This Post is My Final College Assignment

How crazy is that?

This blog started as a project, a way to solidify my digital identity. It has since evolved into something I really enjoy. For those who read my last post, you’ll know that I had a lot of trouble getting into social media, and dealt with a lot of stress going digital.

Now, I enjoy Tweeting and Instagramming. More than either of those, I enjoy this blog. It’s a way for me to express myself both personally and professionally, and to reconcile those two personalities. I told myself I wouldn’t continue with this post-college, but now, I’m sure that this will continue to be my dumping ground for thoughts and opinions on marketing, and on life in general.

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This is what a college senior looks like.

It’s been a wild four years at Champlain College. I started off in environmental policy, but switched over to marketing when I found a real passion for it. I’ve had an amazing support network: my family (naturally), my girlfriend Ciera, my friends, and my professors. A huge shout out goes to Professor Elaine Young. Not only have I taken a handful of classes with her, but she has been my advisor throughout this crazy endeavor.

Sophomore year, I battled depression, and took a semester off for my own health. Elaine helped me get back on track following my return, and is the only reason I’m graduating on time. She expects a lot from her students, and while I can’t say any of the classes have been particularly easy, I’ve learned the most from her. She pushed me to get Inbound certified, and had me putting together full marketing plans in my 100 level courses. I honestly cannot thank her enough.

This college has a lot going on. In my time here, they’ve thrown me into projects working with local companies including Old Spokes Home, Stand Up for the Lake, Green State Gardener, and Vermont Vines. The pressure of having a real client is daunting at first, but you churn out your best work and get amazing experience. Champlain and I haven’t always seen eye to eye, but this place has made me a competent professional.

My classmates as well have been amazing. I always feared that marketing students would be cutthroat, but what an amazingly supportive community they’ve been! I urge you to show some love to these people; they’re going great places:

Lauren Buniva

Ben Follett

Todd Steiner

Katie Weed

Greg Salwen

To name a few. You all rock, and I’m ready to burst out into the world. I’m off to Portland, Maine, where I hope to be making my mark. I’m not sure of what the future holds, but I know I’m going great places. Thanks for the ride!

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Looking back, all those years, I’m going to miss this place.

 

Information Anxiety

Have you ever woken up dreading looking at your phone to meet the waves of posts and messages?

It’s something I’ve become familiar with. Information anxiety, they call it. Richard Wurman, author of the book Information Anxiety, says the condition is “produced by the ever-widening gap between what we understand and what we think we should understand. It is the black hole between data and knowledge, and what happens when information doesn’t tell us what we want or need to know.”

Information anxiety causes a loss in productivity everywhere. People cannot understand the constant influx of information that is presented to them, and are distressed by trying to reconcile numerous sources practically screaming in their ears. We know there is more information out there, and yet, we just cannot absorb it all. It is a perceived shortcoming of being human.

We cannot know everything.

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So why do we expect that of ourselves? With approximately 2.5 exabytes, or 2.5 billion gigabytes, of data in the world, we cannot hope to take it all in. People are under the impression that everyone else is in the loop, and that they themselves are the only ones who do not understand.

This pursuit is killing meaningful conversation and connection. With a world of facts, people have disregarded the importance of thoughts. Simple ideas and unfounded theories have gone by the wayside, and facts reign supreme in a society pursuing the synthetic ideal.

There are many who feel this way. I myself have struggled with even breaking into social media, let alone big data. And the benefits that these tools reap are too great to do away with them. I am no psychologist, but I will offer my tips, the tricks I found that helped me overcome my crippling fear of technology and information, and how baffling the entire charade is.

  1. Set a Technology Bedtime: It’s widely known that looking at a screen late into the night is bad for your health, but absorbing more information and trying to synthesize it in a meaningful way is even more stressful, especially when you’re tired. Pick a time to unplug.
  2. Don’t Bring it When You Go Out: Unless you’re out on business, allow yourself some breathing room.
  3. Set Meetings in Person: Talking to a screen is unsettling. If you’re conversing with someone, set up a meeting in person. You’ll make a better impression, and you can communicate in a more fluid way.

Like I said, these are just some tips that have helped me. If you have more questions regarding information anxiety, I urge you to read this article from Richard Wurman.

Social Marketing: Anti-Idling

Idling is a huge issue in Vermont. No, scratch, that, it’s an issue everywhere. It’s understated how impactful fumes really are.

