The Medium Is the Method

Say what you will about Marshall McLuhan and the timeless media theory debate he inspired, “The medium is the message.” If you read his work, you come to appreciate how much he anticipated, from the destruction of privacy to the dramatic impact that electronic media change inspires.

While I believe a brand experience transcends any singular medium, I do believe the ability to navigate media change marks the successful communicator. Stasis in tactical approach is the fastest way to make oneself irrelevant. Communicators need to adapt methods to rapidly evolving media.

The medium becomes the method. At a minimum it defines the tactical approach.

Consider the mass scurry that occurs everytime Google alters its algorithm or Facebook changes its interface. Communicators across the Internet write posts telling peers and clients What It Means. Media change defines the communicator’s approach. On a larger scale, those channels must evolve frequently to remain prescient in the face of fast moving trends, such as integrating contextual data, visual media consumption, widespread spamming based on their systems, and more.

Worked Over By Media

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McLuhan said that “all media work us over completely.” He meant from a sociological perspective. Media defines our behavior, from consumption to interaction. Technology evolution defines the medium itself, forcing networks and traditional media to evolve or perish.

Doubt me? Go to your favorite restaurant and leave your phone in the car. Then watch everyone else use their phones. They ignore their dinner mates, or share conversation points with them, or even take a selfie (mates are optional). The smartphone defines our experience, both at the physical level as well as how we present our experience online (true or false).

Consider how integral social has become to TV’s existance. Yesterday’s True Blood season premier was promoted with a preceding social TV marathon. Those social media updates usually occur on mobile phones and tablets while people watch the show.

Keep in mind the iPhone was first introduced to the market in 2007. Android entered our worlds one year later. In January, 2014 66.8 percent of Americans owned a smartphone, according to Comscore. Thorough society-wide changes occured in less than a decade.

The Media Debate

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Last week I added my voice to the on and off again debate of whether (independent) blogging is dying. It was the first time I outright said that blogging is probably not a smart primary tactic for a significant group of companies.

Why say that? Online media has changed in the past 10 years. The difficulties and slow rewards of daily blog production in the face of other content creation options makes blogging less attractive in my mind. I would weigh other tactics first.

The discussion spawned here by the movement towards visual literacy saw some severe reactions defending text-based communications. Certainly text will not disappear, but I do beleive it will become a secondary form of content presentation as evidenced by significant trends. It’s not that photos are becoming dominant, it’s that people increasingly prefer video, photos, graphics, podcasts, etc. over text. That trend will only increase as more content is created and mobility continues to dominate Internet access.

Even discussions like this written post are becoming more of a niche form with every passing year. There will always be some who prefer to weigh their thoughts through the written word. But like the senior executive who doesn’t understand how to integrate travel itineraries onto their smartphone, we will be surpassed by the media change. Unless we adapt to the medium.

The medium is the method. We have no choice but to change or become irrelevent.

Automation Is Everything But the Machine

In creating algorithmic driven segmentation and automated content and nurture paths companies still need humans at the helm.

No better example can be seen than the recent outing of a young lady’s pregnancy by a direct mailing driven by algorithms. The issue may have been avoided if someone had looked at the algorithm and considered the potential invasion of privacy, or had at least segmented the list by age groups.

Clearly data is a huge driver behind automation. To make big data manageable, companies need to create governance a high priority issue. Data standards need to be implemented so data is easily handled, processed in the correct fields, and in turn, empowers the company to better serve prospects and customers with great, precision-oriented information.

Most importantly, strategists need to run marketing automation as opposed to automation dictating paths. They need to decide when someone is going to receive an email. Or a custom landing page. Just because someone can do something doesn’t mean they should.

The key to great automation is to take a strategic business approach , ensuring your corporate personality and value proposition rings through in automation, people behind the brand serving its customers with great tools. Great automation maintains the personality of a brand.

Consider how Nordstrom manages to keep its incredible high quality customer centric personality through the decades. You better believe Nordstrom uses database marketing to send you its timely emails and direct mail. Yet you never get the sense that Nordstom is pushing it, always maintaining its high touch personality. The tools serve the brand rather than shaping it.

When brands move to adapt automation they would be wise to remember the holy grail, a great customer experience that is seamless. It is so well tailored that customers see interactions with the company is timely, useful, and prescient.

To get there companies need to do more than implement powerful software. They need to understand and implement better business processes, integrating teams, training to work technology across business functions, and a commitment to adapt to rapidly evolving media. Most importantly, they should treat automation as a means to end, a way to communicate and deliver their very human commitment to their customers.

What do you think about marketing automation?

This post ran originally on the Vocus blog. Image: -sel (Creative Commons)