I’ve been busy… creating

I have been out of action for some time – that is, not blogging lately. Nor have I been able to make new videos.

It’s been pretty frustrating. Much of this has to do with the fact that my work schedule had become very busy as of late. Despite the economic downturn, we’ve been really hard at work with two major marketing initiatives.

Another reason for my absence is that I’ve been wanting to refocus more of my blogging efforts around creating content – rather than just writing about marketing trends and news.

The fact of the matter is that in marketing, nothing really matters more than creating content. Without content, marketing simply doesn’t exist.

It just so happens that I really enjoy making new content. From copywriting, to sketching out ideas for illustrations and diagrams, coding out things for the web, and even making production-quality artwork on occasion.

I’ve really been wanting to write more on my blog about tips and insights on crafting content, providing both practical advice and (hopefully) small bursts of inspiration.

But in order to write about creating content, you need to be actively making content, too, so you can tell the stories about what you’ve just made.

So that’s what I’ve been trying to do lately.

The problem, however, is that creating content takes time, and very often, much more time than you would like or anticipate. So that in turn slows down the ability to blog about the stuff you’re making.

Making content on the side

When I’m not working, I enjoy learning new stuff about creating, and making my own things – for my website, or producing a new video.

I really have a lot of fun in the process, and it also serves as a great opportunity to acquire new skills, get some much-desired practice. Quite often, what I do on the side ultimately benefits my primary marketing occupation.

So now, let me share what I’ve been working on lately: a personalized dashboard for things related to the COVID-19 pandemic in the US. Below is just a work in progress.

My personal, custom COVID-19 dashboard

It’s basically a collection of charts I’ve customized to my own interests, including specific US states I’ve chosen to track closely.

In addition to serving as my very own, one-stop information resource, I’ve also been able to stretch my web development know-how in several ways:

  • Getting familiar with the popular ChartJS library for creating data visualizations.
  • Using CSS Grid for fast, super-simple web content layout .
  • Beginning the process of getting up to speed with modern JavaScript coding.
  • Accessing a third-party data source API. I’m using data from The COVID Tracking Project.

As I stated earlier, this is still just a work in progress. There is much more to do, like better styling for the charts, and bringing in data from the Treasury and the Federal Reserve. I’m actively following key economic trends related to COVID-19.

Get in there and do it!

In the end, there really is no better way to gain experience and comfort with content creation, than actually doing it yourself!

Even better is when you’re having lots of fun through it all. It’s always satisfying to see what you’ve accomplished with your latest creation, whatever it may be.


Liberated

I just completed a task I had been longing to accomplish for some time: moving away from dependency on Gmail.

I’ve replaced my Gmail with a dedicated email service. It’s paid, but works just as well as Gmail while allowing me to use my own domain name (perrysun.com). More importantly, it’s one less thing for Google to track regarding my user habits on their domain.

Yes, I do have to pay a monthly fee now ($2), and I no longer have the convenience of Google automatically adding events and flight itineraries to my calendar.

But I also avoid some annoying restrictions around Gmail. Like the fact that certain folder or tag names are prohibited because they’re reserved for Google’s own usage.

Take “Social”, “Promotions,” or “Forums,” for example.

Or “Purchases.” Nope, you can’t use this name for filing away emails of your past online purchases. It’s an annoying reminder that Google can do whatever they want with their products.

That, along with privacy, is the price you pay for having something free.

But now, with an independent, commercial-free email service, I can name my folders however way I want. And no worries about my emails being tracked or scanned by anyone.

Email folders

Note that I haven’t closed out my Gmail account. I’ll keep it around indefinitely to trap spam email, but will no longer use it on a regular basis.

What alternate email services are available?

If you’re looking to get away from Gmail, Hotmail, or Yahoo and want to be more independent, there are several options available. Fastmail and Proton Mail are two great email hosting services.

If you have a website for business or personal reasons your domain registrar may offer their own email hosting. I’ve opted to sign onto a premium (paid) service with Gandi.net, my domain registrar.

From a business standpoint, having a @gmail.com, @hotmail.com, or @yahoo.com as your email point of contact is a bad idea. It just isn’t professional and gives the impression you’re a cheapskate. You really want your own domain in your email address.

For this reason, if you haven’t already, I strongly suggest going over to domainr, checking if your name is available as a domain, and then promptly registering it.

From there, you can sign onto a new email service provider and tie your new domain name to your account.

If you have years of emails and several gigabytes of data accumulated, these email services are not going to be free – expect to pay at least a few dollars a month for the privilege.

But remember that you’re also gaining privacy and independence.