I remember when I got my first car. I was in the process of getting my license, so the old Accord was sitting in the garage throughout the winter. Every day, I had to go outside, crack open the garage door, and let the thing run so it didn’t freeze up. One morning, I forgot to crack the garage door. I was sitting in the car, enjoying some tunes, and everything got awfully fuzzy. My head hurt, my thoughts were slurred, and everything just felt weird. That’s when I realized my mistake.

I survived, of course, since I’m here writing this, but that carbon monoxide poisoning got me thinking. What is the world, if not one big garage? There’s a key difference, though: the Earth doesn’t have a garage door to prop open.

Social marketing to combat idling in Vermont.
Tasty, tasty fumes.

I’ve spoken with a number of professionals from the American Lung Association, who have all said their bits about idling. The issues it causes are innumerable, ranging from diabetes, asthma, chronic heart issues, etc. But why don’t we think it’s a big deal?

As I’ve stated in my professional values statement, marketing is, to me, about consumer empowerment. But where does ignorance end and apathy begin? You can educate consumers all day, but what do you do when they have all of the information, and still do not wish to change their behavior?

Social marketing is a tricky beast. Changing behaviors is a massive undertaking, as it has been with anti-smoking campaigns. And sometimes, you don’t even see change.

I’ve been toying with this notion while working on an anti-idling campaign for my Integrated Marketing Communications class, and you can see some of the work on my portfolio page.

As you can see, we’ve been playing with scare tactics a bit. It’s imperative to have people understand that a personal decision has societal impacts. Children are a major concern for parents and community alike, and with schools being a high-risk area for idling, we’ve used this as a jumping block of sorts.

Normalization is a great approach, as social stigma is a powerful force in making people change their ways. We’ve proposed tickets to be placed on cars found idling, calling them out and urging them to stop. This isn’t about education, it’s about publicizing their negative behaviors and making them worry about the ramifications.

All of these are small stepping blocks, and a major frustration I have with social marketing is that there are no big steps. Legislation, even, is a long and arduous process, and idling laws that are actually in place in Vermont are lax, to say the least.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about approaching this matter. The cost inefficiency, car damage, health risks, environmental risks, and social stigmas are all valid approaches, but to know which one is the most effective takes a lot of time and resources, things that I do not have at this current time. In the future, I do anticipate reviving this as a pet project, but the world of a college student is so woefully small.

The Artistic Takeover of Marco’s Pizza

It was April 21st, 2016. A beautiful Thursday afternoon. The sun was setting over a little local pizzeria, where four college students, myself included, were undertaking their first major fundraising event.

We called it the Artistic Takeover of Marco’s Pizza. Art from local students and young adults adorned the walls, depicting flowing rivers, glorious mountains, and a businessman with a sheep’s head. The proceeds were going to the South End Art and Business Association, or SEABA. After a project process filled with stress and strife, it was finally coming together.

Marco's Pizza
https://www.facebook.com/MarcosPizzaVT/

Now, Murphy’s Law is a powerful, driving force in the universe. For those unfamiliar, it is a simple concept:

Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.

I was tingling with anticipation. A group member had sealed a musician to perform and kick off the event. A beardy man began setting up his amps and guitars. I approached him and asked how he’d like to be introduced.

“Well, the name’s John, but my project name is Callous.”

My heart sank. It didn’t take a lot of insight to know that he was obviously a heavy metal performer. At a family pizza shop. With children. And a baby.

My life flashed before my eyes as he began screaming, “I am the power,” into the microphone (note: I believe this is what he said. I am still unsure.) There is a time and a place for everything, and Callous was an incredibly talented performer. But as people began to get up and leave, and the staff started yelling into their phones to communicate with customers, I realized we had made a mistake.

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But the art was great!

Our group was wrought with turbulence. We had argued over trivial things and our communication was weak. Not a single one of us had known about the performer, and the group member who invited him hadn’t really researched his musical methodology.

Eventually, we opened up the microphone for an open mic session, which was much more appropriate for the venue. And while it came to be a success, with a raffle that included tickets to the Spirit of Ethan Allen, I learned an important lesson.

You may not always like the people you work with, but at the end of the day, you have to actually work together. Otherwise, you end up with a heavy metal artists screaming in a baby’s ear. And that’s just horrible.

 

Marketing as Art: A Reflection on Ken Millman

This week, I got to meet Ken Millman, owner and sole employee of Burlington’s Spike Advertising. Ken, who has taught marketing at the college level, returned to Champlain College for a nice meet-and-greet.

“Be different or don’t bother.”

