May 20, 2020

Secret Project

I worked on something with someone a while ago. Sometime later, they reached out about a project they wanted me in on but provided no context. Secrets make life interesting.

As a test, they asked if I could provide a piece of copy to match the marketing speak of a company called The J. Peterman Company. Of course I could.

Never do free work” is the advice I ignored in this scenario, wanting to prove to this somewhat stranger and potential business partner that I was worth my salt. Though a portfolio provides free entry to one’s entire salt mine, I decided to fuck it and have fun writing something in the voice of J. Peterman. Not free work—free play.

Selling a t-shirt

Shirt

For mister algorithm. Greatness demands a clean slate.

Everything you cherish was made by someone comfortable. Someone practical, yet wildly creative. A furnace scrubbed of yesterday’s ash ready to rage again into the future.

A hardened minimalist doesn’t wear their heart on their sleeve. They wear their mind on their chest. Thought armour.

Speaking of chest, the Pragmatic Tee (No. 1023) sports a subtle front pocket. The shirt for every occasion knows that every occasion involves a bit of paperwork. Slide a movie ticket in there. Your visa to Cambodia, where you’re slated to scour the jungle for the fairest smelling lotus. A matchbox from that dim basement bar at The Goring where the man in snakeskin boots scribbled a cryptic address.

The tee is made for Living. Double-lattice officer sleeve seams. Singed interior folds for minimum friction. Quarter turn in-cuts and precision-measured waist length so your abdomen won’t get chilly with up-stretched arms gripping an aluminium helicopter skid. Let go when ready. You calculated the drop perfectly. Made in Indonesia.

Mystery man enjoyed the blurb, then Can you write something similar for a vacation rental as well?” Ah damn okay I guess. I found a photo of a fancy little Montanan cabin that reminded me of the game Firewatch. Great game, by the way.

Selling a vacation rental

Cabin

Montana, nature’s mistress. A winter white canvas stretched with flecks of sleeping timber and the humming tummies of silent hibernation. Where a silk wind is your closest friend.

Some folks take holiday when they’ve had enough. You’re the one who hikes to the top and doesn’t feel quite finished yet.

Whitefish Lookout takes you there. To the top. And then some. Three more flights some. It’s a candlewick in the stillness of landscape erased by slow snowfall. Safety in height. Cloud comfort.

The only danger? You’ll make Bond villains jealous. Less you invite them in. Impress em with Montana mountain vodka chilled in chipped ice from the lake down the forward footpath.

It’s a lookout because it looks out for you. Takes good care to. Sturdy electricity for smooth-pumping heat vents. A full kitchen decked with the right tools. Aged, air-dried timber fit with natural pine sap. Set it alight. Breathe in.

You’ll book a week or so at Whitefish, maybe longer, but you won’t take your time there—she’ll take it. Sew your time right into the fibers of woven thistle rug adorning her hardwood base. Walk barefoot across your own, personal eternity.

It’ll cost a bit to get here, but then so will any rejuvenating jaunt. What you’ll really pay with is that bit of soul left behind to revel with the rest. Maybe yours will play cards with Roosevelt among the pines, who can really know for sure?

He liked it. I enjoyed writing it. Great! We hopped on a call (I hate that phrase) and discussed the secret project. It was secret no longer. In fact, I’m currently working on it. Will it see the light of day? Perhaps. But you’ll have to write two creative bits for me to find out.

Nah, I’ll let you know when the time’s right. Or not at all. Some somethings turn to oncethings then to nothings. Doesn’t everything, eventually?

January 25, 2020

Rock-solid Marketing

Welcome to an incomprehensive case study on influencer marketing by yours truly. It involves a steak that’ll crack your chompers, Saudi Arabia, Indiana Jones, millions of followers, thousands of dollars, and a dirty river somewhere in southwest England.

Three relics

In 2019, I was working on Setapp. If you’re not familiar, it’s a SaaS product for Mac apps. I wrote a good chunk of the website, including the tagline and description right up front.

You found Setapp. The frontier platform that packs 170+ Mac apps into just one. A personally curated membership for $9.99/mo.

On the growth marketing team I was the, er, Full Stack Copywriter. The real title’s a bit different, but full stack sarcastically well-describes the breadth across which my texts covered the product.

