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December 08, 2010

What's at the intersection of marketing and technology? Boston

by Josh Bernoff

Boston has always been a center for technology, but for the last 15 years or so, our eyes have glanced furtively and enviously at Silicon Valley. Clearly, Silicon Valley and the San Francisco Bay Area are the epicenter of technology startups, including the ones that have gotten huge in the Web era (eBay, Google, Facebook, . . . ). Boston is still vibrant, and we have our own old and new technology giants (EMC, Akamai) but many of our most successful local startups have gotten acquired by companies from out of town.

But as I participated in Boston's FutureM conference a few months ago, it hit me right between the eyes just how much energy there is in Boston around technology for marketing. If you're interested in the intersection of marketing and technology, you have to come here. Let me make the case for you.

First, many of the leading thinkers in this space work right here. Who else has a list like this? (The links go to our books, limited it to one per author).

Dan Ariely (Predictably Irrational)
Dave Balter (Grapevine)
Josh Bernoff (Empowered)
Dan Bricklin (Bricklin on Technology)
Chris Brogan (Trust Agents)
CC Chapman and Ann Handley (Content Rules)
Laura Fitton (Twitter for Dummies)
Steve Garfield (Get Seen)
Paul Gillin (Social Marketing to the Business Customer)
Emily Nagle Green (Anywhere)
Brian Halligan (Marketing Lessons from the Grateful Dead)
Greg Jarboe (YouTube and Video Marketing)
Scott Kirsner (Fans, Friends, and Followers)
Barry Libert (Social Nation)
Eric Qualman (Socialnomics)

Dan Schwabel (Me 2.0)
David Meerman Scott (Real-Time Marketing & PR)
Doc Searls (The Cluetrain Manifesto)
Dharmesh Shah (Inbound Marketing)
Lary Weber (Everywhere)
David Weinberger (Everything is Miscellaneous)
Dan Zarrella (The Facebook Marketing Book)

It's no coincidence with a list like this, that the leading analyst companies in this space, Forrester Research, Yankee Group, and IDC, are close by. Harvard, MIT, and Babson are pumping out the bright young thinkers we're all snapping up.

The startups here that set the agenda are companies like BzzAgent, Brightcove, Communispace, and Hubspot. There are plenty of startups other places, but I've found that these companies are consistently pushing the thinking forward and connecting with key marketing and media clients.

On the agency side, Boston is home to some of the important digital agencies including Digitas and SapientNitro, as well as traditional agencies with a strong digital focus like Hill Holliday, Arnold, and Mullen.

A local industry group, MITX, put on the FutureM conference and has led the way in putting the focus on Boston as a center for digital marketing. Communispace's former CMO, Debi Kleiman, just took over there and will stir the pot even further.

Sure, there's more advertising in New York and Chicago and more technology in California. But the community here is creating new ideas about marketing and putting them into practice on a continuous basis. It's a blast being part of this.

(With a post like this, it's inevitable that every pundit and startup I left off will pile on. And of course, every other center for technology is the developed world will pipe up. Well, let fly. Boston will take on all comers.)

NOTE: Thanks to Debi Kleiman for suggestions here, and to Scott Kirsner, whose Amazon list started my thinking on this.


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Zak Pines

Having moved to the Boston area one year ago, I agree wholeheartedly with this post. As a B2B sales & marketing services company, we (Avitage - www.avitage.com) work with many technologies developed here in our backyard. In addition to the companies you've mentioned, some others include Accela Communications, Visible Gains, Constant Contact and 3Play Media. It's a pleasure to work with these innovators and entrepreneurs on a regular basis.

David Meerman Scott

Great post Josh. What a vibrant place.

Other places that "own" aspects of creativity.
Hollywood = movies
Madison Avenue NYC = advertising
Nashville = country music
Paris = fashion

Boston owns the future of marketing!

Adam Zand @NoOneYouKnow

Love ya David (and Josh, my neighbor) but you're wrong - customers own the future (and present) of marketing.
Boston will play a big role because a lot of smart marketers are here, but I've seen a few of those in Austin, Detroit, San Francisco, Portland Maine, parts unknown, etc.
I'm proud to call Boston my home, but that's more due to our schools, museums, sports teams, and of course our ability to hang out smart/fun people at tweetups, Podcamps and events.

Gary Dietz

The companies may be in Boston, but the real leadership is in Southern NH ;-)


I remember when I lived in Boston that the Globe would write articles like this every once in awhile -- almost like a Silicon Valley [male appendage--begins with the letter 'p'] envy kind of thing.

