Connecting through meaningful advertising is a key element of any real estate business. However, how we think about buying has greatly changed because of the new models and technology, thereby making advertising rather challenging. Digital expert Mitch Joel shares his observations on how advertising works from a consumer and advertiser’s perspective. Mitch is the Founder of Six Pixels Group, an advisory, investing, and content-producing company that is focused on brands, commerce, community, and what’s next. He offers some tips on how brands and consumers can use technology to efficiently connect with each other, and touches on the importance of evaluating and understanding various audiences before creating a marketing or advertising campaign.
We have Mitch Joel here. Mitch is the Founder of Six Pixels Group. He’s a big keynote speaker, TEDx speaker, a bestselling author, you name it, he’s done it. I’m anxious to have Mitch on the show because he knows so much about branding and marketing and it’s going to be a wonderful show. I hope you stay tuned.
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Connecting With Your Audience Through Meaningful Advertising with Mitch Joel
I am here with Mitch Joel who is the Founder of Six Pixels Group, an advisory investing content producing company that’s focused on brands, commerce, community and what’s next? You’ve probably seen his TEDx Talks, his books, he’s everywhere. His first book was Six Pixels of Separation and then he also has Ctrl Alt Delete. He is frequently called on as a subject matter expert for some of the top journals in the world. I’m very excited to have you here, Mitch, welcome.
Thanks, Diane. It’s nice to be here.
You’re an interesting guy and I was very fascinated by a lot of the things that you did. I thought it was fun to go back and look at your TEDx Talk because you talked about all the changes that we’ll see. The former talks that you gave. I’m thinking of when Seth Godin introduced you and some of the things that you said, “In the next five years, we’re going to see this and that.” I’m curious what changes you’ve seen based on what you’ve talked about, but before you answer that, would you mind giving a little bit of a background on you? I know you have a music background and all these unusual things that led to your success.
There’s a whole lot to unpack and so I’ll try to keep it succinct, but I started off as a music journalist in the late ‘80s in one of the publishing magazines. The early days of the internet came in. I got actively involved in that in terms of publishing magazines online in the day and age when there wasn’t even hyperlinks and things like that. I then became the editor for a local community paper here in Montreal where I live. I wound up meeting some people who were in this interesting business called the search engine long before Google existed. I decided that this was a space I was interested in. I got engaged in that and wound up enjoying the whole dot-com boom bust. I did a short stint after that in a mobile content business, which again we’re talking about a day and age when there wasn’t even smartphones, mobile browsers or things like that.
I went on to launch a record label, which I enjoyed doing very much and at the same time was building a digital marketing agency called Twist Image with myself and three other business partners. We grew that business to become one of the larger independent digital agencies in North America that I then sold to WPP, which is one of the largest holding companies in the world. I stayed there for five years. In that whole process, I wound up writing two books, Six Pixels and Ctrl Alt Delete. I have a blog and a podcast. I started doing it in very early days of the space, so it was considered one of the first and maybe one of the longest running at this point still because I still pump that out. I do about 30 to 60 public speaking events a year talking about those intersections of brands, consumers and technology.
Since leaving the agency world at the end of 2018, I’ve got this company called Six Pixels Group. We’re investing in startups and different types of businesses. I’m working on my own new startup and also continuing my work in terms of publishing content, podcasts, books and fun things like that. The TEDx Talk was a long time ago and to be honest, I don’t even remember what I said. I do so many events every year that it would be hard for me to go, “This is what I talked about and this is how the world.” I have no idea what I said then. That TEDx event was one of the first TEDx events. I’ve been going to the TED Conference for over ten years. When TEDx first started, they decided to do one where I live here in Montreal and they asked me if I would open it up and so I did.
The Seth Godin video is a bit different. For my second book, Ctrl Alt Delete, Google was kind enough to offer me space and to host and sponsor book launch events for that book. When we talked about New York, my view was to bring in Seth Godin who I’ve been and I am one of his biggest fans, but also I’ve been lucky enough to become friends with him over the years. My original plan was to have me interview Seth at this event at Google in New York City about the themes of the book. When I showed up and met Seth at the hotel prior to heading over to the venue, he was like, “No, this is your book. I’m going to interview you.” I did manage to turn the tables on him during the Q and A, and that subsequently became a Google talk for some time quite well.
