ted conference

TED And The Art of Loyalty

People don’t like to admit just how addicted they are to their smartphones.

I won’t be the first to blog about how many people are quite sensual with their devices. Don’t laugh. Think about the way you caress, touch, and engage with it. What is the last thing that you touch before you go to bed at night, or the first thing that you pick up when you wake up in the morning? What, too personal? Be honest: what’s your time to device in the am? Now compare that to your time to spouse? There is an ongoing debate about just how loyal consumers can (and should) be in such a fragmented world, but I’m here to tell you that loyalty is alive and well. Real loyalty (the stuff that transcends data sets, points accumulation and redemption strategies) is the stuff of legend. What if a brand was able to create such a sense of loyalty, that the urgency with which the consumer responds to an email is similar to the “time to device” reality outlined above?

I’ve got a thing for TED.

TED stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design. The origins of this annual get-together took hold in 1984, when Richard Saul Wurman (famed architect, book author and renaissance man) decided to pull together an exclusive group of guests for his vision of the ideal dinner party. Today, TED is curated by Chris Anderson through a charitable foundation, and is best known for the TED Talks that gobble up audiences by the hundreds of millions via online video channels (their own, YouTube, podcast, and more) and their 18-minute presentations on topics as diverse as creativity and education to how video games can save you and why every adult needs a LEGO collection. The event/gathering/conference now has a global event (held outside of North America) and is also associated with TEDx events (local organizers leveraging the TED brand and blueprint to create their own event around a specific geography or topic).

On March 17th of this year, I made my annual pilgrimage to the TED conference in Vancouver, British Columbia (like I have been doing since 2009).

I am loyal to all things TED. “Loyal beyond reason,” as Saatchi & Saatchi CEO Wordlwide, Kevin Roberts, called it in his book, Lovemarks (TED is a lovemark). And, the reasons why act as a truth serum to other brands. My time to respond to TED emails over the years has become more like a “drop everything and pay attention,” type of experience. Those emails are right up there with my pathetically quick time to device in the am. In a connected world, where consumers have access to anything and everything at the touch of a connected device, the brands that make us most loyal have to do a lot more to rope us in. TED does this is so many profound and powerful ways.

What is it about the TED experience that makes the TEDsters so loyal, and what can brands learn from organization?

  1. You don’t buy a ticket, you join a movement. Some think it’s elitist, but I don’t. It’s exclusive. To take part in a TED experience, you can’t just buy a ticket to the event. You apply to become a member and, if accepted, your membership fee includes a ticket to their annual event. Along with that, you get access to an online social network with other members. Membership also includes a book club. Throughout the year, physical books are shipped or digital versions can be grabbed on your Kindle. TED is not an event, it’s a year-long build up of conversations and connections, so that the event becomes the crescendo.
  2. It’s not cheap and it’s limited. By having a hefty price tag, TED is able to create a level scarcity. The scarcity is built not just on the fee, but in the physical limitation of the seats available for their annual event. A total of 1500 people are accepted. This is more limited than you might think, because people (like me) keep attending year in and year out, so as the popularity increases, the scarcity increases as well. They’ve managed to add on events to compensate (like TED Global) and to have satellite events (like TED Active, which is a live simulcast of the event in another city).
  3. It’s not about the stage. It’s about the audience. TED releases all (or most) of the presentations for free online for everyone to watch, share and discuss. What everyone fails to realize is that the TED Talks account for only a small percentage of the TED experience. Because of the components mentioned above, the audience members are often just as (if not more) impressive as the people on the stage. The ability to rub shoulders, engage in discourse and have candid conversations with these types of luminaries from the technology, design, entertainment, business and the non-profit sectors is the real show. The curation of the audiences members is just as rigid as the speaker selection process.
  4. TED is gymnastics for the brain. Because TED curates the content and experience in such a tight and military-like fashion, it is designed to keep even the most Type A of business leaders on their collective heels. It is a full week of visual and mental immersion. It’s the type of experience that is hard to express in written or verbal forms of communication. I often tell people that talking about TED is like dancing to architecture (to spin the old Martin Mull saying that “writing about music is like dancing about architecture.”). It’s that type of muscle confusion-like experience that keeps everyone coming back, and attempting to explain it to anyone who will listen.   

