Cracking Carbon: Making a B2B Brand a Household Name

Megan Cunningham is CEO of Magnet Media, a vertically-organized strategic studio that uses storytelling and data to drive business results. Megan feels the best way to engage customers or clients in meaningful, lasting ways is to tell stories that matter, that touch both head and heart. To accomplish this for Magnet clients, small, nimble SWAT teams (pods) pair an account strategist (head) and a creative lead (heart) along with subject matter experts familiar with a client’s industry and specialists with the capability to deliver on the desired platforms—so each team is customized to meet the client’s business objectives.

Megan believes that a company has to have a process in place in order to scale, but too much “don’t color outside the lines,” can be demoralizing. There has to be flexibility and enough “blank canvas” on the creative side that employees can feel ownership and find meaning in their work. Clients and colleagues comment that Magnet Media has cracked the code on scaling branded content.

Magnet Media has been structured with a “think, make, reach” – “We’re going to be strategic, we’re going to produce content, and we’re going to distribute it at scale in a way that’s measureable.” That process, coupled with properly-leveraged technology enables hypergrowth power. It works. Clients and colleagues comment that Magnet Media has cracked the code on scaling branded content.

Megan developed a Global Trends Report, which addresses where storytelling is going, and started as a whitepaper. When such companies as Google and Mattel found value in Megan’s insights, the report morphed into its current form of a series of 1-hour webinars and downloadable eBooks.

The first four trends Megan projects for 2019 are:

  1. A greater concentration on brand purpose and addressing the idea of the belief-driven buyer, who used to be a “fringe buyer.” Today, beliefs about what a company stands for contribute in a major way to people’s purchase decisions.
  2. Influencer marketing and next generation influencer marketing strategies—the use of brand ambassadors, customer stories, brand representation.
  3. Podcasting and smart audio is a massive trend. One of Magnet Media’s more aggressive data partners forecasted that over 50% of searches by 2020 will be voice searches.
  4. Delivering experiences and distributing content.  how it’s being distributed and measured when it comes to storytelling.

Megan was a featured speaker at the 2019 South by Southwest in Austin, TX. In her presentation, “The State of the Story: How Carbon Won the Big Game,” she discussed a win-win partnership between Carbon , a 3-D polymer printer, and Adidas shoe and clothing brand. Carbon has developed a revolutionary process for printing high-resolution 3-D polymer parts with consistent, engineering-grade mechanical properties. This technology revolutionizes product capabilities and is an integral part of Adida’s lattice-soled 4D shoe line. Working with Magnet Media, Adidas partnered with Carbon to launch the printer’s B2B brand at the Super Bowl. Carbon continues to use its associations with such companies as Adidas and protective helmet manufacturer Riddell to make its brand a household name, so that customers will associate greater value with consumer products “Powered by Carbon.”

Megan can be reached by email at: or on her company’s website at:

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Non-Obvious Trends that will Turn the World

After an 8-year stint at Ogilvy, a New York City-based British advertising, marketing, and public relations agency, and 3 more at Leo Burnett in Australia, Rohit Bhargava left the agency world to write. He blogged the Non-Obvious Trend Report (January 2011) to share some unexpected insights about business for the coming year. That blogpost became a digital report that morphed into an e-book that, in 2015 became a hardback, made the Wall Street Journal list, and took off. For 2020, the 10th year, Rohit intends to do a retrospective of the big themes/megatrends across more than 100 trends, and then ask what these trends tell us about the future. Non-Obvious Megatrends is scheduled to come out in December 2019.

Rohit’s “signature book,”The Non-Obvious Guide to Small Business Marketing without a Big Budget provides a wealth of information for companies that can’t afford to hire the “big guys” – how to position a business against competitors, create a good tagline, pick a website URL and what a company should know about search marketing and buying search terms.

Non-Obvious, Rohit’s company, is a consultancy that provides workshops, trainings, and keynotes to try to get people think in non-obvious ways, to spot patterns, to be able to see what other people don’t see, and to be more innovative. Non-Obvious, the brand, is a “point of view on the world.”

Rohit spoke on a variety of topics at South by Southwest 2019 in Austin, TX. He discussed “Why Trend Predictions Suck and How to Fix Them.” Rohit believes that “trends often indicate wishful thinking” and don’t actually forecast anything new or provide insights. Futurists may make predictions, put them on the market, and talk about them. Individuals may look at trends, synthesize them, and distill personally useful, career-trajectory valuable information or even use that information to help individual’s clients.

