Why small businesses need to focus on the digital message, not the device
Tuesday, May 23, 2017/
We all do it. We all need some time and learning to be able to translate something truly revolutionary into something we can easily comprehend.
Take the first time I saw the World Wide Web in action, way back in 1993.
A friend’s brother worked at Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in the computer science department. There he’d seen something called a ‘world wide web’ that was changing the way students and academics fundamentally communicated.
Given my media and communications background, he thought it might be something that could be an adjunct to my video and graphics business.
Little did either of us realise just how on the money he was.
Oops, wrong perception
But even after our 60-minute demo, I still couldn’t grasp what I was witnessing. In fact, given the primitive website I saw was about the Hubble telescope, I came away thinking it was something to do with astronomy.
Which of course it was — along with every other topic under the sun.
It wasn’t until I saw a few more websites and few different topics that I started to piece together how useful this brave new medium could actually be.
Even today, many smaller business operators are as wide eyed and befuddled as I was that afternoon.
The fundamental issue is despite the web being around well over 20 years now, relatively few still grasp what it is and what it can do for them.
Worst of all, many are still failing to grasp the notion of computers being communications channels, in addition to being productivity tools.
Tool vis channel
They see the computer as something that allows you to complete a business task, like word processing or book-keeping or creating presentations. This means that they still perceive it as a technical medium — which at this level it is.
“I need a tool and I need technical help to be able to implement and embrace it”.
This perception is why many of us ‘digital professionals’ are perceived as nerds, geeks and boffins — not that there’s anything wrong with that.
And some of us are. But when it comes to digital communications, most of us are to the computer what a film-maker is to your television set — someone who creates content for distribution via your technical device, utilising technology.
The program, not the box
What’s happening is that many smaller business operators are focused on the device instead of the communications channel, in much the same way as might see the television set and not the program screening on it.
This myopia, if you like, means that they see the internet as infrastructure and not as a communications channel rivalling, and now surpassing, the traditional media of television, radio and press.
It’s also the reason why even many larger organisations until recently employed technical people to run digital divisions instead of the creative, communications and development professionals that should be running them.
I recall several large organisations that just couldn’t get their digital communications departments firing due to this misconception.
The result was services or websites that were technically sound, but creatively and conceptually amateurish.
It wasn’t until they started focusing on what was being communicated (the message), rather than how it was being communicated (the infrastructure), that they finally started getting the results they sought.
Technically not technical
Similarly, despite my now working in the digital space since 1995, I still get mistaken for a ‘techie’ when I’m really a marketer and producer.
While I understand what the medium does, I’m more about the use of the medium rather than its setup and maintenance — again in much the same way that the film-maker assumes that cameras, light and editing suites (in the creation process), and film projectors, television sets and now computer screens (in the distribution process), are fully operational to allow them to convey their message or story.
Once smaller operators understand this, they stand a much better chance of making it work for them, instead of providing a technically proficient but otherwise unsuccessful medium for their message.