Text Is the New Multimedia

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(NOTE: This essay draws on a chapter in my new book, Bright Lights & Dim Bulbs, which identifies nine radical branding and marketing insights for innovative business leaders to watch as we roll into 2010)

If video killed the radio star, wasn’t video supposed to obliterate text?

It hasn’t. Not even close. Who would have thought that 2009 would witness instead the continued resurgence of the written word?

The language was sometimes indeterminable, and the conversations often unrepeatable without a blush added to the shrug, but text has proven amazingly resilient as a communications medium. Words "work" on printed pages and mobile phone screens (i.e. cross-platform), find utility for marketing strategies old and new (you can use them to declare, or to converse), and prove convenient and adaptable for users young and old.

Think back to a few good creative communications ideas that had to be translated into imagery, and then required deconstruction by viewers. Seems like a long way to go to make a statement, doesn’t it? I’m all for a funny clip, and it’s very true that a picture can tell a thousand words…but most of the time, 99% of those words get misused, misinterpreted, or outright ignored.

For something so immediate and compelling, you couldn’t find a medium better able to substitute the simulacra of a connection for the transfer of actual content or meaning.

As opposed to video, text is a "hot medium," if you buy into Marshall McLuhan’s theories about media (and I do, for the most part). Even when viewed online, words engage a single sense, and thereby establish a direct connection that is richer in specific information and meaning than more participatory, or "cool" multimedia experiences.

When we’re blown away by a video, we translate it into words to label our reactions, code our memories, and subsequently share our thoughts. Even reduced to tweets and abbreviations, text remains the most facile communications engine available to us, only you wouldn’t know it from all of the media excitement and agency sales efforts to tell us otherwise. 

Worse, it’s not just that companies have been misled by the lure of the moving image; 2009 has been a banner year for slogans and gibberish in business communications, from nonsense adjectives in press releases, to incomprehensible statements about branding. Companies spent time orchestrating faux conversations instead of contributing to real ones; corporate strategies were described in blatheriffic doublespeak; popular phrases, like "innovation," were used to obfuscate the purposes of new management teams, as well as new products. 

Why do businesses use words so poorly?

Maybe because words seem free when compared with the cost of producing a video or sound file. Perhaps because social media conversations are so fast and frequent that specific word choices seem less important. One of my pet peeves is that we still use words to satisfy ourselves; we talk to our aspirations for our brands, and not to make those direct connections to readers.

I think the year proved that what companies say matters, whether as the inputs into social media, or as the tool by which they make those direct connections with their consumers. But it has to be accurate, honest, and credible. It’s harder to get away with a lie when it’s literally spelled out; conversely, if we use words to state truths (and avoid all of the nuances that distract or lessen them), then text is a powerful tool that transports across technology platforms, and works with all age groups.

I believe that 2010 will give us great and useful opportunities to use video and other media to communicate with our customers, but I suggest that there’ll be even more, better, easier, and more cost-effective chances to wring more impact and value out of the lowly, simple, written word.

The Bulb Asks:

  • Do your press releases need so many adjectives? Is your product really “world class,” and what does that mean, anyway?
  • Are you telling your social networks things that really matter, not just what your brand lexicon might dictate?
  • Will your next communication tell something meaningful, relevant and useful, or will you expect your customers to decipher something? Think less secret code, and more direct statement.

(Bright Lights & Dim Bulbs contains 10 tips on this topic and 8 others)

Image source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/walker_ep/3086674683/

Original Post: http://dimbulb.typepad.com/my_weblog/2009/11/text-is-the-new-multimedia.html