How does your brand build that type of loyalty?

Are you getting people to join a movement, instead of simply buying a product or service? Can you create a sense of scarcity and exclusivity for your customers by creating an experience that everyone will want and talk about and share? Are you building something that will have your customers begging to be more connected – not just to your brand, but to other customers that you serve? Is what you’re doing creating a sense of business muscle-confusion, (in a good way) for your customers? Is every interaction with them adding value to their experiences and making them smarter at scale?

Tough questions to answer.

It’s not as simple as getting a customer’s email address or engaging with them on Facebook. It takes more than getting them to hand over some personal information in exchange for a card and some type of points/coupon plan. That’s not the true essence of loyalty. That’s a loyalty program. The powerful brands – the ones that really connect – are the ones who are deeply focused on creating a TED-like experience for their consumers… year in and year out.

It’s a higher calling for the brands of today.

The above posting is a column that was published to day in Colloquy. I cross-post it here unedited, with all of the links and tags for your reading pleasure, but you can check out the original version online here:


Where Great Content Comes From

This could get gross. You have been warned.

Last week, I was lucky enough to have attended the TED conference. I’ve been going to this event since 2009. While most people can’t stop talking about how incredible the TED talks are (and yes, they are incredible), I wholly subscribe to the notion that they are but a small part of a much bigger (and more profound) experience. This year, one of the highlights was the return of Sarah Kay (you can watch her first TED talk below). Sarah was a part of the all-star stage, where famed TED speakers from events past got the chance to riff on what they have been up to since cranking million of views on YouTube and beyond. Kay was about to launch her latest book of poetry, No Matter The Wreckage. I know what you’re thinking at this point. You’re thinking that this is going to be some high brow blog post that you need to read with one pinky sticking out. Not the case. What makes Kay so awesome is her pragmatism. She’s all about getting everyone to try poetry. She’s about the democratization of poetry and spoken word, and encouraging young people to try it.

I’m a poet and I didn’t know it.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t know anything about poetry. In fact, the only thing that I may know less about than poetry is ballet. So, I’m not that cultured. I choose Metallica over Monet on any given Sunday. Still, I love the work of Sarah Kay. After talking about her new book, recent travels and the fame of being famous because of TED, the host asked her about the construct of poetry, her levels of concentration and the effort it takes to create a poem. As someone who creates content, this line of questioning is fascinating. How does a poet toil over their prose and decide which words should go where? Do you know what Sarah told the audience?…

“Poetry is like pooping. If there’s a poem inside of you, it needs to come out.” 

There’s brilliance in this thinking (and yes, it’s pretty hilarious). It’s not just about poetry either. That statement is as true for brands who are posting to Facebook or can’t figure out what to blog about, as it is to the art of crafting a poem. I did a real life LOL when she said this, because it jettisoned me back to the moment when I knew I had to write my second book, CTRL ALT Delete. I don’t work in isolation. Everything that I do, create and publish has a direct relationship with Twist Image. The whole purpose of my work is to help people become better in marketing and business, with the hopes that should they require a digital marketing agency that Twist Image would be top of mind. I don’t just decide to write a book. I sit down with my three other business partners and have a conversation about it. I remember telling them how excited I was about the concept and more. We then discussed if the timing was right, considering the growth trajectory of the agency or if the market conditions made sense for a second book. All fair questions, but the book needed to come out. I remember telling them that my water broke, and the baby was coming. Timing and perfect market conditions could not be factors at this point. I was in labor!

Where do babies come from?

