Finding A Look As Well As A Sound

// // October 28th 2013 // Life + Marketing

(This is a personal post. While it does have a lot of marketing insight it’s also a bit introspective so you’ve been warned if that’s not your thing.)

In the past year I’ve been interviewed by a number of folks. One of the questions that often comes up is who has influenced my work.

I get the sense that thy want me to reference other people in SEO or the marketing industry overall. And don’t get me wrong, there are a number of smart folks out there but most of my influences come from outside the industry.


At the end of the day I am influenced and inspired by artists. Musicians are often at the top of my list and I regularly listen to music as I do my work, whether it’s Daft Punk or The Chemical Brothers to get me through large chunks of analysis or Adam Ant, Kasabian, Cake or Siouxsie and the Banshees as I put together blog posts or conference decks.

I am continually impressed by artists who go out on that ledge with their own work. Of course nearly everything is derivative in some form, but I admire those that are able to express something in their own way, to put their twist on it with passion. I connect with those that aren’t afraid to be authentic.

Adam Ant Full Costume

I mean, Adam Ant ladies and gentleman! Sure, he’s been a bit off the map psychologically but it doesn’t change his music and his appearance.

“I grew up in the glam era and, for me, every album should have a look as well as a sound.”

See, I appreciate that sentiment. That’s what I think about when I’m working, when I think about what I stand for and what I want people to remember. A fair amount of what I’ve written lately connects to this central theme.


Ominous Van Gogh

Artists are investing something of themselves into their art, or at least the ones that matter do. You have to find your own voice, not someone else’s voice if you’re going to make an impression.

Will what you express always find an audience? Nope. Sometimes it just might take a long time for you to finally get that recognition, for people to understand what you’re trying to communicate. Or maybe it never happens. Face it, not everyone is expressing something of value. #truestory

But it is the attempt, on your own terms, that matters I think. Or at least that’s what I’ve embraced. This is slightly different then the failing your way to success mantra. I believe that, but I think what you’re failing at matters a lot.

For well over two years I blogged here in relative obscurity. Did I get better over those two years? Hell yes! I still think some of those early posts are solid but it took time for me to put together that my content had to ‘have a look as well as a sound.’


Ubik Book Cover Art

But I also try to put as much of myself into this blog, both in normal posts and the more personal ones.

I’m not talking about the ‘the mistake I made that turned out to change my business for the better’ posts that seem to be so en vogue lately. Yeah, we get that you can learn from your mistakes but it’s all too … tidy.

But reality is messy and I feel like it’s exposing that reality that resonates. A better representation of this is my Google+ feed where I share things that I find funny, interesting or poignant along with my normal industry content. It could be the IPA I’m drinking at Beer O’Clock or a picture of some Sleestaks.

And many of my blog posts are actually just me documenting stuff that I’m figuring out, because there’s always something more to learn.


Violator Depeche Mode Album Cover

The trite thing to say is that I’ve been lucky to have such success, but that type of humble brag isn’t authentic. I worked hard (and continue to) and am very happy for the recognition. While I can’t reveal many of my clients due to NDAs I’m damn proud to count 2 of the top 50 websites as clients.

I had a plan to develop my personal brand and I attacked it with 50% of my time. One of the things that worked out early on was exploring Google+ and Authorship. I didn’t do this because I thought I could make it into something but because I truly did see something interesting.

But should I just continue to blog about those things even if my interest has waned? I think many people, sites and brands get stuck doing what has brought them success in the past. And that makes sense in many ways. Marketing is often about finding what works and repeating that.

Not only that but the fans and followers you’ve garnered provide a huge boost to your confidence to say nothing of their ability to amplify your content. I can’t tell you how meaningful it is to have that support. I don’t take that for granted for a second.

But if you’re an artist, you evolve and grow.

What you want to express changes. In talking about writing this post with my wife she told me about how she and her friend listened to Depeche Mode’s Violator album when it first came out. They hated it. It was a departure from their prior work. It took her time to embrace the new album but today it’s still one of her favorites.

So I did write about Authorship again recently but I feel like that was an ending. I doubt I will again. Instead I’ll continue to write and explore what I’m passionate about. Maybe that won’t be as popular and that’s … okay.

Don’t get me wrong, I hope it is! No artist doesn’t want to achieve success. But just as importantly, success doesn’t define them.