This is Ken’s motto, and one that embraces the reality of modern advertising. With the abundance of branding we see in everyday life, it takes something truly exceptional, something truly insightful, to grab our attention. Even the widely-lampooned launch of the first iPhone had a magical spark. Whether it was the now-dated Coldplay track, the personal face that Steve Jobs brought to the presentation, or the feeling of tingling excitement as he build up the features until unveiling the product, there is a striking originality to the charade.

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This is Ken, taken from spikeadvertising.com

Ken defines the exceptionality that Spike Advertising offers by saying that “the difference between a horse and a unicorn is the spike.” But this passion, this spark, is not something that is manufactured.

Ken shared that he had once reached a point where he was tired of his work. At the time, Spike had a handful of employees, and numerous local projects in the works. Ken owned and operated the whole company, trying to balance logistical management with the creative whimsy. Still, he found himself exhausted emotionally. Where had the passion gone? What happened to the dream?

Questions like this take a lot of introspection, and come with no easy answers. After tracking his work schedule, he found out that the operations of a business were taking away all of the time for his projects. Even the ones that he had time to work on weren’t those he was interested in; they were a means to keep the business going. After all the work to establish a functioning marketing firm, he had forgotten the key component: inspiration. And with that, Spike had become a means to an end rather than an end in and of itself.

Following this revelation, Ken overhauled the business. He turned it back into a one-man-show, scaling it down so that he could be in charge of the clients he took and take point on their cases. Spike Advertising is now more successful than ever, and the work shows the passion that Ken pours into it. He takes what interests him, and makes it his own while listening to the clients. A big part of his company policy, actually, is listening. This is very much in line with Inbound marketing, and most modern schools of thought. It’s about asking what the client needs and providing the tools, not about telling the client what they need.

In many respects, it’s clear that Ken is an artist moreso than a businessperson. I put myself in the same boat. Marketing is a passion, a passion for understanding people and expressing a brand’s personality. A lack of this passion is apparent in a marketer’s work; this is why it is an industry not well suited for those who are only in it for the money.

I’ve been struggling with how to proceed myself. I enjoy earning money, yes, but only to be able to do the things that matter to me. I want to create art, both for a company, and for myself. I want to make music, images, ideas, and friendships. I was never keen on entering the rat race, and I had wondered, after seeing my classmates go off to big cities for impressive companies, if I had a place in marketing.

Talking with Ken assured me that there is a place for me. In many regards, passion for marketing itself, and not the perceived success it can bring, is the key. After all, advertising is an art.

I’ve decided to pursue these thoughts further, and will be getting to talk with Ken one-on-one later this week. I feel like he may have some guidance to offer me on my journey.

The Ethics of Big Data

I posted not too long ago about speaking with Andy Rossmeissl from Faraday about his take on the ethical issues presented by the use and collection of big data. If you didn’t get a chance to check it out, I encourage you to click here!

In the past few weeks, I have read through a very enlightening book called Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, and Think by Kenneth Cukier and Viktor Mayer-Schönberger. The book presents a lot of the major issues with the current approaches to regulating data usage, some that I would like to reiterate and build upon:

  • Informed Consent – given the nearly unlimited uses of data, and what can be extrapolated from the tiniest scrap, informed consent means very little if consumers don’t understand who can use their data and how they can use it.
  • Willingness – Most end-user license agreements give a LOT of leeway with how companies can gather data from you. Take the Facebook fiasco or the OkCupid experiments for example. They did not breach contracts because the terms are beyond conventional understanding.
  • Lack of Data is Data – As described in the aforementioned book, Google Street View allowed German citizens to obfuscate their houses from their maps. The blurred image, however, was interpreted by some as prime burglary targets.
  • Data vs. Individuality – Data is, by definition, messy. When making predictions to create benefits for the general public, this is fine, but data’s application in areas such as making forecasts in parole hearings is dangerous. It disregards human agency, and takes power away from individuals.
  • Anonymization – It doesn’t work. Scrubbing the data of personal information is a small comfort, but the New York Times was able to identify an individual person from anonymized search queries.

If there is so much risk than can come from data, and we as consumers cannot possibly stop the flow of it, how, then, should society proceed?

I will take a moment to quote Ben Parker, uncle of the world-famous Spider-Man: “With great power comes great responsibility.” Data has power, and logic should dictate that those who hold the data should be held accountable for their usage and collection of data.