To generally answer your question, it is one of those things where times has changed consumer behavior and how we think about buying has fundamentally changed because of all the new models that we have. Think of Netflix, how now we pay a small monthly fee for access to an entire library versus paying one amount to own something. The whole models of how we think about that type of content, music, books, movies, etc. have changed fundamentally. If you think even about Uber, the thing we tell our kids is rule number one, never talk to strangers and rule number two is never getting into a stranger’s car.How we think about buying has fundamentally changed because of all the new models that we have. Click To Tweet
Uber is literally using the internet to summon strangers to get into their cars. It isn’t an original thought, I stole that from a tweak that’s out there. It does show you that how we think about models of business have changed, how technology interacts with consumers and businesses, and how businesses can use technology to better connect to consumers. If we think about things like all of the big direct to consumer models we see these days, Kylie Cosmetics, Harry’s Shave and stuff, Dollar Shave Club, and on and on. You’ll see that the real foundational ways in which we do business are shifting and changing.
You brought up a lot of good points. Before I left as the chair at Forbes for the MBA program, I wrote a brand publishing course along with some of the work that Bruce Rogers did at Forbes. I was interested in a lot of the things you talked about in terms of branding and all that thing. I’m very interested in your comments about what we put out there socially, how you can’t take things back, and how we’ve put more about ourselves into the search engine then you would tell your own family and friends. Some of the stuff out there with all the retargeting and all the changes we’ve seen, how we’re paying instead of owning, we’re renting or whatever you want to look at it. What is the biggest change that you’ve seen in marketing that you didn’t anticipate and that you think is very unique?
The biggest change around not only in marketing but in our culture and how we think about business has been what we’re seeing and living through right now. This anti-tech sentiment and this feeling that the Facebooks, Googles and Amazons are taking all of our information and that it’s being breached, that it’s being shared and that it’s being hacked. I think all of those are very nuanced and specific words. I don’t think they all mean the same thing and how that information is being used to target us and segment us. I definitely didn’t see that coming. I’ve had the fortune of running my own podcast for close to fifteen years at this point and I still publish it every Sunday. Back then when things weren’t so great and anti-tech or do we break them up or should they be regulated? There were some that what we call contrarians. One of them being this very smart individual who I consider a friend that I’ve had on my show, Andrew Keen. When you go back and forth, then I thought, “I see what he’s saying,” but ultimately people like this connectivity.
People understand the social contract that a greater the tool Facebook is, that there is a cost for it. If we’re not paying for it, we’re using our data and information as the monetary supplement for them. There’s a social contract and understanding with it. Clearly, as these platforms have grown, changed and evolved, that social contract has changed. I’m not sure that the average consumer understands the ramifications of what’s happening with their data and information. People like Andrew Keen, Jaron Lanier and several others were very prescient in what they were thinking.
I don’t think it’s to the full extent and terror that they might have spoken of. There’s some balance between what we were thinking and what they were thinking. It is surprising for me to see this very heavy anti-tech sentiment. I have the pleasure of going to the actual TED Conference for ten years and I’m going to the big one in Vancouver. It took me back in terms of TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design. It’s always the place for the Jeff Bezos of the world come to share what they’re working on and what they’re thinking. It felt like there was a bit of a night out scenario where people were suddenly very much on this bandwagon of being anti-tech. That has been the fundamental surprise to me.
I had Richard Stallman on the show who’s GNU and Linux code creator. His big thing was he didn’t want anybody to have his information. To have him on the show, he wouldn’t use a cell phone, he doesn’t use credit cards and he doesn’t get on airplanes. He doesn’t want anybody to use any way to access any of his information. His thought was he wants freedom and he doesn’t want anybody to know all this stuff about him. You wonder, “How free are you if you’re worried that you can’t do anything.” Is there a balance between having people know information about you and being able to live a balanced life here? Do you think that we need to cut back on what we’re doing?
I don’t know if we need to cut back. I’ve been making the argument long before anybody that we need to have a better education system around the media, technology and culture. It’s not just about looking at what our kids are doing, but as parents and adults, I’m not sure how well steeped we are at understanding what our immediate responsibilities are in this day and age. That troubles me in terms of seeing teachers with my kids, rules in summer camps around devices, not devices, how these procedures are set up, deployed and how these rules are done. The truth also on the other hand is, we talked about should the government intervene? Should we break up these big companies? The example I always say is I don’t know how good they are with this data or how good they are using this data, “the game stuff” in a way to manipulate us, only because the example I like to give is Google.
If you look at Google, Google owns Google Maps, they own a self-driving part division, and they purchased Waze for several billions of dollars. The core technology on all three of those was completely different. They do not use the same underlying mapping technology. None of them do. They are very siloed. The people who work in Waze probably don’t interact with the people at Google Maps or the autonomous vehicle division at all. I don’t know, it looks that way. I don’t know about you but when I look at my Facebook feed, the ads that I’ve seen suck. If that’s their best targeting, they’re not doing a good job on it at all. It’s not a question of how important or valuable is my data. I think it’s very important and it’s very valuable. Not to mention the fact that we have a handful of companies that have a tremendous amount of information about us.
