privacy settings across platforms like Google, Facebook and Twitter. You can learn more about Jumbo here.

Something like this is not perfect, but it’s a start. Hopefully the start of more conversation and cynicism about just downloading apps simply because they are offered to us, mostly for free. We must not just think about how the app might satisfy our needs, but what is the true end-game for the app.

The bigger task is for all of us to ask questions about apps before we download them to our phones.

Brooks Richey on
Content Strategy

What’s the buzz about buzzwords?

“This article about Buzzwords focuses on how obtusely engineered language content leverages greater idea acceptance across various work and social engagement opportunities by enhancing positive content consumption.”
You may not know what I just said about buzzwords.

I’m not sure if I do myself. However, we all do know a buzzword or a cloud of buzzwords in sentence when we hear or see them.
Buzzwords. What are they?
Buzzwords. Words and phrases that seem jargoned to the point of being hip or calculatedly ambitious, haughty, Impactful, powerful, yet at the same time often extremely ambiguous.

At the end of the day, buzzwords are often the exact opposite of what we seek to do when we employ words in everyday conversation – to be simply and clearly understood.

With buzzwords, we often seek to impress or use them as countermeasures to repel deeper questions or accountability for the actions behind those words. For example…
“We need to leverage the digital transformation by level-setting the paradigm to create synergy to the redefine active state of the system”
So, you are saying that you DO want me to plug in the light?

That example sentence could apply to so many things and actions. But it sure sounds important.
That’s one of the amazing things about buzzwords.
They seem powerful., brisk and active. Yet as you put more of them together in the same sentence, the less they actually say and less true impact they have.
Why do we use buzzwords?
Unlike most words, they’re really not meant to communicate for understanding but to signal whether you are a part of a given culture or for virtue signaling.
In culture, Buzzwords serve as culture definers and insulators.
Hipsters. Teens. The military. Tech professionals and others all use physical, cultural and linguistic cues that are used to define and wall off each group’s culture and identity.

In this regard, buzzwords used in each group serve as linguistic drawbridges and moats that are raised to tell others, the castle is here, the linguistic drawbridge is raised and you cannot cross over.
For buzzwords, the language of teens comes to mind.
As a non-Gen Z, I cannot use terms like BAE, On Fleek, Lit, or Fire without a teen looking at me like I’m a 40-year-old man trying to wear skinny jeans. Oh, and I so want to.

Such words are designed to be inside-the-group language. So if I or these kids’ parents tried to use it, it will likely result in eye-rolling and some of those kids saying, “Whoa, those are not for you. For God’s sake, stop! Don’t cross the linguistic drawbridge. Stay on your side of the moat.”
Buzzwords in Tech and Business.
Buzzwords in business tend to serve two purposes: 1) communicating alignment in identity and 2) camouflaging lack of knowledge or requests for accountability.

One: Alignment. Buzzwords signal that you carry or hold in-fashion ideas.
If I were to say “click” that button in the mobile app, more than half of UX and strategy friends heads would immediately snap to look at me in horror.


In mobile and tech lexicon, you don’t say “click,” you “tap” on something.

That is the language or lexicon the tech culture accepts. So to not use such approved language would signal that I am not in or of that culture.

In business, the words we use are like the clothes we wear. They need to be fashionable and look the part for the group we are seeking to impress. Buzzwords act as those clothes.

Just like Zuckerberg and Jobs made hoodies and black turtlenecks and jeans the visual language of tech people used worldwide, executives and corporations understand they must wear the right words when talking to customers and shareholders.

Content developers like copywriters know that’s happening when clients suddenly ask to include industry-hot buzzwords and phrases in speeches and marketing materials. At one time specific phrases like “digital transformation” and “the cloud” were peppered into any content delivered to show the press, prospective clients or customers, that the business communicating to them is wearing the right and fashionable clothes when it came to hawking new technology and systems.

“Admired industry people are talking about the cloud or big data,” thinks a client. “Ok, I’ll use those words as well.”

It’s “us too” as business speak. No different than the person who buys Affliction (or whatever is popular) brand clothes to signal he’s part of a specific crowd.
Two: Buzzwords are meant to be felt rather than questioned.
I have worked with clients and tech companies that have the urge to speak in full buzzword speak. Often because they believe it offers what they feel is the best of both worlds. Sounding important by having the lexicon of the in-crowd but so unclear to make them understood and unaccountable for what’s said.
For instance, the buzzword “customer-centric.”
“Customer-centric?” Didn’t that used to be simply “pleasing users” or “we focus on the customer?” I guess we can’t say that anymore.

So why the change in the language by most companies?

Frank Zappa once said that, in music, there is no change in music (genre) without a change in uniform.

Heavy metal needed to look different than 70’s Rock “n Roll (Big hair, you’re on stage in five minutes!). Grunge needed to look different than 80’s synth-pop (Buzz off leather jacket with big shoulder pad, flannel is in!). Changing buzzwords for business and tech is the uniform change that signals the bigger change.
Buzzwords to obscure one’s level of knowledge, accountability or competency.
Tech has changed industries and businesses faster than the people employed in them have been able to comprehend and adapt to the change.

A lot of people that were used to older, more traditional ways of doing things, have quickly found a new world that is hard to understand and racing past them. Media buying print ads turning to ad exchanges. Marketing executives finding themselves having to understand things from Google Adsense, retargeting, social media, CRMs and digital interfaces or processes like Agile management (What’s a scrum? Is that a sports term?)

In order to be seen as having the knowledge to be in and part of the in-group, in this case, business groups like marketing. Buzzwords are the way to signal that you do indeed belong. That you are keeping up on your skills. This even when you might be behind on knowledge and expertise. So until you understand the technology, many simply lean on buzzwords as skills camouflage.

It’s possible to say “digital transformation” to look like you’re on the cutting edge as you give speeches or talk about your product, even though you have no clue on what’s being transformed or what transformation means for your company.
Buzzwords in this context also prevent revealing knowledge.
Because they are considered language of the insider. To say a jargoned phrase like “We must operationalize our strategies and holistically administrate around hybrid cloud delivery in order to drive exceptional synergy.” assume the recipient understands the deeper meaning. For a lister to call one term out “What’s a hybrid cloud? or What’s synergy?” outs them as an outsider.

So with people on the inside (deserved or not) not wanting to be outed. No one asks deeper questions and assumes the language is self evident.

The result is that the ignorant-to-less knowledgeable people can exist in plain sight within the organization by mimicking the style and level of language the industry or group is using, they won’t be called out as different
The best way to call BS on buzzwords? Ask for details.
As much as we use buzzwords, they are actually quite brittle and delicate. Most contain a content or logical argument fragility that relies on a tacit agreement between the speaker and audience to not touch or poke at them too harshly, hence they’d break it. It’s also this lack of challenge that keeps such buzzwords weak. If no one asks, “what exactly is digital transformation?” the idea around it never gets honed and sharpened to become stronger.

It’s why people who lean heavily on buzzwords as key pillars in speeches and sales pitches, find their messaging rarely survives facing true scrutiny and skepticism.

Without a robust plan or knowledge, they will quickly pivot to different buzzwords or different topics.

Or as they say, “this results in changing the paradigm, pivoting to differently focused word structuring in order to achieve a strategic quick win.”

You know what I mean, right?
Interesting buzzword resources and articles.
From The Atlantic:

Corporate Buzzwords Are How Workers Pretend to Be Adults

From the Muse:

30 Buzzword-y Phrases You Should Cut From Your Vocabulary (Like, Right Now)

From Wordstream:

The Ultimate A-Z Marketing Buzzwords Bible


Brooks Richey on
Content Strategy

Genderfication. Why women are woefully scarce in tech firms and tech firm leadership.

When prestige or money comes into a business or industry, too many times the men show up and women magically leave.

Stats show that, even in 2020, when women enter a field, the prestige, the pay and the number of men all go down. This can be seen in industries like tech.
Genderfication. Why we don’t see women in tech.


Professions once seen as the domain of women…until they became popular.

Decades ago, the stereotype images of people seen cooking and as cooking experts were women. At that time, there was nothing out of the ordinary in the public belief that cooking “was a woman’s job.” It wouldn’t be surprising to find men saying women should be in the home cooking instead of at corporate job 20-30 years ago.

Yet, today, men like Gordon Ramsay, the now-deceased Anthony Bourdain, Jamie Oliver, Bobby Flay, Guy Fieri, are seen across books and TV shows and on the lips of the general public. A gender change to the point where men don’t even blink to question a male’s cross over into a previously “woman’s” role.
How things change.
If you have seen movies like Hidden Figures or know about the history of women in tech as software programmers, you know that women once dominated tech in areas like programming and math. Now like then, all too often, women were often dismissed as menial laborers or sexually objectified.

For a quick catch-up . Check out this explainer video.

Women had a place in tech. The inventor of the compiler was a woman (Grace Murray Hopper). Yet “Bro” companies (a nickname for companies created and mostly run by men at all levels and retaining a predominately male-centric culture) litter the tech sphere.

Yes, there are women at these organizations. When you think of Facebook, COO Sheryl Sandberg comes to mind. Problem is, in answering the question, “and then who?” Do that, and the executive level and the number of options (unless you’re looking at the HR, marketing and PR staff) start to nose dive.

It’s far too common, that during top-level decisions involving executive leadership, seeing female involvement becomes as difficult as seeing the smallest letters on an eye chart test.

Based on the history of women in tech. I find the phenomena weird. It’s like football or basketball. Sports where the majority of players and people considered superstars are often non-white, but management, the place you’d assume would be tapping this talent to kick upstairs for leadership, is not.

Like I said, “weird.”

Even weirder is that, reported this year, more women are now working outside the home than men. Yet, men dominate the executive ranks in those businesses outside the home.

Weird, huh?
How did we get here?
Two reasons. The change happens in such fields because two other changes happen: cultural and financial.
The cultural reasons for fewer women in tech.
Did you know, in history, that poor people in cities were often forced to live by the water?

Was that because people want the poor to have great waterfront views? No.

In the past, it was believed that diseases came from the water or from water vapor (Miasma Theory). As a result, the more affluent didn’t want to live there and were more than happy to let poorer people live in harm’s way. Later, when disease and water were unlinked and the concept of germs was discovered, waterfront property was reclaimed by the more wealthy.

That cycle is similar to what I believe has happened in industries like tech and cooking. Programming and math, once considered drudgery or “beneath” men or their identity as men, women were “allowed” to hold such jobs as they were considered to support the “real” work that men were doing.
The unfortunate perception around gender and work.
Let’s be honest. The perception of whether an industry is “male” or “female” does drive the makeup on an industry. Fashion (85% female industry graduates). Construction (91% male).

I don’t have to be honest. I can just be factual. Stats show that in industries, like parks & recreation and biology, as more women enter an industry, the men and pay shrink.

A big reason attributed to this is that men attach their identity and self-image to being a high-wage earner and being in a job considered “masculine.” So when an industry starts “feminizing,” men start to leave and other men won’t take such jobs.
To understand the link between genderfication and jobs, see nursing.
Being a nurse can easily pay over $100K a year. Yet even during the great recession of 2008, a time when men were especially losing jobs, many men from previous “manly jobs” refused to consider or train for such jobs, even as the industry was desperately looking for nurses.

If that is the case, it stands to reason the opposite is likely true. A company with an overall “masculine” identity (e.g., construction and “bro” companies) often attracts more men and rewards them with higher industry pay.

Take male-led tech startup companies. It is undisputed that types of firms receive most of the venture capital available to fund their businesses. In fact, in 2017, women-based companies received only 2.2 percent of the total venture capital funding. Even worse, only 10 percent of decision-makers at VC firms that hand out money are women. And in those U.S. venture capital firms, 74 percent have ZERO female investors.

Such environments have produced such stories as executive Ellen Pao who lost her $16 million gender discrimination lawsuit against the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins.
Gender perception shapes work, staffing and pay.
With that construct and applying gender with the metaphor of race, having more women come on board an industry and assuming key decision-making positions can be seen like some men in that industry is a bit like a suburb’s neighbors worrying their neighborhood is getting a little more “United Nations ( a sarcastic code word for “darker” I often used to hear when looking for housing). The mindset is that it was okay when a few showed up, but now it’s looking like a continual and rising trend. It’s a change where people in the neighborhood start worrying about how it’s going to affect the prestige of the neighborhood, property values and if it’s time to think about moving.
Financial opportunity driving “Genderfication”
With the exception of nursing, smelling money in an industry can change the gender balance to men. The change is similar to gentrification that is happening in major cities.

As cities, the place boomers fled from in the 1960s to 1990s, became hip places for young couples and families, prices went up and changed the demographics and culture of neighborhoods.

As housing prices became pricier, people considered buying in run-down, more ethnic neighborhoods. As the money came, the upscale stores that wouldn’t open there, suddenly did. That leads to even more growth. Growth that looked cool. Yet it also pushed out groups living there (often minorities) out. Likely reaching a tipping point of feeling culturally unwelcome and well as their old support system around them dying, it’s simply easier to leave.
“Genderfication” in tech is the same concept.
In the past, while women focused on programming and math, men focused on the “important” part of tech of the latter 1900s: Computer hardware. That became a farm team environment for men in tech.

As Silicon Valley eventually evolves to software and internet data services, the money came in.

Many of those same men, making hardware, made the transfer to that data services side of the business. That already gave men a head start. And because nerdy men only knew nerdy men, the natural inclination to hire buddies, created a nerdy boys club that nourished an exponential growth of men and a culture that would become the modern tech industry.

We still see the results of genderfication today. In 2018:

29% of all Apple leaders were women.
The percentage of Facebook’s women in tech had increased to just 22%.
Facebook’s female employees reached 36%.
Women formed 30.9% of Google’s employees.
25.5% of Google’s leaders on a global scale were female.
24.5% of Google’s newly hired tech-position employees were women.

With more than 50% of the public being women and the future is going to rely on tech, we should be much better than that.
How do we improve women’s place in tech?
One way is via an ask for all of us.

I dare say that we must accept that we are ALL internally trained to see certain jobs as masculine or feminine. We need to change that as employees and businesses build and react based on that perception.

Don’t think so? Then I ask, why on earth, in the year 2020, are we still having debates if a woman (not just a certain woman) can be president? Are the odds of finding a competent woman across 150 million females in the US really that slim?

Another ask is to not think about sexism or gender exclusion in its extremes. If you use that model, you will miss how the process really works.

People and decision makers in companies are usually not trying to keep all women out. It’s more like managing who and how many come in and their role. Like with race, things like tokenism in the workplace, “look, we hired a black person or a woman” (mission accomplished clap hand cleaning goes here) works as a pressure release/control valve. Taking one action that tremendously reduces pressure to take future or additional action.

When hiring, many are also subconsciously managing a level of participation and positioning of gender that doesn’t hurt “the (tacitly masculine) brand.” As women enter, some find an invisible pressure to operate within the “brand.” A brand that is more aligned to male roles and values through non-verbal cues.

As a result, some women who do earn those positions in a firm subconsciously feel they often must act masculine, submit to the masculine vibe or workplace values or have their position or competence questioned.
Why should we change and stop genderfication?
We are a society that has benefited by diversity. While some still hate when that diversity causes someone different to be in your neighborhood or your workplace, many of those same people still love “those people’s music” and “those people’s food.” Pick your ethnicity or nationality for “those people.”

The point is as you go out for a taco or Thai tonight and listen to jazz, or enjoy your German BMW, it’s clear we build off the diversity and insights of those who are not in our immediate tribe.

While those examples are cultural, gender is no different. While we could “steal” those benefits from women (like having them do math programs while men do the “cool” hardware or “you just worry about the PR, Toots”), it’d be even better to have them in the decision-making room.


Brooks Richey on
Content Strategy

The three types of writers.

This is not a listicle about writers, but at the same time, the headline kinda removes a need for a preamble, so let’s get into it.
Writer number one: The linguistic clergy.
There are writers who know a lot about words. And less about people.

We often think of them as grammarians. An expert in grammar, they can often speak with the authority of a religious follower, imbued with the scripture of the rules of grammar. Rules they treat as if passed down from them from word heaven and the gods of literature.

While a follower of God might take offense to saying the Lord’s name in vain, to the linguistic clergy, ending a sentence with a preposition will suffice as blasphemy.

A bit like the spirit of God, the linguistic clergy often believe the beauty and soul of grammar and language is contained within the rules. Which makes the rules sacred and must be obeyed in worship of that beauty. It’s sort of like the town in Footloose with rules against dancing so decorum must be maintained to preserve that beauty and order of the town.

Yet, like that town, the more rules that are imposed, the more others desire to break them. Yeah, I’m looking at you Kevin Bacon and Patrick Swazye and your dirty dancing. I’m also looking at the “u r up?” people texting culture and using cultural slang. “A’ight?”

While I do get loose with rules, I also empathize with the grammar guard and their belief rules are important. In the age of online dating or romance via text, not knowing the difference between “your” and “you’re” can be a turn off to a prospective dating partner. And I’m still counting how many Caucasians online in the dating world can’t spell “Caucasian.” Or how a passionate political argument can turn into farce when someone holds up a sign that says,” Use your brain, morans!”

And at the same time, when someone hounds you because you end a sentence with a preposition, it’s hard to see them as a person who loves rules and is suffering seeing them infringed. Instead it comes off as a ruler who attempts to reign over their subjects via a totalitarian regime of rigid language.

The perception is why many of us rebel against the first form of grammarian that we encounter in life: the English teacher. Often a person who teaches English in a way that downplays it as a method of communication and sharing ideas. Instead, they present it a battery of hard-to-understand and often contradictory rules (i after e, except after c).

Grammarians as writers honestly love and understand rules. But they inadvertently rub people the wrong way because they don’t understand other people who are impatient and simply want the most expedient way to communicate. Impatience that wishes to cut through grammar rules to communicate faster; like a shortcut that takes you off the designated sidewalk route.

A grammarian may love fine literary works, but in their own work, may often write like a technocrat. Precision is shown in the language, but the soul within the sentences seem vacant. Like performing sex for only procreation instead of pleasure. The job is done. It’s acceptable. Nothing more to see.

Or they may write like a jazz artist. A musician who uses rules and techniques at such an intricate level, they can only be understood and appreciated by other technical musicians. Some in that group would say, “Oh look, he changed the time signature of the rhythm!” And then gush and snicker among themselves. All of which comes off as some sort of inside joke.

They are using language masterfully, yet they fail to communicate to most people outside the group.
Writer number two: People who understand people. But not words.
They have an emotional sense and great emotional insight about the people around them. That can intuitively feel how they others thirst for words, knowledge or emotional drama. They are emotionally intelligent. Or have felt pain that has opened them up to hearing and learning insights from the lessons the world has to offer.

Often these people are wise, but lack the ability to tap and share that knowledge in words.

That’s often the bottleneck for them. In the attempt to marry their emotional insights with the right words in order to share them with others , each word paring they attempt seems like a bad date. Frustrated, the writer often seeks the third kind of writer.
Writer number three: People who understand words and people.
This combination makes for powerful writers. They feel that emotional thirst in people for ideas and information and they know how to quench it with language. While they have respect for words and rules, that doesn’t mean being an inflexible grammarian. Instead, they are adept at knowing when to use and break the language standards in order to squeeze the power and emotion from those very rules and words others use to restrain thought.

Instead of restraint, such writers help us see beyond sight with their words. They are skilled at making even technical content feel more emotional and oddly intuitive despite the complex subject matter. That is why the right author often needs to come along to explain an idea or topic in a way that other writers couldn’t.

It takes a while to become the third writer. In my business, I don’t often see it. I see many of the first two. A lot of people in my business are grammatical and can write technically correct and flawless content. A lot of people know what they want to say but can’t.

The third is usually the person who can make it happen. We need a few more of them.

Brooks Richey on
Content Mindfulness

Can a minimalist buy a $1,400 iPhone?

I recently bought the new iPhone Pro.

Not looking for applause, just setting up the story.

I went to the Apple store, pulled out my Apple Card and walked out with a $1,400 phone. A new purchase, two years after paying 1,500.00 for the iPhone 10.

“But wait,” some friends might say. “You talk about being a minimalist. What’s minimalist about always buying an expensive phone!? After all, you can get a better Samsung phone for more than half the price and you are replacing a perfectly good phone.”

It’s true. There are less expensive and really great phones. And I did resell my old phone to avoid creating waste and clutter around the house.
However, avoiding the purchase of costly things is not what minimalism is all about.
That belief is confusing minimalism with frugality. Frugality is an act of being economically efficient about purchases. Which is an admirable trait to have, but it’s not minimalism.
So what is minimalism?
Minimalism is also not about being a monk that is forsaking pleasures and worldly possessions. It’s about avoiding clutter and product distraction driven by careless or ego-driven consumption. Minimalism helps to avoid that consumption clutter overwhelming your attention and stealing true joy and goals in your life.

When you’re buying and filling a home full of clothes, cars, and stuff in order to look the role others expect from you, then fitting in is your true motivation and your happiness ends up being managed based on how others see you.

If you are chained to a job you don’t like and forced to constantly pay for all these mass and expensive purchases, you’re probably not happy either. Neither is your bank account. As Tyler Durden said in the movie Fight Club, “The things you own end up owning you.” Like a magnet or a gravitational force, your collection of things pulls you from contentment.

In my pre-minimalist days, I felt the burden of all that clutter on moving day. Lifting and carrying all the junk I bought literally weighed on me and made me contemplate my purchasing decisions. It’s one reason I spent over a year throwing many things I owned out or gave them away.

At first, I thought I’d miss all those things, especially those items with sentimental value. But honestly, I never looked back. Except back to the Apple store for that iPhone.

A minimalist works on keeping thing things that are optimized (a focus on what’s important to me) and brings them joy. My “expensive” phone brings me joy.

With that iPhone, I can talk to my girlfriend and my family. Traveling a lot, I like taking a variety of media that works with my Apple ecosystem at home. The esthetics, the touch, and the feel of the phone give me joy. I can take better pictures.

That’s important as capturing experiences is becoming more valuable than capturing things. Wow, that just sounded like an Apple ad, and I didn’t get paid for it. But because of my phone and shifting to using digital to capture my life experiences more than bookshelves all over the house, I’m happy and less cluttered.

Because of those things, that joy is worth $1400. But at the same time, buying a Tesla isn’t worth its price to me (least not yet). Nor is buying a home simply because others have. They are not a value to ME. So having them would take up more space than bring joy.

So is a $1400 iPhone minimalist? Depends on what you are trying to buy. Your joy or someone else’s admiration.

Why big or expensive purchases don’t automatically disqualify you from being a minimalist and what true minimalism is all about.

Brooks Richey on
Content Strategy

What is Natural Language Processing?

What is Natural Language Processing or NLP?
NLP is the process of how your voice or language in text is translated into an intent for action or a result that a computer can understand.
Natural Language Processing sort of works like a graphic interface.
That’s because, like a graphic interface, the heart of NLP is the process of determining user intent, but through interpreting voice instead of visual engagement or cues.

A graphic user interface (GUI) uses visual-oriented objects and interactive layouts that a user can engage with. Those points of engagement can be things like the menu on a web site or the buttons on a remote control or the visual menu in a product like an entertainment console in a streaming service. In those instances, that voice version of NLP is your finger.

That’s because you don’t speak to the graphic interface.

Instead, you look at the visual menu and, using your finger via button or mouse, you communicate your intent for information or action to the computer by clicking something in a way that the system understands.

For example. Clicking on the home button means you want to go home, or clicking on the play button means you want the computer to play content.

In a GUI, UX and UI designers have to create and display pre-set visual options and actions so users can see and select intents that make their desired task execute. Because the interface is visually oriented, a GUI is something users usually need to look at and learn how to use in order to know how to express intent and get content from the system.

A pure voice user interface (VUI) is mostly the opposite. A VUI works as much as possible to understand how to get information and the intent of the user by what is contained in their voice and how a person naturally speaks. It does that through the exchange and translation of language.

That process of managing the exchange and translation of language is called Natural Language Processing or NLP for short. It’s an application, driven by a programming language (often Python) that takes captured text or identified human language and tries to determine meaning from it.

NLP is used all around you. It’s part of the predictive text on your phone. It’s used in social media to mine texts in order to assess emotions and topic interests in users’ social media posts like Facebook and Twitter.

it’s also in use at companies like J.P. Morgan for mining the texts of President Trump and some market sectors to quickly assess volatility in the marketplace due to government policies. And it’s also used as a processing layer with voice assistants to take the words you say and try to identify what you mean or what task you wish to accomplish (user intent).
Let’s focus on voice assistants.
As I mentioned above, a VUI is an interface that’s trying to understand you. Particularly what you are saying. While it uses a form of AI (weak AI), its intelligence in understanding language is not a sentient or conscious ability to understand words, meaning, and context. Instead, after another process that captures words and text, NLP attempts to use rules humans have developed around language to make a reasonable prediction of a user’s meaning or intent around using those words.
NLP does this through these primary processes.
Breaking out a sentence that the system hears into their separate words. If you listen to your own speech, you know it’s easy for humans to see how we blend one word into another. We usually can tell where one word stops and another begins. That’s much harder for a computer. To help a computer, it analyzes the sound wave pattern of a sentence, and the amplitude of the waves, to help it parse words.
So let’s say NLP found a word. Say “running.” As a human, you know what that means. However, with the present participle “ing” adding more time context to the word, that’s a little more complex for a robot to understand.

So NLP often looks for the stem or the root word and primary meaning. For example. In this case, the root word of running is “run.” Finding the stem of the word allows the NLP to more easily assess the meaning, “to use legs to move quickly” or “to execute.” Based on other words and parts of speech spoken in the utterance, the NLP will calculate the most likely intent meant by the word “run.”
Since language has rules and parts of speech, the software looks to group words that likely go together. Like “the book.” The word “the” is not likely to be used by itself so the software looks for the word or words it is likely related to and “chunks” them together.
“No” words.
Some words don’t really add to the meaning of the sentence so the NLP does not seek to find meaning from them. That’s often parts of speech like prepositions (e.g., at, of, the).
Invoke, Variable, and Entities
With the structure, parts of speech, and grouping set, the system then looks for keywords in the sentence to triangulate meaning and understand the user’s intent.

Let’s say we are a voice assistant named Robbie and we hear a request from a user…
“Robbie, turn on the bedroom lights.”
This is how it breaks down for NLP.
Robbie is the Invocation or “wake” word.

This is the word or words that help a service understand and identify which app or resource a user wants to act on to the request. In this case, that’s Robbie. In your own life, that may be “Hey Siri” or “Alexa.”
“turn on”
This phrase helps the system understand Intent or what is the user trying to do. In this case, change the state of something from off to on.
Objects or defined concepts that are related to the action are called entities or variables. In the case, an action “turn off” will be applied to the variable “lights.”

Once the NLP has determined the intent of the spoken language, it will attempt to match your expression to action it has in its library of actions and will perform that function with the parameters expressed (in this case, bedroom lights). If it finds it, it gives you the response.

While it takes data scientists, programmers, linguistics and conversational professionals to do this, that is NLP in a nutshell. Turning language into intent. And through a voice assistant turning intent into action.


Brooks Richey on
Content Mindfulness, Uncategorized

Health. Wealth. Love. Your three everyday happiness investments.

Health. Wealth. Love.

It’s good to have clear goals or principles for happiness. For me, I’ve found that happiness is a three-legged stool. The three legs: Health. Wealth. Love.

The daily and consistent contribution to these three areas of my life supports my personal happiness.
Health, wealth, and love. You need all three legs to stand up.

Because pursuing a goal in just one or two areas of health, wealth or love can make for a lopsided or imbalanced life. In fact, the element(s) you skip will adversely affect the ones you do choose to pursue.

For instance, look at people who spend their life earning lots of wealth on the way to reaching retirement – all while not taking care of their health.

When retirement or old age finally does arrive, many find they’ve lost their body and vibrant health that might allow them to take advantage of accumulated wealth. Instead that gained wealth gets an outsized focus on being spent on managing the damaging effects of declining health.

In my life, I have friends under age 50 who are physically already unable to do more and more things and now talk about their surgeries on Facebook more than post about their recent vacations or kids.

Another example. You might have found the love of your life and ready to invest in love. However, without attention to wealth, you find yourself missing out on opportunities with the one you love or you have more fights due to worrying about paying bills. Financial stress and issues with money are the number one killers of love and marriages.
Health. Wealth. Love. It’s about balance.
That need for balance is why, everyday, I try to do one thing that invests in the following three buckets.
Invest in something each day that improves or maintains your health. For me, that is working out at least 4 days a week and or eating healthy daily.
Invest in something that improves your wealth. When I say “wealth” I don’t mean rich or lots of money. True mastery of money is understanding that it’s about freedom more than having things and virtual signaling. That means investing in building wealth is about giving you the freedom to focus on the things that truly matter to you (like health and love).

Wealth also means saving and investing in a way that earns income from either multiple work or income streams. That process takes time. As I’ve gotten older, my shift is pivoting from active revenue to passive revenue. That, in turn allows, me even more freedom to build value in the other two buckets.
Invest in ideas, things (including yourself) and time that improves your ability to have great relationships.

That means when I’m in a relationship, I’m investing (making an emotional deposit in it everyday). Checking in. Saying something to get that smile moment out of my partner. I try to make time to talk together or play together. Even if it is for a moment in my busy day. Those add up over time. And definitely better than pissing each other off everyday.

Past experience has taught me that static relationships die like rotting food so I also make myself a continual student about relationships. Like Pablo Picasso said, “Good artists copy but great artist steal.” I look at other couples and relationship experts like Esther Perel to help me figure out how to contribute more value that pleases me and my partner.
Invest in health, wealth, and love everyday.
All three have to be watered with your personal investment of effort. That’s because they are interlaced. You need all three tools to maximize happiness. They also accentuate each other.

Some examples:
Wealth gives you the resources to help you take care of health.
Love is good for your health (People who give love to dogs, have friends or in a marriage live longer). And for intimacy health is good for love. People who are happy and married live longer.
Love can help you take care of wealth.
The right relationship like marriage or partners can help you focus at work.
Health is good for wealth.
Most of us need a healthy body to work and a healthy body is also good for some aspects of love.

Invest a little in each every day. Over time, you’ll create a rich balance that will enhance so many areas of your life.

Brooks Richey on
Content Strategy

Working and consulting in tech in 2020. Five predictions.

As the tech revolution matures, it’s moving focus from innovation to monetization. As it does, tech’s work culture is being transformed. Employees, consultants, and marketers must adapt to survive.
Culture defines a company. Yet…
It’s been said, “culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Any consultant that has proposed ideas that run against the grain of how a company sees itself and the resulting resistance to those ideas can attest to that.
What we forget is the next bigger predator: the profit motive.

Think of a bigger fish (profit motive) eating a smaller fish (culture) that is eating an even smaller fish (strategy). This dynamic is the circle of life that transforms most organizations over time.

Under this cycle, things like the celebration of innovation, seeing tech founders plastered on magazine covers for their brilliance and tech companies’ focus on employee experiences are fading.

The attention is shifting as tech companies need to make their current innovations deliver amazing profits ASAP or show shareholders how they are establishing competition-resistant moats (E.g.: Facebook’s top app competitors are most often its own: Instagram, Messenger, and WhatsApp) that will ensure high margins and profits.
The tech industry is changing.
In the boom of the 2000s, investors tolerated companies with business models that weren’t profitable. That is, until the stock market woke up and finally broke free of the mass hypnosis that the tech industry could defy economic gravity.

It’s that experience, now in the rear-view mirror of shareholders and an aging stock market that has forced investors to keep tech a little more honest this time around. Shareholders and industry analysts are now exerting profit pressure.

We saw the failed 2019 IPOs for tech companies like WeWork and Uber. Companies that asked investors to focus on their big idea more than their balance sheet. As investors said, “uh, no thanks,” companies are now pivoting from selling a seductive vision to a more Spartan-like focus of executing programs that deliver revenue for shareholders. That image pivot is reverberating across their corporate cultures. And it’s driving pressure for internal change.

It’s why we’re seeing companies like Facebook and Google that previously lauded an employee-first, hippy-woke libertarian vibe falling downward from the list of best companies to work for. It’s also seen in companies’ top management enacting policies that are increasingly at odds with their own employees’ beliefs or vision of the company. For example Amazon selling facial recognition technology to law enforcement.An action that met with employee protests.

Like tectonic plates, these cultural shifts are reverberating and creating tensions within companies that employees, consultants, and vendors will have to navigate.

Even Google, whose founders coined the corporate phrase “Don’t be evil” has, under new leadership, like CEO Sundar Pichai, seem to be changing to “Don’t be uppity” as the company has eliminated most of its weekly no-holds-barred all-hands meetings that allowed employees to speak their mind. The company is also making news for “coincidentally” firing employees that “just happened” to try to unionize employees or inform them of their rights as workers.
Why the cultural change in tech?
With some tech firms moving into late teens and early 20s, companies like Facebook and Google are no longer the young innovative newborns. Sharing your vacation with grandma on Facebook isn’t a brave new world, it’s the ho-hum present. And with many of those companies, the new frontier for growth is around data and advertising services. In the face of normalization of once-revolutionary technology, companies are transitioning from being founder and idea driven, to profit-minded growth and pleasing shareholders.

For example, while most think of Roku as a streaming service, its pitch to investors is as an advertising service as it collects data (some would say too much data) on its users to support marketers. For an employee of a company, that workplace shift is like working at a clock company that suddenly changed to making bomb timers. Same technology, but now an application that might challenge how you view your job.

I’m not criticizing what is happening as much as I’m recognizing the growing pains of most companies. Everything changes, including tech companies.

The pressure of the real world and focus on shareholders eventually erodes, or at least, challenges the idealism, egalitarianism and professed values many companies strive for as they get bigger.
Maintaining profit in tech thrives on optimizing production.
Optimizing is just another word for removing the excess around what is deemed most important. Important has changed.

When company goals were more focused around recruiting valued talent for competitive advantage, businesses made efforts to outfit and present their company as sexy for the press and goose market valuations. It seemed like every tech or tech marketing company was rushing to LinkedIn or Instagram to post their “wild and crazy” or woke sides.

As part of a content marketing strategy, it’s a way to look and get exposure as the hip, attractive firm. But today in quarterly profits world, your posted company outing, ping-pong tables, and high-end cafeterias don’t impress investors. Growth does.

Capitalism’s quest for growth demands a marketplace that is relentless in seeking efficiency. Better efficiency yields better profit margins. Efficiency is about prioritizing what’s important to the goal.

For today’s tech firms, that will be more of a focus on creating business motes, better ways of monetizing data and working with companies, governments or markets that might give some moral pause. Why? Like the punch line about why you rob a bank, “because that’s where the money is.”

Growth is change. As change happens in the company, the culture will adapt to the company’s priorities.
What tech’s change will mean in 2020 and beyond.
I have five predictions:
Prediction 1: Buzzwords will go away.
The following statement (and possibly mea culpa) is my opinion by also my experience as a copywriter. “Buzzwords are mostly used to hide lack of knowledge on a topic or put a hazy filter on bullshit.” They are often designed to keep ideas pie in the sky and to waive off any accountability or clear action. It’s why you see lots of companies and executives using them like applying makeup to make themselves or an idea look “prettier” than they actually are.

When people or clients really do want hard answers and facts, buzzwords seem inadequate and collapse quickly. I predict, with the exception of annual reports, buzzwords will tone down for a while as people will be expected to talk less and just get things done.
Prediction 2: Less company lifestyle postings of social media. More ideas.
As I mentioned earlier, people want to see YOU have big ideas that make money. Not that you “like” other people’s ideas and brave stances in social media.

It is really great that your team does work for the homeless (really it is, no sarcasm). But in an increasingly no-BS minded business world, that’s like telling me how much you take care of your dog in an interview. It’s nice. Now I know you’re not an a-hole. But now, tell me how you are going to solve my problem.

To that, there will be greater pressure to really provide value to others in social media, by giving them tools or insights that help them solve problems. Which means to get that client phone call, you need to share more ideas than “likes.” This means you’ll need to do your homework and research as you provide exceptional content. And exceptional content is that which adds value and makes a client feel they are one step closer to their goal.
Or, you can do that status quo…
“Oh, really? Branding is a good idea? What? Customers want personalized experiences?”

Why not throw in that “gravity is good for keeping you on the ground?” while you’re at it. Create and seek out social media content that takes users beyond trite solutions to “change the game” ideas. That likely means that your social media team has to know your business or really work with SMEs (subject matter experts) just as much as they understand social media channels. This empowers them to convey your organization’s intelligence in your content marketing, not just moving around warmed-over news and your company’s “cool” personality.

Remember, people seek out the consultants and professionals who can tell them something and do something they DON’T know. So find it.
Prediction 3: The new Human Resources: “That’s nice. Now do your job.”
HR departments, often seen in the last ten years as part of an employee recruitment strategy and company cheerleader, will quietly pivot from “empowering” employees to just listening to them. Listening will be more about allowing an employee to vent and cover the firm’s rear end for “listening” to concerns. HR will move away from employee experience, via actions, to tacitly enforcing compliance with the new change in culture and its main goal of protecting the company.

Employees will also likely find many of the “employee experience” trappings will be quietly pulled back. An example from a company I’m familiar with where “unlimited time off” is really only unlimited in that you would be unemployed if you used it (so guess, technically it’s unlimited). Or ping-pong tables in the office that are a great way to unwind, after work hours, when your manager sees your work is done (otherwise, you should be working).
Prediction 4: Employees will need to make personal ethical decisions around employment.
Tech companies are wading into more and more ethical murky areas that face regulatory, legal or moral scrutiny. For instance, how much of a role should your company have in stopping misleading or hateful content on your service or are you just a neutral platform that shouldn’t get involved? As more companies are found approving questionable ads to the collection and use of personal data, more employees will have to ask themselves, “Is this what I signed up for?” You may find that your line and the organization’s line for questionable conduct may be in two different places.

I think back to a discussion in the movie Clerks, that talked about all the contractors in the Galactic Empire who must have worked on building the Death Star in the Star Wars universe. In that world, you may be a person who is simply installing the plumbing in the moon-sized space station. Yet in the bigger picture, your work helped to build something that killed billions. So are you simply a contract plumber doing a narrow job or part of something more significant?
Ask yourself. Just how are you changing the world?
It’s hard to know how you are changing the world. Especially in technology. Great ideas are often agnostic with good and bad determined by their applications. The same idea that enables nuclear energy can also be applied to create the atomic bomb.

Not saying your employers are dictators or evil. But dictators also want to change the world so there are a lot of ways “world changers” can go. And people may follow simply because the money’s good or they don’t see the bigger implications of the change.

The question you may have to ask yourself is that, even though we make compromises all the time, is the compromise you’re making for the greater good? Development and adoption of facial recognition software could improve airport security and save lives. It also may be able to track your movements in public as it can create billions of eyes to watch you. As I mentioned in my first blog post, the Nobel Prize was created by regrets of the inventor of dynamite.
Prediction 5: Individuals will have to constantly ask themselves this question.
If you are in marketing or a consultant this question is more important than ever…
“How do you provide value?”
In a world of global competition and constant change, companies have less and less room for BS. In this world, you can’t be a “nice to have.” You must be a “have to have.” Companies are currently optimizing staff and operations outside of the pressure of a recession. I can only imagine that effort would increase exponentially in an economic downturn.

As the companies mature or run into recessionary pressure, they’ll be looking to optimize. You can’t be the excess.

2020 is here. We are moving from founders to the foundations of business growth. There are a lot of changes and challenges ahead in the next decade. Be ready. Be excited. Be agile. Be mindful. Then, go be great.

Brooks Richey on
Content Mindfulness, Content Strategy

Looking back at 2019 to think forward: Hit Rewind Here.

Here are some selections from podcasts, programs, and articles that have leaped out to me this year.
“Settled Work” Ep 276. Money for the Rest of Us Podcast
This podcast by former financial advisor David Stein talks about how to think about money and investments at an almost philosophical level. In this particular episode: he talks about how to think about working through retirement. More so, about transforming your work life to organically transform and use your best skills and true passions as you get closer to retirement.

Why I liked it: It creates a discussion about getting us out of the mindset that retirement is about quitting work. But rather, finding the freedom to do what you love to do and what gives you purpose.

“Settled Work” Link
My Two Cents: Why Americans Are Failing the Grade at Financial Literacy
This video resonated with me as it speaks about one of my biggest frustrations in the US. The general public’s lack of understanding about money beyond knowing how to spend it. Those who know truly understanding money, master money. Those who don’t, are mastered by it.

In the same way people can’t see how bad diets today can lead to bad health tomorrow, people often can’t make the connection between having good daily money habits and building financial security-either without having to win the lottery or build the next Facebook.

This video, part of the Two Cents financial video series on Patreon, gives a good overview of how the US is poorly trained to teach financial literacy among its citizens and how that affects everything from wealth generation to crushing retirement-threatening debt.

Ray Dailo – How The Economic Machine Works
If you want to take the next step to understand and demystify the economy we all live in less than 30 minutes. Please, please, please check out this explainer video from successful hedge fund billionaire and head of Bridgewater Associates, Ray Dalio.

If you get it, you won’t regret it.

Spectacular Failures Podcast: Kodak
We laud and focus on success. But more than not, failure is the mother whose womb of experience, gives birth to success. Especially is you heed its lessons.

Season 1 of the Spectacular Failures podcast is an autopsy of famous businesses that have failed.

A good one: Kodak Misses Its Moment. Did you know the company that invented film cameras, also invented the digital camera? Yet Kodak was killed by that same technology because of Kodak’s fear and internal resistance of moving from its legacy business of film. An issue many companies will need to face in the age of disruption.

The episode about Donald Trump’s casino bankruptcies in Atlantic City is pretty good too. But enjoy the Kodak story first.
Voicebot Podcast
If you’re looking for a podcast to keep up with people, companies and industries focus on developing and applying chatbots and voice assistants, check out this weekly podcast.
TechMeme Ride Home Podcast
This is a daily must-listen for me. Not only a good summation of the day’s major news in tech. The host brings to it, something I miss from most tech shows; going beyond fanboy adulation of the latest gadget to helping me connect the dots in contemplating bigger issues of tech developments from privacy, corporate culture, regulatory issues, etc.

This is the link for iTunes. But you can hear it just about anywhere you get podcasts.
The new dot com bubble is here: it’s called online advertising
Some articles warned about the housing collapse before it happened. But the dire warnings were drowned out in all the noise of housing buying euphoria and false presumptions (housing prices always go up). In the world of online marketing, this feels like one of those articles.

This one could be huge for the digital marketing industry. The lesson: what can be measured, may not be what you actually want to measure.

This article talks about how current analytics around online advertising click rates may actually prove that digital marketers are focused on converting the converted rather than targeting and convincing users that don’t use their product. A scheme supported by marketers and advertising who can essentially use these self-indulging analytics to cover their butts or sell more digital advertising.

Like all bubbles, eventually, something breaks the spell.

Read the whole story.

And have a great new year. This blog will be back January 7th.


Brooks Richey on
Content Mindfulness

Looking back at 2019 to think forward: Happiness.

Sharing some of the best content around content mindfulness I looked at this year. Particularly ones I thought they might be clues for bigger things to think about. And this one really made me think. Steve Cutts’ Happiness. A video about finding happiness in things.
Rat Race Video “Happiness”

Star Wars fans will remember the moment in Return of the Jedi. Luke Skywalker, as he is about to strike down his father Darth Vader in battle, stops for a moment and glances at his cybernetic hand.

As if waking up, he then looks back to see the frayed wiring of Vader’s robotic hand. At that moment, he mentally steps back, understanding that he’s about to follow his father’s fate to the Dark Side of the force.

I first saw this video earlier this year, and I’ve looked at it a few times. Each time always reminds me to avoid the path of mindlessly trying to chase happiness through products and money.

“Happiness,” the animated short film by Steve Cutts reminds me of that dread and undefinable frustration that I once felt from continually chasing every promise of long-term happiness through products, celebrities, and gurus connected to products.

Ironically, it’s the chase for happiness outside of us that fuels the unhappiness inside of us. A cycle that keeps us moving and hustling but not making progress; like being in a hamster wheel.

What exacerbates that unhappiness is is the long, hard dredging work some of us do, eight to 14 hours a day, to fund our exercise in futility.. Especially if the work we do is only about trying to buy happiness.

Not against hard work or making money. But work is about turning your time into money. How you spend what you’ve earned matters. If you are spending on things that don’t make happy or to cope with a job you hate, what’s the point?


Brooks Richey on
Content Strategy

Looking back at 2019 to think forward: Voice Assistants Killing Brands

Sharing some of the best content around content strategy I looked at this year. Particularly ones I thought might be clues for bigger things to think about.

This one is about voice assistants by Gary Vaynerchuk and how they will radically change consumers and businesses.
How Voice Assistants Will Change Brand Perceptions

Many of us in tech and digital marketing talk about innovation and creativity. But when you look closer, you can see that many of us tend to get comfortable or “innovate” around in the skills we already know well or have been proven. So we change, but really not that much from our comfort zone. Change that truly transforms industries rarely affords us to keep such indulgences.

In that respect, I like entrepreneur and content-marketing-spewing-machine Gary Vaynerchuk as a motivator to keep changing.

If I could summarize most of his lectures into one message, it would be “keep moving and focus on what is really important, not only the ways you’re comfortable with.”

This video is a message from Gary around the rise of voice and voice assistants. A quasi-rant about how the rise of voice will change the game for brands.

He’s right. Those close to search clearly see it.

Those who just think of voice assistants as a way to turn on the light and ask about the weather really need to understand that this is about the future survival of brands and how businesses will engage and capture customers in an ecosystem of products.

A future that is ignored at a company’s or marketer’s peril.


Brooks Richey on
Content Mindfulness

Looking back, thinking forward: Fight Club’s 20th Anniversary.

Sharing some of the best content around content mindfulness I looked at this year. Particularly ones I thought they might be clues for bigger things to think about. This one is about one movie that’s influenced men’s identities over the last 20 years. Fight Club.
The Men Who Still Love Fight Club – By Peter Baker of The New Yorker.
Books and movies can create cultural shifts.

If there is one contemporary book in the last twenty years that has connected and influenced men around ideas of masculinity, it’s Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club.

A once hardly noticed book that found its cult following via rentals when it became a movie starring Brad Pitt as Tyler Durden, the alter-ego of Ed Norton’s nameless character.

This article reflects on the movie’s 20th anniversary and how the movie has influenced male events like the pick-up artist movement, complaints about the “loss” of masculinity in the age of late capitalism, the rise of toxic masculinity and why many men quote Tyler Durden as a voice of their frustration.

Though correlation is not causation, it is interesting to look at this movie and wonder how its content and themes may have influenced the rise of male-centric movements in both their good and bad forms.
Men and masculinkity post Fight Club.
Post Fight Club, we’ve seen the men’s rights movement advocating more rights in divorce, to the seemingly bitter and often misogynistic (Men Going Their Own Way) MGTOW. A group that acts more like gender separatists.

It’s also tempting to look at the self-committed celibates, called Incels, to violent hate groups that mirror Fight Club’s Project Mayhem as proxies by which males are expressing frustration with their changing roles and identity.

Check out the article about Fight Club from The New Yorker

Brooks Richey on
Content Strategy

Looking back, thinking forward: Kayfabe

The lie we’ll agree to be true. Wisecrack’s discussion of Kayfabe.
With 2019 coming to a close, I’m sharing some of the best content around informing ideas around content strategy I looked at this year. Particularly ones I thought they might be clues for bigger things to think about.

This one is about Kayfabe and how it shapes both narrative and audience engagement.
Kayfabe is a term that was first coined in professional wrestling.
Kayfabe refers to the cult-like phenomenon for the audience and performers around a fake story or event (e.g., “professional” wrestling) to act as if the wild stories and characters and rivalry relationships are completely real.

A professed belief and passion among wrestling fans, even though, in their heart of hearts, they know that wrestling is not real and the drama is only part of a planned performance.

In wrestling, this unspoken agreement among Kayfabe participants is maintained vigorously. For example, as the embedded Wisecrack video notes, Hulk Hogan was almost arrested by the cops after being stopped because two other wrestling characters he was with, characters known for not speaking, wouldn’t break character to speak and vouch for him.
The pact that cements the act of Kayfabe is that all sides derive benefit from acting as if they believe the false story.
The benefit is enjoying the excitement, connection, and revenue attached to the scripted and over-the-top portrayal. No one dare makes a move that punctures the perception and excitement or else, wrestling would deflate from “dangerous” sport to just a farcical performance with actors.

If that were to happen, the actors in wrestling would lose fans and credibility as “sports” professionals. Fans would lose the illusion of the alluring and intoxifying combat that entertains them. And for some, that illusion gives them identity and purpose.

Some fans that feel so apart of the Kayfabe that they buy and bring their WWE championship belts to restaurants and sit next to me (again, even though they know in their gut none of it is real) to watch the next pay per view WWE event while I’m having chicken wings.


Kayfabe reminds me of an old Star Trek episode.

Remember “The Glass Menagerie,” from the original series? The episode when aliens, capable of illusion, let Captain Christopher Pike, now paralyzed, unable to speak and using a brainwave-operated wheelchair live on Talos IV with the illusion of a normal working body and the companionship with Vina, a seemingly beautiful woman who was also deformed in real life.

He, the aliens and Vina know the life offered is not real, but all agree to the illusion to feel happy.

I highlighted this video about Kayfabe as a model/talking point that could explain some aspects creeping into entertainment and well as political culture.
A lot more of what we see in areas like entertainment and politics is now a form of group participation as stagecraft.
In areas where organizations or businesses work with media, the participants (actors and audience) often collude to create an image or not-so-true assertion of reality that they each benefit from. In short, everyone, not just the actors, is a performer in the play. Think influencers and followers around Instagram. Think reality TV.
Kayfabe and the reality of reality TV.
Instead of capturing real moments, it is more like guiding real people to act dramatically in order to create hyped moments. Moments that are then packaged to its audience (with a knowing wink) as real.

Kayfabe happens here because we want the excitement of “real” housewives fighting with each other and brawling at fancy dining establishments (as housewives always do).

