Breaking Bad: America’s Walter White Problem

31. October 2013 by Keven Elliff
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It’s Not You, It’s Me

I once worked with a nonprofit executive director who kept chiding me to get out of the way.

He wasn’t referring to my physical presence – he was referring to my storytelling. Coming from a traditional marketing background, I wanted to talk about ALL OF THE GREAT THINGS our nonprofit was doing. As a former editor and publisher, he knew that the more important, more inspiring stories lay outside our own organization in the people and communities we served.

Of course, he was absolutely correct. It took me a while to understand and internalize this “ego-less” communication. But wow is it powerful.

I was reminded of this recently when reading John Haydon, who writes about nonprofit social media strategy. He wrote a smart post recently titled “The One Simple Facebook Mistake Most Nonprofits Make.” His take? Get your supporters talking about the cause, instead of you talking about the nonprofit.

A few thoughts about organizations “broadcasting” vs. “engaging:”

  1. Broadcasting is seductive. We all want a megaphone. But think about your own communication consumption – do you routinely pay attention to megaphone brands? Probably not. So if your org/biz is doing the same thing, why would you expect others to pay attention?
  2. Getting out of your way and focusing on communicating the stories and causes that live outside yourself applies to any business  – not just nonprofits.
  3. If you can’t communicate your “cause” – no amount of social media or marketing communications will help you. You have to be crystal clear here so that are encouraging and activating the type of engagement that directly contributes to your program/product/service.
  4. If you don’t have a “cause” that inspires you – that matters – your battle is already lost. After all, if you aren’t passionate about what you’re doing, how can you expect others to be? Fix that.

So start with the problem your solving. Be clear with yourself your mission and vision. Be passionate about it. And then start talking about the folks around you – donors/buyers/evangelizers – who share and live your cause.

After all, their stories are more interesting than yours…



14. October 2013 by Keven Elliff
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Facebook & Google Are Moving in the Wrong Direction

11. October 2013 by Keven Elliff
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Photo from The Corporate Retreat

13. September 2013 by Keven Elliff
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Are You Ready for Contextual Discovery?

For most of our recent digital lives, when you or your customers want to find something – information, directions, news, products, etc. – you have “searched” for it. You go to Google, you type something in, and you go about your day. Think of this as “pulling” – you’re pulling the information you need out of the web.

We are very rapidly moving towards a push model of information discovery, however, and the impacts on businesses (and citizens, of course) could not be more profound.

Within the next 1-3 years, Google, Apple, and Amazon will use devices and databases to learn what individuals want, like and need and predictively provide that information to them. Google is already doing this in a limited way with their Google Now service. Others are racing to catch up.

The goal for Google, et. al. is to deliver to the user the right information at the right time, in the right context.

Robert Scoble has written a terrific book about contextual discovery. In the video included above, he talks with Mark Johnson, the CEO of news aggregator Zite. Ostensibly, the 50-minute video is about the future of news. But I’m sharing this video because the two of them spend a lot of time talking about the future of contextual discovery. If you are a business owner, I think you can watch this video and see dozens of ways that your business could provide information and context to potential and existing customers.

So think of this as a seed to help you begin thinking about laying the groundwork.

But more practically, the business takeaway from this video is that you should be giving Google as much, high-quality information as you can. This is already important, as Google already dominates search – the pull sector. But if, in fact, they are working on a ‘contextual operating system’ for their wearable devices (like the past and future Google Glass), then you need to be sure to be ready to provide them with the push part of the information too.

So right now? Make sure you invest in, build out appropriate listing pages for Google, Bing, Yelp, etc. Even if you don’t have a lot of customers there, the more high-quality information you can give to companies – (esp. Google) – including information that anticipates context of your customer, the more ahead of the game you will be.

And if nothing else, keep your ear tuned to this area of development. Wearable and contextually-sensitive devices like Apple Watch, Microsoft Band, Google Glass, etc have the potential to revolutionize how we all interact with our world.


28. August 2013 by Keven Elliff
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Digging Deep into Gmail’s Tabbed Inbox

In 2013 Google began rolling out a ‘tabbed’ Inbox interface for Gmail. The gist of it is that Google uses send data and algorithms to determine if the email coming into Gmail is worthy of your “primary” attention (and thus placed in a tab called “Primary), or should be categorized as “Promotions” or “Social” etc.


As you might expect, companies and nonprofits who use email to communicate with their constituents grew quite alarmed. And with good reason. If a customer has opted into your email list, why should Google get to “decide” where and how its delivered?

Numerous initial reports indicate that the impact is complex and multifaceted. While businesses were fearful that open and click through rates would plummet, that hasn’t seemed to happen. It turns out that having some basic categorization might actually help users wade through email.

Danny Sullivan of Marketing Land is one of the smartest data and marketing journalists working today. He recently wrote about his own personal experience with the Tabbed Inbox. And although his piece represents a sample size of one, he has some interesting insights:

  • HTML vs. plain text emails don’t seem to impact where your email gets “tabbed.”
  • It may the be case that Google is using “unsubscribe” links – which are generally industry best-practice – as signals to place an email in the dreaded “Promotions” tab.
  • Google might be giving a break to known non-profits.
  •  The “Social” tab might be a clever way for businesses and nonprofits with robust social strategies to reach constituents.

