Saturday, September 23, 2023

Let the Future In

3VERB Dives into the Next Decade

The author Graham Greene once said: "There is always one moment in childhood when the door opens and lets the future in." That sentiment is certainly true for me. Sometime around 1982 a generous neighbor noticed my intrigue with the Sinclair ZX81 he had somehow managed to acquire and gave it to me. It still was the age of room-sized mainframe computers — their reels of magnetic media struggling to allocate and retrieve data — but the small computer sitting in front of me represented a tectonic shift in both the nature of computer technology and culture: It was now a "personal" computing experience in every regard. Indeed, my involvement with computers at that moment in time would become the single thread that has persisted through every creative, educational, professional, and interdisciplinary endeavor since. That small computer had, as Greene noted, "let the future in." I was a young kid at the time, but it was the only invitation I needed to dig in with real aplomb. I learned to program: first BASIC, then COBOL, and since — in now 20 years running 3VERB — ASP, PHP, Javascript, SQL, Liquid, and currently Python, among less-notable others.

I reflect on this now because this very moment — TODAY — feels so similar to the challenges and wide-open opportunities presented first in the early '80s, then again in the late '90s with the advent of the internet. In 1982, of course, consumers embraced "personal computing" as we collectively ditched the humming IBM Selectric typewriters and replaced them with Apple desktops, then Dell laptops. By 1999, we had entered the age of "connected computing," wherein Berners-Lee's World Wide Web allowed us to bypass stamps with a fancy "e-mail" system, trade equities in an instant, and shop from boutique stores around the world. Going forward from 2023, though, we're sure to encounter another, artificial-intelligence-fueled, fundamental technology shift in what I've started calling "extrapolated" computing: The inline-computer interaction that will finish your sentence, suggest distinct healthcare or wellness direction, and take the mystery out of how micro-interactions with consumers this week might affect your inventory projections in six months (given the additional complications of the macro-economic conditions, of course!). 

This next "extrapolated computing" phase will arm knowledge-workers with the tools — I use this word  purposefully —  of the same revelatory efficiency provided by, for example, the lithium-battery-powered cordless drill in the building and construction industries a few decades ago. Plainly, AI-based "power tools" for critical thinking will provide huge advantages to those who understand and embrace the technology while, undoubtedly, leaving behind those who insist on the tradition of running an extension cord.

So what does all this mean for 3VERB and our clients? 

First, we'll work actively to scout and vet the latest technologies, AI or otherwise, that matter to your business and set the stage for greater brand visibility and eCommerce efficacy. As I've likely mentioned, I'm half-way through an 8-week MIT executive course on designing and building AI products. It's enlightening and exciting. It's my intention to follow that course in the new year with a similar, complementary course to better understand how those same product development ideas snap into and support operational business processes.

Second, and maybe more importantly, please know that — regardless of the technology landscape or  tools du jour — the core ideals and constructs that differentiate 3VERB remain the same. I'm as  committed as ever to engendering the collegial and cooperative creative process, building sustainable brand value and sales through integrated cross-platform campaigns, and insisting on clarity in each step from the line-level code I first learned as a kid to your big picture strategy for tomorrow.

– Jon Roketenetz

Jon writes on music, business, and creativity at

Friday, March 17, 2023

I Got You

The Power of Observation and Prediction in Customer Service

When colleagues visit Chicago, the first stop is usually downtown. I'm proud of the city and a walk from North Clark or along Michigan Ave reinforces that: tourists on their way to "The Bean," the start of Route 66 (America's Highway) across the street from the Art Institute, the striking orchestra musicians playing outside Symphony Hall just down the street from the bucket drummers, and Frank Gehry's band shell falling apart in frozen motion. But, as you've undoubtedly heard me say, "When it comes to Chicago, the joy is in the neighborhoods." That's true of the music venues, but also of the inland parks, and, of course, the restaurants. avec may have a location downtown, but if you want the best risotto you've ever had, you gotta find the little Italian place tucked so inconspicuously across the street from a Tastee-Freez ice-cream stand at the edge of Humboldt Park.

