by Kenneth Rudich
Unless you’ve been away on Mars or Venus for an extended stay, it would be hard – if not impossible – to disregard just how much business and marketing communications has changed in the last fifteen years.
By changed, I mostly mean technological change. Not so much theoretical. Because in reality, while technology has undergone radical changes, the primary objective to be achieved really hasn’t.
If you look at introductory textbooks in the field of communications over the past 40 years, you’re likely to make a small-but-nonetheless-remarkable discovery. The basic communications model used in these textbooks has pretty much remained the same over the course of time. Small variations aside, it shows a sender, a receiver, and a feedback loop. In other words, it leans heavily toward promoting interaction.
Now look at the internet and its related technologies, especially social networking. Notice anything? Can you see that, arguably, they don’t change what we want to do as much as they change how it can be accomplished, and the extent to which it can be accomplished?
Then what, after all, do we ideally want to accomplish?
Let’s briefly look at the advice of experts on this subject.
human communications without technology
Over the years experts in the field of communications have typically taken the basic communications model described above and used it as a springboard for elaboration. As a result, our depth of understanding about human communications has slowly grown. Let’s take a quick peek at what has been accumulated up to this point.
Burgoon and his colleagues define communication as the art of effective interactive conveyance. It is a process that allows the source of the communication and the receiver of the communication to have an impact on each other (Burgoon, Hunsaker and Dawson, 1994).
Simply put, the objective, when artfully done, is to create a two-way connection — that is, “supplying mutual needs and offsetting mutual lacks so as to achieve a shared perception” (Losee, 1999). Perception is the process of making sense out of the experience (Haney, 1967).
But just because an exchange occurs, there is no guarantee it will result in a shared perception. What experts call “noise” can enter into the communication process and interfere with the effectiveness of it. The noise can be physical, semantic, or internal:
- Physical noise is an audible noise between the sender and the receiver. It is easy to identify because the source of the noise is generally recognizable. It could be a loud radio in the background or another person talking at the same time. This kind of noise is probably more prevalent than ever due to the tendency to multi-task and being bombarded by all sorts of outside distractions. The latter creates the challenge of trying to cut through the clutter.
- Semantic noise refers to a conflict between the sender and the receiver in misunderstanding the meaning of words. This noise is harder to identify because it is subject to the variability of individual human perception. For example, what qualifies as value creation to one person (or organization) can be entirely different from the perception of another person (or organization). Thus, value creation can mean different things to different people.
- Internal noise is the psychological drama of the interactive communicators. This is possibly the hardest noise to identify because it requires knowledge and understanding that may not be possible. One participant may not be able to understand the inside of the mind of the other participant. Others may be simply unable to connect at any level (Ershler, 2000-2001).
In the real world, communication untouched by noise is rare, which makes it prone to being imperfect or what Losee calls “noise modified” (Losee, 1999).
Successful communication hinges on minimizing the perceptual gaps these various kinds of noise can create, and to instead build understanding and empathy so as to cultivate a shared perception. “When we eliminate the internal or semantic static in the communication,” says Ershler, “we are best understood.”
contemporary marketing communications
So what are we trying to achieve with modern day marketing communications tools and techniques? In a nutshell, the same thing we’ve always been trying to accomplish: minimize noise and maximize connection through effective interactions. Another common term for this, especially in social media circles, is engagement.
Does the availability of the new tools and techniques necessarily make this task any easier?
The answer is yes…and no.
Yes, the capacity for large-scale interaction has been vastly improved, or at least greatly expanded.
But the one constant that hasn’t changed is the potential for noise. If you don’t handle the noise well, then the new tools will likely be of little help. In fact, they can do more harm than good.
Just ask BP, or Apple, or the USDA, or actor Mel Gibson.