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Marketing Blur: (Information Overload)^10

Your market is overwhelmed with information. What can you do about it?

By now, you've all heard about the new rules of marketing, right? The shift in one-way communication (from vendor to consumer) to multi-dimensional, instantaneous communication, has had a monumental impact on the world of marketing and product management, and the game has permanently changed. More than ever, we need permission and authority to communicate, and a tribe to communicate with.

But how? Every company on the planet now has a blog, a Twitter feed, a Facebook page, and many of them think they need their own iPad/iPhone/Android apps as well.

While these tools are useful to the company, unfortunately they suffer from and intensify the problem of information overload. These same tools that gave us new ways to communicate with users have led to greater fragmentation of information, and that fragmentation has made it even more difficult to develop a significant following or tribe. The stakes are raised.

Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel call this "Blur", and in their new book by the same title, they present a new model to help us all cope. Their target audience is both journalists and information consumers, but I find their advise useful and timely for marketers and students of the market.

More than ever, we need permission and authority to communicate, and a tribe to communicate with.

The premise

Major news sources no longer determine the things your market is reading about; it's all self-service, and the journalistic integrity (if such a thing once existed) has taken a nosedive. Information consumers must now judge the quality of what they are reading. The "information gap" used to be about access to information, but now it is about skill in discerning good information. The self-service information consumer is forced to aggressively sift information, a task that was once done by journalists. As we take on that role, Kovach and Rosenstiel suggest that each of us, as an information consumer, needs to learn the skills of yesterday's journalist: classifying content, determining comprehensiveness, considering the source, appraising the evidence, assessing the explanation, and gauging the relevance.

All of which sounds incredibly tiring to me.

I don't believe that my customers or yours are, on the whole, going to become excellent journalists in this sense. However they have developed what these authors call a "skeptical way of knowing", and I think that by default they assume that everything coming their way can be ignored. They are on high information alert, triaging information, and ignoring as much as possible. It's just a basic survival instinct in an age of information overload.

Blur for marketers

Kovach and Rosenstiel provide some models for journalists that I believe can be used by companies to communicate authentically with the market. I say authentically because I believe that you really do need to be balanced about your approach, and if you are seen as promoting an agenda, you will lose your audience. In that sense, "Blur" rewards the truthful and punishes the self-promoter.

These authors propose 8 roles for journalists, which you should consider adopting in your communications. These include Authenticator, Sense-maker, Investigator, Witness-bearer, Empowerer, Smart Aggregator, Forum organizer, and Role model.

We used to promote and persuade to convince journalists playing these roles. In this new world of Blur, the game has changed.

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