It is true and I have said that you tell things to Amazon that you haven’t told a spouse or anybody yet. It could be that you’re dealing with anxiety. You can be questioning your sexuality. You could be curious about something else. You might be looking for a book on that. Amazon knows and is building on that. You may not have told anybody that. That information is there now as part of your data ecosystem. What they’re doing with it as an output, I questioned the true value of it. I ran a digital agency for close to two decades. Because of the speaking platform that I have in my show, I was able to have very intimate conversations with many senior brands and these tech companies. If they’re so good with this data and they have so much of this data, I can’t believe how bad the product ultimately is, which makes me question what data are they using? How do they use it? So far for me, it’s not been good.
You mentioned a lot of things there. It’s interesting to see what’s happening in terms of data. There isn’t a day goes by that somebody doesn’t tell me that they’ve been hacked and their company has been hacked. Everybody was being hacked right now. There’s all this talk about should we be having facial recognition? Should we have this and that? We’re keeping track of all this stuff. It used to be, if you were hacked, it was this big bad deal, “What am I going to do now?” Now it’s almost like people expect it. You get a letter in the mail constantly that says, “Just so you know you’re on the list.” Do you think people are getting numb to this?
I don’t know if it’s numb so much as there is a sense of hopelessness and so much as there’s a sense of apathy. You have people who know what I looked for on Amazon. You have people who know what I liked and shared on Facebook or what subscriptions I have on YouTube. I look at this and this is me being someone who spends a lot of my years as a professional marketing person and go, “Good, maybe I will see the stuff that I want. Maybe you’ll show me books that are interesting.” The recommendation engine in places like Amazon has been incredibly powerful for music consumer. I enjoy it. I love it when I read a bunch of books and it shows me there’s a new author I didn’t know they had a book coming out. It’s super exciting in relevant periods, much of the same way if you were walking down the street and saw a billboard that your favorite band was coming and tickets were going on sale. You’d be thankful that you ran into that ad.
At a macro level, that’s the thing that we dismissed, that advertising is a huge function of our GDP. It’s a huge function of what makes the economy go around. While we may only be seeing the single-digit growth in the advertising space, we tend to lean towards the bad or most ads are bad and most ads suck. It’s true, but that doesn’t mean that advertising suck. It just means that bad ads tend to be very pervasive. The people who push them tend to push them on as many people as they can, hoping that they find the right target instead of working on what is the target audience and then going after that. The infrastructure is there to make it good and relevant.
We would have less apathy and we’d have less worry about this if the stuff that we saw was relevant to us. The apathy comes in the fact of what can you do if Target has a massive data breach. Its credit card information goes out and millions of people have this problem, which they’ve had and other retailers have a lot targeting out Target. What can you do? That sense of helplessness is real. Saying, “I’m never going to use a credit card. I’m never going to use a mobile phone.” It’s admirable but I don’t think that’s realistic for the average person or consumer because they like the ease of it. That’s the part of the conversation that we don’t hear enough of. The reason we get into these problems in the first place is because people like the fact that Facebook is free and easy.
When Amazon introduced one-click shopping, it didn’t make people scared of the fact that Amazon is now storing all of these credit cards on file. People thought more. It pushed Amazon to become one of the largest retailer businesses in the world. All of that ease, all of that removal of friction in terms of the customer journey that a lot of businesses talk about, as technology removes it, what we have to be able to acknowledge is with that, comes this risk. That this information can now be hacked, passed on, given to a third party. We talked about this in like it’s crazy what happens.
If Target went into receivership, I’m using them as a random example, it could be anybody, and somebody else came in, a private equity company, a data company, a massive publisher that purchase Target. They’re purchasing that data set of those customers. That information gets passed on. If that company goes into receivership and it gets purchased by a private equity company that’s solely interested in purchasing bad debt and refinancing it, that data becomes part of the value. We have to accept that even when you give our information to trusted sources, we don’t know where those sources are going to be three to four years or six months down the road.
You brought up many good things. You mentioned advertising, whether they’re bad or whatever. It brought up in my mind how perception plays a role in advertising. I teach a lot of marketing and advertising courses where we go into this thing. I’m curious what you thought of the Gillette ad and what happened in that. With everybody talking so much about whether it was good or bad, the portrayal of men doing bad things or however that was perceived by people. How much does perception play a role in marketing? How could Gillette handle that differently or do you think they should have handled it differently?Voice is a natural intuitive way for us to use technology. Click To Tweet
It’s a conversation that’s been very germane. You could go back and look at the Pepsi Kardashian’s ad and many other instances where brands tried to play a hand in a big part of a social culture fabric and either had a misstep. They didn’t have a seat at the table or the public didn’t engage or react with it in the way in which they thought. They didn’t perhaps understand the full circumference of how the ad would land. In the case of Gillette, what I thought was interesting, they came out with an ad that they’ve been applauded for, which was showing a transgender child learning to shave. That had a tremendous lift and power and people were very much passionate about it and saying how great it was. I thought it was a very interesting bookend onto that conversation.
