TMW #100 | Reflections on 100 newsletters

Oct 17, 2022

Welcome to The Martech Weekly, where every week I review some of the most interesting ideas, research, and latest news. I look to where the industry is going and what you should be paying attention to.

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Here’s the week in Martech:

  • Reflections on 100 newsletters (pt 1): Why I continue writing TMW
  • Online media is run by the olds: Most popular online publishers are old
  • Google announces PAIR: New, anonymous data sharing tech
  • Everything else: Meta’s iterations, another kind of decentralization, CRMs are still at the center of Martech, personal data for billboards, and more generative AI stuff!

✍ Commentary

Reflections on 100 newsletters (pt 1)

Last week, as I watched the sunset while flying out of Singapore, one thing that struck me was how unusual it was that I was there. I went to Singapore last week to learn about Martech in Asia, and to do a talk on privacy for Big Data and AI world, but if you asked me back in 2019 if I would be doing anything like that just a few years later, I’d say it would be very unlikely, who would go all the way to South East Asia to learn about marketing technology!?

TMW was what brought me to Singapore, in the same way it brought me to San Fransisco just a few weeks earlier - I just had to learn about how different regions are working with Martech. Committing to writing a weekly newsletter about marketing tech has become a vehicle for exercising my curiosity about one of the fastest-growing technology sectors in the world.

In its own way, TMW has become an adventure that compels me to continue to write about marketing technology, even after a quarter million words, 100 newsletters, and more than 200 charts.  

TMW started as a simple social media post experiment, but now has subscribers in over 65 countries, from the world’s most influential companies in the world, and a regular readership who’ve turned into friends and collaborators.

But most importantly, TMW has given me a mission for the marketing technology industry: To help business leaders think deeper and broader about the role of marketing technology in our business, our lives, and the world.  

And it’s still free and ad-free. After all this work over two years, a question you might ask yourself is if it’s worth the time and effort to publish a free newsletter. Well.. I have a few thoughts.

The obvious reasons for writing TMW

There are plenty of good reasons to launch a newsletter as a starting point to build a business, sell courses, or just to become more employable. And for many people, those are the outcomes that they aim for. And I understand why that is now. Having a regular rhythm with an audience, building on your ideas week after week, and using writing to improve your research and articulation skills are all incredibly powerful ways to create demand and a network effect that drives new subscribers, awareness, and new partnerships.

Over the past twelve months, as subscriber count and engagement has grown, I’ve added a number of great partnerships. A few are The Martech Podcast as a regular industry research contributor, collaborator with, and a new joint venture with the brilliant Scott Brinker called Big Martech. All of these opportunities came from TMW.

David Perrell once said that writing increases the surface area of your luck, and I’m starting to believe him – writing has an affinity quality to it, you attract people who think, or want to think like you and who hold similar values. In a way, exposing your perspective to an audience self qualifies those who want to be in your orbit.

This is the obvious reason for starting a newsletter - to create demand for your own products or services. That’s why many people get into the newsletter game, it’s part of their content strategy to bring in leads, and new customers or keep the existing ones engaged. I've seen this first hand, over the past twelve months, I have received numerous offers for consulting and advisory gigs, because writing is like a job interview, people can gauge how you think through your writing.

That's all well and good, but these are not the main reasons why I continue with TMW. Writing content for lead generation is overwhelmingly boring, mostly because you can't say anything interesting. Instead, when I started the newsletter I had a different hypothesis, what if the content is the end goal with no hidden agenda, no lead-generation tactics, just a simple way to serve the community I know and love? Would people like something like that? The answer is mixed.

A brand without a business

In the beginning, no one cared about what I was doing with TMW, I was just some random guy with a few years of experience in marketing technology consulting, a keen interest Martech, and a frustration with the firehose of content in the industry. It could have easily not progressed beyond a few social media posts. But it did. Why?

A random reader asked where she could get email updates for the blog around 3 months in. It was this simple request that drastically changed my perspective on what I was doing - somebody out there wanted to stay updated on TMW, enough to message me about it! It was from that point that I realized that I’m no longer running a weekly blog, but a brand.

When I was building TMW I was reading Shoe Dog, the story of Phil Knight and Nike. The story paints a picture of a brand that started from humble beginnings too. It took years for Nike to really go anywhere, but what was important was the love and devotion Nike customers had for the company.

Nike was Oregon’s running shoe of choice because Phil Knight was a runner building products for runners. And it was this commitment to the craft and the customer that built a loyal following and new opportunities. Building brands take more than just advertising, a good product, and content marketing – it takes a real devotion to your community, and a willingness to see the people in it succeed.

