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:


Six Links Worthy Of Your Attention #186

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:

  • When tech culture and urbanism collide – Ascent Stage. “This year’s International Startup Festival‘s theme is, The City and the Startup, and we’ve been looking for relevant content. This piece by John Tolva argues that tech companies are bad urbanists, and that the old myth of a company ‘started in a garage’ suggests a suburban bias, even as tech titans live in cities like San Francisco.” (Alistair for Hugh).
  • 40 Maps That Will Help You Make Sense of the World – A Sheep No More. “I’m a visual thinker, so I love maps. And here’s a great resource: forty maps of the world that help you understand a variety of topics. Knowing where Google street view is available tells you a lot about the world’s economies; seeing the only 22 countries that Britain didn’t invade reminds us of how far the empire once reached; and so on.” (Alistair for Mitch).
  • The Darkest Place on the Internet Isn’t Just for Criminals – Wired. “Now that we know that everything we do on the internet is watched by government spies as well as the all-knowing eyes of Google and Amazon, it might be time to start taking privacy seriously.” (Hugh for Alistair).
  • A Glimpse Into The Future of NPR, From It’s First-Ever Creative Director – Fast Company. “I’m a bit of a ‘radio’ junkie, or anyway, an ‘audio’ junkie, since I do almost all my listening to podcasts these days (using the Stitcher app, mostly). It turns out that most of the ‘podcasts’ I love are public radio shows from around the world: BBC, Australia Radio National, and NPR. And most of the best stuff these days is coming from National Public Radio, NPR. In the early days of podcasting, NPR really jumped in with two feet. They have continued to build not just an impressive network of ‘radio’ shows, but a lot of stuff tailored to modern, web-connected podcasty listeners: shows like This American Life, RadioLab, On The Media, Bullseye, and 99% Invisible. What’s in store for NPR in the next few years? Read about its new Creative Director, Liz Danzico, and what she’s got in mind for our ears. (As a sad sidenote, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, once a source of much tasty audio, has declined to the point that it is hardly recognizable).” (Hugh for Mitch).
  • How to Build a Productive Tech Economy – The Atlantic. The Atlantic has an amazing online property called, The Atlantic Cities, that focuses on urban centers and the evolving world and the cities that we live in. This article by Richard Florida (who is the author of The Rise Of The Creative Class, along with many others) looks at cities and their real abilities to turn themselves into a technology hub. We often head mayors and other leaders talk about the need for their cities ad states to become ‘the next Silicon Valley.’ Well, Florida has some data and thoughts on what is (and what is not) possible…” (Mitch for Alistair).
  • TED isn’t a recipe for ‘civilisational disaster’ – The Guardian. “There is a very persuasive TEDx talk that is making the rounds titled, New perspectives – what’s wrong with TED talks?, that is also an article in The Guardian titled, We Need To Talk About TED, by Benjamin Bratton. I can understand Bratton (and others) perspective, but I just don’t agree with it. The fact is that I have been going to TED for many years and believe (without sounding all snooty about it), that it’s hard to understand what the event is like until you attend it. I often tell people that the TED Talks (which is what everyone talks about online and watches) account for, probably, five percent of the whole TED experience. It’s easy to sit back, watch an 18-minute talk and wonder what that is going to do to truly change the world or solve some of our very real problems, but I thought that TED’s curator, Chris Anderson, did a great job of trying to explain to the masses what the conference is really about. For my dollar, no other event has inspired me more. From business success to community involvement and more, I learn so much at each event that I can’t imagine having a successful year with TED not being a part of it.” (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.


Finding Your Creative Confidence

I used to play the bass.

Not the fish. The musical instrument. The electric bass, to be exact. It wasn’t just a hobby, either. I took it quite seriously. When I was much younger (around 14 years of age), I decided to forgo a summer vacation with my high school class to work in a warehouse packing make-up, just so I could afford my first electric bass (a new one… as I was already tinkering with a used one). I played throughout high school in multiple bands and even studied music in a post-secondary institution for several years. I wasn’t the next Jaco Pastorius, but I loved the four strings. I’ve always kept music floating around the house and office. Random acoustic guitars, some of my older basses and beyond. My favorite bass was a Spector NS2B that I got in the late eighties. I don’t even have a case for it anymore (no idea where that went), but it has followed me for close to two decades. I don’t play it much anymore… and I haven’t changed the strings in forever.

Then, I got embarrassed. 

We had our annual Twist Image holiday party a few weeks back and our amazing team pulled together a house party-theme for this year’s event. It was held in our Montreal office, featured local fare and a live house band. Two of my three business partners are musicians and they decided to jam. They (and some of the other team members) urged me to join them, but I couldn’t. I had not played in so long that I wasn’t even sure if I knew the notes (let alone the chops to do a simple walking bass line). I was mad at myself. Not because I didn’t jam with the boys, but because I wasn’t sure if I had lost my chops or my creative confidence. Can you forget how to play bass or is it as silly as thinking that you can forget how to speak if you’re silent for a really long time?

It’s all about creative confidence.