Drama, even though we sense it may not be real (in fact, lots of reality TV shots are reshot for better drama or new angles), but it’s exciting. And when the audience participates to keep the pretense of this “real” event alive, they are rewarded with schadenfreude (shameless joy) to wag their fingers to judge others for their unruly behavior. And like wrestling’s audience, enjoy a play fight like it’s real.

Deep down, where we know it’s fake, is also where we thrive on the juice of drama that is squeezed out of fake conflict. As Wisecrack notes in the video, Kayfabe has made its way into other fields. Including a fake feud between Kanye West and Taylor Swift. As you check it out, consider Kayfabe as an explanation behind what can seem like mass hypnosis in the political process.
The lesson of Kayfabe for content strategy.
For people developing persuasive content, it demonstrates that if you tell a story that people want to believe in or enjoy a perverse drama from, they’ll work with you and suspend disbelief in some facts and reasoning to help you.


Brooks Richey on
Content Mindfulness

Why I’ve learned to accept grace.

What is grace?
The formal definition is “unmerited divine assistance given to humans for their regeneration or sanctification.”

“Regeneration?” Wow, if that isn’t a 50-cent word, I don’t know what is.

Let me “regenerate” this definition by creating a broader definition.

I would define grace by the ability to mindfully appreciate the gifts life has given you. Both merited and not merited. And including unmerited gifts from sources less divine than the AllMighty.

Even with that definition, I can tell you that, for me, learning to accept the idea grace was a bit like the introduction of Apple Airpods. I first laughed at them as ridiculous. Then, “wow, I get it. This is amazing! My life will never be the same.”
Why did I first reject grace?
The reasons that were in my head…
Reason 1.
I take personal responsibility for my actions; my wins, my losses. Therefore, I thought, why should I have grace for the things that I have? My work, my success. Right?

Why do I give thanks or be grateful for the things that I have? I already have them. It felt kinda like going back and being grateful for your 2nd-grade baseball trophy. What’s the point? It’s the past.
Reason 2.
Grace? That’s a religious thing. And though I was more so growing up, I’m not conventionally religious. So if you’re not in the club, why do the club activities?
For me, Grace was a waste of time. Until I realized it wasn’t.
By looking at all the gifts you’ve been given, grace is like a mirror that allows you to take an assessment of your true wealth and value in life and all the ways people have invested in you. To realize how “wealthy” you actually are and how to be happy with the wealth in life you already have.
How I feel grace.
I’m grateful for being born into a family that had love and means. That taught me lessons about life and prepared me for it. That got me through college debt-free. That inspired me with the knowledge and tools that help me start two businesses. That I’m healthy. That hard work met luck at the right time. Timing that lead me to working with leading Fortune 500 companies and smart people I could learn from. I’m grateful for the hard lessons in love. Even the person I was going to marry dying, taught me how to love better. I’m grateful for the “lucky” moments, like a chance meeting with an advertising professor, that looking back, created opportunities that changed my life.

I think grace is what Thanksgiving is really about. A moment to stop and look around at the gifts, (friends, family, fortunes) that got you here today.

Grace does look at the past. But also reminds you of the gifts and tools you’ve been given to move forward to create your future.

Brooks Richey on
Content Strategy

The needle in a haystack. Why the need for content strategy is universal and timeless.

We all know the phrase, “It’s like finding a needle in a haystack.” The metaphor is quick. It also illustrates the value of content strategy.

The metaphor is quick and powerful because it brings together three truths that we inherently know about life and the need to structuring processing like content strategy.

Lesson one: You can have too much information to consume: The big haystack.

Lesson two: When left unstructured, it creates a blinding and unproductive, non-manageable level of clutter.

Lesson three: This clutter and disorganization fights your desire to find valuable content: the needle.
Why do we allow the needle to get lost in the haystack in the first place?
This lesson, too is universal and timeless: laziness or lack of foresight.

Those of us who are not clairvoyant, I included, don’t know what content or when assets, like content, will be important to us in the future. As a result, we won’t manage it well.
Director David Lynch taught me a lesson about managing content and haystacks.
As a kid I had the vinyl soundtrack to the 1984 version of the movie Dune directed by David Lynch. As the movie aged and I cared for it less, I got lazy with where I kept the album. A decade later, a friend from London called and asked if I still had the soundtrack as what once cost me 11 dollars was now valued in the thousands.

As that content literally became valuable to me again at the moment. So I looked for it. And in my case, my haystack” was my parents’ house where I grew up. With the album a faint memory, I had no idea where that album could be in the house. And the fact that my parents’ house was cluttered from attic to garage to shed with decades-forgotten consumer items, made the album almost impossible to find.

Had I thought it was valuable back in 1984. I would have watched over it better and been more thoughtful about where I put it so it could be found.

When it comes to information that we are indifferent to, we treat it indifferently. As a result, we don’t bother to structure it or, like that catch-all drawer we have in the house, we just throw everything in it. Over time, cluttering info we don’t need piles on.

And when a situation arises when the content is needed, we can’t remember it exists, or can’t find it.
Speaking of haystacks. Companies and digital content.
Companies generate so much data and content. And when those pages that talk about last year’s product, or cover a topic that isn’t the bestseller list or not coming off the CEOs lips at conferences, it’s easy to ignore it, then ignore governance, and just keep generating content and pages for the newest, next big thing.

That’s when you get your haystack. And one day, you’ll need to find a needle.


Brooks Richey on
Content Mindfulness

Anger and texting. The drinking and driving of content creation.

A coworker or loved one ticked you off. And, in your anger, you tap out an intense, wordy diatribe on your computer or mobile device.

I don’t know what you wrote exactly.

I don’t have to.

Yet, I can edit what you wrote into its most succinct form without looking.
“Hulk smash!”
Is that about right?

Having a sense of outrage while being able to quickly, easily and effortlessly distribute your grievance via text like SMS or email usually doesn’t end well.

That’s the danger of tapping away mad. With a sense of offense driving the writing process, you usually don’t try to communicate for the sake of creating understanding or making the way for reconciliation. You usually want someone to hurt just as much as your feelings. Whether that comes in form of a verbal slam on the object of your anger that deserves a mic drop or saying something that embarrasses or shames, the desire is almost irresistible.
Feel like you want to text of piece of your mind?
If you’re about to spend most of the writing process doing a Thesaurus search for vocabulary words to serve as vulgar and blunt instruments, you probably need to take these steps, first.
1. Breathe.
The mind controls the body and the body controls the mind. Right now. your heart is likely elevated by your anger. And that elevation is creating excitement and sensations that are feeding and aggravating your mental state.

By taking deep, slow breaths, you start to slow your heart rate and other body responses. And as you focus on your breath and less on how much of an a-hole that other person is, the mind starts to calm.
2. Breathe some more.
It may take a little while for you to completely get free from anger. And if so…
3. Breathe a whole lot more while you sleep.
Sleep on it if you can. But sometimes you get so mad you can’t sleep. When I’ve been in that position I…
Write an email to vent but don’t send.
Sometimes what you really want to do is just vent. Putting your words to paper can help. I’ll admit, sometimes it’s helped me self reflect. Or I’ll come back to it a few hours or a day later and I’ll see words from a person who’s not me and who could have done a lot of damage if I’d let that message fly.
Writing while angry?
Just like drinking and driving. Pull over and rest a little while.

Anger is a passionate writer. But to avoid regret, see why you need reflection and perspective as a copy editor.

Angry? Why you can hit the keys on your phone or computer. Just don’t hit send.

Brooks Richey on
Content Strategy

Xiaoice. Proof a good conversational UI connects and drives engagement.

Xiaoice, pronounced “Shao-ice,” or the Chinese phrase for “little Bing, is the name of the AI system developed through Microsoft. Though not noticed in the states, currently, it is the most popular social chatbot in the world.

As form follows function as in its design to support social conversation, Xiaoice’s response and conversational dialog are designed to be friendly and engaging. To use words and phrases that allow it to respond as a friend.

It is such a success, the chatbot is known and sought by users for its emotional response and listening skills.

In fact, millions of young Chinese seek out Xiaoice on their smartphone in moments when the need emotional feedback. Times including when they have a broken heart, have lost a job or have been feeling down.

“When I am in a bad mood, I will chat with her,” said Xiaoice user Gao Yixin,

While conversations may vary based on each unique dialog flow, what is clear is it’s a success as users often responding to Xiaoice (often referred to as “her”) with, “I love you.”

While not exactly clearing the Turing Test for AI conversation, as Xiaoice’s users clearly know the chatbot is not a human, it doesn’t matter. The level of empathy expressed across its dialog flow is clearly resonating with humans. In the process, it may just offer us a glimpse at the future of A.I. assistants.

With results like this, for commerce or connection, they could be the ones we end up turning to for engagement.


Brooks Richey on
Content Mindfulness

Woke companies and narcoleptic brand values.

“Woke as a political term of African American origin refers to a perceived awareness of issues concerning social justice and racial justice. It is derived from the African-American Vernacular English expression “stay woke”, whose grammatical aspect refers to a continuing awareness of these issues.”  – Wikipedia
The problem with being woke, like being awake, is that it is not a permanent state of awareness. Over time, we go from being “woke” to sleeping through expressing our social awareness as we get tired of signaling values all the time or just to avoid facing conflicts that challenge our expressed wokeness.
The act of being woke is about signaling values.
Values are the ethics and moral standards that one believes in and tries to uphold in their life. For instance, you don’t believe that anyone should steal, so you don’t steal.

Anyone, you or a company, can profess a value. But the crucible to test for true values is when those who profess them encounter challenges or moral conflicts. At this stress point, the pressure for us to simply reject our moral stand and accept the path less painful or more convenient is strong. It is also the time when the sheen of moral superiority can fall away and you find out if what someone professed was truly a value or just a convenient point of view.
Woke companies.
We equate values with people. But now we live in an era where companies are increasingly expected to show social values as part of their brand.

It’s not enough to simply buy or use a company’s product because it’s helpful to you.

This is because many of us now show our identity through our purchases. As your phone, car, clothes are expected to reflect who you are, we increasingly demand the products and the companies behind what we buy must also be in alignment with our values or values we admire.

A recent case in point. Customers of the fitness biking workout company Soulcycle discovered that one of the owners, billionaire Stephen Ross, planned on hosting a fundraiser lunch to support Donald Trump. The Soulcycle customers who see themselves as leaning liberal or found that support of Trump not in line with their “spiritual gangster” values that the Soulcycle brand cultivates, protested and threatened to quit the workout club.

For more consumers, they and the company they patronize, need to be woke. To match their values and morality by demanding that the company express awareness and take a stand on certain issues and causes. Political or otherwise.
Companies try to comply with being woke.
Nike showed how it was woke by doing an ad campaign around Colin Kapernick who protested during NFL games by kneeling during the National Anthem to recognize African-Americans being shot by police. The company ad campaign supported the cause, even against the blowback he and the company got from some offended NFL fans.

In another area of sports, the NBA is known for letting its players express themselves as a value.

Companies like the public image showing themselves as woke as a brand. The look hip, bold. The feel more human. That is until their own business interests are at risk.

For the NBA, it was when those woke values of free speech bumped up against the political issues in China. Particularly showing support for the protests in Hong Kong. When an executive, Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, expressed support for protestors in Hong Kong, it angered the political leadership in China. And as a command economy, China responded by throwing around marketplace power at the league.

China, a huge market that many companies lust after, suddenly threatened market access to the NBA. As China’s media channels and companies turned on those American businesses like the NBA, the sports organization quickly backtracked on that position. Including LeBron James, who, instead of standing up for free speech, gently dressed down Daryl Morey by saying Morey was, “either misinformed or not really educated on the situation.”

Misinformed? About saying people have the right to protest for freedoms?
Suddenly Their wokeness caught some Zs.
Same with Nike. The company that took a stand supporting Colin Kapernick also took a nap when China flexed its muscle of brands supporting China.
Values are who you are. Not convenience.
This means, if they can change easily, they’re not a company’s values. They are simply corporate messaging at the moment.

I’m not beating up on companies particularly. It’s merely a lesson around content and brand. Wokeness as a brand can make us forget that these are organizations are designed to make a profit and maximize it for shareholders. But with that said, the “woke”ness is not a value as much as it is an outfit that can be worn. One they will take off the minute it becomes inconvenient.

As long as a company’s highest value is profit, their values will always be fragile.


Brooks Richey on
Content Strategy

F# You. Pay Me. A Talk by Mike Monteiro.

If you run or are starting a design or content business, you’ve probably learned, or WILL learn, that being talented is not always the most important part about keeping your firm’s doors open.
Talent is great for a business. Cash flow is better.
To remain a viable content studio, you have to learn how to manage the finances and cash flow of your business, not just produce work. That means acting more like a business that needs revenue than being artists and consultants performing on the street with an optional tip jar.

This matters. When I ran a marketing firm for over 12 years with bills and people to pay, so much of my time was spent chasing down receivables. Often to find that instead of using their funds to pay my business on time, clients often used it to fund their next initiative. While they had our work product in hand right now, they’d expect my business to wait patiently.
Pay me now.
I understand that desire to firmly say, “pay me now” seems in direct conflict with pleasing the client. It’s not. Especially if you clearly set the terms of your working relationship (including fiscal).

That requires an attitude, process, and discipline that sets and keeps boundaries. Particularly in getting clients to pay in and business culture where clients are extending the age of receivables to fit their cash flow instead of yours.
You deliver on time. Clients should pay on time.
Letting them slide too much can make you more valuable to your client as a line of credit than the work you deliver for them. Also depending on the client, they may just hope you give up and walk away, betting that you’ll find paying legal and court fees to get the money back might outweigh the original invoice cost. Or you may decide to settle, which to a client is like getting a discount.
In payment, contracts and action, set boundaries.
This from a person who as lost hundreds of thousands from clients early on my business by letting aging invoices slide and continuing to do more work. While sometimes it was because a client tried to get out of paying, more often it was clients mismanaging their own money. Too much debt or not getting their own customers to pay on time.

When it comes to payment, your hairdresser won’t let it slide. Nor does the grocery store. What should make your business any different?

This presentation by Mike Monteiro, the co-founder and design director of Mule Design, is very enlightening on the mindset to have in order to run a business and have a professional fiscal relationship with clients that can avoid problems, including making sure you have the money to pay to keep the firm’s lights on.


Brooks Richey on
Content Mindfulness

Fake News Wars. The UX Strikes Back.

A little content strategy advice for Facebook based on what was in my Facebook feed a couple of days ago.

A former high school classmate I’m friends with on Facebook shared a post to express her shock by a story she found in her news feed. It was about Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, apparently diverting 2.4 Billion dollars to cover the impeachment cost for Donald Trump.

Here’s a screenshot of the story feed.

This story would be shocking if it were true.
First of all, the source site for the story (I can’t even pronounce this), “” is already a bit suspicious. And to be fair, there is a small, very small, and hard-to read-bug on the image of Pelosi at mobile size that alludes to satire. If you go to the site, it has one graphic that contains text within the graphic. There is no HTML-based description text, which conveniently makes it invisible to search engines for metadata. The graphic that does contain text describes the site as a place for “satire, ridicule, and mockery.”

I’ll tag the following analysis as my opinion. That description (satire, ridicule, and mockery) seems a bit disingenuous. If you look at the articles available on the site, they seem designed to come off as clickbait-level news once they are shared beyond the site and you can’t see that description graphic.
Some Fake News examples.
“AOC: Children should be raised by the state.”

“Patriot Clint Eastwood Dead at 79; Wills Estate to Trump 2020”

So apparently, based on the source and find reporting like this, Facebook stepped in to flag the story in my feed.

To its credit, Facebook added a small separate post beneath from as a “related article “ that refuted the story’s claim “Pelosi Didn’t Raid Social Security for Impeachment Inquiry.”

They did something. But did the do the right thing?
The way this fake news story was handled is a problem.
This problem and a possible solution for managing the effect of this fake news post can happen from a content strategy and UX perspective.
This fake news problem is a (likely intentional) UX problem.
A principle idea in UX is to have empathy for the user. That is, to seek to understand how to help them complete the task the way they prefer. Content strategy is helping users get information that is useful.

In the case of Facebook providing news articles, I would assume that a fair application of empathy is to help the user get to helpful new information they can use. Not provide “jokey” articles where you can’t see the punchline and not know that the content provided is a joke or intentionally meant to mislead.

After all, if I kept pressing a button request school photos but the action gave me pictures of donkeys, that’s not considered a good user experience because what you are offering is not in line with my informational intent or task.

Facebook’s action of adding a separate post with a small blue “fact-check” doesn’t help. And frankly, feels a bit lazy and half-assed.

My classmate is shocked. And reposts the story to my feed saying so. I didn’t reach out to her, but I assume she didn’t see anything that flagged the story as untrue in her feed before sharing. And if Facebook did flag it for her, she missed it.
What could Facebook do?
So if the story is false, couldn’t Facebook’s human content reviewers or machine algorithms not pull the story? I believe that they would, fast, if it were nudity or child porn.

Or why not add a prominent mark within that same story that the claim made in the story was fact-checked false, or, if they are afraid to call it false, say “satire?”

Either way, you could stop users from getting clearly false information.

Or if Facebook wanted a more hands-off approach, they could flag the content as questionable in a more prominent way rather than a separate “related story” panel. If users could see it before they read, it would allow them to engage the article with a more of a critical eye.
This Facebook format, as it exists to fix fake news now, does neither.
Instead, it’s like whispering “stop” to a person running towards a cliff they can’t see. You said it, but not in a way that alerts the user to the danger. The other problem is Facebook’s current approach allows dishonest content creators and propagandists to complete their task of passing along false information.
This is not good for two reasons:
One: The purpose of this type of propaganda or two-fold. One is to generate clicks at all costs through a sensational story, even if untrue. I mean, according to the site, Clint Eastwood’s dead. How could you not click on that?

Two: The other purpose is often to plant the seeds of disinformation. As my friend now believes this story about Nancy Pelosi, she will likely share the story online as well as verbally offline with friends.

Those who get the shared story may also pass it because as mentioned in an earlier blog post 59% of links shared on social media have never actually been clicked. So those users are likely to simply share the links based on the headline without ever reading it. So few will realize the story is a “parody” and will treat it as news. This is how a fake news story spreads and eventually gets back to someone like me this next time someone strikes up a conversation at a local Starbucks.

I just happened to catch this one. But this is happening every day – whether for profit, propaganda or both. In this case, it’s not asking Facebook to reinvent the wheel to manage fake news. Just help the user identify it better. A little UX thinking and good content strategy could go a long way, Facebook.


Brooks Richey on
Content Strategy

Write your ideas down!

Your best ideas may come in the shower. Still, they’ll get washed away with the soap if you don’t write them down.
The faintest ink is better than the strongest memory.
Why you should write (all) your ideas down.
Creativity is like a chemical reaction between two elements. The interaction of two previously independent substances combine to create a new substance or an entirely different element. If you remember your chemistry classes, you also know that some elements created from these union last microseconds.

As we, as one element, bump into people and ideas throughout the day, those fleeting moments of creative chemistry are born. Yet, so many won’t make it to our laptop if we don’t make an effort to capture them.

In an interview, now-passed but legendary comedian, George Carlin talked about the process he uses to capture all of his ideas and observations.
George Carlin on catching ideas to harvest…
“I take a lot of single-page notes, little memo pad notes. I make a lot of notes on those things. For when I’m not near a little memo pad, I have a digital recorder. Most of the note-taking happens while I’m watching television.

Because the world is undifferentiated on the television set. You may be watching the news channel, but it’s going to cover the breadth of American life and the human experience. It’s gonna go from suicide bombings to frivolous consumer goods. It’s a broad window on the world, and a lot of things are already established in my mind as things I say, things that I’m interested in, things that are fodder for my machine. And when I see something that relates to one of them, I know it instantly and if it’s a further exaggeration and a further addition, or an exception—if it plays into furthering my purpose, I jot it down.

When I harvest the pieces of paper and I go through them and sort them, the one lucky thing I got in my genetic package was a great methodical left brain. I have a very orderly mind that wants to classify and index things and label them and store them according to that. I had a boss in radio when I was 18 years old, and my boss told me to write down every idea I get even if I can’t use it at the time, and then file it away and have a system for filing it away—because a good idea is of no use to you unless you can find it. And that stuck with me. “
George Carlin’s filing system for his ideas.
“There’s a large segment of it devoted to language, which is a love of mine. And a rich area for my work talking about how we talk. One of the files is called “The Way We Talk.” And it’s about certain voguish words that come into style and remain there. But then there are subfiles. Everything has subfiles. There’s one that says “Crime.” There’s “Crime” and there’s “Law,” there’s “Sex” and there’s “Race.” And there’s “Humans”—that’s obviously a big folder with a lot of smaller folders in it, it’s about the human race and the human species and experiences and observations I have about that, or data that I’ve found about it. You know, 6 million people stepped on land mines this year. Those things interest me.”
Digital makes writing down ideas easier.
In the age of digital and the smartphone in our pockets, we are all now walking recorders of life. While most of your friends are capturing their lives and moments for Instagram, Snap, and Facebook with cameras, other tools serve a writer to capture ideas for your next blog or content marketing campaign.

A few I like.
When I can’t use my hands to write an idea down, “Hey Siri.”
I currently work in matters of voice and voice assistants. So it seems natural I would be inclined to use a feature that is coming into its own a little after Mr. Carlin. Apple’s Siri. Or any strong voice agent.

For me, Siri is invaluable. Especially when used with the new reminders app capabilities within iOS 13. While driving or I have my hands full when Siri is within earshot, I’ll simply call out to Siri to record the tickler of the idea I’m having.
“Hey Siri, remind me to ‘be amazing” in my ideas list”
To that, Siri’s response: “Ok. I’ve added “be amazing” to your ideas list.
Write or transcribe your voiced ideas with JustPressRecord.
For really messy ideas and points, I want the ability to vomit up ideas in order to pick through the mess later and find nuggets to build on. For this, I often use JustPressRecord. Tap a button and immediately start recording audio. Whatever babble that comes out of my head will be captured and automatically transcribes into text.
Ulysses. How to hold and structure ideas.
Once your ideas become text, which each aforementioned app does, I use Ulysses to file and further incubate those thoughts. See my thoughts about Ulysses in an earlier post about content strategy tools.
Writing down ideas.
As I heard in a podcast, “Ideas are worthless.” Execution is what makes them valuable. But you need to catch them first to execute. So write your ideas down.

Brooks Richey on
Content Mindfulness

Love. Did media teach you everything know about it?

“Oh, you mean love? The reason you haven’t felt it is because it doesn’t exist. What you call love was invented by guys like me to sell nylons.  – Don Draper, Mad Men

Two things most of our parents don’t really cover with us in detail: sex and love.

In that void, many of us learned about the two from the TV and media we’ve consumed. Today we’ll focus on love.

You might find it surprising, but love as a societal value around marriage is a relatively recent concept. Long ago, marriage was more about plans for merging or distributing money, power, and resources. Either among immediate family members and managing land and resources between families.

The idea of love being a component of marriage is a western concept. The belief of getting married because two people like each other a lot is still not a priority in some cultures. Like those cultures that still have arranged marriages. There, as Tina Turner sang, “What’s love got to do with it?”

While love is promoted as an important value in relationships and marriage in western cultures, where do we learn about it?

I don’t think I’m alone in having a sit down with my parents about the birds and the bees. While I ended up with an idea of how the birds and bees did it, I never had a talk with my parents about what it takes for the birds to love the bees and visa-versa.

Most of my mental notes about love and how you “do love” came from TV and music. I suspect many of you out there would say the same.

If so, is our media exposure to examples of love a good teacher? Or as I suspect, a series of interesting, inspirational but often scaterological anecdotes. Anecdotes that, even when patched together, never spell out what love is, or how to sustain it long term. Rather it is constant examples of love’s effect. In the media, it’s a never-ending advertisement for the feelings and dramatic tension around love.

Another way to think of it. Instead of getting actual driving lessons, we watched super-cool examples of driving, like the Indianapolis 500, all the The Fast and Furious movies and Driver to figure it all out.

Could be inspirational. But is it informational, much less actionable? And if you do learn, what exactly are you learning? Jumping from one building to another in a Charger like Fast and Furious isn’t going to be applicable or realistic to most driving situations.

Same goes for love. What fundamentals are you learning about love from Dustin Hoffman when he breaks up a wedding of a woman who should already be in love ‘cause she’s in the middle of getting married as depicted in the movie The Graduate?

Or is is Lloyd Dobler, from the movie Say Anything? He is remembered in the iconic pose of holding a boom box outside his ex-girlfriend’s house reminding her of the time they had sex.

Is it Tom Cruise and Jerry McGuire professing to a woman that “you complete me/”
Not sure. But I know music as a teacher of love is not much better.
A lot of songs clearly define love in the terms of what’s now the hook up culture.

“Let me love you down.” By Ready for the World.

Or as addiction and obsession like Foreigners’ Feels Like the First Time…
“I would climb any mountain. Sail across the stormy sea. If that’s what it takes me baby, to show how much you mean to me…”
Why can’t we learn about love from media?
When it comes to radio, rock musician Frank Zappa wrote in his book The Real Frank Zappa Book, on why love is very different in music and radio.

“I detest love lyrics. I think one of the causes of bad mental health in the United States is that people have been raised on ‘love lyrics’.

You’re a young kid and you hear all those ‘love lyrics.’ right? Your parents aren’t telling you the truth about love, and you can’t really learn about it in school. You’re getting the bulk of your ‘behaviorial norms’ mapped out for you in the lyrics to some dumb fucking love song. It’s a subconscious training that creates desire for an imaginary situation which will never exist for you. People who buy into that mythology go through life feeling that they got cheated out of something.

What I think is very cynical about some rock and roll songs — especially today — is the way they say: “Let’s make love.” What the fu&k kind of wussy says shit like that in the real world? You ought to be able to say “Let’s go fu&k”, or at least “Let’s go fill-in-the-blank” — but you gotta say “Let’s make love” in order to get on the radio. This creates a semantic corruption, by changing the context in which the word ‘love’ is used in the song.

When they get into drooling about love as a ‘romantic concept’ — especially in the lyrics of sensitive singer/songwriter types — that’s another shove in the direction of bad mental health.”
We love the media’s idea of love. But maybe we’re not IN LOVE with it.
Anyone who’s every had a child or have a positive feeling about their parents know that love is real. Maybe it just the story that is told in TV and music. So while while the love we see in media can be an amazing story, is just not our story.

Brooks Richey on
Content Strategy

Tone and delivery. Content metadata designed for humans.

The tone and the way you deliver your content may be the most important part of creating effective, persuasive content.

Both tone and delivery act as components to filter the meaning of your written or spoken content in order to let a specific visceral meaning drip through to the reader or user.

The way a writer or content deploys voice and tone creates emphasis and underlines a particular meaning. In effect, putting their author’s thumb on the scale of a perspective they favor so their readers give that point of view greater weight, importance, and urgency.
Tone is more important than the words.
Imagine that you needed to walk around while being blindfolded. Unable to see anything around you but a depth-less pitch black.

Sightless, all you have left is a voice around you to listen to and speak navigational information to you to guide you.

You try to walk. You step forward. One foot after the other. As you step, you have no idea if you are close to a wall or possibly about to walk into a wall.

Suddenly, you hear a voice calmly say, “stop.”

You feel the casualness in their voice and you respond by calmly slowing to a full stop.

Later you start walking again. In the middle of your stride, suddenly the navigating voice screeches, “Stop!!!!!”

It’s likely that you feel urgency to stop immediately. In fact from the desperate sound of the voice, the need to stop must be so bad that you not only stop immediately, you raise your hands up in front of you in hopes of protecting you from whatever this horrible threat must be.

Same scenario, same content: the word “stop.”

But the different deliveries of that word created very different results. What made them different? The editorial and tonal context the same message was delivered with.
The tone of content is almost as critical as the message itself.
Tone and delivery is a like a secondary channel that people hear along with the message content. An extra channel which tends to frame the validity, priority, or value of the message.
Sarcasm is all about tone.
Think about an example a lot of us use everyday. Sarcasm. The right words, layered with a contradicting delivery.

Think about this phrase spoken sarcastically: “Oh, I’ll get that for you right away.”

You wouldn’t expect to get it “right away” if at all.

Through the tone of sarcasm, we know not to listen to the words because the tone says “disregard what you think you hear me saying.”
Tone and delivery is like the “handle with care” note on a package.
It defines how most people will treat the package. It’s why you must be mindful of it. Via tone, you can communicate levity, fear, anxiety, anger and more that will then cause those words that you use around that tone to be viewed in that context.

So be mindful of tone and delivery. Or don’t. It doesn’t matter. I say sarcastically.


Brooks Richey on
Content Mindfulness

The one true message of advertising.

At an ad-by-ad level, advertising is trying to sell you products and services like cars, laundry detergent, phones, and beers.

Depending on how we feel or how good the pitch, we may choose to buy or not to buy. Because we remember that time we said “no” to buying a Tesla, we like to think we are immune to the influence of most advertising.

But when combined and experienced in its entirety, advertising generally has one overall message that we eventually and subconsciously accept. And when the mind accepts it, it influences us.
That one advertising message?
You are nothing without buying something. That personality, identity, and mood equals product.
Over the course of being exposed to 4,000 to 10,000 ads each day, we are pummeled with this repetitive theme.

We’re told that new car will make us cool. That new dress will make people envy you. The right laundry detergent makes you a good head of household. If you look at your world through all that advertising, it’s not hard to see every problem or need is one that demands a purchased solution.

When that happens, personal action and self-satisfaction and confidence goes out the window. Want to lose weight? That ad on TV says to get the Abdominizer. Or, and just stay with me here, you could just eat less and go running.
Your peers are message multipliers via social proof.
It’s hard to get away from this concept of you are what you buy. Not just because of the sheer weight and frequency of the messages, but all because our peers and the environment around us have accepted it as well.

Not only have they accepted it, but as their standard, they also evaluate and judge others based on it. This creates social pressure for any outliers to conform to message.

For instance, we live in an age where kids are anxious about going to school if they don’t walk through the halls with the “in” clothes. On Instagram, are well-paid influencers that kids follow to keep them from this “dangerous” faux pas.

it’s adults who feel that others will consider them different because they live in a more modest neighborhood. Or even if you don’t have a house by your late 30s. It’s driven by a belief that to be someone, you must have the symbols that tell others to believe that you are someone.

I call BS.

What we forget is that those items you buy are nothing but symbols. They are no more your true personality as much as wearing a police badge alone makes you a cop.

Not to mention that products that convey status are still decaying symbols that will be tossed aside weeks or a few years after the fashion czars and marketing experts choose other arbitrary new symbols that say it is your best you (looking at you iPhone Pro Max).

I think your personality lasts longer than that. Also, having the status symbols and products advertising tells you to get is in no way guaranteed to reflect the values the products suggest. I’ve known millionaires to drive crappy cars (some of the money they save is probably why their millionaires). On the other hand, people who can barely afford the lease of an Audi 8 just look the part of success and sweat over their bills in quiet.

You are somebody. Don’t look for products and companies to tell you that. It’s about confidence more than a new car.

Brooks Richey on
Content Strategy

Cognitive capacity. Why a VUI can’t work like a GUI.

A pure voice user interface, like Amazon Alexa, requires different design thinking then when developing content for a graphical user interface (GUI). With a VUI, you are not designing to navigate and exchange information through the eyes. Rather, you are designing and sharing content and microcopy for the ears.

Specifically, the exchange of information structured within sound, language rules, and thought is being coordinated by both the human brain and the intelligence powering the voice assistant.

In a voice-only interface, the brain and the voice assistant are both relying on the information contained in any audio response to get the information they need to complete the desired task.

But while a user receives audio information from the VUI, the user only has the bandwidth to manage a limited amount of information at any given time from a voice-only interface.

The bottleneck of data is coming from your brain and is a concept called cognitive capacity.
Cognitive capacity.
The idea of cognitive capacity applies to users whether they interface with a GUI or a VUI. To understand cognitive capacity, let’s first look at how it’s different between the two.

A graphical user interface conveys a lot of information to a user. All the images, visual content and how they are presented in a state called permanence. That is, the images, content, and visuals presented in the graphic user interface used on a web page or within a mobile experience are static. Without a prompt, that content doesn’t disappear as a voice does.

Instead, the visual content experience holds that information like it’s sitting on a shelf. The words on a stop sign or the main menu of a website won’t disappear. You can look away, look back and they will likely be there. Because of permanence, you can look back to remind yourself of the exact content or take the time to look deeper for more information.
That’s not how voice works around cognitive capacity.
A voice response is fleeting. Not only is it gone immediately after being spoken, if the sentence or sentences are long enough, the exact words used are disappearing in the air and in the user’s mind even before the entire statement is spoken.

That’s because your brain can only focus on and process chunks of words (usually around 3 or 4) at a time. So the brain is often letting go of a chunk. While it’s still capturing the gist of that dropped chunk, it is losing its ability to remember the exact words it heard in that chunk.

This unloading frees up cognitive space to allow the brain to focus on the next chunk of words in the sentence. So as the sentence gets longer, the idea expressed in the voice response is becoming more abstract in the users’ mind as the exact words and the idea they hold are being separated.
That’s cognitive capacity. The total amount of information the brain is capable of retaining at any particular moment.
Cognitive capacity is the secret sauce behind the game of telephone. The game where you whisper a sentence to a friend, who tries to whisper the same sentence to a friend, and so on, and so on…

If you’ve played the game, you know the fun of it is that by the time the last person repeats the message, it’s laughably different than the original message.

How to manage cognitive capacity in voice responses.

Don’t expect users to remember a whole bunch of things.

Remember the telephone example? Keep your response short and focused. Try to communicate information in chunks where the user can remember the idea if not the words.

For example, if your voice assistant is telling the story of different aspects of the weather, it can say:

“The weather for X is sunny. The temperature is 80 degrees. There is a 40% chance of rain. Would you like more?”

Each line completes a thought and can build on the other chunks to complete a picture. And while the user may forget the exact words of the weather response, they retain the bigger concept to satisfy their request (Sunny. Could rain. Hot. I can get more details).

2. Write for speaking not writing.

Speaking and writing seem like they would work the same. They don’t.

Due to factors like permanence of visual communications or audio style and tone that can contextualize and pace voice delivery, phrases we are comfortable with when written can seem odd or jarring when spoken.

3. Use landmarking.

In voice, landmarking gives users, a premise or context in which to use the rest of the information that follows. The best example is having the voice assistant front-load the confirmation or answer to your question.

So instead of “Bob, Ted, Carol, and Alice will attend your meeting.“

“You have meeting confirmations from Bob, Mike, Jane, and Kim.”

Through landmarking, you set up the premise “this is about meeting confirmations” which then lets the mind focus more on the details of whose attending. Rather than hear details with extra mental energy spent by not yet knowing how Bob, Mike, Jane, and Kim are related to each other.

4. Use vocal punctuation to help users chunk concepts.

The pace, pauses, and emphasis in a voice delivery can help the user to hear breaks in content to be able to chunk ideas, things like extra punctuation can give the user extra time to digest a thought.

Even something as small as addressing the user with a comma:


That small pause tells me I’m about to get information which allows me to be ready for it. That’s opposed to hearing a voice response sentence start suddenly and having the user spend cognitive capacity being caught off guard and catching up to the spoken response.

The same goes with periods. Each period lets an idea breathe so your user can digest it.

These techniques can help you manage the information load users get when interacting with voice assistants.


Brooks Richey on
Content Mindfulness

When is a joke, no joke?

Why did the chicken cross the road? To get to the other side.
Michelle Obama? OMG! Somebody should tell the zoo they’re missing an ape.
I don’t have a girlfriend. I just know a woman whose really mad I said that. – Mitch Hedberg.
All jokes, right?
Some are are illogical. Some are horrifyingly hateful and racist. Some are mean or dance around thumbing their nose at conventional morals and standards. So why are people capable of laughing at all three of them?

To be clear, I am not looking at jokes directly from the lens of political correctness. However, it has to be included in the discussion. That’s because jokes, laughing and political correctness do cross paths often.

Political correctness comes into play as jokes tend to cross a line of conventional thought or cultural standards in order to work. Jokes often rile or shock public consciousness. Ask George Carlin and the Seven Words you Can’t Say on TV. Or shock-jock Howard Stern and his “Who’s the Jew?” segments or Richard Pryor’s “Super N-word” routine.

It’s that crossing the line of expected thought that works like a tripwire, triggering a reflective response to the discomfort or spike in emotion that gets expressed as laughter.

That’s one side of political correctness – people who feel tantalized by stepping into risqué territory or an area without clear boundaries. The other side are people who can’t or won’t take a joke when it’s perceived to trespass on one’s intellectual view of standards and acceptability. They then react by putting up walls or call for some form of censorship.

Essentially one laughs and feels tantalizingly naughty or teased at realizing “OMG, they said that?” And one reels at realizing “OMG, they said that? The line where one crosses over to the other side often marks where middle America believes “normal” is.

For those who wish to change society, moving normal to produce consent is a goal. Jokes can do that. Which is why jokes are employed as the weapons to capture territory in culture wars.
Why these “harmless” jokes are simultaneously powerful weapons.
Jokes are carriers for points or ideas. Jokes are unique persuasion tools and weapons in that they don’t stab, but nudge and push. Yet they penetrate deep in the mind like a sharp, hard object.

Drugs have a mechanism of action (MOA) that refers to the specific biochemical interaction through which a drug substance produces its pharmacological effect.). So do jokes. That mechanism for interaction is humor. Humor is able to interact with your brain by bypassing logical barriers that cause instant rejection (right, wrong, morality, fear) of an idea.

In doing so the way we react to a joke is like sleepwalking through an idea. It’s like you can see an idea of a joke, but more through an out-of-body experience. In such a state, we don’t assign the same value or rigor for validity to it as we would if it engaged with the joke intellectually.
Jokes deliver exposure and catharsis, disconnected from consciousness and intellectual rigor.
Probably the reason for the quote, “The jester is the only one that can speak truth to the king.” If the king truly processed what he was being told, he’d likely kill the Jester.

Through this mechanism within jokes, jokes are how we explore ideas that fear and the moral framework that a culture are initially resistant to.

This has been the path for jokes around cultural integration. Usually some version of X group share culture and experiences with another group (usually white middle class America) through jokes. That puts comedians and comedy shows on the front lines of changing culture as America’s first interaction with a culture is usually through comedy.

Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy brought a more real black experience to more of America. Will and Grace put being gay and gay relationships in front of America. Jeff Foxworthy and his “You might be a redneck” jokes brought the Appalachian culture (often invisible) to mainstream Americans. Yakov Smirnoff, a Soviet-born American comedian, served as the lighter cultural face of Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The presentation of culture, cultural tension and cultural frustrations through comedy give audiences a look at culture in a way that feels safe. While those in it feel a catharsis of seeing their feeling and culture shared.
An amazing power. And like all powers jokes can also be used to divide culture.
A group outside traditional stand-up comedians have discovered the power of jokes. Hate groups and culture war activists.

Some culture warriors position themselves as jokesters in order to dance like jesters around cultural tensions in society. Joke dancing to tease them to come out. Milo Yiannopoulos, or self-described “rodeo clown” Glenn Beck come to mind. Who often depict cultural or ethnicity baiting games as a form of performance art.

Memes are another form of the “joke” performance art.

This strategy has been used by many sides throughout time, and accepted by alt-right movements. A quote from the past.
“Never believe that anti-Semites are completely unaware of the absurdity of their replies. They know that their remarks are frivolous, open to challenge. But they are amusing themselves, for it is their adversary who is obliged to use words responsibly, since he believes in words. The anti-Semites have the right to play. They even like to play with discourse for, by giving ridiculous reasons, they discredit the seriousness of their interlocutors. They delight in acting in bad faith, since they seek not to persuade by sound argument but to intimidate and disconcert. If you press them too closely, they will abruptly fall silent, loftily indicating by some phrase that the time for argument is past.”
― Jean Paul-Sartre

Politically correct is being allergic to ideas that challenge our cultivated beliefs or sensitivities. For that, we do need a thicker skin. But at the same time if we fail to see the power of the strategies of humor that are being used to build false consciousness, then the joke’s on us.

Think jokes are powerless? Then the joke’s on you.


Brooks Richey on
Content Strategy

The headline is dead. Long live the headline.

Traditional headline writing is dying. A new form of headline writing is transforming marketing, media, and journalism. That’s good and bad.

While data can be used to judge a headline’s effectiveness via analytics, the crafting and the choices required to make a powerful headline still requires human intuition. An intuition that both empathizes with and caters to the emotional biases that we have as human beings. Biases that override logical best practices in accessing content like headlines.

You’ve heard the saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover. Well, for most of us, that’s not true. We do judge a book by its cover-all the time. Especially the title. Or with non books, the headline.

So much, the crafting of a headline is absolutely critical to the needs of today’s marketing executive, content publisher, and content reader. Whether it is because we are extremely pressed for time or are lazy information consumers, we have become a nation of headline readers. In fact, for many of us, all we read are headlines. Case in point.
A test case about content headlines that should shock you.
A satirical news site the Science Post published a block of “lorem ipsum” text underneath this headline:

“Study: 70% of Facebook users only read the headline of science stories before commenting.”

The prank ended up imitating life as nearly 46,000 people shared the post. And unless they were self-aware on the irony, they didn’t bother to read the post and its gibberish content within it before sharing.

This phenomenon seems to be born out in a study by computer scientists at Columbia University and the French National Institute. They found that 59% of links shared on social media have never actually been clicked. Those users simply shared the links based on the headlines without ever reading them.
Why do we just read headlines?
In a world where we have so much content to sift through, many of us have come to believe (or hope) the headline summarizes the story.

But it goes further. More not only lean on the headline to summarize the story but to be the final word about the whole story. The headline is used to provide the least bit of reading effort for the most comprehension benefit.

For others, it is a faster way to visually tab and skim across different content offers to make a choice to determine what to read. I’m guilty of going through my RSS feed or Flipboard on my phone just reading headlines to get a feel of the news.
For many businesses, your headline is more important than your content.
In fact, whether you stay employed as a commercial writer for some publications and marketing firms, especially online ones, is your ability to write headlines that engage and drive conversation. If they don’t click. You don’t have a job.

As more publications now live on clicks for revenue, catchy story headlines that create a viral buzz rule. For today’s writer, that means the 75 characters that make up your headline, could define whether your story blows up across the internet or you lose your job.

The skew towards headlines that convert have companies demanding writers create irresistible headlines – even over truthful ones.

This industry change is almost synonymous with a name. Neetzan Zimmerman. Neetzan worked for the now-defunct Gawker writing viral headlines for stories he found on the web. Creating content cat nip headlines like:

Husband Leaves Wife Because Her 550 Cats Kept Stealing His Food
Crappy Teacher Tells Kindergartner Who Pooped Her Pants To Sit On It
How Did a Scarf-Wearing Pig End Up on a Highway Outside Pittsburgh?
Dead And Buried Hamster Emerges From Grave Alive And Well And Hungry For Brains
A Friendly Reminder: Don’t Put Your Explosive Portable Meth Lab Down Your Pants

He was so good at it, he was known for generating more page views than the rest of the Gawker staff combined. That skill in writing addicting headlines often came at the expense of truth.

While some would consider that bad. Zimmerman didn’t care. From the interviews he’s given, it feels like it’s a cynical view he’s come to embrace. That he honestly believes news and journalism has become a viral attention machine to survive. The loss of truth in the process is the end justifying the means.
Nowadays it’s not important if a story’s real, the only thing that really matters is whether people click on it,” and “If a person is not sharing a news story, it is, at its core, not news.” – Neetzan Zimmerman
Whether he’s coming from a cynical place or moral failings the phenomenon of news only equal clicks is real. From Buzzfeed to Raw Sory to Forbes to Huffington Post to The Blaze to to…(you get the picture), the role of headlines is the most important part of today’s content development.
Headlines matter. Ten tips for writing them.
This is why it is important to remember that the headline you write matters. So when writing one…

Know your audience.

Put together a headline that speaks to your audience needs or wants. No one reads what doesn’t interest them.

Tell them why this story matters. Quick!

We live a a world of content skimmers. As they skim, they are looking for a reason NOT to stop and look at your content. You’ve got less than 3 seconds tops before they’ve made a decision to engage your content or not. Get to the point through your headline or they’ll move on.

Tell THE story. Not A story.

The story is the one that best frames your users’ interest or gives the best set up for understanding the rest of the content. Make sure THE story aligns with their interests.

Poke an emotion to help them prioritize the urgency of the information.

If you know your audience enough and what buttons you can push to help them contextualize the value of your content, push them. Just avoid manipulating their biases and emotions unfairly. This can turn into mister Zimmerman’s click bait.

Be brief and punchy.

Something is sharp and penetrating when you deliver more of its mass to a smaller, succinct area. Headlines work the same way.

Be controversial.

There’s a reason people stare at car crashes. People become curious onlookers around drama or the unknown. Bring out the inherent drama in your headlines.

Ask a question.

It tends to focus readers on the idea behind the headline as well as build curiosity on the issue.

Use lists.

“10 Ways to Create a Whole New You. “For some reason, people love to know how many things you’re about to tell them.

Think SEO.

Nobody will read your content if they can’t find it. Think about key words in your headline.

For clicks. Work hard on your title.

Titles are more important than body content. Sigh. In fact, it’s not unusual for editors to demand 20 or more different headlines options for an article.
The right headline equals engagement.
It’s your headline that will penetrate the clutter of information your readers are bombarded with and say, “you must read me.” That is why you must learn the art of headline writing.



Brooks Richey on
Content Mindfulness

Freedom, Growth and Control. Pick two. The dilemma of social media platforms.

Social media companies offer a service. There’s the old saying about having a product or service that is offered to you. The options are fast, better and cheap. Pick two.
As consumers, we often accept making this choice because we know that most gains in life come via an exchange of some other resource or capability. For sports, that might be sacrificing personal time partying in order to practice and exercise.

In business, that might be forsaking free time with family to make sure you’re ready to crush that next business meeting.
Social media companies are forced to make a similar trade off.
To keep achieving record growth, social media companies like Facebook and Google have to make sacrifices, too. For them, the “pick two” is among the choices of freedom, growth, and control. So what do they pick?
Why do social media companies pick growth?
It’s the most obvious choice for any business. A big desire among many social media companies and tech startups is to scale (that is, expand their concept to the largest audience without major changes). Many have. In 15 years, Facebook’s social sharing platform now has 2.23 billion users. Google/Alphabet’s YouTube video platform has 1.9 billion. Facebook’s Instagram picture-sharing platform has 1 billion users.

Growth gives these social media companies audience sizes that make marketers salivate, as well as enable those social media firms to command sales and market-influencing power. The scale from growth also allows these companies to amass so much data to be able to extract more precise insights, give them a competitive advantage, and better products.

Ok, social media companies need to pick growth, so that choice is off the table. That leaves them in the position to pick between the last two. “Freedom” and “Control.”
Why do social media companies pick freedom?
Because, it’s the special sauce that’s driving social media company growth. Companies like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube thrive from being platforms that give users, content creators and marketers wide latitude in creating content, distributing content, and leveraging information about users.

Like beauty, freedom is in the eye of the beholder. The joys of freedom often depends on if you are the beneficiary or if you are the endpoint of the consequences from exercising freedom. Remember, an environment where you do anything can also mean anything can happen to you.

In a “do-what-you-want” environment, we have the freedom to post salacious, false or slanderous news stories on a platform for the benefit of revenue driving clicks.

My extraction of that revenue has the freedom to ignore the externalities (activities that affects other parties without this being reflected in the cost of the goods or services involved).

As externalities, the subjects or topics of those posts may absorb the injury to their work or reputation or the feeling of fear as an external cost of that freedom. Our current president has the ability to say whatever he wants, including information without evidence, that ravish companies stock prices or drive death threats.

While freedom for users and social media companies is an opportunity for some and the ability to power growth, the lack of rules and boundaries also leave space for our worst human weaknesses and moral shortcomings. Spaces where hate groups, counterintelligence for nation states, scammers and political operatives have found a comfortable home.

If you are a parent, you’ve likely seen how fast a child can go from watching videos of something like Happiness Junction to sexually explicit or propaganda or hate content pretty quickly.

Or we’ve seen companies simply execute morally questionable acts to have the freedom to do what they want, through the mantra of “do it now, seek forgiveness later.”

These platforms have given groups and individuals the freedom to do things hateful, legal, obscene. Even creating weaponized content to attack people and destabilize the elections of countries.

And it’s the environment that has made them and the platform they use successful. And some would like to keep that model.

The 2016 election opened politicians’ and nations states’ eyes to the power of Facebook and Twitter to influence public opinion. It’s the freedom that makes social media an open source hack on democracies, citizens and public opinion.
Why do social media companies (not) pick control?
Because social media companies don’t want to admit it outright but control is the party crasher of their business model. It affects both the profit and benefits that come from freedom and growth. Especially as their profits and growth are coming from the individuals and groups that would most likely suffer under controls.

Hate groups. Propaganda specialists. Counterintelligence. And those kids in Moldavia making fake news Facebook posts for money. They may have different goals but they all do one thing well. They know how to create content that users click on. It’s what drives Facebook posts (sorry to you cat photos).

To enact effective controls that would impede that ability is not just hurting those content creators, but also the social media companies’ whose revenue depends on building an audience around that questionable content.

They clearly know this. And when prompted, the social media companies wash their hands of any responsibility for control. Usually in some form of, “Don’t’ look at us. We’re just a platform.” Within that response is the abdication of control.

Or in Facebook’s case, when they promise more controls they make those controls hard to use and find. Gee, it’s almost like they don’t want control. But instead, offer the illusion of control.

YouTube, who has had a problem with hateful and racist content, has been reported that the company’s president has ignored or pushed back on employees who have worked on attempts to reduce such content.

Because it makes money from scale (large audiences to mine and advertise to) and freedom, the ends justify the means to drive revenue.

