Ctrl Alt Delete. Twenty years ago that would have been gibberish for many people. These days it's instantly familiar – the three-key shortcut to interrupt computer functions and reboot your machine.
It's also a convenient metaphor and title for a new book by Canadian digital marketer Mitch Joel, who believes we have to reboot our businesses.
The future we have been told about is here, as technology dramatically changes the lives of consumers, and as businesses that have found the social media and mobile era as puzzling as Ctrl Alt Delete once seemed must again get up to speed.
"It's here. Deal with it," Mr. Joel said in an interview.
He breaks the challenge down into five trends that business leaders must embrace:
1. Direct relationships with consumers
Manufacturers used to leave dealing with consumers to retailers.
These days, there can be a hot competition between business partners for a direct connection to the consumer – what Mr. Joel calls "a bizarre love triangle."
He points to Sony and Future Shop, each of which may play a role in a consumer's evaluation, purchase and need for follow-up service with a product (along with Facebook, where information might be shared).
You can't sit back and leave the consumer connection to the other business. You have to provide as much value as you can, directly, to the consumers, so you "own" those relationships and they have a strong, positive connection to you.
Mr. Joel urges you to deliver something they value before your competitors do; be open in dealings with the consumer; and be clear and consistent, building bonds gradually over time rather than grasping for the big, dramatic flourish.
2. 'Utilitarian' marketing
Marketing usually revolved around broadcasting, sending out messages that might entice the consumer. Mr. Joel argues the next great business disrupter will be utilitarian marketing – marketing something that consumers would want to use constantly and consistently and that would be front-and-centre in their lives, cementing the link to your brand. This is his favourite of the five trends, a joyful invitation to innovative marketing.
In many cases, this will involve tech apps, and your goal as a marketer is to make the offering so irresistible that consumers will put it on the home screen of their mobile devices.
Mr. Joel, who travels heavily, said he has Charmin's "Sit or Squat" app on his home screen, because it tells him where the nearest clean rest room is (rated by users). That's utility, neatly complementing the brand.
3. Match marketing to media and user
For decades, he argues, television and other media have anesthetized us to reality; their success is driven by the fact they are passive consumer experiences.
In the case of TV, traditionally you could only access your favourite show at specific times. Now many forms of media are active, allowing you to create, collaborate, share, and choose the time of interactions.
You need to find the right medium – passive or active – for your marketing approaches. Interruption ads on Facebook, for example, are out of sync with the active consumer experience on that site.
Google, meanwhile, developed word ads that are in tune with the online search environment, offering information connected to what the user is looking for. "Your marketing must be in line with the behaviour of the consumer and the media platform it's on," Mr. Joel said.
4. New sources of consumer data
Businesses used to pray for more data about consumers. Now they are drowning in it, but he contends they not using a lot of it. Most of the data companies collect are what he labels "linear data" (for example, getting e-mail addresses for their database).
What intrigues him is the data about consumers that might be called circular, floating freely in tweets and "likes" on Facebook and comments on websites, which reveal consumer interests in a far different way (interestingly, it is usually shared willingly, without privacy concerns).
Amazon has been in the lead on using such data; Mr. Joel points to its Price Check app, which invites you to share a picture of an item of interest elsewhere so Amazon can tell you its price – and offer a 5-per-cent discount. In the process, consumers are telling Amazon where they are (including competitive shopping venues) and what they are interested in, at what price. "Amazon probably knows more about you than your spouse," he suggests. His phrase for the approach: "Sex with data."
5. One-screen world
Many screens are available to consumers, but the one that counts is the one the user is looking at right now. The prime bet these days has to be on mobile, the screen in the consumer's palm. Survey your customers, and connect to them where they are, in a manner appropriate to that vehicle.
As people become more used to watching videos on hand-held devices, for example, that is becoming a screen of consequence for video makers.
Special to The Globe and Mail
Harvey Schachter is a Battersea, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online work-life column Balance. E-mail Harvey Schachter