refining vs revolution

David Armano shared a great presentation on his superb Logic + Emotion blog a few days back:

It offers plenty of food for thought – unsurprising considering that Armano “curated” it with fellow Edelman heavyweight Steve Rubel – but, ironically, the slide I found most inspiring probably wasn’t intended to be a cornerstone of the presentation:

[click to enlarge]

The source of the chart seems to be Edelman’s Trust Barometer, so I’m confident that a significant amount of quality research informed the findings.

However, instinctively, it feels like the number of times we need to repeat something depends on what we’re actually saying (or doing); some ‘messages’ will be easier to grasp than others, and some will be more easily forgotten, even if they are initially easily understood.

The whole conversation hinges on something we discussed a few months back: effective communication is about what the receiver understands, not what the sender says.

I shared the remainder of this post as a comment on David’s blog, but I’d like to extend the conversation here; it has such far-reaching implications that I believe it would benefit from as many minds as possible. That includes yours, so please do share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Social channels offer more effective ways for us to establish a shared understanding with our audiences, so they have the potential to revolutionise how we approach brand communications, not just refine the existing model.

For example, if people are struggling to grasp something, we have two options: either repeat the same message over and over again until it sticks, or keep refining the ‘message’ until people understand it.

The first option is the most practical approach in a purely broadcast communication model, because the costs involved in constantly measuring and refining a mass-media message are prohibitive. Within that model, brands often struggle to gauge whether people have understood their communications. Furthermore, by the time they find out, they’ve usually used up the entire budget and it’s infeasible to refine anything.

However, social channels offer brands a practical and cost-efficient way to share multiple messages, and determine whether people understand them – all in real-time. They allow us to communicate in a context that is more akin to face-to-face conversation: we can constantly refine and tweak our ‘message’ until we’re sure it has sunk in. More excitingly, such conversations can help us to identify whether our communications are even addressing our audience’s most important issues. When it comes to communication, what we hear is often more valuable than what we say.

In this second model, our communications challenge shifts from trying to identify an optimum number of repetitions of just one message, to identifying better ways of sharing what matters to people.

That may sound like stating the obvious, but I get the sense that many marketers still see social channels from a broadcast perspective – we are trying to adapt them to our existing model, rather than adapting the model to the take advantage of these new opportunities.

What do you think? Do social channels really allow brands to engage in dynamic conversation? Will repetition still play a key role in this new approach to brand communications? Share your thoughts here.

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1 Response to “refining vs revolution”


  1. 1 brandconsultantasia July 13, 2010 at 14:24

    I think you nailed it. But I disagree with your statement “but I get the sense that many marketers still see social channels from a broadcast perspective”

    Many, in fact the majority of marketers see ALL channels from a broadcast perspective, even sales. Which is why so many brands are getting so frustrated with their agencies.

    FWIW I believe we’re heading back to the old corner shop scenario only this time the conversation is held online via channels such as twitter instead of over the counter. Therefore all conversations should be personal. i know a massive investment for many brands but advertising budgets would be better spent here.

    But before that, we still need to get the prospect in the store so that we can sell them something so that we can begin the data collection process that includes identifying the communities he/she inhabits online.

    The traditional mass media approach to create awareness doesn’t work anymore because no one is listening (it’s not that they need to be told a lot of times). The resources invested in this bottomless pit would be better invested elsewhere. Where exactly depends on the industry.


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