The true extent of information overload

For anyone in the communications game the biggest issue right now is message cut-through, due to the sheer volume of information being flung at the average human being every day.

We talk about information overload, but occasionally you come across evidence of the trend that just stops you in your tracks and provides insight into just how big a challenge it has become.

A book worth reading, especially if you love business trends, is Big Data by Viktor Mayer-Schonberger and Kenneth Cukier.  It is all a bit mind blowing to be honest.

Consider, for example, the fact that Facebook gets 10 million new photos uploaded every hour.  (Yep, that’s hour not day or week).  Or that users of You Tube upload over an hour of video every second.

The figures that leapt out of the page for me quote the work of Martin Hilbert from the University of Southern California's Annenburg School for Communication and Journalism. Hilbert has been trying to put an actual figure on the amount of information that now exists in the world.  Obviously the figure is galloping ahead constantly but going back in digital history to 2007 he has worked out there were 300 exabytes of stored data.  An exabyte is equal to one billion gigabytes or the rough equivalent of a billion full length feature films. In 2012 the total amount of stored information worldwide was four times bigger at 1200 exabytes.

Reading figures like this makes me almost want to go and crawl into a corner.  Surely, one little communicator like me can't compete?  But that's when I remind myself that communications is just the means to an end and as always the focus needs to stay on what really matters. What PR practitioners and marketers should be doing everyday is focusing on making genuine connections and building relationships.  The rest is just noise.

the scourge of style over substance

If marketing communications is like playing the dating game, a communications program without a clearly understood objective is a bit like getting dressed up but having nowhere to go.

One of the reasons communications functions often lack credibility in companies is the lack of a discernible link between the outputs produced and the organisation’s desired outcomes.

Unfortunately I see so many PR and marketing people running around getting publicity almost for the sake of it.  Sure, you got noticed…but to what end?

Every company needs to be famous for something – that’s a critical element of brand strategy, where the goal is to be seen as unique, distinctive and valued. But just being famous for fame’s sake?  That’s what I see in a lot of PR and marketing activity that isn’t linked to the company or organisational strategy.

To extend my dating game analogy, it’s a bit like the good-looking guy or girl who wears nice clothes, and preens him or herself before heading to the nightclub or dance. After a while, just having a good time isn’t enough – they want to find that someone special and settle down – but it never seems to happen.  Perhaps that’s because there is no substance behind their styling and the world can see that: Sure, he/she is a looker…but I wouldn’t want to marry them!

Great communication is not an end in itself.  It is an output that should produce an outcome that assists a company, government department or organisation to achieve its corporate purpose.

That’s what communications strategy is all about: Are you planning to make a difference?


Is the customer always right?

What’s the most common threat used in Australia?

I’m going to take a stab and guess the following: I’m going to the media!  Picture this: A call centre somewhere in Australia right now.  An angry customer, an exasperated employee and a letter to the local news outlet that’s lobbed like a hand grenade. 

The average Chief of Staff at most metro TV stations gets about half a dozen calls a week – sometimes a day – from a customer seeking revenge for a bad deal.

What happens next is telling.  Having sat in the Chief of Staff desk at a few newsrooms over the years I can tell you that most of the complaints get ignored.  Occasionally, though, the combination of a bank that’s just reported a massive profit and a single mother with three kids who are about to be made homeless is just too much to resist.  

For me the critical question raised by incidents like this is: How did this situation arise in the first place? Addressing this question is why successful companies need to have their customer service folk and their PR and Marketing professionals working hand in glove.  I should also include the customer insight folk in there as well.

These customer pain points are rich sources of learning.  What happened here? Why was the customer so unhappy?  Did they understand what their contract with the company entitled them to receive and were they clear on how much that would cost?  The customer is NOT always right – but you can learn from even the most unreasonable customers.  And, no, you won’t always be able to give the customers what they want – but if you just feel the fear, and don’t learn anything from these incidents, you are missing out on a big opportunity to grow your business and understand what it takes to attract new customers and keep the ones you’ve got.