Drive's Scorpion Jacket

So in the end I am influenced by those who inspire me to do better, who challenge me to get out of my rut.

It’s those that I read, look at or listen to and make me feel something. It’s that photo of Los Angeles that brings back a flood of memories. It’s the mood that Wang Chung’s To Live and Die in LA instantly creates. (Seriously folks the entire album is incredible.)

So maybe I’ll get up in this jacket at a conference and turn my presentation into a performance. Or maybe I’ll just work to encourage my clients to be authentic and to find a look and sound for their content.

No matter what it is, I’m energized by the idea of putting myself out there (again) and taking those risks and seeing how people react.

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Comments About Finding A Look As Well As A Sound

// 9 comments so far.

  1. Zeph Snapp // October 28th 2013

    Hi AJ,

    Is it weird that this reminds my of Tom Critchlow’s Mozcon presentation in 2012?

    It is going to be very difficult for many firms (including my own) to flip from tactics to strategy. Sure, you have to get the basics right, and there is low-hanging fruit to be picked, but the tree is getting taller.

    I have high hopes for many of the people in our industry (there are some REALLY smart folks here), but I can’t shake the feeling that things are going to get a lot worse before they get better.

    That being said, there are people who can’t help but move the needle when they speak/write, and you are one of them. Your dedication to excellence is inspiring to me, at the very least. Looking forward to your next post.

    P.S. Had not even heard of Wang Chung. Listening to Wake Up Stop Dreaming right now. Very interesting.

  2. AJ Kohn // October 28th 2013

    Thanks Zeph.

    It’s funny. I sat in the back row between Rand and Jon Henshaw during Tom’s presentation. The main point he was making, in my view, was that SEO wasn’t links and domain authority or even content but it was marketing. And there weren’t a lot of marketers in the community.

    I took offense to this since, well, I have a degree in marketing, worked in advertising for a bit and I was an in-house marketer before I did any SEO. Rand noticed my wrinkled brow and simply said ‘you’re different’.

    I’m not sure about that really but I do believe that at the end of the day we are marketers and like it or not that’s actually a really difficult profession. So even if the industry does pivot I think you’re right about it being a hard road.

    And enjoy the To Live and Die in LA soundtrack, though it can be a bit melancholy.

  3. Rick // October 28th 2013

    No Starship, Knee Deep in the Hoopla reference? You can’t revisit the 80s without it:)
    Oh wait, better applied to a different kind of SEO post dealing with black & white animals.

  4. Dan Shure // October 28th 2013


    First I think you may enjoy this book “Free Play”

    I’m with you in the sentiment I picked up that “SEO is more than just SEO” and can totally relate to the idea that in marketing, blogging, working you have to go as much with your passion and gut as well as “what (seems to be) working” – because these lead you down serendipitous paths.

    As someone with a degree in music, myself and my music friends always talked about how you have to really lose yourself (lose your ego) to truly create music that matters to other people. It’s not about YOU it’s about serving the music and something bigger.

    And yeah I feel the same way even about marketing, SEO, blogging.

    Again man, really loved this post. You can tell where/why/how the quality of your SEO posts come from, because you can see the bigger picture.

  5. gregory smith // October 31st 2013


    This is one of your better posts. Looking forward to seeing you keep it hott with keeping the blog updated. Great work pal.

    Gregory Smith

  6. Blue Monkee // November 01st 2013

    Expression and authenticity are 2 of the most important aspects here – you’ve really hit the nail on the head. That’s why I enjoy reading your site.

    Similar to some others, I get a lot of help from your posts and the quality of your SEO articles is partly down to your long term view.

  7. Mila Criacao // November 01st 2013

    “No matter what it is, I’m energized by the idea of putting myself out there (again) and taking those risks and seeing how people react.”

    Great way to think! Congratulations for your post! Very exciting!

  8. Jenny // November 04th 2013

    You are so right to invest something of yourself into your work – thank you for a great post

  9. Mary Kay Lofurno // November 07th 2013

    Hands down, one of the best albums ever…Wang Chung, To Live and Die in LA…It absolutely creates a mood.

    And for that matter and its probably just me but the song “Here Comes the Rain Again” by the Eurythmics does that too.

    Thanks for sharing.

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