Whether you are a hamburger franchise or a social media company, scale is critical. Scaling the same hamburger and fries to billions is not a problem and drives consistency. See McDonalds. However, scaling all the emotional mess and drama of human beings is difficult for social media platforms because we humans refuse to be consistent and orderly. Not more of the same sandwiches, it’s more “crazy” people.
Social media companies have already chosen.
Problem is social media finds it hard (or less profitable) to exert control, because control takes away the freedom that allows such (profitable) elements. The most vile or manipulative are often some of the most successful at getting clicks and views to use and monetize their platforms.

Growth and freedom. We pick you. Sorry ‘bout that control. Maybe next time.


Brooks Richey on
Content Strategy

What does it mean to be a professional writer?

How do we define an amateur writer versus a professional writer?

When we think of professionals, traditionally, we think of someone who receives payment for their talent output. However for some tasks, like writing, I don’t think that’s completely accurate.

That definition of professionalism is driven by an assumption. A bet that if someone is willing to pay for another’s work product, it must have better value than someone who isn’t paid.

To that notion, I think NCAA players, especially when you think back to a NCAA-league-playing Lebron James or a young Michael Jordan playing for North Carolina refute that. Both basketball players were exceptionally talented in the unpaid stage of their careers. They were likely more talented than most of the people in the NBA being paid millions at the time.
So why weren’t they professionals? Why wasn’t I a professional writer, even though I was paid?
When I was young, I too thought being a professional was just being paid. That money validated worth. I could peck on a keyboard and produce lines of text that looked just like what any copywriter at a big ad agency was doing. But for me, that didn’t make me a professional. I thought that, until people expressed a vote of confidence in my craft by paying me, ONLY THEN would I be a professional copywriter.

After beating on agencies’ doors with a pizza bag of spec work, eventually I got paid to write. I started as a paid intern at Ogilvy and that lead to my first job as a Jr. Copywriter at what is now BBDO. While I had some great ideas and won some creative shootouts early on, I’ll now admit, much of my output wasn’t my best work.

But why? I was getting paid. I had ideas that impressed people that hired me and their clients. I must be good.

In retrospect, I look back at that time with the perspective of Star Trek’s William Shatner who is credited with saying…
”An amateur is likely more talented, but a professional can do it at 8.”
While I could come up with some great ideas back then, it took me FOREVER to write copy. So much, I’m surprised I didn’t reach retirement age and earn a pension after finishing some projects. Things I can do now in minutes then took days. That’s because every part of drafting copy back then was torture. A process of constantly overthinking and struggling…with…every…word…tapped..into…the…screen.

While I understood the fundamentals of writing and had some great ideas, I was afraid of the words I strung together. I conservatively hedged my bets in the use of language instead of boldly producing strong content.

As a novice (even as a paid one) you simply don’t have the experience and practice to understand what to focus on when you write. As a result, you don’t make the bold choices and decisions that truly professional writers make consistently and unconsciously.

Back then, it also didn’t help that this anxiety would tee up moments that shook my confidence. Often after spending a day struggling on a project, I’d carry this barely alive, flat-lining idea into my boss’ office for review. Instead of giving it last rites, I’d watch them make the idea amazing with a couple of copy tweaks.
As Shatner said, my boss could do it at 8.
Why? He (and some she’s) were armed with experience. That magic I saw was true professionalism. And that’s why, at this time in their careers, they were billing for their time at hundreds an hour while I was only billing around 60 an hour.
A true professional earns their title by experience.
Raw talent can produce amazing things. However, getting amazing from raw talent is still a crapshoot. Experience, discipline and the ability to know what to focus on turns that volatile talent into trusted, consistent professionalism.

Though I’m paid as a writer and content strategist (and now one who can do it at 8), most people don’t know my background is in illustration. In fact I took public and private art, design and illustration lessons from early childhood through college. I have the technical skills of a designer, but not tested in the working world. While I understand design fundamentals, it certainly doesn’t mean I can be a professional, much less efficient designer.

In fact, when I do work on some design projects, I’m learning the same lesson I did with writing. It takes much longer. That’s because I’m learning and guessing more than executing the design with clarity, focus, a vision, and experience. The muscles aren’t disciplined to be precise. My mind can’t focus on what’s important to bring out in the design. I’m seeing things for the first time, rather than being able to build off of the last time. So, for me, design is once again, torturous, uneven, and overthought.
There’s a reason professions are called practices.
The true skill and offering of a professional comes from the process of transforming strong knowledge into experienced skill.

To be able to do that means they’ve had practice. A doctor may have read and passed a written test on how to do a heart surgery, but it’s very different to do one without the experience of not having done one before.

That’s why some internships and residencies allow physicians the time, often years, to take their knowledge and talent and sharpen it until it’s delivered efficiently. The practice of doing it again, and again, and again, possibly for years is the price you pay to be a true professional.

Writing is an ongoing practice. While you may have talent, most of us still need time to turn that talent into a professional level of value. I did. Especially if you do get to the point you bill 100s and hour like I have.
The Plumber Story.
It’s like the story of a man who calls a plumber to his house to handle a problem with his pipes.

Once he arrives, the plumber checks around, pulls out his pipe wrench, and bangs an area of pipe a few times. Problem solved. And in just 10 minutes. The plumber then presents a bill for $200.

The homeowner objects to the high bill. “$200 for banging on a pipe? Why on earth do you deserve that!?”

The plumber takes back the bill, details it and hands it back. The bill now reads:
Banging a pipe with a pipe wrench: $2.

Knowing to bang the pipe with the wrench: $99.

Knowing where and how to band the pipe: $99.
A non-plumber or even an amateur plumber would have spent more time to solve the problem. And possibly even more money.

As a professional plumber, he could do it at 8. Or in this case 10 minutes. A professional writer, like the plumber banging on the pipe, is not about being paid to just write words. They’re being paid so much because they have the experience to know which ones to choose.


Brooks Richey on
Content Mindfulness

Transformation through visualization.

I’m a big believer in visualization. When I was young, my dad made me do it as part of my martial arts training. Slowly, I began to notice a correlation between imagining myself executing fighting techniques and then applying them in real (tournament) fights. A feeling that feels like a combination of experience and deja vu. Over time, science is seeming to back up my belief.
Visualization is neural brain practice and response training.
Your brain is a bunch of systematic neural connections firing off in combinations. Those combinations become related to each as those patterns are strengthened through repetition. As they do, they bring certain ideas and action closer together in the brain.

There was a certain smell when you met someone you cared about. Now that smell reminds you of them. Even when they aren’t there.

Or you imagine, over and over, practicing a baseball pitch. You remind yourself to be calm and follow through with your arm when you throw a baseball pitch. And in a real situation, it feels like you’ve done it before.

The relationship between that combination of connections is strengthened by repetition. That is, doing or thinking an activity over and over again stimulates certain parts of the brain needed to perform those actions and that stimulated group build a strong relationship with each other.

So if you throw a ball over and over again, your body, particularly your brain and the specific neural parts stimulated, learn and better coordinate with each other on how to tell your body to throw the ball the way you want it.
Visualization. Practice without the body.
Now, what if you never told your brain that you didn’t throw the ball? Instead, you just think like you really did. Your brain will keep building connections between the parts of your brain and body needed for throwing.

The same concept, but shown in reverse. When people lose a limb, their brain often still imagines and tries to operate as if the limb still exists. Recently amputated individuals may, at first, try to move around by sending signals to a limb that is no longer there. An event called “phantom limbs.”
That’s the power of visualization.
It’s ideation and reality overlapping. Through it, you are training the brain to make the neural connections needed to get the performance you want from your body and mind. Often without inviting the body to the practice sessions.

I do visualization during my morning meditation. Unlike my martial arts day, I focus my visualization on my three most immediate goals, say like better public speaking or not picking up my phone. I know when I visualize looking people in the eyes and remembering to speak slowly I’m training my body to do the same.
Does visualization work over real practice?
I’ll let Morpheus from the Matrix field this one…
“What is real? How do you define ‘real’? If you’re talking about what you can feel, what you can smell, what you can taste and see, then ‘real’ is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain.”
In visualization, by imagining the desired event in your brain you’re just creating the electrical signals. Simulating the neural paths and connections you’d create if you were actually doing it.

There are numerous studies on the brain that show that the thoughts we have created for mental practice is very close to taking physical actions.

Building mental imagery impacts aspects of the brain like motor skills, attention, perception and memory. So through visualization, you are training your brain to manage the actual performance.

The mind follows the body. And the body follows the mind. Get the mind to lead right through visualization.


Brooks Richey on
Content Strategy

Clickbait. Writing the good, the bad and the ugly.

Clickbait. What to know if you are writing or reading it. But first…

News Flash! Your Mother’s Dead!

Ha, ha! No, she isn’t. Made you look though. Now, let me tell you about ficus trees….
Did that feel cheap, unfair and manipulative? Welcome to the world of clickbait.
Clickbait is a powerful content device because it heavily skews the content headline towards emotional button pushing or taps into an emotional bias that we have.

The best or worst part? It works. Even on people who intellectually know better.
How do you define clickbait?

Clickbait can be deployed in all types of content. News stories, blog posts, interviews, infographics, videos. It can be identified by having at least two of the following traits…

An irresistible, shocking, or highly compelling headline
The premise or angle is easily skimmed
Uses memorable images or video
The appeal is driven strongly to a specific emotion
Appears engineered to encourage viral sharing of content over communicating the depth of content

Clickbait is not only addictive to readers.
It’s addictive to content providers who desperately want you to click on and read their content (but at least click on). That’s because, in today’s content world, clicks are cash. So clicks more than content perspective is the end goal.

Clickbait, while usually emotionally manipulative doesn’t specifically lie to you. It’s more like teasing and toying with you for a while to get you riled up. A bit like when an older brother or sister might dangle a ball that you want over your head, just out of reach.

The clickbait headline is that tease. It does it by not quite putting the final clarifying content in reach and letting emotions fill in the gap. An emotional energy that drives your willingness to engage content.

Some clickbait headlines feel incredibly dishonest. Take this one I recently captured in my Flipboard news feed from Forbes…
“The Yield Curve Has Inverted And You Should Sell Your Stocks”

If you take the headline as a reason for your action, you’ll be disappointed as if you read the body copy, you quickly see the gag…

“That is a simple, declarative statement, and yet one I have not read anywhere this morning.“

While the body content may let the cat out of the bag in a clickbait story, by admitting the true story and readjusting the story perspective…
Statistics repeatedly show most readers, will still view, evaluate and understand the story based on the headline.
So if you are the average reader, you’re likely on the phone with you stockbroker in a panic sell instead of reading the whole article.

In fact, a study found that 59% of links shared on social media have never actually been clicked. Those users shared the links based on the headlines without ever reading them.
Where clickbait gets dangerous.
It can..

Drive a break up with the reader in their relationship with the content provider because it made the user feel had or deceived.
Become the boy that cried wolf. The user becomes desensitized by over-the-top claims.
Train and encourage lazy readers. Either by getting them to just read the headline and they think they have the whole story. Or skimming the body copy and cherry-picking the content that is in line with the over the top headline and their own internal narrative.

Clickbait. Clicks at a cost.
If you are writing sales copy. Something that is driving users and customers into a product sales funnel where they can clearly see they are getting product information, clickbait tactics are probably not that harmful.

Same goes with over-the-top-video or an emotionally compelling image like a cute kitten as most users will understand that you are sharing an emotional experience.

However, if the use of clickbait is more about the information that would be applied to a larger understanding of life and issues. That’s where clickbait is likely to do harm to your reader.

Yes, we the reader are responsible for reading the whole article, but most won’t. They walk away with your headline, feeling they got the key facts from it.

While you may succeed with a succession on one-off clickbait lines. Each one pulling in new “suckers.” However, what you are also exaggerating are events and distorted context which can endanger trust if you are trying to build a relationship with hour views.

Like clickbait itself. It’s tempting. Think carefully.


Brooks Richey on
Content Mindfulness

Obsessive Truth Disorder. How Trump controls news cycles and drives some insane.

And why the solution to reclaim your control is mindfulness.

This is a post about mindfulness. The reason the topic is around the current President of the United States, Donald Trump, is that the president is an excellent example of how…

An external force can influence us.
Make us give up self-control over our responses.
Reflectively react in the opposite of mindfulness.

It’s also why our daily exposure and interactions with the 45th President of the United States is a perfect opportunity and reason to build mindfulness skills to help us manage our lives with the president and overall distractions in our lives.
What is mindfulness?
For me, it’s nothing that involves crystals or new-age energy. Learning mindfulness and being mindful is a form of mental discipline. Like a workout for the mind, it’s to simply train it to center itself in the present moment and not get pulled in past or future moments where emotions like fear, anxiety, anger, or regret rule us and our actions.

When being mindful, you can sense and understand the stimulus and the feelings they may attempt to incite, but you learn to separate the feelings you have from the emotional response you may feel compelled to execute. Learning to separate feelings and action, gives you self control of your mind or others who may seek to manipulate you.

In the world that currently exists around Donald Trump, I see (not all, but many) friends and co-workers reacting to the latest tweet, or TV coverage looking pained and obsessed by a dizzying array of events on a daily basis. It’s a rollercoaster of outrageous to crazy to embarrassing events that I find people of both political parties reaching for the Pepto Bismol.

Even beyond politics, bad things happen in life. I think what seems to pain people the most of the daily chaos of the Trump Administration is the feeling there is no control or rudder of stability.

ANYTHING could happen tomorrow. It is as if you are being carried down a river of outrage and warped reality with nothing that level sets standards or creates consistency. Caught in that flow, many are desperately trying to reach a branch on the shore to hold on to keep being dragged downstream further from reality or their values.

I don’t feel that way. While keeping up with government and issues like most responsible Americans participating in a democracy should, I’ve been able to avoid falling in the toxic and self-destroying mess of the rage, cruelty, incompetence, victimization, fear and daily tweet chaos caused by the gravitational forces that orbits President Trump. I’ll explain.

In this case, I’m focusing mostly on Trump and his engagement with the media and people through the media. But I do have to talk a little about politics to level set my explanation and point of view. For me, I gave up political loyalty years ago. For me, parties are more about lifestyle brands. Brands, while effective, are an often easy way for lazy or tired people to adopt scripts to tell them what to do or who they are.

For me, I usually classify people into two classes. Sheep people, who (either from feeling tired, overwhelmed or lazy) seek thought leadership and identity scripts from others rather than writing their own).

The people who supply those scripts are wolves. Wolves like politicians, advertisers, con men, are only happy to provide those scripts to manage thought and build consent for a future call to action (Buy this, vote that) that benefit them.

Trust me, it works better and cross-party. But here I’ll use Democrats and Republicans in this case to help you track the event.

With that said and to complete my full disclosure by saying I personally am not a fan of Donald Trump’s policies nor impressed by his knowledge of business and world affairs. Most of his claims would normally be washed away by anyone with a sense and acceptance history (particularly the 1920s) and command of the facts.

While many presidencies have played fast and loose with facts, the Trump presidency is openly hostile to them if they fail to fit the preferred narrative. Instead, Trump surfs the rough waves of populism. Populism is often birthed from a failure of or lack of listening from the political system to the point voters want politicians to funnel their anger and fear more than contemplate policies. Essentially the mob mentality comes to politics.

While I don’t respect many of these policies I do respect Trump’s almost mystical power and what allowed him to ride the political winds of populism, fear, and resentment to take the political stage.
Trump can control and move the attention of the masses.
The media who once saw him as clown or celebrity sideshow originally fed his access and platform for attention, but his power has exponentially multiplied with his control of the bully pulpit. It’s his superpower that “Trumps” any other skills he has and makes him almost unstoppable.

Except this power isn’t a power. It’s an illusion. But an illusion that his audience, right or left, must be willing to play along with in order to work. Both do.

When a mind accepts an illusion, it’s as good as the real thing because the mind treats it as real. If you believe a prison wall in front of you is made of 10-feet thick concrete, you may not bother to try to break through it. Even, in reality, it’s a paper-thin wall made to look like a concrete wall.
Where and how the mind focuses, controls perceptions, actions, and outcomes.
Trump’s, “superpower,” works very much like a magician or an illusionist. He has mastered the power of distraction and controlling the mental focus and narrowing the attention of others. Thus controlling the user’s perceptions, actions, and outcomes.

This is the standard operating procedure for magicians. Often the key to a good illusion with hand tricks is to get you to focus and look where you think the trick is happening when, actually, the scheme that makes the trick look magical is really happening somewhere else.

If you look at Trump’s efforts at the 50,000-foot level, you can see, he really doesn’t do a lot.

Most of his policies are positioned as a continual state of “in progress” or a repeated set of value-signaling actions with displays of stagecraft to remind his base, “stay with me, this is happening.”

But the deep serious work and progress that would approach any “mission accomplished” never really comes. An immigration raid here to remind us that we (the administration) are working on immigration. A speech that we and China are going to get back together with a “great deal.” Yet tariffs, on the average, are increasing. North Korea firing more missiles than disarming. Iran. Restarting the nuclear program. The wall. And credible sources believe that tax cuts did not work as intended. If you look at the news, we are farther on these topics than the start of his administration.

Except for tax legislation and judges, nothing executed that had to go through the normal or debate legislative process.
Trump’s ability to misdirect is what allows him to manage the lack of progress.
In fact, Trump manages situations in the way a child that doesn’t want to eat food on their plate manages their plate. Trump, like a kid, moves food around on this plate instead of really eating it.
Show craft and misdirection steps in as progress.
To continue with the plate analogy, using distraction methods like a Twitter rant, or harsh policy announcement and lately racially-charged statements, Trump grabs our attention and focus to a narrow place. Such a focus that he, in the plate analogy, has the power to make you focus on whether the food on his plate is sliding over as progress or the space he created from sliding it over is progress or action.

But again, the sum is that nothing on the plate has really changed. Just moved around.
Here’s how this drives Democrats crazy.
Though debatable, (like just sheep with difference scripts) Democrats pat themselves on the head for being smart. A self-satisfying belief they “know the truth.” A truth that can be verified in a manner similar to the scientific method.

News organizations work the same way. Though it doesn’t seem like it, when engaging Donald Trump that focus is a dangerous flaw.

It’s important to seek the truth. And stand up for truth. But in the same way, you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make them drink, you can’t force someone outside of your self to accept facts. Especially when accepting those facts embarrasses them, or threatens their identity or goals.
But “smart” people try to.
That need and focus on affirming truth among those around us, creates a version of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) in those types of people. Like an OCD sufferer who sees an object not aligned in a certain way, the truth-affirming obsessed see a bald-face lie and it feels like the same obsession. The “truth” is out of alignment and they feel compelled to have the truth affirmed. They will obsess and want to “fix it.’
Compulsive truth disorder.
So when Trump says something, extremely exaggerated, hateful or untrue, certain people and news will obsess over it like that object that’s just a little off from the position they are comfortable with. They’ll want to correct it.

But in doing so, they’ll keep talking about it. They’ll obsess over the minutia that proves it’s not true. They’ll seek comfort in the shows on CNN and MSNBC where people are talking about why and what Trump said isn’t true.

As I said in previous posts. Cable news has been more reality entertainment than news for decades. Which is one reason, they initially welcomed Trump for color commentary before his presidential campaign.

For those turning to it for their Trump OTD of whatever he’s done or said that day, it’s really a self-soothing process. I need validation from the host or the panel that I’m not crazy. But it doesn’t matter. He’s won by getting your focus.
Your obsession with asserting a shared truth or value signaling outrage is exactly what Trump wants.
That compulsive need to reaffirm truth keeps you focused on him. As media also tries to reaffirm truth, they cover him and his position on the issue. Donald Trump gets the precious blood that keeps him alive, focus and attention.
And focus that benefits him in many ways.

He’s popular (defined as a lot of people are thinking about him which is different from being liked).
People become exhausted with being obsessed about trying to correct all the lies and exaggerations. And like Lucy on the conveyor belt, some start to get by. So lies and scandal get to live on mostly unchallenged as public attention focuses and shifts to the next outrage on command.

Meanwhile Trump’s biggest followers, keep their energy by not getting in the weeds of Trump’s ideas, policies or tweets. It’s why you often hear the phrase, “we take him (Trump) figuratively not literally.” While those with Obsessive Truth Disorder, do just the opposite and obsess over the literally.

As there’s so much to try to correct in detail, the bigger idea Trump claims, filtered, often gets through and floated to the top by the winds of outrage of his opponents.

The (physically impractical) wall. Finding 11 million illegal immigrants or tariffs (taxes on consumer items).

They are all unfeasible. For those who disagree with his policies, the focus should be on the bigger picture.

But like moving food on a plate, Trump is able to outrage and get his audience focused on how the food is being moved and not if it’s disappearing from the plate.
Trump’s skill is about controlling the focus and attention of others. Mindfulness is about keeping it for yourself.
When we have to watch cable news or respond to every notification that says “Donald J Trump” tweeted, we are all playing his game.

Pulling our attention from our present to focus our attention on him. Or when there is bad news on some topic he doesn’t want to talk about, like clockwork, he’ll tweet or start a fight with traditionally third-rail issues, or say something that shifts the public attention in a different direction.

Your outrage and reaction to his outrage and misdirection traps mean you’re being affected by external forces. Which means he controls you.

As I said earlier, being mindful is not letting every stimulus force and uncontrolled response or an emotionally driven error. Like road rage. A driver may cut you off. That doesn’t mean you have to get out of your car and bash their head in. Same with Trump saying an idea that seeks to outrage (or if you are a fan excite). You can’t try to react and swat at everyone.

Using mindfulness, learn not to react to everything Trump says. Instead, back to our child not eating their food metaphor, wait or demand for Donald to actually take food off his plate. To show and produce true measurable results. What is our situation “presently.”
Make that (accountability for results) the standard instead of an emotional fight with him in the weeds of thought outrage and offense. Ignore him or stay focused on what really matters to you in the bigger picture until he does.
When you control your actions and attention, you’ll kill his oxygen supply. Attention. Don’t think you’re destroying him by blowing up in outrage. It’s the opposite. Why…?

One: the part of his base that loves trolling the opposition orgasms and loves him more when they see you mad and obsessed and…

Two: it’s like the movie the Andromeda Strain. That part where they were going to nuke the town with the virus, but at the last minute found out it thrives on radiation. Donald Trump lives on attention and emotional chaos. He’s more of a reality show brand on wealth and power and TV show producer than a problem-solving businessman. He’s depending on that attention and the focus on his perceived but questionable wealth and success to open a lot of doors and shut down questions.

Trump is seductive because he is channeling the fears and concerns of those who look to the past (safety and nostalgia) and fear (look at the changing world that seems to be passing them by). Both modes, past and present are what mindfulness seek to avoid. When we move from the present, we drift into emotional states that can control us and our reasoning. Trump’s slogan “Make America Great Again” speaks to both those modes and the emotions from them.

Being mindful and present gives you a greater sense of calm. That doesn’t mean that if you disagree with his policies to condone them or be quiet. Just like if someone cuts you off on the road, you don’t laugh it off, or not condemn or speak out. Just don’t go to the place that clearly shows that a person’s actions are controlling you. Instead, you act and move forward with control and focused purpose.

That generally means no million-person hacky-sack protests or any other self-soothing actions that coddle or validate emotions from your past and future states. Focus on deliberate committed actions, like voting. Or if you are a fan on the president, keep focused on keeping his feet to the fire to drive policies that will actually improve your life (like farmers to better manage trade policy, not just make you feel good or self-soothing resentments.

Mindfulness is knowing your feelings, accepting them and having the power to act in the present beyond the influence of your emotions. Instead you act based on your true wants and workable goals.

And that is the pitfall of a Donald Trump or any person (of any politician party or group) that sells. They are skilled at massaging our emotions and getting us to be caught up in how we feel over what we truly want and will make us truly happy.

See how our obsession and attention with truth is exactly what Trump depends on to control media narratives and drive his opponents crazy.

Brooks Richey on
Content Strategy

Writing push notifications for mobile apps.

Have a smartphone? Then you likely know what a push notification is.

Unfortunately, what’s even more likely is that you are exhausted by them as you get one on your phone almost every few minutes.

In case you don’t know, a push notification is an interruptive message that is pushed (sent immediately without a direct ask) by the system to your phone lock screen or during an activity of an unlocked phone so that its app owner can inform or remind you about an event or a status.
Notifications are written with the following three goals.
Those goals are some combination to inform, build relationships or drive engagement.

For example.


The mobile LinkedIn app on your phone might send you a notification letting you know: “Bob Smith wants to connect with you.”


Have an investing or stock trading app on your phone? It might tell you that: “Markets are getting slammed. The DOW is down 600 points.”


Or take Facebook. Who might remind you that: “You haven’t posted to Facebook in a while. Let your friends know how you’re doing.”

Notifications can be helpful.
Then why are most of us annoyed by push notifIcations?
Because like the essential definition of annoying, it’s when the attention you are requesting via your notification is not worth the value you are providing.

Remember, through a push notification, you are trying to stop a user in the middle of their busy life. A life already filled with lots of distractions to visually poke them and say, “hey, look at this?”

If you tap somebody on the shoulder to interrupt them, get their attention, and then tell them something relevant, they’ll understand and forgive you for the interruption.

However, if you keep tapping them and asking about trivial matters, you’ll quickly annoy them.

Often with the best intention, those creating and managing notifications and notification content are tempted to write and push all types of content through the channel. Many times making them mini press releases than helpful notices.
If a user’s push notification channel are flooded with non-valued content, users eventually learn to ignore them.
To stimulate a desired response and avoid user notification fatigue, nudges must continually be viewed by the USER (not your company) as offering value, not just information.

In order to “tickle” the user’s desire to act, the context around any notfication subject should directly communicate or infer:

“What’s in this for me?”

“Why should I care?”
What makes notification content valuable.

Proper Time Context. The user’s behavior, location, or preference triggers the notification. When a notification is given in the proper time context or agreed-upon trigger (notify me when my balance is low) you’re likely in alignment with the user’s expectation and need.
Appeal to Self interest. The content of the push appeals to the user as an individual. The user should be able to quickly understand the value in the opportunity your notification is offering (Pop 30% off sale on our online store within the next hour).
Offers Value Release.When applicable, notification should also give users an opportunity to seize upon that value presented via a tap on the lock screen notification to satisfying content or action.

Notification topics should generally fall into one of the following categories:


Stimulate awareness or remind users about the value of an upcoming opportunity within a webinar or meeting.

E.g., “How will the new tax impact your goals? Join our tax webcast.”

2. Accolades

Deliver value by delivering praise or recognition for a milestone. Stimulate user pride in their association with the event.

E.g., “Let there be balloons! Happy Birthday, Jane!”

E.g., “Congrats on your team’s account win! A special message is waiting for you.”

3. Challenges

Reminder of status as a stimulus to expend additional effort. Effort driven by the value of winning or personal accomplishment. Challenges can also be used for gamification to drive engagement around an feature.

E.g., “You’ve tackled 5 of our 6 fitness goals. Let’s help you keep it going!”

4. Tutorial/Engagement

Opportunity for users to build value or work skills to improve work success.

E.g., “Ready to save a lot of time? Take a little watching our video tutorials.”

6. Event/Time Triggered

Status notification that an event (that the user cares about) has started.

E.g., The Apple Keynote event is starting now”

7. Heads’ Up

A time-driven nudge. The value of the opportunity is dominantly driven by urgency and FOMO.

E.g., “Two days left for 401k contributions. See if your account is maxed out.”

4. Feedback

Give opportunities for users motivated to express their ideas, feelings and feedback.

E.g., We want to hear from you, too. Help us with this quick, one-question survey.

When writing push notifications, remember to give them value. Not just interrupt them with random information.

Writing tips to help ensure your push notifications are better at helping and driving engagement than annoying your users.

Brooks Richey on
Content Mindfulness

The Searchable You. Part 3. Balancing and curating your searchable life online.

We don’t want every personal or embarrassing detail about us to be revealed online. We fear that could hurt us.

Yet, ironically modern society will penalize us for not being found online. A lack of a social profile or online presence can create more concerns than having one.

I as well as others would likely raise an eyebrow at anyone in their 20s to 40s that doesn’t have a LinkedIn profile. I’m not alone.

Over 47% of employers have said they wouldn’t call a person for an interview if they couldn’t find them online. Meanwhile, 20% say they expect candidates to have an online presence.

So you need to be findable. Just not all of you.

As you post and share things to watch out for that doesn’t come back to haunt you in an employer search.

Posting provocative or inappropriate photographs, videos or information. Might want to hold off on that picture of you fake sodomizing a lawn gnome
Posting information about drinking or using drugs. Even if you’re legal or in a state where some drugs are legal, an employer may not know the context or may simply assume stereotypes related to drug use.
Posting discriminatory comments. Posts related to race, gender and religion. There is a whole site/tumblr blog called “Racists Getting Fired.” People who love to out people saying hateful things to their employers.

Links or content connecting you to criminal behavior.

Duh. Yet I’m sure you can link to tons of stories where this has happened besides this one.
Speak and share as if you were on stage at The Met.
Not that you should have stage fright, but talk, speak and act as if everything will be heard by a huge audience. And once you said it, you can’t take it back. And though you can delete it. Minds don’t delete. And screenshots are good at helping others remember and show others.

Remembering that can be humbling.


Brooks Richey on
Content Strategy

Why brand content is critical with the rise of voice assistants.

Why has the need to produce branded content become absolutely critical with the rise of voice assistants?

To be honest, it’s more of a “oh Sh&t!” moment. Especially if you’re a product owner with products you want to keep selling in an increasingly e-commerce environment.
Quick breakdown on voice’s threat to brand.
Having a brand is about having a distinct identity. It’s the feelings, perceived performance, value, and imagery around a name that people become so attached to that they demand and choose products related to that name over all others in the product category.

Brand identity makes you say, “I don’t just want one. I want that one!”
When you have no brand. Your customers have no preference.
If a person doesn’t have a brand in their head for a product, they probably don’t have a preference around that product. Which means while they may ask for your product category, they won’t ask for YOUR brand.

And if they are that detached from your brand, pretty soon, in the age of search, the voice assistants that your customers will increasingly rely on will get to decide what brand is right for them. Not you.
No problem. You make a voice assistant, right?
What? You don’t make or own a heavily used voice assistant like Alexa or Siri? Looks like you’ve got a problem.
The rising danger of voice assistants for companies.
Almost 50% in the US use voice assistants now. And according to Juniper Research, the world will use over 8 billion voice assistants by 2023, just over three years from now. And it won’t be just the popular voice assistants that readily come to mind like Siri, Google Assistant, and Alexa (throw Samsung’s Bixby in as well, why not?).

In addition, it will come in a variety of once-voiceless products that will include voice agents, including your TV, your car, your video game box, toys, and more.

All of these will become points of contact where consumers like you and I will make product and purchasing decisions.

To your TV: “Hey TV Voice Assistant, I want to watch or buy a movie.”

To your car: “Hey Dashboard Voice Assistant, take me to a place for pizza.”

To your computer or smartphone: “Hey Voice Assistant, where can I join a gym?”

To your video game: “Hey Console, I want to spend credits to upgrade my armor and order food.”

Without the consumer specifically asking for brand, speaking into a product-owned voice agent or one that has a relationship with preferred vendors (Hmmm, your Sony TV seems to show you Sony-produced movies first), your product’s future may depend on your ability to train consumers to demand your product specifically, not just want the category.
Bring your brand’s A-game to voice assistants.
That means, it you don’t control or dominate the search channels your consumers are using, you are going to have to create content, branding experiences and spend the marketing dollars required to build value and loyalty that trains consumers to demand your product when they engage voice assistants.
Branding can survive voice assistants by stimulating sales channels.
It’s actually old school.

As most of us didn’t go through Pharmacy school, how do we know all those pharmaceutical drug names out there? Names even for drugs to solve problems we’ve never personally needed? It’s because after formulating a specific patented product that pharma companies spent millions and years developing, the companies didn’t just want patients to ask for just any solution to their medical issue, they wanted potential patients to pressure the decision point (their doctor) to skip cheap, reasonable, equally effective and give the patient their specific branded pharmaceutical solution. How? Because TV commercials told patients…Ask your doctor if our branded pharmaceutical solution is right for you.
Educate and train your customer NOW on the value of your brand.
If you don’t want a voice assistant cutting you out of the picture later.


Brooks Richey on
Content Mindfulness

The Searchable You. Part 2: You may let go of your past. The internet won’t.

As we live in the age of search and each of us and our lives have become searchable, our history, good or bad, can easily be pulled from the obscurity of fading time, fading memories, and past cultural norms into the present.
Some of us have more of our history at risk than others.
As a GenXer, I am of a generation where a large portion of my peers are not yet heavily indexed or captured by Google, Facebook, Instagram, shopper cards, health apps, electronic data records, voice assistants, and reward programs. Or, at least, not as much as Millennials and Generation Z who embraced many of these lifestyle-capturing programs as children and teens.

Like many, I use them now but started in my 30s. So even though I am becoming more “searchable” beyond my professional life, there is a portion of my life (pre 30s) that I can still control how it’s presented because much of it can’t be found through a search query.

For example, I had a brief stint in modeling, producing pictures I’m not completely proud of. No, they’re not dirty, they’re they 1990s. Cosby sweaters. Hair fades. And I’m-happy-to-be-holding-this-VCR smiles.

So, what I’m saying is, yea pretty close to obscene.

Fortunately, this was in the world when magazines were mostly paper. The photos from those shoots were more likely to be thrown out or lost than shared. Same with my childhood pictures that sit in a family album in a closet rather than iPhoto or Facebook.

My paper past has become handy when I’ve mentioned something about my past and someone searches the web hoping there’s a picture. Modeling pictures especially.


Of course, having your history captured in the paper world doesn’t help everyone. Just ask the Virginia politicians who had to answer for blackface photos from old yearbooks. It’s paper, not digital. Yet it’s still only one scan away from entering the digital world if interested people find it.

Digital or not, the problem is the same: people will scour your history for things to laugh at or say “ah-ha!” to. Or look for something to give them a reason to say “no” to and wag a shaming finger, even when you currently don’t display those faults or characteristics in the present.
What should the results of the searchable you mean?
Supreme Court Justice Earl Warren, brought up as liberalism gone amuck in judicial decisions by conservatives for issues like Roe vs. Wade was a fervent protector of segregation when he was a governor. George Wallace, known for trying to prevent schools integrating became a supporter of civil rights. Kevin Hart and Trevor Noah have posted jokes or made comments that were dug up to shame them.

Should those facts in our past be hidden? Of course not. But searching one’s past to find dirt just to say “ah-ha!” forgets that people and the cultures that produced bad behavior possibly change over time. If you at look past statements of currently pro-gay-rights politicians like Hillary Clinton and Barrack Obama, you’ll find not-so-pro statements in their past.

I’m not beating up on any of the above mentioned, rather I’m saying that just grabbing a moment of time from the Internet history of these people and holding it up like you found a murder weapon, tries to score woke points while possibly sacrificing context and evolution in people’s beliefs and standards. Unless you really found a murder weapon (or a crime). No statute of limitations there.
It’s just not about what they did. But did they change?”
Ok. So you found who they were or something horrible they said. Is that who they are, today?

People do learn and change. An unwavering “ah-ha!” culture that is found in people who dig up old tweets reacts to the error and ignores any context or change.

Lack of context as we search people’s past online is what makes such searches dangerous. Fifteen years ago, many wouldn’t have blinked if you called someone a “fag” and a lot of people (not rightly) did it. Forty years ago drinking while driving wasn’t such a big deal.

Both of those things wouldn’t stand today. And more people understand that as wrong. So if you search for people who say that terrible word to only to discover your friends, public figures, or celebrities, do you shame or punish them for it?

Or do you ask, “that was your thinking? Is that you now?”

The answer: You ask, “ Is that you now?” And you do it for a couple of reasons. The “ah-ha” or “gotcha” approach may be employed by someone looking for clickbait content to republish or go viral (especially if the subject is a celebrity) or it’s designed to turn eyes towards the finder to capture attention or value signaling their wokeness.

I’d argue that what it really feels like is as if you called out and yelled “OMG. You farted!” to a person for passing gas in a crowded restaurant.

The event is not great. It happened. And your statement, while clearly putting you on the record on being anti-flatulence or offended by it, really didn’t add to the situation except to embarrass the subject and put them on the defensive. And without context, it’s possible that the person has a flatulence problem. So good for you.

So could you handle the situation differently? Probably.

Why? Because what you found and how you address it could be used more constructive by sticking to your belief, but starting a conversation that clarifies their actions or opens dialogue for a teaching moment if the situation is still the same.

For instance, the now The Late Show with Steven Colbert host Steven Colbert was accused of being racist and promoting Asian stereotypes towards Asians by a woman, who was offended by one of his tweets from the Colbert Report.

She tweeted her displeasure. “When satire becomes as offensive and hurtful as the thing satirized it is no longer satire. It is simply more injustice. #cancelcolbert.”

My opinion. I think this was woke and outrage that sprinted way past understanding message context. So more like outrage sleepwalking than being woke.

First, the tweet was not from Colbert directly, it was from a producer who lifted the quote from a show segment. A segment that was actually making fun of the Washington Redskins organization for giving to a charity for Native Americans rather than address the issue with their own controversial name. The Redskins mocking quote that was tweeted:

“I am willing to show #Asian community I care by introducing the Ching-Chong Ding-Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals or Whatever.”

Facts aside, if you look at Colbert’s work in total, he’s probably not openly or intentionally racist, or very good at hiding it. Also, I think if he had felt he hurt someone he’d probably apologize. This is a man who after making fun of conservative commentator Robert Novak, apologized without prompt, after finding out that he was suffering from brain-related cancer. So I’m pretty sure there is capacity and responsibility within the man’s heart to listen and understand.

Would it have really hurt for this woman to start her tweet response with something like…
“ Steven. You said “Ching-Chong Ding-Dong Foundation.” I’m taking that to mean a slight against Asians. Did you really mean that?”
In this small effort, A conversation is born. One where the standards or feelings of today help teach or contextualize ideas of the past.
Being called out for your past? You do have to take responsibility to address it.
Free speech is freedom to say whatever you want, not be free of its consequences. In that context, those of us searching and finding your past must take the responsibility to try to really listen and understand. And be ready to have a conversation and teach, not just condemn.

Skills we will need sooner than later. As we become deeper, rich-data human search engines, finding our mistakes in life will get easier and easier. As a society, it’s critical to have a process in which to talk through them so we can all find a way to move forward.

Next post. What to do in the era of search.



Brooks Richey on
Content Strategy

Emojis and memes. Our modern-day newspeak.

In George Orwell’s book 1984, Oceania is a dystopian totalitarian society. The actions of its citizens are tightly watched and controlled.

In this world, even thought is regulated. One of the ways the government does so is by implementing a controlled language that heavily restricts choices in grammar and vocabulary. The result was the official language of Oceania called newspeak.

For instance, if you wanted to say that you really liked something, you might say, “I really enjoyed X” or “Wow! X was amazing and phenomenal.”

In Oceania, you could only say it was “Good.” Or, if you really liked it, “Double Plus Good.” Between normal speech and newspeak, you can feel the regression to a more infantile, near-grunt-level of communication.

In the book 1984, newspeak was designed to eliminate independent traits and sense of self that could threaten the totalitarian regime and eventually lead citizens to revolt.

Newspeak’s function was to:
Eliminate personal identity.
With everyone is limited to using the same vocabulary via newspeak, it’s harder to carve out a different identity.

The way we use words is like a fingerprint. Our particular use and choices identify us. In the real world, there’s a reason kids and groups create and use their own slang terms and unique vocabulary (like bae, fleek, lit) to define themselves as a group and to signal they’re different and unique from others.
Eliminate self-expression.
If the words you use are more narrow or the same words, you can’t express yourself differently than others. If so, then you are robbed of the tools to be different. And when you are limited to small words like in newspeak, like cups that are too small, they’re unable to hold all the personal feelings, passion and emphasis that you want to fill them with (“Double plus good” vs. “Freakin’ Incredible!”). So those excess feelings that uniquely express you never get captured in a tangible form to reach the ear or eye of another person.
Restrain free will.
Words help people understand you, but they also help manage the thoughts in our brains. Like blood cells carry oxygen to feed the body, words hold meaning to enhance the dialogue for the voice inside our head.

The more limited the words in your head, the more restricted your own thinking becomes. The result: locking yourself in a cage of thought to only be able to think in the official or regulated way.
What does newspeak have to do with Emojis and memes?
While both were not created by totalitarian orders to squash expression or control society, both are narrowing the range of human expression. I love memes. Emojis? Meh (personal opinion).

We like them because they are a quick way to grab and communicate a general idea or emotion. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that if we let them become a consistent lazy habit, they limit our ability of expression to “what’s on the store shelf of expression.”

Instead of clearly expressing, “that’s me.” By simply copying emojis, memes and newspeak, we instead agree to limitations by saying, “Me too.” “Yea, what they said.”

Yes, the smiley face that you post in your text message says you’re happy. But in reality it’s what the Unicode Consortium (the organization that approves and publishes emojis) has visually defined as happiness. Not you.

By posting it, all you are saying is that symbol is in the ballpark of how you feel. Not exactly how you feel.

A meme, (a humorous image, video, piece of text, etc.) that is copied and spread rapidly by Internet users) works along the same concept.

While the Dat Boi meme,


100% somehow captures just how I feel on a daily basis. I strongly doubt anyone else finds that most memes completely capture what they want to express. Instead they’re “in the ballpark.”

So like Oceania’s newspeak approved “Double plus good” is in the ball park of “Wow, that’s amazing!” The meme of Kat Williams’ look with his neck cocked back is the the ballpark way of expressing of your feeling that your friend’s idea is nuts.
Want to understand the limiting power of newspeak, memes and emoji? A lesson from Fisher Price.

This might pre-date some readers. In the 70s to the 90s there was a toy called the Farmer See N’ Say by Mattel. I had one. It was a wheel with different farm animals on it. You’d point an arrow towards the barn animal of your choice, pull a string and you’d hear a voice say…

The cow says. “Moooooo.”

“This is a duck…quack, quack, quack”

The Dog says, “Woof!”

Well, what if the dog wants to say, “Whimper” or the Cow somehow says “WTF?” The 12 choices of barnyards sounds won’t allow you to express yourself beyond what’s available. And you’re not going to communicate to people with only 12 well-known but limited messages.

That’s newspeak. And unfortunately that some of what memes and emojis are about. Nothing wrong with using them to make communicating simple. Just be sure it’s not making YOU simple.


Brooks Richey on
Content Mindfulness

The Searchable You. Part 1. Keep your resume. Your Google and Facebook, please.

You’re going to an interview for your first job. It’s going great.

Then the hiring manager asks about that time you looked passed out at a college dorm party.

“What? How did they know that?” you think to yourself.

Then they ask if you still hold the view in an old blog post that the war in Abukasstan is unjust.

“What’s this got to do with being an accountant!? What else do they know?” you think.
You and your life are searchable.
Your prospective employer did a search. It’s not unusual. A 2018 CareerBuilder survey reports that 70% of prospective employers search and scan social media to screen candidates during the hiring process.
Searches for you doesn’t stop once you get the job.
The same survey reports that 43% of employers continue to review your searchable digital life to further check your background and behaviors while as an employee.

In some ways, it makes perfect sense. Today, if you are looking for a good restaurant, you do a search. Many times that includes seeking customer reviews. So searching for the right employee isn’t much of a stretch from that idea.
What are employers looking for in their search? According to Careerbuilder:
58% look for information supporting a candidate’s qualifications for the job

50% want to ensure the candidate has a professional online persona

34% want to see what other people are posting about the candidate
What gives them the right to do a search on you?
Guess what? You said, “yes” to being searched, many times.

To steal a bit of the Miranda ruling: “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can be used in a court of law…”

To which, you said or typed, “So, I got really wasted at my friend’s party and….”

In the world of social media, many of us are blabbermouths (here’s my kid, our my trip to Vegas, etc.). Our propensity to be chatty, value signal, and show off our lives drives most of us to waive our rights to keep our information private in the digital world.

To share our lives and ideas, we’ve agreed to the Terms and Conditions on Facebook, then Google, then LinkedIn, etc. We’ve surrendered our data and control until, little by little, these services have collected a massive amount of (searchable) data about us.

And because marketers want to find out about you and get the best profile of you as possible, all that data you provide from sources, like the ones below, finds a way to come together.

Google Maps, Your current location, where you traveled)

Google search history. Topics that you have an interest in)

Facebook post. Text and image and “likes” that communicate your views or preferences)

Relationships. Matching your contacts with a site’s contacts to map your relationships with other people.

Posts. (Words, ideas, rants or screeds that you’ve published on the web have been captured and searchable.

Twitter. Each tweet an opportunity to say something that is or can be misconstrued as offensive or bad behavior

Your Apple Watch or Fitbit. Your health data is made available.

Your DNA. Through services like 23&Me, it was recently revealed that the FBI has access to the DNA records of up to 48% of the public.

Pictures. Google, Dating Apps, and other sources have been scanning your face and are getting better at identifying you online and in other people’s apps.

As you share, you are leaving a trail that others, like employers, will find.

But so will others. What are the consequences when your history finds its way into the searchable present?

That’s for the next post, next week.

Brooks Richey on
Content Strategy

All hail the innovators and content strategists… with slings and arrows!!!

Who invented the automobile? Wasn’t Henry Ford. It was Karl Benz, the Benz from Mercedes Benz. Ford took the idea and found a better way to mass produce cars and make them popular. And him, rich.
First-mover advantage isn’t an advantage. It’s usually a stepping stone…for someone else.
That applies to those pioneering the principles of content strategy in this increasingly digital and content-driven world.

The king’s taster gets to taste the food first. What an honor, right?

Depends on what honor it is to be the first to find the poison hidden in the King’s food.
The innovators aren’t always the ones left standing to win the accolades.
First-mover advantage is not always ideal. Sometimes you simply win a minor place in history as an unwitting validator of an idea…or you make room and space for other people to step in and bask in the success.
Or in other words, you thought you were the scientist doing the breakthrough research that could change the world but found out you were actually the world’s lab rat. You solved the problem, only to find others getting more credit or benefit from the solution.
I should point out, I’m not trying to discourage innovation and innovators.
I know that, with true innovators, this warning doesn’t matter.

They must innovate. They will take the risk. And they will feel satisfaction in cracking the code and unlocking secrets and ideas. It’s just that, as their passion and innovation clear a path, those less brave or smart, the imitators and the trend followers will walk comfortably and leisurely in the once treacherous space the innovator’s hard work help to clear.

They may even brag, rebrand the innovator’s work, and except accolades for their expedited version of the journey (See yuppies climbing Mount Everest as vacation years after Nepalese Sherpa mountaineer Tenzing Norgay became the first climber in 1953). All I’m saying is that innovators must accept that as the circle of life for innovation.
Innovators and leaders as the canary in the coal mine.
Sometimes, I have driven over the speed limit. I like the ability to get to where I’m going a little faster. But I always remember, “be fast, never be the fastest.”

Why not? Doesn’t being the fastest get you to where you are going even faster? It might. But the fastest also does something else, catches a state police car’s attention.

That’s why I lay back, follow the faster car and let it lead and act as cop bait. Barreling down the highway, it attracts all the problems and resistance that I can then see and avoid. So thanks, Mustang with the top down blaring Free Bird on the radio.

It just goes to show that being the first is not always the social winner in the long run. But what’s implied in “first-mover advantage” language that is used by the same tech companies and businesses that also use the word “synergy” too many times is the idea that if you get there first, you get the high ground in the marketplace.

The belief is that the high ground is a much better position in which to fend off the competition.

However, what looks like space and high ground is just being out in the open field and a clear shot for snipers.

You embodied change, you stepped out ahead in an innovative space all by yourself only to find that your peers pointed at you and said, “fire!”
Innovators. People will “shoot” at you for a variety of reasons.
Some will honestly believe your idea is preposterous or crazy (ask Steve Jobs who was fired from then only to come back and save Apple).

Some will feel your ideas threatens the current order (see Tucker as his advanced-design automobiles threatened the big automakers).

Or people are just jealous ( I think the Millennials call then “haters”). Even in my career I’ve seen and had many projects or idea sabotaged by a manager or colleague when the results could threaten their position or reputation.
This is especially true in content strategy.
For many firms, setting content strategy as a pillar and practice is threatening to some other disciplines because it crosses over into other disciplines and fiefdoms and can question their authority and purpose. I’m looking at you design, UX, marketing and account executives. The sling and arrows from peers are often the attempt to downplay its importance and keep the current order.

While the forces may be against you, like a fish swimming upstream to spawn, innovators and content strategy innovators keep going because that drive to create and solve a problem in our industry is almost genetic.

Successful people often survive the “shooting.” It may have required you to give it your all. You deserve credit. Just be prepared to realize that you will also give a lot more to your competitors as well.

They will build upon your idea faster and easier as you saved them the problem and time of finding all the mistakes and minefields. You’ve created a platform that they can use their energy to evolve from instead of invent.

Facebook, Google, as big and famous as they are, came on the backs of the first innovators in their industries. MySpace for social and sharing and Yahoo for search. Yahoo was THE search engine in the late 90s. They both succeeded in the heavy lift to validate the category. But others and now leading competitors built off of them to create the product or infrastructures that takes hold.
I see content strategy slowly being championed by a few pioneers.
That includes Ann Handley and Kristina Halvorson who through their advocacy and content really fight to make content an equal player on the stage. Their work is making content strategists, lose the self-esteem issue, of being treated like content generators. Or to be able to leave a place where, like one where a former design colleague used to say, “squirt words here.”

Content will take its place among the other disciplines. An event that’s happening quicker on the client and product side. And those pioneers who are pushing content strategy and the practice further will survive the slings and arrows of their peers. Some will serve as the King’s tasters or my fast-driving friend. That could be me as well.

If I’m an evolver more than an innovator, to them I say, “Thanks for doing the heavy lifting. We’ll take it from here.”

I still laugh at when a former colleague, not a content strategist and if I stayed was likely soon to be my manager, ask me to edit our content offering from a sheet she gave me. A sheet that was Ann Hanley’s content strategy terms and ideas copied and pasted.

