In 1964, Marshal McLuhan made the famous statement: “The medium is the message”. More recently, Stowe Boyd stated, “Meaning is the new search.” I would like to add something to this trajectory of thought: Meaning is media.
We are all now capable of being content producers. As a result, the traditional distinction between media silos – television, newspaper, and magazines – is increasingly meaningless in terms of defining where you find and how you capture consumer attention.
The consumer no longer thinks in terms of media, but in terms of meaning. Brands, advertisers and individuals need to consider their content and contribution in terms of the meaning it adds if they want to command consumer attention.
The core issue is that traditional media silos no longer control content generation, and today, consumers are looking for meaning in content in many new and different places. As such, meaning must replace media as the lens through which we view the consumer landscape.
For example, if teenagers now finds badly produced, online video footage of the celebrity getting their make-up done for a photo shoot as meaningful to them as the final magazine cover itself, our strategy, planning and media tools must be structured in a way to reflect this, rather than dismiss that video footage as secondary to produced and polished traditional media.
What’s more, younger consumers are being trained to want the best, now, and spend less time on it when they get it. So if marketers truly want to be effective they must also look to how consumers behave with meaning once they find it.
As I spend more time engaged with social media on behalf of clients and my own brand, it’s impossible to escape the rising importance of meaning as a compass for all engagement.
For a long time, the internet was viewed as an asset because it gave us access to more and more information. For many people now it’s a borderline burden as there is simply too much information to absorb. As a result, people are no longer defining themselves by what information they access, but by what information, and in what way, they can avoid it. Meaning is that filter, and as such, any measure or map of consumer attention should be structured around it.
Meaning is now a currency as persuasive as media was when McLuhan made his powerful statement. This shift from the medium dictating the message, to a search for meaning in the message, to the meaning of that message defining is distribution has enormous consequences for brands and marketers.
Meaning has become the portal through which all communications are accepted, framed or filtered out. What commands attention is not where you look, but what you stand for, your integrity and the meaning you add to a conversation, experience or body of knowledge.
The days of advertising based on scarcity, interruption and traditional media silos are over and the era of measurement by meaning has begun.
Do you agree?
Reading Time: 1 minutesSimon Mainwaring is the founder of We First, a leading brand consultancy that provides purpose-driven strategy, content, and training that empowers companies to lead business, shape culture, and better our world.