Zoom’s indirect marketing could rescue itself

In the midst of an absolutely tumultuous week of horrible reports and revelations about a raft of security lapses, intrusions on private meetings, and even a public warning from the FBI, Zoom has shown not only remarkable poise in the face of intense criticism, but also the ability to respond with grace and professionalism.

Perhaps the most important gesture was CEO Eric Yuan issuing a public apology and a promise to do better – quickly. (Please read his blog post explaining the entire situation.) He was also upfront in admitting that password protection should have been mandated at the outset.

That, in itself, is a critical execution of marketing that could help Zoom get through its maelstrom and survive an anticipated wave of defections to other platforms such as Microsoft Teams and Cisco Webex.

(It’s also yet another of example of why marketing isn’t strictly about the activities of a marketing staff, as I discussed earlier in reference to Robinhood.)

The other is Zoom’s blog post in response to its (perceived) misinterpretation of “end-to-end encryption” and widespread criticism.

The first paragraph goes a very long way toward re-establishing some trust:

In light of recent interest in our encryption practices, we want to start by apologizing for the confusion we have caused by incorrectly suggesting that Zoom meetings were capable of using end-to-end encryption. Zoom has always strived to use encryption to protect content in as many scenarios as possible, and in that spirit, we used the term end-to-end encryption. While we never intended to deceive any of our customers, we recognize that there is a discrepancy between the commonly accepted definition of end-to-end encryption and how we were using it. This blog is intended to rectify that discrepancy and clarify exactly how we encrypt the content that moves across our network.

The rest of the blog post goes into a fairly detailed, yet not overly detailed explanation of how they implement encryption in communications between client endpoints, while emphasizing that Zoom does not peer into any communication data by decrypting it.

Zoom is certainly off to a good start in satisfying widespread concerns about security and user privacy. Following through with critical security feature updates will of course be the most important remedy.


Bits of Google news for web creators

If you’re actively developing or refining websites or web apps, and have been timing your schedules around the latest Chrome releases, then you’ll be pleased to know that Chrome 81 will be released shortly after a brief delay.

Chrome development is resuming after a one-week postponement to allow for some internal reshuffling, due to COVID-19 and adjustments in work schedules with staff transitioning to working from home.

Chrome 82 is canceled and will rolled into the release of 83, due around mid-May. Future releases are TBD, and it’s probably prudent to expect shifts in dates due to the current circumstances.

Google search goes completely mobile September 2020

It’s no secret by now that Google is transitioning away from desktop to mobile-first crawling and indexing. This basically means that search results will be based on what Google detects from your website’s presentation in a smartphone viewing context.

Currently, Google has transitioned over 70% of websites in their indexing records to mobile. The transition is now slated to be fully completed September 2020.

You can confirm whether your site has transitioned by checking in your Google Search Console – an alert card similar to the below should pop up in your dashboard. The Google Webmaster blog offers more info about their moblie-first indexing.

Mobile-first index alert for Google Search Console


When marketing is outed for deception

It is never fun when marketing is accused of doing something wrong.

But when the accusation is publicly broadcast to everyone, it’s especially jarring for a company’s marketing department.

An article in The Intercept identified a prominent technical inaccuracy in a security-focused white paper published by Zoom. But no one in marketing ever wants to see the accusation right there in the headline – that marketing deceived a multi-billion dollar company’s massive customer base.

Article headline mentioning misleading marketing

If you market technical or technology-based products, it is crucial to ensure any content you produce is fact-checked and vetted with your product managers, engineers, and other subject matter experts in your company.

This is especially important when you’re making prominent claims, or any statements relevant to matters sensitive to customers. Security, for example.

Remember that marketing is always first in the chain of blame whenever there is suspicion of a misleading or false public statement. Getting it right the first time matters – a lot.


Apple officially blocks third-party cookies in Safari

Safari WebKit logo

It’s not a surprise but a significant change nonetheless. First announced in 2019, Apple has now updated their Safari Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP) technology to block third-party cookies, thereby ending the ability for advertisers to track your web browsing habits.

The update will be rolled out over Safari’s desktop and browser apps as well as third-party iOS and iPadOS browsers (they’re required to use Safari’s WebKit browsing engine).

(Mozilla began blocking cookies by default in Firefox last fall.)

Because Safari’s share of the web browsing market isn’t significant, the digital ad industry will feel maybe some moderate pain from this dramatic change.

The real stinger, however, is due to to come in 2022 when Google has stated it will begin to block third-party cookies in Chrome (overwhelmingly number one in browser market share).

The digital ad industry is clearly freaking out over this, so it appears Google is slow-walking this to allow time for digital ad networks and marketers to make necessary adaptations to their business models.


Growth marketing is going to die

Growth marketing is a hodgepodge of practices and hacks to a support a startup’s efforts to foster and sustain high velocity growth.