Here we sit as people who are studying, understand the space, teach it and talk about it. There was this other part of this entire Gillette story that people dismiss. We remember the kaboom but we don’t often see the ripples after and the reactions in how they have done a phenomenal job of turning it around. The other business implications of it that we have to understand is that Gillette is very challenged in terms of their business model because of things like Harry’s and because of things like Dollar Shave Club. Both of those companies have independently been acquired by larger CPGs for $1 billion plus. They’re trying to figure out like, “How do we tell our story? How do we make our mark?”
In terms of that ad, they would have done better in seeing if there’s that type of backlash which can be done prior to launch. I wonder if they didn’t do that. They might have done that. They might have heard this feedback and thought, “Let’s still push on because even as negative as it is, it’s at least putting us into the general cultural zeitgeist. Through public relations, through conversation, perhaps we can elevate our name back out there through impressions and repetitions more and will people say it’s all bad?” In this case, there was a bunch of camps in terms of their own perceptions of this ad. Not everybody thought it was a disaster. A lot of people, in fact, when it first came out, were loving it as this great story until the backlash happened and then people retreated. It had a couple of moments where people saw it in a very positive way. Unlike the Pepsi Kardashian extravaganza, which was only purely negative.
The other thing I would say and I’ve been in this space long enough to know is does it have a material impact ultimately? Does this sit at the water cooler of the people who are the armchair quarterbacks in terms of defining whether an ad is good or bad? If you look at all the views on YouTube for July, which would be a great example, did the negativity truly impact the impressions and the attention that it got? Did it impact quarterly and annual sales? The example that I think of when we talk about all of these is airlines. Airlines are constantly in the media for all these terrible things that happened. Some of them their fault, some of them not, just the complexity of the business of airline travel, yet if you look at their quarterly earnings, it doesn’t have an impact.
They seem to be somewhat bulletproof to this stuff. It could be because of the nature of their business and how much dominance they have. It’s tough to say. These missteps are real. There are definitely people who loved it. There are definitely people who very much hated it and thought it was a terrible position to take. It did what their intention was, which was to bring the issue to the front and to have the conversation about it. There’s a lot of stuff happening on zeitgeist in the post #MeToo Movement that is now about what about the good guys? How do we bring up children to be men? What is a man in this day and age?
Not that we’re saying that we need to keep the perpetuation of the white male going in a world where we have and we should have equality, different types of genders, different types of nationalities, etc. I buy into that fully. I grew up in a generation where that stuff was a huge part of my life, that diversity of culture and gender. We have to have other conversation too. How do we bring up young boys to feel confident, inspired and capable? Not to grow up in a world where it’s like, “You white guys have had your turn, now it’s our turn.” You’re seeing more healthy conversations and debates about it now more than ever. Are we going to see that be a part of advertising, marketing and communications? Of course, they are. That’s how they break through the noise.
It’s interesting how you talked about overcoming in the next ad with Gillette because in sales we always said, “You’re only as good as your last deal.” People are always focusing on the last thing that you did. It was interesting to get on Twitter when the Gillette thing was going on, just to see how people get impacted by other people. You get the group think things all of a sudden. The whole technology impacting how we think fascinates me because I write about curiosity and I write about perception. You talked about that there’s an anti-tech vibe, but everybody wants to be innovative. How can those two things go together?
You still see that. We do use apps on our mobile devices. We do look at technology like I’m very hot on smart audio, on the smart speakers. While there’s a pushback in terms of privacy and are these things listening to us, you still see that the penetration of this voice assistant technology, the smart speakers are moving at a honky growth curve. We understand that voice is a natural intuitive way for us to use technology. It’s the same way we speak to one another. It bothers you to know that Gillette did this transgender ad that was an amazing and incredible piece of content. They bring to the forefront the greater issues that we should talk about when it comes to what is gender? What does it mean? How do we have a more civil society? When brands do well and technology do well, which is tied together, we often don’t celebrate it at the scale of when they misstepped.