Setapp had been around just under two years when I joined. The marketing budget was relatively huge due to funding from the company’s other, more stalwart product. We were throwing bills at people to promote Setapp, but we couldn’t get them to drip down the funnel into full membership because the product lacked real value.1

We had a lot of room for experimentation with a bubbling marketing budget. The backlog was long but made of safe tasks and one-offs. I wanted to take a risk, reaching beyond our usual door knocks and into completely new audience territory. Here’s what happened.

The Idea

At Setapp, the marketing team frequently contracted tech YouTubers to talk about how great Setapp is. This type of influencer marketing is only effective to an extent. Our audience is savvy and can see through paid promotion. In consumer nations, buyers are ever wiser about seeking authentic reviews and cutting through common advertising sewage.

My brother Kevin is inspired by travel influencers and content creators. The made-it’s of those pectoral fellows and fancified dames often promote products. But if you read the comments carefully, picking through the weeds, you can frequently spot jealous types or aspiring creators who are so damn curious about what equipment their idols are using to achieve such salivating shots. As if buying the exact camera and lens could somehow transport them to a Parisian rooftop with sideshow doves, caramel skies, Cartier watches and a pearl-toothed posse.

Eureka, bitch.

Content creation is at the core of Setapp. So is digital nomadism. Needing only your trusty Mac and a hearty imagination to get to those peculiarly clean roof cushions. I’d have those tiny, coincidental social media stars puff up Setapp.

The Pitch

Ads smell bad. We avoid them like a fart. And like a fart, it’s not always detectible when one’ll come along. So we install blockers. We click skip. We just close the damn page.

Is tasteful, authentic, thought-provoking product placement is the ideal? Or, is it the idol?

You’ve seen Indiana Jones. The one with the big rolling stone and the stout gold screaming lady. If not, pretend you have and don’t tell anyone you haven’t, then watch it.

Indiana Jones

To the Setapp growth marketing and PR teams, my pitch was this. Have rocks made like little Jonesian relics with the Setapp logo. Send them out to Instagram bigshots. Remember the tagline? You found Setapp. The influencers would play it like they’d discovered the relics, then spurt on about how they use Setapp to logisticize their journeys and edit the almighty, orgasmic content. Their audiences would be mystified and not the least bit offended by the authentically-placed stones set perfectly in their Adobe-augmented natural settings.

The Strategy

To pull this off, I’d need two main things: the rocks, and the people to show off the rocks. I didn’t have a budget for this campaign, just a tell me the cost and I’ll let you know”. Setapp’s got a dime or two for the fountain.

I spent an hour googling stone masons and emailed a few solid options with the brief. After narrowing down to three carvers intrigued by the idea, I had them send images of the type of stones they’d use. All of them were fantastic, but one fossil photograph really caught me. It drew me in.

Ben Russell, known professionally as The Dorset Stone Carver, was my man. Ben The Rock” Russell. Benny Rockwell. B Rock. He sent me photos of moss-dripped river rocks still wet with sheen. They were as I’d imagined, found relics. He told me he’d gone on a walk with his doggo and sniffed em out of a stream in southwest England. These were it. I set Ben to chop-chipping straight away.

Next. The influencers. Kevin supplied me with a list of his go-to guys and gals. I must have sent around 40 emails. Some went to the camera food directly, others went to their managers. I received quotes for one Instagram post with an accompanying story that would reference-link to Setapp. Please sip some liquid. The numbers I got back will eject it forcefully from your mouth hole.

The most expensive of the bunch, for one post with story, was $125,000. Yeah.

Most ranged from $2k to $20k, which is still a yikes amount of dough. Lower price range accounts had 120k+ followers and the higher tiers were in the millions. I was more interested in engagement ratios and authentic comments and audiences.

For a first run, we went with three folks. Two of them with more than a million followers and one with a bit more than 100k. They’d have full creative control so the content would match their brand aesthetics. I’d approve the photos and the captions. They’d just have to use our UTM-loaded referral link for conversion tracking and the hashtag #youfoundsetapp.

Contraband

This part was unforeseen. Setapp is based in Kyiv, Ukraine. It’s known to be one of the most corrupted places in Europe, despite getting bits better over the years since certain revolutions that further separated the country from Russia. Bureaucracy is a pain in the booty. And getting things through customs can be tricky.