Rohit described innovation envy as a future trend in his South by Southwest presentation, “7 Non-Obvious Trends Changing the Future in 2019.” Innovation envy happens when a company looks at what other companies are doing in the way of innovation, and then tries to adopt the “trappings” of these innovative companies . . . the beanbag chairs . . . the flex time. Yeah. That will work.

Another trend he discussed is the creation of Instagram-postable strategic spectacles, “bright, shiny” events that attract a lot of attention. These spectacles need to be created in a strategic way to provide value. In all trends, are they actionable? And what happens with the trend?

In 2017, Rohit identified a trend he saw as “fierce femininity.” Rohit sees the counterpart to that as “muddled masculinity.” When women can be anything, but men can only be one thing, the challenge is one-sided. As women are freed to embrace new outside-of-the-norm self-definitions, men, likewise need to be freed to develop those human facets that have been denied them (feeling pain, showing emotion) in the name of “classic masculinity.”

Rohit runs IdeaPress, a business book publishing company, which operates more like an agency than like a publishing company. He is publishing a guidebook series, The Non-Obvious Guide to multiple things, which will provide “smart advice for smart people.” (not for dummies and idiots.) To keep the books “up-to-date,” information that may become dated within 10 years will be posted online for download.

Rohit can be reached on his company’s website at:, on his personal website at:, or by email at:

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Neuroscience, Behavioral Science, and Boosting Your Brand

Neil Davidson is Managing Director of Hey Human (London), “the behavioural communications agency.” Hey Human started five years ago – the world was changing, brands were changing, and people were changing (and all of them still are), but agencies? Same old, same old.

Neil questioned, “What could be done to change the way agencies work . . . so they could effect change in the way brands behaved?” Hey Human is an attempt at an answer. The company may be structured by classic relationship strategy and creative skillsets, but team members are not siloed in their roles. Anyone can contribute to the client relationship building, to strategy development, to the creative piece . . . the work is done through collaboration.

How is branding different today? Neil notes that the relationships between people and brands are shallower and more fleeting than in the past. Brand loyalty is tenuous. Brand LOVE is rare. Brands that are thriving in today’s marketplace connect with people in more human ways than legacy brands have in the past.

How can brands better connect with their customers? Neil discovered that what a brand could do depended on its category. Some categories, like sporting or alcohol brands engender high, positive emotional engagement. People are likely to feel less-connected/neutral to negative with other categories; e.g. financial services.

A new brand in a category where people are less connected may benefit by projecting more human-centric content in its marketing communications. Hey Human relies on behavioral sciences and neuroscience to identify ways to reinforce connections with people, and develop more connective content.

Neil presented “Advertising Detox: How to Reduce Cognitive Load” at the 2019 South by Southwest Conference in Austin, TX, where he and Hey Human’s neuroscience consultant, Aoife McGuinness, utilized brain monitoring equipment to “demonstrate the cognitive effects of different forms of advertising.” His company applies this knowledge with its clients, with the goal of “creating effective content that stimulates rather than drains [potential customer’s] brains.”

He feels strongly that companies need to recognize their key brand assets. Even though most people know that a logo is not the same thing as a brand, they often shortcut their thinking to that conclusion. The proof of that statement comes in those cases where a marketing communication is shown to be more effective without the company’s logo.

Hey Human won the Drum Agency 2018 Business Transformation Award and was a finalist for the Thought Leadership Award. The Business Transformation award recognizes Hey Human’s application of new ways of thinking and working to unlock growth for the agency and its clients. Their byline: “We grow Human Brands through changing behaviours” sums up their approach to working with clients.

Neil can be reached on Twitter and LinkedIn, through his company’s website at: or by email at:

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To Survive . . . ADAPT!

Joseph Jaffe, Admiral and Co-Founder of the HMS Beagle, a small consulting boutique agency, opens this interview with the story of how the HMS Beagle, the British ship that 200 years ago, carried Darwin to the Galapagos Islands, a voyage that inspired Darwin’s theories of evolution and the survival of species.

He then explains how the amazing pace of change in today’s business environment forces all businesses, from small startups to “large, lethargic legacy corporations,” to be in the “survival business.” Small businesses understand their vulnerability. Large institutions don’t. Joseph believes, if the government does not break up large corporations like Amazon and Google, the organizations will, ultimately, break themselves.

So, what is the fast track to survival?

Adaptability to change.