Guys, we out here in the San Francisco Bay Area don't really think of Boston too much. It's not personal. And it's not about whether we have a high or low regard for Boston being or not being at the intersection of technology and marketing. It's just that it's a very very big world out there, particularly outside of the United States. Yet Boston seems so stuck in this provincial "Wow, aren't we simply fantastic" mindset. Yes, Boston is a terrific city...the Athens of America, great colleges, blah blah blah blah. But enough already. We could read this kind of stuff on the Boston Chamber of Commerce website.

Dee bag

Great post Josh and was glad to read that Steve left Boston


As am I, Dee bag, although I'll be there over Christmas, with the in-laws. Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit sniffing glue.

You've got a good blog, BTW. Thumbs up for the Brian Austin Green video.

Ann Handley

So piling on a little here... Boston *is* a great place for all these reasons and all of these fine folks (shout out to my co-author, C.C. Chapman!), but also because it's the official Content headquarters of MarketingProfs.

We're a virtual company, so I could be anywhere... for example, I could live in Dubuque or Dubai. But Boston is where it's at. Of course.

Josh Bernoff

Thanks for the enthusiasm, folks.

I added in Barry Libert, who certainly belongs in this list of prominent authors.


Ann--We out here in the SF Bay Area like MarketingProfs. Keep it up.

C.C. Chapman

I've always said that NEW ENGLAND is the best place to live and do this sort of work because I think it stretches beyond just Boston.

I'm truly honored to be listed here, but I can't and shouldn't be without having my Co-Author right beside me. Ann Handley isn't only an asset to the Boston Marketing scene, but she is also a vibrant, smart and amazing woman.

If it is possible to update the list I'd appreciate it since her name should be there for lots of reasons and certainly as the co-author of Content Rules it only makes sense.

Rock on Boston!!!!


Great post... you forgot to mention Kevin Palmer - WordPress All-in-One for Dummies

Ari Herzog

To be fair, it's not Boston that is leading tech efforts in the region but the 128 Belt. Saying Boston would be akin to limiting Silicon Valley activities to Palo Alto.

I also find it curious you specify people who wrote books, as if it is a book that defines a person.

barry Libert


Thank you for including me in this esteemed list of authors. It is a privilege to be a partner in this group. I am also glad to see that Boston is being recognized for its thought leadership in social media marketing and technology.

Best regards,


Josh Bernoff

Thanks for all the commentary.

I tried to put one book per person, one person per book, although the Boston contingent includes lots of coauthors in various combinations. But I relented to CC's pleading and added Ann Handley.

CC: When I say "Boston" I mean "the Boston area" -- which extends out for a ways -- I think New England is too broad. But just as San Fran/Silicon Valley is one focus, the Boston state of mind extends out past 128.

Rick Hendershot

So are we done stroking each other now?

steve garfield

Thanks for the mention. Your readers might be interested in Boston Media Makers.


We meet monthly at Doyle's in JP on the first Sunday. Everyone has breakfast and shares what they are doing.


steven mandzik

I love this post. I'm gonna write a similar one for DC. Though I guess we won't have ur marketing prowess, but maybe insider political prowess?

Steve - 1x57.com

Danny Caladay

Great post! I could've predicted this when I used to promote online/offline for Lansdowne Street "hotspots" back in the day, lol.

Sean Zinsmeister

Great post Josh. I'm not sure that we have to limit the Geography of the thought leadership in Marketing to hear in Boston however. Since so much of the entrepreneurial marketing thought leadership knows no state or country boundaries, there is no need to clearly define hubs.

As a writer at Bostinnovation, and a marketing student a Suffolk, nobody is more proud to be a part of such a community than myself. The ideas and philosophies of students, writers, inventors, marketers have Boston an "engine" of innovation. However, we're only part of the necessary piece. In order to achieve true innovative excellence, and pull our slogging economy from it's fateful death grip we need all cities and minds from around the world to work together.

Competition is a wonderful thing, and in many ways necessary for our economy to thrive. What makes Red Sox and Yankees rivalries such an exciting matchup is the passion of the fans, players, and story built around the event. Together those elements drive Baseball to the forefront of Sports.

Boston, San Francisco, Chicago, New York, Boulder, and a plethora of other cities should compete with one another. Each place is a key part of the innovation engine. I'm proud to be part of this community, and a part of the great innovative marketing engine that's roaring into the future.

--Sean Zinsmeister

Sean Zinsmeister

On another note I'm happy to announce that of the individuals mentioned above 4 will be speakers at the conference I am helping to put on at Suffolk University, Sawyer School of Business on Feb.18th:

Paul Gillin
Erik Qualman
C.C. Chapman
Dan Zarrella


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