Famous Last Words: Hello, Avatars!
In one of his great short essay books, "Republic of Technology," former Librarian of Congress Daniel J. Boorstin (1975-1987) described how Americans were getting more and more isolated from each other:
• In frontier days, people did everything together: gathered to hear the news from a town crier, congregated in the kitchen in the winter—because that was where the heat was—and spent time in the outhouse with its two-to-four "holer." Central heating, air conditioning and indoor plumbing changed those scenarios.
• Newspapers have replaced the town crier.
• During World War II, we gathered around the radio to hear Edward R. Murrow from London.
• Black-and-white television replaced radio as the gathering place for the family.
• When color television came along, the old black-and-white sets were relegated to the kids' rooms where they could be alone watching what they wanted.
• Now we sit all day in front of a computer and send emails to the person in the next office or down the hall.
Ultimate Disembodiments: Skype, Webinars and Virtual Shows
With the economy in the tank and businesses scrambling for revenue and profits, travel and entertainment (T&E) budgets are seriously cut.
Peggy Hatch, who replaced me as honcho of this publication (and is doing a far better job than I ever did), has launched webinars (seminars on the Web) and virtual shows (seminar sessions plus an online exhibit hall with booths where vendors can show off their wares digitally) for publications in the Target Marketing Group.
To my way of thinking, this is a huge improvement over boring old print, offering far more action and interaction between viewers and presenters.
For meetings, there are Skype and "Go To Meeting"—group phone calls where everybody is electronic—avatars talking to avatars. Unfortunately, this means no more personal banter with ideas crackling followed by a convivial lunch or dinner afterwards.
What These High-Tech Changes Mean for Direct Marketers
Our business is communicating with people and persuading them to change behavior. But if prospects and customers are simply names on a list, and colleagues in the office are the only people we interact with (which means we are all talking to each other), our business may be heading for serious trouble.
For example, a financial services company I know of sent an email to its customer list with the following lede:
My name is Jack Thomas. I am at the University [of] Pennsylvania studying Finance & Economics at the Wharton School of Business. But … my passion for the last 5 years has been & will continue to be in investing in the stock market. ...
His letter bombed. He was talking to—and about—himself. Not a single response. No serious investor gives a damn about what a Wharton student has to say.
Successful marketing communicators have the ability to get inside the heads of their prospects, think how they think and feel what they feel. That's not easy if the only people we see in the flesh are our co-workers, while everybody else is digital or the voice on the other end of a cellphone.
When marketing guru Axel Andersson would come to Philadelphia to consult, he insisted on staying at the Clarion Suites. Why the Clarion Suites' emphatically non-deluxe lodgings in the middle of Chinatown?
"Certainly I could stay at a four-star hotel," Andersson said. "But first of all, [at the Clarion Suites] I get a suite with a living room where I work and a bedroom where I sleep. Secondly, the price is very reasonable. And thirdly, I see real people! At the Marriott or the Four Seasons, I would be among people just like me. I see those people everywhere. You can't learn anything from them!"
Andersson added, "If you are a marketer, take the bus, subway, train or streetcar to work. These are the real Americans that you want to reach with your messages."
Denny Hatch is a freelance direct marketing consultant and copywriter, and author of the Business Common Sense e-newsletter. Visit him at www.businesscommonsense.com or www.dennyhatch.com, or contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.