I get where Sarah Kay is coming from. Sure, innocuous content like a tweet or Facebook status update doesn’t require that type of urge, but even a blog post (or article) should give the content creator that type of feeling. You need to have something to say! All too often, brands (and certain individuals) are just looking to fill up space, to be present, to not waste an impression, to not fall off of their consumer’s radar. That’s silly. That’s content for content’s sake, instead of content because there is something important that needs to be shared. As brands struggle to figure out the secret to creating compelling content in a world where everyone is a content producer, and the levels of saturation continue to rise and rise, it would be wise to pay attention to the words of Sarah Kay. We all need to make sure that whatever it is that we’re producing needs to come out. That’s good poop. Let’s try to stay away from the content that’s being created just for the sake of creating it.

That’s bad poop.


CTRL ALT Delete – Weekly Technology And Digital Media Review – CHOM FM #24

Every morning at 7:10 am, I am a guest contributor on CHOM 97.7 FM radio broadcasting out of Montreal (home base). It’s not a long segment – about 5 to 10 minutes every week – about everything that is happening in the world of technology and digital media. The good folks at CHOM 97.7 FM are posting these segments weekly to SoundCloud, if you’re interested in hearing more of me blathering away. I’m really excited about this opportunity, because this is the radio station that I grew up on listening to, and it really is a fun treat to be invited to the Mornings Rock with Terry and Heather B. morning show. The segment is called, CTRL ALT Delete with Mitch Joel.

This week we discussed:

Listen here…


Six Links Worthy Of Your Attention #196

Is there one link, story, picture or thought that you saw online this week that you think somebody you know must see?

My friends: Alistair Croll (BitCurrent, Year One Labs, GigaOM, Human 2.0, Solve For Interesting, the author of Complete Web Monitoring, Managing Bandwidth: Deploying QOS in Enterprise Networks and Lean Analytics), Hugh McGuire (PressBooks, LibriVox, iambik and co-author of Book: A Futurist’s Manifesto) and I decided that every week the three of us are going to share one link for one another (for a total of six links) that each individual feels the other person “must see”.

Check out these six links that we’re recommending to one another:

  • Voracious Worm Evolves to Eat Biotech Corn Engineered to Kill It – Wired. “If something doesn’t kill you, as the saying goes, it makes you stronger. That’s sort of how evolution works, so when scientists devised a form of corn that poisoned a common pest, they told farmers to plant normal corn alongside it — so the bugs that survived didn’t build a resistance. Guess what? Like vaccines and global warming, people were happy to enjoy the benefits of the science but less quick to heed its warnings. The rest, you can probably figure out.” (Alistair for Hugh).
  • Lumo Play – Give It 100. “My friend Meg Athavale, from Winnipeg, is in Silicon Valley for four months as part of Highway1 – a hardware startup accelerator. She wants to take interactivity and projection mapping and turn it into a kid’s toy. Meg’s been at this for a few years now and her time at Highway1 will take her to Taiwan and China to work with manufacturers. It’s a far cry from Winnipeg, where she’s better known for poking fun at the mayor. And, she’s keeping a journal, creating a video log of her experiences every day. Out of the Winnipeg chill, into the Logan’s Run-like fishbowl of San Francisco Maker tech. I suspect it will get interesting fast.” (Alistair for Mitch).
  • Billionaires With Big Ideas Are Privatizing American Science – The New York Times. “Ever was it thus, I suppose, but billionaires seem to be getting much better at being billionaires faster than governments are getting better at governing, and here’s yet another indication of this direction.” (Hugh for Alistair).
  • International Women’s Day 2014: What’s the difference between men and women’s brains? Very little, says neuroscientist – The Independent. “In the nature vs nurture debate, I’ve always been a ‘both’ kind of guy. Certain brains are pre-disposed to certain kinds of development; when exposed at a certain environment, they’ll grow in one way or another. Multiple by several billion times, and repeat over and during a lifetime. But: do girls and boys have different brains, biologically? I’m inclined to think yes-ish. Here’s a recent neurologist saying no-ish.” (Hugh for Mitch).
  • We already live in the age of robots–we just don’t call them that – Quartz. “Does it need arms, legs and a face for us to call it a ‘robot’? Don’t laugh. This is a serious question. For a few years now, I’ve been fascinated with the growth of robots in our society. I’m a huge proponent that while everyone is paying attention to how robots are going to automate our workforce (as in, no more jobs for us, humans), that the real opportunity is in how robots are going to help us augment our work (make us stronger, allow us to focus more on the creativity and strategy, etc…). Well, in the meantime, it seems as though everyone (including journalists) are having a problem defining what a robot is. Is your bank machine a robot? What about the ATM? How about all of those Amazon drones that are coming?” (Mitch for Alistair).
  • A Tale of Two TEDs: Ideas Conference Triumphant on 30th Anniversary – Wired. “My head is spinning. If you could have dinner with ten fascinating people, who would it be? What if you could have dinner with people like Clay Shirky, Barry Schwartz, Nilofer Merchant, Steven Johnson, Scott Belsky, Jane McGonigal, Susan Cain, Amy Cuddy and Baratunde Thurston, would that be cool? I had dinner with those people (and a few others – can’t forget Curt Beckmann and Andrew Blau) on Wednesday night at TED… and that was the free night, the unorganized evening, so Nilofer and I pulled some friends together to hang out. I know… I know… it sounds like I’m name dropping. I apologize. My head is still spinning. It was a week that had me both fired up about the potential of what could be, and drained from the amazing connections, conversations and ideas that have filled a Moleskine. With each and every passing year, I get more and more excited about what the TED conference does for my professional and personal development. This article does a great job of explaining the diversity and some of the issues that TED faces. Ultimately, I feel that the conference is a lightning rod for contention (check out the comments) simply because it has become so popular. Personally, I can’t think of another event (with the exception of Google Zeitgeist) that I look forward to – with each and every passing year – as much as TED.” (Mitch for Hugh).

