5 Things I Learned at SearchLove San Diego 2015

I’ve just returned from SearchLove San Diego 2015, and my head is still spinning from all the great information and ideas that I picked up.  This is now my third time in Paradise with the Distilled team. What I love most about the event is that, unlike other marketing conferences that try to stuff every possible piece of content into the agenda and force you to make lots of decisions, Distilled curates the show into one excellent track of great insights from all channels and disciplines.

Rather than try to recap all the greatness, I decided to recap with 5 awesome things that I learned.



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Lesson #1:  Everyone wants to be Alfred.

That great quote gets attributed to Marli Mesibov, whose fantastic presentation on Anticipatory Design really was the one to beat on Day 1.  That particular quote was relevant for so many other talks though.  What is clear is that the new war being waged in the digital space is about anticipating the needs of our customers and making our brands indispensable to them.


Everyone from Amazon to Facebook to Google is building digital personal assistants, yes; that is a literal interpretation of the butler metaphor.  It goes beyond that though. As we look closer at the major areas of online marketing, they are converging.

  • Search is going predictive and mobile
  • Advertising is increasingly more targeted
  • Optimization is seeking to delight customers and make their lives easier

Lesson #2:  Marketing is as agile as it gets.

Having spent over a decade working with the software sides of organizations trying to become more agile, I was fairly skeptical when I saw marketers starting to use the term a couple of years back.  What was clear from all the speakers and attendees at this show though was that, there may not be a great deal of ceremony around it, but marketers have become agile out of necessity.


Tom Anthony, Rand Fishkin, and Will Critchlow taught us about how we would need to adapt as search marketers to a changing set of conditions.   Larry Kim and Wil Reynolds taught us about staying lean in our approaches to targeting and advertising. Angie Schottmuller reminded us of the importance of testing every step of the way while optimizing our content.   Scott Edwards and Joanna Lord both kept us focused on customer value.   Finally, Jose Callber and Chris Do showed us that you can collapse the big, expensive agency envisioning activities into a compact, utility process that brings all the key stakeholders together.



Lesson #3:  Less is more when it comes to content.

It’s clear that content is on everyone’s minds.  Heck, our team was thrilled to see so many content related talks on the agenda this time around. What was really refreshing though was that the messages were not about how to create more, rather they were about doing more with less.

Kindra Hall most elegantly cut through the hype around storytelling.  In 30 minutes, she showed us how genuine storytelling can be so powerful and deliver more results than the best flashy marketing.


Scott Edwards showed us how Simple has created some great creative dialogue with customers through some good, old-fashioned personalization.



Joanna Lord talked to us about how we could aspire to be the backdrop of our customers’ lives through content.  One of the greatest examples of this was the blogger network that Porch.com created on their site to host blogs of their most dedicated community members. Her mantra of,

is still stuck in my brain.


This talk resonated with me in a huge way, as our content marketing efforts at ThoughtWorks have focused on amplifying the voices of our 3000 employees while also trying to be inspirational and informative to customers and partners.

Lesson #4:  A little research goes a long way.

Chris Bennett reminded us that even with all the focus in the media on big content, social promotion and engagement, the fundamentals still matter.  His talk really proved to be a pivotal moment for the conference, IMO, reminding us that keyword research can still pay off in a large way when it comes to ranking your content for things that people are searching for.

Angie Schottmuller provided us with an elegant set of optimization tools and frameworks to keep landing pages working their hardest for our businesses (complete with Star Wars ASCII art!)

Larry Kim’s 10 Hacks for Social Media Advertising gave us a killer playbook for mining our most successful social content in analytics and using micro-advertising budgets of $50 or less to drive 3-4x engagement rates on the same material.

 Lesson #5:  Links still matter.

It may be trite, but it was a message that came through subtlety throughout the two days.  Certainly, Rand drove it home during his talk.  Yes, there are fewer links to be had in search results anymore. Yes, search is becoming more predictive. Yes, mobile is changing everything. Yes, you need great content that engages people. But it also cannot be denied that one currency still works best for getting found: getting lots of high quality links.

