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Communications and Commerce over the Last 130 Years

September 20, 2010

My grandfather, Walter, was born in 1879; that’s 131 years ago. Now as the third generation, I’m still kicking as a business leader and innovator. Now just sit back and think about the changes in business since those days, with a communications focus.  When Walter was a 20 year old with two kids, he visited the country store in Oriental, NC once a week to buy supplies. He chatted with the owner, Dick Walker, catching up on fishing stories, the weather, and families. He also gave direct and instant feedback about what was good and not so good about the products he had taken home the last week. No need to mince words, they new each other well and he had only one place to shop, so he wanted to give the store owner feedback to improve. It was ONE-ON-ONE communications and very effective. By the time I came along in 1949, things had started to change. Now the new world of “corporations” was firmly entrenched. With mass production, the 4-Ps of marketing, and television, communications were changing fast.  From the good old one-on-one world, we now had “Corporate Communications” driven by large companies, mega-advertising firms, and TV Networks ruling the media messaging.  It was all one-way; no feedback was allowed or wanted! The result was companies throwing their message over the wall and demanding that consumers hear their branding. It worked because there were few choices and the standard of living was increasing at an unbelievable pace. My grandfather could drive to any of three neighboring cities, shop at Sears or Montgomery Wards, and buy great products at a fair price. To be honest, he wasn’t that concerned that no one wanted to talk to him; life was good. Somewhere along the way, trust in these major corporations started to wane. Corporations stopped trusting their employees and started treating them as a cost, interchangeable little gears in their big machine. Consumers were small minds to be melded by creative branding messages and mass media advertising. Today, trust is returning slowly to those few corporations who are behaving with “transparency and honesty”, almost always aided by new technology of social media. In fact, the 2010 Edelman Trust Barometer reports that the Number 1 and Number 2 factors important in corporate reputation are “Transparent and Honest Practices” and “Company I Can Trust”. Number 3 is the expected “High Quality Products and Services” and last of the ten factors is “Financial Returns”. With this background, is it any real surprise to see what’s happening as the technology breakthroughs of social media, internet video, and mobile apps have actually freed us to start acting like humans again? It’s so easy to talk to one another and collaborate together on projects from planning a party to a complex new product development. We now have a massive platform of participation.  This Hyper-Social shift is just a natural evolution of our behavior as humans. We’ve always acted this way, just limited by communications speed and geography. The new technology lets us behave naturally at a scale never before dreamed of. It’s here and it’s NOW. We are back to ONE-ON-ONE communications, just like my grandfather Walter talked to the store owner Dick Walker. Too bad my grandfather isn’t here because he would love to give the Evenrude Outboard Motor Company a piece of his mind about why those things stranded him all the time. He’d be giving them hell on his blog! He’d be twittering the latest fishing reports and sailing weather to his friends across the Pamlico Sound. And for sure, he’d be keeping up with family across the world on Facebook. This is the introduction to a new eBook I’m writing. The key to the rest of the book is to show how this shift back to one-on-one communications translates from stories about my grandfather to hard hitting business implications for you and your company. You can bet they are going to be massive. You can take it to the bank that the companies that recognize these “changes in the trends” and embrace open, broad communications at the speed of light are going to excel. Those companies who transform their Strategy-Marketing-Sales processes around the centerpiece of Hyper-Social communications are going to be this decade’s winners.

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