28. August 2013 by Keven Elliff
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The next decade will be about protecting

24. August 2013 by Keven Elliff
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Turning Off the Quantified Self

In the end, I just got tired of being a slave.

For the past couple of years (I could go back, review data, and give you the exact date/time it all began) I have been paying closer attention to myself than at any other time in my life. Thanks to a new generation of devices and apps, I was able to jump headlong into the ‘quantified self’ movement; tracking everything from heart rate, to sleep, to mileage, to calorie burn to steps…you get the picture.


This week, I finally turned everything off.

I’d like to tell you that the whole  “freedom is liberating” cliche applies now, but the truth is that every flight of stairs I take – every morning at first light- I’m still haunted by the impulse to “quantify my self”.

Why would someone pursue this level of detail about one’s life? For me, it was a mix of curiosity and an actual need for data to improve performance.

While training for ultra-marathons, I used a Timex Ironman Run Trainer with heart rate monitor, in combination with Training Peaks software, to get a solid picture of my physical condition, training progress, and race-readiness. I was new to running, and certainly new to racing. Having “objective” data about performance was critical for me to evaluate whether I was going to meet my goals.

So far so good. I had a goal. It was limited in time (I knew I wasn’t going to run ultras forever), and the tools were focused in helping me to achieve that goal.

But I noticed as I began this quantification that the level of detail and information available to me was seductive. I could literally see how various types of activity affected performance. intensity and recovery. I wanted more.

Late last year, I got my hands on the v2 version of Jawbone UP. The “stylish” wristband uses accelerometers, software (and user input) to track sleep, activity, food – and with integration with other software, many other parts of your “self.”


Although I had stopped running ultras by that point, I was hooked on knowing what was going on with my body. I had never been a great sleeper, and was curious about what the sleep sensor would reveal. As a vegan who eats mostly gluten-free, I was already pretty tuned-in to all of the various macro/micro nutritional metrics associated with my diet. But I figured there was always more to learn. So when I received the UP, I made a commitment to dutifully enter, track, and monitor  UP data for 6 months.

One specific differentiation of the UP is that you have to physically insert the device into your iPhone every day to download data (other similar devices use Bluetooth). The plus side to this is that battery life is about a week between charges. But over time, that morning and evening ritual turned out to have an outsized role in my life (more to come).

The truth is that I learned a lot. I learned that:

  • In general, I was one of the more consistent users of UP (it’s a social network as well – if you wish – and you can see what your friends metrics are as well). I used it every day, and that seemed to be rare (among the network I was in).
  • I generally ended up eating about 1600-1800 calories per day. No matter what.
  • I averaged about 70-80K steps in a week, exclusive of exercise – which is not bad, but not great.
  • I was a light sleeper – particularly compared to other UP users. I averaged 6.5 hours/night and only about 2-2.5 hours of that was ‘deep’ sleep (restorative, good for longevity, etc)
  • Despite always believing that I was impervious to the effects of evening coffee, the negative impact on sleep was obvious.
  • My belief that wine + Benadryl was a good sleep aid was disproven :^)
  • Despite thinking that I ate a reasonably low-carb diet, I actually was eating around 125-150g of carbs/day.

Most of this information was synthesized within the first month of wearing the device. But after a few months, I found that I wasn’t really learning anything new – and the device became more of an enforcer.

The first thing to go for me was food entry. That was natural, considering that I had always kept a close eye on food. But because we generally eat the same types of foods, I wasn’t seeing any utility in continually entering the data. So I stopped that after 4-5 months.

Then, I started to become psychic. Well, not really, but I began to be so attuned to tracking that I could predict within 5% my sleep and step count before plugging the device in. Over time, that became a perverse game – how close could I get?

This was a bad sign.  Or maybe not. I actually see this as a success of the quantified self concept. If you pay attention to yourself sufficiently well, over time you should actually begin to develop a habitual understanding of yourself.

After weeks and weeks of this, however, I began to wonder what the value of physically wearing the device nonstop actually was.

So this past weekend, I shut it all down. I moved the app into an archive folder, and I only use the UP one day a week for its silent, vibrating alarm on a day that I have a particularly early appointment (that silent alarm feature was almost worth the price of the device).

I should feel liberated, but nearly a week on, I’m not quite there. I’m sure this will pass, but I find it fascinating how tenacious this quasi-OCD aspect is. I still constantly think about step counts and sleep metrics.

That being said, I can report that I certainly feel less encumbered by not wearing the bracelet every day. I don’t wear watches or jewelry – so having something on my wrist nonstop for more than 8 months never felt natural.

Overall, I’m happy I traveled this path. I know more about myself. But I see the pitfalls as well. I wonder if those of us who quantified ourselves were living in the ‘now’ or were living for the number. I’m sure everyone is different, but I could imagine that my experience of fatigue isn’t singular.

I look forward to a time when the quantified self movement becomes integrated almost natively into our human “operating system.” I think some sort of automatic, non-intrusive sensor scheme with gentle notifications of macro trends would be much more effective and enjoyable (think skin patch + Google Glass). I would love to see primary health metrics tracked (blood pressure, inflammation, temperature, etc) instead of steps, as well.

The future will be fun, and informative…and hopefully a little less OCD.

23. August 2013 by Keven Elliff
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This man’s experience is just devastating

23. August 2013 by Keven Elliff
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Track your best sales channel

23. August 2013 by Keven Elliff
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