With the holiday break upon us, I blew the dust off of my Spector bass and started fiddling with it. Wouldn’t you know it, it didn’t take all that long until the feeling, fun and joy of playing the bass came back. It’s hard to play that bass and not smile… and, that’s when it hit me. Music is still a powerful, pervasive and creative force in my life, but sadly it’s one that I have not been nurturing. I brought the bass down to Steve’s Music Store for a tune-up. It turns out that my little patient may have died on the operating table (too many years of neglect), so I decided to buy a new electric bass (and I’ll keep the old one as a souvenir). I plan on taking some lessons… maybe even jam with some others at some point in the future (any takers? ;) .

This isn’t about New Year’s Resolutions.

The serendipity of life can be fascinating. In the process of reviving my interest in the electric bass and playing music, I just so happen to be reading the book, Creative Confidence, by IDEO‘s David Kelley and Tom Kelley. It’s a book based on the notion that all of us are creative. It’s what human beings are, but we suppress or disguise our creativity. The Kelley brothers think of creativity as “using your imagination to create something new in the world,” and they are passionate about empathy (when you understand your fellow human being) as one of the major gateways to gaining that creative confidence. They’re also passionate about the fact that all of us – no matter how mundane our jobs may be – have been creative (and that we should be doing more of it). Now, along with reading Creative Confidence, I also found myself on YouTube, randomly watching videos from some of the bass players that influenced my love of the instrument when I was younger. It’s not an exhaustive list, but Victor Wooten holds a coveted spot on that list. As I was grazing through some of his instructional and performance clips, I came across a TEDx talk that he gave at TEDxGabriolaIsland  in March of this year. As a long-time TEDster, I felt my world’s colliding again. Wooten’s talk is titled, Music As A Language, and it stopped me dead in my tracks. Beyond his passion to teach music and play music, Wooten touches on so many important themes in this 18 minute talk.

You don’t have to love the electric bass to love this line of thinking.

It doesn’t matter if you are a musician or not, please watch Victor Wooten’s talk. His lessons about life, success, creativity, learning, passion, permission and smiling are profound. I promise. I’m going to smile a lot more in the office, when I write these blog posts, when I speak on stage and in everything that I do. I think you will too…


3 New Takes On How To Get Things Done (Better)

Do you wonder about ways to be more productive, efficient and better in managing your time?

Here are three new-ish pieces of content that have both caught my attention this week and provide very valuable advice on the topics of productivity and organi…

Free Summer School For Marketers

Spoiler alert: I dropped out of university.

It’s true. I entered university with the best of intentions. At the same time, I was already publishing a couple of music magazines that were becoming successful. As I ventured down the road of burnout by trying to be both a publisher and a full time college student, I had a heart-to-heart conversation with my parents. In a very non-traditional fashion, my mother said, “If the magazines don’t work out you always go back to school, but if you stay in school and stop publishing those magazines, you will never know what could have been.” While I dropped out of university (and never went back), I never let not being in school get in the way of a higher education.

Education has never been easier… and cheaper.

There is no substitute for what a deep-dive into a full-blown masters program can bring. The intensive study, camaraderie with peers, access to professors and time spent collaborating on both what you’re learning and how you’re learning, is a unique moment in most people’s lives. The fact remains, that many of us either can’t afford the material cost to attend these types of schools or we can’t afford the time and dedication needed to get this done because we’re older, have been in the workforce for several years and have a family that needs to be supported. Beyond that, individual’s don’t naturally invest in their own education willfully. It’s the odd business book or conference and that’s the extent of our personal development. No surprise, the Internet provides a ton of resources that – when approached in serious manner – offers up a wealth of amazing resources and education. In short, it has never been easier to invest in yourself and your education.  

Following are some of the richest and deepest places to grab a master’s level education in marketing… for free (free of cost… not free of time, effort and homework):


  • AdWeek. One of the marketing industry’s premiere trade magazines offers up a slew of free e-newsletters that are chock full of information and insight. Check out the Advertising & Branding e-newsletter along with the Technology Today one.
  • Almost Timely. A weekly (and free) e-newsletter from Christopher S. Penn (co-host of the podcast, Marketing Over Coffee, and author of the book, Marketing White Belt) who brings together a slew of links and tweets from some of the Web’s biggest (and smartest) thinkers. Between Media ReDEFined (see below) and Almost Timely, if you read nothing else, these two will keep you in the loop without any gaps.
  • Marketing Charts. This is one of those “it’s hard to believe that it’s free,” ones. This daily e-newsletter is filled with tons of free articles and insights on the bleeding edge of research. Warning: you can get lost in these articles and research reports.
  • MediaPost. Simply click on “publications” and then be very cautious. You will be overwhelmed with the breadth and depth of options here. Interested in marketing to moms? They have a unique e-newsletter for that. Real Time Bidding? Yep, one for that too. I’m a major fan of their Online Media Daily and Mobile Marketing Daily newsletters.
  • Media ReDEFined. Jason Hirschhorn is the former co-president of MySpace. Currently, he is curating and aggregating this amazing resource of information. Forget the website and simply sign up for his free, daily e-newsletter. If something interesting happened in the digital realm, Hirschhorn has you covered.


