Most of what passes for digital marketing today isn’t getting the job done.

Here’s why: Most marketers think digital marketing means doing what we’ve always done, only digitally. Tweeting a link to your latest press release. Posting your latest print ad on Facebook. That stuff doesn’t work anymore. They don’t understand that the digital age has changed the very nature of marketing.

Mitch Joel understands.

Joel, a digital marketing expert and author of the best-selling CTRL ALT DEL: Reboot Your Business. Reboot Your Life, says marketing today boils down to one word: relationships.

Now where have I heard that before?

Here’s the problem: You know all of those people you want to do business with? Your competitors want to do business with them, too — and they’re going after them hard.

“You’re doing battle with everyone in your food chain over direct relationships with your customers,” Joel told the crowd at the 2014 DigitalNow Conference in Nashville. “With so much competition for consumers’ attention, you must be laser-focused on building that direct relationship.”

Joel offered CPAs a ton of ideas for how to do that during his DigitalNow keynote — like these:

Want to add value? Look beyond traditional media.
The concept of “celebrity” has changed drastically. Today’s teen idols are more likely to be found on YouTube, Vine, and Instagram than TV and the movies. “Look for channels that add value to your audience in ways that traditional media do not,” Joel said.

Here’s an example: Price Check. The Amazon.com app allows users to scan barcodes of their favorite products and find out how much they cost on Amazon. It not only drives business to Amazon — it drastically improves the shopping experience for users as well.

“All of us use apps that add value to our lives,” Joel said. “So do our consumers. Today’s corporate real estate is a smartphone screen. Do you add enough value to be on that screen? … Take something that exists in your industry and make it more valuable.”

Adopt a digital-first mindset.
“Let people know that you’re present,” Joel said. That means meeting your followers wherever they happen to be — Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn … wherever. It also means making sure your content renders well on any platform.

“It’s a one-screen world,” Joel said. “The only screen that matters is the one in front of me.”

It’s still about people
Too many of us are brainwashed into thinking these shiny, new techno-toys can solve all of our problems on their own. But technology is only as useful as the people using it.

“Technology has removed technology from technology,” Joel said. “It simply works.”

How it works is up to us. Too often, Joel said, we use digital tools as advertising channels or “pimping engines” to show the world how cool we are. Too few of us use them to serve others, solve problems, and engage our clients and customers.

“The challenge is to understand that digital offers us the opportunity to narrow our focus and add value to the people that matter most,” Joel told me after his DigitalNow keynote. “It’s less about, ‘Why can’t we afford that billboard at the airport?’ and more about ‘Who are we trying to get as a customer and how can we better communicate and connect with them?’ I’ve never met a CPA who didn’t say it’s all about relationships — those real interactions with real human beings. Digital gives us the opportunity to have that at scale.”

There it is, people — the reason why you must go digital and social. What we do hasn’t changed in the least. We’re still in the relationship business. These tools simply allow us to build relationships exponentially. To learn exponentially. To let the power of our networks help us build our businesses.

Why wouldn’t we take advantage of that?

While you’re thinking, check out my conversation with Joel in its entirety:

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