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By: Kishore Swaminathan
Remember how simple it was to communicate with your customers in the good old days? You initiated and managed specific conversations about your company and your products. For example, you could buy a couple of 10-second spots during the Super Bowl. Or you could entice customers to participate in focus groups and fill out surveys. Whatever the medium or venue, you ensured that in any conversation about you, you were the subject as well as the object. Things have changed. Today, your customers are having various kinds of conversations among themselves out in the open. They write blogs; they argue with each other in bulletin boards; they tweet on Twitter about whatever; they post videos of their kids online; they talk about their lives and feelings in social networks. And they post reviews and commentaries about you. In other words, you no longer manage the conversations among your customers in which your company or products may be mentioned, often in unpredictable contexts. What’s a brand-conscious company to do? Just shut up and listen? No. But in light of this significant social change, companies need to recalibrate the way they see their marketing, branding and corporate communications.
Successful technologies often create discontinuities between the past and the present that go well beyond the technologies themselves—discontinuities in individual and social behavior that alter some aspect of society forever. Here are some examples of how recent advances in information technology are leading to important changes in how we communicate and consume information.
From “need to know” to “good to know”:
Quaint as it may seem, communication used to have a purpose—typically, to convey information that I needed to tell and you needed to know. No longer. Technology now gives me an extraordinary ability to talk a lot about nothing to no one in particular for no reason.
As a result, communication today is less a matter of my decision about what to tell whom than it is about your choice of what to pay attention to from whom.
From “tell me” to “show me”:
Cheap digital and cell phone cameras that can shoot video plus free distribution media such as YouTube are fueling an explosion in video communication. Want to know how to fix your plumbing? Or learn how to make a Mexican tamale or play the guitar? Perhaps you’d like to see how arthroscopic surgery is done?
Today, on the Web, you can find video clips—by amateurs as well as professionals—on almost any subject.
From “talk at you” to “talk with you”: Not long ago, when producing and distributing information was relatively expensive, organizations ranging from companies to hospitals to governments controlled, and were at the center of, the communication with their public. By necessity, they talked at you. Today, two-way dialogue is not only possible but almost expected by individuals from these same organizations— especially from doctors and health care providers.
In my next post, I will share how companies can take advantage of these fundamental changes in communication.
*Kishore Swaminathan is the Chief Scientist of Accenture.
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