Coffee N5 Podcast - Mitch Joel

Episode 72 – Coffee N.5 – Reboot your Business with Marketing Expert Mitch Joel

Are you ready to give your brand an upside-down reboot with digital marketing? 

Mitch Joel is known as a thought leader and genius in the digital marketing space. He started out in journalism and became a publisher of a magazine. During the time when print was fading away, he was one of the early adopters of the online publication. After that, he helped to build a metasearch company that was popular before Google was even established. He then worked in marketing for a mobile phone company before smartphones were popularized. After all of that, he started his own digital marketing agency called Twisted Image with a few partners. There he began the blog “Six Pixels of Separation” which later became a podcast and a best-selling book! His next book “Ctrl-Alt-Delete” would also go on to become a bestseller!

Without any doubt, Mitch is a pioneer in the digital marketing space, and we are very excited to chat with him about the importance of marketing and creating a brand. Currently, he spends his time consulting as well as traveling and sharing his wisdom through speaking engagements. Mitch shares the importance of brand development and direct response. He also gives insight on how to have “a strong home base or an ownable asset that you can drive people to” for your business and build an infrastructure around that. He also talks about how to maximize opportunities as a part of your marketing strategy and the importance of creating a niche.

Things You’ll Learn

  • Is the customer always right?
  • What is brand awareness
  • How to maximize your market strategy via content development
  • Why should a company own its own brand
  • How to determine your audience and do market research

Follow Mitch on LinkedIn and Instagram, and check out his website

For more information about Six Pixels of Separation, click here.

Follow our host Lara Shmoisman on social media:

Instagram: @laraschmoisman

Facebook: @LaraSchmoisman

LinkedIn: @laraschmoisman

Twitter: @LaraSchmoisman

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Lara Schmoisman  0:04  

Hello, everyone, welcome back to Coffee N5, as you know, I mean, I love to have coffee, but I also love marketing. And marketing is in my soul. And I love to talk about marketing, and I want to chat with people about marketing. But many times when I start talking about marketing people tell me Oh, you do Instagram? And I say, Yes, sometimes. And so what do you do? Well, first, I analyze first I see what needs to be done. First, I understand the product, I understand the client. So welcome. Mitch Joel. Mitch over his career managed several marketing companies. I understand why you don’t tell us a little bit about your background.

Mitch Joel  1:26  

Well, thanks for having me, Lara. Yeah, my name is Mitch Joel. And right now, I’m in my post agency marketing career. But for many years, I started off in journalism. And then I was a publisher of a magazine where I did a lot of advertising and media, obviously, in a traditional print publication, the advent of the internet happened to land on me, perfect timing. And so we put that magazine on the internet at the time, I mean, there weren’t even hyperlinks between pages. So you can imagine how nascent at the time was, then was very fortunate to work in the meta search business long before Google existed. And we helped develop a lot of the main advertising revenue channels you see now in these multi billion and trillion dollar companies that worked in the mobile space for a little bit. And then in the early 2000s, I started a digital marketing agency, at the time called Twist image, with three other business partners. And at the beginning of it, we started this blog called six pixels of separation, which quickly became the podcast. And those really helped establish us as thought leaders and being my background in journalism and publishing, it was really fun to really share the thinking of how the world was changing and digital in the early 2000s. We built that agency up to the point where we sold it about eight years ago to WPP, one of the largest marketing communications, public companies in the world. And within that organization, we helped build out an agency called mirum, which is now still part of the Wunderman Thompson network. I think even Wunderman Thompson is the name I don’t even know if mirum exists anymore. Because about three years ago, I decided to move on from that. And currently, I’m really just speaking, I do a lot of public speaking about the state of brands and consumer behavior and technology. I’ve written two books, one of them called six pixels of separation, and one of them called control, alt, delete. And I really do work at the intersection of consumer behavior brands, tech innovation, that’s the place where I find myself playing the most right now.