When a box of 20 paper towel-wrapped stones with mysterious symbols on them arrived at the border, they were held up. I had to troubleshoot with Ben and we had to explain the project to the border agents. Don’t try shipping your cocaine in cut rocks.

When the rocks came through, some time was lost. Influencers were traveling around as they do and had to scrap ideas about how to integrate the rocks in their feeds when they’d leave a place having expected the rock to arrive. With the help of a very patient office manager, we shipped rocks around the world to various drop points ahead of when the phone-famous figures would arrive. We often missed the delivery mark. Despite slight lost collateral, it’s romantic to think of the missing rocks floating around a shack in Switzerland or a Bali bungalow. The lost relics make the found relics far more authentic. Unplanned serendipity.

The Outcome

You’re wondering how these puppies look. These pricey posts. Scroll on.

The first of the bunch. Jack Morris lives in Indonesia and this photo was taken at his terrible office. Who’d want to work there? The fresh air, natural light, smooth wooden desk and tickly Babylonian hanging vines. Sandals and hand-carved sundries. Nasi goreng for breakfast and coconut cocktails til dark. His rock is held in front of the majestic Mount Agung. I had the pleasure of meeting Jack by his home. Friendly guy and more down to earth than I’d expected.

Jack Morris

Sam Kolder sets himself in Hawaii among the hang gliders and sharks. Poke bowls and pig-pits. Kevin’s gotten leid there. This photo, however, was taken in what’s quickly becoming the wealthy tourist where-to, Saudi Arabia.

Sam Kolder

Not least, Slater Trout and his trapezii. A muscle-padded paddler and competition-winning surfer who shot some Setapp relic photographs in the States’ hot springs.

Slater Trout

Jack set the style and the others took note. This kept the content consistent while still residing within each of the influencers’ own brand styles. Couldn’t have turned out more brilliant. The comments are where it really gets interesting. They’re the meat of the posts, what really matters. Mmm, Setapp meat.2

Setapp steak

You’re not blind, my screenshots are rasterized, sorry about that. The steak reaction is hilarious. I love it. It’s this kind of response that sparks meme fuel. It also shows that the audience wasn’t offended by the advertising and could be playful right back.

Some sniffed out that it was an ad while others weren’t sure. This tinge of ambiguity is exactly what I was going for, but it’s also important that the brand message got across successfully, which it certainly seems to have.

Smart marketing

Others got pinched by the mystery of the relics, realizing that they must have been part of their celebrity’s adventurous lives. The rocks piqued brand interest, naturally.

Curiosity

And then there were those who named Setapp directly, promulgating the product further in parallel with famous promoters. Influencer marketing done right. Done well? Well done. I prefer medium-rare.3

Interest

I did warn you that this would be an incomprehensive case study. That’s because I’ve left Setapp and no longer have access to their analytics. Unfortunately, I can’t demonstrate ROI or throw conversion rates at you. Fortunately, numbers can be dry to some and you won’t have to dodge heavy airborne statistics. I like to look at this lack of closure in a different light, because marketing campaigns are worth more than their charts.

Any PR person worth their nutgraf will tell you that brand associations go deep. Setapp has now been seen by millions of content creators through the eyes of their idols. Well, their idols’ idols. The rocks. And each of the posts are immortalized on their respective feeds due to a removal contract clause. The You found Setapp. stones turn yet another SaaS product into a dream-creation machine. A mini tool of tools for personal growth. And achieving your Dubai-dancing dreams are worth far more than Setapp’s monthly sterling setback.

Staying Hard

Couldn’t resist the subhead.

Manufactured value or produced product passion? This exercise in influencer marketing was not cheap, but to make money you’ve gotta have it. I’m still wrestling with the moral implications of selling a dream, as I don’t use most social media partially for this purpose. It’s dirty business. But if you believe in what you’re selling and rub the snake oil on yourself, you should be showing it off.

Setapp may form into something more useful down the line. For now, it saves creators and nomads a dime if they use a million apps and would save more subscribing to a rental service than paying for the tools directly. I enjoyed pondering ways to get it to people who’d find it practical, and really hope some folks found it through this campaign. For Setapp to stay hard as the world-traveling rocks that bear its symbol, it’ll have to innovate and listen to its caring member community.

