Talking Agile Marketing With Jonathon Colman

I know what you are thinking, “Ben how did you get to talk  with Jonathon Colman about Agile Marketing? Are you twins separated at birth,  did you bribe or black mail him?”

Well none of those are true, simply Jonathon  is a great marketer and person who is hard not to hear about and gravitate to in our industry. I’ve learned a lot from him through Twitter and  would definitlely suggest following him on Twitter and Slide Share. Well I won’t hold you up any further from  hearing what Jonathon Colman had to say, Enjoy! Jonathon Colman Headshot - Talking Agile Marketing With Benjamin Beck

How did Jonathon Colman get into marketing?

Like most folks, I found my way into Internet marketing through a side door. In my case, technical communication was the gateway drug. That’s what I studied in college back in the day, when Telnet and Finger and Pine (or its wicked step-sister, Elm) were all the rage. As a technical writer, I created and updated a number of manuals for IBM’s OS/400 operating system and their “San Francisco” Java framework. But even though IBM was great, I felt unsatisfied with the actual work itself, not to mention life in rural Minnesota.

My mid-twenties angst was brimming with a constant fear that I just wasn’t sweating enough, dammit – that I smelled way too clean and was spending far too little time staring wistfully at the desert, reciting the Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear. So I realized my lifelong dream of joining up with the Peace Corps as a public health volunteer. Finally, all of those hours watching “ER” were put to good use – thank you, George Clooney! I served in Burkina Faso, West Africa for two amazing and challenging years, working on Guinea Worm eradication (yeah, that’s a real disease), HIV/AIDS prevention and education, and many other public health initiatives like maternal/child health and polio vaccinations. I like to kid myself that I helped some people along the way, but my secret shame is that I know I took more from the experience than I could ever possibly give back. But it was a great way to see the world and give at least something back to my country while providing service for another… all without carrying a gun.

When I returned to the States, I started doing print/web design, front-end web development, and pretty much anything that folks would pay me for – this was after the bubble burst in 2001. I even dabbled in PHP and mySQL. Luckily, I found a great home and lots of meaningful work with environmental nonprofits, where I ended up spending nearly a decade. I started out at a small, regional nonprofit and then worked my way up to Conservation International and, later, The Nature Conservancy. First I worked in web production, trying to define, develop, and enforce web standards across a variety of systems and deliverables. The results of that work, combined with a new focus on analytics, moved me into Internet marketing. And once I found out how much fun SEO and social media marketing were – not to mention their awesome ROI – I never looked back.

2. Your job at REI has changed from Internet Marketing Manager to Principle Experience Architect, can you explain how your role has changed?

It’s the difference between content marketing and content strategy, the difference between marketing content and managing content. I’m in a role now where I can look at content across all of our channels and come up with ways for customers and the business to get more out of it – to make content work harder to satisfy everyone’s needs. From the microcopy level to helpful articles to infographics to finding new ways to get customers the right content in the right format at the right time, we’re trying to make information a core business asset.

In our view, information is just as important and valuable to the business as the products we sell and our staff who sells them. There’s a lot you can do with content and we’re just getting started – SEO is one of many benefits. Hey, don’t get me wrong: I love SEO and always will. And I’ve been doing it long enough to… well, to be Your Father’s Somewhat Younger Friend who’s done SEO for a long time. But there are other challenges out there, too, and for the moment I feel really lucky to have a chance to grapple with them while I’m still in graduate school learning how best to do so. It’s a great gift, knowing exactly how lucky you are – one that keeps you honest and humble.

3. What do you love most about your job now? What gets you excited?

The opportunity to be part of a new, awesome team helping a 74-year-old retailer understand that it sells more than just products; it sells experiences. And those experiences are driven largely by information. And information is a lot easier to optimize than, say, a mountain or a landscape or even a physical consumer product – we can always find ways to be more helpful to our customers using information. So we see information as being central to the customer experience, and information architecture as the path that leads us to building better experiences.

4. How do you explain what Agile Marketing is to non-marketers?

The concept of Agile originated outside of marketing (it comes from software development, has its roots in the 1950s, and the contemporary practice has been around almost 20 years!), so this is a little easier than you might think. Agile Marketing, at its core, is focused around the idea that we can collaborate with our customers (or clients) to iteratively build amazing experiences that drive awareness, traffic, engagement, and sales while helping those same customers meet their needs. What’s not to like about that? The core principles of Agilecan pretty much stand on their own no matter what context you view them in:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation (from a Marketing perspective, you can substitute “experiences” or “campaigns” or “content” for “software”)
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

Sounds pretty good, right? Think about those four principles next time you’re sitting in an all-staff meeting listening to someone read from a bad PowerPoint deck filled with bullet points in 10-point type or – Gods help us – the next time you’re writing up a keyword ranking report when you could be doing Real Company Stuff that drives customer/client growth and success.

5. What resources would you point someone to if they wanted to learn more about Agile Marketing?

(Benjamin Injection: First check out Jonathon’s epic  SEOmoz Whiteboard Friday  and MozCon slide deck. ) Thanks for the kudos! Here are my favorite Agile Marketing resources:

 

6. You contributed to winning 2 Webby Awards! Can you describe what your role was and what your company did to win?

It’s hard to say, exactly, given that the Webby judges don’t tell you what they liked/hated about your site or how they set it apart from all the other applicants. At the time, I was the associate director of digital marketing at The Nature Conservancy, overseeing and setting strategy for web production, SEO, SEM, and community engagement.