Lara Schmoisman  3:19  

That’s amazing, incredible. Anyway, I want to talk to you about something that I feel like a lot coming to my clients are medium companies, I will say, and they always come to me somehow with a bad experience. Because and what I found out is those bad experiences is because companies many times believe where the audience is, and they try to put all the eggs in one basket, they say, oh, I want to do Instagram, or I want to do Pinterest, and they don’t see the whole digital spectrum as a whole. And that you need to be everywhere, but not necessarily your audience is going to be the same. In all those places. Have you experienced that? Do you see that? When you’re talking to companies,

Mitch Joel  4:13  

I mean, I don’t really do that work anymore. But philosophically, where I sit is you need to have a strong home base. And that strong home base could be a website, it could be an app, but it’s an ownable asset where you can fundamentally drive people to and it does become the catalogue of the storytelling that you put out into the world. And then when we’re talking about you know, the advertising component of it, because advertising is a small component of marketing. For me, it’s really split into the storytelling and brand development and then there’s the direct response channel that you’re trying to engage with. I think because of the ease of use of digital technologies and watching these growing audiences, you have many clients who look at it and wonder why I do any brand or storytelling in a world where I could do so much directly. And so in a world where you would intuitively think it should be a healthy 5050 split, it’s probably closer to an 80 or 90% split towards the direct response. So the main issue I’m typically looking at is is there a brand of storytelling? Is there something unique to say? Is that ownable on your own properties? And then it’s really a conversation of where can you flourish in the content that you want to create to tell the story in a more dynamic or fluid way or in front of a growing audience? And when it comes to that I don’t really look at you know, is it Tik Tok? or Instagram? I look at it more like, is it text? Is it images? Is it audio? Is it a video? Is it long form? Is it short form? Is it live? Is it pre recorded? Where would you flourish as a team? Where do you think your story would would most resonate within those and you don’t have to choose one, you can choose a couple, you know, so for me, I do long form audio content in the form typically of an audio podcast, I also write long form, I typically write articles, or posts from my blog. That doesn’t mean I’m not active on Twitter, it doesn’t mean I’m not active on Facebook, I just know where my two main or three main ones are and which platforms really satiate that type of content. So once you have an infrastructure around that brand, and storytelling, or the idea of a Content Marketing Center of Excellence, on the direct response side, what you’re really doing is not just necessarily looking for the biggest audience, but where were you might find the most discernible audience that would resonate with your message. And so I have always believed that there’s, you know, a richness in the niche finding and where that is, because in the niche, people tend to think well, that means small, I think niches have a much larger assertable market because of the connectedness of technology than most brands really understand. And until they’ve really optimized against the niche, throwing spaghetti at the wall and hoping that it sticks is a strategy. I mean, it’s a strategy that has lived in traditional media outlets forever. But I just feel that 20 plus years now of the commercialization of the internet, why would you do that? Like do you really own the niche that your industry occupies? Are you seen as a thought leader? Are you seen as a recognized authority? Is it a trusted brand? Is it a storied brand, and those pillars will help you really navigate into a world where you’ll have much better results versus Well, everybody’s on tik tok, and I think tick tock is amazing. I’m as addicted to it as anybody else. I love it. But I do think brands need to know what their space is there and be able to do well in it. Because of the porting of content or even adding models from one to the other, I think it failed as well. I think it’s just a challenging place to think.

Lara Schmoisman  5:28  

On one hand, I feel like there is a popularity contest that many people want to have those likes and those followers because they feel like that’s how they can establish thought leadership. 

Mitch Joel  8:07  

I mean, yeah, no, I hear what you’re saying. I don’t know. My buddy is Avinash Kaushik from Google, who was one of the first analytics evangelists and the digital marketing evangelists there. And he refers to these as vanity metrics. I mean, the problem one is a brand that is only looking at how many likes or followers or comments they get. That’s problem one. Because the truth is, you can have five likes and 20 comments, but these five people are able to amplify that message because it’s the right fit. You know, it’s the old analogy. The customer’s always right. The customer isn’t always right. The right customer is always right. So we tend to think in that way of, well, we have a lot of followers. I don’t care. Are they real followers? Are the people who are following you who’ve actively decided that anything you publish, I would like to see in my feed? And if the answer is well, no, I kind of clicked something or bought an ad or clicked it to get a discount. Those aren’t really loyal followers. They’re just randos.

Lara Schmoisman  9:06  

Yeah, those on Generate conversion. But I want to talk a little bit more about what brand awareness is, because I feel like in this competition for followers in this competition for lights, we forget about something that is super important. That is brand awareness, because brand awareness is a lot, a lot of work. And it takes a lot more time many times because I can do a trick and it goes viral and everyone loves within Facebook, but that doesn’t mean that I’m going to be established as a thought leader, or I’m going to be generating conversions. Yeah. So early believing in brand awareness.

