The Meanings of Convergence

When people talk about convergence they often have their own understanding of what that means, while often failing to describe what it is, so I decided to take a stab at trying to define it across various audiences and contexts, this month.

When IT-based organizations talk about convergence what they are often referring to is a merging of cloud, mobility, big data, and social collaboration technologies. Much as a conductor handles his or her orchestra, making sure all the parts play well together, creating music instead of noise (though music to one person may be noise to another, and vice versa), every IT organization should have a “chief convergence officer” (and perhaps a convergence group) just to make sure the various technologies play well together in the contexts they are used.

From the consumer standpoint convergence often appears as overlapping functionalities creating efficiencies that didn’t exist before. When Google Chromecast was first announced two years ago, there was speculation that it allow users to view all their various medias on one device, through the cloud.

Consumers have been able to purchase smarter devices that are more interactive and rich (media) based including the merging of social media and TV content. The more intelligence that is embedded into devices, the more useful they become not just for consumers, but also for marketers – for example, new smart shelves have been developed with sensors built in that decode impulse buying for marketers and brands. And consumers have also embracing wearable devices, which is changing media consumption habits, particularly around fashion. Not only that, but consumers are using multiple devices to view the same content, jumping back and forth, so to speak.

From an Internet marketing standpoint, convergence could be redefining marketing activities such as SEO and content marketing, and in a converged world, they could both become one thing. Another aspect of convergence for marketers is tracking audience consumption habits and shifting more marketing spend to the digital channel – which is continuing to evolve and become more complex and crowded. Paradoxically, the money for digital marketing is well spent as more and more of the world’s population is online and convergence has actually delivered a more “fragmented” experience of reaching customers than we have ever seen, before.

And, for the last few years marketers have accepted that paid, owned, and earned media needs to be used strategically, and together, in order to create effective results – and we are seeing convergence happening in this area, more and more.

I think brands are defining convergence differently as than everyone else. Take Netflix, which isn’t just serving up movies, but also creating series such as House of Cards to compete with the likes of HBO and network TV. Even ISP’s like AT&T have converged what they do to go beyond delivering other people’s content and also including some of their own, in-house content for consumers to watch. Certainly Google is a case in point. In the past they were simply the search engine connecting searchers to content, but now they want to also be the content and serve more and more of their own.

These various definitions of convergence are just the tip of the iceberg, and that might the reason the term “convergence” isn’t as popular as it perhaps should be. Incidentally, from the convergence analytics perspective, the term appears to be more narrowly focused on the development of functional, unified metrics that are connected with intersecting or overlapping channels, along the lines of a “channel convergence,” with customer analytics thrown in the mix.

Yet with convergence there is more chance for a single point of failure – remember when cable companies started providing digital phone services converged with cable TV and Internet? It sounded like a great deal till the ISP has a service issue, leaving the customer with no phone, Internet, or cable service temporarily.

Still, it’s hard to have a meaningful conversation about convergence unless we define the term “convergence” in a particular context, which is what I focused on for this column today.

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