Now it’s your turn: in the comment section below pick one thing that you saw this week that inspired you and share it.


Ads Worth Watching… And Spreading

Some ads are worth watching (again and again). Totally true.

This week, I am attending the TED conference. TED has been working hard to highlight TV ads that are “ideas worth spreading.” When I hear people say that they hate advertising, I don’t believe them. People hate bad advertising and, unfortunately, a good bulk of the work that comes out of the advertising industry is mediocre at best. If you poke around on YouTube or Facebook, you will discover that people love ads that tell a story. People love ads that make them laugh, think, cry, grow and more. Volumes have been written about what it takes to produce a great spot. Volumes have also been written about the abysmal failure and poor reception that TV ads get. Still, when it works… it just works. Once again, TED has selected ten ads that work. They are worthy of your time and attention. And, if they do the job they are supposed to do, who knows you may just become a customer… a loyal one.

TED 2014′s Ads Worth Spreading:

P&G – Thank You Mom.

IBM – A Boy And His Atom.

Guinness – Basketball.

Adobe – Click, Baby, Click!

Google Earth – Saroo Brierly: Homeward Bound.

Dove – Camera Shy.

New Zealand Transport Agency – Mistakes.

Virgin America – Safety Dance.

Honda – Hands.

Norwegian Students’ and Academics’ International Assistance Fund – Let’s Save Africa.



Six Links Worthy Of Your Attention #195

Is there one link, story, picture or thought that you saw online this week that you think somebody you know must see?

My friends: Alistair Croll (BitCurrent, Year One Labs, GigaOM, Human 2.0, Solve For Interesting, the author of Complete Web Monitoring, Managing Bandwidth: Deploying QOS in Enterprise Networks and Lean Analytics), Hugh McGuire (PressBooks, LibriVox, iambik and co-author of Book: A Futurist’s Manifesto) and I decided that every week the three of us are going to share one link for one another (for a total of six links) that each individual feels the other person “must see”.

