In the last 20 years – and especially in the last 10 – communication agencies have undergone radical transformations that have revolutionized not only the practices and form of the message but also the substance. This disruption of importance was brought about by the introduction of new media, which have spread in an unstoppable way, reaching even the general public that was once the privileged target of traditional media.
If we then refer to the logic and language of advertising, we immediately realize the depth of the change: Digitization – the technological and cultural fuel of the new media – has offered brands opportunities for connecting with their consumers that were once unthinkable.
What about communications agencies? Following the digital transformation and the maturation of ever-increasing consumer awareness, their role has also changed. The most far-sighted and responsive agencies have been able to read the context correctly and have understood how to exploit the trends in progress through courageous, concrete, and timely actions.
They have quickly learned to make the most of the modern tools available and have incorporated innovation into their core business, to then translate it into services that can meet the needs of today’s markets.
New media at the service of agencies: From traditional advertising to a new communications ecosystem
“New media” is a generic term used to refer to the different types of electronic communication that have undergone a dizzying development and diffusion as a result of the penetration of the internet into the society at large.
The “old media” traditionally include newspapers, magazines, books, television, and other non-interactive media. When we talk about new media, however, a horizon opens up whose end is hard to see, one that is populated by common and more mysterious objects:
Web sites, tools for distributing video and audio content, email, social platforms, communities, forums, blogs, internet telephony, web advertising, online training, and up to the virtual or augmented reality and conversational artificial intelligence (chatbots and virtual assistants).
What are the distinguishing characteristics of new media?
In the previous section, we limited ourselves to the basic definition of new media and the most common uses. Now, let’s go into more detail.
1. New media are in continuous evolution
New media (which essentially coincide with digital media) are now part of the collective imagination and the way we experience the world around us. They have become so pervasive that they can easily be taken for granted. For this reason, defining them as (still) “new” may seem to be a stretch. In order to grasp their importance, it is, therefore, necessary to focus on their intrinsic (and in some way permanent) nature, because the new media are therefore, first of all, in continuous evolution, they are constantly updated.
As new technology is developed and adopted by an ever-increasing number of users, what is considered “new” continues to transform. And so, within just a few years, the way we watch movies and listen to music, DVDs, and CDs have been supplanted by streaming services, such as the ever-popular Netflix and Spotify.
2. New media is digital
From newspaper articles to blog posts, from music to podcasts, new media are in a digital format and are enjoyed online (even hybrid online/offline scenarios, for example in the phygital experiences typical of retail or for services for the remote use of content, such as that made available on Drive). With the transition from analog to digital, another fundamental transformation has also taken place: the distribution of communication has expanded and become much more complicated. While traditional media are centralized and unidirectional (one-to-one or one-to-many communication), digital media are distributed and decentralized and allow the establishment of a two-way dialog between multiple players (many-to-many communication).
3. The new media are multimedia and interactive
In the new media, multimedia and interactivity are expressed in absolutely original forms – made possible by the processes of digitalization (as opposed to the analog transmission typical of traditional media) – and can be experienced through desktop and laptop computers, smartphones, tablets, and other devices.
We can define multimedia as the mode of presenting content enabled by computers, which uses actionable links and combines text, graphics, audio, and video, and provides tools that allow the user to navigate, interact, create, and communicate. Therefore:
- There must be a computer to coordinate audio and video content and to be able to interact
- There must be actionable links between information
- There must be navigation tools that allow the user to easily navigate the network of connected information
- There must be specific functionality for collecting, processing, and communicating the information and ideas of the individual user.
However, it is in the very structure of communication enabled by the new media and in the opportunities for instant and multidirectional distribution that we identify the fundamental difference compared to the recent past. The interactivity of the new media is not limited to providing the minimum conditions for simple consumption but opens up real spaces for conversation. The messages conveyed can be personalized according to the profiles of users, who now have the necessary resources to recompose them in their individual media, according to their preferences.
With the new media, touchpoints proliferate and the funnel becomes a “journey,” that of the consumer in the worlds that have been opened up by corporate storytelling. The moments of listening, conversion, feedback, and data collection multiply. By choosing the most appropriate new media for their clients’ different marketing objectives, agencies can then digitize the entire journey, from onboarding to loyalty.
4. New media are hypertextual
Hypertextuality is the existence of links that make it possible to pass from one piece of content to another. The links are the backbone of a map, even a conceptual one, which is accessible by operating a network of interactive nodes and is designed specifically to provide a more engaging experience. The presence of links and nodes is what distinguishes a library of content (static as it may become) from an object (multimedia)that is navigable through a series of paths and multiple choices. The quantity and quality of these links and nodes give structure and dimension to different digital media.