A few weeks ago, Peggy met some friends for drinks at Lula Cafeone of my all-time favorites in our neighborhood – on a plain ol' Thursday night. She hadn't expected it, but the place was packed. Lula is such a unique, wonderful, community-centric spot, though, that in retrospect, it shouldn't have been a surprise to see a crowd, especially as pandemic restrictions and concerns have eased. On entering the restaurant, she scanned the room for an open table – none were obviously available – then nudged her way over toward the bar figuring that she might be able to turn the two open seats into small space for three friends to visit. A few minutes later, a staff member from Lula – having spied Peggy's predicament – caught her eye and, like magic, said: "You lookin' for a table for three?" Peggy nodded. The astute Lula employee said: "I got you," then led her across the restaurant to an open table. I see you. I get you. I got you. Problem solved.

So, how did this perfect, little, meaningful customer service moment happen to happen at Lula Cafe on a cold Thursday night in February? The answer is easy: This happens every night at Lula Cafe; Peggy just happened to wander into it. Good companies, good restaurants, and good people read the room, practice prediction in these moments, trusting in the power of their intuition and observation, and looking for the opportunity reach out when they can know they can be helpful. The next time a client shows up with an impossible design challenge, or a last minute change request, or seems hesitant and uncertain, I'll remember the power and impression left by those three simple, definitive words: "I got you."

– Jon Roketenetz

Jon writes on music, business, and creativity at

Friday, December 2, 2022


This is a Big Deal. Where Do We Begin?

Last week I walked into the kitchen and the television had switched over from the noon news to a soap opera where a well-appointed couple was standing in a well-appointed recording studio, presumably in Los Angeles, California. The pair shared a pretty serious look on their faces. The woman furrowed her brow, clearly deflated: "There's a problem with the song," she fumed before letting a big dramatic pause linger as long as network television will allow. "And *I* wrote it!" she continued, punctuating the "I" purposefully for her now somewhat bewildered companion who hadn't yet realized – leather jacket notwithstanding – that he was in the company of a songwriter in the first place.

So it goes with songwriting. You can be in the near-field vicinity of a songwriter at the bank or on a bus – or even standing right next to one at a fancy LA studio – and unless you hear 'em humming, you'd hardly ever know. Rolly Salley, originally of Belvidere, Illinois, for example, wrote "Killing the Blues" which, forever, I simply assumed was a John Prine song and which the rest of the world now thinks was written by Alison Krauss and the lead singer from Led Zeppelin. At this very moment, though, the actual songwriter of that song – a song as impactful and important to me as Kristofferson's "Sunday Morning Coming Down" or Zevon's "Desperados Under the Eaves" – might actually be standing at an ATM machine or sitting on a bus, unlike, say, Robert Plant.

My own experience is that I wrote about ten dozen songs in the span of ten years from 1990 to 2000, then about a half-dozen in the 23 years since. I committed a handful of these to tape, but the rest eventually flew out the window after a few plays or dropped out of my pockets on the way from Ohio to Chicago. That's the first part of the story. The second part is that these same songs still resurface occasionally – as time capsules do – sending me backwards to separate decades out of days and recalibrate my sense of time.

Most recently, my pals Chris Allen and Kevin Grasha of Rosavelt released an astonishing version of a song I first recorded in Roger Klug's living room on Marburg Avenue in Cincinnati almost thirty years ago. Notably, their version of "Cardboard" – now available on iTunes/Apple Music, Spotify, and Tidal – includes the high honor of Don Dixon production (with a real-life drum machine) amid the unbelievably humbling recognition of songwriters who long ago mastered their craft so they could easily outrun the cover tunes.

– Jon Roketenetz

Jon writes on music, business, and creativity at

Postscript. Rolly Salley is a Grammy-winning songwriter and plays bass in Chris Isaak's band Silvertone. According to Google, people also ask: "Is Rowland Salley married?"

Tuesday, July 14, 2020


Bring Back the Grand Finale

When I was 16, I went on trip to London with my family: my mom, my dad, and my sister. The only real goal in my teenage brain at the time was to find the songwriter Billy Bragg once I got there. I had, by then, ingested quite a bit of "Talking with the Taxman about Poetry," and "Workers' Playtime" had just been released. I couldn't quite believe that someone had found a proven process to compress Woody Guthrie-style, social commentary into obvious Motown chord changes but, there it was, and I was on my way to meet him.