Mitch Joel  9:39  

Yeah, I mean, the analogy that I wrote about in my first book six pixels, which is over 10 years old at this point, is this idea that people want to make a splash. And I believe that the brands that have resonated the most are the ones that create little ripples in the ocean. And when you continually create enough ripples that creates a way If you continually build on the wave, you create this consistency of waves that can create maybe a tsunami of an effect. To me, that’s a more attractive modeling process than let’s just keep trying to make a big splash. Because the splash goes up, it goes down right away. And then there’s nothing left there, except the residue of it. So I’ve always been a believer in what Seth Godin would have called drip, drip, drip, he’s you’re slowly over time building trust, you know, the analogy in relationships is the same. You don’t wake up and hop into bed together, there’s a bit of getting to know one another, some texting, some friendly banter, maybe some drinks at the bar, maybe a movie and things tend to move much faster in this day and age. But there’s something to the foundations of what mill builds a solid relationship going forward, if that’s what you’re looking for. If all you’re looking for is that one nightstand, we know how that ultimately ends, it can play for a long time, especially in a world of Tinder, I’m guessing. But what does that mean, for real brands, the brand is constantly chasing the one nightstand, it’s a very, very expensive, hard proposition that doesn’t really allow for repeatable and growing engagement, it just doesn’t

Lara Schmoisman  11:14  

Like you said, his consistency and being cohesive is really important in any brand, in my experience. And also, I see these trying to put brands, they have a little budget and try to put it all, for example, in a campaign for New Year’s Eve on Thanksgiving, and it’s impossible to compete. So you need to find those new spaces, or those especially says that they’re not that everyone is competing, just so you know,

Mitch Joel  11:43  

or what you need to do is make sure that you’re layering on top of that component, and salaries, strategies, so one of them might be PR, so you’re doing some PR ahead of a Black Friday as an example, to get ahead of the noise, you do some form of creative that is tied to something news base that you could amplify so that it’s not just this one spend one strategy, but you’re putting in different hooks for it, that might make it spread in a more powerful way you’re seeing, you know, very smart bands, brands create bumpers, right now, for trailers for their big commercial, or their big video that they’re trying to produce. They’ll do behind the scenes footage, there’s a lot of ways to take aspects of content and stretch it out and move towards that slower ripple like model than counting on the one. So I’m actually not necessarily the anti advocate for doing that one moment in time. I think that that can work as long as you’re building in a bit of a structure around it, and pushing it out so that you get more bang for that buck. So when you look at something like here in North America, the Super Bowl is a big advertising moment. What you see from brands is it’s a it really is an omni channel like approach, you have a lot of stuff around what’s happening before you have a lot of stuff around your last around PR video, there’s a lot of amplification building up to it, where the video playing during the actual game is minor compared to all the things you’ve packed around it.

Lara Schmoisman  13:13  

I love that you say that. Because at the end of the day, we call that strategy and strategy is to plan something ahead in the perspective of that new year or whatever date it is. I also want to ask you why a company should use a marketing agency instead of using freelancers here. And they are to me very clear. It’s about maintaining a brand and also creating a strategy. But in your experience, why use a marketing company, even when you’re a small company?

Mitch Joel  13:49  

I mean, I don’t think there’s a binary answer you should or you shouldn’t, what type of company are you if you’re a marketing driven company, you probably want to own not only the brand story, but the brand assets that lie within it. So at that point, you could have internal teams, you could have some freelancers to support what’s happening within the organization, you might use a marketing agency more as a supplier or developer versus actual steward to the brand. If you’re looking at your brand product service as a business, and you realize that that marketing, you know, isn’t really a function within the organization, which is a bit absurd to me, you might abdicate that responsibility over to an agency where you find a trusted partner who you know, can steward the brand from here to there. So again, I don’t know that there’s an answer one way or the other. In my career of 20 years of running an agency there were multiple instances where I felt that the brand in theory should have held it within the organization and really worked with suppliers. And then there were instances where I thought, wow, the agency really has a depth of understanding that because of just how the team is turning or how they keep reorganizing or how their structure was that it would be to their detriment. To not really interest that agency partner was more of the legacy of the brand and the story to tell. But ultimately, you know, here we sit in 2021. And it would be really challenging for me to sit in this world and think that you should let a brand or an agency rather own your brand, I really think that if the company is serious about marketing, they need to own the brand, which means you need a brand steward within the organization, you need to have certain people who can execute and or at least manage agency relationships to make it most effective. And the agency relationships, it’s not just the knowledge, because people come and go in the agency business, too. We’re not absolved of having high turnover rates. But what you’re hoping to have is a level of professionalism and a relationship, where you’re taking the brand outside of how everyone feels in the organization, and allowing a third party to really touch and feel and get engaged with it, to see how it connects beyond because the truth is, when you’re within an organization, more often than not, you’re somewhat, you somewhat lose your perspective on what the brand is. And then also, because of the nature of transitional chief marketing officers, you have a place where professionals aren’t necessarily coming in to think about how they can help build the brand, but rather how they can put their stamp on it. And that’s a really dangerous thing, too, because that’s how you head into rebrands, or agency reviews, or issues that don’t really need to happen other than the person individually who’s coming in, wants to make bones to demonstrate that they’re going to change or do something different. That can be troublesome too. So when that’s happening, you need to ensure that your CEO or your president level executive has some real touch points into what the brand story is, prior to letting a chief marketing officer come in and try to make bones.