Some of my older presentations show how we invested early and heavily in social media in order to establish the Conservancy as a leader in reaching new, younger audiences. Thanks to TNC’s leadership – which praised innovation, risk-taking, and intrapreneurship – we saw a lot of success from these efforts. Like other organizations, we submitted our web site, nature.org, annually for consideration in the Webbys and always wound up being an Official Honoree or somesuch. And in late 2008, even though I was soon to leave TNC for REI, I still dutifully submitted our site again and immediately forgot about it. …Until about four months after I left TNC, at which point I was notified that nature.org was listed as a finalist in the 13th Annual Webby Awards in the Charitable Organizations/Nonprofit category.

The Conservancy ultimately won that award as well as an additional “People’s Voice” award from all of the audience support that they generated via their web site, press releases, and social media. I’d never been so proud of our incredibly smart and talented team, many of whom are still at the Conservancy today. With stellar content, useful applications, authoritative and approachable science, and beautiful design for things that really matter, they’ve really set themselves apart in the nonprofit world.

What books and blogs do you read?

“All of ‘em, any of ‘em that have been in front of me over all these years.” Ha, just kidding! Please don’t send me hate mail. Like a lot of you, I love sci-fi and fantasy. And comic books! I’ve still got a bunch of boxes stashed in my basement from when I was a kid. My bibles are The Lord of the Rings, Watership Down, and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I’ve always had a thing for the classical Quest structure and for adventures with uncertain – and sometimes tragic – endings. I like when the hero doesn’t always win, even (or especially) when the stakes are high. That’s where sci-fi/fantasy crosses over into Real Life, where things don’t always work out like they should. Even winning has its costs, so I like when writers show the burden of that cost in their characters. From a certain point of view, all heroes are tragic.

But the full truth is that while I’m in graduate school, most of what I’ve reading is from sources like the ASIS&T journal and Tufte rather than from genre fiction. Even so, I still make time to unwind with the latest issue of The Walking Dead; Don’t tell him, but I’ve got a serious man-crush on Robert Kirkman (Shhhhhh! I said DON’T TELL!).

My favorite non-SEO blogs are: Memeorandum, Andrew Sullivan, Ezra Klein, Nate Silver (gimme a break – it’s election season!), The Slog (Seattle-specific), XKCD, Ars Technica, PandoDaily, and io9. Oh, and why aren’t there more content strategy blogs? I think because it’s still an emerging discipline. Brain Traffic, Scatter/Gather, Content Wrangler, Content Insights, Intentional Design, Karen McGrane, and A List Apart’s collection are a few of the very best. And if you’ve never read Etsy’s developer blog, Code as Craft, you absolutely should. It’s way, waaaaaay over my head, but that doesn’t make it any less fascinating or inspiring. Not to mention that Etsy’s decks on Slideshare are the very definition of awesome. Engineers who can tell a good story are rare, wonderful things. And worth their weight in gold. With Etsy’s stories of innovation, dev ops, performance tuning, and rapid/distributed deployment, it’s clear to me that their current growth is just the prologue of a much longer story.

Quick Questions

Mac or PC?

PC supplemented with iOS devices. If I could do things over, I’d go back to being a Mac-head like I was in school. Back in The Day, I even got a mini-scholarship from Reader’s Digest to attend and report on the MacWorld Expo way back in the mid-’90s when Power Computing (anyone remember them?) had a license to build Mac hardware. Always knew I should have bought some Apple stockback when it was trading for less than $20. Where’s my iTimeMachine?

2. Droid or iPhone?

iPhone 4S for the moment. But with Apple moving away from the Google Maps platform in iOS 6, this transit-loving guy is left in the lurch when it comes to catching the bus, train, or even just finding the best bicycling directions… and that may be enough to move me back to Android. Bad call, Apple!

3. Tweetdeck or HootSuite?

Meh, neither. For my personal stuff, I stick with the native apps and web interface. Kickin’ it old skool!

4. Drink someone can buy you at conference?

I’m a Seattleite, so it’s always coffee, of course. Organic, Fair Trade, and shade-grown so that it provides habitat for migratory birds, if you please – a boy’s gotta have some standards, amirite?

 

Questions or Comments?

As always I look forward to hearing your questions and comments. If you have more questions on Agile Marketing put them in the comments and I’m sure Jonathon will answer them when he can.

Whose Next? Who would you like to hear  from more on how they do online marketing? Please put your suggestions and questions in the comments.

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1 Comment
  • Thanks for a fun interview, Ben! It’s hard to follow in the footsteps of John Doherty and Anthony Pensabene, but I hope that these agile marketing and content strategy resources will help us continue to move things forward.

    A question for you and your readers: how are you moving from SEO to content strategy? Not just content marketing, but the Big Picture: content governance and policy, the lifecycle on content, mapping the content systems and processes at your organizations, etc.

    How do folks out there work with content as part of their holistic user experience?

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