Marty Smith

Two years ago, we published a two-part post on social media marketing safety with Internet marketer, curator, cancer survivor, entrepreneur and Friend of, Marty Smith.

Since we last interviewed Marty, he has left his position as Director of Marketing for Atlantic Business Technologies and launched four start-ups, his latest being Curagami. Along with the UNC Linenberg Cancer Center, he also created a new kind of innovation in cancer research fund called Tech Cures Cancer.

Marty is not just one of’s biggest champions. He is the epitome of the community builder and someone who gives selflessly to make others’ lives better.

Anyone who knows Marty will agree that his enthusiasm for life is contagious and his will to turn ideas into reality, unstoppable. He is genuine, giving and truly an all-around awesome person.

That’s why we asked him to share his journey and thoughts with us on entrepreneurship, e-commerce, social media and how his battle against cancer has shaped his thinking.

Read on!

The Idea Behind Curagami

[Tweet “”Turning conversations into money” – @Curagami”]

Such is the motto of Curagami, a startup dedicated to creating tools for e-commerce merchants and content marketers.

Early on, Marty and co-founder Phil Buckley realized that content marketing was often missing in e-commerce strategies. There was a gap to bridge. It was time to help those businesses start relationship-centric conversations to build advocacy.

In our early days as we were working the company out on white boards, Phil asked, ‘What if a merchant could get to know their customers as well as we know our friends?’ Social media makes such knowing possible, but the nature of e-commerce up to this point creates barriers.

Barriers come strangely enough from e-commerce’s success. Best Practices in e-commerce are to create an online catalog and do 90% of the talking, pitching and selling. Reviews have always been important, but they (and other User Generated Content) are seen as a necessary evil and not fully embraced by most merchants.

The team tested their tools with Moon Audio, (a company that sells headphones, earphones and premium audio cables) launched an Ambassador Program, and requested customer feedback via social media. The next step was to study the hard data and insights received.

The result?

Our customers viewed social media as a PUSH medium. Thanks to Curagami’s conversations we can show how effective listening and sharing User Generated Content can be to a merchant’s bottom line. Tribes form faster when you listen at least as much as you talk and Curagami is helping make the point even as it creates new “muscle memory” for a more productive social routine (some push with much more PULL).

The Future of E-commerce

Marty says e-commerce is like a video game. Winning the competitive battle implies giving more than you take and making your customers the heroes of your ‘quest’. Your first (and ultimate goal) is to create a memorable experience. And everything starts with a new attitude towards website design:

When Jesper Juul discussed who is the “actant” of a video game, he helped change our vision, a vision I expressed in slightly editing one of his paragraphs:

But how can [websites] be abstract and without points of identification, and yet be interesting? No matter how variable or even absent the protagonist in [websites], the [shopper] is always constant. The reader/viewer needs an emotional motivation for investing energy in the movie or book; we need a human actant to identify with. This is probably also true for [websites], only this actant is always present – it is the [shopper]. The [shopper] is motivated to invest energy in the [website] because the game evaluates player performance. And this is why a [website] can be much more abstract than a movie or a novel, because [websites] involve [shoppers] in a direct way.

In a nutshell, you have to gamify your content:

When something is fun we do it. When something is fun we share it. When we have 5 great choices to buy anything we want we end up buying from those we LOVE. This means the future of commerce and B2B content marketing is about winning hearts, minds and loyalty (love).

Entrepreneurship and the Comfort Zone

One thing Marty strongly believes in is the power of social media. However, he is quick to point out that taking it for granted would be a grave mistake:

Social media is like building sand castles on the beach when the tide is always coming in. We learn, build and must creatively destroy over and over to infinity.

That’s why online communities are so important. Without them, businesses would wither away quickly – and even with the best content marketing strategies.

So, how do you start building your community? Be open to suggestions and feedback. Do not be afraid to ask for help:

Cancer forced me to get good at asking for help. Phil wrote a great piece about how poor most people are at asking for help titled “Fear, Shame and Asking for Help.” His post is among my favorites because it reminds me of how far I’ve come.

Like most American men, I couldn’t ask for help. I thought it was a sign of weakness. I learned, the hard way or the way I learn most, asking for help take courage, strength and love. I’ve never been anything other than amazed at how much help comes when I’ve asked.

Social Media as a Game Changer

Social media has transformed communication and our vision of the world. It has allowed us to collaborate with others and support causes that matter to us.

Marty sees the use of social media as a revolution, which he himself has harnessed wisely. He is the founder of Story of Cancer, a nonprofit whose goal is to “spark a new cancer research revolution to cure cancer in our lifetime.”

My presence speaks to progress since my leukemia would have taken me by now without life saving “miracle” drugs. 

Significant obstacles remain, but technology is the key. This is why we hope to help FOCUS the conversation about curing cancer to move funds into labs and research. When I rode a bicycle across America in the summer of 2010 we made sure every dollar we raised went to cancer research at the Duke Cancer Institute. Today we are working with UNC to spark a revolution, a revolution meant to cure cancer in OUR lifetime. Imagine a life without cancer.

I have that dream daily. Now work back from that dream. Imagine how your children’s children only know about cancer because they read about it in books. Cancer isn’t the nightmare killer it’s been, but a tamed monster whose presence teaches us, challenges us and reminds us anything is possible when we are united and insistent.