For today’s agencies, this means keeping a small, strong core of talent; creating a highly branded, scalable, expandable, cut-and-paste-able structure; and contracting with “armies of partners from mercenaries, freelancers, boutiques.” Joseph does not believe in “long contracts.” He feels effective change can result from a no longer that a three month “workshop” engagement, followed by small scale advisory interventions.

Joseph spoke at the 2019 South by Southwest conference on: “Built to Suck: The Inevitable Demise of the Corporation . . . and How to Save It?” He’s also the author of a book by the same name.

Joseph believes that corporations, by their very nature, suck and that the very things that helped large companies grow will bring them down:

  • Size: The size, scalability, economies and efficiencies of scale, and cost-cutting ultimately creates a strangling overhead of politicization, dysfunctionality, siloization, risk-aversion, and conservatism. The world is speeding up. Big corporations, dragging anchor, are slowing down.
  • Age: Companies that started before 1980 are less likely to last . . . the baggage of legacy is not always a good thing.
  • Public Ownership: Being a public company is the kiss of death.
  • Culture: The cultures in big corporations don’t reward failure and the ability to change.

Joseph foresees massive cultural disruptions as technological advances change our priorities and what we value. He predicts that the substantial shift from tangible to intangible, from commodities to services, will result in the cataclysmic collapse of the real estate market. He believes companies need to change their focus from “courting strangers (first time buyers) and prostitutes (a customer who arbitrarily switches brands) to strengthening loyalty and community with their established customers.

On his “Built to Suck” website, Jeff offers a free-to-download Survival Planning Canvas, a template that underpins the HMS Beagle process.

Joseph can be reached on his company’s website at: or at his email at:

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Tweet This! Experience Marketing—When B to B is B to C

Three years ago, Patrick Walldén sold of the majority of his 165 employee agency to a real estate billionaire looking to diversify his portfolio. Arena group was formed when Patrick created Engage, a new lead agency, and combined it with leftovers from his previous company: Kobama, a digital production agency; and Parapix, a film company. Engage works on building engagement within companies . . . and between companies and their customers . . . .to build brand loyalty. Patrick describes Arena as “where brands meet target groups and interact with them in some positive way.”

Rob met up with Patrick at the 2019 South by Southwest Conference in Austin, TX. The two discussed some of the differences and similarities between marketing in Scandinavia and in the USA—the most notable difference being the difference in market size. Arena does work with some large clients. Patrick describes Arena as an activation and communication agency which provides experiential marketing content and event marketing – theater blended with brands and events. A lot of what Arena delivers is product-based.

When Scandinavian Airlines faced constant pressure from discount airlines, Arena helped them establish House of Scandinavia, a physical and digital “bonding platform” where Scandinavian Airlines’ frequent flyers can interact with the company. The focus is on “all things Scandinavian” – food, innovation, and such trademark Scandinavian values as equality and diversity.

Arena creates big brand pavilions for such companies as Volvo and Ericsson in telecommunications. Before social media, it was difficult to get an ROI on huge event marketing platforms. Patrick believes that Social media spin provides the leverage that now makes these big events profitable.

Originally, people thought social media and digitalization would eliminate the need for physical interaction. Au contraire, Patrick claims. Social media actually drives the need to meet more in real life.

No longer are the high-priced marketing experiences targeted to VIPs. Social media has exploded the number stakeholders or influencers that can leverage this type of marketing campaign. So, business to business marketing is becoming more “personal,” – much of it is becoming business to individual or business to person.

How does Arena measure campaign impact? Patrick emphasizes the importance of setting clear targets from the beginning, knowing what you are trying to achieve, and knowing what you could lose. You not only need to know what you need to measure . . . but how you will measure it. If you don’t think it through from the beginning, you may be forced into “faking it” by clever post-campaign KPI placement.

Patrick has found the huge explosion of skilled gig freelancers in the past 10 years has greatly reduced the need for having a large permanent staff . . . agencies can now expand quickly to meet the demands of a large project . . . and easily reduce staff when the project is complete. He feels flexibility and the ability to quickly adapt will become increasingly essential for agency survival.

Patrick can be reached on his company’website at: or by email at

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Compassionate Capitalism

Michael Skolnik, co-founder of Soze Agency, a social impact agency selling compassion, equity, and authenticity, believes that, if his company is going to build creative campaigns about these values, then the company itself has to operate internally according to these values. How is that implemented?

