iDW 2014 Reflections: the Power of Visuals, Shared Experience and Humor

Editor’s Note: Jill Martine takes a final look back on Information Development World 2014, with some thoughts on one of the unique sessions that make attending a conference such as iDW a worthwhile, and long-lasting, experience.

Conferences are great, but let’s face it. The same type of presentation format (i.e., some slides with text on a screen that the presenter clicks through) can get repetitive and make attendees wish for a jolt of something more. I got that jolt during Tom Fishburne’s session at Information Development World 2014. Instead of the same old same old, he shared his own company’s media elements and other real-world examples in an entertaining manner that really drove his points home.

As an added bonus for a blended audience of technical communicators, marketers, and other content developers/managers, he also showed that you can find a way to merge lifelong interests and talents into your own unique career path (he joked that Harvard Business School wasn’t exactly a feeder school for cartoonists).

Find a story that’s interesting or important enough to be told, and then find a unique way to deliver it.

That’s the premise that Tom, founder and CEO of Marketoon Studios, provided us. Seems like a simple enough concept, but if you’ve ever tried to create a masterpiece yourself or even just sat through death by PowerPoint training programs, you know the execution often does not meet expectations or needs/goals.

So what exactly is marketooning, and how does it support marketing in a modern way? If you look at the Marketoon Studios website, you’ll see a bold statement. “We create marketoon™ campaigns built on the belief that cartoons are the single greatest communication devices ever invented.” And when conference organizer, Scott Abel, introduced Tom and the session, he shared with us that he’s personally seen results from this type of content and was pleased that we were getting to learn more about the approach.

Most people would agree that cartoons are at least fun, but powerful communication devices for a business setting? How does that work?

Tom shared how he was able to put his marketing/business career together with his cartooning interest and talent to find a niche and create a powerful way to share persuasive information without force feeding it to people, all while making them chuckle. This approach allowed Tom to create:

“content worth sharing.”

Why Do We Need a Different Approach?

Traditional captive audiences who allow you to always push information rarely exist. Now, “captive” audiences have the ability to seek out information on their own, or ignore brand messages completely. If your content is boring, no one will share it, and no one will see it

Marketoons don’t feel like marketing, yet they hit all levels of the sales funnel. So how do you create content worth sharing?

Preach to the Choir

Communicators, marketers, even business owners often make the mistake of trying to appeal to all people, going totally bland in the process. But to build brand loyalty and create messages that resonate, you need to be unique to the core audience in an overly niche market. Don’t dilute a message to make it fit a general interest or to try to say things exactly the way you think all people would respond to.

Tom shared an example of the online comic at, where the humor and stories often relate to math, high-tech, and sarcasm. Not everyone enjoys or understands this type of work, but the folks who do become loyal followers.

Let Go of the Microphone

Don Draper, of the Mad Men style, is no longer in charge of the campaign, commanding and controlling how and where people find information.

Tom shared two examples about when a U.S. state and a company missed out on great branding opportunities because they just weren’t willing to cede some of the control to the very enthusiastic audience. One was for the state of Kentucky, where two creative advertising professionals thought it was time for a new, edgier slogan. The other was Nutella, a company that sent a cease and desist letter to a fanatic who loved the brand so much and created a Nutella Day. Because it wasn’t sponsored or approved by the company, they wouldn’t support it. Bottom line, don’t think you can control all of the messages out there, and don’t assume that yours are even the best ideas.

Don’t Try to Go Viral

If you focus too much energy on one campaign or one blog post, you can get an immediate reaction that does go viral. However, without a regular appointment of sorts with your audience, you’ll end up with ghost towns. Tom shared an example of creating continuity and power when Oreo created 100 days of photos.

Tap the Water Cooler

If you want to know what people are interested in, you have to ask, or at least eavesdrop and pay attention. What are people talking about and how can you boost the fuel power into your own markets?

Successful Content Marketing

At the end of his presentation, Tom answered a question from the audience on how much cartoon content he would recommend using in something such as a full-length book. Tom’s suggestion was to create one for each section or chapter to accompany the corresponding theme within the book. Tom also shared his contact information and let us know how to sign up for the Monday Marketoon mailing list to receive the weekly cartoon directly to our inbox. I signed up and have enjoyed the consistent, but not overly-in-your-face approach to the once weekly cartoon. Big bonus: I also found a great learning opportunity in seeing exactly how his company treats the email newsletter format.

The mailing list is a great example of valuable content marketing. Rather than a desperate sales pitch or neon sign flashing “share me, share me,” the first piece of content that displays in the message is the full cartoon. Not a teaser with a forced link out to the whole thing, but the entire piece of content. Where it becomes very clever as a soft sell is in the further explanation and links to horror stories in the workplace. But these extra details do not overload the reader either, and they’re still free to view. If you are interested in licensing the cartoon for personal or professional use, he clearly states the fee and provides a link directly to the PayPal site to purchase. And if you are ready to consider the consulting services offered by Marketoon Studios, you can visit the website to learn more. The entire message is fun, connects to work experiences we can all relate to, and allows interested people to learn more (and potentially buy products or services) without being bombarded.


Tom Fishburne’s presentation connected with the audience on many levels. One, he focused on a way to merge interests and talents into a rewarding career. Two, he shared tips on how to turn traditional marketing on its head, and explained why this has to be done to reach today’s overly information-saturated market. Three, by signing up for the email newsletter, I have gained new insight into the way to reel an audience in with push marketing without making a hard sell.

To learn more about Tom and the Marketoonist movement, follow Tom @tomfishburne and visit

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