Consumption, expression, and the omni-channel reality

Most of the PR, advertising, and digital industries have wasted time driving to perceived realities that haven't matched the habits of the most important audience, writes Racepoint Global president Peter Prodromou.

I’ve spent a lot of time evaluating the evolution of communications over the past year as I’ve overseen the re-launch of Racepoint Group and our sister company, Digital Influence Group, into a fully integrated marketing services company called Racepoint Global. 

And what I’ve learned in the past 12 months is that most of the advertising, public relations, and digital industries have wasted a lot of time driving to perceived realities that haven’t matched the habits of the most important audience – the consumers of information.

What do I mean by this? Simply this: industries have adopted attitudes about where and how people will access information and entertainment, as well as interact with one another, that don’t reflect how behavior has evolved. 

Rather than a complete implosion of non-digital media, we are seeing a deepening integration of TV and digital, driven by mobile adoption, into an integrated consumption experience. For proof, note the ongoing cozying up of Comcast and Netflix to each other.

To understand how to adapt to this reality, consider how you choose to structure your own experiences. You may find yourself watching Dallas Buyers Club or American Hustle. You choose to start researching information about the actors on IMDB through your mobile device. Based on what you learn, you tweet about the movie and the actor you have just researched. In other words, within seconds, you have crossed through three distinct mediums, accessing and delivering related information. Equally important, your own behaviors reflect trends that are occurring on a massive scale. And the reality is, as print media increasingly adopts models for hyper-localizing information and adding video and visual content, we will see them re-enter this paradigm as players.

How did our industry respond to this reality for the past decade? It preached the death of every other medium in service to digital. In the process, it created a series of expectations and attitudes that don’t reflect the reality of the consumption paradigm I’ve just described. The result is a lot of organizations spending a lot of money to chase a false reality.

The good news is, even as the industry set these dynamics in play, we never lost sight of the most important discipline – good storytelling. Because however different the channels may or may not be today, what remains in common from 30 years ago is the need for good stories to fill the pipe. The difference is, the stories now need to be told in short bursts and a highly visual manner that reflects the shorter attention spans inherent to audiences who choose to be bombarded via multiple media simultaneously. In other words, the manner of expression needs to align closely with the psychology of consumption. Otherwise, regardless of whether we’re using print, broadcast, or digital, we’re simply wasting time and money.

The trick is to develop a story that can play equally well via all media, which is why visual and short bursts are essential. The other area that needs to be tackled is the deepening integration of paid and earned content. As consumers of information discern less and less between the two, it is essential to be able to offer both kinds of content. Purists from either side of the equation are risking relegating themselves to a future career pouring coffee – not that there’s anything wrong with that – if they don’t acknowledge this reality immediately.

A colleague called me this week to talk about his experiences at South by Southwest. He was thrilled that a keynote session focused on the topic of consumption and expression and praised our foresight in forming a combined business unit nearly a year ago that reflects this emerging reality. I was a bit more sanguine as I took into consideration the fact that it took our industry this long to acknowledge the obvious – that a deeply integrated model for expression and content is essential to our very futures. 

While we won’t stop looking for the next trend – we must if we are to lead – what is more essential is that we acknowledge good discipline in our craft and, as an industry, embrace it.

Peter Prodromou is president of Racepoint Global.

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