Have you noticed a big difference in a way brands market to you on a smartphone? Neither have we. And that’s the problem. Big business is still investing in the communication of messages using the mass mediums of television and direct marketing, but they haven't noticed the real action is on a different screen—and it’s personal.
It has been almost 50 years since Marshall McLuhan first coined what would eventually become a cultural catchphrase, "the medium is the message" in his 1964 book, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. He explained that technology or the medium itself affects social organization and understanding. Television, radio and film—one-way broadcast media—ushered in the mass-communication age, leaving behind what had been society’s mainstay personal, face-to-face communications for what might have been forever. But history has a way of repeating itself, and we are once again entering a new age of personal communication.
Personal communication technologies such as smartphones mean the end of mass communications as we know it, but businesses and marketers are just not heeding this huge cultural shift. In August, Google, working with market analysts Sterling Brands and Ipsos, published the results of a study, "The New Multi-Screen World: Understanding Cross-Platform Consumer Behavior." This report puts some hard numbers to the truth that it is time to say goodbye to the mass communication age:
- A mobile phone is in the possession of its user for an average of 5,840 hours per year, while the average time spent watching television is only 1,865 hours per year.
- Our online time is spread over four media devices: smartphones, tablets, PCs/laptops, and television.
- TV no longer commands the viewer’s full attention. Most of the time another device is also being used simultaneously.
The mass mediums themselves have noticed this enormous culture shifts and have adapted their reporting. News outlets increasingly see the personal as more interesting fodder for their stories, reporting sentiment from Twitter chatter or Facebook "likes" as news to their audiences. In a fascinating display of the emergence of the power of the social medium, CNN speculated that a Twitter war of words might become the new norm in the news world. The Israel Defense Force struck first, sending live Tweets containing information about a strike that killed a Hamas leader with its own spin on the attack. Hamas itself responded in a separate feed. The news media then began reporting on the conflict, but the most interesting part is that CNN saw fit to report on the battling sides and their use of Twitter in presenting their message. The article concluded by observing that Twitter and Facebook are changing communications in some very fundamental ways.
Commenting on the movement from mass communication to personal communication, anthropologist Tom Maschio of Maschio Consulting said, "I see this as a real cultural shift. Social media is the real lens through which news is increasingly received, commented on, and understood. Twitter often leads the news cycle, cueing the mainstream media into what people are interested in and illuminating what their take on a particular story is. ‘News’ is being defined differently because of the game of and participation in social media. Personal news, entertainment news, popular culture news, and hard news are increasingly received, shared and commented upon via social media. Social media drives popular culture news and increasingly ‘hard news.’" Social media is even building favor in the investment world, with potential investors using the number of Facebook likes as a factor they take into consideration when making investment decisions.
What does all of this mean for big business when it comes to shaping a marketing strategy for today’s bold new world? It means they need to rethink their strategy for communicating with consumers and begin looking at it on a personal basis. To continue blasting advertisements through the mass media without taking this cultural shift into consideration is simply a huge waste of marketing dollars. For example, communication strategies need to take into account what needs to be happening on a brand’s website at the same time as it’s advertising may be appearing on television. Why? More than two-thirds of consumers are on another device at the same time they are watching TV and often for an Internet search.
Even what might be considered lesser communications need to consider the personal. It isn’t just about sending a "thank you" for signing up to mailing list but a timely response with what is happening at a particular moment in time within the brand’s own communications. Standard form, one-size-fits-all replies are history. With the emergence of social media as the dominant method of transmitting information, business needs to get personal again.
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—Debra Kaye is partner, innovator and cultural strategist at Lucule Consulting. She is author of Red Thread Thinking: Weaving Together Connections for Brilliant Ideas and Profitable Innovation. Jure Klepic is partner, social media innovator and personal media strategist at Lucule Consulting.
[Image: Flickr user jayRaz]