Lara Schmoisman  16:46  

Yeah, no, I agree. I always say it as a partnership that he worked with companies and agencies that it’s the company’s baby. And internally, they need to have their brand story and their brand core values very clear before you work with anyone external.

Mitch Joel  17:02  

Yeah, I mean, if we’re going to use that analogy, then the agency is a bit more like the nanny, the nanny, and then you have to decide do you want your child to be raised by the nanny? Or do you want to be in a co-parenting situation? Or do you want to be the parent and the nanny is really there just to support and handle the things that I can’t do, because I’m busy recording podcasts with you or running around. So that to me, again, is a logical conversation. And it’s a fair conversation that every brand can have?

Lara Schmoisman  17:29  

Absolutely. When I see it though, it is a pattern. And I totally support people working with freelancers. And I think it’s a path. I mean, it’s totally viable. But I see that there are different stories told, and that’s where I get a little conflicted, because I see that they are sub companies working with Tao. And I had an example recently in a new Start up. But it has great potential. And I saw that on Instagram, they were telling one story. And in Facebook, there was something different, they were completely two different brands, to me.

Mitch Joel  18:04  

I have less of a problem with that as the world evolves. I think one of the amazing things about all these digital channels is you could play with that. I mean, how amazing would it be if you had a product that spoke to very different segments or audiences, and you could play it in a different way. And you saw this a little bit with the advent of these DTC brands, these direct to consumer brands, or digital only brands, where they would do something really humorous and funny in YouTube, these long, you know, Dollar Shave Club, six minute commercials. And then they would do some really interesting direct response targeted to getting those members signed up in a place like Facebook, you would look at it and think, Well, these are two different brands in terms of messaging and positioning. But I could also make the argument back, that’s pretty great, because people who want the holistic experience will get the humor and the long form video content. And those who are really looking to just acquire through the deal of men shaving frequently and regularly and not wanting the hassle of going to a store that plays into that asset in a really powerful way. You know, if you’re talking about things with a brand, the brand identity is physically very, very diverse. That’s more of a design function. But at the brand level, I’m really interested in brands that play around that can be more humorous or quick and a tick tock, but are more serious and approach and look at the fast food chains. If you look at the fast food chains, and how they tell their brands, in places like Twitter, which is a great example. They’re very humorous and tagging on and trying to tap into what’s happening in the news and in the current events. But if you look at their real marketing stuff that shows up in your, in your mailbox or on the street, it’s about, you know, two burgers for 99 cents. So they’re very, very different. They don’t feel attached at all, but when you’re in the environment, your brand needs to adapt to the environment. And I think more traditional marketers think that it has to be consistent across everything. And just, you know, Lera, you and I might differ there. And that’s fine. But creatively, I don’t think you have to, I think you can play in many, many sandboxes. People are pretty smart.

Lara Schmoisman  20:09  

Yeah, what I’m meaning is like, and this is, as an agency, what we always do is to work in the native language of the format. Because you cannot speak the same in Facebook, on Instagram or Twitter, you need to respect the  native language, not only the dialect that they use. Also, that you have a character town and it is different how you need to write the content for each one of them. Also, but also the, by the way, I mean, the core values need to be the same. You cannot say I hate tomatoes in one of those. And I love tomatoes in the other one. Yeah,

Mitch Joel  20:44  

of course, of course. And then you know, the persona, I’m working on a new startup that will hopefully launch soon, I won’t, I can’t really talk about it right now. But when I talk about who the customer is, I’ve actually tried to completely avoid personas, because we envision this one type of person. And I don’t think it’s that I think it’s the role or function of what that person does in the ecosystem. That’s more important. So when I’m talking about this startup, I’ll talk about the types of businesses, the types of people within that business who might purchase this, how they might purchase this. And so I’m moving away from gender, background religion, that, you know, she’s a mom, who’s 47, who drives a Volkswagen and has two kids. And as a soccer mom, I’m not interested in that, I’m interested in that professional might be at the same level of achievement as I am in terms of a director level within what type of organization, and how do they buy. So even when we’re talking about, you know, where we want personas and customers, I think we can expand it now because it is more of a diverse world. And I believe that there are people that are probably very different. And yet we might occupy the same level within the same industry. So even that as a thinking pattern is really important. Really understand who buys this, it’s not really an individual or prototype. You know, look, let’s go on LinkedIn right now and pull up 50 of the top marketing directors in the world. My guess is none of them look like each other.

