Canadians Connected 2015: How to get out of digital marketing purgatory

Mitch Joel

When you ask Canadian entrepreneurs how they’re doing when it comes to connecting with customers on their digital marketing channels, some might tell you they’re in hell. They’re wrong. Hell is knowing what you’re doing isn’t working. Purgatory is not knowing – but there’s a way to get out of it, by using data to connect with your customers on a deeper level.

That’s the contention of business transformation and digital marketing expert Mitch Joel, speaking this week at Canadians Connected 2015, the Symposium and Annual General Meeting for CIRA (If you’ve ever registered a Canadian domain name, you’ve dealt with CIRA before, if only fleetingly). Joel is a renowned marketing expert, visionary and bestselling author of Six Pixels of Separation, and CTRL ALT DELETE. He was on hand to answer the million dollar question: with most businesses at least trying to promote themselves online through the usual gamut of website, eNewsletter, Facebook contests and the like, why aren’t more companies able to make the connections they need to succeed?

Bethany Mota

Focus on Direct Relationship Building

This is where it starts, by pressing the flesh with one-on-one relationships. It’s hard, but necessary.

Online, Joel argued that you can cultivate that feeling of a direct relationship with your customer even if you’ve never met. Being authentic is key.

Joel compared the runaway success of teen YouTube sensation Bethany Mota (virtually unknown to anyone in the room at the CIRA event, including this writer) to more recognizable ‘stars’ like John Oliver, a so-called King of Comedy with his own HBO show.

Backed by a traditional, big-money marketing campaign, and cresting on his fast-rising fame as a popular player on the Daily Show, Oliver got a little over one million views for his first run. Meanwhile, Mota gets over 10 million views for her video on her room tour – and has parlayed her low-production-value, no-script performances into sold-out clothing lines and invites to hang out with US President Barack Obama.

The key to Mota’s success? She knows her audience well and speaks in their language (in this case, almost incomprehensibly fast, with healthy smatterings of teen-appropriate slang and a bubbly, scorn-melting smile). Speak to your mass audience in a way that they want to be spoken to and your direct connection will come alive.

Have Sex with Data

Most companies are “fooling around with data” these days, but to succeed, you need to take it to the next, more intimate level. “Businesses that do great things with data have a consensual relationship that lets them go further,” Joel said.

Joel argued that getting true consent from your customer means being transparent about what you want to do with their data. Don’t gather their email or other information under one pretense and try to exploit another direction. Instead, tie their data to something you’re really giving them, like access to Amazon’s pricing app that lets customers see prices from competing retailers while they’re in a physical store. “You want to use this app? Congratulations, you’re having sex with data,” Joel said, giving the customer a better experience personalizing it and leveraging your customer relationship in new ways.

Charmin bear

Provide Utility

Ads have their place, but they are forgotten easily. If you want your brand to be present with your audience, build them something they can use.

Joel pointed to the SitOrSquat Charmin app as the perfect example of such an app, targeted for frequent travelers like himself facing a very human problem: where to find a clean bathroom when in an unfamiliar city. Instead of trying to create a fun online game that few would probably play, they built functionality that improves brand recognition and loyalty.

The functionality doesn’t have to take the form of an app on your phone, Joel argued. Lego’s brick-and-mortar stores exploit the habit of Lego’s customers to pick up the box and shake it to get a ‘feel’ for what’s inside. As you move the box in the store in front of a digital screen, you can see the Lego pieces of the box coming together in your hands, coming to life – enticing you to buy what’s in the box, of course.

Take Advantage of the One Screen World

The multi-channel, tribe-driven Internet can be intimidating to some entrepreneurs who see a challenge in putting their product in front of their customer in the right spot. The problem is overhyped, Joel said, noting that thanks to today’s technology, it doesn’t matter how many devices you have in your home – they’re all pretty much using the same screen, with similar functionality.

“Your iPad can control what you see on your TV, or your other device…  Forty-four percent of Americans don’t have landlines – they’re living in this one-screen world.” Joel pointed out that even his two-year-old son gets it, referencing the time he tried to ‘swipe’ the TV screen left to right, complaining, “Dada, broken!”

The one screen world already exists – so stop worrying so much about presenting for a particular channel and look to showcase your brand on any device in a consistent way.

Joel made it clear that for entrepreneurs stuck in digital marketing purgatory, the problem isn’t the tools. “Digital marketing works – you just suck at it,” Joel said to chuckles from the audience. “It’s not about creating an ad to change the world anymore. Leverage a higher level of permission for your customers to create a better experience for them and you’ll create a better business for you.”

Feature image courtesy Eva Blue.

Jonathon Narvey

Jonathon Narvey

Jonathon Narvey is a content marketing strategist and BetaKit Senior Editor. Living and working in the heart of downtown Vancouver, he's watched this city's tech hub grow and start to compete on a world-class level. He has learned most of what he knows about tech startups and entrepreneurial spirit by interviewing some of the most innovative thought leaders here and abroad. He's always up for learning something new about the startups, leaders and technologies that are changing our world.