I somehow convinced my parents that I should be allowed wander off across London using the Tube on this journey and I eventually (the luck!) found that Billy was playing a *quadruple bill* featuring his band — with, at the time, with Cary Tivey on piano — Michelle Shocked, comedian Barry Crimmins, and Michael Franti fronting one of his earlier bands. I bought a ticket and was floored. It was perfect in its wobbly imperfection, the kind of rock n' roll I had come to expect from rock heroes like the Del Fuegos, but presented here, before me, in a theater setting with red velvet-y seats and a crowd of people singing along. For the grand finale, the entire set of performers from the evening participated and a light clicked on for me. I saw the light, so to speak. I bought a t-shirt at the merch table on the way out and wondered: "What does an avowed socialist do with all the swag sales money?"

Later that night, within just yards of arriving back at the hotel, I encountered my dad. He been out looking for me at the direction of my mom, clearly having re-assessed the wisdom of having let a naive, suburban kid wander this big city beyond midnight. He was glad to have found me almost home. As a dad myself now, I can intuit the amalgam of relief, surrealism, and adrenaline he experienced at that moment. Standing there in the Underground, he and I paused a bit in the vacuum of the moment to take in a drunken reveler in a Burger King crown singing his heart out. He was relieved to have found me. I was elated at the experience of the previous four hours. In that regard, it was a win for both of us.

In any case, Bill's music became a guide-wire for me in so many regards from that point forward. While I occasionally returned to those early records, I followed his career forward, too. At each turn, there was a song there for the taking that somehow matched my world.

On "William Bloke," indeed, he captured, in a single song, the circumstances and moment I met my wife,
He was trapped in a haircut he no longer believed in,
she said 'I'm a teacher, I teach the children.'
the joy and complex circumstances of bringing our kiddo home 14 years later,
Their baby came home to them an unmarried mother,
they wished she would turn into a pillar of salt
and, today, the absolute most important rule in our home:
Compassion has to be the greatest family value.
Just last week, I was Googlin' to confirm Bill's favorite song — it might just be Lowell George's "Willin'" and that's a story for another blog post entirely — and I was reminded in the search results of his pre-pandemic project singing train songs and traveling by train with the songwriter Joe Henry. It took me right back to that moment in London so many years ago, this image of two musicians in their misbegotten hats — this time standing right in the middle of in my hometown of Chicago at Union Station — embarking on a literal shared journey.

I'm thinking about this, of course, because we're all still stuck in our homes, watching so much of this horribleness occupy our TV screens, awaiting and praying for the end of this craziness, but also acutely aware of the things we're grateful for, and missing that shared journey and experience of live music. That is, of course, the main thing we're all looking for as musicians alongside our cords and cables, the hum from the amps, a shock to the lips, and most importantly to me, the grand finale and the arc of community and solidarity it represents, which I first learned about from Bill's show way back in 1988.

So, right now... bring me back to the Billy Bragg grand finale at Dominion Theatre in 1988. Let me stand on the side of summertime ski hill, overlooking Lake Superior, thirty years later, while Michael Franti hauls all the kids in the audience on stage to sing along. Don't play me a slow, mournful version of anything right now; instead, give me the ten minute grand finale jam of "I Saw the Light" with Billy Strings and his crew. Give me a nine minute version of Don Dixon and Autumn Defense doing "Praying Mantis" to close out a house party. Give me Maria McKee, Van Dyke Parks, Hiram Bullock, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and David Sanborn closing out a Night Music episode doing "Sailing Shoes." Bring out Ringo and Ronnie Wood (in his tuxedo t-shirt) and give us all The Band, with the rest of the ensemble, singing "I Shall Be Released."

When this is all good and over, give me the grand finale in full, glorious harmony, over and over again, from the West down to the East. You and me, together, we can take the long way home.

– Jon Roketenetz

Jon writes on music, business, and creativity at

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Sunken Ledger

On His First Solo Outing, Mike Tittel Owns His Own Demons

According to Mike Tittel, half of Ohio is sitting at the bottom of Lake Erie and we're probably better off for it. Tittel, a Southern Ohio native and Cincinnati-scene fixture for over 20 years puts it bluntly: "If every drum kit I own was stolen tomorrow," he says, "I'd make more progress just writing songs at my kitchen table than trying to talk my way into another gig in Columbus. Who needs it?" He should know. In the mid 90s, Tittel traveled the country while vacuum-packed in a Ford Econoline as the touring drummer for the iconic power-pop band, Loud Family. Along the way, he absorbed almost everything you need to know about the craft of hook-laden artful deception. He learned a fair bit about songwriting, too. The rest he picked up from a well-worn record collection of XTC, Elvis Costello, Aimee Mann, and every possible incarnation of Westerberg, all clearly just below the surface in his writing.

