Embracing the non-linear nature of connecting with consumers in today’s “adapt or die” environment


I recently had the pleasure of reading Mitch Joel’s book, “Ctrl Alt Delete: Reboot Your Business. Reboot Your Life. Your Future Depends On It,” a worthwhile read for all in these tumultuous times.

In the book’s preface, Joel speaks of the “time of great upheaval in business,” arguing that “this is the first time – in the history of business – when consumers are fundamentally ahead of the brands that serve them. Consumers are more connected, more informed, creating and sharing more. They’re smart and getting smarter.”

Joel describes this as being in purgatory: “We’re not in hell … but this certainly isn’t heaven either.”

For those of us implementing new technologies, building new processes, and working hard to gather and interpret as much data as we can about the audiences that come to us each day, those are humbling words that we all need to take to heart.

The book itself is broken into two main sections.

The first, titled “Reboot: Business,” talks about building direct relationships that go beyond “how many people are in their database … to one focusing on precisely who those individuals are and how the brand can make the connection with them even stronger.”

Joel defines five movements that have changed everything that we know about business:

  1. Direct relationships.

  2. Consumers want utility.

  3. Passive and active media.

  4. The data is telling us much, much more.

  5. The one-screen world.

Are we focusing our attention on building these direct relationships that our audiences expect?

Are we providing them with products that add value to their lives, engage them, and give them the confidence to share more and more data with us in the world of growing privacy concerns?

Are we thinking about audience over platform?

The book is filled with great stories of Apple, Facebook, Google, Nike, and others that have succeeded or failed in transforming their businesses, and of individuals, like Joel, who have transformed themselves to adapt in a changing environment.

In the second section, titled “Reboot: You,” Joel introduces the concept of “thinking about things in a squiggly way” – looking at our audiences, businesses, products, data, organisations, and our own careers in a non-linear manner in order to survive and thrive in the “adapt or die” environment of today.

The path to understanding our audiences and adapting our business to their ever-changing needs is squiggly – linear would be much easier to figure out!

Joel asks if we can act fast enough and be nimble enough. Can we think big and act big? Are we comfortable doing things differently, taking the non-direct route to the answer? Can we manage the change and be a disruptive force?

Not unlike many businesses today, news media is smack-dab in the middle of Joel’s purgatory. However, after reading his book, I see indications we are ahead of many industries.

The past few years have seen our industry work hard to understand our audiences, their behaviours, and their connections to our brands and products.

We are tracking and measuring their non-linear connection to us through mobile, digital, social, and everything in-between.

We are building direct relationships with our audiences to understand their wants and needs and provide them with products to drive engagement and a connection to our brands.

I recently had the opportunity to spend time with some amazing leaders in audience development and engagement from our industry. I was impressed by their knowledge of their audiences, brands, and visions for the future.

We are embracing this new world of marketing, now all we need to do is learn to embrace the squiggle!


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