It was difficult to bridge the physical world with the digital to promote a software product, but it was well worth it. Potential Setapp members could better understand that the service might provide more than the sum of its apps. When appealing to their audiences, good marketers must look deeper than demographics and where those traits intersect with product value. The rock campaign was risky for a reason. It bet on the idea that app users don’t want to be at their desks staring at a searing screen. They’ll use their apps as a means to make it, self-marooning somewhere in paradise.


A thanks to Ben, Jack, Sam, Slater, and Team Setapp.

I’m looking for my next project to pounce on. Email me or fly over to Twitter. For a little ding every now and then on my latest posts and ponderings, subscribe. And if you ever find one of the missing relics, make sure it’s not a horcrux before displaying on your own darling desk.


  1. I could continue on this note, but this study’s focused on the campaign. To me, Setapp’s value is superficial and goes no deeper than a practical monetary equation, leading trial users to abandon ship when they realize they were only really using two or three apps they could buy outright. The bulk of the apps are fluff, and while the Setapp community recognizes this and suggests ways to improve the product, the product managers ignore customers, opting instead to develop small shiny things that contribute nothing truly valuable to the expensive overall experience.

  2. Heh, don’t worry, I’m still vegetarian.

  3. Ibid.

case studies
January 23, 2020

Motivation

Something special happens when you want to do, but don’t want to do the dos before what would be done. There’s a deep sense inside you saying what will and won’t happen according to priority. And what will happen must and what must happen requires a cucumber-keen motivation.

I’ll intersperse my usual self-conscious disclaimer that I am no oracle and am simply writing whatever this will turn out to be as a keepsake for myself and to those kind souls who’ve peeked over shoulder via my newsletter. It’s a two-way communiqué that you’re welcome to riff on.

A healthy individual is fond of a few of their own traits and dare I say I pride myself in my motivation. It hurts in a primal way to see the certain successes of others play out across the net, but that show makes it far too easy to think of your own flounders and forget the good stuff. I’ve had a pleasant amount of luck lately in my endeavors. Counting blessings keeps some humble humility handy so when that luck gets fucked I won’t be all too blindsided. A sacred font of ambition spouts from somewhere starboard of my digestive tract and it’s that trickle of motivation that’s enough to keep my boat afloat through imminent hardships.

I’ll share a spritz of that fountain with you.

Habits needn’t happen habitually

So many matters of motivation involve nursing habits to maturation. You should keep X, Y, and Z twice, thrice, and every other hour per week to keep a mate-attracting shape. You should write now and then and then and then for a puffed-up portfolio and read Rudyard in between. You should roll out of bed, hit the head, and steadfast to work for fortune. Finance family in a fractal pattern of unconditional appreciation. Condition a scalp sporadically, according to container label.

These habits happen not through Pavlovian pinging nor performance-enhancing app pushing. And they needn’t. Real repetitiveness reaches your brain stem through those sly sources you’d rather not acknowledge.

Alas, whatcha want to happen will with will.

I recently moved on from a pigeonhole position at a pretty unique company. As of this writing I am writhing in job apps and wringing the net for leads. It’s tedium at its finest, filing apps that should appeal to those you revere with a zeal that drops after each tap to submit. But I iterate, and turn the pesky process into a game that’s proven quite fun over the endless, blurry days.

What’s important is I haven’t made a habit of applying. No chore, no task, just me and a keyboard and cask, sending out and sipping down with frolic.

Life’s no joke

It’s a grand game, some Shakespearean twist turned on to new tech taking us from stage to system, library to level one.

My brother Kevin. I miss him some thousands of miles away. Both of my brothers, really. But this piece pertains to Kevin. Back at my parents’ house he’d careen into my room flinging bits and bouts of think things at the one AMs and on. I’d be about to brush and hit hay and he’d say something silly or wise with no way to know which way it’d go. At a point in time he laid on the concept of centeredness.

You’re the main character. First-person perspective. Everyone else is an NPC.

Kevin’s a bold boy. He just does shit. To hell with it. He up and goes. Sociable devil. And this helps to explain.

