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Towards a New Media Paradigm

2010 November 7

Many believe that a paradigm shift has taken place and we now inhabit a new digital media universe.  They are mistaken and not just about media, but about paradigms as well.

Today, digital accounts for roughly 15% of global media expenditure.  A little bit of grade school arithmetic will reveal that leaves 85% of budgets still dedicated to traditional media.  Moreover, even if present trends continue, digital won’t reach the level of TV for at least a decade or two.

However, the real failure of digital media is how little it has affected how we use traditional media.  For a true paradigm shift to take place, that’s what really has to change.

A Re-Evaluation of Traditional Media

Any discussion of paradigm shifts needs to start with Thomas Kuhn, who coined the phrase and, to a large extent, developed the concept.  In his interpretation, new paradigms not only supersede, but also include, earlier ones.

He writes:

A discovery like that of oxygen or x-rays does not simply add one more item to the population of the scientist’s world.  Ultimately, it has that effect, but not until the professional community has re-evaluated experimental procedures, altered its conception of entities with which it has long been familiar, and, in the process, shifted the network of theory through which it deals with the world.

Nobel prizewinning physicist Leon Lederman gives us a salient example in his book The God Particle. Newton’s ideas reigned for centuries until Einstein came along and then his view of the universe was usurped by quantum mechanics.  However, we can derive Einstein’s equations from Dirac’s and Newton’s from Einsteins.

The point is that new paradigms only become useful when they become developed enough to include old ones.  Today, we can drive on bridges (thanks to Newton), use GPS (thanks to Einstein) and listen to i-Pods (thanks to quantum mechanics).  Surely, we don’t want our love of Apple’s ingenuity to collapse the Golden Gate?

In a similar vein, any new media paradigm is useless unless and until it includes the majority of media activity.  We’re not there yet, not even close.

The Internet and The Web

One of the most important distinctions to make going forward is the difference between the Internet and the Web.  Put simply, the Internet is a patchwork of infrastructure and protocols that moves data around the world.  The Web, on the other hand, not only creates a universal medium to share content, it connects everything all through hyperlinks.

Each poses it’s own set set of issues and challenges.  For instance, the proliferation of the Internet has created security concerns.  The Web, however, derives its power from sharing links to valuable information.  Clearly, both objectives must be pursued simultaneously.

Lately, some serious people have been arguing that the Web is dying out in favor of specialized applications.  However, it should be clear that the Web will continue to drive the Internet and both will proliferate in parallel.  Any true new media paradigm needs to be deliver content without regard to device or proprietary standards.

We’ve talked about convergence for some time and we seem to be inching closer and closer technologically. However, in terms of skill sets, the media and marketing world is still incredibly gentrified and we are far from a common view about how cross media initiatives should be managed, measured and made profitable.

Social Networks and Social Media

Another point of confusion concerns social media and social networks.  While much of the talk is focused solely on social media, it’s social networks that promises to create a truly new paradigm.  It applies not just to the digital world, but to all facets of human experience.

In their book Connected, renowned scientists Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler describe how social networks apply to a vast range of human behavior, from obesity to politics to economics.  While we like to consider ourselves as individuals, much of what we think and do is greatly affected by our social networks (and not just our direct contacts, but up to 3 degrees of separation).

In media and marketing, we have yet to even scratch the surface of how the structure of connections affect the way we communicate and influence each other.  I touched on some possibilities in this post about social network analysis and Duncan Watts’ ideas about Big Seed Marketing are interesting, but the really exciting stuff is still to come.

Tasks and Metrics

Probably the most important way digital technology is changing marketing has very little to do with media, but with metrics.  As our ability to measure performance indicators and how they affect one another improves, we’ll be able to deploy resources much more efficiently.

This is a major change.  For decades we were mainly concerned with awareness and market share even though the two aren’t very strongly correlated.  Nevertheless, most marketing activities were undertaken as if they were.  That’s been a huge oversight.

A purchase is not merely an event, but a process.  Awareness is only valuable if it converts into sales.  In the same vein, if market share doesn’t lead to consumer advocacy, performance is sure to suffer.  Resources can’t be deployed equally everywhere, so metrics, especially ROI metrics, need to be focused on marketing tasks rather than to any specific marketing action.

Again, while new technology enables this, it should apply equally to all communication, from social media to TV to events to POS.  Unfortunately, most of the effort has focused on new media without regard to where the bulk of marketing budgets still go and therefore there has been much sound and fury about metrics, signifying very little.