It’s one of those signs that, looking on the positive side, tell you, as a content strategist the haters really like you and understand the value you offer. Even as they try to stop you.

Content strategy will continue to grow and stand side by side as a digital discipline. Like the internet. A platform that ad agencies laughed at only to pivot to the point where it now sounds like they swore they invented it.

I can already see the day “where big firms that shun content strategy” will proclaim that “this firm has always been about content strategy” as they walk potential clients through their hallways.
It’s not a rant. Just a look ahead and the admission of the cycle that happens not just in business but in life.
Jackie Robinson endured slurs and threats to be the first black player in baseball. And now, we don’t blink at it. It’s how people are. One day we hate the change. We fight the change. Then one day comes where we embrace it. Even take credit for it.

I happen to work with great people and clients who truly value content and the asset value of well optimized and structured content.

But I came from places that didn’t. And I know a lot of people are currently toiling in those places. And during a time I took a sabbatical and met with content people, I’ve met some very talented and true content strategists, many who get frustrated because they can’t unlock the skills they have to help clients create better digital experiences.

Strategists who like “once more unto the breach” try to sell their value not just to the client, but to their own peers. Sometimes making little progress, but feeling like it cost them their own blood and sweat.

So to those content strategists who have those days when the firm doesn’t seem to be listening to you, if you are pioneering, thank you for your struggle-and likely your sacrifices.

For those waiting for change, there are some really talented people working on it.


Brooks Richey on
Content Mindfulness

The great streaming media swindle, I mean, trade-off.

Thanks to streaming, you now get lots of media, content and lower prices.
Now is the key word. Hate to break it to you. You should get ready for less content, with less content control and higher costs.

Streaming. The savior from the expensive and content restrictive tyranny of cable and music companies. All hail streaming.

Not so fast.

While you currently enjoy $10 for Netflix and bundled Amazon Prime content or $25 a month for Sling, and around $10 a month for Spotify or Apple Music, forces are quietly moving in the background to reconstitute the same structure and higher prices of cable and the music industry that streaming was supposed to liberate you from.
Streaming’s appeal is easy and obvious.
Like it’s a legal version Napster or pirating, you get fairly instant access to a huge world of content on your TV or computer or phone. And let’s be honest, it is amazing!
NOW is a great time to gorge and binge on lots of content.
There’s so much it’s almost painful to make a decision on what shows to focus on because there are only 24 hours in the day. Not sure if it’s a sad state of affairs that picking Good Omens over the next season of Archer feels like I making a life decision. But I’m guessing others feel the same. That’s how much good content is out there. So again, thank you streaming.

But now that streaming seems almost inevitable as a mainstream content source for consumers, networks know they must begin to pivot to focus on streaming content that selling digital or physical content.
Streaming is great. But there is one small catch…
Streaming and accessing content is not the same as owning and controlling your content. If you bought the movie The Matrix in some physical or digital form, you get to control how you see it as long as you physically control it. Same if you bought a physical copy or downloaded a song from Bruno Mars.

In streaming, that relationship with content may be temporary and fleeting. Each month, content providers like Netflix add and remove movies and shows from its network. If one of those happens to be a show you like and don’t have a controllable copy of, you lose the ability to watch it.
This issue becomes clearer as act two in the evolution of streaming begins to manifest.
As contracts expire, content companies are reclaiming a lot of their content properties from other networks and streaming services in order to be used exclusively in their own streaming content service.

All the Star Wars and Marvel and Disney properties are migrating to Disney’s exclusive streaming service. Comcast is moving The Office to its own NBC Universal streaming service. Fox’s The Simpsons are moving to Disney’s service as a lot what was once Fox content is now owned by Disney.

The universe of content is transforming into streaming “channels” very similar to the cable companies’ packages of channel add ons.

And like cable, yes, you could buy a basic TV show package for $19.95., But if you have the audacity to like a variety of shows that aren’t just on Netflix then you need to “add on” Disney’s network and/or NBC’s network. And perhaps Apple’s offering Apple + and Amazon’s…. and before you know it…
Your streaming bill looks a lot like your old cable bill.
And though the public may not be aware of it, one of the biggest drivers that increased your cable bill over the years is networks upping carriage fees. That is, the content providers or networks charged cable companies to carry their content.

While some of these streaming services will also own the content they stream, they’ll likely raise prices as they’ll have a monopoly on certain content. Those that don’t own the content they stream will likely be hit with the streaming version of carriage fees demanded by the content owners to keep that content. Same with audio as artists and music writers want a bigger cut of streaming royalties.

Either way, the prices of your streaming services will start to climb.

Remember when Ma Bell, the telephone monopoly was broken up into smaller baby bells to encourage competition? Then there was Ameritech. Bell South, etc. Eventually, those baby bells bought each other up and became slightly smaller monopolies (e.g., Verizon, AT&T, I guess, more of an oligarchy). But essentially reconstituted into the original form.
Cable and content are likely doing the same.
What’s better for them in this new world is that they get control of their content in a way they could before DVRs and pirating. Users can watch on-demand…as long as the streaming service wants to make it available. The service can also put ads back into the content they watch and make it must view. That’s something that frustrated cable and TV executives when users could just fast-forward past content and skip ads with DVRs.

It’s the same story as Facebook and social media. Consumers give up data and control for access to content. Only to realize, it might have gotten the bad side of the bargain.

Brooks Richey on
Leftover content
Content Strategy

Out of content ideas? Tips for serving leftover content.

Leftovers are a natural part of content creation.
Like a movie remake, most content ideas that you create usually have more value than a one-time release.
Fast and Furious, Fast and Furious 2, Fast and Furious 3, 4, 5, Shaw and Hobbes…
That’s because while you may have presented a strong, clear, and succinct topic within your content (the latest Hellboy movie excluded), it’s natural for people, especially fans of the idea or topic, to seek and consume multiple permutations of that content.

How many version of Batman have you seen (The Michael Keaton version? The Christian Bale version? The Ben Affleck version)? How many times has the origin story of Spiderman been retold in movies?

How far can we consume rehashed content, two words, Sharknado 6 (a.k.a The Last Sharknado: It’s About Time).
Content repetition extreme. Why do we keep watching rehashed content?
Because we’re absolutely okay with multiple ways of telling the same story. We want breadth and depth in the things we like. So if that’s the case, as a content creator, you shouldn’t ignore extracting all the value you can from your existing content by talking about that content or topic in different ways.

As you create content with different angles on the same topic, you help readers and fans around the content envision the topic from a different perspective and feel like they are getting a richer or fuller insight.
How do you recycle content?
Sometimes re-purposing content is simply an act of taking a known topic and restructuring it in a way where a particular reader who is interested in the general topic now feels the topic is even more relevant to them. That’s usually accomplished by adding an additional element to the story.

For example. The article you wrote on “Tips to save for retirement,“ might become “Saving for retirement at 50.” Same base content: tips for retirement. But for a 50-something who might want to know how retirement strategies can be applied to their age and unique saving timeline, that new story feels a little more relevant.

Voila! You’ve re-served content.
Motley Fool does it. Boy, do they.
Speaking of financial content. The Motley Fool. It’s an organization that has fused investment and advisory services with content around promoting their services. It is essentially content marketing. A lot of its content is tailored and written to pull in investing minded or retirement-worried consumers into its content universe and expose them to financial products and its own financial advisory services. To produce a steady stream of content magnets, their organization seems to relentlessly write many different versions of content around the same financial topic.

And it works.

I can’t tell you how many times I have read one of their articles on investing which turned out to be the same content served back to me in what felt like 200 different ways.

“Are you too late in saving for retirement?”

“What people miss that ruins your retirement? “

“How much should you have saved for retirement by now?”

These types of headlines with the same base body content: Start saving now, save as much as you can, take advantage of catchup savings programs and employer match.

It’s like Taco Bell. Five ingredients make up all the food you can order from the fast-food joint.
Another way to recycle. Go back and look at your edits.
When I write, I can’t tell you how many times, I feel like I leave good ideas around the topic I’m writing about on the “cutting room floor” due to space constraints in the current content or the additional idea has too many loose ends to keep what I’m writing focused and flowing easily.

Pick up the “scraps” from your writing cutting room floor. Those ideas you edited out may not be right for that particular content piece, but certainly good for another one. Use it to build a new story or create content that provides a deeper look through that new perspective.
Look at matching existing content with new scenarios.
There was the movie Shaft. Then, at some point came Shaft in Africa. Don’t know why we would expect somebody to ask themselves “Hey, what would it be like if Shaft “threw down his thing” in Africa?” Not sure if scientists were asking that question, but Shaft fans might. And that’s who that new version of Shaft content is for, people who want to see a permutation of a premise.

Think the same way about your existing content. Add a scenario that allows your readers to see and explore a topic in a different light.

The effort to tailor your existing content may make you feel it’s warmed-over leftovers, but to readers eager to know more about your topic, it can still taste pretty good.

Got content-hungry audiences? How to use existing content to make new content readers will love.

Brooks Richey on
Content Mindfulness, Content Strategy

Tech platforms. The Venus fly trap for business and consumers.

What are tech platforms? For the layperson, think of them as digital real estate or the environment in which you can do work on or subscribe to for a service.

Technically, it’s a digital environment where a software application is executed. That software could be e-commerce software for transactions (like Shopify), chat (like Slack) or picture sharing, streaming video and more like you enjoy on Facebook or Netflix.
For businesses, platforms like Amazon, eBay, Facebook offer a lot of seductive benefits.
They are often free or cheap. They offer high customer exposure. The service offered is highly scalable to grow to meet demands. Very beneficial features.

So why should you be very careful about putting your business there? Because…
Your building mission-critical parts of your business on someone else’s property.
At first, the ease and power of integrating your business with platforms seems like a smart, strategic partnership. To some degree, it is. The low cost and scalability of their platforms offer an incredible level of distribution and exposure to help grow your business. It would be a lie to say that many businesses have not prospered under this arrangement.
One problem with platforms…
As these platforms have grown, they are revealing themselves to be not so much your partner as much as your business’ landlord and, eventually. a direct competitor. Meanwhile, you are on a digital property where you can become stuck and can’t afford to leave.

They control the property your business operates and receives precious revenue on. And if you don’t want to have your sales drastically cut, you can’t really move, protest, or negotiate a whole lot. So by default, they control your business.
The Venus fly trap platform closes.
On top of that (in addition to being on top of their platform), companies like Amazon and Facebook get a lot of data and analytics around your business. Data around sales and interactions are being recorded on their platform.

Your sales or customer data that they obtain helps them identify products and lines of business that they may want to move into. Or develop pricing strategies that could create market pressures that force you to lower your price and profit margins.

Reporting also shows that Facebook has bought up businesses based on analytical data it was able to get on them. It enabled them to see any possible competition to them and acquire them before other businesses could see their value.

Now reports say that Amazon has stopped supporting sales of product from smaller companies and suppliers with an eye of focusing on larger companies and vendors.

Snap. Goes the platform.
Consumers are on Venus fly trap platforms, too.
The same problem applies to content. Consumers are seeing it through the rise of subscriptions services.

Your music. Your TV. Your movies. These are things that were once a physical or intellectual property you could own in some form.

Then came subscription services. Like the Venus fly trap model, the lure for you to forgo or dump the idea of owning your content are these platforms’ low-cost and scalable access to content.

So you subscribe to Hulu, Netflix, Spotify, Apple Music, etc. to revel in that so much content is right at your fingertips.

But like business and Amazon, the platform is the landlord. While you pay rent, nothing is yours. The platform has only agreed to make it available for a time that is convenient to the parties that have control of the content.

Take Microsoft who recently closed its ebook offering. And with it, all the books its customers bought will simply evaporate. No reading. No refunds. Amazon temporarily pulled copies to the book 1984 from customers due to a rights dispute it was having with a publisher.
Snap goes the Venus fly trap.

Brooks Richey on
Content Strategy

The secret to copywriting summed up in a movie.

When I worked for an advertising agency more than a decade ago, my colleagues and I went to see the movie Roger Dodger.

A movie starring actor Campbell Scott and this kid that played his nephew, Nick. Nick was trying to understand how to meet girls. Nick was played by some actor named Jessie Eisenberg.

Wonder whatever happened to that guy.

Anyway, Scott played an almost diabolically smart copywriter for an ad agency who gets an unannounced visit from his nephew Nick. While at his office, Nick asks Roger what his job is as a copywriter.

Roger, instead of something like, “I write words to communicate products to people,” says, “ I make people feel bad.”
That sets off the following conversation about copywriting:
Roger Swanson: You can’t sell a product without first making people feel bad.

Nick: Why not?

Roger Swanson: Because it’s a substitution game. You have to remind them that they’re missing something from their lives. Everyone’s missing something, right?
Nick: I guess.

Roger Swanson: Trust me. And when they’re feeling sufficiently incomplete, you convince them your product is the only thing that can fill the void. So instead of taking steps to deal with their lives, instead of working to root out the real reason for their misery, they go out and buy a stupid-looking pair of cargo pants.
Turn the dial back just a tad from the cynicism and the strategy that seemed to be laid out by Satan, he’s right.

Rodger just stripped off the corporate-speak and sheen of copywriting marketing speak that’s usually applied to smooth out the rough edges of the job.
That is the key to the job of a copywriter or content writer.
Not to tell, but to connect and clearly communicate the true transactional value within the communication. To let consumers know how they will connect to that “void” of sadness, fear or that feeling that something is missing in their lives. Then you introduce your product as the easier path to filling that void.

That’s what part of a copywriter or content strategist’s skill set needs to be. A bit of a pop psychiatrist or having the empathy to feel other people’s needs, then massage them to take action. That skill helps guide a writer to find just the right words to express that empathy and complete the connection between the consumer and the product’s ability to address it.


Brooks Richey on
Content Mindfulness

Likes on Facebook are like F&cks. Why I don’t give a lot of them.

If you understood how Facebook likes works, you wouldn’t either.

“Who wants to go eat ice cream? Raise your hand. Let’s see a count of hands. One, two, three…”

That’s the basic concept of a clicking “Like.” That thumbs-up symbol you see at the bottom of a post on Facebook. Just scale the “like” response and counting of hands to that question by around 2 billion people and the business side of the “like” button gets clearer.
What’s not to like about Facebook likes?
By getting you to engage with other people’s content, Facebook’s platform encourages you to express your preference or reveal an emotion (likes, laugher, anger, sadness) that signal how you align around a topic or issue.

And while you may look at it as just self-expression, for social media companies, it’s a method of surveying people in a way that encourages users to self identify themselves and their moods or state of mind to advertisers so they can be profiled for ad targeting.

As Mark Zuckerburg famously said when asked in a Senate hearing, “How do you make money?” by senators…

“Senator, we run ads,” said Zuckerberg.

And this is how those ads sell.

In order to do ad targeting, the data from your responses on Facebook is analyzed by an algorithm (fancy math equations that can identify and learn patterns in data). They take your responses, like your Facebook likes, and, in math terms, think something like this…

“Okay, Bob indicated he likes ice cream. Let’s make Bob available for people who sell ice cream by allowing them to put ice cream ads in his news feed.”

Or the algorithm may think:

“We have other data that shows other habits about people like Bob who like ice cream (they have higher incomes, have a voting preference, buy sugary foods, etc.). Let’s make Bob’s profile and news feed available to receive ads for those criteria as well.
Facebook targeting doesn’t just work based on likes.
Facebook is collecting data on you in many ways. Pulling keywords out of the text that you write for your posts. It uses demographic data like your IP address and where you live. Facebook gets data about you when you are not on Facebook (tracking your web browser movements).

All that factors in. But clicking “like” is the whistle that awakens the content target beast of advertisers. Clicking “like” is like clicking the video for clown eating crackers on YouTube, even if it’s just a one-time thing, you’re going to start seeing more clown eating cracker videos and whatever could possibly be related to that.

Why? Because by clicking “like,” you made an actionable effort to say, this is important enough to express a point of view on it. That’s intent. Intent shows a propensity to take action. And advertisers love when you’re willing to take action on a topic.
So what’s not to like about Facebook likes?
I use Facebook. I tend to think of it as similar to my relationship with physical retailers. Even in a store, retailers are getting information on you, whether you like it or not.

The bank with your credit card will share data around your buying history. If you have a retailer-brand shopper’s card or credit card, they get even more data. Like Facebook’s data collection efforts, a lot of this you can’t avoid and still use commercial products and services. Still, when asked by the clerk ringing me up, I won’t give them my phone number or my ZIP code.

Why? If you are going to put my profile together and not providing me compensatory value or getting my expressed permission, you’re going to have to at least work for it. I’m just not going to give everything you need about me on a silver platter.

On Facebook, clicking a like gives away that game. It says, “this is me. I’m certifying it.”

Me personally, I want a little mystery between me and companies. I don’t want them to think that my decision to purchase their product could be completely explained by an algorithm. Human beings are known for being unpredictable. I want to stay that way.

So I don’t like likes.


Brooks Richey on
Content Strategy

Soylent green is people! And advertising is turning into a tax on the poor.

I was slow to read Scott Galloway’s book, “The Four” about the power of Amazon, Facebook, Apple, and Google over our lives.

Wish I’d read it sooner.

A great book with insights that should put you on notice. Both as a marketer and as a citizen. If you are in digital marketing, you should definitely come away fearing for your job.

Galloway, founder and a brand consultant for a firm called L2 and a professor at the NYU Stern School of Business argues that, in the future, Amazon, Facebook and Google will essentially become complete digital marketing firms unto themselves and at the expense of all others. Dominating the point that anyone at a digital marketing firm, that is not one of these firms, will find themselves destroyed as these platforms come to control the means and process for digital marketing.

He’s right. I currently work in voice and I can see the end as voice rises in adoption and the search and commerce services it supports.

Voice is amazingly helpful to users, but it quietly destroys the power of brand loyalty and heavily restrains a buyers’ choice.

Particularly, by destroying the thought space where products competing for consumer purchase live. Choosing from products on a shelf or web pages is replaced by…
“I found X (my company’s private label product) and maybe Y (so I don’t look completely diabolical). Now pick.”
This is true especially if your voice service comes through one of the platforms like Amazon Facebook, Google, and Apple.

Loved the book. Then on my flight to Miami, I watched a lecture he gave at Berkeley. A good summation of his book. During the lecture, one quote caught me,
“Advertising is increasingly becoming a tax on the poor.”
As those with more means can buy experiences that skip them.

He’s right. Blessed with means, like my peers, I can buy Spotify, Hulu, Netflix without ads. I get to pay directly for content. In the evolving model, ads become the tax or attention payment for those who can’t or refuse to pay for content.

I can’t help to think that over time, that will dictate the type of ads used on the ad-supported version. My guess is luxury brands like Mercedes, Apple will skip these versions while marketing with product at a lower budget or demographic niche will.


Brooks Richey on
Content Mindfulness

The real cause for unequal pay for women in sports we don’t like to talk about.

What do soccer, women and equal pay have to do with content?

I’m talking about unequal pay in the context of content and mindfulness because I think that the core solution to this problem speaks to issues of content, marketing and capturing viewer attention.

Let me explain.
First, the obvious. Women SHOULD get paid the same as men for the same job.
This proposition is clear when you are comparing men and women in the same job at the same workplace. If a woman is making a widget and a man is making the same widget in the office. All things being equal, they would and should be paid the same.
The problem: we’re asking the wrong question about compensation.
Perhaps the real question to use in evaluating compensation between men and women is when we are talking about work in fields like sports, acting, or modeling is to first ask, “what’s the “real” job you’re being compensated for?

In the example of making a widget, that unit (the widget) is a measurement of how that man and woman create value for the company. One produced widget creates one unit of value for the company. If a man and a woman create the same amount of widgets, they create the same value and deserve the same compensation.
Sports compensation for women and men doesn’t work that way.
In sports, you don’t get paid by the goal or point. The lifeblood of professional sports revenue are tickets, TV broadcast contracts, sponsorships, product licensing, and endorsements. That’s where the real money and value for the organization is made. And that value (in the billions) makes it possible for all the sports professionals you see running down the field making oodles of cash.

So I say again, if you are in professional sports, is your true job scoring lots of goals or, it is putting people in stadium seats?

Is it getting people to watch a TV network in droves so ratings go up and networks can charge a lot for ads?

Is it becoming enough of an influencer to help advertisers convince people to buy beer, jerseys, your line of sneakers, or anything else you endorse?

Or are you getting your money for scoring points?

It’s not about points or even championships. If it was, in men’s sports, a team like the 2017 ArenaBowl champion Philly Soul (the who?) and players would be more famous. By the same token, more women would be better compensated and famous.
Women’s sports have been ignored. No doubt.
It’s one of the reasons for passing Title IX to ensure funding of women’s sports in education. But school funding isn’t enough.

Decades ago, sports came out of the shadows of the 4th Street steel-fenced courts, local venues, and education-focused schools to consummate its marriage with commercialism and the global reach of network TV. Coupled with business, sports’ values changed to align with its new partner, business. Now playing in “the big money league,” sports followed the best practices of business instead of the love of the game. Like a business, its key rule.
Money goes where the attention and audience is.
Golf Masters winner Tiger Woods was a godsend to the seemingly aloof (and white) world of golf. His mere participation in a golf tournament would boost TV ratings. He brought people who normally didn’t care for golf (including many African Americans) to watch and participate.

Some might see the field of golf that, at the least, set up barriers to African-American participation. However, the money and attention Tiger generated was welcomed in the industry. The result, they swallowed those feelings and resistance to follow him to get to the money.

When Tiger Woods stepped away from golf for a while years ago, golf viewers, revenue, and participation plummeted.

Was Tiger the only talented player in the PGA? Of course not. His value and sky-high compensation came from his ability to command attention and drive ratings. It was Christmas day (including ratings-wise) for the sport of golf to have Tiger come back to win the 2019 Masters.
In sports attention and talent are not related.
Women are more than 50% of the population. A sizable and natural potential audience for the WNBA. Yet, the WNBA has absolutely amazing players who live off of less than $50K annually. This while NBA rookies and backbenchers might see a $100K salary as embarrassing.
Sports will pay for that attention any way they can get. Superior talent need not apply.
Take now-retired tennis player Anna Kournikova. Famous but she never won a major singles WTA title throughout her whole career. She made a lot of money though. Why?

Because she drew crowds.

As a woman who has a computer virus named after her due to an email promising nude pictures of her prompted many men to open and click on a virus instead, she is a testament to the attention power that compliments her athletic star power as a tennis pro.

No big single tennis wins under her belt is a subtle dis to more talented and winning players constantly and demonstrability proving themselves better (Cough, the Williams sisters).
Sports doesn’t compensate based on equality talent. It discriminates based on attention.
The coaches of teams for both men and women do judge on talent. That’s because they, at their level, want to win games. For a coach, players that help them win is what keeps them employed. But above the coach, the bigger revenue draw for the sports organization is the ability to draw fan attention.
That’s what hurts the WNBA and sports like women’s soccer.
Last week’s World Cup win by the United States women’s national soccer team was incredible.

Yet despite an amazing win, such teams, the league, and its players are quickly forgotten. Especially without the promotional infrastructure like consistent TV network coverage and sponsors that sports like American football enjoy. As the hype and attention fade for women’s soccer, so does any desire to raise the salaries of those in the game.
What do we do? We ask ourselves a hard question…
Do you really want equal pay for women?

If the answer is “yes.” On to the next question…
If the job in sports is getting attention, are you drawing enough attention that creates that value for the business?
If the answer is yes. Demand your share of the revenue. If the answer is no, ask this question…
Who can we demand change from?
The easiest and first person to point the finger at are the sports organizations. To that, I’d say turn that finger around 180 degrees.
The real culprit to equal pay for women in sports is us the public.
In a business that is optimized to respond to the desires of the marketplace (that’s us), we are the ones truly driving the force for equality in sports. We vote with our attention and dollars and many of us say, “no.” We say it loud and clear in our actions, but in our verbal discussions about unequal pay, we don’t want to take responsibility for it. Instead, we blame those who quietly pick up on our true intentions or expressed actions: sports organizations and marketers.
Those groups see that we…
Don’t pay attention to women’s games.

Don’t follow women’s games through the year unless they are winning.

Don’t buy merchandise of the female soccer stars.

Like not watering a plant, it’s hard to be surprised it doesn’t end up growing well. And as we the public we don’t turn our attention to women sports, sports organizations read our lack of will and undependable enthusiasm loud and clear.

They are not going to invest because they see a public that speaks the words of equality but in action are unserious outside of virtue signaling. “Yea, I like the team. But not enough to watch it every time they play.”

That’s not something you hear from most NFL fans. And why advertisers throw money at the NFL.

Spending money for equal pay also demands spending equal attention. Spend some attention on sports you think should pay better and the money will follow.


Brooks Richey on
Content Strategy

Data’s destroying the client-agency relationship.

Any CEO of an ad agency or digital marketing firm wouldn’t be spilling any dark secret by revealing that the agency-client relationship is already under extreme stress with all the changes in technology and media.

A lot of that deterioration was due to ad agencies and marketing firms sitting idle or moving flat-footed as their clients adopted marketing and business models that rely less on agencies as a valued strategic partner and more as a simple contractor or vendor.

An unraveling to the point where agencies are hired to do the things that we (as companies) don’t know how to do or simply don’t want to deal with.
FAANGS led and empowered the agency-client breakup.
The first wave of this new breed of agency resistant clients were the tech-oriented FAANGs (Facebook Amazon, Apple, Netflix, Google) and their brethren. In addition to delighting users with convenient, and often, addicting services, these businesses have a killer and increasingly unassailable marketing advantage: they have vast amounts of data and insights on their customers. Leverage they can exploit for marketing, sales operations, and customer experience.

This data gives them rich, deep strategic insights into their customers. A level of insight far greater than many of the agencies and consultancies that knock on their door seeking to work with them. These are the same agencies and consultancies that once used to come to client meetings with data and research in hand to help guide client marketing programs and the organization. A once important role as clients truly needed it.

As the data amassed within businesses grows and is refined, that consultative space and need for strategic collaboration between client and marketing agencies will grow further and further apart. A deterioration of added value via data and insights that will push marketing agencies to simply providing design or creative tailored to the client’s internally generated data or executing media purchases against creative.
Why hasn’t agency-client deterioration happened en masse yet?
While FAANG companies get it and are doing it, most other companies are only slowly coming to fully realize the power of their own internally generated data.

Nor do these other companies yet understand just how much of an advantage data really gives to the FAANG companies in their marketing and operations. For instance, Amazon can see what products consumers are really buying on their platform and then make their own competing brand.

And worse, like that example, many companies can’t yet see how this trend will threaten their own business if they fail to really exploit their own data.
Amazon’s data drives its marketing.
Let’s go back to Amazon. The company owned by Jeff Bezos knows what you like to buy. Not just from your history of purchases, but from finding predictive patterns in the billions of other purchases of other Amazon customers.

With all that data, Amazon can analyze your buying habits. It knows if you’re price sensitive. If you’re brand conscious. Through its voice-assistant Alexa, a device that you’ve likely shared to-do lists with, song preferences, content interests, and have made purchases through, it knows even more about you – and how to target you.

In fact, Amazon’s data on user buying habits is so valuable, some vendors have tried (some have been successful) to bribe Amazon employees for access to that data in order to use it for their own company’s advantage.

Or let’s look at Facebook. The data customers share with Facebook (“likes” and keywords from shared posts) enables the social networking company to allow advertisers to micro-target consumers.

Use Spotify? It shares music with you. At the same time, it collects data and analyzes your music choices. Data that allows it to tell what kind of mood you’re in or link music choices to demographics to identify optimal times for a sales pitch and to serve ads.

While the FAANG companies are way ahead, eventually clients and organizations are soon going to figure out what companies like McKinsey have been saying for a while:
that their data is the most valuable resource they have to market and connect to consumers.
What key element makes that data valuable for your organization?
The same as the FAANGs, your content.

As customers are interacting with your content, your company or organization is converting your content interaction (especially if it’s finable, engaging and relevant) into data.
Want better data? Treat content as an asset.
Content is one of the most valuable tools you have in building better data and better sales with users and customers.

A McKinsey report Measuring the Full Impact of Digital Capital argues that digital capabilities like content should be viewed as assets, not expenses. Increasingly, your content and your digital environment are where both customer insights and customer contact happens.

An excerpt from the report:
“The need for growth and competitiveness will force companies to build strong digital capabilities. Viewing them as assets rather than additional areas of spending requires a new set of management and financial lenses. Embracing them is a major shift—but one worth making for companies striving to master a still-evolving landscape.“
As an organization, you must create and use the right content to tell customers about topics they want to know about. With the right analytical tools around the content, to measure engagement, behaviors, and interest, you get to know about them as well.
As clients embrace data, agencies are simultaneously surrendering value to clients by commoditizing content.
Creating content that helps you build data is the key. Yet for many clients, I’m finding their agencies have shifted attention and resources to focus on the still-profitable web site development. A focus on areas like design and UX.

Very important in the build-development phase of a website or redesign. But in many cases, many are merely building places for content instead of strategic structuring of content for optimizing engagement and generating insight data collection that will transform content into better assets for their clients.

That is because many are gladly relinquishing being the lead or outsourcing flat content creation or leaving clients to reclaiming more and more responsibility for creating content.

I’m reminded of a quote from, content strategist and founder of Brain Traffic In her blog post The Discipline of Content Strategy, Kristina Halvorson…
“I was mad that digital agencies always left it to the client to “do the content,” when the client clearly didn’t have the skills or capacity to manage it.“
And to be honest, many clients don’t right now. I’ve worked with clients who are horrible at creating engaging content. Usually, by creating great walls of content no one wants to read. Then, pouring it in a web page on the site somewhere that takes a treasure map to find it.

Most clients aren’t good at content. But nothing creates change like a necessity. Like a toddler who keeps falling down when they are trying to walk. If they have to, eventually they’ll get good at standing up, and one day learn how to run.
For an agency, that will prove to be a tragic mistake in the client-agency relationship.
Why? You’re relinquishing the one area that clients are still least able to manage and develop.

A pivot to bet on a part of the business (web design, data, personalizations and analytics) that, very profitable now, but in the future, the client will inevitably become automated to the point where clients will have the tools like data and turnkey data services and website development that they can to do a majority themselves or with in-house design resources.

I see this happening now in a company I used to work for. Most of their promotions on LinkedIn spout capabilities around data and personalization that is power by mass-marketed software solutions like Adobe or another name brand partner. They are merely positioning themselves for the income to integrate them. I always look at them and think to myself, how easy would it be for me as a company to buy the software and have internal resources manage it?

Probably the only thing that keeps them (clients) from doing do is lack of knowledge in house and not wanting the hassle. But like the toddler trying to walk, in time, they’ll get more confident and better at it.
This use of data will change the consultative role with agencies.
“Walking” is not so far in the future. Clients will soon be able to turn to themselves and see that have the data, insights, and with Adobe and other software companies, many of these functions are increasingly being automated and many will be nearly over-the-shelf product or updatable subscriptions.

When they become mass adopted, agencies will be looking through the client’s window to see software they don’t own on the other side with their clients. At them moment, they’ll ask, “what value do we bring?”

They might say to themselves, “Hey, we could help you develop content….oh yeah, they do that now.”


Brooks Richey on
Content Mindfulness

How to be a Zen Type A. Be open to plan B.

We all want some sense of control in our lives.

Ironically, we lose control over our lives the more we use the limited time and resources that we have to try to force more things around us to bend to our will and specific outcome.
Part of us wants to control all outcomes. It’s instinctual.
But in the same way that happiness comes with being content with what you have, freedom and peace come when you can also accept the alternative or negotiated outcomes to a goal. Those who can only see a narrow, expected path to a goal, like a classic Type A, see making adjustments for flexibility as a weakness.
Mindfulness has made me calm in the face of stressful situations.
However, don’t confuse that with being disengaged in solving problems.

Previous employers, clients, colleagues, and girlfriends have continually used one word to describe me, “calm.”

For some, it comes off as a disturbing level of calm. In stressful work situations, some almost seem disappointed that I’m not mirroring the stress, yelling or frustration of some other members of the team. That if I’m not stressed I must not be committed to the set path towards the goal.

It may disturb them. My calmness, that is. I’m totally fine with it.
Hey! Are you committed to achieving this goal or high?
Those who know I practice mindfulness, jokingly see that calmness like a spiritual Cheech and Chong. Like I’m somehow stoned on mindfulness and blissfully unaware. “Far out! Cool man, The client wants 100 hours worth of work in 20 hours.”

I’m not. In fact, I’m usually well aware of the danger or risk at hand. It’s just that my energy is being directed to problem solving and options more than expelled through a furrowed brow, nervous twitching, or vocal complaining.
Though it doesn’t come off. I’m a Type A personality.
Most people miss this part of me. The Type A, everyone normally thinks about is a person who demands granular control over everything.

This difference is: I assert my “granular” control over a smaller and more manageable universe of things I wish to control.

Especially things that will produce benefits for me or my task in the long run. So what some may mistake as letting things slide is me deciding that it’s not important or a distraction to my bigger goals or it’s more strategic to execute on it later.

When looking at what to control, I quickly make a decision to filter based on what’s important to me, or what I accept and don’t accept against my larger happiness principles or business goals.
I then focus my “Type-A-ness” energy on what’s worth controlling.
That, in itself, relieves stress for me as I’m not spreading myself too thin trying to control everything. It’s a lot like why I enjoy minimalism in my life around products and lifestyle. You avoid too many things around you creating too many distractions for my ego and fears to focus on.

When I come up against a goal or problem that I do want to manage, that’s where my energy goes. I’m reflexively seeking multiple options and backup plans for that risk.
Plan Bs. Giving up rigidity in order to keep ultimate control.
What also relaxes my Type A-ness is that I use some of my energy for plan Bs. Thinking what other paths can I take or adjust to get to my goals. Working on and thinking about plan B teaches me to flow with situations and become less tempted to force a specific reality or set outcome as the only path. When you get too locked on one path, it creates the tension, the friction that drives worry. And worry is not what I want.

It’s like that saying in the commencement speech Everyone’s Free to Wear Sunscreen, ”Worrying is like trying to solve an Algebra problem by chewing bubblegum.” You’re spending lots of energy to accomplish nothing.

Mindfulness helps me focus on resolving the problem rather than wasting energy worrying about it. I’m likely more focused than my colleague whose leaking fear indicates they are focused on all the possible negative results of failure.

Of course, I accept (but don’t obsess on) all outcomes beyond plan B, including failure. What I never accept is conceding full control to a certain fate. And while fate may speak up, I refuse to let it have the last word. In any solution or matter I always know I have some choice in the matter. Particularly in my response. It reminds me of Harvey Specter’s question to his protege, Mike, in the TV show Suits:
HARVEY SPECTER: “What are your choices when someone puts a gun to your head?
MIKE: What are you talking about? You do what they say or they shoot you.
HARVEY SPECTER: Wrong. You take the gun, or you pull out a bigger one. Or, you call their bluff. Or, you do any one of a hundred and forty-six other things.”
Specter’s exaggerating a little, but not much. The idea is while your adrenaline is pumping furiously it’s easy to focus on one possible outcome that fate is dealing to you: surrender or death.

Though the options sometimes don’t break through the fog of every nerve and brain cell screaming at you in threatening moments, the reality is that you do have some say in the matter. You must accept fate may interfere in your life, but you don’t except fate’s frame, or especially, all of fate’s terms.

Focus on what you can do to influence the outcome in your favornor control the frame instead of fearing or accepting an outcome.

That is what keeps me calm. I know I have the ultimate control. That there is always another option to get to where I want. My plan B. Mindfulness helps me remember that.

Brooks Richey on
Content Strategy

What killed advertising? Initial reports indicate a suicide.

The Cannes Lions Festival wrapped up late week. The ad industry that still attends it to bump elbows with Hollywood was finished long before that. I’ll admit I’m partly jealous of those that go, but even when I was in advertising, I’ve never understood just why the ad community attends.

Hollywood is art, quietly run by business people. Advertising is a business whose sole desire around art and entertainment is all about nothing more than driving commerce.

The entertainment and creativity that Cannes recognizes in advertising are merely a means to an end. It’s like jingle writers attending the Grammy’s. It makes me come to believe that advertising has never really understood what it was.
What is advertising?
At the heart of advertising is a business that seeks to recycle and regurgitate the zeitgeist of society. To capture its current moods, fears, desires for happiness and fulfillment. Then it tries to connect those impulses to accessible and consumer-focused products that society can buy to achieve that happiness.

In order to recycle the public’s mindset in order to feed it back to itself, my old industry was hardcoded not to be visionary or an early adopter of change and opportunity. Instead, we focused on being the peddler of the comfortable. In words, media and imagery, we assured consumers with things they already know, want and are comfortable with.

In time, feeding our clients’ audience a media diet of feel-good platitudes and nostalgia instead of new ideas and technology also made our industry complacent and lazy. As an industry, we failed to think ahead into the future and ask ourselves, “how can we be more? How can we be better? How can we truly give our clients the unexpected?”

Instead, we became a collection of laggards who didn’t want to ruin a good thing. After all, clients paid agencies considerable sums of money to just tell consumers “today is great! Especially if you buy Product X.”

It’s a simplistic attitude that would eventually cost the industry respect, reputation, and leadership.
Don’t get me wrong. Advertising agencies aren’t dead. Yet.
It’s more like they’re ready for retirement and nursing homes. It’s hard not to look at them as if they represent a time gone by. They are still companies that make TV ads, collateral, etc. To talk about them and the services they still provide is like hearing the stereotypical senior citizen talk about the “good old days.”
“Back in my day, we used to spend weeks to print words on a piece a paper and mail them to everybody to get our client noticed. And we liked it!”
That’s a nostalgic success story increasingly told to a generation that can post a picture of their new outfit to billions of people across the world in seconds and have them racing to a website to buy it long before they brush their teeth in the morning.
Agencies used to be gatekeepers and publishers of content.
Now everyone is. Agencies on the once-famous street of Madison Avenue in New York City were known for creating ideas that got people talking in the office (back then, at the water cooler) the next day. Now a YouTube post of the person in Kansas photographing themselves cry overseeing a duck can do that.

If you are a business that wants to reach any modern audience with tactics beyond brand awareness or speak beyond an audience that clings to old media, the traditional advertising agency is no longer the place to go. In the past, it would be the first. Especially as the “wizards of Madison Avenue” touted creative and strategic talent who’s only rival was another ad agency.

Why has advertising lost its place as the consulting lead for helping clients navigate all the technological and marketing changes that are transforming the business of their clients?
Only until too late did ad agencies want to fight for a place at the table.
Then really it was too late. Agencies found that others like the big 4 consulting firms, data and analytic firms and even clients with in-house resources, had taken all the seats around the table.
To champion transformation, you have to embrace change.

For at least a decade and a half, that’s something the advertising industry refused to do. It dragged its feet with almost contempt for the transformation until it was too late.

Like a Shakespearean play, this tragedy can be broken down in acts.
Act One: The Mad Men days.
When traditional media, was the key to mass influence is the period when the advertising wizards of Madison Avenue were king.

TV, radio, and print existed as a content sluce to send messages down and reach the public. Through programs with high audiences and loyal media consumers, your product message would certainly reach the public. That’s why companies who wanted to sell more product did it. Problem was, so were all their competitors.

With so much ad clutter, how would your product or brand stand out?
This is where the consultative power of ad agencies played a role.
Companies needed the creative geniuses at ad agencies to make messages and ads that would stand out among others. Ideas that would capture attention, seduce, and influence.

From the 50s to the late 90s, the “Don Drapers” of advertising were sought and worshipped for creating advertising differentiators for products and brands. By the same token, creative reputation became a key differentiator among ad agencies to potential clients.

It became a symbol of the creative firepower a client could wield on behalf of their product to carve out a niche in the marketplace.

While the creative sold clients on agencies, agencies were really sold on the 15% margin kickback-rebate it made on media buys for clients to place their ads.
$150,000 in revenue just for placing a million-dollars in ads is a formula that makes for some handsome agency salaries.
Because of that, it and not good creative truly defined the ad agency model. For larger, non-boutique firms, billings, and fees around creative were either enough to just cover creative department costs or be a loss leader to win more lucrative media buys.

This didn’t change in the 90s and 00s as the once large universe of agencies merged to consolidate into 5-6 holding companies. While agencies within those conglomerates may be differentiated by creative brands, lucrative media purchases are still at the core of the revenue model. The addiction to this source of revenue would be the platform for the industries undoing.
Act Two: Advertising at peak performance? Or on a cliff?

In the mid-90s, the Internet, once the private joy of nerds who could afford an expensive computer and modem, became mainstream.

Along with it, new types of businesses arose to leverage it. With firms flush with money from investors to spend on awareness advertising, agencies prostrated themselves before them to take their money and promote them.

While advocates for these Internet companies, most were never really true believers, except for the belief that these companies were spending a lot of money in stunts and media buys. This vendor-centric, media-buy-for wild-kegger-party mindset that agencies helped enable began to erode the traditional agencies’ role as prudent and forward-thinking partners and consultants.

But in the meantime, life was good.

As the money flowed, many agencies failed to grasp the idea of the Internet as a new and transformative medium. Especially for themselves. Besides giving employees email and sending print files for a print run or to a magazine, no one stopped in forward-looking realization of what the Internet as a platform meant for agencies.

There was no movie-scientist-that-realizes-the-world-is-screwed-and-dramatically-pulls-off-his-glasses saying “if we don’t get a handle on this, our business could be doomed!”
Like global warming today, ad agencies surely saw the signs of the Internet’s disruption power as it started appearing in other industries.
The music industry faced Napster and music that could be shared digitally and pirated without paying. Email started sapping people’s effort to write letters or create direct mail to send through the post office, eventually shrinking USPS’s revenue and creating a fiscal crisis.
The signs were all around. If the advertising industry was listening it would have realized that the Internet wasn’t a product, it was the new medium.
One that could disrupt them. Even destroy them. But hey, that ad. Hilarious, right? Paid the director 2 million dollars to make it.
Act Three: Economic and technological changes face advertising.
But just before the advertising industry’s disruption was clearly imminent, another disruption came first. March 2001 came. Stock prices started to go south with the collapse of the bubble.

Along with it, all those well-banked Internet companies wanting to advertise. The sudden dry up of money hit agencies hard. Agencies had to wean themselves off the sugar high of a reckless spending euphoria.

It hurt for a while. But that hit turned out to be just a jab. The bigger blow would happen with the housing bubble burst and the great recession.
As all the money dried up, the bullshit went away, too.
Financially stressed companies simply didn’t have the money to spend without a good reason anymore. Frugal, they demanded efficiency. The wanted measurability. They viciously sought ways to optimize costs. Not only within their organization but with their vendors and partners.
That put the existing agency model in the crosshairs. A model where making money just for placing media buys and pocketing 15% seemed like a no-brainer cost-cut target.
Over the years agencies were pressured to concede some of their lucrative fees in order to keep existing clients or win new ones.

To compound this situation, tech entrepreneurs, some arising from the ashes of the boom, began to roll out technologies and nascent marketing and sales platforms that were able to offer greater scale, productivity, efficiency and measurability than their advertising and marketing brethren.

There was this book company called Amazon. You might have heard of it. A place where you find and choose books, books that weren’t in your local bookstore and have them shipped to your home.

There was this picture service for college students called Facebook. Where students could share pictures of themselves and rate them. And they were looking to expand this service to everyone.

There were search engines companies that made it easier to research information and find things. Including things you might want to buy at a store.
As we all know. If advertising agencies were Skynet, this would be like finding John Connor as a child.
A potential threat but at this stage, the threat could be eliminated easily. Agencies were flush with money as big holding companies. They were buying other ad firms, but they could have easily purchased the next or future Facebook.

As we know, this did not happen.

Instead, agencies did was most industries did when disruptors entered their ecosystem. Downplay it or ignore it.

At his point, I had already been involved on the tech side, developing web applications. Understanding the power and capabilities of technology, the idea of agencies adopting this mindset and offering these capabilities for clients seem natural, if not critical to ad agencies’ future. I would bring it up to friends at ad agencies.

I remember doing interviews and talking about the possibilities of the new technologies and how they could push the agency forward. And almost without out fail I could see this look on people’s face as if to say “yeah, sure.” or “what’s this got to do with us?”
One of the reasons for the foot-dragging by agencies, and let’s just admit it, people in the ad business were artistic and creative minded. Not technicians.
Mad Men. Not Math Men (pardon this sexism, but it rhymes).

The talent at that time simply didn’t have the ability to see what these growing technologies meant. Either to create their own or buying them early to control them and shape them for the industry.
So for years, the agencies kept their heads down.
Fought harder and worked longer hours for more dwindling traditional media scraps. Got a tech request? Rather than learn it and adopt it as an agency practice or discipline, many simply outsourced it to people who could do it and take a revenue cut.

Despite some executive dabbles, the most part, there no in-agency talent who could really drive agency transformation to match the transformation happening all around them.

And the change just got faster and faster…
Act Four: We’re on the wrong side of change.
As the young platforms transformed into the powerhouse we see today, agencies were blindsided by what was really in plain sight.

What made them blind was that they didn’t see platforms like Google, Facebook and Netflix as competition, they saw them as merely (and frustratingly less profitable ) outlets for their creative and marketing efforts. Just another place to place creative.
What they really didn’t see until it was too late, is that most of these companies were at their heart, data companies.
Building larger and larger data sets and linking more user and customer information. Now, these platforms became companies and places that knew the customer – and better than agencies did. A depth of knowledge that turns the platform into the marketing consultant, not just a channel to put content into.

And the modern agencies have no control over this platform and technology outside deciding how they want to set up delivery of their creative. Recently we’ve seen a desperate scramble as holding agencies like Publicis buy data and analytics firms like Epsilon for billions in order to pivot to a new form of business.
Better late than never for ad agencies. But so late, the end could be near…
It reminds me of Amazon and shipping.

At first, the behemoth online seller worked with companies like Fed Ex and UPS and USPS. Now it’s working less and less with them as it’s taking on more and more product shipping. It’s pivoting from the big shippers and using lots of contractors who are the “last mile” to drop off product from Amazon’s distribution center to the customer home.

Amazon does everything else, except that last mile. And someday it may decide it wants to do that last mile as well. So soon other companies will be shut out as Amazon becomes its own shipping company delivering to customers on its own controlled platform.

Because agencies missed their opportunity to be the platform, they are, if not already, the last mile carrier to a platform they don’t control. And one day, they, too, could be replaced.
Very soon Amazon could easily say to an ad agencies clients…
“we have the data on the customer you want to reach from finding patterns in our sales data. Using our proprietary information we can develop the precise marketing and creative that will help you market and sell your product to our worldwide audience.

So what do you need that ad agency for? Hopefully agencies will find an answer to that question.


Brooks Richey on
Content Mindfulness

Why I avoid wearing logos.

I used to work in advertising. Over that time, I have been involved in deals and ad campaigns where celebrities would accept millions of dollars to either wear or be associated with a brand.

Paying to obtain your endorsement? That’s a good deal. Doing it for free? Not so much. Are you paying the brand to be an endorser of their brand? Compared to the celebrity model, that seems downright crazy.

Yet every day, Americans fork over money to brands, sometimes exorbitant amounts of money, for branded products just to have the logo on those products be seen and admired by others.

For me, consumers wearing or owning a product just to show off a certain logo or brand has felt somewhat like a bully slapping a “kick me” sign on your back.

An action where the brand gets to control how you present yourself and that you are subservient. With their name on your body or on the products you bought, it literally communicates that you are owned. Not much different than a ranch’s “brand” seared on the body of cattle to show ownership.
Why does this happen?
Because the purchase of branded products have become a form of value signaling. We consciously buy and present the logos on the product we purchase to communicate to others, as Seth Godin famously said, “people like us do things like this.

The logo’s identify is used to signal our own identity.
Of course you can’t always avoid logos.
If you want a laptop that uses the MacOS software, you ‘re going to have a computer with an Apple logo on it. If you buy a car, the manufacturer’s name will be prominent somewhere. Unless you make the car yourself. That’s not the kind of logo control I’m talking about. Logos often come with the items you truly want or need. There’s a Borden logo on the milk I bought at the store for my cereal. I can’t avoid it until I open my own dairy. What I’m talking about is where obtaining identify with the brand becomes more important than access to that particular product itself.

You can get a purse, You have lots of brands, lots of prices and options to choose from. But you HAVE TO buy Chanel. If you don’t, “what would they say about you?” If you do, they might think you are amazing. With such a brand mindset, your sense of self becomes totally dependent on what you buy.

My other problem with logos is when the identity of the logo is often better than the product it’s often attached to. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen logos from “high value” brands like Armani plastered on clearly cheaply made T-shirts. The value of that product is not the T-shirt, it’s the name on it. But to that person, the association and value signaling around the brand name are important. So they wear it.

To me, that’s the “kick me” sign on the front, instead of the back.

Brooks Richey on
Content Strategy

I’m stealing this content strategist’s blog content.

Yep. I copied and pasted an excerpt from the blog post Ten Years Later: The Discipline of Content Strategy by Kristina Halvorson (with links and attribution of course).

Honestly, reading her reflection of what she learned about content strategy and the feelings she expressed as she wrote the article, frankly, I couldn’t have said it better.

Her writing ten years ago reflects the frustration that so many content strategists feel. Frustrations they feel even now, when working with organizations (including agencies) that don’t always understand the value of managing content or providing content as a service. I’ve mentioned it before (see Why firms hedge on offering content strategy).

So I’m letting her say it here and strongly encourage you to go to her full post at Brain Traffic. Here’s the excerpt:

“What’s important, ultimately, is helping people understand that content decisions never happen in a vacuum.

A shared definition of content strategy is important because it helps lay the foundation for ongoing collaboration, which means better content and happier customers. And that’s worth a hug. Bring it in.