Back in Cincinnati, Tittel made one more record — 1999s astounding "Let There Be Work" with his band Pidgin — then hit the pause button, set aside the drums, sold the old-school 16-track AMPEX 2" deck, and opted for career of photography and advertising. He waited a full 15 years, then returned in 2014 with the harrowing "44," a stop-motion chronicle of his admittedly complex life at the time. "Friends were concerned," he laughs, but it turned out to mark an awakening. His second act in music, dubbed New Sincerity Works, released the acclaimed "Nowadays" (2015) and "Wonder Lust" (2017) in quick succession, both featuring an all-star cast of the best of the best in Midwest power-pop: Bob Nyswonger of the Psychodots & Bears and Roger Klug among 'em.

With 2020's "Sleeping In," his first true solo endeavor — he plays almost all of the instruments with support from his key comadre, Lauren Bray, of Pretty Birds — Tittel turns down the volume and breaks out the vintage acoustic guitars, but can't get away from the pop sensibilities, no matter which way he swims. From "3AM" to the closing track ("Birds of Murren"), "Sleeping In" lets you in on a little secret: you're gonna hear the paged turns of spiral notebooks, the inked padding of lined legal rule, and the ledgers of lyrics right up close as he skims across the personal and the profane. From the Neil Finn-tinged "Own Your Own Dealings" to "On a Good Day," the songs end up reading like a practical guide to realignment in a world so obviously overturned:
The seekers of the dreams, those busting at the seams
with losses from the past, it's time to do the math
For Tittel, it's clear that it's no longer enough to be the photographer, the drummer, or the songwriter alone. He's determined to be the observer-in-full and go, as the songwriter Greg Brown would say, "further in," the cinematic and the ineffable in single sentiment, every single time.

"Both the shipwreck and the treasure are resting on the bottom," Tittel notes about the creative process, "waiting for anyone who can hold their breathe."

Watch the album trailer for "Sleeping In" here.

– Jon Roketenetz

Jon is the CEO of GimmeAnother and founder of 3VERB.

PHOTO CREDIT: Michael Wilson

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Black & White

On Location for Aldila Golf in California

Glad to spend a few days shooting for Aldila Golf outside of San Diego with the super-talented adventure photographer, Mike Calabro, this January. A great way to start the year: enthusiastic client, lucky weather, and a stack of quality photos to support social media outreach for a legendary brand. Shown here decked out in his black and white polka-dot DannyShane polo, Mike takes aim.

These days, I pack three cameras for these types of trips: my old Canon with Sigma lens, the new Sony a7 mirrorless with 50mm prime, and the little, simple, perfect Fujifilm X70 which nabbed this photo of Mike.

Check out Mike's work on his Instagram account.

– Jon

Jon is the CEO of GimmeAnother and founder of 3VERB.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019


Sometimes the Flowers Arrange Themselves

On site with David Edwards Clothier — importer of fine Italian cashmere and couture menswear — here in Chicago. It's 8:30 on a cold, November Saturday morning. Two floors of windows, at left, are allowing the natural light to outdo even the giant softboxes at our studio on North Ave. A group of good people, good food, coffee, sodas, a bag of Costco almonds, and laughter. You can just tell this crew is ready for the holidays.

Below, the model's aunt reprises an earlier pose by her talented nephew; I get to capture the moment.

Brands are, of course, so much more than a collection of moments, although those certainly help. At their best, they're full of the personality and vigor of those involved. This Fall, I'm thankful for the opportunity to work with so many unique brands and for the occasions where the pieces just fall into place.

– Jon

Jon is the CEO of GimmeAnother and founder of 3VERB.

Friday, November 15, 2019

The Long Game

Meeting Consumer Expectations Means Getting on the Same Timeline

For manufacturers going consumer-direct, the benefits are obvious: better margins, the opportunity to interact with enthusiastic consumers and important trends at ground level, and the chance to unplug from an entire layer of distributor logistic hassle and slow payments. But, the journey can also be a harrowing experience with a steep learning curve, too. It's often replete with much of the good ol' awfulness that can accompany fickle consumers: outsized expectations of the product itself, insistence on fast and free(!) shipping, painfully liberal return policies, and the expense of a skillful customer service team.