An NPC is a game term for a Non-payable Character. The concept is that in life, you control you and everyone else goes about their business. Is it selfish?

Moons ago. High school. A fling with a Karen who stared at cars. She saw the metal boxes whir by linearly like light. And she wondered about the people inside and where they were going and how far that continuum of cars would spread once they’d gotten there. Similar concept.

I studied comparative religion. Reminiscing about some K’s of present and past has me swirling in religious philosophy. It circles back to motivation. And to circles.

Circles

Motivation is about circles. And dammit if I don’t provide a practical phrase here. Been spewing abstractities. Too much word Pollock. This piece is admittedly structureless, but from a draft and therefore requiring a return to prior thought. Therefore a challenge. Therefore a true think.

When I want to do but don’t want to do the necessary before-dos I brush off the dos of before. The dreary application process as example. Here I am, hashing out emails to companies that look damn nice. And I won’t settle for bull because as much as there’s bull to be done there are people in pretty chairs doing the good work. And I take a why-not-me attitude to it all. It’s not a perfect method and ends in a lot of exacting strike-outs and face-slaps and you-think-you’re-betters. Then it happens and is alright. Because it happened before. Woe was before and so was contentedness. Samsara.

Like that fountain I spoke of earlier, motivation sprays out liquid that lays down into itself at a big circular well surrounding and gets sump-pumped back out. If you’re not suspending reality to understand this metaphor you may ask what charges the pump because fountains need electricity. The answer is bananas with peanut butter.

January 18, 2020

Copy is terrible

Floppy copy, that pile of words wilted over itself ten times until folds become creases and creases become cold and snap into fragments of phonetic debris. Wind picks up and carries that debris up and you pick up the updraft breeze until you sneeze and some first paragraph splashes onto the screen, soaking through to software and deeper still into binary and then that little space between the ones and zeros. Suddenly, it’s all written up.

Whole-ass. Think about last time you whole-assed something. Maybe it was minuscule as an email, but you clicked send. And it meant something. The receiving end got a pocket vibration whiz ding tritone primal ear ping and picked up their rectangle to read your rubbish. Then they acted accordingly. You disturbed the universe. You whole-ass god.

Copy never feels more than half a cheek at most. That’s why there’s a clear natural division, so you can differentiate between what the werewolves are woofing at and what’s less. The fleshy full-moon Hendrix experience. Except instead of chopping mountains, you’re patting plastic dough on the silver palette of your keyboard. And others do the same. But their word debris gets watered down, mixed around and turned into some makeshift paint. They lay strokes, they design.

Done with design

Writers are designers. Idea architects. But designers are designers by name.

It’s a plain shame to see a work of art. Took an age to make and a brow-raise to eat. But you’re impressed by that eye meal. A design of any kind knows itself. It communicates how hard it was to hash out. Effort is immediately apparent.

Words take time to consume. A meat stick with retinas wriggles in excitement when it straw-sucks a petty poem. But real word-steak is thick. It listens to you, and you can’t possibly fit it in your mouth at once. Poems are hard, they stay—everything else is diethyl ether. Either here for good or gone.

Put your ear up close

Words are pictures. Everyone’s got their own mental museum. Picture a pink porous soft-puzzle brain. You might think it’s bubble gum mac and cheese through and through, but you’re wrong. Take an anatomy class. Brains contain little folders. Literal folders. They do. And those have pictures of every single thing you think you know.

Your own ear. Two, right? A mirror’s a mirage. You’ve never seen your ear. Put your ear up close to this. What does it see?

What we can make you do

When no one sees what you’ve said to them, there’s always someone syphoning the sound. In this case, it’s you.

Recipes

It’s not required to follow the recipe.


This is the first musing after the first of Tom’s Newsletter has been sent out. I have many prompts that sound like they’d actually be of some use, but can’t remember what wise-ass things I’d planned to say when I came up with the draft titles. They won’t be written til I’m in the mind to whole-ass them.

Promise more whole-ass wise-ass words.

Tom

January 7, 2020

Interrobang

Wanted to call this one Amateur after the afterthought ending of the previous post. Decided Interrobang was more interesting.

Interrosting. When you interrogate a swarm of bees? When they interrogate each other? Perhaps the intercourse of their stings. Needle tips colliding, ejecting torsos, mutual minuscule fury, pinpoint midair mortality, yellow-black pajama joust, pointy bug hug.