But what I definitely had going for me at the time was that I was really mad. I was mad about constantly getting called about website projects—projects that were almost done and nearly out of budget—and being asked to “just write the content.” I was mad that digital agencies always left it to the client to “do the content,” when the client clearly didn’t have the skills or capacity to manage it. I was mad that designers and IAs kept making beautiful boxes with placeholder copy, expecting that someone would magically make the “real” content work.

And most of all, I was mad that no one was listening to the people who had been yelling and pleading and bargaining about the importance of content since websites became a thing.”
Content strategy. Ten years later.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Brooks Richey on
Block Lego
Content Mindfulness

Goals are big dreams. Achieving them is all about little choices.

Choices in life are like Legos. Each piece, in itself, doesn’t seem like much.

But as each piece is connected to another, and another, and another, the bigger picture from your small efforts starts to emerge.

In the real word, those little decisions happen. like a Lego, piece by piece, every day.

If your goal is trying to get into your best shape, do you choose to drink that six-pack of beer with friends while watching the game?

It’s just one night and a few drinks, right? Just one little Lego piece in life, right?

That Value Meal at McDonalds for lunch the next day is also just one little Lego, right? Yet somehow, two weeks later, from these little moment, you gained two pounds.

You want to retire in comfort. So do you spend $4 on that latte on the way to work?
Why not? It’s just a cup of coffee, right? What’s $4?
You might have heard about “The Latte Factor” by The Automatic Millionaire author David Bach. Financially, it’s a good example of how those Lego pieces build into something bigger.

What if you choose not to buy that one $4 cup of coffee and, instead, chose to invest it in an account that grows at 8% annually for 35 years. That one cup, would turn into over $59 in 35 years.

If you’re habitually getting a latte on your way to work, you are making that one little choice every day. Imagine if you made the choice to invest the next day’s $4 latte (+$59), and the next day’s (+$59). And the next (+$59). That one little choice that could create six-figure results over your lifetime.

We as human beings we are simply not good as seeing large value or threats that approach us or impact us incrementally. Instead we tend to seek that easy, quick big win. Hitting the lottery. Start saving for retirement only when you get that big high-paying job.

That’s how we lose our way from getting to the goals that truly make up happy. Little moments we don’t take advantage of. We fail to see how a small choice, one little, tiny step can change our life immensely.

The choice we need to make is not always between good and bad. It’s usually between quick wins (yummy latte today) and long-term happiness (retired and sitting on my own private beach).
What do you want to do? The (little) choice is yours.

Brooks Richey on
Content strategy -content-context-contact
Content Strategy

The 3 Cs of content strategy.

You want to create content that your users like. But you are not a content strategist nor do you know or understand all the details and tools of content strategy?. Here’s a quick-start guide:
Follow the three Cs: Content + Context + Contact.
One: Content.
People will seek out and engage with people and organizations who can offer content (e.g. information) that interests them. In order for you to engage with your prospective customers, readers, or users, you must create content that people can’t resist.

To create irresistible content, you must develop a sense of what content topics excite and please your readers.
How to create magnetic content.
Creating magnetic content is all about getting to know your audience to the point where you can empathize with their concerns as well as know and articulate what satisfies them in your content.

That’s a lot easier to do if you are developing content around a topic that you are constantly, deeply and passionately immersed in.

For instance, say you like Star Trek. I’m talking about a level of like where you’ve seen all the episodes and know them by their official episode number. A passion where it’s also not unusual to find you constantly talking to other Star Trek fans or even going to Star Trek conventions to share thoughts about the show with even more people.

If that’s you, it’s a good bet that you know Treker details that more inexperienced fans do not (like why my use of “Treker” just made thousands of Star Trek fans cry). It’s also a good bet that you know how others feel about all the issues around Star Trek. Is Captain Kirk better than Captain Picard?

Why do most of the villains (from other planets) quote English writers?
Klingon General Chang: “Tickle us, do we not laugh? Prick us, do we not bleed? Wrong us, shall we not revenge?” – The Merchant of Venice Act 3 Scene 1 Page 1.
Does Earth have the market cornered on witty lines?

Anyway. When you understand the informational needs and passions of an audience, build and deliver content that resonates with them. And because you are immersed, your audience will likely sense from the quality of your content that you have credibility and insight and will be more likely to trust and engage your content.
Two: Context.
Make your content relevant to users by understanding the context in which they are seeking information or will be mentally open to taking in new information.

For example, if I just bought a car, content about how to buy a new car likely won’t resonate with me. While I’m actively excited about the topic of a new car, my focus might be in the context of having bought one or wanting information on how to take care of a new car. So any content around the topic of cars is not enough. Only content that is contextual to my needs or state of mind will engage.

Marketers know this. When creating content for potential customers, they tend to segment their audience into groups based on what content context will best engage with them. The names around the content context are called stages and they exist in a bigger system called a content or sales funnel.
Content or Contextual Funnels
The funnel maps the reader or customer content journey between the time they first become aware of a topic or product to having enough information to decide to take an action around it.

The stages of that funnel lay out how a reader or potential customer content needs change as they progress through the funnel.


Content that makes a person aware of a particular issue, topic, solution or product.


Information that helps a user understand more about that product or issue.


Specific information that helps the reader address any concerns or barriers they might have to take a future action around that issue or product.


Information on how to take the desired action.
How does this system help you create content context?
For example, if you know your reader is in the process of considering a product for purchase, you would develop content for them in the context of where they are the funnel or journey. In this case, give them the pros and cons of one version of the product over a competitor’s. Now you have given users a greater context in which to understand or feel that they can confidently go forward with a decision.
Three: Contact.
Your content won’t make its point if it never reaches your audience.

Find ways of distributing or presenting content where your audience is likely to encounter it.

In short, be where they’re going to read it.

In the world of content marketing, that might mean helping users find content through improving your SEO (being found in search engines like Google or Bing). If your audience is more video oriented, building and posting your content on YouTube or a podcast could prove effective. Or ask to guest blog on sites that cover topics you feel that you could offer additional insight and values.

If you use the three Cs: Content, Context, Contact, you’ll find yourself developing content that attracts and pleases your audience.


Brooks Richey on
Content Mindfulness

Everyday is training day for THAT day.

It could be just one day in your life. That one exceptional day. The day that defines success for the rest of your life. The day where you’re going to have to find that extra strength. To keep your wits about you when things couldn’t be crazier. To hustle just a little more.

Whether it’s learning, working or exercising, that day is what you are training for every day.

Will you be the person you need to be for that day when it finally comes? If you say never enough to learning and growing, when that day comes, you’ll know you’ll be enough.

So be greedy about building and having enough skills, muscle and experience each day – for that day.

Brooks Richey on
Grammarian Copywriter
Content Strategy

Copywriter vs. Grammarian

There is grammatically perfect English. And there is good advertising copy. And there is good UX copy.

One of these three things is not like the others.
Spoiler alert: it’s grammatically perfect English.
In both ad copy and UX copy, grammar rules are broken all the time in the name of increasing the speed in which users are able to absorb an idea. It’s also done to produce voice and tone to match current conversational or cultural norms.
Shouldn’t grammatically perfect English create better messages?
Besides avoiding angry emails from grammarians, not really.

Most of the time, a more curt version of the language is important to the world of commerce in terms of creating communications that engage users and customers. After all, would Nike’s “Just do it” feel as impactful as, “You should simply do it.”

While a grammarian might feel the urge to say, “You should simply do it, ”the copywriter, like packing a snowball into a harder, icier projectile, feels the urge to compress the phrase and make it more impactful. As the saying goes, “brevity is the soul of wit.” That tighter, punchier copy also gives the idea it conveys a more motivating and inspiring tone.

People who can write amazing prose can be horrible at this commercialized and curt form of communication. Remember, Ernest Hemingway was a failed copywriter.
Ad copy, especially consumer, is usually conversational.
It helps create a tone and style of engagement as if to say, “I’m talking like you talk, so I’m more like you. And because I’m more like you, can trust my message.” This opposed to formal language structure that, inadvertently, feels stiff and, to many, foreign.
The bigger rift between formal English and commercially structured content is due to changing content consumption habits.
Let’s put it this way. Think of words a fruit.
Users just want the meaning inside them (the juice). They think to themselves, “Give me just what I need to be satisfied.”

They want the juice and grammatically correct and formal English keeps giving them the whole fruit (rind and all), not just the juice. With that mindset, everything else about the fruit is a hassle because it’s not the juice. You have to work around the stem, the peel, the skin and remove any seeds.

More words, especially if they seem extraneous, come off as annoying and time wasting. That’s what a complete proper sentence feels like in the world of ad copy and UX copy.

This is especially true in the yeah-yeah-yeah generation. To this generation, good grammar feels like oversharing. Especially for those content consumers with increasingly short attention spans.

As digital content tends to force users to scan and skim information. Content, that doesn’t quickly communicate meaning, can get passed over. Content needs quick hooks and idea structure that is skimmable.
So, sorry grammarians. Or to coin a phrase, “pardon my English.”
However, even though ad copywriter and UX writers might not write perfect sentences, like the grammarian, you do need to be vigilant about spelling. There’s a difference between breaking the rules and proving that you don’t know them.


Brooks Richey on
Content Mindfulness

Montages make self-improvement look easy. It ain’t.

Oh no! Rocky is washed up. There’s no way he can win the big fight.

But wait! Rocky goes from zero to hero with a few push ups and sit ups in a two-minute musical montage.

The Montage. The yadda, yadda, yadda on hard work.
Great for movies, but a terrible example to follow in real life. It’s essentially the “Cliff’s Notes” of self-improvement. A movie montage glosses over the process at the expense of details like:

The struggle. If it was easy. Everyone would do it.

The setbacks. You never see that scene in Rocky where he needs to take a week off because he hurt his back while training.

The consistency needed – ‘cause unlike the montage, you can go from zero to hero in one song. It’s getting up, every day and doing it. Even on the days that you don’t want to.

For those truly seeking self-improvement, yes, be inspired by the idea of transformation that you see in a montage. But never forget it’s rarely quick or free. But if your true goal or desire is at the end of it all that work. It’s worth it.

Brooks Richey on
Content Strategy

Writing as punishment.

Writing as punishment? While you might have heard the phrase, “throw the book at him!” in a police show, what seems to be worse punishment is if they ask you to write words from that book.

That’s what I had to do. Hand write a page from the big, thick dictionary if I forgot to bring my gym clothes to the gym class.

Writing as punishment is not uncommon. It’s essentially a meme.

Most of us have seen the opening of the Simpsons where Bart writes, “I will not (Bart’s violation of the week goes here) over and over on the chalkboard as punishment.

If you ever wondered why people hate writing, ironically, where you go to learn it (school) might be to blame.

When school leaders make you write as punishment, it sub-communicates that words are not something you should love and welcome. Instead, they are meant to be vessels and instruments of pain. Something you endure. As human beings, we don’t like things that cause pain. We also dislike things that we associate with punishment.

What if schools continue to teach that lesson about words? Like being abused, how do you expect children to behave when they grow up? And if you hate to write words. You also are less likely to want to read them.

And people wonder why people have to read and write.

Brooks Richey on

Every day is training for THAT day. A mindful moment.

Why are you training and working out? Gasping for air and feeling the lungs inside you burn at 5:30 am? Especially when everyone else, in their right mind, is sleeping?

Why are you learning more about your profession and honing your skills when everyone is going to the bar or binge-watching Netflix? Why is it that every day, you are trying to make yourself better, when no one else seems to notice or care?

Because you’re not training for them. You’re training for you. More importantly, you’re training for a day in the future. One particular day. THAT day.
THAT day could be a random day that blindsides you when it comes.
It could be that one exceptional day. The day that may define success for the rest of your life. That day that could come in the form of the interview for the job you always wanted. That race you want to run. That day you walk into your boss’ office to quit your job to start a new business.
Whatever THAT day is, one thing is for sure.
It’s the day where you’re going to have to find that extra strength inside you. To keep your wits about you when things couldn’t feel crazier. To find that part deep within you that helps you hustle just a little more.

Whether it’s learning, working or exercising, THAT day is what you are unglamourously training for every day. All that training no one else but you seems cares about. Training that others will only notice in terms of whether you win or fail on that day. And quite frankly, they may not notice it then because they can’t see the future fruit that your success on THAT day will bear.
Will you be the person you need to be for that day when it finally comes?
If you say never enough to learning and growing right now, when that day comes, you’ll know you’ll be enough.

While those around you are squandering their time on things that give them fleeting pleasure, you must see that time as a precious currency that you can spend investing in you.

So be greedy about your time, spend it wisely in order to build the skill, muscle, endurance, and experience each day – for THAT day. And you’ll be ready.


Brooks Richey on
Content Sprawl
Content Strategy

What is content sprawl and why it frustrates users.

What’s content sprawl?
Ever have a really messy dorm room, house, or bedroom? You know, the kind that looks like a piled-up, hilly garbage dump?

Unless you’re perfect, the answer is, “yes.” Also, unless you’re weird, no one ever says to themselves, “I’m going to really work to make this room really messy.” Yet it happens, little by little, with amazing ease. Most of us want a clean room, but with busy lives and lots of things to do, it’s tempting to cut corners on staying organized.

For instance, you’re getting dressed for an event. You COULD, hang up all the all the other outfits you tried on but didn’t choose. But it’s a lot easier to just leave them on the bed and worry about them later. The next day you leave store bags all over the room, ‘cause that’s easy, too. The next day, it’s towels on the floor. The next: shoes you don’t put away. It’s the same on the next day, and the next, and the next, until…

Okay, you made a mess. “So what? It’s my room you might say.”

It is fine. That is until you need to find something. Like your keys.

Suddenly your room, piled with junk is your enemy to being happy and satisfied (finding your keys). The clutter you’ve casually created has exponentially increased all the places where your keys could be lost. What’s more, the overwhelming options are likely to increase your frustration and time trying to find them.

We’ve all done it. Large organizations do it too. When they do it to their websites it’s called content sprawl.
Content sprawl is usually borne from lack of content governance.
What is governance? Content governance deals with the process and workflow around managing content to ensure it’s optimized for efficiency and effectiveness.
What does content governance help to resolve?
1. No coordination in the editorial approval of content.

Failure to provide an editorial focus around your content allows a wide and unpredictable swath of language and writing styles to be expressed by all the different content creators. Without an editorial focus, those styles may not sync with each other, much less be able to coalesce to create a singularity in achieving the organization’s desired brand or user experience goals.

2. No coordination of the publishing approval of content.

In this situation, anything can get published at any time by almost anyone. When large organizations with departments or groups that don’t coordinate, each often ends up creating content and publishing work that may contradict, overlap or duplicate the content of the other departments. This duplication vastly contributes to the bloat of site content.

3. No coordination over the review and removal of content.

The other factor that contributes to content bloat is when there is no standardized process for reviewing published content. Content, like produce, can get old, unappealing, and feels like it should be thrown out. When it doesn’t, you end up with a site with a lot of expired content nobody wants.

With no process or no one assigned to check if content is still timely or relevant to their users, bad and/or useless content adds up making your site more and more useless to users.
Avoid content sprawl by having processes in place.
Just like keeping your room clean, keeping content sprawl in check requires a plan or standard for how things are stored and the discipline to enforce it.

Do it. You and users will benefit.


Brooks Richey on
Content Mindfulness

How content and mindfulness are related.

Recently a friend asked why I write about issues of content and also about issues around mindfulness in the same blog. That’s easy.
Content and being mindful are inextricably related.
Each affects the other. In fact, content and mindfulness are essentially the Yin and Yang to each other. I’ll explain.
Not familiar with Yin and Yang?
In Chinese philosophy, Yin and Yang represent the concept of dualism. Those things that exist as natural and opposite contrasts to each other. Some examples. Light and dark, day and night, good and evil.

The two opposite forces “Yin” and Yang” are depicted as interconnected and always counterbalancing each other. For example, as light enters a room, darkness recedes and vice-versa.

As content expands mindshare, mindfulness wanes.

The symbol for Yin and Yang depicts a black image and a white image that look like two number 9s, “swirling” around each other. Both in an ever-constant state of competing for dominance against each other within the confines of a perfect circle.

In the same manner, so does content (like advertising, digital experiences, news, etc.) and mindfulness (feeling happy, self-aware and in the present).

Content: Yin.

Content is the data and information from the outside world that tries to assert a reality on people.

Mindfulness: Yang.

Mindfulness is a person’s self-awareness and personal reality it attempts to assert or use as a frame on the outside world.
The forces contrast and compete with each other
The content from the outside world that you take in often seeks to distract and impact your ability to be mindful. It’s the ad that makes you worry about getting that home security system. Or the political ad saying “them” is coming to get you. Or what the neighbors will think about you if you don’t have product X. Or getting you to compare you to another’s standard for beauty. It’s information that robs you from the present and pushes you to become fixated on things that distract your happiness or purpose. Darkness pushes light out of the room.

But if you use mindfulness to stay focused on what really matters to you and that makes you happy, that “Yin” pushes back on the effects of content. You begin to avoid stories, distraction, and focus on what matters to you. Light pushes out the darkness.

Engaging content effectively (for you and not the content owner) requires some form of mindfulness. Take control of how content defines you and your actions.

Brooks Richey on
Content Strategy

The rule for remakes.

A lot of movies are being remade, A lot shouldn’t.

Which should and shouldn’t? As they say in the movie business, “We have some notes.”

Hollywood is under pressure to deliver content that packs people in theater seats and keep their eyeballs stuck to TV screens.

As they are either running out of ideas or feel the risk of creating new stories with unknown characters is box-office death, a clear decision has been made to appeal to audiences’ nostalgia.

Hollywood is pumping out content featuring characters and stories the public already has relationships with. In their effort to recycle, TV and movie remakes are running wild.

Just to name a few:

Hanna, Akira, Aladdin, Alien Nation, Men in Black, Dumbo, Lion King, A Star is Born, The Crow and Dirty Dancing. Here’s the bigger list.
Remakes in themselves aren’t bad.
Like a song, a good remake or cover can bring new life to a song. I love They Might Be Giants’ cover of Istanbul (Not Constantinople).” A 1953 novelty song originally performed by The Four Lads. Weezer’s’ recent version of Toto’s Africa pulls an 80s song from campy oblivion into the minds of a new generation of music listeners.

Marvel and DC comics have brought back the superheroes I loved from my youth into the present with different looks and backstories. Some have come into the present with incredible success.

Iron Man was a B-level character when I grew up. Star-Lord was a C-level. Now they are commonly known and loved characters thanks to remakes and stepping on screen.
Remakes can be good. But some make you ask, “what’ was the point?”
A remake always walks in the shadow of an idea that’s a legend or at least sets a high bar. To that point, I can’t tell what actually drives green lighting remakes in, but I offer a few suggestions.
When to green light a remake.
1. Dated movie elements that can’t be ignored.

Sometimes it’s hard to get past the language of the time or movie props. The movie Wall Street does that for me. To see Gordon Gecko pull out a cell phone that looks like a bloated banana just takes me out of the moment and makes me think, “I paid 50-times less for a better phone. And he’s a billionaire” Guess I’m living better than he is.” Greed may be good. But that walkie-talkie cell phones and eighties-style suits aren’t.

2. The property or story is bigger than the last movie team’s mess up

Batman & Robin with George Clooney and Arnold Schwarzenegger comes to mind. That horrible version almost left the franchise for dead. But the equity around Batman is strong. So strong, people will endure the pain of bad movie makers and bad sequels to get it right.

The story is stronger than the actors, directors, and writers. That’s usually the case with movie standards. It’s why movies like Scrooge, Robin Hood, and The Three Musketeers get remade every decade or so.

3. “We can rebuild him.” The six-million-dollar man remake.

This is an offshoot of the previous criteria. A movie crashed terribly or was born lame. Yet from the box-office wreckage, you can rebuild something even better from the heart of it.

Battlestar Galactica comes to mind. The 1970s version was more of a cheesy spectacle than brilliant. Then the 2005 mini-series version came along. Wow. Not only did that version change Battlestar Galactica, but it also changed the face of TV drama as it showed a new level of drama could come to the small screen.

4. Your property needs a cultural transplant.

Bond. James Bond. To watch 007 remakes evolve is to watch the definition of male masculinity evolve from toxic masculinity to today’s more complex and modern man. Let’s start with Sean Connery that, super smooth, infallible guy. Dressed in a dinner jacket and surrounded by women presented as disposable pleasures. He was also involved in scenes that would be considered sexual assault today. The style of masculinity doesn’t hold up in the present.

Enter Daniel Craig and Casino Royale. While he, at first, didn’t look the part, his remake character captured the new culture shift on what society’s new leading man was. A fallible and tortured man powered by an indomitable will more than a breezy, smug-driven smoothness. A vision today’s man aspires to as a more realistic role model.
When not to do a remake.
1. Don’t mess with perfection.

The 1998 remake of the Alfred Hitchcock thriller Psycho comes to mind, Did a nearly frame-by-frame remake of this classic movie need to be remade? Unless it was to earn three Golden Raspberry nominations in the categories of Worst Remake. No.

2. The when culture has a “me-too” movement.

Blazing Saddles. Mandingo. Soul Man.

“What are movies that would never get made today for $1000, Alex?”

3. Remake by body transplants.

This is the act of throwing a bankable Hollywood star into every nostalgic franchise as an additional box-office insurance policy. Previous violators include Will Farrell (Land of the Lost, Sherlock Holmes). Today, the current and biggest violator: The Rock. As in…

The Rock + Baywatch.

The Rock + The Towering Inferno ( I mean Skyscraper)

The Rock + Jumanji

You get the picture. This bigger picture is that the property being brought back isn’t really strong enough on its own to warrant a remake.

Remakes aren’t going away. Let’s just hope Hollywood can make them better.


Brooks Richey on
Content Mindfulness

Your perfectionism is about fear.

Nobody’s perfect. While it’s true that we can have perfect moments – and we should strive for them, we must accept that we will never be “perfect” people. Even great people in history, sports, and science aren’t perfect.

That because no matter how hard we try, we are going to fail or disappoint at times. That’s just life. The best we can do is make those times as few as possible.

But you can overdo that attempt to minimize failure or disappointment. And that’s where the danger of perfectionism arises.
When perfectionism rules us, we’re not trying to be better. We’re just hyper-afraid of being wrong.
It’s a close cousin to paranoia. Our anxiety to be “perfect” drives us to spend lots of our energy and emotional state to control all outcomes. An attempt to quell fear through starving it of chances for failure. But the core issues remain. Fear is driving this process.
Like the saying, “Perfectionism is often fear masked with a good polish and spit shine.”
You cannot over control yourself from fear. You free yourself from fear when you accept all outcomes. You want to do your best to be perfect, but accept that you can’t control everything. That you may fail. And you will get up, adjust and get better. The energy you’re saving for being spent worrying, actually frees you to focus on being your best, instead of expecting the worse.


Brooks Richey on
Voice Assistant
Content Strategy

How to write for voice assistants.

When writing for voice assistants, you must keep in mind that you are delivering a simultaneous mix of content, interactive rules, story-flow feedback, brand experience, and voice-driven design. A mix designed to support human engagement through a conversational UI model. But to help you better understand writing for voice assistants, first things first…
What’s a conversational UI for voice assistants?
A conversational user interface (Conversational UI) is a digital experience around your product or service that creates the feeling of having a back-and-forth conversation between your device and a real human being.

It’s a simulated interaction. Your device’s or service’s responses are triggered by a machine’s understanding of parsed phrases it hears and analyzes from the user. That, coupled with the machine’s ability to extract keywords and set rules and relationships around those keywords, a voice device can calculate the probability of a specific user’s intent or request.
All that translated into English: it understands what the user is asking for.
Once the intent is established, how your device delivers a vocal response (along with its ability to satisfy the request), is what helps humans feel as if they are having an organic and productive conversation. That’s the “conversational” part of “conversational UI.”
Now let’s talk about the “UI” part for voice assistants.
The UI (user interface) refers to the medium(s) employed to manage that back-and-forth engagement. For a web site or most standard mobile experiences, it’s a graphic interface. That includes things like the images you see and the buttons you click on.
With voice assistants, a conversational UI can come a couple of ways.
One way is as a hybrid conversational interface (CI). This is where voice is used in coordination with a graphic user interface (think how Siri or Google Assistant simultaneously present voice and visual displays in their response on your smartphone. The smartphone voice may say, “Here’s today’s weather,” while the screen pulls up an image of the weather forecast.
A conversational UI can also be voice only.
Think Alexa in the Amazon Echo. In this voice assistant product, there is no graphic display. All interaction with the user is through voice.

In voice-only devices and services, you are writing for an audio-based UI. The voice and messaging you write also serves as the medium by which humans understand how to engage with your platform.

That means the voice that you write for in a voice assistant is doing what the graphic interface would be doing. So..

No button taps. Instead, you write to create spoken words that, like buttons, request action. “Play” “Open” “Stop.

No visual-based status. Instead, you create words that give vocal confirmations. “Playing song.” “Unable to find that information.”

You are delivering content. That can be a song. An answer about the weather. Or in a hybrid CI, you are framing the graphic content being presented so the user can better understand what information to consume.
Your writing for voice assistants is also about brand.
Like any other UI, as a writer, you are also a participant in the delivery of an experience. As any experience creates or reinforces a brand, the words you craft around voice are also part of the brand.
If radio is called theatre of the mind. Voice UI is the digital interface of the mind.
In my work on voice for Comcast and well as a product currently in development, I’ve learned some things to keep in mind when writing and creating content for voice assistants – as well as the people those assistants serve: humans.

1. Be brief and relevant.

You’re not trying to be a buddy. Don’t be overly chatty. Stick to proving your worth by being an assistant that provides value. That means being laser-like and focused on delivering content users want as efficiently and as fast as possible.

2. Write in clear, simple language for voice.

Try to write so your responses are purposeful, confident, responsive, helpful and insightful.

Some examples:

With Purpose: “How can I help you?”

Confidently: “I’ll get those forms for you.”

Helpful: “Your subscription is expiring on May 8. Should I renew it for you?”

Insightful: “I see you’ve got a meeting at 3:00 PM with Bob Smith. Would you like to see Bob Smith’s profile?”

3. Don’t make your assistant a liar.

Don’t be lazy or make overstatements with writing for voice response. Doing so can produce logic holes or statements that can be proven inaccurate or untrue. For example:

VOICE: “I’m sorry, you don’t have any records on X.”

Great! If that’s absolutely true.

But companies make mistakes. A relevant record might be misplaced, mis-tagged or not entered yet. This can lead to existing data that your user wants but your voice assistant doesn’t know about. Yet its response has it speaking in absolutes.

Remember, your written voice is an audio UI. So imagine how a user would feel if a visual UI, gave a bad number. Would you want a speedometer in the car you were driving to be “kinda-sorta” accurate?

Discovering that your voice assistant gives information that’s up for suspicion can ruin user trust for accepting any future information.

Make sure you write responses to ensure what your voice assistant says is indisputably true – or cannot be directly refuted. If there is a possibility of an exception to your voice statement, conditionalize your voice response.

So instead of:

VOICE: “You don’t have any records on X.”

It becomes…

VOICE: “I can’t find any records related to X” or “I’m currently unable to find any records related to X.”

Think of your voice response as a spokesperson for your service or company. As the voice representing the organization, you have to think about the company’s needs while still being an honest broker of information in order to keep user trust in your product.

4. Make sure you don’t overshare.

Reading doesn’t make noise. Unlike text, people can hear information given via a voice response. That includes sensitive data. Stories, where this will be an issue, could include regulated markets like financial or health data. If you are giving such information, via voice assistant, do not use voice to deliver it unless specifically prompted to do (and within your organization’s rules for sharing).

4. Your voice is also brand.

Most of us know Siri’s voice when we hear it. Same with Alexa. Same with the famous but fictional HAL 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Most of us would think of Siri as cheerful and confident. While anyone who has heard the HAL 9000s voice has experienced a slight shiver from its calm, detached creepiness.

Voice is brand. For companies and products using voice to deliver services and content, it will become the audio brand. So consciously write with the style, tone, and demeanor you wish to reflect that brand.

“Yo, what up?” Is very different than, “Good morning. How can I help you?” And those are very different than the memorable, “What do you think you’re doing, Dave?” from the HAL 9000.

5. “Sorry” is not a synonym for “no.”

When you have to tell a user that the sum of a request if zero (e.g. “There are no books by that title.”), don’t reflexively use “sorry” to start the sentence.

Sorry is not about your response being X=0. Sorry should generally be reserved for instances where you want your voice assistant (and by extension, the brand) empathizing with your user’s situation. Particularly for circumstances where you know the user may feel disappointment in the experience they expected. That includes a system error or a platform error.

5. Plan for Easter eggs/small talk.

When the user takes a moment of curiosity to play your device or service, it’s a good opportunity to have brand-reinforcing moments. That includes chat that can deliver lighter moments for company connection. Write a few jokes to be ready if the user asks for one. Or put some witty rejoinders in your voice assistant’s quiver to be ready for a user’s smart-alec questions.
Your voice writing: Be helpful. Be human. Be accurate.
The voice you write will define the experience users have with your digital experience. Align with these voice principles and you’ll get there.



Brooks Richey on
Content Mindfulness

Do the work and transform.

A thought to be mindful of meeting challenges to your life goals.

A dream is just a map to a destination. And while the beginning of a journey begins with a single step, the full journey ends with a transformation. Set your mind to it and go for it.
You will become a different person at the end.
That’s because the work, the daily grind, the struggle, the moments of self-doubt are part of the full journey.

Each block of resistance that you encounter scrapes away a little piece of the old you as you move forward. You’ll lose some of the fear, some of the doubt, some of the voices that say it can’t be done.

Upon completing the journey, you’ll find a new you on the other side.


Brooks Richey on
Content Strategy

Why firms hedge on offering content strategy.

Agencies, customer experience firms, and design firms bill for copywriting. No earth-shattering news there. Content strategy? That’s another story.
Firms “kinda do” content strategy.
It can be found as either a charge for ideation around copywriting or spoken about as vague practice or black box ability within the firm. Content strategy and content optimization are generally not embraced as a pillar of a firm’s services.
The main reason content strategy isn’t embraced.
Content strategy, as a full practice, is not thought of as a profit center that can be justified.
This belief about content strategy is short-sighted.
For firms and their clients, content strategy’s true value doesn’t always show up on the firm’s estimate. It does show up on the client’s bottom line.
Outside hard deliverables like content audit spreadsheets, site maps, and editorial guides, the “strategy” part of content strategy feels too aetherial for firm billing.

Or if they wish to bill for it, some will tuck content strategy services in UX-related activities (like wireframes) so clients are less likely to question the time and fees.
The perception of content strategy between firms and clients is a vicious circle.
It’s a chicken-and-egg value scenario. We just don’t know which came first.

Clients can’t see the value of applying content strategy principles, so they’re reluctant to pay for them. Firms, sensing that clients don’t see value in content strategy services, don’t stand up for them.
Why is content strategy downplayed?
Agency operations and revenue tends to focus on billing for time. The creation of content (fill this page up with content) or microcopy (to tether design and bookmark execution copy) fits that billing framework.

Billing for strategy around creating content is often hard for an agency to quantify, must less justify.
A typical talk to clients about content strategy.
AGENCY: We want a budget around how to plan, structure, and govern your site’s digital content. Just need $100,000.


AGENCY: Um…hey let’s talk about the site map for now and circle back.

Most firms simply don’t have the understanding, experience, and tools or the qualified content strategy staff the communicate the value of creating optimized content.
The same scenario. With an answer for content strategy.
AGENCY: We want a budget around how to plan, structure, and govern your site’s digital content. Just need $100,000.


AGENCY: Because optimized development, measuring, and distribution of your company’s content will…
1. Produce the content your customers want.
Content is key to your digital experience. While UX and design may be a great door users walk through, make no mistake, content is why they walk through that door.
Good design and good UX mixed with bad content is like a building a hip restaurant with terrible food.
By providing good SEO, design, and easy navigation around content, a user may come. But without content that delights and feels right, they won’t come back.

To steal from the earlier restaurant metaphor, after people try the food, they’ll tell others about the food. Think Yelp. Imagine the cost a bad experience could have on your business.

Begging the restaurant analogy one more time, the reason the restaurant manager comes to your table nowadays and asks if you’re having a good time is that they are deathly afraid of a bad review on social media that could severely damage business. Bad experiences spread fast, so content-wise, you need to proactively offer good experiences.
2. Optimize customer satisfaction.
To help users find what they are seeking and be satisfied, your business’ content and terminology must be structured and optimized in ways THE USER perceives how content is related.

This approach is often in contrast to a business’ reflexive tendency to structure their digital content along their business lines.

Content planning will help your business execute a content strategy to structure content so users feel that your business understands them. This is in contrast to you hoping that your customers will understand and accept how your business is structured.
3. Avoid costly content sprawl.
It’s not unusual for multiple departments within an organization to keep posting and changing digital content. This often happens without procedures for coordinating, updating, or removing it.

The content then layers, and layers, and layers…

Without a plan or documentation, this eventually creates a huge mess (that’s a technical term). That mess is also known as content sprawl.

I’ve worked with clients who have piled up thousands of pages. In a lot of cases, they either don’t know if those pages are up to date, live, or even exist.

With content sprawl, companies don’t know what content assets they have. Or what aged content users are still seeing.

For users, encountering content sprawl can make them feel frustrated finding content – as if they are looking for a needle in a haystack. Or they may find content so old, it’s downright embarrassing that the business still offers it. Speaking of embarrassment, it can also make your company look like it doesn’t know what it’s doing.

What do you suppose is the financial and brand cost of that?

While I said firms don’t usually find content strategy profitable, this “mess” created through a company’s content sprawl is where content strategy does often become very profitable for agencies and experience firms.

It breaks that chicken-and-egg low-value cycle because content sprawl introduces pain and complexity into clients’ lives. Pain they are usually very willing to pay for to eliminate. Especially during site migrations.
What content strategy upfront can do.
By employing a content strategy system upfront to develop plans to review, remove, and edit content, you will avoid content sprawl – and avoid paying a firm just to clean up the mess.
4. Avoid loss of brand value.
Digital is where more and more users experience your brand. Bad content access and poor content quality will hinder the value of your brand, costing your organization possibly millions.
Let’s add up the value of content strategy.
So is a content strategy budget worth $100,000? Especially if you are willing to pay $500,000 or more for the design?
Think of content strategy like preventative medicine.
Addressing content strategy upfront saves much more money later.
In the US healthcare system, it’s not uncommon for people to avoid focus on the prevention of unhealthy conditions and diseases.

Instead of seeing the doctor regularly or create processes for maintaining a healthy diet plan proactively, we often seek a healthcare professional and pay exorbitantly high costs for service when the issues that we’ve ignored become acute.

Companies often ignore content strategy. And agencies often let them until content either becomes messy, richly billable, delivers disappointing analytics that affects sales, or customer support is flooded with costly calls.

Like health care, content strategy offers the best value is when it is treated like a corrective, proactive service. This way, you avoid the pain of having unsatisfying content.

While I understand that preventive steps are hard to sell (and bill) because the client feels fine. Is it really smart to wait until clients discover they don’t feel fine?




Brooks Richey on
mindful botted water
Content Mindfulness

Is mindfulness going the way of bottled water?

What do I mean by saying that mindfulness is going the way of bottled water?
I’m not attacking mindfulness. I fully believe in the power and benefits of mindfulness. I also believe in the awesomeness of water (yea, not afraid to say that). Both are important for living a happy, healthy life.
Mindfulness and water are both very simple and very free.
However, when someone is looking to monetize them, especially at scale, one quickly finds that “simple” and “free” are characteristics that don’t make for a hugely profitable business model.

As a result, marketing is introduced to alter and sell a version to customers that:

Disconnects them from its original simple and personal perception, so you feel you need paid help.
Disconnects them from the perception of free, so you will spend money that you wouldn’t before.
Instead of talking about deep benefits or roots, focus on a vague benefit to make it more accessible to a mass market.

Fitness works like this. Instead of you just taking a walk to get in shape, the fitness industry tells you the need the Adominizer 3000, or Burn-Away power drinks. Eventually creating the idea that health is something you buy. The same has happened to another very simple idea. Water.
Paying for water?
Twenty years ago, most would laugh at the idea of buying water from a store for casual purposes. Especially when you have plenty of tap water at home.

But, thanks to marketing, the world now spends over $100 billion a year on bottled water. And while the U.S. boasts high-quality tap water, bottled-water brands have multiplied like gremlins with (“artisanal? H2O is H2O.) names like Evian, Fiji Natural Artesian Water, Nestle Pure Life, Voss, and Mountain Valley Spring Water to name a few.

These are bottled water brands with the benefit of saving me from…what? Keeping my money? Yet many consumers swear by bottled water. Including loyalty to some brands with questionable superiority (some are from the same water sources as tap water. Hello Aquafina). Yet the marketing has worked to the point many consumers shun tap water for brands they “feel” are better.
These marketing trends may now be focused on mindfulness.
This article from the Guardian argues that the concept of mindfulness is going the same path. That mindfulness is now commercialized as a broad, generic lifestyle that strips away tenements of Buddhism to be more sellable. In addition, mindfulness experiences and teachings seem to be devolving into different brands.
The commercialization of mindfulness has two potential value losers.
The first: those who find the history, best practices and goals around mindfulness becoming almost unrecognizable in the commercialized versions. Especially apps and services that fail to support ideas and values strengthened through mindfulness. Principles including avoiding attachment, building ethical perspectives and forging self-control through mental focus and clarity.

The second: Principles that originally made mindfulness great and enlightening are getting lost in the handoff to the next generation. The rise of smartphone apps often tend to focus on mindfulness as medication or a brain hack to support the self-centered activities they already do.

And that handoff from the previous generation to the new is how the laughable idea of paying for water becomes the norm. Or how mindfulness, at the linked article implies, evolves to become “McMIndfulness.”
How do you avoid the commercialization of mindfulness?
For those wanting to explore mindfulness, these apps and services available can absolutely be helpful tools.

As tools, they can help you understand the steps to getting to mindfulness. But like tools, they are only as good as the person who uses them.

What these tools may not do is help you build an understanding of what to do with your developing mindfulness skills. Kinda like nuclear power. Depending on how you decide to use it and apply your values, you can power a city or destroy one.

But before you use mindfulness apps, seek out the history behind mindfulness. Take time to learn why people seek and find value in mindfulness. Come to the apps with some experience and perspective on the broader ways to use mindfulness to improve your life. Then, you’ll use the apps better to create a better non-McMindfulness experience.


Brooks Richey on
meditation mindful video
Content Marketing

An Honest Meditation (not)

Yes, it’s a parody of a meditation and mindfulness video.

But you know what? Take out the cursing (sorry, it’s not for young kids) it’s still not that bad. Kind of a cathartic mediation. Or at least it makes you feel better because you laugh. Enjoy this video from John Headley.

Can being mindful make you giggle? You be the judge.




Brooks Richey on
Content Strategy

Writing content for the “yeah, yeah, yeah” factor.

People do read copy, but ONLY to the extent that they need to.
Readers’ ever-shortening attention spans leave little room to consume fluff or highly refined details.
We now live in the age of the TLDR (Too Long Didn’t Read) video and explainers.

The Marvel Comics’ TLDR series on YouTube is how I caught up on what I needed to know to watch the movie Avengers: Infinity War last year. A breezy, expedient content option that beat the alternative of sitting through all the hours of movies and back story that converged into the Infinity War story.

It’s just one example of how we are living In an age where people increasingly consume fewer content details and tune out to information faster than ever. Even around topics that generally interest them.
This phenomenon is even more important when writing content for digital flow or voice interactions.
Got a lot of good content and meaningful, deep things to say? For many pressed-for-time readers, it doesn’t matter.

I remember all the work I used to do in preparing to present my work to my boss in advertising. I’d sweat and toil to develop this big, rich opening for my presentation to give my work context and delicious depth. A presentation where I’d make sure the messaging covered every detail, every contingency my boss could possibly want.

Filled with knowledge, meaty slides, and a big, robust preamble, I’d start pitching my idea to my boss, only to be stopped dead in my tracks as I heard him say, “ Yeah, yeah, yeah. Just tell me what’s the big idea.”

Irked, deflated and interrupted from delivering my 12-part symphony of a presentation, I was thinking, “I invested a lot in this. This is worth a lot.”

However, my view was competing with my boss’ thought, “Is this worth my time?” And he didn’t see it yet.

My sessions with my boss now stay with me when writing copy or chat and voice responses with users.
Just because you add more to your content doesn’t mean you add engagement value to the user.
Good digital experiences spoil us with the expectation of speed. That also applies to absorption of content.
Uber: get a car in 4 minutes. Amazon Prime: get products in two days. Venmo: pay bills in seconds.

We’ve been coddled and spoiled by the speed of good services. So unless the user is prepared, providing presentations with large amounts of lengthy information are not treated like finding a huge pot of gold. Instead, to the average reader, it feels like a discouraging hill that looks way too big to climb.

And most won’t.
People will read content they are interested in.
What they are interested in is just getting through a flow or getting the answer they asked for. There’s no time for a grandiose story. They are depending on you to tell them what they need to know in the straightest line possible. That’s it.
The user wants just enough content engagement to take action.
This is particularly important in digital user flows that are guiding a user to complete a task.
Tips for writing content that keeps user attention:

Laser-like writing.

No preambles. No excess words. And while long phrases might be nice in the first interactions like a FTUE (First Time User Experience), for most digital flows, keep it tight and crisp. Each word dense with actionable value. Your frugality will be appreciated, especially if the user needs to constantly return to that part of the flow.

Let readers sip your content.

People scan content for bites of meaning rather than review entire paragraphs and sentences. Once a reader finds an interesting conceptual chunk, they usually stop and delve deeper.

With that in mind, break your content into smaller, digestible parts – with the key meaning clear in just a few words. This way, each “sippable” piece of content contains just enough of a new idea, insight or direction that helps them feel it offers value. And like a nice piece of tasty candy or a delicious sip of a drink, they’ll be encouraged to grab the next one. Then the next…

Providing content shortcuts help.

Particularly with repetitive actions like voice instructions or voice feedback for voice assistants. In these instances, there are tasks with little ambiguity between words and intent.

For instance, for voice assistants, I can say “news brief” Instead of having to say, “Alexa, please start my news brief.” The NLP has enough from this short phrase to parse the keywords and act because it’s pretty clear there’s a match of between words and intent and what skills Alexa offers.

If a user needs to know more think they think they do, quickly tell them why to keep their attention.

The user that is not familiar with a flow also may not know what they need to complete the journey. For example, a recent flow I worked on required biometrical authentication to move forward. If they didn’t pay attention to that and didn’t have biometrical authentication, their journey will dead-end and the user will feel like they wasted their time.
Since they don’t know that they don’t know, use your content to tell them.
Usually, it’s just accomplished by using that extra content to quickly tie why they need that extra information to complete the task they desire.

For instance, in the biometrics example:

“To proceed, “Face ID or Touch ID is required to activate this feature.”

Using a little extra content here is like raising your voice a little to say “hey, this is important.” And if you don’t overdo the use of excess content in other parts of the experience, your out-of-the-ordinary action should catch and keep the user’s attention.

Suddenly understanding that knowledge or action you’re describing is tied to achieving their satisfaction, they’re more likely to continue reading to comply.
The user wants to read as little as possible yet get as much benefit or value as possible.
It makes any writer’s job difficult. Writing and telling users they need to pay attention to information they need to succeed is a little like trying to give your kids critical information as they’re barely listening to you and running out the door to school.

But with kids and readers alike, if you love them, you have to try.


Brooks Richey on
mindful morning routine
Content Mindfulness

My mindful morning routine.

There is a concept in Zen that you make the choice if you are going to experience heaven and hell in the first five minutes that you wake up.

The idea is that as you come to consciousness and mentally “booting up,” you’re also in the process of remembering things in your day and judging how you will approach it.

Will it suck? Are you going to kick butt and take names? Much of what drives that choice is driven by attitude, confidence and your mental state.

Seizing your morning in order to seize your whole day is a good reason why a strong morning routine is critical. Here’s a quick sample of mine.
My morning mindfulness routine schedule.
I’ve come to believe that the key to building a can-do attitude throughout the day is mostly about controlling emotional inertia first thing in the morning.

Inertia, if you don’t know, is an object’s tendency to stay in place or keep moving unless another force intervenes.
Your emotion is subject to inertia.
When you feel bad, angry or depressed, you tend to say that way. If you feel good, you also tend to stay that way. Motivational coach Tony Robbins refers to this concept as “state.” Controlling your state is key to driving the attitude and action you want.

The key to a good morning routine is immediately building and driving inertia to move towards a positive state. That way you’re making the rest of the day work like hell to halt that good momentum from inertia rather than having yourself spend most of the day trying to get something started and crawl into positive territory.

I’ve found my mindfulness routine (which is more like an hour and a half) brings me to a more open and positive state throughout my day.
At least 5 days a week, I…

Wake up at 5:00 am.

I grab my AirPods at the side of my bed and immediately ask Siri to start my 30-minute guided meditation routine. My audio program not only helps me get into a state of mindfulness by getting me to control my breathing, but it also helps me practice mental exercises. Each day I’m learning to practice mindfulness, visualization, and building the “muscles” in my brain to support my personal goals.

When my 30 minutes is over, I feel good. I feel I’ve already started my day completing a task and feeling positive.

Listen to ”strained” news while getting dressed.

What I mean by “strained” is news with most or all the emotion and outrage taken out of it. Just the facts. Usually, outlets with top news stories that focus on the who, what, where when, why and how. I use business news like Bloomberg Daybreak or NPR or the curated news brief from Alexa.

Motivational and educational audio.

As I believe environment affects attitude, I try to keep negatives things out of my day or keep my mind from wandering from my state by being in a cocoon of listening to knowledge or motivational audio until I get to the office.

My daily commute used to be longer (an hour and a half). That gave me time to do both motivation audio and a chapter from an audiobook. In addition to my weekly plane commute of 6-7 flying to Miami and from Miami to Tampa, Daily, I still have 30 minutes in the car.

Instead of listening to talk radio or music, I created a morning motivational “mixtape” of motivation thoughts around principles that keep me mindful. Embracing challenge. Gratitude. Goal setting. Staying focus on the bigger picture.

By the time I start my work day I’ve got a lot of momentum and training to help me power through my day and make sure the day is more likely heaven than hell.


Brooks Richey on
Content Mindfulness

Trying to unlock your potential? You might be your own jailer.

You’re an independent free thinker. Nobody tells you what to do? Right?

Not really. You stop when a stop sign tells you to stop. Right?
In reality, we all agree to limitations.
Take a step back and you’ll realize a lot of people push limits on us subconsciously or with our tacit approval. It’s usually here where a lot of our limits are set.

We don’t see the barriers or limits in our thinking, goals or behavior because we accepted them so long ago we hardly notice them. Examples of when they happen:

Feelings of guilt or cautiousness imposed on us from a parent or loved one.
A small raise from your employer that makes you think “good enough” and puts your new business idea on hold.
A school bully or peers that socially implied that you weren’t as good enough to hang out with them.
Social shaming or sub-conscious signals for being fat, short, the wrong race (add your favorite adjective here).

They are all rules and restrictions we are asked to follow. But when we accept and follow them without question, especially without asking if they are in line with our true goals and aspirations, that is when we go off our own path.
When you accept the limitation of others, you imprison your dreams.
You are capable of big things. All humans are. Yet we frequently give up abilities and possibilities when we choose to settle for the small-minded or fearful thinking of others. Often just to avoid standing out from the group. To fit in. To get along.

To do that is to simply stand next to and support others who can’t dream big because they discarded it as an option. So low expectations and setting on your goals seem normal.
There a reason someone becomes #1.
One is a lonely number. The future #1 is willing to walk a path, no one else follows. To not fit in. Number one decides they are not going to be like anyone else, and they are willing to take a risk to prove it. Risk means going beyond others’ expressed limitations and stepping beyond what you may have thought possible. That means you can’t let others’ limits hold you back from stretching yours. You have the “key” to be free.

Be you. Be your dream. And let your dreams be as big as you want them to be. Unlock your potential. If you given in to others’ perceptions and beliefs, you become your own jailer and imprison your dreams.

Brooks Richey on
Content strategy - definition
Content Strategy

The new definition of content strategy.

I’ve given speeches and presentations about content strategy. Including one I recently gave internally to the Astro UX team a at the PwC Experience Center in Miami. A standard line to such presentations is my official definition of content strategy…
The act of analyzing, planning, creating, structuring, governing and distributing content in a way that optimizes business goals.
The business goals for content strategy serves both business and customers.
Satisfying customers. Giving customers the information they want, when they want it.

Driving sales. Giving customers the content they need to stimulate action and purchases through content marketing.

Reducing custom service calls. Providing content that allows customers to self-service problems and questions in order to reduce customer support costs.

Delivering good online brand experiences. Delivery of relevant, satisfying content via web, apps, and IOT products is also the delivery of an experience. Experience is the visceral delivery of brand. Good content drives that.

Giving employees better access to information. Findable, relevant, and engaging information on the business side also helps employees get to information that allows them to do their jobs more efficiently and serve customers better.
My old content strategy definition is correct. But…
Recently I was at a party. I met a guest. And congruent to cocktail party protocol, the “what do you do?” portion of the conversation came up like clockwork.

“I’m a content strategist,” I said to the guest. Her response was “Oh. What’s a content strategist do?
Expected question, but, this time, my reaction was unexpected.
As she finished asking her question, I suddenly had a flashback across my career. My work on websites, mobile apps, content marketing programs, and now, AI voice assistant conversations. I thought, to myself, what do all those things have in common? Suddenly, all of it all connected and I told her…
“ I make information useful.” That’s what content strategy is.
What did I mean by that?

Words, a form of information, are great. And information is powerful. But information (words, data, images) in itself is like an inert rock. Only when it is utilized and optimized in a way to match a human-centric task does it find meaning or produce value for humans.

Our once-inert rock can be structured to be a part of a wall. Our rock can be used as part of a sling to become a weapon to achieve a purpose like fight a war. Our rock can be positioned to hold a piece of paper in place against the wind.

