“This isn’t about social media, this is about the biggest culture shift in history. Fuck the printing press.” – Gary Vaynerchuk
There are several names for the cultural era that we live in today. Seth Godin calls it the Connection Economy. Daniel Pink has called it the Conceptual Age. Whatever you call it, there is a fundamental shift in the way we connect, communicate and work with one another and it’s marked by the rise of mobile devices, self publishing and social networks.
The printing press marks another major cultural shift in human history. When paper and metal moveable type were invented they helped spread ideas and innovation throughout Europe. Following the invention of the printing press people passed through several eras of enormous ideological and cultural shifts categorized first by the Renaissance period which then evolved to the Age of Discovery, the Industrious Revolution and the Age of Enlightenment. By investigating our past, I think we can learn some valuable lessons about navigating our businesses through the future during this time of tremendous disruption.
Before I get to the lessons, let me tell you a short story.
A funny thing happend on the way to the printing press …
I’m excited to introduce you to Johannes Trithemius, the protaganist of our first story.
Johannes was a Benedictine monk who became Abbot of a small German abbey in 1483. At that time, it was ‘Gods work’ to write, create and transcribe information into books. Naturally, the job of producing books fell to educated, pious people who were able to write in latin. Monks fit the bill. During his 23 year tenure at the abbey, Johannes was responsible for the prolific growth of the Abbey’s library. Johannes’ monks added an average of 65 handwritten books to the library every year. By the time Johannes stepped down as Abbot in 1506, his monastery had one of the largest collections of texts, and therefore housed most of the written knowledge, in Europe.
In 1492, Johannes wrote a book called De Laude Scriptorum – In Praise of Scribes. Johannes wrote this book about the need for handwriting books in response to an enormous disruption. You see, 40 years earlier the printing press had been invented and the idea of books as an affordable and portable medium for knowledge was catching on. It turns out that commoners wanted to learn and share information too. The small moveable type and machinery of the printing press made it really easy to reproduce small lightweight books that the average person could buy and carry.
Over a relatively short period, the printing press quickly became a way to disintermediate knowledge. This is to say that the printing press cut out the middleman, the monks, and threatened their culture and tradition. The book De Laude Scriptorum was the Abbot’s cry to rally and inspire monks everywhere to hold to their tradition of handwriting texts. But Johannes needed to get his content out there in the hands of the monks (think customers) who needed it most. In a decision drenched with irony, Johannes had his book published on a printing press so that it could be rapidly copied and widely distributed.
There are enormous opportunities within every disruption that changes old to new. We are experiencing a time “in between” when the old monologue of communicating, marketing and advertising through traditional media are threatened by the new dialogue through social media. For the last one hundred years, it’s been very easy to scale our messages and calls to action. However to break through the advertising clutter today requires a scale of listening which only recently was made possible through social media. Duncan Clark from Postmedia Labs is prototyping new bi-directional communication models for business such as GastroWorks. He and others like him are experimenting to find better ways for businesses to communicate with customers.
Power no longer rests with those who hold information. Information is cheap. Virtually all of human knowledge is available to use at our fingertips and mobile phones. As Gary Vaynerchuk says, information has become a commodity. In this new era of consumer-brand dialogue, effort, design, storytelling and context the new currency. Work hard to learn how to tell stories about your business and the heros (your customers and staff) of your company. Be mindful about why context, NOT content is king. Leverage and scale trust throughout your paid (ads), earned (PR, reviews, word of mouth) and owned (website, email) media.
1. Create a list of all your marketing activities. Here’s a few to get you started – TV, Radio, Direct Mail, Adwords, SEO, Newsprint, Facebook, sponsorships, brochures
2. On a separate sheet of paper divide the page into three – label one section Paid, one Earned and one Owned.
3. Categorize each of your marketing activities into one of the three circles.
4. Take time to review your sheet.
5. Ask yourself questions like these
– How are my marketing activities distributed between paid, earned and owned media?
– What communication tools do my customers use?
– Does my financial investment mirror the amount of time my customers spend with each media type?
– How might I reallocate my marketing resources (time, people, money) to better communicate with customers?
What did you find out about how you divide your marketing resources? Please feel free to share those ideas below. Do you have any other thoughts or stories you’d like to share?
This blog post was inspired by a fantastic small business marketing conference called Reach 2012 hosted by the Financial Post. The organizers promised a day full of advice, tips and ideas to highlight “the latest marketing trends, strategies and best practices to grow your business.” I’m happy to say they delivered. My goal over the next week is to synthesize as many ideas from all the speakers to help you leverage media to drive your business.
If you have any additional comments or take home points, please feel add your opinion to the comments at the bottom of this post.