Does technology affect people – or just our access to them? This has been a popular question, which has defined much of the discussion concerning the digitization of communication for the last ten years. Unfortunately it is slightly irrelevant. And more importantly – and critically – it has managed to distract us from seeing the other important changes we are facing.
The common understanding of communication is; content and stories influencing peoples’ values/attitudes and actions. This presents our field as something that doesn’t change – because communication is to people and people don’t change, right?
But limiting our discussions to emotions and storytelling is dangerous, because the field of communication, which has done quite well for the last one hundred years, now meets new challenges and transformation that we find hard to discuss and understand:
- The future of communication is not a question of if we should be talking to people differently – it’s about how communication is to be used by businesses.
- The focus on consumers has led us to ignore two important changes: The changing role of marketing and communication in business, and the expanded relevance and use of communication services.
- - Communication today is used and utilized in a range of new and different ways – most of them created, owned and solved by companies on the fringe or outside of our own industry. We are seeing the field of communication in danger of becoming a niche in its own category.
The first change is on the client side. We are seeing marketing directors and marketing departments greatly enhance their importance and role in the overall business strategy. Marketing today is rapidly becoming something else than it was just ten years ago.
- “The CMO role has certainly changed and transformed over the last decade. Years ago the CMO was only responsible for brand building and advertising campaigns. Now, CMOs are expected to deliver a measurable return on investment. We have to have a broader view on business in general. We are the brand advocates, certainly. We’re also the voice of the consumer. We need to provide and teach leadership. We need to provide quantifiable business results. And at the end of the day we need to innovate, motivate and really drive change for the organization.” – Zipcar CMO Rob Weisberg,
We are seeing the developing role of the marketing department; from working with brand and advertising measures to having co-responsibility in the business development, working towards more ambitious business goals and being measured for it. Collaborating more and closely with IT – who is seeing the same kind of development on their side.
When clients change, agencies (be it design, PR or advertising) need to change. And in this case that means to start working with more complex problems and business challenges.
The second change is the role of communication – because communication isn’t just sound bites and tiny messaging or signs distributed on a surface or through a third party infrastructure. We are not looking outside our own bubble; we have to see that our notion and understanding of communication is very limited – and start reacting accordingly.
Everybody agrees that the toolbox is bigger and broader now, but we still understand new tools through the ideas of the old. Online branding and marketing today are; products, services and culture which has to be guided by the positioning strategy. And this demands more from the communication strategy than just values, tone-of-voice or picture guidelines.
I’m sure some agencies can thrive as niche contributors of services in a larger communication portfolio. But, if we feel that we can add significant direction to the creation of business value, and that we can offer the best possible overall strategy – then it is of little use to sit around and discuss consumers and feelings – because it is not on those terms the future of communication is solved.
Image via flickr