Giving that once-inert data (or our metaphorical rock) a who, what, where, why and how to its existence is what imbues it with meaning to a user. Content shouldn’t just exist, it needs to have a purpose for humans.
That’s what content strategy is really all about.
Making information useful. And reviewing and optimizing to help that content retain it’s value to humans. If you just focus on the collecting rocks or just stacking words, which is easy to do, you’re missing the bigger picture.

I like the new definition. Compared to the more formal version it’s like a Fireman saying “I put out fires” instead of “I use water-based extinguishing solutions against actively combustible materials.”

Muuuuuch easier.


Brooks Richey on
Content Mindfulness

Having a bad day? A little perspective.

The next time you think you’re having a sucky day, remember this guy.
Sir Adrian Paul Ghislain Carton de Wiart
Born in Brussels in 1880 to nobility and apparently a family who believed in long names, he served in three wars. During that time he was shot in the face, head, stomach, ankle, leg, hip, ear, and groin.

He survived two plane crashes; tunneled out of a Prisoner of War camp and tore off his own fingers when a doctor refused to amputate them.

When describing this experience fighting in the First World War, he wrote, “Frankly I had enjoyed the war.”

Despite the stressful events and challenges in his life, he spent the majority of his eighties duck hunting, one-handed, on a massive estate and living with a woman half his age.

I wonder what he’d say about being stuck in traffic? Or missing a flight? Or getting locked out of his house? Being behind on debt? Yes, all those things are bad to be sure.

But if Sir Adrian Paul Ghislain Carton de Wiart’s life experience can teach us anything it’s that, even if you can’t control the event, you can control how it affects you.

I don’t know if that was mindfulness on Sir Adrian Paul Ghislain Carton de Wiart’s part or just straight-up gansta’, but it is what mindfulness is all about.

Hey, I wrote a book about being mindful in the new age of content.
Does This News Make You Look Fat? A book about media consumption and how the way we consume it makes us intellectually obese. Preview or buy the ebook at Amazon.


Brooks Richey on
Woman cringe words
Content Strategy

5 words that make writers cringe.

To a writer or a creator of written content, hearing these five words addressed to them is like hearing fingernails screeching across a chalkboard.
Are these 5 words terrible words? No.
It’s not like they’re curse words or overtly disparaging. They just hit that part of a writer’s nervous system that makes us shiver down our spine a little.
A parallel example of the 5 words.
“Moist.” Doesn’t bother me in the slightest. Seems like a reasonable word to describe something that has a moisture component to it. Something like cake. But surveys show a significant group, especially women, hate it.

Hate “moist,” not cake.

Whether “moist” or these five words, the effect is the same. Here they are:



Why don’t you wordsmith this copy a little?
A “wordsmith” is a person who works with and is adept with words. In its traditional definition and use, the term is meant to imply skill and talent navigating words.

In modern workplace conversation, it tends to reveal those who think of the writer’s job as more of a “blacksmith” more than a wordsmith. To hammer, pound out and forge the right messaging – it casts an image of a writer, sweating from the brow as they bang a hard, glowing metal slab into the right shape.

Though the idea of craftsmanship and skill can be found in that evolved meaning, the way it’s used today leans more on the writer’s effort and work in jumbling copy around more than recognizing the skill and expertise involved in capturing the right thought through carefully selected words. Words designed to address a designed emotional intent or content strategy.

Asking a writer to simply wordsmith content is a bit like telling a talented illustrator to “scribble harder.”


“Voice and tone”

We’re looking for a writer to help with voice and tone.
I rarely hear this term spoken as content direction by someone who truly understands content or writing. Though “voice and tone” does indeed pertain to content, its often used in the wrong context.

Specifically what makes writers wince is that they can quickly tell the phrase “voice and tone” is being used as an oversized idea container.

A container broad enough to allow someone giving direction to avoid being immediately called out for not understanding content or content strategy – all while appearing to sound like they are saying something meaningful.
Voice and tone is wrong for structural content changes.
“Voice and tone” as sole copy direction, at best, is sideways copy direction. It asks the writer to create or change the words so the content magically “feels better.” I think of it as the non-book form of “The Secret” (wish for it and it will happen) for creating amazing content.

What the focus on voice and tone misses is all the planning, research audits, analysis, mapping, and flows that help produce powerful copy that is structured to be truly on message. That is a tried and true approach that gets copy to a place that “feels” satisfying.

To put it another way, the relationship between voice and tone and good copy is akin to the musical key that you choose the play a song, rather than the song itself.

A different musical key will change how a song (say Jingle Bells) sounds. But most likely, if you’re asking to change the musical key as a broad direction and not a specific need, it’s a good bet you just don’t like the song. And that requires looking at structure and strategy in order to write a pleasing song.

When that’s in place. “Voice and tone” can be measured and adjusted to enhance the content.



Used in a sentence.
Add some verbiage to talk about this discount.
A writer throws up a little in their mouth when they hear this word.

Not just because the definition naturally means excessive or redundant wording. When someone uses the word verbiage in copy direction, I always get the feeling it is a word that’s meant to express, “I really don’t care what you put in there as long as it gets us by.“

The yadda, yadda yadda, of copy direction. To the point that “add some verbiage” and “add some bullshit” feel almost interchangeable terms.




Used in a sentence.
Could you tinker with the copy and get something back to me?
See Wordsmith.



Used in a sentence.
The client needs you to tweak this copy.
What sends shivers down a writer’s spine is, here, the word tweak is often the camel’s nose under the tent for changes. When part of copy feedback, a cynical writer can easily feel its real mission is to gently and disarmingly open the door for larger changes.

A way of saying to “oooh, so close. Almost there. Just a little more.” When it really just means, “this needs to be rethought.”

A true “Tweak” is “I read your copy. You missed a period. Add it.” Not as if your doctor called your need for bypass surgery a tweak to improve your health.

Five words. Not bad words. Just not the best to share with writers.
If there is any meaning to glean from the effects of these words it’s that those offering copy guidance and direction could help drive even better content with just a little more specific direction. Even better, provide direction from a clearly defined process more than relying on gut feelings and etherial standards.

Any words that make you cringe as a writer? I’d love to hear them.
Content strategy is defining today’s successful business and leaving those too slow behind. Looking for more ideas and strategies around content marketing and delivering satisfying digital experiences for your brand, website or mobile application contact me for a free consultation.

Brooks Richey on
Privacyl data and control
Content Mindfulness

In the age of data privacy, many see us naked.

What if I told you to “take off all your clothes?”

You’d probably say, “no.”

Hypothetically, why let me see your paunch belly, scars, man breasts/women breasts or whatever, just because I asked.
Ok. You don’t strip naked at the drop of a dime.
Glad we got that cleared up.

But it’s a good bet, you’ve likely taken off your clothes in other venues or for different reasons. Even if it’s just to get ready for bed.

Even though you told me “no,” you really don’t have an issue with taking off your clothes. You have an issue or lack of want to take your clothes off in front of me, or in any other context that you don’t like. In short, you have preferences as to when and how you choose to reveal yourself.
The same idea of privacy and exposure applies to data.
Yes, some data that could be revealed about you could be embarrassing. But in the larger sense, data is not so much about having things to hide or be embarrassed about.

When someone is able to see or share data about us, without our control, what we really lose is the ability to control how we reveal and present ourselves to others.
Why is control over our data important?
Being smeared or defamed occurs when another party is able to present information that takes control and reframes how people see or understand you. And that’s when the information that is “exposing” is not true.
Imagine if others exposed information about you that was true?
That’s happening. More and more, companies that collect your data are making those decisions of self-exposure for you. If we enjoy our privacy or, at least, wish to control what others reveal about us, why aren’t we getting upset about our increasing loss of control?
So why aren’t we getting upset about our increasing loss of control?
Some of the people who use our data, expose us. They just don’t tell us or do it in public. So the question is more like if someone shows a (metaphorically) nude picture of you and you don’t know about it, does it make you feel exposed or vulnerable? Ask social media firms like Facebook.
Facebook. Sharing data or offering TMI (Too Much Information)?
Staying with the clothing analogy. Facebook doesn’t ask you directly to your face to take off your clothes and expose yourself to others. Instead, it finds revealing, exposed (data) moments that it quietly shares with friends and advertisers.

So it didn’t tell you to strip in front of your friend (though you can choose to do that yourself by being overly personal on Facebook) but it has taken “data pictures” by pulling data and tracking habits that exposes your intimate parts to advertisers.

Some examples. A famous case where a woman was ousted as being gay on Facebook to her boss because of ads she looked at. An excerpt from The Daily Dot:
I didn’t want to be bisexual, and I certainly didn’t want other people to know that I was bisexual.
But Facebook took that decision away from me.
One day, shortly after starting a new job at a publishing house, my boss had asked me to show her how to do something on Facebook. At first, I tried to explain how to do it verbally, but then I decided it would be easiest to show her, and so I logged into my account with her over my shoulder.
As someone who grew up on the internet, I have become so accustomed to ads that I usually tune them out, whether they’re on Facebook, a website, or at the top of Google search results. But this day, in particular, the ads stood out to me. I don’t know why, exactly, but it probably had something to do with the fact that my boss was literally standing over my shoulder. But regardless, what I saw mortified me.
Facebook was showing me advertisements for a gay cruise to Israel: An ad with rainbow letters and mostly naked, muscled hunks. The ad text was a bad attempt at being punny; something like, “You’ve got to get on to get off.”
My boss didn’t acknowledge the ad; I’m not even sure if she saw it.
Even more recently, a dad found out from Target that his young daughter was pregnant as her purchasing habits caused the company to send marketing information to the home for pregnant women based on other purchases she made.

In these cases, they weren’t ask to strip emotionally naked. Others found pictures of us they decided to share on our behalf, but not with our control.

Because we aren’t asked, many don’t see that loss of control. So many users don’t feel they’ve lost that control or feel ashamed.

Should we be?
Content strategy is defining today’s successful business and leaving those too slow behind. Looking for more ideas and strategies around content marketing and delivering satisfying digital experiences for your brand, website or mobile application contact me for a free consultation.


Brooks Richey on
Seniors and Digital Devices
Content Strategy

Can Grampa use it? Seniors. The ultimate UAT for UX.

Senior citizens are increasingly using the web and mobile apps.
Anyone who uses Facebook and exposed to tons of pictures of your friends’ grandkids already knows this. In fact, Statista recorded that in 2016, 64% of senior citizens (65+ years of age) were online – that is up 4% from 2013.
Despite their increased online engagement and their value as a customer and user, senior citizens are still an ignored and untapped demographic in user experience design.
For digital product makers and designers that is a missed opportunity to fashion user experiences that can satisfy and delight a larger portion of your users.
Improve design experiences for seniors, deliver better experiences for all.
Gathering insights around senior citizens and their engagement with digital products can be both helpful and humbling for digital experience professionals.
Many of us in digital development really have two tech jobs.
The first our UX or digital job. For most of us, the second job is tech support for our older parents. I’m sure many of you will agree with me, it can be a very frustrating job. I still have nightmares spending hours trying to get my parents’ Netflix subscription set up over the phone.

What’s frustrating to those familiar with tech is that it feels like our older parents’ lack of understanding around tech and digital patterns is almost passive aggressive, even hostile.

Of course, it’s not. It’s an honest reaction. It’s just that, to some of us, what they are being asked to do or act to perform, seems so simple, their hesitance and confusion comes off as willful, spiteful resistance.
Imagine this kind of technical support for something simple.
YOU: Could you pick up that ball?

PARENT: A ball? What does a ball look like? I see a round thing on the ground. Is that the ball?

YOU: Yes. That’s the ball.

PARENT: It doesn’t have handles. What do you want me to do?

YOU: Pick up the ball!!!
Again, it’s not because they are trying to be assholes. It’s just that something you take for granted, like in the above example, picking up a ball, might be a whole new concept for them.
Why older adults struggle engaging with digital experiences.
A lot of it has to do with mental models. Older adults’ mental models come from their experience in the physical world and physical devices. With the rise of the internet, smartphones and IOT, they are living in a world where things are becoming increasingly digital and NOT physical. So the method of engagement with products has changed.

You once turned a nob. Now you swipe a screen.
You firmly pressed on a button. Now you tap or pinch your fingers.
Or my mom, when the Internet is down, will tell me that “Firefox (the internet browser she interacts with) is broken.”

Digital experiences offer a set of patterns for engagement. But they are patterns that are divorced from physical items seniors grew up with.

Those established mental models can create habits and pre-conceived concepts that can hinder older users’ understanding of different patterns and ideas.

Think of it as growing up and learning one language, then trying to learn a different language that’s not similar. You have to learn new syllables, sounds, and grammatical rules you may not be accustomed to. And until you learn them, the new language is hard to navigate.

Also, as we get older, our senses aren’t as sharp. Vision and muscle coordination may not be as good as younger and more tech-savvy users.
How to create a better experience for seniors and all users.
Custom web and app design for senior citizens can be achieved by following best practices such as designing with larger UI (user interface) design elements and the use of colors to help highlight important content and performing appropriate user testing.
Build more familiar mental models into your design.
In language there are cognates. Words that are similar to words in another language. “Frio” in Spanish is close to the English “Frigid.” When concepts are close to another concept we already understand, it’s easier for us to engage with it and use it.

The more you can tie the experience, actions and patterns of your digital experience to concepts seniors already are familiar with, the easier it will be for them to use your service.
Improve user ability to click or tap.
As we age, hand-eye coordination and motor skills starts to decline. This makes it harder to interact with a user interface (UI). To help senior users, make things bigger and clickable enough to reduce accidents.

With reduced mobility among seniors, the scrollbar also causes accessibility problems for users with motor skill impairment. It can be hard to get a hold of the tiny scrolling items or even perform the scrolling action. So all in all, avoid scrolling wherever possible.
Make older users part of your testing.
Even when designers comply with guidelines laid out for elderly users, the only real way of knowing how someone will interact with a site is by testing it with them.

This will give you more immediate feedback on why or how to fix a problem with your design – the principle behind qualitative user testing.

And why not go one step further: get senior UX practitioners involved in the design process and give elderly users control of their experiences online.

If Grampa can use it, probably all your users can.
Hey, I wrote a book about being mindful in the new age of content.
Does This News Make You Look Fat? A book about media consumption and how the way we consume it makes us intellectually obese. Preview or buy the ebook at Amazon.


Brooks Richey on

Meditation, mindfulness and the famous people who swear by it.

Who’s got time for meditation and mindfulness? These people do.

These are busy people. Successful people. Senior executives, sports professionals and actors that are so pressed for time that they probably wouldn’t do meditation if they didn’t feel it provides value.

So here are some famous people who think “Ohmmmm” turns into Ka-ching! in their work and personal lives.
Kobe Bryant and meditation.

One of the best to ever play professional basketball, Kobe contributes his ability to outsmart his opponents, stay focused and thrive under pressure to mediation. According to news reports, he has been meditating as far back as 2000 thanks to the advice and guidance of then-Lakers coach Phil Jackson. Jackson required all of his players to meditate.
Hugh Jackman and meditation.

In an interview with Oprah Winfrey, Hugh Jackman discussed the benefits of meditation saying,
In meditation, I can let go of everything. I’m not Hugh Jackman. I’m not a dad. I’m not a husband. I’m just dipping into that powerful source that creates everything. I take a little bath in it.
Oprah and meditation.

Winfrey told Dr. Oz that encouraging everyone at her office to meditate has benefited her company immensely.
People who used to have migraines, don’t. People are sleeping better. People have better relationships. People interact with other people better. It’s been fantastic.
Derek Jeter and meditation.

Former Yankees shortstop, Derek Jeter is also a big proponent of meditation. According to one interview, he is known to meditate for as long as an hour at a time on his days off.
LeBron James and meditation.

Hard to believe “King James” has been in the NBA for over 15 seasons and is still one of the best athletes in the league and in the world right now.

A great deal of this edge not only comes from his work ethic and natural talent, but from the fact that he relies heavily on meditation. James meditates regularly in the privacy of his own home. During the 2012 NBA Playoffs, he famously meditated during a timeout to help him refocus for the task ahead.
Clint Eastwood and meditation.

Star and director of many films including “The Mule, Eastwood said,
I’m a great supporter of Transcendental Meditation. I’ve been using it for almost 40 years now – and I think it’s a great tool for anyone to have, to be able to utilize as a tool for stress.
Jerry Seinfeld and meditation.

The comedian and star of the sitcom Seinfeld told “Good Morning America,”
With ‘Seinfeld,’ I was doing a TV series in which I was the star of the show, the executive producer of the show, the head writer, in charge of casting and editing, for 24 episodes on network television – not cable – for nine years! And I’m just a normal guy. And that was not a normal situation to be in… So I meditated every day. And that’s how I survived the nine years.
Jeff Weiner and meditation.

Jeff Weiner, CEO of the largest professional social network, LinkedIn, acknowledges his daily use of guided meditations through the app Headspace.

He also tweets about the scientific benefits of meditation. In an interview in the Wall Street Journal, he says that pausing to reflect on situations helps him to strategize and work proactively towards long-term goals.

“Part of the key to time management is carving out time to think, as opposed to constantly reacting,” Weiner said.
Marc Benioff and meditation.

The billionaire CEO of Salesforce is spiritual and supports meditation. According to an article in the New York Times, Benioff has meditation rooms all throughout the various SalesForce offices. He’s also spoken on how mediation affects his leadership. “Having a beginner’s mind informs my management style,” Benioff says.
Hey, I wrote a book about being mindful in the new age of content.
Does This News Make You Look Fat? A book about media consumption and how the way we consume it makes up intellectually obese. Preview or buy the ebook at Amazon.


Brooks Richey on
Content Strategy

How to say, “I’m sorry.” Creating error messages.

It’s hard for most of us to admit we’ve made a mistake.

It’s often even harder to feel the anger and disappointment from those we’ve let down through our mistakes. Those anxieties also apply to when we fail to deliver digital experiences.

So when a user clicks, taps or voice commands access to content and can’t get to it, what do you do?
A user will receive different error messages.
Sometimes websites and the backend of some digital experiences show specific numbers (e.g., 404, 501, etc.) to represent the error. Those numeric levels are geek-speak to designate the reason a page or content can’t be served to the user.
There are different types of “geek speak” error messages.
“401” Unauthorized.

Content and access to the page are restricted because you are not authorized to view it.

“400” Bad Request.

An error message when the web server is telling you that the application you are using (e.g. your web browser) tried to access the page incorrectly or that the request for page content was corrupted somewhere along the way.

“404” Not Found.

The server that satisfies a user’s request for content believes the specific page or content the user is looking for doesn’t exist or can’t be found. Often, this is due to an existing page being moved and the links pointing to the new page location are not updated.

“500” Internal Server Error.

This covers general and broader messages without being specific. For instance, the web server is overloaded.
The digital platform’s way of saying “I’m sorry.”
If you can feel the empathy and sincerity while seeing a “404” number on a grey default page, you are better than most of us. The rest of us want more communication and humanity.

So regardless of the error number, you as a content developer are going to have to tell users “I’m sorry,” in a better, more human way.

So how do you do it?
Three key steps to creating an error message.

1. Acknowledge the problem.

Many of us know that feeling when someone has let us down or wronged us and they don’t acknowledge it.

The fact that they seem oblivious to their error is more angering than the initial letdown. It creates an infuriating mix of feeling belittled, ignored and walked on.

It’s an exponential escalation of anger that can be mitigated simply by communicating to the user, that you truly understand that your digital experience is not meeting their expectations. That you hear them and that you understand they are not getting what they want.

2. Acknowledge the user’s feelings.

Even if they don’t become irate and red-hot angry, they are likely to be frustrated. Your error screen needs to act less like a robot providing a status and act more like a human being.

A good way is to design error pages that inject empathy and compassion in your message. Some examples.

I like this one. As it acknowledges my frustration and my feeling of wanting to take out my frustration on someone. The fact that they playfully acknowledge my feeling is cathartic and makes me feel they understand how I’m feeling and I’m not being minimized.

3. Give them a next step.

Your digital mistake is not helpful. Now it’s time to show them that you really do want to be helpful.

The best way is to show, don’t tell, by providing users with a next step so they don’t feel stuck and unproductive. For example, have a link to a help section or similar content so the user can feel they are making progress and getting closer to satisfaction.
Content strategy is defining today’s successful business and leaving those too slow behind. Looking for more ideas and strategies around content marketing and delivering satisfying digital experiences for your brand, website or mobile application contact me for a free consultation.



Brooks Richey on
Content Strategy

Top 10 content development tools.

A list of the top content development tools that I use to create content. Not in order of preference.
1. Ulysses.
Is there anybody besides me who thinks using Microsoft Word to write most copy is like using a flame thrower to light a cigarette?

I’ve used it for over two decades and I still don’t know half of what it does. All I do know is that it has more than half of what I don’t need.

As a writer, I want to initially work at a “sketch” level for content development. That way I can quickly validate a rough idea rather than wasting time worrying about minutiae like typefaces and formatting.

To avoid all the distracting whistles and bells of MS Word, I’ve tended to work in a plain text editor as the first step of content creation. But that simplicity used to come at the expense of being unable to manage a lot of unfinished ideas. As a plain text editor creates each saved document, one after the other, all those plain text files tended to get lost or winded up littered across my computer’s desktop.

Ulysses is a cloud-based text editor that fixes both problems with simplicity and cross-device content management.

Unlike a basic plain text editor, Ulysses’ iCloud managed content library and drag-and-drop system for arranging content and notes allow me to hold and capture thoughts that are not ready for prime time or a CMS. Ulysses has a “typewriter” mode that creates a zen-like text-only writing and editing screen so I can focus on sketching out my ideas.

When I’m ready to take my “sketches” to the next level, Ulysses is great. It allows formatting for text for ebook manuscripts and it uses Markup language so I can automatically format text and add metadata to immediately post to web pages as HTML and blog posts.

The text from Ulysses also works with one of my favorite writing tools that might surprise you. Apple’s Siri.
2. Siri.
Ok, not directly Siri, more like Siri’s voice via accessibility. I use the text reading capability in my Apple iPhone’s accessibility (started by a two-finger swipe down the top of the phone) to make the voice assistant read blog posts I’ve drafted in Ulysses.

Why? By staring at our own words so long, writers can put themselves in a state of self-hypnosis. A point where we are unable to see glaring typos right in front of us.

When Siri reads your “the” written as “hte” in your copy, you’ll hear it. It’ll catch your attention so you can correct it. Though it’s not perfect, you can hear the cadence and style of your copy in Siri’s voice. A playback, a bit like hearing a song you wrote and produced, allows you to get a feel of the flow of your writing.
3 & 4. Grammerly & Hemmingway

A good editor gives you a kick in the pants and helps you take that extra step to make something that’s good, even better.

Both Grammarly and Hemmingway help me to do that. Both are web-based and downloadable apps that you can paste your text into and they will analyze your content.

The free version of Grammarly will help you focus on detecting grammatical issues like typos, verb use, and spacing. While Grammarly’s paid version can improve your writing style, I like to use it as a second set of eyes on my work when writing emails and short snippets.


Editing makes your content crisper, more alive. That’s why I enjoy using Hemingway. The Hemingway Editor cuts the dead weight from my writing. It highlights wordy sentences in yellow and more cringe-worthy ones in red. Designed as an editing app, Hemingway helps you write with power and clarity by highlighting adverbs, passive voice, and dull, complicated words.

5. Camunda Modeler
In my app and user story related work where I create messaging in user stories and a customer journey in digital products, I used to use OmniGraffle to map flows.

Things change and today I use the Camunda Modeler. It’s a freely available application that helps me diagram process and logic flows. It’s particularly helpful in voice/chatbot interaction to help me sync function to messaging around voice response.
6. Trello
For content planning and tracking, Trello is great. I use it to build editorial boards. What is great about Trello is that you can attach dates, images, text, notes to each of your movable cards. And you can share the board with your content team to support content collaboration.
7. Buzzsumo
What’s my client’s industry talking about? What are the topics where people are consuming lots of content? I can look to Buzzsumo to find out. It’s an online search tool to search content trends and see what content in a category is popular. The paid version is really robust, but you can still use the free version to get some guidance on what content consumers want.
8. Pexels.
Free images. Need I say more? A pretty good amount of no-cost royalty-free images. You are not going to find every image you might need for every blog post or post for Instagram, but you won’t be disappointed either.
9. Buffer
If you can post on all the social networks without being a full-time social media manager, please tell me how you got a hold of Dr. Strange’s time stone.

Me? I use Buffer. Buffer is a social media management service. It allows you to add and schedule a post on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest. The ability to time-shift some postings allow me to focus on my clients’ work without interruption from attempting posts during that time.

Why Buffer over Hootsuite? A little easier and, frankly, a little cheaper.
10. Filemaker
I said and posted on Instagram that “If there is a Hell. It’s certainly filled with spreadsheets.” Any content strategist who has had do a content audit or manage all the content on a complex website, you’re dealt with multilayered spreadsheets.

In the last year, I rediscovered a program that helps make that process easier. Filemaker. A software program for creating databases and linking them to more user-friendly forms and portals.

I have found amazing uses for it as a content strategy tool as I can view, edit, manage and create formulas that can show content in the form of dashboard analytics. It makes for a better, interactive content matrix.
Content strategy is defining today’s successful business and leaving those too slow behind. Looking for more ideas and strategies around content marketing and delivering satisfying digital experiences for your brand, website or mobile application contact me for a free consultation.


Brooks Richey on
Robocop Product are employees

Our product and content have two masters. Who rules?

Products. But whose? From the books we buy online to voice-controlled lights to your car, products are less becoming the things we own. Even when we buy them.

The physical parts of the products we buy are becoming mere shells for the services, code, and licenses that make them work.

And all those things ARE NOT yours.

The rights to the content, software code, or patented actions of the products or devices stay with the manufacturer.

I have Siri on my phone, but I don’t own it. Same with Alexa in my Amazon Echo. It’s essentially a service that comes through two pounds of plastic I bought.
The hardware is yours but the soul of the products are still working for the company.
As an essential employee of a company, it’s only logical to think those product and services will be subservient to the company’s objectives and needs. That’s what employees do.

It reminds me of RoboCop (the 1980s version, not that crappy one from a few years ago). A company, OmniConsumer Products (OCP), builds a robotic law enforcement officer to police crime in Detroit.

When the robot finds out, an OCP executive, Vice President, Dick Jones, has committed a crime, he quickly finds out that his internal software will not allow him to take action.

The executive who purposely had this programming installed into the robot’s system and feeling untouchable, arrogantly says to the Robocop…

Did you think you were an ordinary cop? You’re our product. And we can’t very well have our products turning against us, can we?”
Amazon has removed books from users’ Kindles. In one case, a Kindle user has had her account wiped and all her paid-for books deleted, permanently and without notice. When asked, the company claimed that her account “was directly related” to another account that had violated user policies. It also pulled many users copy of George Orwell’s 1984 because of a rights dispute Amazon was having with a publisher.

In the latest version of the Apple MacBook, I can’t make modifications to the laptop’s hardware without Apple’s permission or taking the product to an Apple store to be serviced by a Mac Genius or it won’t work.
So what’s next?
What if, one day, Amazon decides that when I ask, “what shoes should I buy?” the loyal employee Alexa is told by Amazon not to mention a product I might like in lieu oF one Amazon executives has decided to promote?

Or like the case of Keurig, the machine was programmed not to accept coffee pods that were off brand?

It’s true all these services give us convenience, but what they may be quietly stealing from us is choices. Or at least leaving only the choices that the product’s masters choose.
Hey, I wrote a book about being mindful in the new age of content.
Does This News Make You Look Fat? A book about media consumption and how the way we consume it makes up intellectually obese. Preview or buy the ebook at Amazon.


Brooks Richey on
News and content
Content Mindfulness

Tasty news vs. nutritional news. A problem of empty calories.

News has changed. It’s not that we don’t get access.  It’s more that its definition and the purpose is evolving.
As a member of the Fourth Estate in democracy, the press media is widely recognized for their ability to lend advocacy or insight into matters that can shape public consensus and government policy. Serving as our eyes, these groups help inform our ability to make enlightened decisions in a democracy.

At one time, the major outlets for news were run as essentially public services. Either by wealthy families who, due to their wealth, didn’t flog their reporters and editors to ruthlessly cut costs and chase every last dime of profit. Or by corporations, who originally promised to run and fund their news organizations as a trade off for being granted use of the public airwaves. In both cases, these groups invested in resources that supported hard news gathering for public consumption.

Those days changed. And so did those organizations. More and more news is expected to produce profit more than merely support the public good. Pressure is on to produce a type of content and service that can survive in this new revenue-minded environment.

You may have noticed this already. A lot of news outlets’ job is increasingly not to inform you. It’s to entertain you.
A difference in today’s news. Yet not visibly different.
The way to understand it is very similar to comparing “orange Juice” and “orange drink.”

Both products sound the same. Both are consumed the same way. They can look the same. However, they are very different in terms of their composition and the health benefits from consuming them.

Orange juice. Like traditional news.
Orange juice is made from the insides of a natural fruit, the orange. The fruit is squeezed to produce a juice for consumption. The integrity between the actual orange and its juice allows for the transfer of a lot of its healthy ingredients like vitamin A, folate, niacin, thiamine and vitamin B-6. The juice also contains high levels of the minerals potassium and magnesium. All good for you and beneficial to consume and reasons why a lot of health-minded people seek orange juice.
Versus orange drink. News as infotainment.
“Orange drink” that you can buy at most stores IS NOT orange juice.

Looks like it, though. Its makers may design the product’s packaging to help it look even more like orange juice. Yet the term “orange drink” refers to a sweet, sugary, sometimes carbonated, orange-flavored drink.

Typically such beverages contain little or no orange juice and are mainly composed of water, sugar, sweeteners, flavor and additives. Most of those ingredients consists of chemicals and other processed substances. It’s likely the orange look comes from a chemical that simulates an orange color.
Very different drinkable products yet they look alike.
So much, the U.S. government requires orange drinks, as well as other beverages whose names allude to fruit products, legally requires companies to state them as orange drinks instead of orange juice.

So if you drink orange juice, you are actually drinking oranges as an ingredient. Plus, you are receiving a group of nutrients that are mostly good for your body and health and growth.

If you select the orange drink, you are consuming an orange in color only. All while introducing a lot more chemicals into your body that may not be as good for you.
Now you understand the difference.
A lot of what is traditional news, the hard “the who, what, where, when, why and how” of a story – the mentally nutritious facts, are increasingly substituted when producing news for consumption.

Like the orange drink, the materials used to create news products are now processed or artificially manufactured and flavored to taste like traditional news. Sure it “tastes” like helpful information but contains less substance.

The story or topic that could be newsworthy is briefly presented. Yet instead of going deep into the factual “who, what, where, when, why and how” the focus quickly shifts to areas like speculation, opinion and drama. All angles that may be only tangentially connected to the heart of the story.

So it’s not about “Bob ate an apple on Thursday. It’s more “Bob’s apple eating. Did he do it to anger God like Eve did in the Bible?” Or in politics, it’s covering the horse race or the “she said, he said” between candidates instead of reporting on or fact-checking their actual policies.

Like the orange drink, artificial ingredients like drama, speculation and controversy have been added. Dare I say, “for flavor.” In terms of the mind and news diet, it’s a tactic to improve the taste of the information and make it more attractive to consume. Like candy, the taste of something can override your need to evaluate its nutritional value.
Would you like candy? Or would you like green peas?”
Thought so.
More of us are drinking orange drink.
In the same way, that you might confuse orange juice with orange drink, many of now confuse news with what have become reality-based entertainment talk shows like cable news programs.

A lot of us didn’t wake up one day and decide that we wanted the news version of “orange drink.” We got used it as it started showing up more and more on our news consumption table.
Why the change?
In a quest for cost savings and ratings, many cable outlets and upstart news organizations shifted their content model to reality-based entertainment. Talking and chatting about the drama around a fact is much cheaper than gathering and producing hard news. Like orange drink, by moving from news gathering to talking about public events, news outlets can produce a knock-off product the public will consume at a cheaper price. The economics are simply too compelling to ignore. But there are consequences.

As I wrote in my book Does This News Make Me Look Fat, I talk about the death of the news gatherers.
News outlets that once produced a rich supply of news cut off that supply by eliminating foreign news bureaus, journalists and photographers. These are the people who used to do the legwork to go out and gather news that we as citizens may not have easy access to. And true news gathers worked to gather additional or insightful information without merely accepting press releases or official statements at face value. These department cuts happened as that model of finding news is now too expensive in an industry hemorrhaging money and profits. Plus upstarts that can command a news audience cheaper.
The solution they’ve turned to I’ve also mentioned in my book. Instead of having news gathers collect and produce real organic news, media companies and news organizations have learned to manufacture artificial or processed news. Outlets who get news from pooled source of news (like the Associated Press), each having the same news facts from that source and simply flavoring it with news opinion or hyperbolic statements along their news brand to look and feel different to the news consumer.

Instead of accuracy. Many “news” organizations are now being rewarded for having content contributors who can deliver shocking or over-the-top quotes for clicks and ratings rather than insights. News hosts are encouraged to move their mouths faster than their brains or the facts.
Anchors and pundits are encouraged to be certain or controversial more than right.
If that were the philosophy of my financial planner, lawyer or doctor, I wouldn’t feel comfortable turning to those professional for advice to plan my life. Yet, more and more, we accept it from our chosen news sources.
More places producing “orange drink.”
As said, orange drink news is not orange juice news.

As a result, these organizations often fail to deliver information at a level that responsible news consumers could use to make our own decisions without leaning on emotionally charged opinions or a bombastic host’s confidence as a crutch.
If you want real orange juice, you have to pay for real orange juice.
Anybody besides me notice that orange juice is expensive?

Orange drink can be bought for much less. That alone makes orange drink tempting. Especially if you don’t think you’re losing much from your choice. Still quenching your thirst, right?

We’re seeing that as less and less of the public are willing to pay for news. Many now rely on “free” sources such as Facebook or any content provider that does not wall off their content behind a paywall. That usually leaves most people’s news feed in the hands of content providers that rely on clickbait or other gimmicks. Providers who also feel the heat from advertisers to attract eyeballs.

Under such pressure, the providers are even more tempted to distort reporting by focusing on sensational stories and click bait.
The result: a news focus on what gets attention and return visits as opposed to what informs.
If you want the healthiness and taste of orange juice. There’s really only one way to do it: you have to buy orange juice. As less people are willing to pay, quality in-depth, insightful journalism is becoming the privilege of those willing to pay for it.
It’s very similar to fast food and processed food versus increasingly expensive but healthier food.
At the supermarket, it’s not unusual to see increasingly rotund people with carts stacked full of processed food. Or families constantly ordering from the fast food dollar menu. Short term, it seems smart. Cost effective meals. Yet the nutritional trade off for meals filled with sugar and chemicals can eventually come at the cost of health and medical bills (Cough, diabetes and high blood pressure).

For news consumers our comfort with a tasty “orange drink” may deny us the insightful news that an informed voting public needs.

Even at the local level. As the public are less willing to pay for local newspapers, they continue to shrink and are less able to cover and investigate elected officials and keep them accountable.

We pay for cable, so cable news in our viewing package kind of feels free. Probably why a lot of people lean on the cable networks. Problem is, they are on the forefront of the cost cutting “news-ish” trend and have been for the last couple of decades.
Former CNN head Rick Kaplan told the story of how he was confronted by Time Warner executives who were dissatisfied with CNN’s profits despite what had been record revenues and a solid return. “But Fox News made just as much profit,” Kaplan was informed, “and did so with just half the revenues of CNN, because it does not carry so many reporters on its staff.” The message to Kaplan was clear: close bureaus and fire reporters, lots of them….
Here’s the part that is the most telling of this quote…
…In short, Fox News is the logical business product for an era where corporations deem journalism an unprofitable undertaking.
I’m not beating up on Fox News. While once on the vanguard of news as entertainment that angered partisans and traditional news lovers, the model now is universally accepted.

Even by Fox’s competition. CNN’s mindless entertainment model is not partisan but more like the effort of a birthday clown trying to keep kids from being bored through gimmicks. MSNBC programming is a continual sanctimonious smirk at the GOP and Trump to soothe its angry and pearl-clutching audience. Lots of noise, drama and finger pointing. Little actual news. And Fox News, like Phil Donahue did with his over-the-top talk show, created this genre. And like Donahue, its offspring, like The Blaze and other competitors will over take it. Each generation turning up the notch of silliness, until one day, Fox News’ own silliness looks too conservative, boring and out of touch. Something that it’s relationship with once ratings-gold Trump will test.

No matter which way or for what reason of the news networks choose this path, they have.

All I can say is, “I want orange juice. Care for some?”


Brooks Richey on
Bird Box Sandra Bullock
Content Strategy

Writing for digital product flow? Think Bird Box.

Bird Box is a movie about not being able to use sight. Speaking of not seeing, despite Bird Box blowing up in the news and social media, I don’t personally know anyone besides me who actually saw the Netflix movie with Sandra Bullock.
The gist of Bird Box…
The movie follows a woman who must find a way to guide herself and two children, all three purposely blindfolded, across an unseen outside path and down a river to a distant safety refuge. They must keep their blindfolds on due to a threat that would cause their death if they viewed it through their own eyes.
Why writing for a digital flow or user story is like Bird Box.
Because a user story in a digital experience is essentially a journey or path that offers limited visibility to the user. It’s a path you are asking a user to travel to get to their destination or the place that will provide content happiness.

Because the user doesn’t likely know the terrain and doesn’t know what’s coming next in their digital journey, they are going through your user story or flow almost blind. They don’t have the information or decision-making perspective that you, as the flow’s creator and the business analysts who developed the experience.
Think like you’re the one wearing the blindfold.
To empathize with the user, try to see what it’s like being blind or having limited senses. For those of us who are used to having our full senses available as we walk, imagine blindfolding yourself or keeping your eyes shut and trying to do simple things like move around the house or walk to the local store.
You realize how many cues and signals we take for granted.
Without sight or being able to look ahead, you can’t judge distance. You don’t know when the journey will end. Each step becomes more fraught and each step could be a step forward or a wall or a street or coffee table. Every step is perilous simply because it is unknown. One’s thirst for helpful information becomes more intense.

Blind (or sensory and information-deprived), your users become even more reliant on the content and voice of your writing. It takes on the responsibility to lead your “blind” and anxious users by saying, “Trust me. Follow me.”
How copy and tone leadership makes a difference.
Show them they can trust you to lead them.

Make sure your messaging and directions are accurate.

If users realize that what you are telling them is vague or doesn’t help them mentally map the flow of the user story, they won’t feel confident about their journey. They’ll also quickly learn not to trust you or listen to you. You’ll just be another data point they have to wade through on their journey.

Keywords and related language can be critical.

Copy and wording must help “see” and feel their way through the experience. There’s a big difference between a button that says “next” and one that says “enter email” The last communicates it’s a next step while also giving the user visibility as to what to expect next in the journey.

Provide familiar and understandable concepts. Mental models.

Familiar patterns in both the UI and copy help users create quickly understandable mental models. Obviously, if the user has to treat every new screen in a digital flow as if they are learning how it works from scratch, the whole journey will be a longer, more stressful experience.

Familiar mental models (similar CTAs, design patterns, consistent terms, and language) make the landscape more recognizable by making more actions and decisions intuitive.
In Bird Box, Sandra Bullock finally reaches her destination (spoiler alert).
Hmm. Probably should have said “spoiler alert” first. Anyway, She gets to a sanctuary where other users were waiting. But it wasn’t easy. It doesn’t have to be that way for your users. Help them see their way through your digital user story.


Brooks Richey on
Emotions and Law of Thermodynamics

Emotions, mindfulness and the Law of Thermodynamics.

That anger you’ve kept deep down inside? Held in? Tried to get past by ignoring it?

I’m here to tell you that it never went away.

Remember that deep, throbbing heartache of that one failed relationship? You know, the one that, instead of resolving, you tried to smother by keeping your mind busy or self-medicating?

Well, that feeling didn’t go away either.
Why we try to manage our unwanted emotions.
No one wants to feel bad. It’s also understandable as to why our first reaction to unwanted feelings is to try to force and contain our anger and hurt to a smart part of our mind space.

The bet is a bit like closing your eyes and hoping what troubles you simply gives up an goes away on it own. Or when you’re holding the feeling deep down inside you, it’s like you’re trying to drown your feelings until they die and go limp.

While I rarely get angry, for years, when I did, anger was a feeling I rarely expressed. When I felt it, I held it in. While I didn’t express anger openly, it showed through my voice or body language. Stressed looking eyes. Tight shoulders. Headaches.

My anger didn’t leave. It was simply expressed differently. Manifesting in physical forms. Physical forms that can also affect your health.
Over time, emotional pain becomes physical pain.
I’ve learned from my own life that your emotions and managing your emotions really have to be understood in terms of the Law of Thermodynamics. Particularly the first law. Also known as Law of Conservation of Energy, it states that:
Energy cannot be created or destroyed. Energy can only be transferred or changed from one form to another.
For example, turning on a light would seem to produce new energy; however, it is just existing electrical energy that is being converted into light and heat. The balance of the light and heat created is equal to the electrical energy used. The electricity didn’t disappear it simply changed.
The dumbed-down version of the First Law of Thermodynamics:
Everything goes somewhere.
A phrase I stole from children’ show Beakman’s World.

Your feelings are a form of energy. Brain, mental energy, whatever you want to call it. Whether it’s anger, heartache or fear, it’s an energy that motivates you forward or can serve a force that holds you in place. The energy of those emotions doesn’t just disappear into nothingness. It all goes somewhere.

You rarely eliminate or repress a feeling into nothingness, it turns into something else. Body damaging stress. Anxiety. Grudge. An attitude that can create a failed marriage. Physical stress, etc. I’ve come to believe that part of staying healthy is how what you choose to convert or manage that emotional energy inside you. The way that has been incredibly useful for me for managing my emotions is mindfulness.
Emotions can control us and our actions. Despair about losing a job. Hatred for someone. Any feeling can become dangerous if allowed to compact and collect in your psyche when you hold them in or don’t deal with them.

Mindfulness can help you create a state of emotional flow and management that allows you to avoid creating or inflaming unwanted emotions. It also helps reduce the friction when your ego or expectations for a particular outcome sharply rub up against your perception of the events around you. An encounter that can inflame hurtful emotions.

Though emotions can’t be destroyed, mindfulness helps you from creating raging or hurtful emotions that you’ll want to repress in the first place.
My new favorite definition of mindfulness:
“Having your mind and body in the same place.”

In this state of mindfulness, your mind is not racing between feelings and anxieties that shuttle you between concerns about your past and your future (“Man I messed the presentation” or “Will I ever meet someone?”).

Instead, you are focused on you and your body. Right then. Right now.

When experiencing mindfulness, you are usually focused and aware of things like your breathing, the relaxed feeling in your body. In this state, the stressors and worries of the world can’t come into your present thinking. It’s like you put your worries aside in a waiting room. It gives you room to feel unencumbered and take a big-picture perspective to reset and manage your emotions.

Remember, the First Law of Thermodynamics would say that as electrical energy tries to flow through a lightbulb filament, it meets resistance as it tries to pass through the molecules within a light filament, it’s the resistance and friction with the tungsten in the head of the lightbulb that turns that electrical energy into the light and heat we detect from a light bulb.
Mindfulness simply reduces conflict and resistance.
Because in a state of mindfulness as describe above, you focus on the now and don’t focus on outcomes and expectations that create resistance to your feelings.

Otherwise, as more of your feelings pass through than meet resistance in the form of obsessing about your past and future, more of our emotions are changed into other forms like anger and stress.

You can’t destroy your hurtful emotions. You can create less of them. Mindfulness can help.
Hey, I wrote a book about being mindful in the new age of content.
Does This News Make You Look Fat? A book about media consumption and how the way we consume it makes up intellectually obese. Preview or buy the ebook at Amazon.


Brooks Richey on
Content strategy
Content Strategy

Content strategy: Three critical tips for killer content.

Content strategy is about creating and delivering content that satisfies your users.
That means content strategy is all about giving users the precise content they want, when they want it.
While there are different content strategy tools and best practices that are available to help you achieve this, when all is said and done, you will satisfy customers when you have content with these three critical components.
The content strategy sweet spot:
Being Findable. Engaging. Relevant.

Findable content.
Just as you don’t win the contests that you don’t show up to, no one is wowed or sold by content that doesn’t show up when they seek it. In other words, if they can’t find it, they can’t see it.

The best practices of content strategy should help you to research, create and structure content in ways that optimize information so that it becomes discoverable and attractive to your potential readers.
That means making your content findable to two different audiences.
For robots or “bots.”
These are the search engines and their automated content searching programs (spiders or bots) that scour and scan content on the web. You likely know the result of this process as search engine optimization (SEO). These bots collect information in your content about word use, links to other related content, subject matter authority, your URL and other factors in order to judge and rank how valuable your content is to topic-seeking users.

The higher that the bots assess the value of your content, the more likely users will find it through a search engine. If you want to be found, you must work to make your content SEO friendly.
For humans.
You must write content and structure the navigation of your content to please people. That means making it as interesting and as intuitive as possible. It must be cataloged as people think. That’s not always as logic would dictate.

If your content is placed into content containers that don’t seem appropriate (e.g., putting “about us” content in the photos navigation section, you make it harder to find the content they seek.
What every piece of content that you develop has to answer:
Why should I read this?
That’s relevancy. To answer it, have messaging and content that makes it clear why your user should invest their precious time and attention to engage it.
How to make it relevant.
Do your homework. This is where having marketing skills or an intricate understanding of your audience is really important. You must understand how your audience sees things in order to understand and create what matters to them. Think about:

What are their needs?
What kind of content would help satisfy or solve their problem?
How can you talk about a seemingly distant topic in a way that connects with your audience?

Know and express that and you will have relevant content.
Vegetables are clearly good for you. Yet a lot of people don’t like to eat vegetables. Many of us might remember an experience where a good idea that we were so sure would be adopted and take off ended up being ignored and died in a meeting due to a boring, uninspiring presentation.
Good ideas are not always ideas that get read.
The key is to build content in a way that pulls the reader into your world of content. You must create content where users don’t feel as if they are being forced fed to consume it. You must craft your content to make it tempting and exciting in a way that they are pulled in and excited to learn more.
To be engaging ALWAYS ask yourself:

What is in it for the reader? Why would he or she care about this information?
Who are we talking to?
How can we make the content satisfying and not overwhelming?
Are we making our content easy to scan, consume, and understand?
What tone or attitude would help to convey this message?

To write engaging content, remember:

The average web user doesn’t “read” your content.

They skim, scan, and browse selectively. If they don’t quickly recognize useful, relevant content, they will often move on. If they do read, they pick up and collect short chunks of ideas and information that speak to their knowledge goal or task.

Make content “scannable” and “snackable” to help readers catch and retain important ideas.

Reading from a computer screen is 25% slower than reading from paper.

Studies show that people are less likely to read long pieces of text on a webpage than in printed format.

Be mindful of content that taxes the reader’s time.

Reserve longer copy for areas in which it is important for the reader to have a deeper level of information before taking an action. For these same reasons, it’s not optimal to simply post a print-designed document without adapting the content for the web.

When you create findable, relevant and engaging content, you deliver what you readers want most: satisfaction.
Content strategy is defining today’s successful business and leaving those too slow behind. Looking for more ideas and strategies around content marketing and delivering satisfying digital experiences for your brand, website or mobile application contact me for a free consultation.


Brooks Richey on
Content Mindfulness

Sci-fi content, where anything is possible. Except changing anything.

Sci-fi. Comic books. Fantasy novels. Why do we get so attached to made-up content?
An attachment to the point writers and director of sci-fi content and fantasy brands like Star Wars and Star Trek get socially tarred and feathered for slight changes to characters and stories.
Forget 9-11. Where where you when you found out Starbuck would be re-cast as a woman in the Battlestar Galactica remake?
While I, of course was holding my children tight and assuring them the world would go on, others took social media forums to express their anger and outrage to what was clearly an affront to God.

If you are on the web, you’d think the most dangerous threats to America aren’t ISIS, it’s:

Ryan Johnson for the addition of an asian character in Star Wars The Force Awakens.
Not producing the Zach Snyder version of the movie Justice League.
The rumor that James Bond might be played by black actor Idris Elba.

Science fiction (sci-fi) is a genre all about creating new worlds, and fantasy characters.
Yet for all its creativity and fans that can’t get enough, it has a fan base that is highly resistant to change.

Years ago, I remember reading this quote from an article in The Daily Beast talking about fan outrage over changes in comic books in the DC universe…
Comic books are a fundamentally stagnant medium. Any slightly unconventional decision—from casting Heath Ledger as the Joker to putting pants on Wonder Woman—is met with a level of feverish debate normally reserved for schisms within the Catholic Church.

– Daily Beast Contributor Liz Watson
We’re so attached to sci-fi, changes become personal.
Legally, fantasy content like Superman, Justice League, Star Wars and The Avengers are the writers’ and directors’ stories. But in watching and digesting them, they come out as OUR experience and memories.

Content creators introduce a world and characters that are cool. So cool, we emotionally bond with them. In our love for them, we seek new ways to bond. The action figures. The posters. The costumes. Through these items, we often imagine living in that world.
To make a sci-fi world real, we impose rules to make it deeper and richer.
Fans create books (on canon and off canon) about what power level is Darth Vader’s force power or about creating a full Klingon language (it exists). While going deeper is welcomed, one thing is rarely allowed: the core (characters, ideology) are not permitted to change.
Daddy issues. Gone sci-fi?
Though this group consists of men and women, the best way I’d describe this phenomena is a dad-to-child relationship. “Dad” is a favorite comic book character or sci-fi movie. You grew up with this “man” around and you bond to him the same way you do a parent. Values come from them. Experiences you have with them. He’s just a part of your life.

His story as you know it is stability, you love the safe way he makes you feel. The world has order that you can recognize and count on.

Then one day, dad leaves.
You’re not my real dad!
Superman for me was Christopher Reeves. To me, still the best Superman. But life and remakes go on. So we were introduced to Brandon Routh in Superman Returns and Henry Cavil in Man of Steel.

