What We Have Here Is a Failure to Communicate

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by: David Polinchock

Movie buffs know that line from the great Paul Newman movie, Cool Hand Luke. Newman, as the title character in the movie, seems to have some problems in the southern prison that he’s in. Each time he breaks the rules, the warden says to him "What we have here is a failure to communicate."

I did a lot of walking today, gathering information for some upcoming walking tours and this one of the the quotes floating around my head as I thought about how brands are and should be communicating to their audiences. Another quote in my head all day comes from Herbert Simon in the early 70’s:

What does an abundance of information create? A scarcity of attention

The two thoughts suddenly ran together and I began to ask myself if our abundance of information might actually be creating a failure to really communicate.

A few times when I’ve spoken at a conference, I’ve opened with a cacophony of sound, building to a crescendo of just noise. And then it all stops. I then describe two futures of advertising. One where we just try to yell louder then everyone else and one we’re we’re speaking in a direct voice and I ask the audience which one they’d like. Everyone says the 2nd future, but I’d bet most people spend their day working towards the 1st one.

Right now, Twitter’s all the rage and I’m there a good deal myself. But I did some quick math and if you follow 5,000 people and each one of those people only sends one tweet/day and it takes you 5 seconds to read each tweet, you’re spending 6.9 hours per day just reading them. Right now one of my morning frustrations is trying to catch up on all of the tweets I missed overnight. And I’m following less then 600 people. Can you have any really meaningful conversation with 5 or 10 thousand people?

So first, we have an abundance of information. Then I started to think about the instantaneousness of our communication today. Does the fact that we can communicate immediately mean that we should?

For example, I think I was one of the few people who didn’t really think there was a Motrin controversy. And before people say I’m a guy and I just don’t understand, I was the house Daddy for Sydney before she went to day care. She spent many hours in her Baby Bjorn strapped to my body. Sydney was 9 pounds, 6 ounces, so at the end of a day of walking around with her, I felt that I totally bonded with her (at almost 8, she’s still a snugly kid with me) and my back hurt. I wasn’t offended by the ad.

But I was surprised by the incredible frustration that people expressed because they had been talking about this commercial for like 24 hours — on a Saturday, no less — and no one from Motrin had responded yet.

Just because we can communicate 24/7, does that mean we have to respond instantly?

As I said at the time, if the complaint was that someone found rat poison or something in a bottle of Motrin, they should’ve responded immediately and as big as they could. But, people not liking their commercial does not create a life-threatening situation that required a response that quickly.

So if next you have a scarcity of attention, how do you break through? My previous post showed an augmented reality demo being developed at MIT and in that post I asked what happens when people actually can control all of the media that they experience.

Even with all of our talk about two-way communications and relationships and engaging the consumer, we’re still frequently using the new tools just to push messages out. Hey, of course I’ll tweet this post when it’s done.

Most of what we call interactive really isn’t. It’s watching a video on-line fundamentally different then watching it on TV? Does the fact that it’s on-line make it interactive? Is using Twitter for customer service really different then using any other tool for customer service? It’s faster and it hits more people, but it’s still, good old fashioned hearing & listening to the customer.

I while back (Experience Manifesto: Why Advertising Will Destroy Social Media), I wrote about a study that showed that companies were very excited about SM because it allowed them to listen to their customers. At the time, I said that’s what’s wrong with most of our business world, we thought it was a paradigm shift that could listen to our customers!

So we do we do in a world where we have an abundance of information and a scarcity of attention? Create just in time marketing that allows us to deliver the right information to the right person at the right time. When I’m shopping for a car, I want all of the car information I can find. Once I’ve actually bought a car, I don’t want any more car information.

We believe that just-in-time marketing creates a huge opportunity, especially for placed-based media (like at retail) that we haven’t even begun to explore. This is not just digital networks running content we don’t really pay attention to, this is creating ways to give people the information they need to make a purchase decision when they want to and how they want it.

But that takes a lot of work and really, for the most part, I think that too often we don’t really think it’s worth the effort. We’ve got to find the balance between the abundance of information and a scarcity of attention. That’s why we believe in just-in-time communication. Get people the information when they want it and you’ll find that people will give you the attention you want.

Sent wirelessly from Nokia 9500 & T-Mobile

Original Post: http://blog.brandexperiencelab.org/experience_manifesto/2009/02/what-we-have-here-is-a-failure-to-communicate.html