Mitch Joel knows how hard it can be for brands to connect with consumers today. So the president of Canadian marketing agency Twist Image is out to help businesses update their strategies for a digital world. In this interview, he discusses five key "movements" affecting the marketing landscape - direct relationships, sex with data, utilitarianism marketing, the passive and active movement, and the one-screen world - and how brands can harness these trends to stay competitive.

October 2013

Brands are more important than ever, says Mitch Joel. But in a world where consumers are hyper-connected, they need to radically change their behavior. Stuck in “purgatory,” these brands need a roadmap to help get out of it.

In Joel’s latest book, Ctrl Alt Delete: Reboot Your Business. Reboot Your Life. Your Future Depends On It, the president of Canadian marketing agency Twist Image tells companies how it is — change how you do business, or go out of business. We spoke with him about the major shifts (“movements”) he sees coming, what marketers need to do as a result, and the brands that are getting it right.

What are these “five movements” you’ve been stressing in your book?

The first is “the power of direct relationships.” Now, the battle for this direct relationship is not just with your competitors, but with your business partners too. Think, for example, about an author trying to put a book in a store. It’s not just the author who’s trying to connect directly with their fans. There’s also the publisher, the retailer ... you could go on and on. For the actual author to engender that direct relationship with the reader isn’t as obvious as it may seem at first.

Once you have the direct relationship, there’s the understanding of how to nurture it — a movement I call “sex with data.” It’s not as provocative as it may sound. It’s about what to do with all the analytics we can capture, things like email addresses and performance based search. How does that come together with the social-based information? This is data you can’t necessarily capture yourself as a brand, but you can definitely use and harness.

From there, one of the biggest opportunities — one that most brands aren’t taking advantage of — is something I call “utilitarianism marketing.” It's a big mouthful that basically says “brands can now create utility.”

Then you start thinking differently about your advertising dollars, and this movement I call the “passive and active movement.” It’s about understanding questions like: When are our consumers active or passive with our brand? Is our advertising active when they're active and passive when they're passive? Are the channels that we're advertising on active when the consumers are active or passive when they are passive and more? And, lastly, is the platform a predominantly active or passive one?

There’s one strategy, and that strategy is to connect with the consumer, where the only screen that matters is the one that’s in front of them. I don’t think there’s one screen that rules them all. I think where we’re at a point where all screens rule.

Once you understand that, you move into the final movement, something I call the “one-screen world.” It’s not about three or four screens, it’s not about web and mobile, and it’s not about TVs. It’s about “the only screen that matters is the screen that's in front of me.” How does your brand dance in a world where screens are connected?

Are you suggesting brands need to focus on finding the screen that matters the most to a consumer?

We live in a world where most brands are thinking: “What’s my mobile strategy?”, “What’s my web strategy?”, “What’s my e-commerce strategy?”, “What’s my social media strategy?”. Bad strategy. There’s one strategy, and that strategy is to connect with the consumer, where the only screen that matters is the one that’s in front of them. I don’t think there’s one screen that rules them all. I think where we’re at a point where all screens rule.

One of the most compelling concepts you talk about is “utilitarianism marketing.” Can you give an example of a brand that’s being especially useful?

One of my favorite examples is an app called Sit or Squat that tells you how close you are to a clean public bathroom. You can add, rate, and comment on bathrooms. It’ll tell you which bathrooms are handicap accessible, which bathrooms have changing tables. And it’s all brought to you by Charmin.

Are there any other brands that out there you think hitting all these points and doing right?

Chipotle did a great animation video back in 2011 with Willie Nelson Covering Coldplay. It took off like a rocket. The ad was interesting and creative, but what really traces into this world is that you could buy this song for 99 cents on iTunes, and they would donate the money to a good cause. Suddenly, you have a brand that’s generating significant income, upwards of millions of dollars in revenue, from a song that’s building a better brand story.

Chipotle also caused a stir with its most recent creative ad, ”The Scarecrow.”

Yes, it’s another compelling animation video featuring a great song by Fiona Apple. But the big part now is they’ve got a game. The game is very dynamic, very cool. It’s up there with the coolest of cool games, but it builds understanding and knowledge too. … It pushes things beyond advertising, it pushes them to engagement, it pushes them to marketing, it pushes them into so many different areas.

Can you call out any specific brands you think could do better?

I don’t think it’s a question of calling out one or two brands. I think if you start understanding those five foundational movements that I talk about in my book, you’ll see that most brands aren’t there. … I’m fascinated with the fact that the vast majority of every brand isn’t doing it, and they’re still based off the traditional advertising complex.