And I have to admit, it does feel like your mom, keeps remarrying and you keep getting a new step-dad and wishing some how your real dad would just come back.

Henry Cavil: “Hey, I’m Superman.”

Me: “You’re not my real dad, Henry.”
The change in a sci-fi story, even when necessary, feels like an attack on what was certainty in our lives.
I’m guessing for those who don’t like their real lives and lean on fantasy, it feels even more threatening. So any disruption to their sci-fi universe feels like something in their lives is being taken away.

It’s also why making sci-fi movies are now so fraught with danger. To expand a story to please a larger audience may easily offend he core audience who don’t want anything to change.
Changing a sci-fi universe. Without changing things.
Content creators are clearly aware of this phenomena. One way content creators are side stepping this is the creation of alternative universes. A way to say to a fan “your world is fine, we didn’t touch it” this is a another world. This story is happening on Earth 321-Get-Off-My-Back-Fan-Nerd”.

The latest reboot of the Star Trek franchise took this approach by having the story take place in a alternative (Kelvin) timeline that was created when Spock came back from the future and changed history. Comic books use alternative universes all the time. See the recent Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse movie as an example.
The fight isn’t just about the Sci-fi past. Also the Sci-fi future.
It’s easy to see how people’s attachment to sci-fi content drives them to protect their past and memories. It can also drive some to be gatekeepers to protect a fantasy future that feels more comfortable for them.
The fight for the fake future. The Hugo Award and the Sad Puppies.
The Hugo Award ran into controversy when groups compete to push books touting their desired version of the future as well as who should write them.

The Hugo Awards are a set of literary awards given annually for the best science fiction or fantasy works and achievements of the previous year. The awards are given in more than a dozen categories and include both written and dramatic works.

Instead of a select committee, The Hugos are voted on by its members, and anyone can become a WorldCon member to vote.
This set up the sci-fi award voting for being gamed.
Frustrated with what they saw as ignoring conservative stories and the rise of diversity in stories, a group known as the “Sad Puppies,” joined with the “Rabid Puppies,” led by Vox Day, a figure in the alt-right movement. Together they attempted to mobilize WorldCon members to vote conservative only and push out other diverse voices.

Little racism, yes. But in a vein diagram, this was also about people reacting to changing culture that threatened how some wanted to, write, see and experience science-fiction. In this case, a culture which aligns more to how the Sad Puppies and the Rabid Puppies would like to see their sci-fi stories developed.

The groups’ effort failed. And in her acceptance speech, Broken Earth trilogy author N. K. Jemisin acknowledged that this was a fight over our connection to sci-fi and our role with it.
I look to science fiction and fantasy as the aspirational drive of the zeitgeist,” Jemisin said in her acceptance speech. “We creators are the engineers of possibility. And as this genre finally, however grudgingly, acknowledges that the dreams of the marginalized matter and that all of us have a future, so will go the world. (Soon, I hope.)
Hey, I wrote a book about being mindful in the new age of content.
Does This News Make You Look Fat? A book about media consumption and how the way we consume it makes us intellectually obese. Preview or buy the ebook at Amazon.


Brooks Richey on
Content Strategy

Our Content Strategist-in-Chief. Donald Trump.

Whatever you want to say about Donald Trump, one thing can’t be denied, he is incredibly savvy with engaging media.

Yes, I know looking at a man who tweets with typos, wears orange (mascara?) on his face and a sports a way too-long tie and an oversized suit that makes his expensive clothes look cheap, the word savvy seems out of place.

In terms of his understanding media, the economics of attention media and mastering media cycles, I’ll borrow a word from a former US president. Trump is greatly “misunderestimated.”
Part of President Trump’s savvy comes from having the qualities of a con artist (and many marketers).
His particular skill: being adept as spotting and emotionally reading marks (in the con game: marks are also known as suckers, stooges or gulls) and knows how to signal alignment with their feelings, fears and create bonding moments of trust.

Building trust is important to a con-artist, because it is the engine that makes people give you something they hold valuable with enthusiasm instead of having to steal it from them yourself.

It’s also important for a con-man (and marketers) to teach the mark to ignore sources of evidence and opinion outside what the con artist provides.

In fact, the same signals or actions by Trump some sneer at, call out or laugh at are the same ones that serve to keep his followers loyal and part of his base. The signals say, “I’m real. And those neatly dressed, stylish people are not.”
Trump’s rough edges, boorishness and “political incorrectness” are features, not bugs, to his core audience.
He understands this. They signal and prove how “real” and “authentic” he is. Because of it, some of his fans would say, “He tells it like it is” or, “He says what I’m thinking.”

For a content strategy this is no different than understanding the right voice and tone for your audience. In this case, it’s his base who distrust the kind of people who try to look traditionally savvy or “act like a politician” or even use 50-cent-words that are associated with elite colleges.”

Trump (The executive producer of The Apprentice) understands the power of social signals, managing perception and the power of non-traditional media.

Over decades, Trump learned to understand media. A skill he reportedly used while in New York to repeatedly call us local newspapers and tabloids claiming to be press agents John Barron and John Miller in order to “leak” stories about Donald Trump (the Johns’ true identity) to get his name in the papers.

Donald Trump also knows what every successful reality show star from Lauren Conrad to Chip and Johanna Gaines knows: be a brand above all else. Power, wealth and fame follow.
Trump’s power and relationship to content comes from being a brand.
When people are able to cultivate a brand people like, they can then use the clout and familiarity to leap logic and create perceived expertise, charisma and influence to sell a line of clothes, cologne, home goods, whatever.

Just as Disney has used its brand to sell a line of golf clubs (WTF? Nothing says I’m a serious golfer more than Mickey Mouse), Trump has done this same with steaks, Donald J. Trump clothes, a school. The list goes on.

A brand is essentially the idea of what people say about you when you’re not in the room. While I personally would put most of the following descriptions in air quotes, for his followers, that brand for Donald Trump is success, elegance, business acumen and toughness.

Along with brand, Trump understands that brands must be in sync with the messaging and content that supports them. That’s where Trump’s content strategy comes in.
Why Donald Trump is a content strategist.
He follows the full cycle of a content strategist, particularly in the area of content marketing to support his brand. That includes planning, creating, measuring, distribution and content governance.

Some examples.
Content strategy: planning.
Based on the story or where the news cycle is going, he clearly works on crafting responses to influence or purposely disrupt the daily media cycle (a.k.a. that phone notification that makes you say, “F^ck. What did he do now?” Based on his reported TV watching, that’s a lot of what he does.
Content strategy: create.
Trump’s former Chief of Staff Reince Priebus called the presidential bedroom , the place where Trump’s Twitter account is most prolific, ”the devil’s workshop.” Timing wise, Priebus calls Trump’s early mornings and Sunday nights, “the witching hour.”

Trump creates the tweets most of us start hearing about early in the day. The time he tweets is not random. It’s to get picked up by the cable news stations early enough so they talk about it as soon as we get up for coffee. As the news outlets repeat it and talk about it all day, Trump gets to hijack the news cycle.
Creating tweets go a long way.
And the president believes he’s good at it. Politico quoted Trump as saying someone called him the “Ernest Hemingway of 140 characters.” As Trump appears to enjoy the artistic and esthetic component of content creation, journalist and author of Fear: Trump in the White House, Bob Woodward reveals that Trump wasn’t thrilled when Twitter bumped the tweet character limit from 140 to 280 characters.
Content strategy: measuring and analyzing content.
According the Bob Woodward’s book Fear: Trump in the White House, Trump orders his team to print out his tweets so that he can post them on the wall in order for him to re-read and study them (also because he doesn’t know how to use a computer). Particularly tweets that get high traffic and media attention. He reviews them for what works and how to make them better.
Content strategy: Content governance
Trump removes old content. For example, knowing that content in his old Vlog (which talks about many things his current positions contradict) was “off brand,” Trump deleted a lot of the content. See the Cracked YouTube video that talks about Trump’s old Blog.

Based on this process. Trump is always adapting content. Getting feedback from his base (his television watching, tweets, and rallies) Looking for content gaps. Areas that he can use to create tempting content interaction.
Content strategy is defining today’s successful business and leaving those too slow behind. Looking for more ideas and strategies around content marketing and delivering satisfying digital experiences for your brand, website or mobile application contact me for a free consultation.


Brooks Richey on
Content Mindfulness

Life is just a vacation from death. How to be mindful of life.

Human beings rarely recognize or appreciate value without making comparisons. Sadly, that also applies to the quality of our life.

Most of us will live for an average of 76 years. And then there’s eternity. The rest of the time, we won’t be living on earth. When you think about “forever,” our life on this planet is just a temporary vacation from death. An infinitesimally small break from doing nothing…forever.

Imagine if you worked your ass off for 100 years straight, when you had just one day off for you to have fun, never to have another day off again. That’s the time relationship between of life and death.

So as relaxing as it is, do you really want to sit on the couch and play Xbox all day? Complain about your life or job?

When you think of your life in relationship with death, it focuses the mind. Not from fear but in realizing what gifts and opportunity life gives you in the now and the precious short time you have to use them.
Time is short. Do what’s important to you.
Remember, you have a metaphorical day to do everything you ever wanted to do. Use it. Imagine that you were late to an appointment. Get going now.
Take action. Today.
True story. Recently I ran into a man I got the pleasure to first meet a few a years ago, I’ll call him “Harry.” Harry told me he found out he had pancreatic cancer. He’s lived a great life some might admire. He spent years as a roadie for bands like Metallica and Alice Cooper. Attending his New Year’s Eve party a year ago, I got to see his basement which looks like a Rock & Roll museum of all the rock stars he’s met and mementos of his past. Harry can regale you with stories about lots of famous musicians and bands.

His life now framed by a doctor diagnosis, Harry told me that he wishes he spent more time with his kids and how valuable his grandkids are. And though he has to journey forward with the possibility of a shortened life, he’s chosen to savor all the gifts he has…now. He’s dedicating the uncertain time he has to his family.
Dont’ stagnate.
Even if you do things and achieve, safety and comfortableness can tempt you to stop and rest. When that happens, you’re essentially doing what you’d be doing when you’re dead. Feel alive by keep seeking challenges that make you feel alive.

When I worry about stagnation, I remember this quote (can’t remember the author), I wrote down years ago to remind me to keep moving…
Life is a series of phases that pass away with time whether we like it or not! People get into trouble because they cling to some phase of their life they’ve fallen in love with long after the time when it should’ve been chucked.
For me, it reminds me that if you stagnate, you lose ground because life doesn’t stop. If you stop, those who seek new challenges and change will leave you behind.
Your vacation time isn’t promised. And it may come early. Get your work on earth done.
In the working world, I’ve been unexpectedly called back from a vacation. This too often happens to those of us taking a vacation from death. You never know when our vacation will really end. Tomorrow is not a promise. Savor the time you have, treat every other day as another gift.

When your vacation from death is over. Feel good that you had a good one.
Hey, I wrote a book about being mindful in the new age of content.
Does This News Make You Look Fat? A book about media consumption and how the way we consume it makes us intellectually obese. Preview or buy the ebook at Amazon.


Brooks Richey on
technology marketing
Content Strategy

The fatal fallacy in marketing technology to business.

I tell clients that the irony for people who sell and market technology through content is that technology is the last thing that you are, in fact, selling to your prospective customer.

What you are really selling is a disruption of the relationships and balance of power in their company or system. Sound a little scary? For your customer, it may be. That’s why you need to be conscious of this dynamic when you sell technology. It’s a help to some. A threat to others.

Technology like Microsoft Word software and personal computers eventually replaced secretarial pools. Human resources software like Bamboo HR reduced once larger HR staffs. Remote cloud servers threaten to idle the IT server maintenance staff in your office. Uber and Lyft ride-sharing technology replaced taxicabs and drivers that sometimes just “weren’t in the mood” to pick you up.
Technology means change. People don’t always like change.
An introduction of a new technology must convince customers and their staff to disrupt their current relationships and the power structures within their company that may be involved with adopting the technology. Business to customer and/or employee to employee. It’s the benefit seen from that disruption created and who stands to gain from it that will make or break the sale of your technology.

Technology is personal because its adoption relies on people’s narcissistic value and focus. “What does this product do for me?” “How does it help me?” “How does it protect me or my job?”

What makes this fear of technology by a business or organization different than a technology around a consumer item? It’s that adopting your app-enabled toothbrush doesn’t affect other peoples’ self-interests or the way they brush. The toothbrush’s limited scope of use won’t demand changes to the accounting department or threaten IT jobs.

In other words, technology marketing in the business enterprise space must deal with a distributed version of narcissism: “What in this technology for us? (But I really mean me).”

While your department may push for the technology because your team will be more productive, another group’s self-interest can perceive the same technology as a threat and try to stop or limit the purchase.

It makes sense. A business is just an organization of people. And the one thing the acquisition of technology does is change the relationship between people as it empowers some and can weaken others.

When we develop marketing content to sell technology, we must be subconscious about the audiences, their fears, insecurities and other dynamics.
The audiences your technology pitch must balance:

The visionaries.

CEO and senior leadership who see the technology as helping them realize an operating or corporate vision (make us stronger, fast, agile, profitable, save money).

Priests of the temple.

These are people who have been in power due to the fact they have been in control of the information or a process that others in the organization don’t understand or can’t do themselves.

A technology that empowers former priest worshipers to understand it, or use it without assistance, weakens and threatens the stature of the priests. Their power comes from being the informational spigot for tech or process salvation. If the new technology creates new rivers of information flow and control, they could lose influence and possibly their jobs.

Anyone whose job can be automated through technology.

Often IT makes industry expertise more available or changing the balance of IT power by commoditizing it. Through the internet, an expert radiologist in a hospital in New Jersey can have their work and analytics skills moved to am equally killed radiologist in Mumbai.


There are areas where the lack of technology or poor technology can hide lazy or incompetent work and workers. When a technology comes along that is more efficient and creates transparency around those who formerly worked (or hid their lack of work) in the shadows can be threatened.

New owners or departments seeking to acquire power or influence.

Technology is power. Like any power, people who can acquire and control more of it become powerful. For example, not too long ago, all tech fell under IT. Now increasingly, decisions and control of tech decisions are leaning towards the CMO suite. In turn, that changes the CMO relationship and influence in the organization.

Purchasers and financial relationships.

A company or a department could have a long-standing and comfortable relationship with a vendor. Technology that causes a shift to a new vendor, can threaten an existing financial relationship or those Eagles tickets a vendor always has for you.

Anyone who’s been at an organization that’s re-organized, hired, moved or fired personnel knows that changes, even what seems to be a small one, is a tectonic shift. It can create hurt feelings, new workloads and responsibilities and uncertain futures. It may be better for the firm in the long-run but it still creates a disruption. Technology does the same thing.

So it’s not always about how great your technology is. It’s what does your technology means to the work process, fortunes, balance of power to the company.

As you look at your “pain point” sales sheet focused around logical benefits your technology addresses, don’t forget, often the illogical ones are the ones that lock in the sale.

Or for content marketing, have other materials that can be shared to empowers the promoters of your technology the messaging they need to allay the fears and concerns of other departments and groups.
Content strategy is defining today’s successful business and leaving those too slow behind. Looking for more ideas and strategies around content marketing and delivering satisfying digital experiences for your brand, website or mobile application contact me for a free consultation.


Brooks Richey on
The dark side of social media
Content Mindfulness

Don’t give in to the dark side of social media.

Do not underestimate the power of social media. Remember that scene in Star Wars: Return of the Jedi where Luke Skywalker stands before the Emperor, who is showing him that his friends are in peril. It was a purposeful goad designed to enrage Luke to become tempted into lashing out in anger and become seduced by the dark side of the force and transform into an evil Sith Lord.

Well, that’s you and that Facebook post that’s pissing you off.

We’ve all been there. You look at the post. So offensive or insulting. And with your mind’s eye, you look at your growing rage to grab your phone like it’s Luke’s lightsaber temptingly sitting at the side of the Emperor. You just want to grab it, tap your keyboard and strike back with a flaming clap back or comment.
Emperor: Yes… you want this. I am unarmed. Strike me down with all of your hatred and your journey towards the dark side of social media will be complete!!
Will you strike back and give in to the dark side of social media?
Luke didn’t because he was able to catch himself and realize giving to his anger would take him down the same destructive path as his father Anakin Skywalker. Anakin gave to anger and fear to become the evil Sith Lord Darth Vader. Or maybe Luke didn’t because Luke knew he had to stick around and be a good Jedi long enough to make a bad movie (cough, The Last Jedi).

I’m going with the first reason.

When you see a post or comment that’s offensive, ignorant or hurtful it’s sooooo tempting to want to respond back and deliver that punch or bon mot that you feel is a mic drop.
Don’t. You’re better than that.
Though the History Channel hasn’t done a documentary on this yet, stupid people have been with us since the beginning of time. It’s true! People are always saying stupid and offensive things. Social media and its power to share the most trivial of thoughts simply made it possible for lots more stupid and offensive things to reach you.
Don’t argue with a pig, It wastes your time and annoys the pig.
Even in the face of new information, people are resistant to change. In fact, research has shown, that the more clear and powerful the reason to change a point of view is, the more likely people will double down.

Some people just aren’t in a place where they are receptive to your comments. Either they don’t like being told they are wrong. They might feel embarrassed they are wrong or get angry you called them out. Sometimes all three. So even if you are right, they may react in the wrong way.
Don’t give in to anger. That leads to the dark side.
It’s also likely, if you respond, you’re responding out of anger. Problem is, anger really doesn’t want to help educate. Anger “gets off” on hurting and destroying. As President Richard Nixon said,
Always remember, others may hate you, but those who hate you don’t win unless you hate them, and then you destroy yourself.
If the person you’re angry with doesn’t have the decency to concede that you “burned” them or ignores you, your anger (or lust for vengeance) can just grow until you become overly obsessed and that anger begins to destroy you more than it hurts them.

In the early days of social media, that was me. This idea that every comment I didn’t agree with or thought offensive could be taken care of with the right comment. I eventually learned it doesn’t work that way. What’s worse is that you’re on your way to becoming a troll yourself.
You’re feeding trolls. Don’t feel the trolls
Trolls are the “dark side of the force.” They are people whose anger or self-hate is sustained by the perverse feeling of inciting frustration and pain in others. In short, winning for a troll is making you mad. Even if your comment or point of view is right, a troll won’t admit it. In fact, having your mind blown and getting angry from having your reasonable idea rejected is precisely what they want.
Your comment won’t end things. It will add.
Even good mic drop of a response to a troll is just a splash in the water the other trolls. Like sharks, they’ll hear the drama and come towards to join the attack.
Meanwhile Facebook is laughing its ass off and getting rich.
Social media collects information about you through what content you provide them, so as you post on topics, platforms like Facebook or just taking notes and selling your topic pet peeves interests to advertisers.
Is this really worth your time?
Is spending 2 days arguing about if a political leader is an idiot or fighting over a director’s film casting decision worth it?
If you want to comment on social media. 5 Rules for posting.

Wait some more.
Don’t argue.

It’s so tempting to jump in and share an opinion on social media but, rarely, does this result in a healthy, constructive discussion. Instead, it becomes a thread of one person finding ways to discount the validity of another person’s opinion based on some personal attack and it’s just plain counterproductive.

It adds negativity to an already volatile situation. Post your idea and clearly and fact focused as you can. Then leave and don’t look back. Let other act on it as they will. Don’t look back for validation of your “great idea.”

If you absolutely must keep posting or responding to comments, stick to facts and don’t get emotional.

Don’t take other people’s opinions personally. That’s a very, very hard thing to do so don’t overestimate your ability to keep it civil. Also, share your opinion and don’t get sucked into a back and forth exchange with someone who clearly doesn’t want to consider your perspective. You will find the occasional open-minded person who genuinely wants to hear what you have to say–but most people just want to be right.

Unfollow or unfriend.

If someone continues to share an opinion and perspective that you find personally offensive (and you can’t let it go), you can make the choice to remove them from your virtual life (just understand that this will likely have an impact on your real-life relationship).

Depending on the platform, you will have several options for how to remove someone’s toxic profile from your life. You can unfollow them which will effectively remove them entirely on most platforms such as Twitter or Instagram. Remember, they will be able to see that you no longer follow them.

Engage on other media.

If certain people infuriate you but you don’t want to lose a connection, use less text-driven social media like the picture-focused Instagram to keep in touch.

Let people be wrong. Let them find the way on their own.

There’s a term I call “walk the path.” For most human beings there is a difference between intellectually understanding a solution and coming to the point where you feel the belief.

To get a belief that you will internalize and act on, people have to “do the math” themselves. When you confront people, research shows people tend to double down on their beliefs. So don’t confront. Be subtle. Say or post things that don’t directly attack their belief but instead serve as breadcrumbs that they can discover themselves and find the path to your point themselves.

Save your comments for in person.

True story. Based on a lot of Facebook posts I’ve seen over the years, a really lost a lot of respect for people I grew up with. I saw some ignorant, hateful and, quite frankly, racist ideas. Then I went to my High School reunion. Seeing the offline reminded me they were human and, though it didn’t change my option on some of their comments, it did remind me to look at their comments in perspective. That I’m talking to a human being and not one stupid posted line.

Anger is the Internet’s middle name. If you let it, it will change you more than you change it. Don’t give in to its dark side by raging on social media.

Luke: You failed your highness. I am a Jedi. Like my father before me.
Hey, I wrote a book about being mindful in the new age of content.
Does This News Make You Look Fat? A book about media consumption and how the way we consume it makes us intellectually obese. Preview or buy the ebook at Amazon.


Brooks Richey on
suggestive sell Alka Seltzer
Content Strategy

Content strategy and the art of suggestive sell.

Suggestive selling, also known as upselling, has been with us for ages. It’s how businesses coax you to buy more of their product than you might do normally.

Upselling is all around you. You are likely being pitched an upsell every day. It might be super-sizing those fries at McDonalds, taking advantage of that BOGO (Buy One Get One) shoe sale or walking to a store to buy a simple phone and walking out with the deluxe version.
Suggestive selling. Effective content strategy?
Yes. Suggestive selling is powerful as the messaging component of content strategy as it stimulates increased consumption of a product or service. It does it based on a core premise of leveraging the consumer’s existing decision in making the initial purchase.

At this point, you are no longer wrestling with buying into the category (do I want coffee or soda?), you are now choosing what experiential version of the product or service you would like.

For example, “I’ll take the LARGE coffee with a DOUBLE SHOT” of expresso.” “Large” sizes and adding a “double shot” are upgrades from a small, plain coffee order.

As a marketing writer or salesperson, through suggestive selling, you are leveraging and further commoditizing a customer already predisposed to agree with you.

This has been used by content developers like advertisers and content marketers to increase sales and profits.
How Alka-Seltzer doubled sales with suggestive selling.
Alka-Seltzer. It’s what many of us still look to when we have heartburn, upset stomach or indigestion. When we take it, many of us use two tablets. You know, like the jingle in the Alka-Seltzer ads used to sing to us, “Plop plop, fizz fizz, oh what a relief it is!”
Ever wonder why you take two tablets?
You don’t truly need to take two. But most of us do. Welcome to the power of suggestive sell. Two things the makers did to suggest that you take two tablets.

The packaging design
The jingle. “Plop plop, fizz fizz”

I’ll explain.

The directions on early Alka-Seltzers packages gave directions to only take one tablet. The older commercials also showed the use of just one tablet. Marketers eventually changed the directions on the packages and began showing two Alka-Seltzers dropping into a glass of water in every commercial.

Taking the suggestive sell campaign to another level, ad campaigns started using the “Plop, plop. Fizz fizz” jingle. A song that suggests dropping in two Alka-Seltzers tablets when you want relief. Fast fact: the song was created by the dad of actress Julianna Margulies.

Miles Laboratories, then owner of Alka-Seltzer, created portable foil packs that held two Alka-Seltzers each instead of individual tablets.

Nothing changed about the product’s benefits or effectiveness. However, the surface changes signaled suggestions to consumers to buy more. As a result, sales shot through the roof, nearly doubling as people got in the habit of consuming two tablets instead of one.
Why suggestive sell works. People look to you for guidance.
In a vacuum of clear knowledge and direction, people will look for guidance from wherever they can find it. That’s where the power of suggestion and suggestive sell ultimately comes from.

As people are simply seeking pleasure or resolution, they don’t always want to do the work to understand a product or solve of problem. When we become lazy to do research, we often defer to the most confident idea, accepted social signals or a person who seems to represent expertise. In this case, it was “medical company” Alka-Seltzer implying that two tablets mean stomach relief.
Tips for suggestive selling.
How to get your customers to buy more.
Cost sensitivity for up-sell and choosing a product are not the same.
Do I want coffee or soda? A product category choice like this is more difficult as you are competing with every type of product and brand in the category. Soda. Water. Tea. Sports Drinks, etc.

At this level of choice, you may ask yourself if you want to pay the price of one versus the other, (e.g., the cost of a $1 soda versus a $4 coffee).

Once you’ve made a decision on a category, like a coffee, you tend to focus on lifestyle or pleasure details. At that point, price becomes less about a hard price, but instead gets evaluated in comparison to the experience that you desire around your choice. The more you desire a better experience, the more a higher price is validated.

Do I want my coffee with a double shot expresso?
More milk?
I have an airline seat for coach, do I want first class? More leg room?

Suggestive sell takes advantage of reduced price sensitivity.
An example of this phenomenon is pointed out in the book The Undercover Economist, by Tim Harford. He explains how Starbucks menus on the back wall are designed to detect price sensitivity and suggest sell.

At Starbucks, you can get cheaper and sometimes better coffee, like a short cappuccino, but most price value options aren’t on the menu and you have to specifically ask for them. Starbucks “suggests” there is no more room on the ordering board behind the barista to display such offerings that they carry.

Harford points out this is suggestive sell strategy aimed a quieting or deterring “cheap” customers from asking for certain products and to keeping higher margin, less price sensitive buyers focused on buying higher-priced coffees.
The difficulty is that if some of your products are cheap, you may lose money from customers who would willingly have paid more. So, businesses try to discourage their more lavish customers from trading down by making their cheap products look or sound unattractive, or, in the case of Starbucks, making the cheap product invisible.
Harford also points out this suggestive sell strategy is as old as time itself.
The French economist Emile Dupuit wrote about the early days of the railways, when third-class carriages were built without roofs, even though roofs were cheap: “What the company is trying to do is prevent the passengers who can pay the second-class fare from traveling third class; it hits the poor, not because it wants to hurt them, but to frighten the rich.
The modern equivalent is the airport departure lounge. Airports could create nicer spaces, but that would frustrate the ability of airlines to charge substantial premiums for club-class departure lounges.
Customers don’t know that they don’t know. Fill in the gap.
When a customer feels a vacuum for expertise, they may rely on you and your message for guidance. Train your staff or write messaging that moves beyond just pointing customers in the direction of the product they’re looking for. Point them toward ideas, product levels and consumption that appeal to higher aspirational goals or is the socially validated approach.

To paraphrase Seth Godin, suggest to customers that they need to buy at this higher level because “people like us do things like this.”
Suguest an add-on in line with expressed need or affinity.
Two Alka-Seltzers is in line as is inferred to help bring better relief. Or extra shot of expresso with a coffee is in line with taste experience. Asking the coffee drinker to upgrade by adding a salad bowl, even at a discount, doesn’t make sense with that particular experience.
Use visual cues and copy signals.
Changing the packaging on Alka-Seltzer helped create the idea that two tablets were required. Starbucks being “unable” to list cheaper products on their menus board visually implied those products were not really options. Add visual cues or value-emoting words that help suggest product benefits or features worth an upsell.

You don’t have to do any of this. I’m just suggesting. And as you just read, you know how that works.
Content strategy is defining today’s successful business and leaving those too slow behind. Looking for more ideas and strategies around content marketing and delivering satisfying digital experiences for your brand, website or mobile application contact me for a free consultation.


Brooks Richey on
Advertising keeps your poor
Content Mindfulness

How embracing advertising’s mindset keeps you poor.

How does being swayed by advertising keep you poor? By keeping half of you poor. I’ll explain.

You only live once. And many of us tend to live long. That long lifespan (say a 40-to-100-year time span) creates two different versions of you:
Today You and Future You.
You know Today You. Because that’s you, right now. You know where you live, how much money you have. Who you are in love with.

However, you don’t really know Future You. Will Future You be rich? Married? Where will Future You live?

Even though you don’t know a lot about Future You, it’s likely that you want Future You to be happy. To do that, you need to invest in Future You. It requires contributing, sacrificing and growing things about you now. Actions that require you to push some of what you own and let grow now into the future so the Future You can use your investments.
When you save and invest you help Future You.
It’s like putting your money or assets in a time capsule that you intend for Future You to eventually dig up and use. Along the way, thanks to what Albert Einstein called “the 8th wonder of the world,” compound interest, over 30 to 40 years, you can give Future You over 10X more money than you originally put in that fiscal time capsule. Imagine, if you put $10,000 in an investment account at 10% interest now. you can have $400,000 or more waiting for Future You in 2060.
I bet Future You will thank you for investing.
However, if you spend everything today, you’ll have nothing left to give to Future You. With that in mind, a lot of people are afraid for their future selves. According to a 2018 Gallup poll, more than half of Americans don’t expect to have enough for retirement. That’s 50% of people who believe they won’t have enough to support the future version of themselves.

Also according to Gallop, a big contributor to this situation is that many people and families in their younger years are in debt. So much, they can’t save enough to invest. In 2016, half of all millennials had less than $1000 in savings. Many more still are paying off car loans and school loans.
Debt is taking away things from Future You.
In fact, it’s actually sticking Future You with the bill for the things you buy today or already bought. You get to use them. Meanwhile, Future You has to find the money to pay for them. And likely has less money to enjoy their present (your future).

In order to save or not go into debt, it’s important to stop buying and spending everything we have today. As my dad once told me, “A millionaire is only someone who hasn’t spent their last million dollars.” In other words, don’t confuse what you make with what you save. If you know the fiscal history of once high-earning people like Mike Tyson, MC Hammer or most lottery winners, who had massive wealth and lavish lifestyles only to go broke, you know that’s true.

So why don’t we save? Put some money away for tomorrow? A big contributor is advertising and consumerism.
The power of now. Not the Eckhart Tolle way. The bad way. Advertising.
Lots of business have products and services. As they would like to get those products off their shelves and showrooms and converted back into money they can reinvest or draw profit from as soon as possible, they’d prefer if people dropped everything to buy it all today.

Advertising is a way to accelerate consumer purchasing. Rather than sitting around hoping a customer learns about their product by serendipity or when they feel like it, advertising interrupts your day or whatever you are doing with messages about the product that a business has available for you. Often communicated and framed with some kind of urgency. “Limited time.” “While supplies last.” “Be the first.”

Exposed to all those messages in totality around you, the world of advertising teaches you to live in the world of “don’t wait, buy now.”

If you adopt that value, you’re getting stuff you want. And I’m sure the stuff you buy is amazing. However, if you are converting most of your income into “stuff,” it’s usually trading long-term gains for shorter-term pleasure.
Remember our talk about Future You?
That iPhone. The new car. All the things around you are likely items and products that Future You will never see. Or see them when they are broken and unusable. What may not also be around for Future You? The money you used to pay for them.

If you are like most of us, like me, you often have regrets for some of the things you bought. Especially if Future You runs into hard times later and has to make harder choices, like scraping for money.
If you buy things you do not need, soon you will have to sell things you need. – Warren Buffet
Be mindful of being swayed by the advertising lullaby.
We have desires. We have self-restraint. But advertising is especially good at hacking those restraints, by making self-gratification, now, easy and no big deal.

Comedian George Carlin’s “Advertising Lullaby” shows how advertising sings soothing words and lyrics that serenades us to let go of our hesitation, willpower and just do it now.
“Quality, value, style, service, selection, convenience. Economy, savings, performance, experience, hospitality. Low rates, friendly service, name brands, easy terms. Affordable prices, money-back guarantee. Free installation, free admission, free appraisal, free alterations, Free delivery, free estimates, free home trial, and free parking.No cash? No problem! No kidding! No fuss, no muss. No risk, no obligation, no red tape, no down payment. No entry fee, no hidden charges, no purchase necessary. No one will call on you, no payments or interest till September.”
So get it, now.

It is so tempting. They’re telling us that it’s so easy to get the things you want, now. As they do, they make us forget what we may also want – or the trade off we’re making. A better life for Future You.

We’re not always good at looking at long-term benefits, even if they are better for us. A famous experiment confirms this.
The Marshmallow Experiment.
In the 1960s, Stanford professor Walter Mischel conducted a series of psychological experiments while observing the habits of children.

He brought in children around 4 to 5 years old, one at a time, into a room. A researcher had the child sit down in a chair. They then placed a marshmallow on the table in front of the child.

With the child seeing the marshmallow, the researcher offers the child a deal.

The researcher tells the child that they are going to leave the room for a few minutes. When the researcher returns and if they see that the child didn’t eat the marshmallow in front of them, they will reward the child with two marshmallows instead. If they eat the one marshmallow on the table before the researcher returns, that’s all they get. No second marshmallow.

The child’s choice was simple: one treat now or two treats later.

The researcher left the room for 15 minutes. Some kids ate one marshmallow immediately. Some struggled to restrain themselves but gave in. Some held off until the researcher came back.
The marshmallow experiment. Long-term findings.
While insightful as to who could delay gratification for 15 minutes, what was more insightful were the findings revealed as researchers, over 40 years, followed the habits of those who ate the marshmallow immediately against those who waited.

The kids that were able to delay gratification in the original marshmallow experiment reported having higher SAT scores, lower levels of substance abuse, lower obesity, better responses to stress, better social skills as reported by their parents.

The experiments seem to confirm that the ability to delay gratification is critical for success in life. They were able to sacrifice a little of today for tomorrow (Future You’s) benefit. So a good bet, their future selves are less likely to be suffering financially or be poor.
Buy it Today! Why wait? Here’s why.
Like holding off on marshmallows. Look at what you would have gotten if you held off.

Let’s say you want to retire in 30 years from today. Here’s the difference of buying an item for you or investing the same amount of money for future you for 30 years at 7% interest.

iPhone X $1500: Save and invest the money: $11,817.14

Trip. $2000.00 : Save and invest the money: $15,224.00

New Car $25,000: Save and invest the money: $190,306.39

And with the new car, you save more money as a car depreciates in value the minute you drive it off the lot and likely $1000 or more a year for maintenance.
Mindfulness can help you help Future You.
How can you overcome the impulse for self-gratification and save more?

A John Hopkins University study “Mediation Programs for Psychological Stress and Well-being” that included over 18000 citations, 47 trials with over 3000 participants, found that that mindfulness, learning to focus on the present, can help you reduce issues like stress or boredom. Often factors that make us shop as a form of therapy or emotional soothing. It also found that mindfulness can help you create a better work ethic and even improved financial habits that can drive your savings.
Or get it off your mind. Or needing to being mindful of money. Automate.
Set up your bank account or savings account to automatically save 10% or more of your income as soon as you get your paycheck. You probably won’t even notice what you save. But Future You will.
When does now matter? Now. Make a change for future you that matters.
The faster you act, the more saving you money can work for you and be enjoyed by future you. Get started.
Hey, I wrote a book about being mindful in the new age of content.
Does This News Make You Look Fat? A book about media consumption and how the way we consume it makes us intellectually obese. Preview or buy the ebook at Amazon.


Brooks Richey on
Actionizing Client Feedback
Content Strategy

Actionizing client feedback to your content strategy.

“It sucks.”
Unless you were presenting a concept for a powerful new vacuum cleaner, that’s probably not what you want to hear after presenting something to a client that you put your heart and soul into.
When a moment like this occurs, one of two urges will attempt to overtake you:

You distance yourself from the idea with the reaction as if the client just pointed out a creepy spider crawling on your shirt. Or “hey, how’d that idea get in here?”

Or get defensive as if the client made a joke about your mother. You start loading up on rapid-fire answers to shoot at the client like you’re preparing to repel hostile fire.

Each reaction comes from the same place: you are emotionally attached to the outcome. That fear of a wrong outcome can turn feedback into becoming overly defensive and reactive. Neither is healthy in making any feedback more productive.
Welcome to the art of feedback Kung Fu.
Did you know there are different types of martial arts? Some are “hard” styles. You may know them as the styles that use the hard hand-swinging Karate chops. It’s style of combat is designed to injure and inflict damage in order to disable or discourage an attacker to back off. In many ways, similar to how our gut instinct wants to respond to client feedback.

“Bam! Now, Stop!” Unfortunately, just like the harder martial arts style, you are in greater danger of destroying things rather than making them better.

In martial arts, there are also “soft” styles. A couple of examples are Kung Fu and Hapkido. These styles work by energy conversion. That is, redirecting their opponent’s energy back at them rather than bluntly stopping it. By engaging them correctly, you use the momentum of their feedback or criticism to deflect or convert comments into more productive actions. This way you get to the same objective and are more productive without hard conflict. So in terms of handling client feedback, think Kung Fu.
How do you use a softer style in working with client feedback?
Step one: Stop. Breathe. React calmly.
Don’t follow your gut and use a “hard” style and be confrontational. Wait for the client to make the first move and let them spend their energy and work towards helping you by giving valuable feedback.
Step Two: Use the client’s “momentum.”
View and speak with your client with the belief that feedback is opportunity and insight waiting to happen. Not failure. Believe that you can use that energy and feedback and convert it toward something positive.
Step three: Get details.
Make the best of the opportunity by asking the client to elaborate and offer specifics to help you, and them, better clarify the issue you are both trying to resolve.
Step Four: The winning move. Show them you REALLY hear them.
If you really listen to their reaction, you’ll know if your idea is truly off base, or what concerns really need to be addressed to satisfy the client. Nothing soothes an angry client more than feeling a breakthrough moment that makes them feel you “get it” and that you understand how to move towards what they want.
Step Five: How to really hear: Don’t listen to the words. Listen to the needs and motivation.
“It sucks”

It’s strong feedback. But not clear or actionable feedback. Since you are, presumably, the subject matter expert in your craft and the client is not, you must also account for the likelihood, the client sometimes can’t put their concerns into actionable words or language your practice commonly uses and acts upon. Hence their use of “it sucks” is really feelings and instinct that’s been put into a vague word container. Your job is to unpack that word container, see what’s inside and put the ideas into new thought containers that you can act on.

It reminds me of the movie Amadeus where the king says to Mozart that he didn’t like the composer’s symphony because it had, “too many notes.”

What’s true about that vague statement is that there something about what was presented that troubles Mozart’s client, the king. What may not be true are the exact words the king is using to define the problem.

“Too many notes” could be be driven by issues like:

The king was bored.
They were overwhelmed and turned off.
He didn’t like it at all, so it was bad from the first note.
Or maybe it was so different than what he expected, the king just needed more time to absorb it.

So there may be richer, substantive feelings and motivations about your work within a client’s shallow comment. How do you draw it out of them?
I use the three whys.
What people say is a problem is not always the real problem. You need to help the client reconnect to the real motivations that’s influencing their reaction.

I use the three whys. The idea that if you ask “why?” about a reaction three times, the third why will likely get you to core reason. And example:

YOUR CLIENT: “I think we should scrap this approach, I really don’t think it’s working”

YOU: “Why don’t you think it’s working?”

YOUR CLIENT: “It feels off base. It’s not projecting our brand.”

YOU: “Why don’t you think it’s not projecting the brand?”

YOUR CLIENT: “I think the tone is not right?

YOU: “What do you feel is a wrong about the tone?

YOUR CLIENT: “My boss took a look and feels we need to be more chest-out about who we are.”

See? Asking “why?” three times revealed a much deeper and more specific issue. Your immediate client doesn’t hate the work, but they are concerned that their boss thinks it should have a stronger tone.

If you had just accepted the client’s statement that the project didn’t work without asking why, you would have missed an opportunity to correct the problem. Instead, by digging to the core of the issue, we found actionable issues and concerns that we can improve and satisfy the client.

Feedback is not always about reflexively making changes. A lot of times, it’s people just kicking the tires on a good idea. By actionizing client feedback properly, we can turn client feedback into success.
Content strategy is defining today’s successful business and leaving those too slow behind. Looking for more ideas and strategies around content marketing and delivering satisfying digital experiences for your brand, website or mobile application contact me for a free consultation.

Brooks Richey on
Ten Commandment Social Media
Content Mindfulness

The 10 commandments of social media.

Just like being a good citizen. We can be good social media participants. That requires us to be mindful of our actions and responses while being on social media. Here are ten commandments to keep in mind when engaging in social media.

There were 15 commandments of social media, but one of my iPad tablets broke on the way down from the mountain…
I. Thou shalt not post arguments that sound like you just completed a round of Mad Libs.
II. Thou shall take a deep breath and wait 15 minutes before posting to “school” someone.
III. Thou shall not covet thy neighbor’s post without attribution.

IV. Thou shalt update thine account photo.
V. Thou shalt not post anything you wouldn’t share with an employer.
93% of hiring managers will review a candidate’s social profile before making a hiring decision (Jobvite 2014 survey). 55% reconsider based on what they find.
VI. Thou shalt not transmit thine privates.
Did you know that 1/3 of child pornography are originally posted by children sharing photos with each other? Source: Jamie Bartlett “The Dark Net”.
VII. Thou shall not present a lazy or willful misinterpretation of a person or event to drive traffic or outrage.
(Ahem, Clickbait).
VIII. If thou trolls, use good grammar or you’ll sound like you’re grunting your response.
IX. If thou wouldn’t say it on stage in front of a 90,000-person stadium, don’t say it online.
To make matters worse, most platforms will capture keywords of what you text to build profiles and predictions and send ads based on what you say.
X. Thou shall not stop what you are doing simply because you found out someone is wrong on the Internet.
Otherwise, you’ll be very busy a very long while.
Hey, I wrote a book about being mindful in the new age of content.
Does This News Make You Look Fat? A book about media consumption and how the way we consume it makes us intellectually obese. Preview or buy the ebook at Amazon.

Brooks Richey on
Design and Content Strategy Collaboration
Content Strategy

How design and content strategy are related. And aren’t.

How intertwined are content strategy and design? Or to ask the question another way…
Should content strategy be a subset of design or a separate and independent collaborator with a design team?
I’ve worked at places where content strategy operates within a design group, as a separate but collaborative silo and a collaborator that resides within a larger UX team.
As far as content strategy working within a design group. No.
Content strategy and design should be separate, or at least independent for each other by direct authority. This, even though both are responsible for crafting and presenting front-end content experiences.
Why should content strategy and design stay separate?
While a content strategist and a designer’s work must seamlessly meld on the same space on a web page or product device user interface, they are unquestionably “brothers (or sisters) from different mothers.”

A 23andMe-like test will confirm that a full-service content strategist (the one responsible for planning, creating, structuring, reviewing, measuring and distributing content) has digital DNA that is distinct. A closer look will reveal the strategist’s extra data examination and content management chromosomes. Essentially their skills around information management. A mix that makes them different in mission from a designer or non-UX staffed design group.
Content strategy. Design’s brother from another mother.
Because of those extra chromosomes, content strategy and design end up related in purpose and overall goals, but not in function, back-end processes or responsibilities. How to describe and distinguish design and content strategy by definition:
Design is information delivery of visual, action patterns and tactile engagement. While information, the process leans toward more focus on how information is presented and human patterns for making the association between elements.
Content strategy is about information delivery and presentation but comes from the perspective of information management. The who, what, why and how and when of what to present.
Where content strategy and design meet.
They meet at content design.

Content design the collaboration between design and content strategy as to how the content chosen will be presented at the visual and surface consumption level.

The results of content design will create the point of visual contact where users encounter and interact with visual and text content. Think of it as a theatre stage where the audience will see visual props. They also see actors and the words created by writers.
Content design is the on-stage performance.
Like the actors and writers who have done a lot of work preparing before showing their work on the stage, a lot of the work and preparation that content strategists and designers present happens off stage as well.

As you go “backstage” past the content strategist’s content design contributions like microcopy, or placing or editing copy on a page that are involved in content design, the work of designers and content quickly diverge.

Think of it this way. Let’s say we want a nice faucet that delivers water.

Design’s focus will likely be about the look, patterns and action of the faucet design, usability of the faucet, where the water will come out. And as long as the presentation and functionality create a useful and satisfying moment to the user, the job of content design is done. But, in the bigger scheme of things, content design is not the only job required.
Content design is the overlapping point.
In this same faucet analogy, both design and content are concerned about how should the water come out and how much water is required for good presentation and functionality of the faucet.
Where content strategy and design diverge.
Before they meet at the intersection of content design on the faucet, content strategy is asking how much water? What type of water? Where is the water coming from? Is there enough water to meet demand? Do users really want water? Is the current water supply adequate? Where does the user want the water to come from? What temperature is pleasing to users?

Like the needs of this faucet, without assignment to other UX professionals, areas like information architecture and research around a digital project will fall to the responsibly of a content strategist for solving those pre-design portions of the content structuring and delivery experience.
If they don’t diverge, you don’t have a content strategist.
Or you have one with a very limited role (likely writing). A content strategist can work with or under a design group. However, such an arrangement is only possible if all parties are really aware of their jobs and each’s ultimate responsibilities in the customer experience process. And in a world where people, even experience teams, are still figuring out what a content strategist does, that’s not likely.

With quite a few teams, I’ve found a content strategist is often viewed more like a copywriter (the word wrangler or “voice and tone” person). This, at best, keeps the content strategist role and function at just content design or, in most cases, fill-up-this-section copywriting.
One caveat to content strategy and design working together.
Product design teams (teams charged with developing a physical or digital product) are often more conscious of a content strategist’s larger role and multiple functions. That is because content, research, development and structure is usually seen by the project team and business owners as important to achieving business goals around the product. That’s been my experiences at places like LiftDNA, Comcast and PwC as well as my own company.

That often includes ensuring customers are successful in using the product and reducing customer service support costs. Both of those outcomes make it vital for users to get to the information they need to be self-sufficient and satisfied. I suspect, as more and more companies start investing and creating more digital products that are more directly related to the bottom line, this perspective will increase.
Why the “copywriter” content strategist role is a problem.
In reality, a full-service content strategist for web development is like being a front-end developer (content design) and back-end developer (IA, content modeling, metadata) around content. Meanwhile, designers and front-end developers are more and more becoming one and the same.

In working with some design teams, some still have a blind spot for a content strategist’s work around the back-end aspects and forward flowing effects around structuring and delivering previously unstructured content – which, at the back end- phase is really information management.
This looks amazing. Love that pattern. Hope the copy fits.
A content strategy needs to plan and make decisions as to the what, where, why and how and when of structuring content across the digital platform.

When you think of it as just words, it’s tempting for design to focus on content strategy development just enough to sketch a direction design, rather how to manage and design the information experience to effectively provide the full information delivery a user demands.

That mismatch of engagement between design and content strategy can often mean, being off to the races with navigation and microscopy to frame on-page content before true content structure and content modeling across the site is established.

Yes, the development of a digital project is often iterative, so there are opportunities to review and update pages and copy.

But what tends to happen when microcopy or a proto-navigation gets too far ahead of the information delivery needs is that the design and that microcopy starts to calcify as the experience design firm and the client “get used to it.“ Even though all intellectually understand that it’s still just a prototype.

As the structure starts to calcify, it begins to resist future informational findings (or the budget no longer allows for them) and focuses on simply implementing the current design theory. What can happen is the hardening design can start to limit and new content needs or findings.
High performance. Low usability and satisfaction.
If this unbalanced process was a car, I’d suspect this is how a Bugatti, the world fastest production car gets made. Amazing design. Cool. Fast. But content wise, it only holds two passengers and that glove compartment that WILL serve as your suitcase, like it or not. An incredible, inspiring design, but unable to offer what a family would need to use effectively.
Remember, the ultimate job of any website or digital product is to deliver content in a way that satisfies a user. Not just hold content.
Design and design usability getting far ahead of content can overtake purpose, which is the proper delivery and availability of content that satisfies users.
Separate. But content strategy and design do need to work together.
Digital product performances are not guitar solos. They are more like symphonies. In fact, when only one part, like copy. design or interactive behaviors becomes the focus, it’s like one member of an orchestra playing too loud or off key, the focus moves from “the music” to the over-the-top performer.
Every performer needs to work together.
For the proper convergence and a great digital experience, both design and content strategy need to do their job well with each other.

Design has to be more in touch with how and when all the content will be delivered. This includes using visual design and patterns to be more anticipatory of making the relevant content needed findable when the “aha!” moment or decision of action comes to the user. Such action ensures that the next step in their interaction with the digital product gives them precisely the content experience they want.

This rarely happens with a “some words will go here” collaboration between copy and designer. This approach only serves to make a page or display panel logical in just the context of itself. Yes, the page, standing alone, makes sense, but it can fail to anticipate other logical user needs or next steps as they consume information.
Seamless collaboration. Seamless user experience.
Content and content strategy must structure content that gives design more freedom to present a powerful, intuitive and effortless experience. Whether it comes from design and or UX, the collaboration must make it possible for the content the user wants to get to them, intuitively with minimal effort.

Both must be focused on presentation. At the same time, they must think about the functionality and modeling of the content and how it will be moved, altered and distributed to outlets around the design. This creates a digital experience that delivers “Johnny-on-the-spot” information for users. When the user realizes they need something, the digital experience seems to provide the next step almost intuitively.
Separate, but equally involved in delivering an experience.
Design and content strategy can keep their independence while working together and advise other digital partners from their core responsibilities. This way, each is able to advocate and negotiate the balance of content and design to produce that convergence of experience.

In working together, it’s important to realize each’s strength and how they contribute to the whole experience while understanding they will do it differently.
Experience Design’s work is around problem-solving issues of:


A full content strategist can advise and support all three components.
Content design. Microcopy, whether created by designers or content strategy in a writing role can be used along with proto-navigation can do sanity-check on the digital product’s ability to hold content, set a mind map for consumers to find and access content and set modeling for how new or deeper content will be presented and under what content.
Voice and tone. Attitude is tone and it’s also brand. If a full exploration of a company digital brand and the personal user engagement have been documented, that should be used in writing or editing content to make sure the content and how content satisfied aligns with the brand.
This is where a content strategy skills for structure and information architecture come in.