I would argue that if you’ve looked at the feedback that we had on that Gillette ad and then the feedback we had on the newer Gillette ad. You would see that as great and as well positioned as that ad was, it didn’t get half as the attention as the negative stuff does. That’s the technology challenge that you’re asking about too. What we hear is the bad stuff that’s happening. Very few people talk about the things we like. Facebook is an incredible platform in terms of their private groups. I maintain a private group for nonfiction authors that has 350 of the world’s biggest and best authors in there. We share, we collaborate, we help each other, and a business that is very isolated. As you know, as an author you mostly work alone in your room. You’re fighting publishers and agents on everything from book covers, distribution, language rights, audio versions, to all sorts of things you see happening. Suddenly, we have a community that can speak privately as nonfiction writers for magazines, books or whatever.
Whereas normally even that ecosystem is dominated by fiction and creative writers. I’m now part of one for professional speakers that has been the most unbelievably supportive business. It is bizarre because if you think about it, when you get a speaking gig, Diane, I don’t get one, we’re competitors every single day. Every single day hundreds of thousands of events are happening all over the world that you and I are both not speaking at and someone else is. Yet watching 400 of these people come together and share when we’re in different cities, having meetups and get-togethers, has been the most powerful platform I’ve ever seen. That’s through Facebook. If I think about YouTube and the fact that at night I can sit down and subscribe to a whole bunch of channels from all my quirky passions, from fountain pens and notebooks to heavy metal music or the electric bass, that I can go in and click and watch other passionate people speak specifically to that content, show me products and information that I love. I can’t deny how powerful YouTube is. At the same time, if you clicked on the news now, it will be all about how YouTube is in hot water over kids being exposed to content they shouldn’t be exposed to.
These are both real and valuable, but all we talk about is the negative. The challenge is, and this goes back to our rambles about people being media savvy, if you as a parent and you as an adult be more media savvy and understanding the pluses and the minuses of being on a platform, we can help empower people like teachers, our children, our neighbors or whomever. The media also does control the dialogue, “If it bleeds, it leads.” These are the stories we see day in and day out. We don’t see stories every day about the hundreds and thousands of people who feel like they’re part of society now. Tell them the stories of children with disabilities or medical problems who use the social networking platforms to be a part, where in the physical world, they have a much harder time taking part because of either physical limitations or their own social structure where they don’t have people like them in their neighborhoods. Suddenly, these digital connections make them completely connected to a greater world. It takes them out of depression and makes them happier and feel more confident in who they are. These stories aren’t exciting to the media.
You made many interesting points. I’m in some women author and speaker groups specific to their issues, which I find very helpful as well. I know what you’re saying. It was Kevin Sheridan who was on my show who talked about, “No matter how great you are as a speaker they’re not going to invite you back next year because they’ve already had you there.” You have this ability to pay it forward to people in the group and those groups are a great way to connect with a lot of people. It also was making me think about what Seth Godin had said when he was interviewing you about how everybody can write books now. Some of that is because he started self-publishing. Do you think he had an impact on that and have you ever talked to him about that? There are too many people writing and speaking. What’s your view of that?
A couple of things. One is just because you can, it doesn’t mean you should. I have another podcast that I’ve been doing for several years where I’m trying to build the largest wall history of electric bass players. It happened to be what I’m passionate about. I used to play and I thought I was going to be a professional player. I chose another path, which I’m happy that I did. I want to celebrate these people and bring their stories out and keep asking, “You must be a bassist,” and my answer is always the same, “No, I know how to play, but I would never consider myself a bassist.” It leads me to what Steven Pressfield says about writing a book, “Just because everybody can read a book, it doesn’t mean they should.” Everyone’s like, “I want to write a book. I can write a book.” That’s great, but if you went to see a brain surgeon and their response was, “I’m interested in brain surgery, so I wanted to do brain surgery.” You go, “I’d like to see your education. I’d like to see where you graduated in your class. I’d like to see how many operations you’ve successfully done, and I’m not talking about you cracking my skull open a little bit.”
It seems that when it comes to speaking and writing, there’s this attitude of everybody feels like they can just do it. Not everybody can be a brain surgeon. Not everybody can be a banker. Nobody says, “I’m going to be a brain surgeon.” You do say that about writing and speaking. Being someone who’s been a professional in this space for fifteen plus years on the speaking side, and I’d call it 30 on the writing side professionally, that’s the part that irritates me. Seth isn’t wrong. Anybody can write. It doesn’t mean that everybody is a writer or an author or a professional speaker. I think this weird part of what we do is that people opt to have it in their brains like, “I could write a book. I could speak.”
My answer back is “No, you can’t.” It probably will take you years and years of real hard work to even get to a level of being somewhat competent at it. People looked at David Sedaris and they’re like, “I can write.” The answer is “No.” You probably will not put in the five years of three hours of writing every single date in his diary that never has been published before him feeling at least a level of confidence that he could now go and having published his first short story. We have this weird thing in us like, “I could be a speaker. I could be a writer.” Maybe but probably not.
