Image by Danndalf

Image by Danndalf

This post has been rattling around in my brain for many months now, never quite finding its true form. It was not until yesterday that I realized my frustration in finding the appropriate expression was not due to my own cerebral impotence, but because the question posed in the title is, in fact, one of the most difficult marketing questions of our time.

If we are more connected than ever before, why has it become more difficult than ever to make a connection?

Please note that I am making use of the varied definitions of “connected.” We are more connected, in that we are more “joined”, or “linked,” but a true connection (“association; relationship”) is harder than ever to establish and maintain.

Thinking about this in the abstract is, admittedly, daunting. Can any one of us really distill the truth and patterns behind the modes, methods, and meaning of modern human communication? I don’t think so. So I focused only on myself; I took my own life and broke it into its component communicational parts.

First there are Pipes. These are the ways that messages can travel (phone, email, etc.) Second, there are Devices, the platforms that form the end of a pipe. So, phone (or voice) is a Pipe because it is a method of information transfer that can be utilized on a cell phone, landline, or computer (Skype). These days, almost every Pipe is accessible on more than one Device.

First I looked at the Pipes that bring me my information:

  • Phone (“Voice” is maybe a more appropriate term)
  • SMS
  • IM
  • Email
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • RSS Reader
  • Internet Protocol (websites and such)

Then I looked at the platforms (or Devices) onto which those Pipes empty their information (three, in my case):

  • Computer
  • iPhone
  • iPad

The results actually surprised me a bit. I am a freakishly connected person. A person wanting to contact me, send me a message, or expose me to content has nine ways to do so in near-real-time and at any given point in the day (24/7/365) I have at least one device on or near me that can receive most (if not all) of the information from those pipes.

My average day is filled with phone calls, text messages, emails, tweets, messages on social networks, and information I consume via my RSS reader. In the 18th century a message could be delivered from Paris to Antwerp (188 miles) in roughly three days. By my count, I receive roughly 900 individual messages per day (in the various forms listed above) from all over the world. The sheer magnitude of modern connectivity and communication is barely comparable to times past.

Now, I didn’t live in the 18th century, but I would venture a guess that were I to live in Antwerp and receive a letter from you (sent from Paris), I would almost certainly read it and give it my full attention. Today, however, you are lucky if your message to me gets seen, much less digested, much less appreciated.

Despite all of our fantastic methods of communication and connectivity, I am less likely to consume any individual piece of information/content than my 18th century counterpart. More to the point, it is because of our myriad methods of communication that I simply cannot consume everything. It is a paradox of our own devising. The very tools we build to facilitate human connection, in fact, make true connection all the more rare (and, I’d assert, more meaningful).

4145579503_e77de29e45I cannot help but think of the Ouroboros, the ancient symbol of the snake eating its own tail. The snake’s head in this case is the ceaseless progress of technology that has given us all of these communication platforms. But the snake doesn’t move forward. Progress is paid for by sacrificing part of ourselves. Eventually will the loop not close completely? Will we not be so connected that we can’t connect at all? If this is the case, then I question my own use of the word “progress” in an earlier sentence.

What does this have to do with marketing (social media or otherwise)? Excellent question.

I have a theory: our race for greater and greater connection with consumers is actually having the opposite effect. Consumers are saturated. I am saturated. You are saturated. We are plugged in, connected with and without wires to the fastest, vastest, and most complete collection of information in human history. To simply maintain our sanity, we have no choice but to block out a large part of the signal. Our brains have not evolved to effectively handle the number of emails that a high-level executive receives in a given day.

The modern marketer’s solution to reaching their consumer is to employ every possible way to connect. If one Pipe is good than ten is better, right? Wrong. If you cannot make a meaningful connection with me on one medium, then trying the same failed tactic on ten media will serve only to trip my signal vs. noise filter. Henceforth, I will subconsciously file your messages/content as noise.

To give a concrete example: I was contacted earlier this year by a potential partner on LinkedIn. They did not have what I needed; they were not able to make a meaningful connection with me. Having failed on LinkedIn, they proceeded to try on other channels. Twitter was next, followed soon by phone calls and emails. Their message was the same, their value proposition unchanged. But now, instead of interacting with me in one Pipe, they were bothering me in all Pipes. They were causing a plumbing problem. So what happened? They got filtered out. Their signal no longer has any chance of reaching me. Much as Cypher in The Matrix “doesn’t even see the code anymore,” these messages pass by me without even being registered by my conscious mind.

It comes down to this—as a marketer, you must deal with two very important things:

  • Connecting with your consumers
  • Making a connection with your consumers

If you’ve gotten this far in the article and you think those are the same thing, then you might as well stop reading.

Making a connection has a business impact, but it is not achieved by connecting in as many ways as possible. In fact, connecting in as many ways as you can will likely preclude meaningful connection.

You must first know your consumer. Where does that consumer spend their time? From which Pipe are they most likely to receive your message/content? Once you have identified the Pipe to use, approach with your message and value proposition. If that works, then you continue to use that method of connection to deepen the relationship, always letting the consumer choose if he/she wants to expand to another Pipe. At that point, you have made a connection, perhaps one of the most rare and valuable of human interactions in our hyper-connected world. If the consumer doesn’t engage with you on the first Pipe, do not spam all their other Pipes with the same approach. You will only harm your cause.

Just because you can connect with me multiple ways doesn’t mean you should. Respect the saturated state in which we all exist and do your part to remove the snake’s tail from its mouth. Make the question posed in the title of this post a non-issue for you and your consumers and you will find yourself poised to capitalize on greater customer engagement and loyalty than has ever been seen before.

Written by Matt Peters
Matt is the Co-Founder and CEO of Pandemic Labs, and enjoys thinking about, writing about, and talking about social media marketing whenever someone will let him.