I hope you enjoyed my lightning round summation of key takeaways that I had from the talks. There are lots that I did not mention, so I urge you to stop by the Distilled website to check out the full agenda, grab all the slides from SearchLove San Diego and get the videos when they are available.  See you next year!

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My Wistiafest 2015 Experience

Last week I attended the second annual Wistiafest conference in Cambridge, MA.  We’ve become avid users of the Wistia platform at ThoughtWorks, and consumers of their content on doing great marketing using video.  Here’s a bit of a recap from my perspective.

Welcome Party

Unfortunately I missed this as my flight got in a bit late, but by all accounts, this was great fun. The Wistia team welcomed everyone to their HQ and took a bunch of footage that Wistia included in the Day 1 “Good Morning” Video.

Day 1 Keynotes

Who doesn’t love free swag?  We all do. But what’s better than free swag is BEAUTIFUL free swag.  I already knew that Wistia makes great T-shirts, and we received a new one for the event.  That’s not all, they also welcomed us with a packet of other fun goodies and a well designed program that were all really coordinated.  You can take a look at the package on Dribbble here.

I would also call out the really fun signage and sets for the conference, because I geek out on stuff like that.  The signage was hand-written style, white paint (crayon?) on cardboard.  The main stage featured a few silver screens of varied height and a big cylinder of multi-colored butcher paper.  The overall feel was like you were sitting inside of a video studio, which was cool.

Once, the event started, they kicked us off with a fun Good morning video which had footage from the prior night. It was a fun way to get to know the whole Wistia team (who were all in attendance, I should add – pretty rare for a company conference).
Chris Savage, started the talks with one called Driving Creativity With Data. It set the tone for the next two days by introducing some of the overarching themes, which in my assessment were:
  • Your marketing should humanize your brand and video is one of the best tools for that
  • Unless you’re one of the mega-brands with all the cash, you’ll need to be creative to get attention, and more creative to keep it. This means we need to foster an environment that welcomes creativity within our organizations.
  • As marketers we don’t experiment enough and we test even less. It’s up to us to hold our teams accountable for trying new things. We should also use real data analytics to confirm that we’re seeing impact.
  • Analytics is a hard game.  Tracking nothing is a missed opportunity, and tracking everything is stupid.  You should figure out the right balance for your company.
On the whole the examples of Wistia’s hits and misses were helpful and honest, which I think everyone loved.

Phil Nottingham of Distilled followed up with a great talk called Building Your Social Video Strategy.  Phil has been a regular speaker on video SEO for many years. He is also an authority on when to host videos on site versus when to use services such as Youtube or Vimeo. This talk focused on changes to the video landscape during the last 12 months and how they affect marketers. Some of the items he covered included:

  • How should brands consider Facebook and Twitter video
  • Micro-video formats on Vine and Snapchat
  • Live streaming video from Meerkat and Periscope

Phil advocates that brands design video for each channel and take advantage of their unique features. He provided some tips on how to customize content for individual channels without massive rework. Phil also provided guidelines to evaluate hosting video on-site versus on a social platform.

The great Ann Handley then gave a talk called “Uncovering Your Most Authentic Stories” (will link slides once I have them).  What I loved most about this talk were the examples that Ann chose to illustrate her points.  Ann drew her brand examples from higher education, healthcare and technology. Each one showcased their humanity by focusing on answering the Frequently Unasked Questions (FUQs) from their audience.

Day 1 Workshops

I attended the Marketing With Wistia track on Day 1, which was facilitated by Mack Fogelson, Ezra Fishman and Casey Henry. Links to the slides that I have are below.

I thought this track was a really a very practical compliment to the rest of the day’s talks.  I won’t go through all of the session details for these, but will call out a few takeaways.

Mack’s session was an interactive exploration of how to workshop your business goals using a Focus Canvas.  The examples here were great as well: Patagonia, Traveling Vineyards and Help Scout have aligned their marketing with their strategic business goals.