We have ethics and oversight committees for healthcare professionals, and data should be no different. When used responsibly, it yields great benefits for everyone. Data helped curb the spread of swine flu, makes marketing more affordable and targeted, and allows for greater standardization and collaboration in the medical and technological fields. But the uses need to be monitored so that they are in line with empowering consumers and protecting the fundamental humanity and safety of the individual.

A team of internal and external algorithmists need to be present to ensure that the system is working properly and safely. Oversight committees must be looking over the gathering of data, especially when it is unbeknownst to consumers, to make sure that any experiments are ethical. And finally, rigorous security precautions need to be employed to ensure that no one person can be singled out by the public. Anonymized data isn’t enough, it is more important to ensure that it is aggregated, even if it is messier. That is simply the nature of big data.

“Letters”

This weekend, I had the pleasure of assisting with an art exhibit, hosted by talented artist and spectacular girlfriend, Ciera Lazarus.

This event consisted of a series of donated relationship stories paired with photographs that reflected them. Wonderfully, the exhibit sparked discussion on difficult and tabooed relationship subjects – cheating, anxiety, suicide, abuse, and the way that our love lives intersect with other facets of life.

Ciera was concerned about the turnout, given that it was Easter weekend – however, it turned out to be a true success. Discussions were spurred, minds provoked, and, naturally, food was consumed.

I served as unofficial social media coordinator, and photos will soon follow on this site. The event will still run until 5 today, so if you’re at Champlain, swing by the Morgan Room. Following the exhibits, you will be able to view the pieces on Ciera Lazarus’ blog, which I will also be linking to shortly.

Let us know what you think, and thanks for supporting this event!

Edit with photos:

 

How to Market the Election

It’s that time of year again! Or, every four years, I should say.

Election time! It’s when patriotic Americans come together to vote on the future of the country. But, if you’ve been following the election, you would probably know just how out of hand things have gotten.

The GOP debates have devolved into name-calling, with Rubio actually having made a slight at Donald Trump’s… uh, manhood. Yes indeed, something is wrong with the election when your party’s frontrunner actually goes on stage to assure eager Americans that his hands, and the rest of his anatomy, are adequately sized. If you think I’m exaggerating, I implore you to watch this.

from ABC News

Meanwhile, topics on the democratic side range from policy issues to who is taking more money from whom. While things are significantly less personal there, and I especially admire Sanders’ commitment to not trash talking other politicians, it still highlights an issue.

This election is shaping up to be an extremely divisive one. The two parties are more divided than ever, as evidenced by  a study from the Pew Research Center. Over a quarter of democrats view republicans as “a threat to the nation’s well-being”, with over a third of republicans saying the same about democrats.

However, there is one group that benefits from the division – marketers.

What better way to address the problem of political volatility than by inventing your own political party that everyone loves, as Bud Light did here?

from Bud Light

Commercials like this play on the attention being received by the elections, and brilliantly lampoon the ridiculousness of the current debates. It’s a topic on everyone’s mind, with Trump, the smart-mouthed republican bad-boy, Sanders, the elderly socialist idealist, and Clinton, who may potentially be the first woman president, being a lively and radically different bunch that has gotten the country in an uproar (there are others, obviously, but none who cause such a splash in their campaigning).

What better way to market a product than by saying “look, we can’t agree on the elections, but we CAN agree that [product] is fantastic.” It’s funny, it’s fresh, it’s topical, and it may be the most brilliant marketing movement I’ve had the pleasure of seeing in my lifetime.

Check out some more election-themed ads over at Advertising Age, they don’t disappoint. Let me know what your take on this marketing strategy is. Is it good satire? Or is it just worsening the problem?

The Thing About Florida…

This past weekend, I had the pleasure of attending a wedding in breezy, beautiful Florida. Immediately, I was overwhelmed by the warm, humid air and the mellow personalities of the locals. Being in Vermont for so long, it’s been a while since I’ve encountered either of these things, and even longer since they’ve been the norm.

The warm, happy attitude calls to mind an episode of 30 Rock entitled “Unwindulax”, a portmanteau of unwind and relax. While this is an exaggeration on the type of people one would find in Florida, it’s not entirely unfounded. A study from myregion.org (which can be found here) details the psychographics of Central Florida.

They found that retirees seek out cultural events, recreation, and nightlife the most in Florida, indicating a desire to stay active. Only 48% of people of working age “work for a feeling of real accomplishment,” while two-thirds of workers surveyed “aren’t motivated to drive their employer’s business goals.”

Along with the “erosion of the work ethic” reported by over half of top Floridian executives surveyed, it highlights a really interesting mindset. People view Florida as an escape, a warm, dreamlike paradise where the problems melt away.

