4 Questions with David Berkowitz, Serial Marketer

David_BerkowitzDavid Berkowitz is well known and respected within the marketing community. And with good reason. He's been educating us on emerging technologies in Advertising Age, MediaPost, VentureBeat, Mashable, Adweek and his blog since I can remember. He's also held Chief Strategy and Chief Marketing roles in companies and is all around generous in making connections for others.

We met as bloggers in the early days – he starter Serial Marketer at about the same time I started Conversation Agent – and have been in touch since.

Our big adventure together was a few years ago in Sao Paulo, Brazil. After speaking at Digital Age 2.0, we thought it a good idea to get on the same cab back to the airport for our flights to Newark and New York. Timing was not on our side, and we got stuck in a horrific traffic jam that lasted forever, it seemed.

I don't know how David managed, but I flung myself out of the car at my terminal and went through passport check while holding my belly… somehow they let me go through quickly, maybe they thought I was expecting. I'm happy to report we both made our respective flights – bursting on the scene or (maybe) not. 

Last summer, I received an invitation from David to a community he was building on Slack – Serial Marketers. More than one year later, I thought it would be fun to learn how the idea came about, and what's next for marketing.

Q: When you started Serial Marketers what were your thoughts about creating a community in name so close to your consultancy, Serial Marketer?

David: When I started Serial Marketer, I liked the name enough that I knew I'd use it for my blog or other endeavors even if I wasn't consulting. While the name has some particular relevance for me, I also thought that a lot of people would identify with the idea of being a serial marketer.

First, I needed to take ownership of the brand and make it stand for something, even in some small way. For a couple years though, I kept wondering what it would mean for Serial Marketers to emerge, and what form that would take. As Slack emerged to become a viable alternative to email or Facebook groups, it felt like the right approach. 

Creating a community was a risk though. I had a lot of doubts and concerns. I've joined plenty of groups through Facebook, LinkedIn, Slack, and email that quickly became ghost towns. I also didn't want this to be some vanity project; this had to be about the community and not me.

Q: How did you go about starting it and building momentum?

David: You could say I did certain parts backwards.
First, I registered the domain and mapped it to a simple website using Carrd.co, a streamlined webpage builder that I have since used for any of my independent projects.
Then, I went on Fiverr and requested a logo. I liked the idea of a university crest, and after reviewing a number of them in Google Images, I picked Cornell's to use as the model. The motto came together quickly enough to embody what the community should be about: "Learn. Try. Share."
Serial Marketers
I mocked this up in PowerPoint and posted a request. One earnest logo designer out of Indonesia with the username bangbend had only one review but said he'd do it for free and charge me all of $5 if I liked it. He did so well and delivered so many versions, including the one at serialmarketers.net, that I paid him $10 and have used him for other projects; he now has about 400 reviews and a 4.9 rating out of 5.
But what about actually starting the community?
I shared a post on LinkedIn in July 2018 asking if anyone would be up for joining a new Slack-based community for marketers, linking to a simple Google Form that I still use.
I figured if maybe 50 people requested access in a month, I'd have enough interest. About 100 people requested access over a few days, so I rushed to get the Slack group set up, as I hadn't touched it yet. A week later, I launched it.
Since then, I've periodically mentioned it on LinkedIn or Facebook, but a lot of the growth has happened organically.
While membership grows each week, I'm also glad it hasn't grown too fast; it still has an intimate enough feel where a lot of people are getting to know each other. If it gets too big, we might make more use of channels. For the time being though, the more that people contribute, the more value there is for everyone there.

Q: What surprised you, so far, and what delighted you?

David: What surprises me the most is that it is a vibrant community. I went away the week before Labor Day and had to turn off Slack alerts on my phone because people were too active, and I wasn't participating at all.
It took about six months for it to get to a place where I felt that this could keep working without my involvement, and that it would probably keep going for a while. Now, my concern isn't if it will end but how to best keep it humming and useful for everyone involved.
What delights me is hearing on a regular enough basis of how people are interacting with each other. They're hiring fellow members, or they're appearing on each other's podcasts. Quite a number of people have met on their own after first interacting in the community and not knowing of each other before.
Of course, I do this too. I often have calls with members (like yourself) who I am in touch with more often via phone and in-person because we see each other in the community, and I've met with many community members in person.
Each month, there's a greater share of new members joining who I don't know, so I'm excited to keep meeting more fascinating people that way and seeing how we can all support each other.

Q: You’ve always had the finger on the pulse, what’s next for marketing?

David: As much as I love emerging technologies, and as much time as I spend with tech-driven startups, part of me wants to turn the clock back 500 or 1,000 years when innovation meant something like double-entry bookkeeping or perhaps the printing press and just get back to fundamentals that focus on trust, relationship-building, and accountability.
I'd love to see brands judged more on how well they earn consumers trust and respect their privacy rather than how well they used some app in a novel way. 
Creativity is wonderful too, and it's fun, and it's exciting, and it's all the more interesting when you take something that seems dated like a billboard and use it in a way that's never been done before.
There are arguably more ways for people to express themselves, and there are clearly more people on the planet who can express themselves (and have the freedom to do so) than ever before; those are all positive developments.
But without the trust piece, nothing else matters. That is why I like that Serial Marketers feels like a real community where people support each other. It may be different, but it's not innovative. It doesn't have to be if it is a net positive for enough of the people involved. 
I'm a huge fan of communities of practice. In addition to learning and connecting with senior marketers all over North America (so far), I've had the opportunity to work on several projects with amazing people, one of which longer term.
Serial Marketers is a good example of collaboration and engagement in support of other professionals. When I reached out to ask for takes and comments on the value of this community, several comments came through right away:


I have a funny story about David. In 2004, I founded a community like this — one of the first social networks ever called Adholes.com. It was an irreverent group of advertising professionals. I think we had about 7 users on our team when we launched who had accounts. We decided to just all email it around and see if anyone joined. I’m pretty sure David was account #10 or something. After that, any time I discovered a new social network, it was guaranteed that David would already be there waiting. I’m so happy he’s started one of his own, he’s brought together an amazing group of people.

David C:

Here are some insights into the value of this community – 1) I reconnected with an old friend who connected me with an entrepreneur which led to helping her get her investor deck funded. A good project for me. 2) Helped connect someone who had just left her job to 2 new CMO gigs, and 3) was able to identify and learn about a new market research firm that changes the way I think about that part of my job. Its an amazing combination of old and new friends, who respond quickly to each other and engage heavily here and in the real world.

Jeremy G:

I've been running a digital community for 8 years, so I know the value of this type of community. David has done a wonderful job connecting like-minded individuals who wouldn't otherwise be connected, which is key.

Another key is that, like the network I've run for awhile, is trust-based. Not just anyone can get in. It's important to have this type of community where it's not just about being able to find talented individuals – but vetted talented individuals. That's where Serial Marketers shines for me.
Also fun story – was introduced to Berkowitz 19 years ago by the girl I dated the longest before getting married. Had no idea he'd become a fellow mover & shaker-type in the digital world. Small world indeed!
I left the comments to this post open for other Serial Marketers who'd like to add their take.
David did not take the community lightly, it takes work and commitment to build something remarkable. When I built the Fast Company network, we had no Twitter or Slack, so it was a lot of word of mouth and in person events. But we still managed to grow the network to more than 500 members over 8 years.
Though I love the opportunities that come from participating in Serial Marketers online, I miss the face-to-face meetings – David and the community are based in New York City. Many of the events are based in Manhattan.
If you're a senior marketer, communicator, or brand strategist in the Greater Philadelphia area, I'll be organizing an informal get together in the area. Sign up here to learn more.