Mitch Joel Mitch Joel

Keeping up with the ever-shifting expectations of clients and consumers is tricky business—but it’s not something any business can afford to ignore, according to Mitch Joel.

As president of digital marketing agency Mirum, Joel is intimately familiar with the challenge of connecting with customers in the digital age. He also knows the strategies that work—and those that don’t.

Ahead of Joel’s appearance at the 2016 PROFIT 500 CEO Summit on October 7, he explained what—if anything—defines today’s consumer behaviour and how businesses can keep up.

PROFITguide: How would you characterize a typical consumer in 2016?

Mitch Joel: Well, they’re 24-7. They’re no longer predicated on business hours. They’re predicated on easy connectivity. 

When brands talk about omnichannel—that correlation between what’s happening on the online side and in the physical world—what they mean is that they should be accessible anywhere and everywhere. That’s well beyond retail. It’s in all segments. Because of this access to conversion—the ability to buy products and services through their smartphones—consumer habits are easily swayed.

We’re all on Netflix, or on Spotify. Suddenly we’re spending $15 a month on these services, and we didn’t really think twice about packing [up] our DVDs or your VHS tapes, or deleting all our downloads. In that one change, our consumer behaviour changed. We look at the numbers for Netflix, Hulu, Shomi, Amazon Prime, and the numbers are crazy.

What we don’t look at from a business perspective is that complete habituation of the customer from paying to own a product or service to paying to own the access to a library. They’re paying to not own something. That opens a whole Pandora’s box of new business lines, opportunities, services, things you can put to market to fundamentally change your business.

I’ll give you an example: For $500, you can go into Best Buy and buy a security system with all sorts of cameras. When you set up the mobile app to manage them, a pop-up comes up and says “For $15 per month we will archive every single moment we capture on these cameras in high definition, forever. Are you interested?” And the answer is, of course, “Yes I am.”

Without having the consumer being so habituated to a Netflix and a Spotify, that new business model may not have existed.

Is this change affecting business-t0-business buying as well?

More than ever. Think about it: Where are businesses really making strides on the B2B side? It’s in value-add, it’s in new services that are adjunct. It’s: “Once I have you on the main product, what else can I put in front of you to get you loyal and connected?”

From a B2B side, it’s really hard to for your customers to put out an RFI or RFP when they’re locked into this subscription model with a vendor who has this entire archive of data and information and value-added information on top of that. When it comes time to renew, they’re thinking, Is it really wise to do that? 

The problem a lot of smaller businesses have is whether to structure their often-limited marketing efforts to meet the needs of customers of today or to take a bet on where they think customers will be tomorrow. How do you recommend they make the decision?

I had Kevin Kelly, one of the founders of Wired, on my podcast. He said, “You know, the future happens very slowly, then all at once.” 

Think about how many businesses have a very solid, mobile-first business approach to everything they do. The answer is very few. Is mobile new? No, it’s 15 years old. 

Yes, there are things that are happening today that aren’t as commonplace as mobile and digital commerce—VR, blockchain, augmented reality and machine intelligence. But I would challenge people to really look at where we’re seeing multi-billion market cap today, and to ask “Are we running at that pace?” 

Take any business you’re engaged with and look at their mobile experience. Is it a “better than” experience, better than you’ve seen from them before, from the website? Or is it a “less than” experience? The sad reality is that most businesses and brands have a less-than-web experience. But look at the world today: Snapchat and Instagram are dominating, and they’re mostly mobile first. That’s where your light posts are. 

It’s not a question of resiliency, it’s a question of whether you are even up to date with consumer expectations today.

But what if everything changes tomorrow, and mobile becomes passé? 

Yes, everything can change quickly. But that’s like saying, in 1976, “I shouldn’t advertise on The Love Boat, because who knows where that show will be in 10 years?” Who cares? You’re just going to advertise on the next show. Everyone who was going crazy for Canadian Idol isn’t now saying, “Well, we have nothing now.”

The truth is that to be successful, you have to adapt. Yes, investment in doing this is significant. This is the same argument I was having 15 years ago, when people were saying, “Wow, it’s really expensive to build an e-commerce website.” Yes, but how much did it cost you to open one retail store? If you’re small, half a million for one store. An e-commerce site would give them an outlet to anyone in the world 24/7, and they didn’t want to spend $10,000 or $15,000 on it. It’s not about “What does it cost?” It’s about “What does it cost you not to?”

If you understand that everyone can access information and ordering and purchasing literally in the palms of their hands, and your attitude is “I think what we should do, because it’s expensive, is to make a ‘less-than’ experience,” that’s where I can’t help you.

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