Check out these six links that we’re recommending to one another:

  • Interviewing the algorithm: How reporting and reverse engineering could build a beat to understand the code that influences us – Nieman Journalism Lab. “This is an important topic. Many of the decisions we’re going to face in the coming years will be made by machines, optimizing and ranking our lives and choices. But those algorithms are black boxes, opaque and arcane. How does Facebook know which stories to show you? An algorithm — and probably not one that serves your needs, but rather, those of Facebook’s: getting you to click links, and double-down on already-popular stories, while missing small updates from long-lost friends. If we want to report on the future, we need to understand the decisions these algorithms make.” (Alistair for Hugh).
  • Here’s What Happens When The Internet Decides A Newspaper’s Front Page – BuzzFeed. “Is crowdsourcing good? Or just pictures of cats all the way down? Editors decide what makes the front page — but what happens when the popularity of stories on social platforms decides what newspapers should cover? As it turns out, it’s not bad.” (Alistair for Mitch).
  • Between two Ferns Director Scott Aukerman on Obama’s Comedy Skills – GQ. “Unless you have been living under a fern, you have probably seen Obama’s recent comedy/communications coup to promote healthcare.gov. Here’s the story of how it happened.” (Hugh for Alistair).
  • Reaching 400K followers on @CBCNews – CBC. “This one is for Canadian history books, with a funny bit of local colour. Way back in 2007, a friend and ex-Montrealer, illustrator/animator, Matt Forsythe, decided that CBC News should have a Twitter feed. He registered @CBCNews, and started posting tweets with links to news items. Eventually CBC mucky-mucks got wind, and were shamed into joining Twitter: Matt, a nice fellow, handed the account over. A few short years (SIX YEARS!! WHAT?!?) later, @CBCNews has 400,000 followers.” (Hugh for Mitch).
  • Move over, small-time Bitcoin exchange startups–Wall Street has arrived – ArsTechnica. “Here’s my theory: as fragmented and uncoupled as the general news has become, we still only follow the same stories. If you really want to better understand what is happening in this world, you have dig a little deeper. Stores like this are the ones that we need to be paying attention to. When people think of BitCoin or virtual currency, they tend to think of either the people who are running these businesses into the ground or the wild fluctuations that the currency experiences (is it a bubble or isn’t it?). Well, while these more generic and mass media appealing stories block the sun, stuff like this is going on. Now, we’re going to have trading bots and high speed trading for BitCoin and other cryptocurrencies and exchanges. In short: things are about to get really crazy over there.” (Mitch for Alistair).
  • No, His Name Is Not Ted – The New York Times. “I begin my annual pilgrimage out West to the TED conference on Monday (it’s now being held in Vancouver). I have been going since 2009 (can’t believe it has been that long). It’s a controversial conference that is constantly being slapped around in the media. I understand why, but it has no bearing on my decision to go. It is the one time a year that I do something (somewhat) selfish for myself. I go out there, I seclude myself from the rest of the world (with the exception of any emergencies) and drown myself in ideas, conversations, learning and my own thoughts. I fill up a notebook with my thoughts, spend time with old friends discussing new challenges and make no qualms about whether it is elitist or if the talks are like infomercials for intellects (I think the price is minor compared to the value and most of the talks inspire me in one way, shape or form). I find most of criticism against TED (and the people who create it) coming from people who don’t have an interest in this type of conference or who are simply there to poke holes in it. I’m lucky, as a professional speaker, I get to attend hundreds of events every year. For my dollar, my time and my personal growth, nothing has ever come close to TED (with the exception of the Google Zeitgeist event – which also helps me rethink everything). While this piece takes some shots at TED, it did nothing but get me even more excited for what’s to come next week. Can’t wait!” (Mitch for Hugh).

Now it’s your turn: in the comment section below pick one thing that you saw this week that inspired you and share it.


Six Links Worthy Of Your Attention #150

Is there one link, story, picture or thought that you saw online this week that you think somebody you know must see?

My friends: Alistair Croll (BitCurrent, Year One Labs, GigaOM, Human 2.0, Solve For Interesting, the author of Complete Web Monitori…

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