Lara Schmoisman  22:18  

I’m sure they don’t. But for sure, we’ll look at the same things.

Mitch Joel  22:24  

Maybe, but that’s my point. Right? So when you’re creating the persona, you’re going into this individual, if you’re actually figuring out who buys this, you’re now in a bigger space that allows you to play more creatively, because you and I will have different cultural interests. And both of them will resonate with us. So if you can hit both, why wouldn’t you as a brand?

Lara Schmoisman  22:44  

Yeah, absolutely. So for a startup, I love that you brought up startups. So what besides finding this new type of Persona, what’s your recommendation? Where do you start? Where do you find your audience? How do you start with your market research?

Mitch Joel  23:01  

Well, I mean, that’s really dependent on the product or service that you’re doing off more often than not. The businesses that get me excited are ones that are actually and viably solving a current problem. The challenge that we have in today’s market is there are many startups who believe there’s this problem that they’re solving for, when in reality, they’ve made it up. They’ll call themselves this shop or fight about car washing or something. And you’re like, what problem are you ultimately solving in a world where the carwash industry is actually way more sophisticated than most people will probably even ever know, in terms of how they think and operate. So I’m always more interested in the startups that are really thinking specifically about this as a problem that no one has solved before. This is more efficient, or this is price based. Those are the levers that I tend to be more attracted to when I’m working. We’re thinking of startups. And also

Lara Schmoisman  23:57  

something we need to analyze always is your competition. Who is your competition in the market And what what makes you different

Mitch Joel  24:04  

Yeah, I mean, look, differentiation has always been a core brand tenant. And even if it’s a hyper competitive market, you need to know where that stands. Some people might argue, you know, you never want to be a differentiator, just on price alone. I could argue that there are many businesses that have built really compelling stories just on that look at the dollar based businesses. Look at Five Below is a great example of retail in the US where it has used this idea of price base to provide a new type of brand experience, and it’s done exceptionally well. So I always think that differentiation of course, it’s important that you look and feel different and unique. But you would be surprised at how many very specific layers you can compete on where people thought you can’t compete, and yet you can’t.

Lara Schmoisman  24:49  

Great information. Mitch, before we go, I can ask you the same question I asked absolutely everyone in this podcast because I believe that we learn from our mistakes, and we need to celebrate sometimes mistakes, sometimes take us a long time to realize that we learned from that mistake, and we were able to apply that knowledge somewhere else. So if you have a mistake, a story to tell us that someone else can learn from it, what story would be?

Mitch Joel  25:20  

You know, I don’t know if it’s one specific thing only because I don’t have it, I don’t get fearful of failing, I get very fearful of not trying something that’s really more who I am. So I’m failing all the time. I probably failed six times this morning, most of them probably happened because of my kids. And things that I know we say and how they take them and how they learn from them is very different from the intent of which we deliver it. So Mistakes happen, small, medium, and large. I mean, all the time. I mean, even in this startup, I really thought of the first asset or type of person that I want to speak to, and they were like me in terms of the work that we do. I was totally off. I mean, they absolutely weren’t the first type of person. And I only learned that after presenting it to them multiple times hearing back the same answers and then realizing, I think I’m running into a wall here. Let me speak to somebody similar but different. So these mistakes to me, are they even mistakes, I would argue that every piece of content I create is a bit of a mistake. You know, if I could ‘ve learned from it could I’ve done more? I’ve changed it? Absolutely. If you’re worried about starting because you might fail, that’s a problem. So I don’t want to look at mistakes as some form of negative or something to learn from, I would just say that embrace this spirit of being scared of not trying things. If you can move into that world of being more experimental, of putting yourself out there, this idea of mistakes, they come and go. And also by the way, it diminishes the value of the victories because you don’t want to, it’s not important to celebrate. But I think we spend too much time thinking about the victories. The real stuff happens in the middle. It’s not what you start. It’s not how you finish. It’s not the mistakes you made. It’s not the victories. It’s the work that you did in the middle to get to whatever the goal is.

Lara Schmoisman  27:10  

Thank you so much, Mitch, for being in Coffee N5

Mitch Joel  27:14  

My pleasure. Thanks for having me.


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