  • Fast Company. Still an amazing magazine in print, the Fast Company web experience is an even more amazing wealth that also extends into sites like Co.CREATE, Co.DESIGN and Co.LABS. Smart business writing that has been edited by experts.
  • Harvard Business Review. Long before I was a contributor here, I was simply a fan of the marketing blog posts that you can find here. Inevitably, the deeper I dug, the more often I found myself picking up the physical magazine or purchasing digital reprints of specific long-form articles.
  • LinkedIn Today. It turns out that LinkedIn isn’t just for poaching your competitor’s best talent. LinkedIn Today is full of fascinating articles and blog posts that can also be organized by what is news, what influencers are posting or even by specific industry/channel.
  • MarketingProfs. With a focus on Business-To-Business and a slant towards content marketing and social media, MarketingProfs is filled with fascinating articles, blog posts and interviews. While there is vast majority of free content on this site, once you dive in you will find it hard to not upgrade to a paid Pro Membership level.
  • Seth Godin. There are thousands of marketing blogs on the Internet. There is only one Seth Godin. Short blog posts (sometimes long ones) that will get you thinking differently about marketing (and business). Along with having well-over ten bestselling business books, Godin is one of the few marketing experts online that is actually an established expert. He brings years of experience and skill to his blog, instead of hyperbole and posturing. It’s rare to have a seasoned veteran offer this much constant and consistent quality content.
  • Sparksheet. A highly underrated and not well-known-enough website that focuses on content marketing, but veers into fascinating general marketing themes. Published by Spafax (a branded content and custom publishing agency), Sparksheet is a great, little gem.


  • Foundation. Kevin Rose (ex-Digg and currently at Google Ventures) hosts this video podcast where he deep-dives into conversations with many startups from Silicon Valley. While this isn’t a formal marketing podcast, Rose’s depth of knowledge and subjects he chooses to have a conversation with always has some kind of bent towards marketing and how to make some noise.
  • HBR IdeaCast. Putting nepotism aside (because there isn’t any), this Harvard Business Review audio podcast is not one to miss. Recent episodes have looked at everything from pricing strategies and business intelligence to finding great talent and creating a business for longevity.
  • iTunes U. You won’t have a hard time finding a ton of marketing podcasts to download and enjoy for free by heading over to iTunes and looking in the Business – Management & Marketing category, but many people fail to realize that iTunes U gives you free access to some of the world’s leading educational facilities (Yale, Harvard, Stanford, etc…) for free. Dig through both the Business category along with the Communications & Media one. Hours upon hours of amazing ivy league lectures (all free).
  • On The Media. This NPR radio program brings the bluntness of public radio with the biting side of media pundit, Bob Garfield. You don’t want to miss these shows if you’re looking for an angle that lies in between what brands want you to believe and the raging ridiculousness of what they often do to get a consumer’s attention.
  • TED Talks – Business. As more and more TED Talks get published online and more TEDx events are held all over the world, the good people at TED have tagged over 200-plus talks as “business” and many of those have a heavy marketing slant.

It’s all there… waiting for you.

The above is just a sample of what’s out there. What you will quickly begin to understand is this: there has never been a moment in the history of business like this. Never before have individuals – like you and I – had this much access to this much education and content for free. The challenge is no longer in accessing this content. The challenge is in finding the time to immerse yourself in it. In the next couple of week, things will naturally slow down as we move into the summertime. As things slow down, you may want to find some moments to learn, grow and expand your marketing and business horizons. Everything is just a few clicks away.

What other top-shelf marketing resources would you recommend?

The above posting is my twice-monthly column for the Harvard Business Review. I cross-post it here with all the links and tags for your reading pleasure, but you can check out the original version online here:


Why We Work… And Why We Should Work

Loving what you do. Loving the work that you do.

Fully recognizing that there is a vast majority of the population that isn’t all too thrilled about the work that they do, I count myself as somewhat lucky when it comes to my vocation of choice. In sho…

As TED 2013 Takes Place, Here Are 10 TED Talks To Help You Re-imagine Your Business

It’s happening right now.

Thousands of very lucky individuals are seated in the Long Beach Performing Arts Center as you are reading this and they’re having their minds blown by business leaders, scientists, innovators, agitators, inventors, designers…

In Defense Of TED

TED is the most important conference out there. TED is so much more than a conference.

News was announced this week that the annual TED conference would be moving from its current home in Long Beach, California to Vancouver, British Columbia. As a Can…

9 TED Talks That Will Stretch Your Business Mind

It doesn’t take long to find inspiration. It takes forever to figure out how to do something meaningful with it.

I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to attend the famed TED conference since 2008. Within that timeframe, I have also helped out on a fe…

Six Links Worthy Of Your Attention #94

93Is 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, the author of Complete Web Monitoring and Managing Bandw…

Innovations In The Idea Economy

The Idea Economy is all about education.

Personal digital learning is a reality. How we adapt, nurture, embrace and create this reality will be one of our biggest challenges. This is the message of Tom Vander Ark. Today, Tom was called "an edu-fu…

Six Links Worthy Of Your Attention #74

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, the author of Complete Web Monitoring and Managing Bandwid…