There are a lot of people doing podcasts as well. A lot of people like the idea of doing a podcast and you’ve done a lot of them. What do you think of who’s listening to all this and who has time for all these shows?If we're going to live in a world where everybody is blogging and podcasting, we ask the question and better understand who the audience is. Click To Tweet
This is something that I wrote about back in the early days when blogging was just taking hold. If we’re going to live in a world where everybody is blogging and podcasting, we asked the question and better understand who the audience is. I often get a lot of compliments from my interviewing skills and what I do. While I’m flattered by it, I get somewhat upset because what they didn’t see is the fact that I started this when I was seventeen years old interviewing rock stars professionally for a living for print magazines. I spent ten years probably doing twenty interviews a week. My twenty interviews weren’t like, “Let’s come on to my show and we’ll talk for half an hour.” I would be in the hotel lobby and there would be fifteen amazing journalists who each have 30 minutes. You would have to go in there to a rock star who was extremely bored figures every single day and get something unique and entertaining out of them.
It was that practice day in and day out. It was that practice of spending hours at night transcribing these audio cassettes, where I have to stop and start. I was interrupting them nonstop because they didn’t understand the techniques of interviewing. I was saying a lot of “ums” and “uhs” and it was annoying that I would have to not only edit them out, but I have to write this out, type this out in a way where it makes sense. That practice for a decade made me somewhat capable of having a more cogent conversation. It made me also be more professional in how I present my ideas and concepts to not stammer, to not um and uh, to not make it boring for the person listening, to create that tension that there needs to be in telling a great story or giving a great piece of content.
The answer is there are tons of podcasts but the vast majority of them suck. They’re boring. They’re not interesting that people go on and on. They’re not even that intelligent. They’re not that well-researched. They haven’t experienced a lot in their professional life to deliver something of interest and value. I’m not trying to belittle any one individual. People should try, they should be passionate and they should create. These platforms allow anybody to have an idea, text, images, audio and video to share the world, it’s fantastic. None of that means you’re having an entitlement to have an audience or that the content will be all that valuable or interesting. It’s very hard to self-evaluate on whether or not you’re doing well unless you have experience in doing it or see that there’s a market for it. That’s the challenge of the world. We live in a world where the market speaks.
You made some good points about self-evaluating. What advice would you give to somebody for what’s their minimum should be to even consider doing something like that?
I don’t because the truth is great stories do find their market. Some people get very good at it in a very short period of time. Some people, it takes a lot longer. There’s a lot of trial and error. The question is more around, do you have the persistence? Do you have the consistency? Most importantly, do you have the longevity to stick with it to find it out? There is no magic answer. Do it for six months once a day and it’s going to be all good. You’re insane. You know as well as I do that there are some people who are in their twenties with very little experience who write their first book and it becomes a massive bestseller. There are people that don’t start writing until their mid-50s and that’s when they discovered tremendous success.
It is interesting to see the differences in people’s success. Your books have been very successful. I mentioned your first book is Six Pixels of Separation and your second is Ctrl Alt Delete. Let’s look at Ctrl Alt Delete first. Who is that book for? For those who haven’t had a chance to read it yet, what is your main thesis for that?
The truth is this book is six years old. It was written years ago and at that time, I was trying to understand what happened with Six Pixels of Separation. This idea that we live in a world where we’re all connected. How do you connect your business to everybody in this world that were not six degrees of separation but six pixels of separation? We’re all interconnected. The second book for me came out of the evolution of what that meant and how the agency was growing, how my speaking business was growing, and what people were asking. It shored up for me in these movements. There were these five movements that were changing business forever. I didn’t know that it was a book. I didn’t realize that it could be a second book.
I had that old cliché moment of being in the shower and it coming to me where, “If there are these movements that have changed business forever, how do we as individuals come to work every day? How do we think about our work every day?” That led me to this, as Steven Pressfield who wrote The War of Art, which is cracking the sign of the book. It was the fact that we have these five movements and then now we have this way in which we come to work. That’s when the book came together where I was like, “Section one is reboot business and section two is reboot you.” How do you think about business and how do you bring yourself to work in this different world? That for me was the thesis. You could reboot business and you could reboot you.
I like all that because it ties into all the research I did on curiosity, asking questions and rethinking status quo. There’s so much of that going on in the workplace. I’m trying in my work to get people to question why do we do things this way. Why don’t we do things this way? I don’t think there’s enough of that thinking. I love all your work because you focus on some of these areas. You said you do 40 to 60 keynotes a year. That’s a lot. What’s your favorite topic that you talk about when people hire you? What do you prefer to speak about?