And that's the good news. This underlying shift in sales channels is also happening contemporaneously with a shift in consumer loyalty habits. Consumers are, in short — without the hard work and diligence by a brand to build a meaningful relationship with a new customer — less loyal to specific brands as a matter of cultural dynamics, as referenced in this Forbes article. Direct-to-consumer manufacturers — these "new-to-the-game" retailers with their perfect websites and fancy dynamic pricing — are still left with the distinct possibility of a substantial investment to attract a one-time customer. Here’s why:

Many new retailers assume the start of the relationship with a consumer is the first paid click and the end of the relationship is the sale itself. That's not how consumers perceive it. Consumers, instead, see the start of the relationship as the moment the product arrives at their home. That's why 'unboxing' videos are so ubiquitous on YouTube. Everything before that delivery moment is research and anticipation.

To cultivate the kind of long-term relationships that matter to legitimate, calculable, bottom-line, put-it-in-the-valuation, lifetime-consumer-value, brands in the direct-to-consumer space need to rethink assumptions about that timeline — so often perpetuated by monthly agency reporting and superficial KPI metrics that stop at the sale itself — and build processes that extend into the consumer relationship after the product delivery. To earn the next sale, direct-to-consumer manufacturers need to deliver on price and product, of course, but also in their post-sale presence to best align with the consumer expectation of the sales cycle timeline.

What that post-sale presence should look like will vary, but consider, for example, email outreach designed specifically for consumers who have purchased a product in the last 12 months — emails that bring the product features, benefits, and brand identity to life while acting to guide the new-user experience over a 6 month window — rather than simply treating this new buyer group to the same email campaigns designed to elicit sales out of prospects.

To be sure, the story is not entirely written on how eCommerce will affect retail at large, but this much is clear: even an exceptional experience at checkout on the first sale may no longer be enough to bring the consumer back the next time without an earnest effort at a deeper bond. Smart retailers will jump at the chance to build sturdy, worthwhile relationships even and especially after the box leaves the warehouse.

– Jon

Jon is the CEO of GimmeAnother and founder of 3VERB.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019


Are Your Consumers Offered the Excuse to 'Learn More?'

A large part of our work involves finding the perfect moment in a photograph; sometimes that's the obvious and authentic laugh of a subject, other times it's a still life that finds a perfect reflection. But that's often just the beginning. Given the flood of content flowing across social channels these days, the big trick usually involves finding the right opportunity to engage a consumer, a way to get your foot in the door.

Consumers are now highly skilled curators, scanning and quickly rejecting content that is of the least interest and, many times, only offering a basic bookmark action for the most interesting. So, how do we successfully break through for our clients? We use the standard toolbox, of course: contests and invitations, sale pricing and limited time offers, too, but our most effective one-two punch has always been, first, a beautiful photograph and, second, a clearly visible button with a plain call to action. It's amazing to me how often that's missing in expensive placements. Leaving out the simple, courteous "ask" to engage in the equation drops the click rate significantly and, without a doubt, loses an opportunity for a prospect to envision participation for the brand.

These things are simple: put out your hand to welcome a prospect, invite engagement, ask the question: "Want to Learn More?"

– Jon

Jon is the CEO of GimmeAnother and founder of 3VERB.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

People. Product. Profit. People.

Screen Share Can't Capture the Essence of a Business

With many new clients, I take the time to visit the business from the outset. In fact, I generally bake the idea directly into the initial proposal. I'm eager to meet the crew and start to understand not only the business workflow we aim to support with marketing and technology projects, but also the people and passion they bring to their work. To be really present and fully engaged in so many of our projects at 3VERB, it takes an understanding of the tools of the trade and the people behind them. Almost without exception these visits renew my belief in some of our best shared ideals: the entrepreneurial spirit, a commitment to creating useful, quality products, and a ground-level confirmation that people still work best in a collegial and cooperative environment.

Seen here, a few snapshots from my visit with the incredibly hard-working and ingenious crew at Escape Climbing outside St. Paul, Minnesota. They're a case in point: Great products, an enterprise geared to profit in an emerging category, but quite clearly book-ended by people-power.

Nowadays, in so many regards, I'm convinced it serves us well to not allow rapid-exchange email and social media chatter and screen-share-conference-calling to act as our proxy or define key relationships. We can do better than that. We can dare to show up in person.

– Jon

Jon is the CEO of GimmeAnother and founder of 3VERB.