This, in part, is what unsettled me so much. Granted, I was already put off by the ridiculous palm trees and the bizarrely flat landscape, but the happiness of the people was so foreign and bizarre. It wasn’t until I was at a tiki bar listening to soft rock covers on saxophone, indulging in a bit of “unwindulaxing” myself (pictured below), that I realized why it was so peculiar.

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Vermont, in my experience, is not about being happy all the time. Life comes with happiness, but it also comes with sadness, anger, and nervousness.

This is just my personal take, so take it with a grain of salt, but I believe that all emotions should be celebrated. Even when one feels horrible, those emotions are real, and are necessary. Anger has a place, sorrow has a place, and it makes for a more vibrant culture. Punk rock and Picasso’s Blue Period were born from these feelings. Don’t get me wrong, I like Jimmy Buffet, but even after a few days in Florida, I felt emotionally smothered.

Florida is a beautiful place for those looking for an escape from negativity, and that’s wonderful, but I revel in the spectrum of emotions that life has to offer. As a parting thought, I’d love to leave you with a speech from my idol, Bob Ross.

What’s your take? Are you an unwindulaxer? What role do negative emotions play in your life?

The Face of Big Data

This week, I had the pleasure of meeting with Andy Rossmeissl, co-founder and leader of the Faraday team. Faraday is a big data company that first broke into the scene by gathering data for the Department of Energy on potential solar panel customers. Since then, the company has spread to helping colleges target potential students and companies target consumers for retirement plans.

“Big data” is a term that conjures up images of drones outside of windows, or data banks filled to the brim with one’s life history. I myself was on the fence about the industry, considering the usefulness and invasiveness. However, upon meeting Andy, I found that the actual face of big data is a friendly one.

Faraday is small, consisting of 15 employees. The meat and potatoes of their work is in the development and upkeep of their data program. Having seen it up close, it’s truly fascinating. The entirety of the United States is broken up into hexagons, ranging in color from dark black to bright yellow. The aesthetic of it is very techno-punk, looking like something out of a Phillip K. Dick novel.

Users can put in interests and demographics of their target market, and search within regions to find out which households are ripe for the picking. The brighter yellow a hexagon, the higher the population that fits a user’s parameters. Following this, users can order a mailing list based on what they’ve narrowed it down to, cutting out the clutter of the “spray and pray” marketing model.

What seems concerning is the ability to define an individual household by its interests, but Andy set our minds at ease. He explained that if a user makes their search too specific, the system will explain that the search was too narrow and ask them to change it. Furthermore, he addressed the concerns of health privacy, stating that the business ethics in place at Faraday would keep them from selling sensitive health information, using the example of giving a list of people suffering from depression to a pharmaceutical company.

And while this is good news, this is not the case with all data companies.

Firms such as Castlight Health and Welltok contract with companies to preemptively determine employees’ health needs. Walmart uses these firms, having them directly contact employees with tips and treatment options for conditions that said employees are estimated to be at risk for.

Castlight Health recently launched a new platform that will actually predict if a woman is pregnant or not based on her age, number of previous children, whether she recently ceased taking birth control, and fertility information. This, naturally, caused an uproar from consumers (Smith).

So where is the line drawn? Does the ability to so specifically target consumers and deliver information and promotions outweigh the blatant invasion of privacy present in many firms’ operations?

Where I draw the line, in my own ethical thoughts, is at the point where information has stopped being given willingly. Information that someone freely shares on the internet, or their shopping habits through a retailer, are things that are pretty public, and there is no expectation of privacy. There is little unethical in simply compiling this information and selling it; it’s out there anyway, these firms just make it easier.

However, when health information starts being distributed, information taken from a person’s insurance records, then it gets unsettling. There is a reason that those who work in healthcare of pharmaceuticals are bound by a confidentiality code. I work in a pharmacy myself, and have to abide by HIPAA regulations. When that confidentiality is broken, it can cause shame, embarrassment, and serious safety risks.

There may be a right way to do big data, but what we see (and fear) is the wrong way to do it. I have wondered myself how to enforce ethical standards in the industry, and who gets to draw the line in the sand between what is sacred and what is not. I’ll sum it up with Andy’s answer when he was asked about how to ensure ethical behavior in big data: “Well, let’s just hope the laws catch up.”

 

Smith, L. J. (2016, February 17). Big data knows if you’re pregnant. Retrieved February 28, 2016, from http://www.theverge.com/2016/2/17/11032606/big-data-employers-health-info