Ezra took us on a tour of Wistia’s content creation lifecycle including the concepting, promotion and learning phases.  I was already familiar with the concept of the ‘table read’, yet, it was helpful to know that the Wistia team now uses this to decide whether a piece of content should be a video at all.  My favorite part of this session was understanding the promotion cadence that the Wistia team follows for their new content. We’ve evolved our own tactics at ThoughtWorks, but it’s always great to hear what other marketers are finding success with.

Finally, Casey walked us through how the Wistia team measures its marketing funnel.  He also shared research from his team on how video can improve landing page performance, particularly in the case of PPC.  There are some useful tips in the slides for those interested in retargeting, social promotion and analytics; I hope that Casey will write some blog posts detailing the findings.

Day one wrapped up with an awesome cruise on the Charles river with other attendees.

Day 2 Keynotes

If you’ve never seen Wil Reynolds speak, you’re missing out on one of the most energetic, witty and inspirational cats in business today. “Building a More Human Brand” drove the point home that the humans we should be focusing on are our customers.  A couple of stories that he told that stuck with me included how Airbnb crowdsourced Vine video from its community to create the concept video which later became a television commercial, and Revzilla’s focus on creating useful motorcycle product comparison guides that built up its online brand equity.

Sarah Green of Harvard Business Review gave a fantastic talk on how to build a successful video team and brought to bear lots of management science on how to do so!  It was also great to hear about HBR’s journey into interactive and how it has looked to social and video to bring written content to life in new ways. Two great examples were this video on The Costs of Racial Color Blindness and this study, ‘We’re all terrible at understanding each other‘.  Sarah was kind enough to share the full list afterwards.

Justine Jordan of Litmus loves email, and she also loves telling us about the common ways people ruin the medium.  Having seen Justine speak numerous times, she never fails to send people away with several ideas for improving their own email marketing.  This particular talk was focused less on the technical aspects of mail and more on the qualitative ways we can bring more humanity to the most popular and effective marketing tool out there (email).

Brendan Schwartz of Wistia closed out the keynotes by taking us on a tour of Wistia’s explorations with data analytics particularly to understand a couple of key marketing questions:

  1. What videos appeal best to new users versus returning users?
  2. Does placement of CTA in videos affect performance of conversion (e.g. Turnstyle)?

During the course of the talk Brendan announced that Wistia would make our own new/returning data sets available to us for analysis, so that we can make some of the same comparisons for our businesses.  I’m looking forward to more analytics within the product along these lines.

Following the keynotes, I attended the workshop called “Building a Brand With Video” on Day 2, which was a treat as it featured folks from Mailchimp, All Star Code and BambooHR who all shared great examples from their own work.

It was an insane amount of content and fun for two days that couldn’t be topped by much, other than a huge party with tacos, IPA, oysters and dancing.   My head was full, my belly was full and I left happy. Looking forward to come again next year.



Finally, if you made it this far, I’ll leave you with a last treat which is the roll of speaker intro videos that the Wistia team made for the keynotes. Hysterical.

ps. Great thank you video from [email protected]

Adam at Agile China 2009

152, originally uploaded by AgileChina2009.

This weekend I flew to Beijing to give my ‘Agile Analysis Not Fragile Analysis’ talk at Agile China 2009. I was pretty knackered from Jetlag, but the talk went great. The most amazing thing was to see how the conference and community grew since I spoke at the last one there on my birthday back in 2007. Time certainly flies.More pics of Agile China 2009 can be found here and here.

Agile Brazil is coming!

I am very happy to announce that I will be speaking at this year’s Agile Brazil conference in Rio de Janeiro on June 27th. The title of my talk is “Agile Analysis, Not Fragile Analysis”. You can find the complete agenda for the conference here.

I am very excited to speak alongside my colleague Jason Yip, and to meet lots of new Brazilian agilists. Who knows….maybe we will manage to arrange the first local Mingle User Group in Rio de Janeiro. 🙂

I’m very proud of my friend and colleague Paulo Caroli for all of his hard work in helping to organize the conference, but that’s no surprise from a guy who puts quality into everything he does. Well done Paulo!