E-Denial

  |  August 21, 2008   |  Comments

What happens when organizations and people fail to keep pace with the times?

Is it just me, or do you too sense that some folks have missed the gargantuan shift in human communications and commerce over the last decade as a result the Internet? Do you have friends and colleagues who walk around each day in a self-induced, coma-like state? They appear totally oblivious to the real facts and changes in our marketplace? What about the legion of leaders who are hoping that retirement comes sooner than expected so they can live the rest of their days as dinosaurs?

Commuting to New York City frequently, I opt to take the Metro-North Railroad. Each day, it feels like millions of straphangers jam these trains, scurrying for seats for the daily hour-plus ride from the suburbs into Manhattan. This being New York, the trains are a living example of the premise that "if it can go wrong, it will." These trains don't always run on time. It's not unusual for a train to be stopped dead in its tracks for anywhere from a couple of minutes to an hour. Commuters are often left in the dark, without air conditioning, wondering, "What is going on?" Smartphones appear, wireless modems are turned on. Everyone's trying to understand what is happening.

When tempers peak, the lights return, the air flows, and we move on. The train operators realize that angry customers aren't a good thing. In their great wisdom -- and with a focus on customer service -- they leave commuters with a 5 in. x 7 in. piece of paper on the seats for our evening commute, entitled "An Explanation for the Morning's Train Delay." If passengers aren't careful -- and, really, who is after a long day? -- they'll sit on the sheet of paper without looking at the message.

Here we are, in the media capital of the world. The year is 2008, not 1878. And the mass transit organization hasn't figured out how to send breaking news alerts and apology notifications via e-mail? Can you imagine how many hours it took the department to format this printed notification, then put it on the seats in every car of every train leaving Grand Central Station during rush hour? It's absurd! Especially in light of the fact that all this work was done for one day's train delay.

Trains are delayed all the time. This practice gets replayed hundreds of times a year. What part of the e-mail and Internet movement has the transit authority missed? If it started looking at the technology that its customers use each day, it would figure out that the best way to communicate -- the essential way to communicate with customers -- is real-time e-mail.

This isn't that difficult; we all just need to stop tolerating businesses and processes that are in total denial of the obvious. There's no excuse for any organization at this juncture not to have looked at the way it communicates with customers and made the radical (or not so radical) moves needed to catch up with the rest of the planet.

Then there's the print-publishing world.

I just read that Gannett, the largest U.S. newspaper publisher, is laying off over 1,000 staffers. You read the headlines as much as I do. The message for the print world has been bleak for years. This is a group of circulators, publishers, and sales VPs who don't realize the old model is dead and has no chance of rising anytime soon. Newspaper after newspaper, magazine after magazine is being shut down due to poor advertising support and declining circulation. Yet we still have publishing leadership that doesn't understand that e-mail communications -- newsletters, electronic page-turner technology, breaking news alerts -- are the new definition of the publishing platform.

Many print publishing executives are so caught in the web they spun years ago when they discounted the value of the e-mail subscriber and Internet visitor. So many sales execs saw these impressions as candy that allowed them to sweeten the print advertising buys they were so desperately trying to sell. Caught, because today, as their subscribers shift ever so dramatically to online publishing platforms (DailyCandy, anyone?), they are in a desperate situation. They're attempting to augment declining print ad revenues with new value positioning of their online audience.

A colleague of mine recently met with a senior publishing executive who continues to labor under such a delusional belief. The executive believes that the circulation generated through e-mail publishing coupled with print circulation will validate the print-rate base. It's incredible that there are still high-priced executives who don't understand that the publishing paradigm has to totally be redone now.

The Internet -- and more important, the e-mail channel -- has always provided content providers with an even more powerful communications channel to subscribers and readers.

If you are a publishing or advertising executive operating and aren't leading a transformation in your medium, it's time to leave and do something else. I gave this wakeup message many years ago to a group of circulation executives at print publications and was nearly pushed off stage as being naïve and foolhardy.

Many of those circulation executives are now out of jobs.

All the ClickZ Experts spend a good deal of time providing valuable insight and direction about ways in which smart marketers and communicators can leverage the power of the digital channel. But like the sermon on Sunday, it's not the folks in the church who need to hear the message. It's the folks on the outside who have lost their compass. For my part, I'll continue to point out the good and bad, the missed opportunities, the failures. My hope is that someday those who get it will outnumber those who don't.

Problem is, I don't see that day coming anytime soon.

Until next time,

Al D.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Al DiGuido

Long recognized as one of the direct response industry's premier innovators and a pioneer in e-mail communications, Al DiGuido brings over 20 years of marketing, sales, management, and operations expertise to his role as CEO of full-service digital marketing company Zeta Interactive. Formerly Epsilon Interactive's CEO, DiGuido also served as CEO of Bigfoot Interactive, CEO of Expression Engines, EVP at Ziff Davis, and publisher of Computer Shopper, where he launched ComputerShopper.com, a groundbreaking direct-to-consumer e-commerce engine. Prior to Ziff Davis, he was VP/advertising director for Sports Inc. DiGuido also serves on the Direct Marketing Association's Ethics Policy Committee.

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