TMW has come to represent something in the marketing technology industry. After talking to many of you, what has become clear is that there’s a certain taste to the content, a nuanced and reasoned perspective, and a way to save time and gain insight. Many of you agree with the view that marketing technology needs critical analysis. I did not know that when I started.

The funny thing about TMW is up until very recently it was never a business. You don’t need to earn revenue to create value. In many ways, the most successful companies focus on value creation over revenue capture, because helping other people builds a brand, and a brand is an asset that creates opportunities to capture value. But it still must be focused on the end-user and in serving them in the best way possible.

Solving a big problem with curation

I can understand why TMW readers have such positive reactions. When I started, I was frustrated with the firehose of content, the competition for attention among technology companies, and the constant barrage of articles, sponsored posts, webinars, podcasts, whitepapers, research reports, market updates, op-eds, and social media posts. I started TMW for myself, as a way to get smarter about what’s going on in Martech.

Now, more than ever is there a need to help curate and contextualize what’s going on in the marketing technology industry and to provide a filter for the noise. In Casey Newton’s wildly successful newsletter, the Platformer, he suggests that the need for nuanced, objective market analysis is an underserved market:

“What I am forgetting in those moments is that people are generally under-served by the commentary and analysis they find online. Most takes (and many reported articles) are still tuned to perform well on Twitter, and as such they tend to emphasize fear and outrage above all else. Most people experience a broader range of human emotion than these, and so browsing the Twitter timeline, or the stories produced in order to appease it, often leave us feeling empty: we know there is nuance and complexity there that has been sacrificed in hopes of getting retweeted.”

- Casey Newton, Platformer

The problem with most content is that it fails to interact with competing viewpoints. The quickest way to grow an email list is to speak to your base and outrage the other side or create views that stir up divisiveness.

The other way to grow a list is to get people to pay you to write what they want. Nuanced views are no longer something that creates virality because we’re losing our willingness and ability to engage with media which takes a little more work. We’d rather distract ourselves to death on TikTok than read a 3-page whitepaper.

But the surprising thing about TMW is that a lot of you care about market awareness, and appreciate the often changing and challenging views in the newsletter. Over time, I’ve changed my views on the concept of Web3, single view of customer, the importance of privacy, the metaverse, the future of the CDP, what will replace the third-party cookie, the modern data stack and many other topics.

That's the value of a newsletter, you can discuss and dissect market change from the standpoint of a long time horizon. You can be honest with people and say that sometimes you don’t have an answer and that it's complicated.

On the one hand, nuanced commentary that engages with views critically doesn’t get the kind of virality that one-sided hit pieces or sponsored posts get in the age of algorithmic content. In many ways, we’ve lost the nuance that has defined knowledge work in the past. We don’t have poems, essays, or works of philosophy anymore, it’s all just content to endlessly feed the social media algorithms fine-tuned to drive reactions.

So focusing on analysis over attention means a smaller subscriber base, but it also means that readers are smarter, more principled people who approach their work from a values-based perspective (that’s you!). If you’re after attention, then making dancing videos on Tiktok is perhaps a better strategy than starting a newsletter.

TMW tries to solve the firehose problem of content in the marketing technology industry through content curation and commentary, but also through ritual. A regular touchpoint with a reader or the expectancy that someone will read TMW with a cup of coffee and breakfast on Sunday morning is incredibly powerful.

Rituals are what have defined human societies in ages past, and that’s why people attend churches or the Mosque regularly. It’s also why you show up for work every Monday to attend standup. Rituals are a format for connection, and TMW is here to deliver not just content, but a meeting point between readers and the industry.

Newsletters are about future-proofing audiences

The big bet I have on newsletters is based on its uniqueness in the media landscape. Newsletters leverage an owned audience that, in many cases is not subjected to algorithmic decisioning of content. That means when someone subscribes, they want to hear from you directly.

With most email clients, however, the algorithmic selection of email content is becoming more pervasive. For example, Gmail’s selection of emails landing in the junk folder or the promotions or updates folder limits user control. Yet despite this, outside of SMS or good old-fashioned direct mail, there’s no other channel that creates an opportunity to contact people, at scale on an open format with little algorithmic intervention.

Regardless, building a first-party audience through collecting email addresses is one of the most defensible ways to build a brand. People see your name on your email and if they enjoy what you’re doing then you’re very likely to continue to show up, make an impression and form a relationship with a reader.

