Sunday, February 18, 2007

The Message is More than the Medium

When Marshall Mcluhan wrote the "medium is the message" nearly four decades ago, he was presaging a world he certainly couldn't imagine: one with so many media options that it can be mind-boggling. Very few of us really understand the implications of the multi-media world we live in today and what is to come.

More than most, Seth Godin is quite rare in his ability to "grok" the implications of all these media. (For those of you who are interested, Seth has always had that ability, dating as far back as being the producer of the first -- or nearly the first, I'm not sure -- Interactive Novel using computers).

It is noteworthy that Seth, with all of his nuanced understanding of this complex world in which we live, believes in the combination of clever use of media and a "remarkable" message. This is as opposed to so many people today who think that simply by using a new medium, they are doing something different. In fact, as we have said before in this blog, in a world where communications transparency is easy, knowing who you are and communicating effectively are even more important than ever before.

Therefore, I beg to differ with Mr. McLuhan: the message is more than the medium.

What does this mean for a start up? We see so many young companies that:
  • Speak in mumbo-jumbo about what they do; and/or
  • Think a better mousetrap will be sufficient to win the ballgame; and/or
  • Think "hype" will replace thoughtful approaches to communications; and/or
  • Think that just putting any old words out there is sufficient (or you might call this the "quantity vs. quality approach").
We believe in the current communications environment a simple prescription is appropriate for start ups:

  1. Develop a clear, straightforward message that reflects who you are now and who you want to be;
  2. Use multiple media. Use press releases *and* blogs *and* other media to communicate;
  3. Communicate your message consistently throughout your media;
  4. Neither hype nor assume a better mousetrap will do the trick. Be modest, thoughtful, educational, and a leader;
  5. Take a long-term view of communicating: Very few organizations get their point across without consistent repetition;
  6. Listen to the market: While remaining true to your goals, refine your messages *and* your media as you get feedback.

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Sunday, February 04, 2007

Starting with a Blank Sheet of Paper

There has been quite a bit of dialog about the most recent post on this blog called "Did Microsoft Use A 20th Century Launch Strategy to Launch their 21st Century (We Hope) Vista ???"Much of the discussion was to agree with the point that Microsoft seemed to hype Vista, rather than letting the market create a foundation for it and then talking about it. That was *part* of the point of that last post.

But, there was another point that was more subtle and that I want to emphasize: what really was distressing about the launch was that in promoting a product that *should* completely change the playing field and not just be trapped by legacy, Microsoft ended up using a legacy approach for the launch, rather than starting with a blank sheet of paper and saying "What's the right way, in the 21st Century, to launch this critically important product?"

Those of us who work with start ups and other young companies are faced daily with the need to "start with a blank sheet of paper." The combination of limited resources, ground breaking products and/or ideas, and a new era of communications demand it.

What does "starting with a blank sheet of paper" mean? In short: don't start with preconceived notions of the right way to launch/announce/talk about something. But rather, truly step back and think about the full context of the announcement/company/idea. The result of such thinking should be some combination of brand new (and hopefully clever) ideas and activities that result from past experience, but applied to today's context.

I want to be clear about something. I am not saying "Throw out everything you have done before in communications." As a matter of fact, I think that some communicators don't step back and think about some basics of communications before they develop a plan in today's environment. We have talked about this before in this blog, but will reiterate: your objectives are important; your message is important; your communications architecture is important; your goals are important; etc.

We are convinced that the best communications programs are those that are a "hybrid" approach: that is, they use the benefit of experience, but throw away inflexible assumptions about communicating. This is a very interesting era in which to communicate: a lot of the rules have changed, which allows programs to be developed that are interesting and creative but still meet key goals.

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