A slight interest in all things and lack of specialty make an especially decent writer. Someone who will do to do, and will notice in between. Someone told to be crisp who’s cryptic instead. They laugh at concept.

The bee scene was a mind spree but lean into it. When wasp tips whip together, it’s Newtonian physics. Hubris and humility, hydrogen fusion. Hell if I know what’s happening here, but the devil knows it’s fun.

Time for Turkish tea and bedtime renegade. Night‽

January 5, 2020

Self Improvement

It’s the start of a new decade and this is apt.

I’ve been meaning to write on self-discipline and will later, hence the hyperlink. Been littering these blue tickets around the site. They’re essays-to-be. You’ll click some and find another hour’s thoughts or an unkept promise. Literary lottery.

This one’s about self improvement. Getting better. Going nowhere certain until the ultimate certainty. Certainly insane, you might ascertain.

Two Rooms

To feel free in some sense, I need to constantly check my two rooms. My physical room and mental room. Two sequestered spaces I should have complete control over, else flicker out. The rooms are connected inextricably. Only when some segment of my mind and living quarters are clean can I move on with whatever it is that must be moved onto.

To exercise control over these realms, I end up deleting a lot. Keeping only: what’s small and linked to a specific memory (e.g. an art exhibit entrance ticket), what I’ll need to reference in the immediate future (info about upcoming taxes), what’s the best designed version (a Muji mug), what can be left behind without care (an up-cycled ice cream pint plant vase).

List of Fate

Things by Cultured Code is the best task managing software the world will ever know. It’s where I store my immortal ordinal mandate, my List of Fate. Anything on the list must and will get done. It’s never empty and never full. It’s ribboned onto the propellor affixed to my coccyx, fluttering aft.

I want to share a part of it with you. It’s raw, titled Health: Ideals and hypotheses for self-growth, divided into two sections, and alphabetized.

More

Cardio (for heart health)

Fasting (intermittent, for muscle toning)

Flossing (for dental hygiene)

Reading (for inspiration and introspection)

Sleep (for more daily energy)

Writing (to balance consumption)

Less

Caffeine (for more natural energy)

Masturbation (for genuine fulfillment)

Picking (for healthier skin)

Pornography (for greater sensitivity)

Social Media (for analog joy)

Sugar (for more acute taste)

The list is simple, personal, unimposing, measurably achievable. And I’m not sharing it to influence you in any way. It’s a sincere sequence I thought I’d test out and observe the results of after various readings and conversations.

I’ve stuck to all of them, more or less, shaping this current version of me. They’re basic on purpose, because goals that are broader are easier to hit and there’s little sense in creating a nuanced goal you’ll feel poorly about aborting or missing the mark. After molding to meet the broader goals it will be more intuitive to experiment with nuance and results will hopefully be more apparent.

The more and less lists interweave. I like the idea of being open to new interests, so try to maintain a lean and agile bodily form. Talking about this makes me feel like an incredible tool. It’s as much for me as it is for you, this spreading out. Actually walking the line is quite vexing, and as much as I’d like to go on about my observations in self-improvement, I’d also like to keep your honest interest—sincere communication between me and you—not some half-mock, quarter-spite perusal. A follow-up post is in order should interest1 be shown, otherwise the cards stay face-down.

Low Light

I’m no model and have no regimen, having introduced small consistencies to my life that have proven well over time in an effort to more efficiently navigate all of this. There’s a tasseled lamp letting a low yellow light onto the table on which I type and it feels warm now but I can only imagine reading this later more clinically2 and wishing I weren’t the type of person to share such topical detail. Up to you to resonate or ricochet.

Small consistencies. This yellow light. Emit just a bit but enough.


  1. Email me.

  2. I did, resulting in the penultimate paragraph. Abandonment. Absolutely no answer as to why I’d divulged anything at all. Evidence of the war between loyalty to one’s own mind and the menacingly necessary marketing machine (An admittance of parallel commercial motives, or a plea in defense of sustainable artistic expression? To what extent is derailing permissible. What heathen forged the footnote. And why aren’t footnotes nestable‽) that is finding one’s niche. Amateur.