It’s the evolution of everything I’ve written about and everything I write about. Just because I haven’t had a new book in six years, I still continually write and publish and think about this space. The title of it is Disrupting Disruption. I have a full keynote around how to build your content center of excellence. I based it on this idea of a triangle. When you’re thinking about your content, you need to have a triangle. My triangle is brands, consumers, and technology and how they interplay. How does the world change because of technology, the relationship with brands and consumers? How do consumers use technology to connect better to brands? How do brands use technology to connect better to consumers?
That’s not just those three tips of the triangle, you need to have your bullseye. My bullseye has been marketing and innovation. That’s what the crux of it still is. It’s still a core of where I drive all of my content. This idea of brand, consumer, technology with a focus on marketing and innovation. That’s the core of what I talk about. It’s nice because it is very future based. As you notice somebody who’s written and speaks a lot as well, when you’re talking about the future, it’s a very long and wide runway. It’s not a topic that’s going to go stale. The hard work is you have to read a lot. You have to follow a lot. My podcast and all of its success have been driven by the fact that I wake up in the morning and you go, “There’s this person who’s talking about this new technology that I’m not familiar with. I should get them on the phone and talk to them about it for an hour.”
The trick is I’ll publish it and it’s a podcast, but what it is, it’s my own curiosity, my own nose for news that I had from my journalism days back in the late ‘80s that persists. It is, as you know the better questions win. I’m constantly asking myself questions, reading books and having conversations about it. The output of it could be a segment on the radio that I do every Monday. It could be a blog, it could be an article, it could be a podcast, it could be a slide for a presentation, and it could be the thesis for a new book. I don’t know where it’s going to wind up, but it’s that insatiable curiosity that I have of pursuing better questions and digging deep into topics that creates the output that is, in this instance, Disrupting Disruption is a keynote.
It’s very much the same thing for me as I researched you for this. I liked your three little pigs of disruption. I read it and I watched. I watched your TEDx Talk and I am interested in every single thing that everybody does. That’s the reason I do the show as well. It’s interesting to go back and look at old shows. I don’t even know if I’m at 1,000 interviews, but I’ve had close to that probably. You talked to all these people and everything is out there now. That goes back to what we said at the beginning and all the stuff that’s out there. Is there anything that you wish wasn’t out there of all the things that you’ve done? You did you have an Elon Musk tweet or something that you go, “Why did I do that?”
As the great rock band Oasis said, “Don’t look back in anger.” I do look at it like I’m extremely personable in my public platforms, from your Twitter, to your medium, to my own blog to my content. I’m not very personal like I don’t post pictures of my kids. I don’t talk about whether I’m married or not. The people who know me can figure that out and see that. Is there stuff that I went wrong? Of course, there is. Is there stuff where I’ve changed my opinion on it? Of course, there is. Is there stuff that I talked about that I thought would be the next big thing that I didn’t? Of course, there is, but what happens is in the greater scheme of all of this content, two books, 650 plus podcasts just on business, 7,000 pieces of content and it’d probably even more to food articles that I had done for Harvard Business Review, Huffington Post, whatever it might be.
There’s stuff that I was misdirected on or wasn’t correct and would I take it back? No. What it does is it demonstrates the humanity that we all have. It’s a good chronological portfolio of content. If anything, what it shows is that I’m human like everyone else and that I make mistakes and I get things wrong. I was sitting with my business partner this and he was asking me if I have seen the news about Libra, the new Facebook cryptocurrency that’s coming out. I said, “That’s interesting. You’ve been with me as a business partner for twenty years almost. Let me send you this article that I wrote in 2011 about how Facebook should build a currency. That it’s the most amazing way that they can create revenue.”
This advertising thing is nice. It’s a bit ridiculous, but they’ve got billions of people connected. At the time they had 600 million. That was bigger than almost every country. The fact that they could now have an underlying commerce that would break down geography, that would be unified, and that we could all connect to each other in a common currency denomination. How powerful could that be? We’re seeing it happen in 2019. I wrote about this in 2011. I’m not saying they took my idea. I’m not saying I was the only one, I wasn’t. It was something that when I wrote about, and at the time I write about this for some newspapers. The Harvard Business Review rejected it as a concept. They do think I was a communist or has a skill to talk about currency.Great stories do find their market. Click To Tweet
I smile and go, “Look, there was a thought about this back then nine years ago.” With the stuff that I’m right about and the stuff that I’m wrong about, collectively, there are some good thoughts for people who are thinking about this and for people who are running their business. It’s very opportunistic to tell people like you can take all of this stuff, any slide I talked about or any article I write and you can be opportunistic about it. Can you capitalize on it? Can you do something interesting with this? Ultimately, I can answer that with a resounding yes.