Soze Agency is a worker-owned cooperative. Vacation time is unlimited. What? How does that work?

Soze employees are deeply vested in the success of the company . . . because, to varying degrees, they own it. Michael gave 62% of the company to his workers in the first 3 years and divests himself of 8% more of his ownership every year. In 7 years, he will be out. It is, he says, “an experiment in compassionate capitalism,” a model he would like to see in many more companies. He wants to see everyone win . . . and believes this is one way to make it possible. Employees at Soze don’t take unlimited vacations because they know the company they own and the bonuses they receive depend on their being there and doing the work.

Michael started his career and attended his first South by Southwest conference as a filmmaker, which is a medium for storytelling. Today, his company is rooted in storytelling. At South by Southwest’s March 2019 conference, he participated in a panel, “Moments, Momentum, Movement,” which addressed how cultural “moments become movements, what’s happening now in America and where we are, the work that we do and how that correlates to this temperature rise in the heat of this country, and how we hold onto that for the long term.”

Michael feels this country is in a “tough spot,” uncertain about where it is going and what it wants to become. In the marketing world, this is reflected in brands’ insecurity about how to interact with their customers in critical “moments.” Younger people, in particular, are demanding that companies respond. Michael emphasizes the importance of authentic and relevant communication.

Michael can be reached on his company’s website at:, on Twitter at: @WeAreSoze, on LinkedIn at:, or on FaceBook at:

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The Purpose-Driven Company: Optimizing Financial Performance

Ann Barlow, West Coast President/ Head of Employee Engagement at Peppercomm, a strategic communications and marketing firm whose purpose is promote, protect, and connect clients—and “to use its innovation and imagination to inspire people to come to know and trust the organizations it works with.” The 23-year-old Peppercomm has its roots in PR, and, although its focus today is on integrated communications, the PR influence persists in the questions it asks: What do clients need? What problems need to be solved? and What is the agency trying to create?

Ann participated in a panel, “Prescription for Sexual Harassment,” at the March 2019 South by Southwest creativity conference in Austin, TX. She places the onus on companies to create opportunities for people to “actually listen to each other.” Solving workplace problems like sexual harassment will require open discussions about things people might think are okay, but actually are not. Clarity about such issues . . . and working toward solving them . . . will improve individual and business performance. People work better in more collaborative, purpose-driven, listening environments, which Ann calls “cultures of innovation.”

Ann sees a difference in what the younger generation of workers demands as employees from the companies where they work—that their companies take a stand on social issues. She feels that companies that have a “North Star” will have an easier time attracting and retaining talent . . . and that companies that are purpose-driven perform better financially  

Ann is researching what needs to change inside organizations . . . and the interrelationship of employee engagement, business structure, how people within organizations listen to each other, and productivity. She intends to publish the results of that study on her company’s website at:

Ann can be reached at her company’s website or on LinkedIn at:

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Recipe for Success: Do Less of Better, Not More of Crap

Lee Caraher is Founder, President, and CEO of Double Forte, a “fiercely independent public relations and social media firm” with offices in New York and San Francisco. They select clients that are good companies doing great things in their categories (in particular – consumer lifestyle, digital life, and professional services); and set goals based on business outcomes (ROI)—not PR outcomes. At least 50% of the company’s employees has a minimum of 8 years of experience.

In this interview, Lee provides tips on how to communicate effectively in email messages and why it is important for an agency to be “easy to work with.” She believes that measuring against business goals comes first, because the closer an agency is to meeting its clients’ business goals, the longer term its contracts will be. The longer term its contracts are, the more profit the agency can drive out of those contracts and the longer it will keep its employees. Her company’s average client engagement period from Day 1 is 5-½ years, double the average retention rate in San Francisco. With an eye for the numbers, Lee points out that these strategies also help on the staffing side: Her 16-year-old company’s average tenure for people under 30 is 4-½ years and over 30 is 6-½ years.

During the 2008 recession Lee re-engineered her company. Originally, she had required new hires to have at least 10 years of experience. With the economic downturn, she knew she had to bring on less-experienced people so that when things turned around, she would have a continuum of experience instead of a “hard times” hiring freeze “doughnut hole.” She cut frills, diversified the client base and increased the percentage of consumer goods clients (working with consumer goods clients on a national basis), and told her employees to dig deep with prospective clients. Instead of saying “No” as a first response to clients that didn’t appear to “fit,” she told her agents to say, “Yes, tell me more.” If they got to “No” in the end, they would have arrived there by going through, “Yes,” and not bypassed an opportunity.