It’s often engaged in concert with raising money from venture capitalists, then spending huge amounts on sales and marketing to fuel rapid increases in customer acquisition and revenue within a short time period.

In doing so, startups prioritize growth over profitability, purposely generating big losses knowing more VC funding can easily be raised later. But that is changing, and changing FAST.

Founders are now being asked to demonstrate their companies can actually make money. This is forcing many of them to slash their sales and marketing spend.

I’ve seen bits of this happening, through observations of people on LinkedIn suddenly bounced out of their startup marketing jobs.

And now, with signs of a recession looming large, this could really accelerate.

Growth marketing usually does not mesh well with a traditional company’s marketing operations. This means that marketers laid off from a startup may find it hard to get into mainstream companies, except perhaps those looking for digital marketing expertise.

If you work in growth marketing, I would seriously suggest looking into opportunities in companies that are at least fairly well-established. And I would do it NOW, before all businesses cut back on their marketing spend in an economic downturn.


ZoomInfo, latest marketing SaaS to file for IPO

The current upheaval in stocks and a heavy reliance on the SaaS economy are factors of concern.

ZoomInfo is a cloud-based market intelligence platform for sales and marketing operations. It recently filed for a $500 million IPO. But needless to say, the filing is happening at a precarious moment of great volatility in stocks.

I looked over ZoomInfo’s website and discovered something noteworthy that’s typical for many cloud / SaaS companies. Their customer base appears to be heavily dominated by other SaaS startups.

It’s a potentially troubling indication that future revenue growth may seriously be in question. Startups have been raising millions, but losing big by spending heavily on marketing and sales to drive rapid growth.

But now, they’re more likely to pull back their spend dramatically as investors increasingly demand accountability in how their money is spent, and for founders to stop losing money and show them a viable path to profitability.


A new beginning for MacBooks

New models coming soon will finally close a chapter of flawed product design.

COVID-19 notwithstanding, it’s been reported from historically accurate sources that Apple will soon be introducing new MacBooks sometime between this spring and mid-year.

A focus on these new MacBooks will be a redesigned keyboard replacing the troubled “butterfly” design with a more traditional “scissor” mechanism.

Scissor keyboards are more traditional in laptops and were used in MacBooks before Apple made the switch a few years ago. The 16-inch MacBook Pro, launched last fall was the first to revert back to the scissor keyboard.

The butterfly keyboards were meant to be revolutionary from a company religiously exalted as the paragons of product design.

Instead, they were poorly received for being uncomfortable to type on. Worse yet, the butterly keyboards suffered from reliability problems that ultimately forced Apple to offer free repair services to address them.

This incident has undoubtedly dented into Apple’s longstanding reputation for exemplary product design. It’s something even their most devoted fans simply could not overlook themselves.

Personally, I’ve been fine with the keyboard feel and ergononmics, but will opt to have my MacBook Pro repaired for an operational flaw with the “k” key.


Can you market your way out of a bad reputation? (Part 2)

There are times when a business stumbles into a compromising situation that threatens its public reputation.

The reputation can be such that no amount of pure marketing effort will rescue.

Robinhood goes down again

In the first part of this article series, I featured the unfortunate circumstances with two consecutive system downtimes in Robinhood’s stock trading platform, and the negative impact to come for weeks, if not indefinitely, as the tech startup struggles to regain its footing.

It’s something that even the most positive marketing effort will not sufficiently address. If anything, it would most certainly reinforce the bad from the company. Only concrete, definitive actions from the top management ranks can begin to offer a glimmer of hope.

Update: since my previous article was posted, Robinhood’s platform went down for a third time. The company hasn’t openly communicated since then, despite previously addressing the situation directly with the public.

That, simply, is not good.

Sensor Tower caught in the act

There is an indisputably significant crisis happening right now in terms of deceptive user data privacy.

I recently stated that we’re well past the controversy with social media collecting data on us.

Now, many other entities have feasted on the opportunity to exploit user data. Often, it happens without our knowledge. Take Ring, for example.

Or Sensor Tower, a startup that provides analytics on app usage. They’ve been delivering rather impressive, high-profile reporting on mobile app adoption trends for quite some time.

However, as reported by Buzzfeed, their ability to deliver such distinguished app usage insights appears to be the result of under-the-radar data collection activity, through a series of VPN and ad-blocking apps owned by Sensor Tower.

Since the exposé by Buzzfeed, Apple and Google have moved to shut down some of the apps in their stores.

It’s obviously a reputational black eye and an embarrassing situation.

And once again, something that only can be rectified through means well beyond what a social media or content marketing person can generically address.