However, there is also a bleak side to this modernity:

My generation may be the last of the great time wasters (as shows like ‘That ‘70s Show’ prove). We believed in wasting time TOGETHER. No computers were involved (because they didn’t exist), but some of those “wasted moments” were spontaneous and magical too. I LOVE tech, social media, blogging and marketing online. But I loved hanging out, playing pool and listening to music with friends in our moldy basement in Greenwich, CT too.

The Storytelling Era

Curagami quote

Do you know that, on average, 2.73 million blog posts are published every single day? And, as of 2014, Google has indexed 200 Terabytes of data! That’s a lot of content, right?

It means one thing: There is no room for average delivery anymore. If you want to be found, you have to aim for excellence and meaning.

We are in the middle of a ‘content shock’, but most of this ‘new’ content makes several critical mistakes including:

  • There is no “like me” validation.
  • Most content talks to itself about itself.
  • It’s boring (writing and supporting images).
  • It’s not VISUAL (in writing or images).
  • Most content creators don’t understand how to write for the web (i.e. SEO writing).

Marty feels that those mistakes could easily be avoided if brands understood the power of storytelling. It really is about showing people that you “get them.”

With storytelling, you can share your values and journey with others. It makes you transparent, relatable, human and trustworthy. Why? Because that kind of sharing requires a complete openness about yourself. And it’s not easy.

This is something Marty has done for as long as we have known him. The way he talks about his personal journey is inspiring and makes you want to continue following him.

One of my lessons from Martin’s Ride To Cure Cancer, our 3,300-mile bicycle ride from Durham, NC, to Santa Monica was YOU ALWAYS HAVE MORE COURAGE THAN YOU REALIZE. I went on the adventure for many reasons. One important reason was to know if I had the courage to survive the rapids ahead. I discovered how much of a courage reserve we have. Some days it was all I could do to put a sore bottom on that bicycle again. Other days were triumphs of the will.

One of my favorite stories happened in California. After a long day climbing Mt. Baldy, (a vicious four-hour climb at the end of a long day) I was sitting alone and in a black-end of summer night on a dock far out into a lake on the border between Nevada and California.

I was dipping my legs into the cold lake and feeling great. Suddenly the dock went straight up dumping me fully into the lake. I searched for a bottom, but the lake must have been 20 feet deep or more. I clawed at the dock and it just squirted away. ‘I am NOT drowning here tonight, not like this,’ I remember thinking before finding purchase and crawling back on the dock like a wet dog.

Earlier in the day I’d come down Mt. Baldy at better than 60MPH on a bicycle and I almost drowned on a dock in the middle of a lake whose name I don’t even remember. Every moment of every day requires courage and we all have more than we realize.

I am convinced our jobs as Internet marketers and content curators is finding and sharing stories of courage.

Content Curation: It’s Like Art

An essential part of Marty’s online strategy is content curation. It’s no coincidence that he is regarded as one of the best in his category.

How did he master curation?

I studied painting with a great artist named Alton Pickens at Vassar College. Alton helped form my approach to curation. Imagine an artist’s studio with thousands of things on the floor. Everything from pieces of art magazines to personal photos and previous works are on the floor and the walls.

I used to have a studio like that. I used the presence of STUFF to spark ideas and find new ways to solve the puzzle of artistic communication. I wasn’t a painter as much as a Kurt Schwitters-like collagist and that is how I approach content curation.

As a curator, Marty has chosen to focus solely on marketing, technology, other curators, and cancer. He keeps these themes in mind at all time to ensure relevancy and usefulness.

Then, what happens next is some of kind of culinary/artistic magic!

I put everything into a blender and look for chunks that don’t puree down right away (lol). Those chunks, the standouts, are worth fitting into the puzzle. Next I try to write things others will see as a ‘chunk that won’t puree down’. You can’t be a great content curator UNLESS you write.

Now, do you see why we love Marty so much?

Marty has a paper titled “Heroes Cure Cancer Daily”. Feel free to connect with him on Twitter and/or Google+ to talk about social media, art, technology, and how to change the world, one voice at a time.

Cendrine Marrouat Blog Staff Writer, Cendrine Marrouat is a French-born social media coach, curator, and author. She is the founder of Social Media Slant and the #smslantchat Twitter chat. Her latest e-book release, "The Little Big eBook on Social Media Audiences: Build Yours, Keep It and Win", is a comprehensive guide focusing on the four pillars of audience building. Follow her on Google+.

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5 Responses to “Marty Smith: The New E-commerce Must Tell Stories”

  1. Marty Smith

    Wow, what a great shot in the arm just when needed. I arrived at Ohio State today after battling the MONSTER flu someone with little to no immune system gets (nasty). I wasn’t going to delay this train come Hell, high water or the seventh sign. Thanks to Cendrine, Kelly and the amazing team at!

    One truth I’ve discovered the hard way, the way I discover most things, is the importance of friends and wizards. Friends help keep us humble, sane and full of the courage we need to create. Wizards cure our cancers while creating new ways for us to see and understand ourselves and each other. I’m blessed to have many wizards and friends in my life and I don’t say THANK YOU nearly as much as they deserve or I should.

    THANK YOU :). Marty

    • Kelly Hungerford

      Marty, we’re thrilled, proud and mostly really, really happy that this interview helped make your life a little sunnier during a pretty bleak time.

      You give selflessly to everyone and anyone who is in need. It makes us happy to be able to shine the spotlight on you and all you do.

      You’re a hero. Thank YOU!


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