The other aspect of newsletter writing that Benedict Evans touches on is that it feels more like a product than a blog or social media channel. Because the content is coming to you, instead of passively scrolling past it on social media, or relying on conscious effort to search it out, there’s a premium aspect to that which users place on newsletter content. Email is also the only channel to not have an edit button once published. It’s high-stakes content!

Find an industry and serve it well

I do want to say thank you to everyone who’s read the newsletter - you decided to give some of your valuable time (a non-renewable resource) to reading TMW. For those who went out of your way to share TMW with your co-workers, communities, friends, and bosses I say thank you for risking a small part of your reputation for recommending TMW and to the many people who have supported TMW with new opportunities and often for free, I’m very grateful!

So why do I continue to write TMW? It’s my way to solve the big problem of media overload in the marketing technology space, and most importantly it’s how I serve the industry that’s been so good to me. Everyone wants to build a successful career, but not many of us want to build a successful industry. Choosing the latter is more rewarding and interesting. TMW is my small contribution.

➡️ Next week in I’ll be talking about phase 3 - what's next for TMW and announcing some exciting new products and features. Stay tuned 📺

📈Chart Of The Week  

News media is still an old-school game. The most interesting thing about this chart is how few internet native media brands are in the top volume website traffic ratings. Online media is very similar to offline, it relies heavily on brand and awareness. Link

📰 Latest Developments

Google announces PAIR. In the next iteration of privacy-focused Adtech tools, Google offers a way to pass hashed first-party data (like an email address) to match with publishers. The program “PAIR” stands for Publisher Advertiser Identity Reconciliation and is following other methods of sharing user data without revealing who they are. Link

Meta’s iterations. Meta made a series of product announcements this week focused on their metaverse ambitions including a new premium-priced pro version of the Oculus headset, a new partnership to bring Microsoft Teams into the metaverse, and legs for avatars, which turned out to be fake! There are also some more interesting features coming out, like using VR devices to track data from your facial expressions, but not a lot on the monetization side, particularly as it relates to how marketers might be able to build experiences or run ads in a VR environment. Most of the work so far is focused on user acquisition. Links: KEYNOTE. MICROSOFT.FAKE LEGS. VR TRACKING.

EU and US data transfers. The Biden administration signed an executive order to create a new way for EU and US data to be shared. This is the second attempt to establish an order with growing GDPR fines for US companies violating data sovereignty rules. Without a framework in place, global tech companies, particularly ones that have customers across both nations will face increasingly complex guidelines to follow when collecting, storing, and activating customer data. Link

📚 Reading

Another kind of decentralization. A revisiting of an important internet movement without all the web3 and blockchain hype. Link

How CMOs are reacting to privacy legislation. Slowly, and then all at once is the dominating theme here for how marketing leaders are now thinking about privacy regulation and compliance. Link (also read this great summary in the wake of the Optus breach)

The internet is looking a lot more like TV these days. Social media apps have this oddly familiar experience to anyone who used to watch prime-time TV. It’s just cable, all the way down. Link

🔢 Data & Insights

The product management tech landscape. Link

Are marketing teams getting laid off? An interesting study looks at the population of staff being laid off during the tech downturn. Marketing jobs are among the least affected. Link

CRMs still at the center of Martech. An interesting study from Anteriad looks at what platforms are used in marketing technology stacks. CRMs appear in 61% of all stacks, a little less than double that of CMS and Marketing Automation. Link

💡 Ideas

TikTok is building fulfillment centers. The gap between attention and commerce is increasingly closing. If you can sell products on TikTok, why not also manage the customer experience component of shipping? Link

A contrarian take on the idea of a metaverse. With so much negativity directed toward Meta’s vision for 3d virtual worlds, the NYTs look at the technology and concludes that it’s actually fun. Link

Using personal data to target people with billboards. Somehow using personal geolocation data for targeting ads in a physical environment seems off-limits. But online Adtech has been doing it for years. Link

✨ Weird and Wonderful

More generative AI stuff. A creepy podcast that brings Steve Jobs back to life and an interesting product photo touchup app. PODCASTS.PRODUCTS.

A good analysis of tech workers posting about their jobs on TikTok. One of the weirder internet trends to emerge recently. Link

“Metaverse Accenture”Link

Stay Curious,

Make sense of marketing technology.

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Juan Mendoza

Juan Mendoza is an expert in researching global media, marketing, data, and technology trends. He is the CEO of The Martech Weekly, a media and research brand with subscribers in over 65 countries.

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