How Marketing Communications Changed

Over the past 40 years or so marketing communications has become a very complex and sophisticated industry..

In an incredibly short period of time, we have seen the rise and now seeming decline of mass media.  The move from local media to global electronic communications systems and social media becoming part of the whole; the shift from planned, scheduled media events to instantaneous communication between persons and organisations; the change from time- and place-bound communications systems to time-shifting by consumers to fit their needs and their schedules.

How Communications Changed

Network radio and television, national magazines, and large metropolitan daily newspapers seem to have always been with us.  These systems not only tied the country together, but there is strong evidence that to a great extent they helped create our social and political culture.  Since everyone could, and often did, see and perhaps hear the same messages at the same time from the 1950s to the 1990s, we created an almost homogeneous mass media and mass marketing culture.

Marketing organisations created broadly demanded products for these mass markets.  Retail distribution systems developed to sell to and through these markets. Marketing communications professionals developed plans, programs, and systems to communicate to these mass markets.

Then technology collided with society and human wants and needs.  Suddenly consumers, who now had more information than ever before, began to demand specialised products, distribution systems, and communication.  What once had been a mass market splintered into hundreds if not thousands of separate, individual markets driven by lifestyle, ethnic background, income, geography, education, gender, and all the other things that make one person different from another.


From Verbal to Visual

People over 40, were raised as a verbal communicators. The emphasis was on writing and reading skills.

People under 40, are members of the visual generation.  This generation was raised on television, movies, speeches, MTV, and the spoken word.

The difference between how these two generations communicate is tremendous.

The shift from a verbal to a visual society will continue to be a major factor in why integrated marketing communications will be so necessary for marketing organisations in the years to come.

Functional Illiteracy

With the move from a verbal to a visual society has come a major social problem, functional illiteracy.  Traditionally, illiteracy has been defined as an inability to read or to comprehend written materials.  Our problem today, however, is the growing percentage of the population that is functionally illiterate, able to read some words but unable to comprehend simple sentences, phrases, or instructions.  Though the functionally illiterate person technically is able to read, to understand words, he or she lacks the ability to put these words into meaningful structures that will allow functioning in an increasingly complex world.

As functional illiteracy grows, marketers will increasingly need to use symbols, icons, pictures, sounds, and other forms of communication to send messages to customers and prospects.  As they do, the need to integrate these various forms of communication will become more and more important.  As the marketer relies increasingly on communication techniques that reach the literate, functionally illiterate, and even illiterate to deliver sales messages, the demand for integrated marketing communications will become increasingly important.

Media Fragmentation

Technology has played a tremendous role in creating a demand for integrated marketing communications.  At one time the advertiser, by purchasing commercials on the three television networks, could, during an average week, reach up to 90 percent of the population.  Today that number has fallen to 50 percent or less and will likely continue to decline.  The mass media no longer deliver masses (or at least attractive masses) for many marketing organisations.

Technology has allowed media organisations to begin identifying, segmenting, selecting, and attracting smaller, more attentive and focused audiences for their audio, video, and print vehicles.

There is even talk of one-on-one marketing through various forms of marketing communications.  While one-on-one marketing communications is technically feasible today, the cost is still prohibitive.  However, it may not be so in the future.

The consumer today tends to lump all persuasive messages into something they call “advertising.” Thus, consumers don’t differentiate among advertising messages in a medium such as television or a magazine or an outdoor display.  Consumers don’t even differentiate among the various functional approaches used by marketers, such as advertising, sales promotion, direct mail, or even public relations and advertorials.

Messages are all just part of “advertising’ or in some cases “product information” and they are seemingly all lumped together in the minds of the customers or prospects.  So, no matter from what medium the information or message came, the information is seen as just a media message.  And, no matter what the message said, it stands for the brand, the company, or the marketing organisation.

The system of information storage used by consumers makes integrated marketing communications such a critical issue today and tomorrow.  As we start to understand more about how people process information and about the specifics of communication, we will understand why integrated

Brian Monger

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