How do we help users understand what their options are? And when they select and informational option, how do we get users to all the information they seek as intuitively as possible? Also, users often don’t know that they don’t know something. Working together, content strategy and design must be ready when the user suddenly realizes an informational need.

Achieving the deeper parts of content strategy lean towards a tight but independent design and UX collaboration. Helping them complete tasks by solving how to give them in the formation they want.
Content strategy is defining today’s successful business and leaving those too slow behind. Looking for more ideas and strategies around content marketing and delivering satisfying digital experiences for your brand, website or mobile application contact me for a free consultation.

Brooks Richey on
New Years Resolutions
Content Mindfulness

Resolutions. Don’t focus on a new year. Focus on a new you, now.

January 1st is the wrong day to start making New Year’s resolutions.
New Year’s Day, 2019 and the time of New Year’s Resolutions are almost here. As it approaches, many of us take stock of ourselves and our lives. We’ll look at our successes and failures in 2018 and ponder as to how we can be better. As we assess and define our shortcomings and as our improvement goals become clearer, New Year’s resolutions are born. Some resolutions play like holiday song standards.

Lose weight
Start saving more
Start a business
Get a new job

Those are not mine. And of course, yours may vary as well. Whatever they may be, many of us set a line in the sand that January 1st will be the day that we’ll get started on fulfilling our resolutions. Hence the term “new year’s resolutions.

Your local gym is banking on your resolutions. The gym sales staff know it’s the time people looking to improve their fitness swarm the place and sign up for new memberships.
They’re waiting for you because you’re waiting to get started.
As I’ve been to the gym this week, I can tell you, it’s unusually quiet. But being a veteran of this season, I know it’s just the calm before the storm. I and the gym staff are waiting until January 1st for the flood of people. People right now who have made a decision to get fit, but are saying to themselves, “Wait until the new year then I‘ll do it.”
Here’s my problem with waiting January 1st and New Year’s resolutions.
It’s already too late.
Why waiting until New Years is too late.
One: For a resolution or making a change, delay is your frenemy.
It feels helpful to delay. It isn’t. Letting yourself postpone action is your subconscious telling you,” it’s cool to wait.” While it may feel easier or more comfortable to hold off, it’s really setting you up to fail.

By waiting, you’re essentially stalling. Stalling by definition is a lack of progress and puts you closer to failing than succeeding. You just haven’t passed the January 1st deadline to officially declare failure.
Two: Delay can often hide fear.
Fear often cloaks itself in the form of a rational voice in your head. It can re-frame the feeling of being scared or overwhelmed to take action into, “Hey, let’s not overdo it. We need time to get ready, right?”

These comforting excuses make you feel good in the short term because you say to yourself, “I’m going to do it, eventually.” Those excuses also give you more room to fail in the long term by giving you permission to never getting around to taking real action.
Three: When allowed to get a footing, fear grows.
Once you decide to delay action, Fear will nag you by piling on more reasons why you can’t or don’t have to act. Instead of getting support and encouragement, fear gives you more ways to quit. And the more you become more fearful, the easier it is for new excuses or challenges to paralyze you.
Don’t wait for New Year’s Day. Do it now.
The voices of fear and temptation and safety of comfortable habits will give you a thousand reasons not to act now.

To beat them, all you need is one: “I’m already doing it, bitch” (True fact: you’re allowed to cuss at fear).

The faster you turn a decision to change into action, the more likely you are to achieve your goals.
By taking action right now…

You dissipate fear by proving it’s a liar (It’s wrong. You can do it and do it now) and truly know the reasons it gave you for not acting were bullshit.
You avoid the default of failure. Each day you wait to get started is essentially a day you failed to move forward. It also acts as another day of re-enforcing failure. Acting right now allows you to take steps to make each day a positive and successful one.
You capture the little wins. Though small, you can build on them to build bigger wins towards your goals. Also, little wins cut up your bigger goal to make it feel more manageable and obtainable.

The new year isn’t here yet. A better you can get here faster. Do it today.
Hey, I wrote a book about being mindful in the new age of content.
Does This News Make You Look Fat? A book about media consumption and how the way we consume it makes up intellectually obese. Preview or buy the ebook at Amazon.

Ready to make big changes in your life? Why January 1st is the wrong day to start acting on your New Year’s resolutions.

Brooks Richey on
Keeping Calm and MIndful at Christmas
Content Creation

Keeping Christ and your calm at Christmas. 7 things to be mindful of.

What does Christmas, South By Southwest (SXSW), San Diego Comic-Con and the Sundance Film Festival have in common?

Stay with me.

At first, it may seem sacrilegious to compare Christ and Christmas to a music and tech event (South By Southwest), a film festival like Sundance or the biggest American comic book convention.

I understand that, for Christians, the birth of Jesus Christ is considered an event that’s a bit more important than seeing the latest superhero teaser trailer, indie film or hobnobbing with musical artists in Austin.

Still, all these events and Christmas do share a common problem that each is wrestling with: event consumerism creep. Consumerism is increasingly standing in as a proxy for the love and worship of events that we cherish.

In other words, an over-commercialization of the event to the point the celebration’s evolving and more product-focused traditions validate a participant’s’ role as an active consumer more than being a true believer.
Christmas. Buying = event participation. Belief is optional.
For a moment, think Christmas. An event named to celebrate when Jesus was born in a manger to save mankind from sin. and allow mankind to get into heaven. But if you think about the way we now celebrate his birth and its meaning, it has evolved…
“Hey, it’s my birthday. What did you get me? What!? You bought presents for everybody else but me? What kind of birthday celebration is this? “

What Jesus might be thinking
Why? One reason…
Marketing tends to commoditize our love for something. Like Christmas.
In terms of marketing goals, our love of Christmas and something like comics are no different.

In the early days, San Diego Comic-Con was an event mostly for hardcore comic book lovers. I’m talking about the actual pulp-paper-and-ink comic books. Now it’s a place to buy sci-fi goods, to buy and wear cosplay outfits and where movie studios go to promote their latest sci-fi or superhero-related movies.

While actual comic books are there, in the same way that the History Channel has become less about hard, factual history and more about a show featuring Viking dramas and aliens, comics are slowly becoming the also-ran at the event. People come less for the comics and more for all the other activities that focus on purchase and consumption.
South by Southwest (SXSW) and Christmas.
South by Southwest was first held in 1987 as a way for musicians from the region to meet and collaborate, even get discovered. 150 people were expected. Over 700 attended. In 1999 and driven by the dot-com boom, a new tech component was added, SXSW Interactive. The event audience increased the Austin-based event over 1000 percent.
Corporate America: Hey, can we come, too?
Amid the streets of Austin, now strained with people and cars, corporate integration, attracted by the event popularity, came to down. In the past companies like McDonald’s, Capital One, AT&T and Pepsi have bought sponsorships integrating their brand, products and messaging into the event. Branded swag. Product discounts. Special branded event areas and services.

SXSW was originally intended to be an organic event. But it’s rare that “corporate” and “organic” objectives find a balance. One will need to concede or change.

In fact, according to reports, some of the angriest comments from SXSW attendees come from those who say the organizers have commercialized the festival and have strayed away from what it stood for.

In other words, is South by Southwest about the music? Or the free Pepsi tote bags?
Keeping the spirit of events like Christmas.
Of course, not everybody becomes a pure event consumer. Like the SXSW fans who’ve gotten angry, there are the true believers who remember what made those events special in the first place. And they come back time and time again to reconnect with the emotional, organic or spiritual moment.

And there’s the rest of us. I included.
Think Christmas isn’t commercialized?
Ask yourself this question.

Are your kids excitedly waiting for Christ or filled with joy on how happy Christ will be that you celebrated his birthday? Or are they breathlessly waiting to wake you up at 5 am Christmas morning to rip open the packaging on the new Microsoft Xbox?

Even as a kid, I can tell you the “good book” I looked to around Christmas time was the Sears Christmas Catalog, which I would study religiously. I could tell you exactly on what page of the thousand-page book had the toys I wanted for Christmas.

I went to church as a kid, but Christmas really didn’t mean Jesus to me as a kid. It meant toys. But I paid lip service to Jesus. Like workers who get Columbus Day off, you likely appreciate getting the day off more than the reason you have the day off.

Because we’ve come to accept the commercialization, most of us are willing to draw a convoluted line from the commercialized benefits we get from an event back to the original intent of the event. Keeping that Rube Goldberg connection allows us to tell ourselves we are still in the worship of the true meaning of the event. That present that we wanted and are getting is really about Jesus, ‘cause he got gifts, too.
That loose connection that drives Christmas consumerism.
Of course, no one’s evil for our consumerism pivot. When we love something, we overdo it. We make what we love bigger and bigger. Often we do it by expanding the meaning to attract a larger audience. That’s why commercialization of an event is so effective.

Originally, early Christian leaders did it by co-opting a pagan holiday called Saturnalia by expanding its traditions and customs into Christianity. But that’s another story for another time. Let’s focus on marketers.

Marketers and companies craft words, terms and associations with items around the event with broader and broader meaning. It creates a consumer vocabulary and space that’s welcoming for non-believers to participate.

It’s likely one of the reasons we likely say “Happy Holidays” in addition to Merry Christmas. Now you don’t have to be a Christian specifically to get in on the gift-giving action.

Or “Don’t like comics?” says Comic-Con, “But you like movies or buying costumes? No problem. Join us!”

When this happens consumer products also start to become the core symbol of the event. The change happens, little by little, until one day it’s hard to see what we originally did it for.
It’s Christmas. Buy the tree, lights and waving Santa.
It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. How do we know?

Probably because half the homes in your neighborhood look like a Santa-themed disco.

For Christmas, a lot of us put up lights to celebrate the holiday. Then somehow over the years, you find yourself in a lighting arms race with the Petersons next door because the rest of the neighborhood raved about their light show nativity scene.

“ And thou will have celebrations of me with starbursts. Playing “Rock You Like a Hurricane” in the background wouldn’t hurt.”

Not likely Jesus
Spreading Christmas cheer is not about buying it.
We get caught up in the buying and the need to “get something” as consumers. This is where the stress of the holidays comes in.

It’s stress that can take us out of being mindful about enjoying the meaning of the moment of the holidays. Increasingly consumer-minded, we often worry about not getting the right holiday gift or buying the right holiday look and forget to enjoy the real meaning of the event.

For everyone to keep calm and avoid stress, it’s all about being mindful of what Christmas is all about.
Seven mindfulness tips for Christmas.

Don’t be concerned with material goods. I don’t suspect Christ’s big idea was to come to earth to score free Muir from the wise men.
Remember the best moments are often the ones you can’t buy.
The idea of peace of Earth and Jesus being the prince of peace probably means you shouldn’t taser someone for taking the last Xbox at Wal-Mart.
Try to be more excited about the arrival of the birth of your savor than the InstaPot you’ve wanted.
Santa. Who doesn’t love Santa? Yet teaching your kids to get excited about a figure made modern by the Coca-Cola company who gives you things is probably not the way to celebrate a god who is reported to be not too crazy about false idols before him (See The 10 Commandments or the original Santa vs Jesus South Park).
Be mindful and happy and focused on your personal celebration. Mindfulness is focusing on what you can control. What you can control is your personal relationship with Jesus or whomever you worship and your personal happiness and connection to the meaning of Christmas.
And here’s the important part, focus on if Christ is in YOUR heart. Not what’s hung on the walls or what comes from the lips of the people at Dicks Sporting goods when they’re buying Eagles jerseys.

Focus on that last one particularly. Otherwise, you can turn into that doctor we all know who gets snippy if you don’t call them “Dr.” in casual conversation.

That is the problem with what seems is often filed under the annual and stress-inducing War on Christmas. It turns personal belief into work and nearly fruitless effort to impose a public demand on others. People we really can’t control. Creating faith or giving someone space to celebrate and demanding their compliance are two different things.

When you see the focus on the celebration stress and freak out at a bratty sweet sixteen party on MTV or as a bridezilla on her wedding day, the trip switch is usually a reaction to the people and their environment not willing to submit to the guest of honor’s whims and demands. “I wanted THAT car!” “

The feel they have a license to demand that often steps over other’s personal boundaries. Demanding not only acceptance but outward displays of obedience.
Where “Happy Holidays” vs. “Merry Christmas” controversy comes in.
Like the doctor, or the sweet 16 meltdowns, this need to impose actions on others, breaks mindfulness and the shift moves from enjoying the present to feeling the stress of expecting the world to validate your feelings. That’s giving power to others to validate your faith. Which can be stressful if you don’t get the response you want.

If you’ve done the work or feel the connection to Christmas, you don’t need my or anyone’s permission or acknowledgment to be a doctor (or a Christian). Just be one, and a good one. Your record as one counts more than how other people address you. So if someone says “happy holidays” instead of “Merry Xmas” live your life knowing that you andJesus will go on (until eternity if I’ve read the Bible correctly).

And with that. Have a Merry Christmas. Or whatever you want to call it. And I’ll see you in the new year.
Hey, I wrote a book about being mindful in the new age of content.
Does This News Make You Look Fat? A book about media consumption and how the way we consume it makes up intellectually obese. Preview or buy the ebook at Amazon.


Brooks Richey on
Christmas Story
Content Strategy

Twas the night before Christmas. A content strategy remix.

Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the firm.
Not an intern was stirring, not even a squirm.

The card sorts were pinned to the whiteboard with care,
in hopes that customer insights soon would be there.

Way in back, developers sat in their pod,
giving each other high-fives and confident nods.

The director of UX, and I in my cap,
had just settled down to view a customer journey map.

When, from outside, there arose such a clatter,
I turned from my standing desk to see what was the matter.
Away to the window, I flew like a flash,
I tore open the shutters and threw open the sash.

When what to my wondering eyes should appear,
but a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer.

From the look of the driver, so lively and quick,
this was no client, this must be St Nick!

A sleigh pulled by deer, all attached by their reins.
Santa whistled, and shouted, and called them by name!
“Now Dasher! Now, Dancer! Now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! On, Cupid! On, Donner and Blitzen!
I didn’t see Rudolph and that was a shame.
Declining celebrity Q-ratings I suspect was to blame.

“St. Nick!” I pointed and yelled.
UX and design came like a flash.
We scurried to the chimney by the end of our dash.

After the roof’s thud of hooves, Santa came down with a bound.
His beard was so bushy, his belly so round.

We all stood gazing and silent, like a bird on a perch.
Todd even stopped his review of an organic search.

St. Nick spoke not a word, but went straight to his work.
He left new user personas for Jamie, a content matrix for Kirk.
Once filling all the stockings; then turned with a jerk.

Looking around at our firm, painted much bright red,
he turned to us gathered and this is what he said…
“Structure content correctly, don’t over design like an abuser.
To stay on my nice list, always remember the user.”

Santa then tapped his finger left of his nose.
Giving a nod, up the chimney he rose!
He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
and away they all flew like the down of a thistle.

Then we all heard him exclaim, as he soared out of sight,
“Merry Christmas to all, and to all a Goodnight!”

As Santa’s overflowing love proved that our hearts were fillable,
the content strategist said, “Hey, is this time billable?”

Brooks Richey on
Lemonade movie and mindfulness
Content Mindfulness

Lemonade. The movie. Being mindful of what matters.

Lemonade.The 2009 movie about layoffs may be old, but the conditions and issues it talks about are even more relevant today. And worth being mindful of.
Some of us know the experience.
HUMAN RESOURCES: “Please, sit down. As you may know the firm is seeking to adjust our overall operation costs and overhead in response to the weakening demand. This includes reducing staffing levels.

As a result, a number of positions at this facility are being eliminated and your position is one being affected. Therefore, we need to begin the process to…(favorite jargon goes here):

Lay you off
Right-size the organization
Fire you
Adjusting to shifts in demand
Begin corporate outplacing
Make dost improvement plans
Reduce redundancy
Transfer ”Non-essential” employees
Rebalancing our human capital
Re-engineering our work teams
We’re terminating your position

Layoffs. “It’s not you. It’s us.”
Corporate layoffs often feel like a romantic breakup. You may have thought you were doing well together. But your partner, or in this case, the company suddenly tells you they’ve made a new choice and that choice isn’t you.

Get your things and go. It’s like being placed in a raft and pushed away, you find yourself drifting in the open sea of “opportunity.” As the shoreline that was once your job gets farther and farther from view until you can’t see it anymore, two questions emerge…

What do you do now?

What do you want to be now?
The movie Lemonade offers some insight.


This short movie, produced and written by laid-off Arnold Boston senior copywriter Erik Proulx (fired a week after talking to his boss about a raise and promotion), the movie focuses on various advertising professionals across the country and their look on their lives after being laid off during the mass industry layoffs (over 130,000) during the financial collapse of 2008.

What struck me about the movie was how each of these former creative directors, writers and designers talked about the day they we’re fired. A termination progression of “It’s not me. Oh, it is me? You want me to get out, now? Uh, ok.” One day they walked in their ad agency thinking they had one life, and in minutes, walked out looking for another.
Some of the lives covered (a.k.a. The Lemonade Cast)
Michelle Pfennighaus

After being laid off from an ad agency and a job she hated, designer Michelle became a health counselor and yoga instructor. And wishes she had done it sooner.

Steve Hall

After Steve lost his job he created Adrants, one of the most successful ad blogs in the business. I’ve enjoyed reading it throughout my career.

Kurtis Glade

Focusing on his daughter with cystic fibrosis created a documentary about surf camps in California that provide free, therapeutic surf lessons to kids. As he found that the surf air and water helped improve her breathing.

Jonathan Halitsky

After getting laid off from a media company, Jonathan volunteered to help those even less fortunate and also appeared in a Truth anti-smoking commercial done by a large agency.

Kevin Kearns

When freelance work dried up, Kevin decided to pursue his passion for painting. His work is now hanging in the Stricoff Gallery in SoHo and he sells 40-50 paintings a year.
Lemonade. A story so old, it’s new again.
Though it centers around ad folks and is over 10 years old, I think it applies to anyone today in any career who hasn’t asked themselves, “who am I, when I’m not my job?” or “is good money the same as living a life I enjoy.” “Am I giving up what makes me passionate for a paycheck and the illusion of success?”
New companies. New looks. Same human needs.
When before jumping into advertising, all the books I read warned me of both the excitement and fun of the creative business, but also the grueling lifestyle as the Faustian bargain. The long late and over-the-weekend hours. High-pressure deadlines. Last-minute “cancel your holiday plans, your family will understand.” Clients savaging your work and your ideas. And I particularly remember this quote in a book “people desperately clawing to get out.”

I read. I accepted. And I loved it. But I also realize, it’s not for everyone. Especially those who begin to see a life outside work that they want to grow and flourish.

While the days of the ad agency is receding to the rise of digital consultancies, it’s not hard to see many of the same issues in the latest incarnation of today’s digital marketing and tech firms. In the age of “hustle porn,” talented people are feeling overworked and tickled by a suspicion that, while doing something cool, they are unfulfilled. Or have a material lifestyle that chains them to stay in that job or another grueling job of the same income, no matter what. Whatever reason, they are now accepting an unbalanced life or endure stress to the point where each new Monday is a day to be dreaded.
Life balance. Or just good branding?
Netflix. The company that made news by offering “unlimited paternity leave” is the same company that wrote the famous “Netflix Manifesto” That is the platform to fire people in the company with the claim:
“We are a team, not a family. We are a pro sports team. Not a kids recreational team.”
Meaning, like a sports team, if you don’t work for the current goal and new objectives, you go and they’ll get someone who does. What you’ve done in the past for the company is irrelevant. In that context, I would imagine that a person who took the unlimited leave would quickly not contribute to the company’s current goal.

The same goes for the tech company version of unlimited vacation time. Though touted in and outside the organization, most co-workers tacitly understand that it’s not really unlimited (if they want to stay employed). Same goes with amenities like the ping-pong table in the office that you really can’t use until after work or working late in the office (also prisons have ping-pong tables, too). Amenities like it are likely less about life balance and more about pointing out the tables to clients and prospective hires as projecting coolness of the company as a brand.
A version of 2008 will come again. Time to be mindful and plot your own course.
What also strikes me is that, though not likely as bad as the recession of 2008, marketing firms who live on client budgets, will again likely cast away many talented people as cyclical recessions return causing clients to cut budgets and firms to cut staffs to match.

I’m not railing against it. It’s the nature of the business. Even when I joined my first ad agency years ago I understood this. I also understand that now there is a whole generation of workers, post great recession who’ve never experienced the effects of an economic downturn or had that life-changing conversation with human resources.

I’m just saying that before that happens. A movie like Lemonade can inspire people to take inventory of their passions and what makes them happy. Ask if that happiness comes from their current job. The hope is to make more people ready to jump into their next, best life, before they are pushed. Life is too short to wait to be the best you.

To learn more about the movie Lemonade, visit the official site.
Hey, I wrote a book about being mindful in the new age of content.
Does This News Make You Look Fat? A book about media consumption and how the way we consume it makes us intellectually obese. Preview or buy the ebook at Amazon.


Brooks Richey on
Hero's Journey -content marketing
Content Strategy

Content marketing and The Hero’s Journey.

“Hark! The siren sounds of the ads called out to me. On my quest for a new phone, I journeyed the lengths of the Internet, I met an oracle through the magical portal called YouTube. The oracle gave me the knowledge I desired.

I battled the persistent sales person in Best Buy trying to sell me a TV on sale on my path to reach the mobile phone section. I faced my deepest fears of emptying my wallet to obtain the iPhone. And now, with my thirst to use Snapchat on mobile vanquished, I return home a changed and more powerful man.”
In terms of marketing or content marketing, I just described what’s called a customer journey (sure, if Thor was making it) to buying a smartphone. But I also described something else. The Hero’s Journey.
The Hero’s Journey.
The Hero’s Journey is a story template that is very similar to the path customers take (the customer journey) to buying a product. Understanding The Hero’s Journey can aid a UX professional, content strategist or marketer in being able understand how to deliver experiences and content on the right way and right time to help the “hero” on the path to completing their journey towards making a satisfying purchase.
What is The Hero’s Journey?

Commonly associated with Professor of Literature Joesph Campbell (building off the work of others), Campbell developed The Hero Journey’s story template by analyzing the stories and myths told by various cultures over time. From there, he came up with a set of sequential events that seemed to be common to most of the stories. This came to be called The Hero’s Journey. It’s also referred to as the Monomyth (the one standard that applies to all myths and stories).

The overriding story arch involves a hero (which pronouns unfairly seem to point towards males) who goes on an adventure. Faced with a decisive crisis along the way, they win a victory and then return home changed or transformed.

Or as Joseph Campbell put it…
“A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”
This journey has been told, again and again, in modern-day story telling. Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, The Matrix, Spider-Man, Wizard of Oz and my trip to NYC to find really good bagels are examples. Like those examples and the path of the average consumer purchase, the journey will have the following phases…
The hero or protagonist lives in the ordinary world and receives a call to go on an adventure. The hero is reluctant to follow the call, but is helped by a mentor figure.
A spiritual initiation, the hero then makes a journey of return, bringing these gifts of insight back to the larger community.
Once the hero’s transformation is complete, he or she returns to the ordinary world with the elixir, a great treasure or a new understanding to share.

Campbell notes that “love” is one of the most powerful and popular of elixirs. In terms of the customer journey, that love is more likely love of product or positive experience with the product.
Mapping The Hero’s Journey to the customer journey.
Using the smaller steps listed with those three phases, let’s see how The Hero’s Journey tracks with a customer buying journey. And because Campbell’s Monomyth employs masculine pronouns a lot, our hero mapping this journey will be a heroine in the adventure of…
Jane and the Quest for Headphones. The Hero’s Journey.

Departure: The call to adventure.
CAMPBELL’S DEFINITION: The hero begins from a since of normality. Information is received that acts as a call to head off into the unknown.
JANE’S QUEST: Our story begins with Jane. Who enjoys listening to music on her wired headphones. Her friends tell her that her current headphones are “old, tired and embarrassing” and should think about getting wireless headphones.
Departure: Refusal of the call.
CAMPBELL’S DEFINITION: When the call is given, the future hero first refuses to heed it. This may be from a sense of duty or obligation, fear, insecurity, a sense of inadequacy, or any of a range of reasons that work to hold the person in his current circumstances.
JANE’S QUEST: Jane doesn’t see a problem with her wired headphones. They work just fine. One day, her wired headphones keep coming out of her ears as her arms catch the cord while she’s running at the gym. As it happens again, and again, she becomes frustrated. One day, she accidentally catches the headphone cords in such a way, it shorts the connection in the left headphone. She’s mad…and suffers without her uplifting motivation music.
Departure: Supernatural aid/meeting the mentor.
CAMPBELL’S DEFINITION: Once the hero has committed to the quest, consciously or unconsciously, his guide and magical helper appears or becomes known. More often than not, this supernatural mentor will present the hero with one or more talismans or artifacts that will aid him later in his quest. Meeting the person that can help them in their journey.
JANE’S QUEST: Jane starts looking for information about headphones from influencers on YouTube. From there, she learns about tools and information in which to evaluate wireless headphones on her journey.
Departure: Crossing the threshold.
CAMPBELL’S DEFINITION: This is the point where the hero actually crosses into the field of adventure, leaving the known limits of his world and venturing into an unknown and dangerous realm where the rules and limits are unknown.
JANE’S QUEST: Jane has decided and put money aside for headphones. She starts checking websites for more content and options about wireless headphones.
Departure: Belly of the whale.
CAMPBELL’S DEFINITION: This represents the final separation from the hero’s known world and self. By entering this stage, the person shows willingness to undergo a metamorphosis. When first entering the stage the hero may encounter a minor danger or set back.
JANE’S QUEST: Jane checks out more specific videos about wireless headphones. During her search she runs into a video with a grief-stricken video host that warns her, “Why you shouldn’t buy wireless headphones! The warning makes her hesitate for a moment about buying wireless headphones at all.
Initiation: The road of trials.
CAMPBELL’S DEFINITION: A series of tests that the hero must undergo to begin the transformation. Often the hero fails one or more of these tests. Eventually the hero will overcome these trials and move on to the next step.
JANE’S QUEST: Jane keeps looking at headphone options. She likes a set, but it’s too much money. She looks at another, it’s not right. Another she’s considering is not in stock.
Initiation: The meeting with the goddess.
CAMPBELL’S DEFINITION: This is where the hero gains items given to him that will help him in the future.
JANE’S QUEST: Jane encounters the goddess of the internet known as Google. Google search results lead Jane to a landing page. She gives the site her email address and gets access to resources that allow her to review an amazing collected set of audio guides and audio equipment reviews, including cool wireless headphones.
Initiation: Woman as temptress.
CAMPBELL’S DEFINITION: In this step, the hero faces those temptations, often of a physical or pleasurable nature, that may lead him to abandon or stray from his quest, which does not necessarily have to be represented by a woman. Woman is a metaphor for the physical or material temptations of life, since the hero-knight was often tempted by lust from his spiritual journey.
JANE’S QUEST: Jane tells her boyfriend she’s looking for headphones. Her boyfriend thinks he might have an extra pair of wireless headphones for free. He’s not sure if he can find them, but if Jane is willing to wait for him to find out, they’re hers. Wireless headphones, for free? Jane feels that’s hard to resist.
Initiation: Atonement with the father.
CAMPBELL’S DEFINITION: The hero must confront and be initiated by whatever holds the ultimate power in his life.
JANE’S QUEST: Should she wait for the headphones her boyfriend may have? Should she move forward on her own search? After soul searching, Jane feels simply waiting is keeping her from an experience that will make her and her workout routine more satisfying. And she wants them before her workout tomorrow. With that in mind, Jane lets go of her procrastination and decides to continue her search.
Initiation: Apotheosis.
CAMPBELL’S DEFINITION: This is the point of realization in which a greater understanding is achieved. Armed with this new knowledge and perception, the hero is resolved and ready for the more difficult part of the adventure.
JANE’S QUEST: She goes to the store.
Initiation: The ultimate boon.
CAMPBELL’S DEFINITION: The ultimate boon is the achievement of the goal of the quest. It is what the hero went on the journey to get. All the previous steps serve to prepare and purify the hero for this step, since in many myths the boon is something transcendent like the elixir of life itself, or a plant that supplies immortality, or the holy grail.
JANE’S QUEST: She buys the headphones.
Return: Refusal of the return.
CAMPBELL’S DEFINITION: Having found bliss and enlightenment in the other world, the hero may not want to return to the ordinary world to bestow the boon onto his fellow man.

JANE’S QUEST: Jane loves her headphones. She can’t imagine not having them.

The return goes in to deeper parts. Which to align to the customer journey would be post sale. And a story we will address in a future post. ‘Till then. I wish Jane well on her continued journey.
Why a content strategist or UX professional needs to understand The Hero’s Journey.
Like the Hero’s Journey, We develop a customer journey for people like Jane to understand what it takes for her to find satisfaction and meet her needs.

To help a potential customer like Jane on her hero’s journey, we must understand the steps and challenges she faces and how to be of assistance.

As the content marketer or UX or content strategist, we can be there as the “supernatural” force to help guide them on their journey.

For example, a content strategist can provide “supernatural” help in the form of:

SEO. Optimizing content find-ability to Jane can find the headphone content she’s looking for
Blogs and video. To give Jane the knowledge and tools to complete her quest
Display ads and (social ads). The “sirens” that call Jane to under take the adventure for new headphones

Obviously there are more areas of “divine intervention” through content that can be used depending on what your customer/hero’s journey is.

No matter what you choose, remember your hero (or heroine) is seeking satisfaction. By understanding the hero journey and creating your role their customer journey effectively, you can help them find success at the end.
Content strategy is defining today’s successful business and leaving those too slow behind. Looking for more ideas and strategies around content marketing and delivering satisfying digital experiences for your brand, website or mobile application contact me for a free consultation.


Brooks Richey on
Content Mindfulness, Content Strategy

Dieter Rams is sad about design and content.

A world of fleeting content and over design? Dieter Rams thinks so.

”If I had to do it over again, I would not want to be a designer. There are too many unnecessary products in this world.”
-Dieter Rams

The movie “Rams” by Gary Hustwit is now screening at various theaters worldwide. In Hustwit’s latest film, Dieter Rams (pronounced “Rrrahms”), one of the most influential designers of our lifetime, is seen gently leaking despair, resignation and remorse as he looks upon a world filled with over-designed products along with distracting and overstimulating content.

It’s an excess that comes at the expense of diminished experiences for consumers as well as new product designs that fail to address ecological sustainability and other societal problems.
Rams. The movie. A warning for designers and creators?
The documentary “Rams” is both profile and homage to the German industrial designer and architect, Dieter Rams. It also reveals, depending on your point of view:

A man who either isn’t adapting with the times, the evolution of product design and the business-centric use of content like an increasingly obsolete Willy Loman of design…
A man tenaciously clinging to the ten good design principles he’s known for, like Moses delivering the 10 Commandments, yet finding his tablet commandments ignored and his followers straying…
Or he’s just saying to content creators, “Sigh, haven’t you learned anything!?” and is simply pitying an industry that, while moving forward has lost its way and abandoned long-term-thinking about the repercussion of their creation decisions for users and humanity as a whole

It also reminds me like my raison d’être first post for Content + Mindfulness. Here’s another creator, looking past their immediate craft and skills to become increasingly concerned about the rippling consequences of their creations.

As content (both written and visual) can be exploited and become self-serving, Rams sees the same happening with information and experiences delivered through design.
Does Dieter Rams have followers of his work or just fans?
A follower tries to live up to the principles of the leader or organization. Meanwhile, a fan is more focused on seeking association or to identify with popular ideas rather adopting values. Fans, like leafs, tend to drift from principles, pushed by the distracting winds of the new and the simply popular. As designers and content creators try to seek new and innovative executions, those “winds” take them further from core truths.

Based on the documentary and other coverage I would lean towards Rams as Moses. I don’t think he’s offended by change, but more lamenting content creators and the design world who are abandoning principles he believes was meant to lift humankind and not simply to overstimulate humans or provide fleeting joy. He sees his followers moving towards crafting experiences full of bells and whistles than helping users have meaningful, connective experiences and delights.
Many have walked away from Dieter Rams only to return.
One positive note. As Sophie Lovell, the Rams book biographer noted, designers in the 70s and 80s previously abandoned Rams’ design principles and began to overdesign. Many realizing their mistake, rediscovered Rams and his philosophy. It’s possible the“fan” cycle will likely repeat again and again as designers walk away from Rams like a teen asserting their independence from their parents only to eventually accept the wisdom they rebelled against and become their parents.
A world of consumerism, clutter and overdosing. Rams is tired of talking about it.
You can see that surrendered demeanor in some of the limited interviews he’s given – or even his appearance in Hustwit’s previous movie, Objectified. Maybe the emotion I saw in the Hustwit movies that’s coming from Rams is not so much surrender, but anger. But like his products, that presentation of anger emerges from him crafted, elegant and refined as any other stereotypical product design born of german engineering. In other words, the emotional “F-ck off” he feels to unbridled consumerism, the design industry and the world is created and shaped through his restrained personality and excreted from him as quiet, understated but elegant despair.

His resignation to these ascendant forces is one of the reasons he’s announced he isn’t giving any interviews.

After all, why should he? The design and content sins he’s tried to express are already in writing and well-known to anyone in the design industry: his 10 principles of good design. A quick recap.
Dieter Ram’s The Ten Principles of Good Design

Good design is innovative
Good design makes a product useful
Good design is aesthetic
Good design makes a product understandable
Good design is unobtrusive
Good design is honest
Good design is long-lasting
Good design is thorough down to the last detail
Good design is environmentally friendly
Good design is as little design as possible

From viewing his principles, then turning to look at most products on today’s retail store shelves, you can empathize as to how he feels design has been exploited to produce excess.
The design life Rams now regrets is still a pretty impressive one.
The former architect and German industrial designer is well known for the inspired product designs he’s created while working for Braun and furniture maker Vitsoe. His creations shaped consumer technology and design trends as American consumerism and product design was hitting its stride in the 1960s.

From coffee makers to shavers to stereos to the Oral B toothbrush to furniture and hundreds of more products, Dieter Rams and his design teams crafted elegant experiences that also brought beauty and functional simplicity to our lives.

Most designers revere Dieter Rams as a design god.
His work has inspired designers and designs at Apple and Facebook. Apple’s Chief Design Officer, Jony Ives, has said that Rams inspired him. And as another designer in the film points, out you can see Ram’s work in the early Apple iPod design through features like the scroll wheel.

Yet the creator of so many products that have inspired the world openly laments the designers and business and content creators who have filled the world with a plethora of design, information and content.

For me, as a former advertising executive and copywriter, it’s would be like David Ogilvy, considered one of the greats in advertising and copy and who wrote a book on principles of advertising to say to me, “you write way too much. It’s blather.” While I didn’t attend the New York City screening with any design peers in tow, but I’m guessing it didn’t feel good for them.

Speaking of God. For those of you who have read Frank Herbert’s Dune, the relationship between Rams and designers reminds me of the relationship between Paul Atreides and the Fremen. Paul became a god to his followers (inhabitants of the planet Arrakis) only to see in the future his rise is the cause that drives his followers to move past him to wreak havoc across the universe in his name and create a tyrannical new order.
Rams. A god that rues what he has wrought?
Paul Atreides from Dune has the supernatural ability to see into the future. In the movie, “Rams” Rams has simply caught up to the vision of the world that’s now moving past him.

It’s a world where product designers, content and interactive experiences have been built by the design industry and content makers to enslave engagement and distract more than to delight.

Consumers now simply toss products and experiences that bore them or just to always possess the newest products. We are exposed to designs and content that are redefining our humanity as they simultaneously mutate our habits. We live, saturated by screens around us that we cannot ignore and, in fact, dutifully pull to our faces every few minutes.

In one moment of the film, Rams goes into an Apple store. He looks at an iPhone with a curious and detached sadness. Another telling moment has him walking on the street while lamenting in voice over that people never take their eyes of their smartphones and don’t look each other in the eye anymore.

I’m reminded of the moment of the Indian from the pollution ad that sheds a tear seeing what man is doing to the land and a resignation he can’t stop it.

Rams is a designer who believes in conscious and efficient minimalism as the key to a delightful product and user experience. So it’s clearly disturbing to him seeing a world where features and content are slapped together and piled on to products to meet some need of the business team like a cook putting together the ingredients of a Big Mac. Rams even expressed as much as that drive to overdesign came to the Braun company when it was purchased by Gillette. Afterwards, Dieter began to butt heads with the product vision of management. Eventually Dieter Rams was removed from direct leadership of the design team until he resigned two years later.
Lessons I took away from the movie Rams.
1. How design or a content experience is delivered will mold behavior.

Or another way to put it: a design starts to design the user.

You’ve likely seen the YouTube video of a baby abducting (spreading apart) her fingers to make a paper magazine bigger. Or watch it here:

Obviously, her short, learned experience with tablets and smartphones is defining her experience and her future interactions with other product and information. Essentially the design and user interface patterns of the iPad are teaching her how to engage and consume other objects in her environment.

The creation of text messages on our phones and the creation of Facebook has redesigned how we engage and view friends. We all have friends that we only talk to on Facebook. Or if they call you on the phone rather than text, it’d better be important.

Products, their design and how they manage content have redesigned us as humans to behave like human phone trees (Dial 1 for sales. Dial 2 for service. Dial 3 if you really need to talk.) to other humans. We are encouraged to slice human interaction by need, value and distance and removing ourselves from actual, organic human engagement.

Perhaps what Rams also laments is that technology, design and content, no longer simply delivers satisfaction. It is now designed to demand too personal or behavioral sacrifices for that satisfaction. While a smartly designed iPad or device or IOT (Internet of Things) product helps us gain a better experience with machines or content, little by little, we lose the ability to connect to the real world and real people.

We are redesigned by our designs.

2. Design and content clutter is the mortal enemy of focus.

The concept of minimalism is essentially about keeping need, satisfaction and resources closely in check so every element has a purpose. It’s like building something but sticking to a lean budget. That’s not about being cheap but being strong about supporting things that matter and that will give you the most joy.

From my understanding of Rams, that is his drive for a clutter-free experience. To have only the elements in the design or experience that give you the most joy or satisfaction. When we cut the extraneous, we can focus more and deeply on what matters. In the age of clutter in content and design, it becomes harder to invest or mine deeper value in anything.

I would liken it to too many people shouting in a room. It’s hard to focus on a single voice. You either need to ignore all or triage and sample fleeting bits from the cacophony of messages you get.

3. Designing throw-away content and design experiences drive value apathy.

To be expendable by definition means, it’s not worth keeping. So what does that mean for product design if we are now so willing to throw products away?

Dieter Rams is known for saying that “good design is as little design as possible.” But in seeing how consumers nonchalantly toss working phones because they can (a sin to one of Rams’ design principles), it doesn’t appreciate the value of the products we have. Each product is only a fleeting stand-in to the next, new and fleeting experience.

Because we have an overabundance of devices and content, Fast Company reported that Rams has tweaked his previous message a bit. “Less would be better everywhere,” Rams now says.

4. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you do.

I remember when desktop publishing came in and replace the old-school typesetters. Designers and art directors went nuts on all the fonts available. Often making choices more in alignment with what was currently cool or self-pleasuring than appropriate to the message or experience. Because of a lack of vision or principles driven by experience or conviction, it is tempting to simply be led by the noise and distraction of the possible (which is different from what’s right).

Anyone can design. Anyone can write. Design or write well? That’s another story. The professional in the craft becomes distinguished as they learn when and how to say “no” to every possibility they could execute. Whether you enjoy the idea of minimalism or not, it is the act of making choices as opposed to the all-you-can-eat buffet of content and design. Learning to make choices makes better, valued and less overwhelming content.

5. Self-pleasuring content creation masturbation and excess design is often disguised as creativity or giving the customer “more value.”

If you have seen the movie or know Rams’ principles. I think this is what really disappoints him.

Creativity without discipline is what creates the excess Rams speaks about. It is design and content creation that’s reflecting the creators’ values, whims and personal pleasures instead of showing empathy and an understanding of the true desire and needs of users.

Designer and writers are both guilty of this “look what I can do!” mentality. When we do, we don’t serve our audience. It’s what causes writers to produce screeds and manifestos. Or when I used to read album reviews in Rolling Stone as a kid, I’d need a thesaurus to decipher the writer’s self-satisfying analogies. And this approach drives designs that create products that wouldn’t look out of place in The Cat In the Hat.

Rams laments that good product and content experiences brings forth a pleasure in the world that we can enjoy. This, rather than a stream of design demands, patterns and a torrent of fleeting content that keeps us always moving and distracted like Lucy trying to keep up packaging chocolates on the conveyor belt.

A rushed, almost frantic world that we live in stands in contrast to how we see Rams in his element around his home. A refuge where he savors simple moments like trimming plants with thoughtful attention. His zen-like, tranquil experience only emphasizes how the rest of the world, surrounded and overstimulated by overdesign and a glut of content, is having life’s moment stolen from them by distraction.

Side note: his interaction with his wife of 50 years, a photographer he met at Braun, is adorable.
Do we have too much content and an over-designed world?
I’d agree with Rams. In doing so, we do a disservice to the public, particularly consumers.

Content creators like writers and designers have a job to give the audience what it needs. And to serve as user-centric gatekeepers. We must be mindful not overwhelm them with so many options they don’t know what to do. Or cause users to lose the ability to value the pleasure of the moment.

It’s also about giving design purpose beyond what Rams calls “beautification (just making something look cool)” Design is really about solving problems. And from the movie, Rams believes that also includes solving usability issues a user may not be consciously aware of. For instance, in response to a student, he chastises car companies for their focus on making faster, cooler cars. When they need to focus design to making cars usable in a way that people will appreciate and work with population needs 20 years from now.

The movie Rams is a short movie (less than 70 minutes). Yet like his designs, the minimal approach helps you to focus and enjoy the experience. You should see it.
Hey, I wrote a book about being mindful in the new age of content.
Does This News Make You Look Fat? A book about media consumption and how the way we consume it makes us intellectually obese. Preview or buy the ebook at Amazon.

In the documentary Rams, see the brilliance and frustrations of the legendary designer in a world of over design.

Brooks Richey on
Content Marketing Image Michelin
Content Strategy

What is content marketing?

Let’s start to define content marketing by defining the two words that make up the term content marketing:
Content: images, video, text and audio content that a user can engage and mentally consume.
Marketing: The defining, positioning and the presentation of a product or service to a consumer in a way that appeals to their wants or needs.
Combining those two words creates this definition:
Content marketing is sharing information about or around a product, business or service through the use of content. The content types distributed seek to help the consumer establish a better understanding around that product and build a relationship with the business or service providing advice.
Why is content marketing simply not advertising?
To use an analogy, employing advertising is like being a sharpshooter. You target a person or group with a need and you “fire” your honed message at them to hit them to induce an action like a sale.

This approach is great if your customer is definable, can be located and has a clear, conscious need they want someone to help then address. For example:

CUSTOMER: “I need clean shirts.”

ADVERTISING: “Hey, use McClean Laundry detergent. It will make your shirts bright! Get it today at your local store.”
Where content marketing works better.
But what if your customer doesn’t know they have a need or a problem to solve? Or even where to start to meet that need?

What if your customer’s need is so complex or has so many components to it, a lack of understanding is keeping them from finding a solution or taking action?

In these instances, the customer is much farther way from and has too many barriers to making a buying decision.

In this context, advertising is like shooting a bullet to take down the side of a barn. Too small, too fast and too targeted to work. It also doesn’t help that less and less consumers are exposed to and respond to traditional advertising (Hi, YouTube and Netflix).

This is when education around the subject and building trust is more important to nurturing sales. And that’s where content marketing comes in.
Establishing a potential relationship through sharing content.
As content marketing is used by marketers to create content types like web pages, PDFs, emails and more, they take on the role of educating and building a advisory relationship with those who find and consume it. The purpose is not to explicitly promote a brand or scream “buy now” immediately. Instead, it is intended to stimulate interest in its products or services.

While it feels like a new buzzword for the digital space, content marketing has been around for over a century. Its principles are just now being applied to digital.
Content marketing. Effective but not new.
Take The Michelin Guide. Or to put it another way: ever wonder why the Michelin Tire Company is related to a highly respected restaurant guide that gives out valued star ratings for restaurants?

Because the guide and its content were originally designed and used to increase the use of cars and by extension, use more tires on those cars.

At the beginning of the 20th century, there were less than a few thousand cars, but those cars had tires.

The two brothers, Édouard and André Michelin, first published the Michelin Guide for French motorists. Then they did so for more countries. The guide encouraged motorists to get in their cars and drive to check out far-away restaurants, often wearing out their tires out in the process. As the guide became a trusted resource for drivers, Michelin established a relationship. Also, guess what brand of tires were top of mind when it was time to get tires?
Content marketing and digital.
I’m probably insulting your intelligence by telling you that the Internet is where most of us go to get information on things. “What kind of headphones should I buy?” Search Google. “It is time to replace my gutters?” Hello Google. “What server configuration would work best for my business and my sales team?“ Google it.

As you can see from all those searches made on smartphones, laptops and now voice assistants, customers are having conversation about your products – or needs that your product could meet. Without content marketing, and lack of content for them to find, you’re essentially opting out of that conversation. “Nah, you guys go ahead a talk about what kind of headphones you need. I’ll just wait at my store and see IF and where you decide you want to buy headphones.”
Content marketing helps you become part of that conversation.
When you strategically create content that helps users get to valued information that informs their product education or sharpens their buying dialogue or path to problem-solving they:

Begin to know and feel comfortable about the subject at hand
Respect your understanding and authority around the subject
Build trust in your advice, recommendations (and your brand)
Visit your website and drive traffic as your content becomes part of the buying conversation

Other advantages to content marketing.

Content marketing brings your audience to you.

Having engaging content as part of your marketing makes customer self-identify themselves as they find and are attracted to your content. Think of it like being at a book store and you see someone pick up a book about relationships. It’s a good bet, some aspect or problem about a relationship is on their mind. In picking up that book, they’ve made their need visible as an opportunity to engage and connect with.

When potential customers choose to consume your digital content, analytics can tell you if they viewed your content, what they are interested in and where they are along the buying journey. For instance, someone seeking content on “what kind of cars are good for families?” is early in the decision funnel than someone seeking content like “how to negotiate buying a mini SUV?”

This ability to self-identify is available to you in content marketing as opposed to traditional marketing where it becomes more guesswork. Or to put the comparison of traditional marketing to content marketing another way:

Traditional marketing. You: “Hey wanna buy some watches?
Content Marketing: Your customer: “ Excuse me, I’m looking for the best watch for my needs. Can you help me?”

Which would you rather talk to?

Lets your customer walk the path.

In consulting, there’s a saying, “It tastes better when you add your own egg.” This means that when you make a personal investment in the process, you tend to buy into the larger process.

With the right content marketing strategy, users are actively a part of the conversation and buying process. They are not being told what to buy, rather they are doing their homework and investing time to learn. That means the result of what they learn using your content, feels like a process they controlled. And since they did it, they can better trust the results.

Content helps you learn about your customer.

In the digital age, there are platforms and processes around content marketing and marketing automation that allow business and marketers to measure and evaluate what kinds of content is offering value to potential customers and how to make it better. For example in Marketo, now part of Adobe, you can track who is viewing your content and where they are in the buying process.

Builds your brand.

Less and less brands are being built less via traditional media. Content marketing lets you build a positive experience with your brand and exposure to your products where more and more people shop and live. The internet.

Save on paid media costs.

A well-cultivated content marketing program enables your business to drive traffic without the need to spend money on paid media (Pay Per Click) PPC. A well-crafted, value-driven and strategic content marketing plan that can be consumed the way your users want can go a long way to driving word of mouth.

Examples of content marketing.
Dollar Shave Club and Content Marketing.
Dollar Shave Club, founded by Mark Levine and Michael Dubin, ships less expensive razor blades and additional grooming products on a monthly basis to its membership base. It attributes a lot of it’s growth, from nothing to over 3 million members, to its content marketing efforts.

Efforts that started with a YouTube video entitled “Our Blades Are Fucking Great”

The video was a viral success and the company followed up with additional videos.

As it realized it was connecting to its audience (80% men age 25-37), the company increased it’s content marketing efforts. In 2015, the company began hiring writers and editors for a new website, Mel Magazine. The site contained editorial content described by the company as “men’s lifestyle topics”

The content marketing effort achieved a few objectives.

Know. People gained awareness about Dollar Shave Club.
Like. The often funny style of the videos and content helped the company to connect emotionally and resonate with their younger audience.
Trust. Through the content’s education efforts, consumer learned to feel confident in cheaper shaving alternatives and abandoning expense choices like Gillette shavers.

Soul Cycle and Content Marketing.

Earl Gibson/BET/Getty Images for BET
A 90-plus location cycling studio with it’s signature SoulCycle stationary bicycle, the company expanded it’s internal content team to create experiences and content, particularly for Instagram.

It also uses content to create engaging experiences. A recent one was a concert series “Sound by SoulCycle.” The first concert was held in Harlem and featured artists performing for 50 riders and more than 300 other attendees. Besides using the content (the music)to create a connective experience, SoulCycle’s media team filmed the event so they could share it to their 344,000 followers on Instagram. It also gave the event the reach even more discovering the event through hashtags and shares.

SoulCycle also a partners with Apple Music to create exclusive playlists and share original audio. The company’s planning to expand more into audio in the next year as it considers options like podcasts.
Content marketing. Use it today to drive future sales.
Content marketing, when used correctly can not only provide truly relevant and useful content to your prospects and customers, but drive traffic and conversions. As traditional media recedes, it is becoming the future of marketing.
It’s time to build your content marketing and content strategy.
Content strategy is defining today’s successful business and leaving those too slow behind. Looking for more ideas and strategies around content marketing and delivering satisfying digital experiences for your brand, website or mobile application contact me for a free consultation.


Brooks Richey on