It is going to be interesting to see what they do with the blockchain in general. I’ve had a lot of experts on this show and how they’re going to keep track of all your information and education. Not just for Bitcoin type of thinking, where a lot of people think of in terms of blockchain. It’s too bad you didn’t contact Mark Zuckerberg at the time. Did you ever think of talking to him about it?
No, I didn’t know him. I’ve met him tangentially through the TED Conference and other events that I had been speaking about or attending. I can’t claim to have any relationship with him. I did have a very close relationship with his former Chief Marketing Officer who I’ve known for many years. I don’t know about you and how you create your content, but one of the things I hate about content is the fact that it seems to be more about the person creating the content and their persona than the actual content itself. I feel that the work that I do is much more tend to the traditional journalism that I first fell in love with, which is that the content takes the forefront than the person or brand being represented in that content take the forefront.
My only love in life is to have the byline that I’m the person creating it. I struggle daily, even though I’m a marketing person with the self-flagellation around, “Check this out, read what I’ve done, look who I’ve been to.” I really struggled. I don’t know if it’s me being Canadian or me being introverted. I struggled with that self-promotion part of it. It bothers me that a lot of the content we see is very much driven by this idea to build this massive look at me type of persona when I just think the content should stand. The answer is I never will reach out to anybody about it because it’s not in my DNA to do that.
I’m interested if it’s in your DNA to write another book. Can we expect another one?
You can expect lots and lots of books. I don’t have one that I’m writing. I have hundreds of pages of journal notes that haven’t been published and hundreds of pages of my little personal notebook that’s sitting where I write down ideas. Do these ideas manifest themselves in presentations? Do they come out into a podcast or an article or a blog posting? I couldn’t tell you, but my wife knows that when we talk about a third book, I often look at books as children. For me, in order for the book to be there, my water has to break and then it’s coming and there’s no stopping it. I can tell you that at this moment my water has not broken.
I am looking forward to the day of your next book because your work is interesting to me. It ties into everything I’m very interested in, in terms of developing and thinking about things in more depth, in terms of how we deal with technology and your very futuristic thinking. A lot of my students need to be more proactive in how they think about things. I include a lot of these links in my courses when we talk about marketing or different things. I know that this will be very important for them and for everybody else because it’s all across the board of the audience. I enjoyed having you on the show, Mitch. This was fascinating. I’m sure a lot of people will want to know how to reach you or buy your books. Is there any link or anything you’d like to share?
I appreciate that and hearing you say that makes the work that I do feel validated. Thank you. Six Pixels of Separation is a blog and podcast. You can always find that at SixPixels.com. If you’re running an event or thinking about having an event and want someone to be a keynote speaker or come and speak to your group, you can head to MitchJoel.com which will also link you to Six Pixels and find out everything about me, what I publish and what I’m about.
Mitch, this was great and I appreciate having you on the show.
I’d like to thank Mitch for being my guest. We get many great guests. If you’ve missed any of the past shows, you can catch them at DrDianeHamilton.com. On my site, you can access the Curiosity Code Information. If you want to read the book, take the assessment or become certified to give the CCI, you can access it there. We’re giving five hours of certification credit for SHRM for going through this CCI certification training. It’s a great on-demand training program and there’s nothing like it. It’s the way to develop the things that hold people back from being curious. Organizations are interested in that because they’re all trying to be innovative, engaged and productive. It’s a great alternative.
If you’ve given emotional intelligence tests, DiSC or MBTI or any of those, it’s very similar. They take a quick assessment and they get a 25, 26-page report. It’s very easy to explain and people love it because it comes up with a couple of exercises that you’ll do within the organizations to get feedback to give to leaders. You can create an amazing report that gives them all kinds of information about how to improve in areas of engagement, innovation, leadership, emotional intelligence, you name it. It’s a very fascinating look at how important curiosity is to develop all the areas where organizations have struggled. I hope you take some time to check that out. I enjoyed this episode. I hope you did too. I hope you join us for the next episode of Take the Lead Radio.
- Six Pixels Group
- Six Pixels of Separation
- Ctrl Alt Delete
- Seth Godin
- Mitch Joel’s Blog
- Mitch Joel’s Podcast
- Andrew Keen – Past episode at Six Pixels of Separation podcast
- Richard Stallman – Past episode
- Kevin Sheridan – Past episode
- The War of Art
About Mitch Joel
Mitch Joel is Founder of Six Pixels Group – an advisory, investing and content-producing company that is focused on brands, commerce, community and what’s next. Mitch speaks frequently to diverse groups like Wal-Mart, Starbucks, Microsoft, Procter and Gamble, Twitter, Unilever and every organization and association in between. Mitch is also a bestselling business book author. Mitch is frequently called upon to be a subject matter expert for publications like Fast Company, Strategy, Forbes, and many other radio, television, digital and print outlets.