Why the medium is not the message in the digital age.

Back in 1964, a Canadian communications thinker named Marshall McLuhan coined the term “The medium is the message” in his book Understanding Media: The Extension of Man. He proposed that a communication medium itself, not the messages it carries, should be the primary focus of study. Speaking to marketing professionals about their marketing objective is, the response is often,  

“ I want to go viral on social media.”

Not only is this thinking misguided, but it is also wasteful. Media is and always has been a delivery method. Different media have different characteristics. But rather like a train traveling across America empty, or a plane landing without passengers thousands of miles from its original destination, there is no point in the delivery method if there are no passengers. In the case of media, the passengers are ideas crafted into messages.

My sprightly and razor-sharp Mother received a letter in the post yesterday from Nurse Mary at her local surgery. She wrote a heartfelt and personal note to patients of the surgery living on their own. My Mother was “deeply touched” by the message. She felt that she was not in “alien territory” anymore. She phoned the surgery, in itself not an easy task when you are partially sighted. “Hello, would you like an appointment? “No, thank you,” she replied, “I just wanted to tell Nurse Mary how much her message meant to me.”

The message defines the experience

I am sure that Nurse Mary didn’t start with a letter and then think, “how will I fill this page?” Her objective was to make her patients feel closer at a time of isolation. She executed her intention perfectly, with kind thoughts and words, softly spoken and delivered in a letter.

As organizations seek to fill their owned, earned, and paid-for mediums with “content,” it is well worth remembering what the purpose of that content is aiming to do. If you can move your audience to be “deeply touched,” you will achieve far more than most can ever hope for.

As Rudyard Kipling once said, “ Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.”

And that is why the message, correctly targeted and elegantly and lovingly crafted, will always be what anyone wants to receive, however that message is delivered.

“The Cobbler’s children have no shoes”

Photo by William Warby on Unsplash

It is an old expression that early estimates date as far back as 1546. At its simplest, the inference is that the cobbler is too busy to attend to his children. Or more deeply, that he is working his hardest to put food on the table.

I cannot claim that hardship, but the expression reflects why this is my first blog in over a year. I have greatly enjoyed being consumed “on the brand equivalent of a cobbler’s “last” shaping companies that I respect and admire, and helping them to unearth their uniqueness and tell their story. Both projects have been successful, but it has meant that my words went elsewhere last year.

It is a wonderful problem to have, but it illustrates the issue that companies large and small face every day. How do they tell the story of their company, products, and their fundamental uniqueness, in a way that people will care about, and believe in, especially at this time?

There are countless how to’s and infographics on the subject, but in the same way that a catcher drops a pass after practicing for years, there is no foolproof way to get an organization into a rhythm without the dedication, good fortune, and more than a little luck along the way.

Malcolm Gladwell declares that you need 10,000 hours to become a true expert on a subject. He doesn’t mention what happens when you miss the train to give that all-important expert speech to an expectant audience.

John Lennon composed a song in 1980 containing the lyrics, “Life is what happens to you as you are busy making other plans.” That is our world these days: conflicting priorities and urgent trumps the important.

The challenge, above all, is to be honest and consistent in everything that you create, make and deliver. A brand, after all, is a promise of performance.

A blank space on a blog page signals that “nobody is minding the store.” Or that we are too busy to manage the detail. And that is not what potential customers expect.

So as 2020 and Covid 19 has lurched us into a new decade that promises more change and speed than ever before, the mantra for my blog will be, to quote the Duke of Wellington in 1824 “publish and be damned.”