Technically, Mitch Joel is a respectable businessman. But he prefers that you call him a media hacker. “When people think of hacking, they usually think of people stealing back accounts,” he says. “But I look at it as taking components of things that exist and putting them together in fast and crude ways to see if there’s something there. You’re trying to come up with a solution quickly, and there’s a high level of experimentation.”
That fast-paced approach is necessary because of the rapid changes in marketing and social media, says Joel, the author of Six Pixels of Separation: Everyone is Connected. Connect Your Business to Everyone. Corporate executives often “have a hesitancy about what they want to do – an uncertainty, because they’re not sure if the way they used to do marketing works, and they’re not sure about the new stuff.” (For more on this, see my recent Forbes article, “The End of the Expert: Why No One in Marketing Knows What They’re Doing.”) When it comes to social and mobile, “They know it’s real, and yet they’re often doing nothing about it because it’s not proven and clear.”
Joel, whose new book Ctrl Alt Delete: Reboot Your Business. Reboot Your Life.Your Future Depends on It. will be released in Spring 2013, believes we’re facing fundamental shifts in the workplace – and any business or employee who doesn’t adapt is in for trouble. At his digital agency, Twist Image, “I’m hiring people today in jobs that didn’t exist” when he took over 10 years ago. “There are literal vocations, whole areas of expertise, like user experience, user interface and design, web analytics. We’d be insane to think in the next five years we wouldn’t see that multiply in a very powerful way.”
The biggest opportunity companies are missing in this switch to the mobile era, he says, “is the ability to create utility…The new real estate is the home screen of a smartphone, an iPad, whatever, and brands haven’t spend five seconds thinking what they can do to be valuable enough for a consumer to leave them on their home screen.” He cites the example of Procter & Gamble’s Charmin and its “SitOrSquat” app that helps users find clean restrooms on the go. “I use it all the time,” he says, “and when I’m at the store, I make sure it’s Charmin now. I’m really loyal because of the utility of that app. Anyone can do that – but so few brands are.”
And in this atmosphere of change, even the cool items du jour – like smartphones – may well find themselves disrupted in a few years thanks to forthcoming innovations like Google Glass, says Joel, who will be speaking on my panel at the upcoming BusinessNext Social conference in Las Vegas. But one thing that isn’t happening, he says, is a bubble. “I was part of the dot-com rush in the 1990s, and at the time, we had under 40 million people with broadband worldwide. Why does a bubble happen? It happens when there’s no market to substantiate value. But in 2012, we had 1.2 billion people getting access to broadband on mobile devices. That’s not a bubble; that’s a substantive market.” And if you’re ready to be nimble and “create utility,” it’s also an opportunity.
This post originally appeared on the Forbes website on December 18, 2012.
Dorie Clark is CEO of Clark Strategic Communications and the author of Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future (Harvard Business Review Press, 2013). She is a strategy consultant who has worked with clients including Google, Yale University, and the Ford Foundation. Listen to her podcasts or follow her on Twitter.