5. New media are social
The arrival of the smartphone – for all intents and purposes a new media that is now owned by the vast majority of Italians – represented yet another turning point in the short but very intense history of digital communication, for two reasons:
- From that moment, the pervasiveness of digital media grows exponentially and the target audience becomes, potentially, always reachable
- Social networks select the ideal device, handy and rich in features, which can now be fully exploited thanks to mobile telephony
The logic by which social networks operate – sharing, the instantaneousness of the exchange, the fluidity in the passage between platforms, the short and very short duration of formats, the extreme “portability” of audio and video clips, the ease of creation and manipulation of content, to name just a few – thrive in conditions of maximum mobility, that are enabled by new media and especially by tablets and, precisely, by smartphones.
For all these features, which make them the ideal vehicles of contemporary communication, new media, better than other formats, are able to support typically social dynamics within an ecosystem that becomes larger every day.
New Media, the ideal vehicles for personalization
Each of the characteristics that we have described so far are opposed to the type of communication prescribed by a pre-digital marketing model, which substantially excluded the possibility of intervention by the customer, who was limited to only certain response mechanisms.
To summarize, on the one hand, we have the old media, which is characterized by:
- The reliance on categorization into market segments, not supported by adequate data analysis. With digitization, the quantity and quality of data collected and processed increases exponentially, making it possible to rethink content in terms of data-telling. The power of storytelling based on more accurate customer profiling is evident if we compare traditional commercials and personalized videos
- The company’s self-referentiality in structuring communications
- The lack of a true dialog with the consumer
On the other hand, there are the new media that make it possible to:
- Have conversational and fluid communication
- Use theoretical frameworks and methodologies that are more flexible and anti-dogmatic, such as the customer journey, one that is circular and more predictive
- Use data not to reassure the brand by offering rigid individual profiles, but to be able to meet the buyer persona during complex, omnichannel, and participatory buying experiences
It’s not surprising, then, that the new media have represented such a powerful boost for those who have chosen to use them. Their characteristics make communication agencies extremely receptive to a trend that has been enlivening brands, products, services and entire markets for some time now: personalization.
The customer experience at the center of communication agency strategies
To be able to account for the enormous impact that the phenomenon of personalization has had on the strategies of communications agencies, let’s consider these factors:
- The disruptive effects of digital technologies that have introduced new media, initiated a process of convergence and set the conditions for the evolution of the marketing mix in terms of greater attention to individuals
- The transformation of the customer journey, the result of a shift in the way we think about the power dynamics between supply and demand (with a significant investment by the brand in the former)
- The transition from Interruption marketing to Permission marketing and from there to Inbound marketing, an inevitable transition in the face of consumers who are increasingly aware and equipped with digital skills
The main focus of communication agencies revolves around the consumer and his customer experience. In fact, communication agencies find themselves having to offer solutions that are perfectly consistent with the marketing plans of companies, which are increasingly using personalization. Exploiting the potential of new media is therefore the key to enabling companies to achieve their business objectives, to generate turnover by qualifying leads and by strengthening brand identity.
Communication agencies and the pandemic: The role of new media
Communication agencies are complex systems that have to operate in ever-competitive markets with consumers who are increasingly demanding and difficult to intercept: empowered buyers who can count on large amounts of information in the pre-purchase phase and are now able to maneuver with familiarity in an expanding jungle of touchpoints. Thanks to the new media, agencies have been able to give themselves a broader and more challenging mission, more linked to the management of corporate storytelling than to a single campaign. And the particular historical period we are going through confirms the importance of radicalizing the positive traits of this transformation.
The latest report from the Osservatorio internet media del Politecnico di Milano records a considerable drop in advertising sales in Italy by 2020–a more drastic shift than that which occurred after the crisis of 2008. Even more significant is that, for the first time, this drop will also affect the internet world.
The solution? Use new media from a relational perspective
The crisis of the last year and a half has taught agencies that their communications must pursue one objective above all others: to bring the consumer in the direction of medium to long-term involvement. How to do this? By working on a relational perspective, employing the tools available, especially the highest-performing tools such as new media and personalized videos, to reach individuals at different touchpoints with the right service and the right content.
An in-depth knowledge of the media ecosystem and how to access the touchpoints is therefore absolutely essential in order to be able to identify the specific usefulness of the individual medium at the time of greatest need.
The report also states that “data and information on users” are confirmed as key elements of any effective communication strategy. However, data must be managed in a conscious manner in order to transform them into knowledge useful for business decisions. Today, the ability to build increasingly segmented offers is the major differentiating factor.
This is why it becomes increasingly important to convey quality content that incorporates a highly personalized value, new media that is in line with the “content mix” expected by the individual, and designed based on his interests.