Communication Architecture

This whole communication thing has gotten really complicated. I’m speaking now about the profession of communications, which I’ve worked in for nearly two decades now. We all know about the proliferation of media, and we know that communication shops (i.e. agencies and consultancies of all shapes and sizes) face challenges left and right. Now we have the web, mobile, and tablets (Kindle & iPad). But communication has not really changed.

I’ve been working on a simple model to help a brand, an individual or an organization think at a high level about their communication architecture (overly fancy word, I’m open to alternatives). This will be the first of several posts laying out this idea, and it’s my intention to offer up a thesis that will get some feedback – this should be a dialog not a story.

1. Communication is about talking and listening. Period. It always has been and always will be. You can have one person talking to another one in conversation, or you can have an event full of people all mingling and talking to one another. Yes, this is a bit obvious, but it’s important to realize that the many-to-many (n:n) communications that are all the rage online right now – aka. social media – are as old as the marketplace.

2. We communication to inform, to persuade or to entertain. Yes, this is from freshman communications class. But again, it’s important to remember in these days of adjective marketing: primal branding, entertainment marketing, branded information and energizing the groundswell. All of these are just basic communication objectives. What we often forget is that the people listening have an objective as well.

3. Listening Objectives are important (and they always have been). We can call it the important of context or of engagement; we can say that the brand belongs to the consumer; we can talk about review sites and bloggers; but however you are going to label it, what it gets down to are Listener Objectives. The classic “what’s in it for me” question that public speakers are always taught to ask, but brands never think to consider.

There are four quadrants for any brand to consider:

1:1 — Dialog. This is what it sounds like. Good old fashioned conversation. It can be someone wanting persuade someone to buy a product or a CEO doing and interview with a trade journal, but whether it is PR, sales or word-of-mouth marketing there are principles to good dialog. We’ll look at some of the best thinkers and ideas.

1:n — Story. I’ve gone back-and-forth on this one wanting to call it monologue or some other permutation, but I decided that it really is storytelling. There are some wonderful books and ideas about story. Unfortunately, it has become the whipping boy in the advertising community with the demise of the 30-second spot. Everyone wants to talk about social media, but story isn’t going anywhere – it just migrated to another screen.

n:1 — Feedback. Another word choice that I wrestled with, but I think it’s the right word (again, always open to better ones). People have been giving feedback since we started having leaders (and shoddy products). Today technology allows this feedback to be harvested, analyzed and reconciled in a more efficient and effective manner – not that we get any better service. We’ll see that technology is up-ending decades old practices in all four quadrants, but none more significantly than the next.

n:n — Social. Let me start by saying that this is not social media (i.e. social networking sites) as is en vogue right now. This is any collective group talking amongst themselves without the “1″ present. See people have been talking about our products and services (and us for that matter) without us present since we could talk and had Social Objects to talk about. What is new is that we now have the ability (as the “1″) to listen in on these conversations without speaking. This ability to comprehensively listen is remarkable, powerful and useful to anyone wanting to inform, persuade or entertain someone (other than themself).