Before the advent of printing, the only available mass communication channel was the outdoor sign; a blacksmith or a cobbler “hung a shingle” outside his shop to let villagers know that this was a place they could buy shoes for their horses or themselves. Soon after the printing press was developed, print advertising began to appear. Eventually, postal carriers began bringing catalogs and coupons to our doorsteps. When radio and television became part of our daily lives, advertising quickly became part of these new mediums. As we began to communicate online, new forms of advertising emerged. But new forms of communications don't replace the old — businesses still use signs to communicate, (although the signs have become far more creative). Today, mass-market communications have evolved into a ubiquitous phenomenon that now permeates every waking moment. Businesses communicate on the packaging you see when you open the refrigerator and the billboards you see as you drive to work. As a result, no business owner can simply hang up a shingle and be done with it — she must choose from thousands of options for reaching out to potential customers.
Interpersonal communications have changed as well. Business owners have always relied on personal recommendations to generate new business, but for most of our history they remained private conversations. Telephones enabled conversations with more people across longer distances, but until the 1990’s business owners still enjoyed almost full control over their brands and communications.
Not anymore. The Internet has changed everything. The space between the business owner and the customer has vanished. Interpersonal communications can be as private as an in-person conversation or as public as a Yelp review. Entrepreneurs no longer control the conversation, they have become a part of it.
Today, every entrepreneur must contend with websites, email and social media. Advertising is available on national and local radio as well as podcasts. YouTube videos can be far more compelling — and far less expensive — than TV ads that cost millions. Print ads can appear in national magazines or in “virtual” magazines that are never printed. Trade shows, salespeople, promotional events and nonprofit sponsorships offer ways to interact one-on-one. Mass print mailings compete with email campaigns that can create relationships with customers anywhere in the world. A wide variety of available communication channels, each with associated costs and demands, must be evaluated against the potential for immediate and long-term customer value.
Feeling overwhelmed? You’re not alone. When you want to connect with your customers, how do you begin?
This week, we’ll be looking at all of these opportunities and establishing a process that allows any business owner to select a mix of channels based on the kind of business she wants to create. But, for today, I'll go ahead and present you with the best tool for creating compelling communications that get — and deserve — attention: authenticity.
Be honest, and be yourself.