A Century Later, Business Gets Personal…Again

In his 1964 book, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, Marshall McLuhan first coined the famous phrase, “the medium is the message.” He argued that the characteristics of communication technologies, or the medium itself, affect understanding and social organization. The technology of his time was limited to radio, television, and a faint glimmer of something called a computer.

Before technology, the very first medium was speech, whose content was thought.  This demanded an extremely personal communication society since people had to be next to someone to communicate. It was very easy to conduct business in this environment because vendors could easily demonstrate products and talk about their benefits.  Everything was personal and personable.  

The development of the printing press moved society into a visual age where people could remain isolated in their homes yet still receive news about society and information from marketers using this new medium to present their products. The first American newspaper advertisement appeared in 1704 in the Boston News-Letter, seeking a buyer for an Oyster Bay, Long Island, estate.

Television, radio, and film moved us into a mass age, what we know today as mass communication.  During that time communication became more one-way, broadcast from the media to the public. Media consumption during the mass age involved very little personalized content.  As technology grew, so did the scale and cost of communications, making it  more difficult for small and medium-sized businesses to reach prospective buyers on a level playing field with the larger corporations.

But, as so often happens, history has a way of repeating itself and we are once again entering a new personal age of communication. All of the communication technologies available today – particularly mobile phones, smartphones and notepads – are personal in nature. Marketers no longer control how we receive information. The industrial interruption of conversation has ended. To keep up with the medium, marketers need to learn how to get personal again.

Personal communication technologies such as smartphones are playing a huge role in the end of mass communications. They are often worn on the body. They are highly individualized and they are regarded as extensions of the self. They make us individually addressable, regardless of where we are. Putting this into context, a mobile phone today is in the possession of the average user for 5,840 hours per year. That compares to the 2,920 hours the average user in developed markets spends in front of a PC and the average 1,865 hours spent watching television.

Big business is still investing big money in using the mass mediums of television and direct marketing to communicate, but the success rate for those campaigns is plummeting.  Television no longer commands full attention as 77% of its viewers are using another device (usually a smartphone) at the same time as they are watching TV. So what does this mean for small- and medium-sized businesses that are trying to market themselves?  The best-kept secret of personal marketing is to get your marketing message into that smartphone (and don’t worry about what’s happening on TV).

One effective way to do this is with a text message. While it is true that text messages are permission-based and only 2% consumers will give permission, once you’ve got it, you have a highly valuable personal access relationship with that customer that is extremely privileged.  About 90% of all text messages are read within three minutes of delivery – and over 99% of all text messages are actually read by the recipient.  And they respond to those messages, so marketers need to be prepared to have a dialogue, and not just offer a discount.  The smartphone can be the new storefront which drives customer to your website.

Many businesses think a website is just a necessary space that must be maintained on the web because everyone else has one, but it is far more important than they may realize.  Direct visits to a website are still the best and least expensive means to drive business. According to Forrester Research, direct visits and search marketing (organic and paid) are the two biggest drivers of purchases from new customers, accounting for 39% of new customer transactions.

There is a lot think about as we move from a mass age back to a personal communication age.  Understanding that we are moving back to more personal and less mass types of communication will allow small to medium-sized businesses to market more effectively than larger organizations and get closer to customers for a more richly rewarding and, ultimately, more profitable relationship. Social media – it’s the next best thing to being there.

This post was original written and published @Chammber of Commerce.

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Richard Peets
Richard Peets

A few of us were just talking about this last week. The same technology that at first seemed to distance us from each other and make personal contact "a thing of the past" is now going full circle and making it even more important than it was before.

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