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The great media debate – evolution or revolution

May 15, 2009


re your post: The great media debate – evolution or revolution you said:

“I believe that we are watching evolution at work. By and large, technology is changing far faster than humans can adapt to it. But when a new technology satisfies a basic human need better than an old one does, that technology takes off. Social media satisfy the basic human need to connect with others….

…But if your business model requires economies of scale to produce a product at an attractive price, then you need a mass market. And to communicate with the mass market and create mass demand, you need good old-fashioned reach….”

As you mentioned and noted by others (Kurzweil (see here)  and Hagel, Seely Brown & Lang at HBR (see here) technology induced change has  shortened the life span of many things. By virtue of the flow of information we are exposed to our attention span has (sadly) become shorter.

But the real game changer in this new dynamic are the power laws of network connectivity – our ability to form, be influenced and influence groups is no longer linear in scale. While individual attention spans are shortened in aggregate they become more powerful – the pass along buzz becoming a currency of perceived worthiness elevating its value above traditional communication.

While any transition is by definition fragmentory, the critical question rightly noted about this transition is whether will we be able to manage and convert PULL activities into demand generation on the scale and timeline demanded of us by (PUSH) shareholders.

“We’re moving from a world of push to a world of pull. Push programs operate on one key assumption – that it is possible to forecast future demand. When demand can be forecast, we can efficiently push resources to where they will be needed when they will be needed.” Hagel et al

“But unfortunately what makes Facebook a great venue for connecting with others does not make it a good medium for marketing. Social media can’t replace traditional media for marketers….There is a fundamental problem facing marketers today. Fragmentation is rampant, online and off. So the cost of reaching a mass audience continues to climb…”

The answer to that question rests on our ability to create and communicate differentiated value. More than ever, undifferentiated ‘value’ will be lost in the noise. Setting aside for the moment the more critical question about the scale of value intimacy we can achieve, Duncan J Watt’s Big Seed Marketing model recognizes the confluence of the two worlds, of using  “mass” media to seed messages which are hopefully embraced and propagated by the social component. Either can be sufficient, but both working together elevate synergies by providing co-creational “value with”  to reinforce the  “value at” customer communication allowing mass scale businesses to accomplish a critical ‘slight of hand’.

The soul searching debate about the ROI of “social media” rages without appreciation of the larger dynamic shifts. One must learn to accommodate both since both messages add value and increasingly both will be needed to stay in the game.

Which of the old and new channel frequencies survive is open for speculation as both will be reconfigured or perish. It is important to remember that the ability of a channel to facilitate ‘social’ requires more than a label, it inherently needs to support some form of co-creation, interaction or dialogue – let’s call that interactive. That we think 140 characters is enough to constitute a dialogue is an indication of the compression we are undergoing.

The only certainty I can point to is that media fragmentation can be better managed with pull based brands.  The process of communication is a multi-frequency endeavor, each having its role to play at different times for different reasons. Yet somehow we have forgotten that communication can/should be measured as everything that happens between purchases and attributed back to that ROI.

Still there are many unknowns, at the top is the opacity of the individual tipping points between the new polarities (scale Vs intimacy, Push Vs Pull, “value at” Vs “value with”)  and how the herding instinct emerges from intimacy – which will provide scale advantages of a different sort. The is a key point that many marketers fail to recognize, within a networked community, the greater our effort  to communicate and relate to individual customers the greater its impact on all customers – just look at Zappo’s, apple or any customer intimate brand.

For some, these are scary times. They feel paralyzed without the safety of an ROI to support their initiatives. The only thing I can offer is to heed the ancient warning of mariners  “here be monsters”  as today that applies more to the status quo than to the uncharted waters we have entered – because once the shift happens…




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