Last summer I drove up to Montreal during the jazz festival. If you've never been to that city, you must promise you will. It's a wonderfully hospitable and lovely European-flavored place, as I discovered.
Montreal is also the home of many talented professionals. We showcased a couple here in our conversation on organic marketing.
While I was there, I was very fortunate to be able to spend some time with Mitch Joel from Twist Image. Did you ever see him present? Something I was told was going to be a unique experience. Mitch was indeed as informative and inspirational in person, as he is online.
How did you come to the decision to start your own company and to structure it the way you did?
[Mitch Joel | Twist Image] At a certain point, I just realized that I was "unemployable" - meaning that I really wanted to do my own thing. Twist Image was a great scenario for me. My two business partners had been at it for a couple of years, and it was a very small shop in 2002 (they had only one employee).
Now, here we are in 2009, with over 70 employees, two offices (Montreal and Toronto) and we're now four business partners. Looking back, I was always entrepreneurial. I ran my own magazine publishing company, record company and many other little ventures.
Looking even further back, I was never great at following rules or being one in the crowd at school. It probably explains why I dropped out of university after the first semester.
Was your focus multimarketing from the beginning or did it evolve over time? Where the other types of services you offer today available from the onset?
What I'm trying to get at here is has there been an evolution of your work in a specific direction? 2000 feel very much like the early days and look at us today, still talking about the importance of measurement (kidding!).
[Mitch Joel | Twist Image] When Twist Image really started shifting and introducing the concept of "multimarketing," the idea was that we could do everything - from brand identity and advertising to online marketing and commercial videos.
In a strange twist of fate (no pun intended) we actually evolved by removing most of the services to focus exclusively on what we always did best: Digital Marketing.
In 2009, Twist Image considers itself a full-service Digital Marketing and Communications agency. We do everything from the strategy and design to the technology, content and marketing. From there we are firm believers in leveraging analytics to optimize campaigns and help our clients think differently about what you can really do in the online channel.
Now, with iPhone apps, mobile and Social Media, it's getting even more interesting and I'm proud to say that whether it's e-commerce or building a social media platform, Twist Image really can (and does!) deliver the full Digital Marketing experience.
You have been an active participant in many social networks and have direct experience with social media. How much did your direct involvement help you feel you understand its dynamics well enough to explain them to your clients?
[Mitch Joel | Twist Image] I am of the belief that you have to practice what you preach. The truth is in 2003, we looked around our office and said we have to do more to be different from our competitors. Great creative was simply not enough.
We started Blogging and as that evolved, we realized just how powerful the online conversations are. With over six years of hands-on experience as we grew the agency, we can demonstrate the success and growth we have had with a direct link back to our Blog.
Thankfully, through public speaking, industry association involvement and the soon-to-be-released book, Six Pixels of Separation, I think we've come to the point where we can demonstrate to clients the value of these social channels. With a lot of interesting work for our clients also under our belts, we've got many great case stories to share and demonstrate the power of these conversations.
From the corporate side I have not been impressed with agencies over the years. Creative that did not sell and account teams that did not understand the business have by and large been a problem.
Social media is transforming work, the dynamics and business models. Yet, it seems that many agencies have underestimated this shift. As an agency that was born with online marketing baked in, does Twist Image have the opposite challenge - that of educating and enlightening clients?
[Mitch Joel | Twist Image] Yes and no. Yes, we do a lot of the missionary work, but we don't really do it with the clients. Through speaking, the Blog, Podcast and newspaper/magazine columns we get to be evangelists.
From there, the clients we work with already know who we are and are coming to us for that specific reason. It's great that most agencies do not understand the shift or have a hard time fulfilling on it (more work for us), it's bad because a lot of the information that clients are hearing is not the best advice.
All that to say, there are tons of great agencies who specialize in Digital Marketing and if the general public counts us as one of them... that's awesome.
Credibility and value are the currency of social media. Companies are struggling to figure this one out, especially those that are used to think in terms of their messages.
You have an advantage over internal resources in companies: as an outsider, your advice may be followed. How do you work with companies to help them build better relationships with their customers?
[Mitch Joel | Twist Image] We just show them what consumers are saying right now and in real-time. It's pretty hard to argue with the voice of the consumer. It's also great to show them what competitors are saying and what those competitors are doing in the channel.
Admittedly, this is not the same type of strategy as most companies are used to in traditional mass media. We usually say that advertising is a one-night-stand and these newer channels are more like dating. As much fun as a one-night-stand might be, they're not much of a long term strategy... if you're following the analogy.
What do you think is in store for agencies in the next 3-5 years? Will agencies rethink their dependency on media? Is there a new model in sight?
[Mitch Joel | Twist Image] Slow and steady wins the race. Media is still going to be a vital part of the marketing mix, but it won't be the only thing. One of the newer metrics I'm attracted to is time spent and pass-along-ability.
You might have a significant less amount of people engaging with you, but if they're doing it for 4-5 minutes versus the traditional 30-second spot, which one is more valuable? I also like what I'm seeing on Twitter in terms of the "retweet" - imagine providing so much value in 140 characters that individuals are becoming your evangelist.
From these newer forms of engagement, I am hopeful we'll also uncover more clever ways to connect, build, share and grow with our consumers.
What is your personal secret sauce? How do you influence your colleagues and team?
[Mitch Joel | Twist Image] I wish I knew what the "secret sauce" was. Saying "passion" seems so cliché. Ultimately, I'm a curious guy and I don't consider marketing a job, it's what I was meant to do.
I'm hopeful that this authentic enthusiasm, and my constant mind-set of being "the student" inspires other to want to join Twist Image and help our clients better connect to their consumers.
Who would be your ideal client?
[Mitch Joel | Twist Image] Over the past two decades, I've learned one thing: great client names don't always equal great client work, and clients whose products and services might not excite the masses are sometime doing the most interesting and engaging programs.
My ideal client is simply a company that works with us because they believe that more and more of their consumers are finding out about them through a search box and they would like to ensure that they're connecting to them by creating initiatives and programs that really do help those consumers buy from them.
Now, if you pinned me against the wall and said, "who would you love to work with?" It would probably something like TED or Charlie Rose - people or organizations that are doing amazingly interesting things and have an interested and engaged audience.
I also still have a deep passion for the publishing industry (newspapers and magazines), so I'd like to try to crack the Da Vinci Code for their future as well.
What questions do you have for Mitch Joel and Twist Image?