- Kirsten Ballard
Featured mediaXchange 2017 speaker
When Google wanted to explain digital marketing to the top brands in the world, they sought out Mitch Joel, one of the world’s leading experts on new media and emerging technologies. Joel is president of Mirum, global digital marketing agency operating in close to 20 countries. He shares insights on the future of technology and business, including how to use big data to create brand loyalists, how to drive growth in a mobile world, the five technology trends changing the face of business, and how organizations can connect to an always-connected consumer.
How did you get into media?
My first professional job was in 1988, interviewing Tommy Lee from Mötley Crüe for a magazine, and I sarcastically tell people that it has all been downhill from there. I spent many years writing about music and culture. Then, I started publishing my own magazines. If you Google deep enough, it’s been said that I was one of the first people to publish a traditional magazine on the Internet. These were web pages, because there was no form of hyperlinks, at that point. From there, it has been a whirlwind of a career. I was involved in search engine marketing before it was a real business for Google, spent time in mobile content before there was even a mobile web browser and then, eventually, wound up co-owning a digital marketing agency, which is now called Mirum and it’s owned by WPP.
Your last book “CTRL, ALT, DELETE” focused on rebooting business. What lessons can publishers take from this?
The book came out in 2013. It is my second book (my first was called, Six Pixels of Separation). The book is divided into two major sections: Reboot: Business and Reboot: You. In the first half, I look at five major shifts in business and how most brands (including publishing) are doing little-to-nothing about them. In the second half, I look at how we – as individuals – must think about the work that we do… and how we do it. Looking back, many of the messages are still critical to the publishing industry.
How has media changed since you’ve been in the industry?
It has changed in a way I could have never imagined. When the digitization and the social platforms popularized, as a blogger, I thought it would be transformative. I thought there would be thousands of interesting voices that are very specific in their content creation and that the massive gatekeepers would be gone.
But now, you have the Googles and Facebooks of the world. Instead of a world of three networks, we have two. And it’s dangerous: TV, print, long form, everything is controlled by the few and the powerful online. Most outlets rely on these companies to get their voices out there. And, you have organizations like Facebook claiming that they’re not a media company. It’s troubling.
For the news organizations to stay connected, they gave the content away for free (in hopes that the advertising dollars would follow), and that has created a habit for consumers of “content is free.” The consumer has fundamentally changed, and publishing is struggling to find the right business model and channels of distribution. That being said, this is a very complex and deep problem and I don’t want to over-simplify it.
Think about it this way: we used to collect magazines. We don’t collect print that much, anymore. Things are saved as a link and deleted as we go. Very little has stayed the same, only the same voraciousness and desire to consume content has remained the same. There’s a paradox in that.
Can you give us a brief preview of your speech for mediaXchange?
The presentation is called “Algorhythm.” It’s a play on the word “algorithm” and “rhythm”, because it’s about the pulse and flow of where consumers are at. The bigger concept I’m trying to bring forward is that while most industries look at digitization as a massive challenge, I make the argument that the consumer is making profound changes in consumption habits because of how easy and fast technology is. Brands see disruption as this massive 18-month IT roadmap, and consumers are just swiping right.
Take Netflix, as an example. Streaming is a huge change in consumer behavior, but that’s not the point. Streaming services – whether it’s Netflix or Apple Music – created a habituation of consumers willing to pay a small monthly fee for access to an entire media library instead of owning goods like CDs, DVDs, etc.… We have a new habituation for the subscription model.
We live in a culture of change. Most brands are overwhelmed by the massive shifts they have to make to their business models. Disruption is everywhere. Digital transformation is imperative. We live in the Uber-ization of everything. There are several new (and dramatic) realities that will force businesses to rethink many of their commonly held beliefs about what works in business today, and what the future may look like. Interestingly, this is less about the evolution of technology and much more about how consumers have become that much more efficient in this very different landscape. Bring an open mind, because the world continues to change and challenge brands like never before.
Where do you see the future of news going in the next five years?
I wish I could say I was optimistic about the next five years, but I’m not. Words matter, and the words we’re currently using are creating confusion in the marketplace.
People (not just those in power) have become habituated to think that news that is slanted with opinion or that has a mistake in it is the same as “fake news” (it’s not). You don’t have to like the state of the news media business, but we can’t just paint a brush and say, “that’s fake news!” It’s not only unfair, but it’s untrue. It also has substantive problems moving forward for all of us, as a society. You can distrust the media. You can be skeptical of the media. You can fall anywhere on the spectrum of media literacy, from believing everything blindly (on one side) to being a total conspiracy theorist (on the other side). This doesn’t make the news fake. It makes your level of belief and/or disbelief sway. Labeling major news media outlets as “fake” and allowing this to trickle down and permeate society puts everyone in a very precarious situation. The news was a place that allowed information to flow. It wasn’t always perfect. It wasn’t always mistake free. It was (and still is) the institution between the power brokers and the general public (who are always the most affected by this power).
The industry has to regain the confidence of the people. It has to (once again) become a voice both of the people and for the people. I’m hopeful for this, just not optimistic about the next five years.