Walk a mile in my shoes

26 Sep 2012  |  James Whitmore 

James Whitmore, managing director at Postar, was in the audience at MediaTel's Connected Consumer conference on Monday. He urges the use of plain speaking in making this connected marketplace more accessible to consumers... whilst using a few long words of his own !

The philosophy of communication. This may not be what MediaTel had in mind when they hosted a discussion about "how to reach the connected consumer" but it is what caught my imagination.

I blame Mark Cross, panel member and erstwhile COI bigwig. (In a previous life, he also endured a short period as my boss, although his career has since recovered.)

Not only does he have a wonderfully tautological name, his new job title is like a question from a philosophy exam. This is not an easy and cheap jibe at the over-inflated, flowery and nonsensical things we call ourselves. Mark is on a higher and more serious plain.

"Senior Partner, Equal."

I was so intrigued by this that I missed most of what he had to say. My mind was now attuned to the meaning of words.

The intention of the morning that I attended was to debate how best to reach the connected consumer and to discuss the merits of the various business models that hope to succeed in doing so.

As often with this sort of event, enthusiasm for the technology and excitement about the money to be made threatened to dwarf the other side of the equation - the poor old consumer. The business opportunity will come to naught unless the technology fulfils an accepted and understood customer need.

Many, many years ago I "did time" in the classified ad department of a national newspaper. It was run like the galley of a Roman trireme. Stripped to the waist and deprived of water and victuals, we were forced to intone, "To sell Joe Bloggs what Joe Bloggs buys, one must see Joe Bloggs through Joe Bloggs' eyes".

As a maxim, it may be trite but it rings true. You'll never sell anything if you don't give some serious thought to what it is like to be the person who might possibly buy from you.

The seminar audience accepted what was meant by "content proposition points of view; ecosystem-centric strategies; apps presenting up; distribution windowing; over-the-top operators; 24/7 mantras" and so on. This may be fine as shorthand between practitioners but it begs the question why some sectors of the media industry treat English as a second tongue, only to be attempted when talking to their customers. One would have thought that if you can disambiguate the language at its source you would have a far better opportunity of making yourself understood in the world at large.

The more memorable contributions to the debate were plainly spoken. One likened the concurrent consumption of separate media streams, so called "dual-screening", to the ancient practice of knitting when the telly was on. Watching TV at the same time as titting about on a mobile telephone or tablet computer is perhaps the modern equivalent of knitting whilst you watch. It is a displacement activity. The image is clear.

There is a need to properly understand the nature of concurrent activity before leaping to the conclusion that this must be a goldmine for advertisers. It was suggested that only if the second device had relevance to the first - for example, it acted to change TV channels or to enter related competitions - would it actually offer an opportunity for connected commercial communication. Without this link, a person's interaction with a second screen is most likely to reflect a degree of disengagement from the first screen or device. This might not be such a good place to seek a commercial opportunity.

More fish in a pond do not lead to a bigger pond. It is the customer that will dictate the pace as well as determining how the various "connectable" media are actually used. More often than not, they will seek the assurance of trusted brands to bring coherence to the choices on offer. Disappointingly for commercial interests, for many people, less will be enough.

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