Lee can be reached on her company’s website at: or follow her on Twitter @DoubleFortePR.

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Leveraging Personal Swag for the Right Brand Message

Izzy Lugo is COO at Urban Misfit Ventures, an 8-month-old, start-up holding company that Izzy confesses “pivots a lot.”

One agency subsidiary, IEEG, specializes in storytelling and influencer marketing – often by creating a video to tell a brand’s story. The influencer marketing portion of their work is based on stories told by influencers, but the influencers are Urban Misfit Venture’s employees, each of whom has a massive individual following. Because the employees are the influencers, they can consult with clients and carefully craft the messages that need to be presented. No paying an influencer and trusting that individual to say “the right thing.” IEEG knows what message it wants to send . . . and knows it is going to get it.

Urban Misfit Ventures’ clients include Milwaukee’s professional sports teams and national and international clothing and design brands, who are amazed that the agency and the influencers are one and the same.

The second Urban Misfit Ventures’ subsidiary, MKE Misfits, is an events company that tells the client’s brand story, is very involved in that story, and then provides “quirky” experiential promotions to differentiate itself and its client companies. The company has a major reputation in the Milwaukee area. Urban Misfit Ventures is planning to introduce a number of other specialty subsidiaries I 2019.

How did it all start? After a period of separate careers, Quentin, Izzy’s college roommate, had met with two of the company’s other founders, and then approached Izzy to pitch the idea of Urban Misfit Ventures. After an hour conversation, Izzy was on board, and two weeks later, he quit his job at the bike share. In eight months, the team has grown to 10 employees, including interns. When they started, they traded services for their space at a co-working space, truly starting from scratch.

Izzy can be reached on his company’s website at:, as can anything related to IEEG or MKE Misfits. His company is also on LinkedIn and Instagram. Izzy, Israel Lugo III uses @IzzyLugo for all his handles..

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Avoiding Chaos to Expedite Agency Growth

Jason Blumer is CEO of Blumer and Associates, a CPA firm dedicated to providing strategic growth strategies to creative design, digital, and marketing agencies ready to go to “the next level.” Key areas of influence include transforming people to facilitate growth, leveraging teams to scale, and recrafting business models. Areas of greatest impact are pricing . . . and how a business is run.

Jason notes that an agency’s pricing reflects its value to its market or its niched expertise. It will take 2 to 3 years for an agency to transition from hourly pricing to value-based pricing – a process that starts with new clients. Legacy clients who refuse to abandon the old hourly-pricing model become “legacy baggage.” No matter the form, the co-existence of legacy systems (the old way of doing things)—whether pricing, organizational, or operational – and new, conflicting, growth-targeted policies and procedures causes confusion, and what Jason refers to as “chaos.” This kind of growth problem is often the result of an owner not letting go and letting the business become what it is meant to be – or the owner pulling rank and violating the new “rules,” destroying credibility.

Much of the focus of Blumer & Associate’s work is on moving toward simplicity, eliminating chaos (chaos inhibits growth), and transforming business owners into organizational leaders. These leaders are then charged with:

  1. Developing relevant mission statements and defining how to live out those missions
  2. Implementing core (foundational) values and effective patterns, processes, and rhythms
  3. Caring deeply for their teams and the rhythms around their teams
  4. Keeping people and teams accountable and leading them to all walk in the same direction.
  5. Encouraging collaboration. Collaboration leads to strength

Jason warns companies not to hire people who are unwilling to collaborate and outlines a process to safely release an employee who refuses to collaborate or fails to follow an organization’s core values:

  1. Recognize and acknowledge nonconforming behavior, with a friendly offer to help or explain
  2. Make a less-friendly suggestion that the employee work on the problem
    1. The employee’s failure to follow core values
    2. That the employee must follow core values for the company’s health
    3. That the issue has been discussed
    4. That the employee knows the rules and knew them when hired
  3. Meet facetime (in-person/virtual) with a manager pointing out:
  4. Meet facetime (in-person/virtual) with a manager telling the employee that s/he has to follow the core values and then stating, “You will do it and this is the last conversation we’ll have asking you to do it.”
  5. Let the employee go in a way that does not hurt the firm and or the released employee

Jason can be contacted by googling “Jason Blumer,” on Facebook, on Instagram, on his website at, @JasonMBlumer on Twitter, or on his company’s LinkedIn site at , or website at:

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