Error and Confusion

Just as we use quantum mechanics to create devices that enhance the Newtonian world of everyday experience, digital media still interacts with humans who are very much like those that roamed the earth a decade ago.

What’s amazing is that, for all the talk about the coming dominance of digital media, there has been so little effect on how we consume and market with traditional media.  Part of this is due to the hubris of many of those involved in digital media, who know so little about other areas and don’t seem to care and part is because so much confusion still reigns.

In either case, an increasingly digitized media landscape is opening the door to insights about how we can market holistically.  Therefore, the challenge for new media is not only to innovate forward, but also to integrate back.  A truly new paradigm would need to apply to atoms as well as bits.

There are no clear answers yet, but it’s time we started asking the right questions.  As Francis Bacon once said: “Truth emerges more readily from error than confusion”

– Greg

11 Responses leave one →
  1. November 7, 2010

    Well said Greg! I mostly like your statement that the challenge is not only to innovate forward, but also to integrate back.

    Whilst Social Media is being discussed – in probably almost every (business) discipline out there – in terms of improved listening, collaboration, engagement or service, the true paradigm shift is in the application (and integration as you rightfully state) of the understanding of social networks and how these influence, support and empower the process of value co-creation.

    Therefore I also don’t believe that digital (or social) media spend, in relation to total media spend, is a trustworthy measure of a shifting paradigm, not even in marketing communications.. What is? I don’t know. Maybe you have another suggestion (or compelling arguments why it is 😉

    In the meantime, if your interested and have not already, may I recommend to read the 2010 Shift Index report (Deloitte Center for the Edge), for it helps me with understanding the forces that drive long term change and how they are connected. Unfortunately it also doesn’t provide the answers for me, but I think it helps me to ask better questions..

    Thx for another great post!

    Wim Rampen
    @wimrampen on Twitter

  2. November 7, 2010


    I always enjoy what you are thinking and expressing, and as I continue on my learning curve, I understand more and more of what you say.

    In the second sentence of your oh so correct comments on social networks and social media, contracting ‘it is’ into ‘it’s’ is an enlightened use of the language, in my view.

    Also in my view, it’s the social network messengers, speaking a rainbow of messages through social media, that gives us both conjecture and true peeks of what’s to come.

    As it all relates today, ‘humans that roamed the earth a decade ago’ are very much like humans that roamed the earth a million years ago today. Thanks for your sharing and insight.

    Dan McDevitt, Marketserve Studio

  3. November 8, 2010

    Hello Greg,

    Here is yet another of your wonderfully thought-provoking entries. Thank you. May it open many eyes and minds.

    Best regards,


  4. November 8, 2010


    Thanks. Another reader alerted me to the work of Henry Mintzberg and the increasing importance of emergent strategy and the relative decreasing importance of planned strategy, which I think is along the same lines of what you’re talking about.

    It occurred to me that we might be going into a period similar to when the Japanese introduced TQM and changed manufacturing. As information transfer becomes more efficient, it makes sense that how we use it needs to change. While strategy has historically been exclusively a top level function, senior management often doesn’t have the best information anymore. This would also explain the increased emphasis on leadership and, from a military perspective, commander’s intent.

    As for expenditures, I still think it’s accurate, although maybe not as relevant as it once was. Nevertheless, media expenditures still make up the lion’s share of marketing budgets so, while your point is well taken, it’s simply the best surrogate for strategic intent. Moreover, traditional media budgets continue to increase at levels in line with historical norms. With that said, there is clearly more going on these days than simply traditional media.

    Thanks for the tip about the Shift Index Report. I’m looking forward to reading it.

    – Greg

  5. November 8, 2010

    Wonderful sentiments. Thanks Ardith!

    – Greg

  6. Tyrone Tellis permalink
    December 1, 2010

    Hi Greg,

    While I’m not an expert in knowledge or digital or even media. I do have a few points I’d like to raise.

    You say that a new paradigm must include an old one too? You also say the digital developments we are going thru aren’t affecting the way we consumer traditional media?

    I’m sorry but using ad spend to show whether there’s been a shift is an inherently flawed idea!

    If the ad spend was allocated by the consumers and they ‘chose ‘ to put 85% in mass as opposed to digital/new I would have to agree. However the ad spend is allocated by companies who are entrenched in mass media because its all they know.

    In one presentation he showed when he came to Pakistan, Chris Schaumann ex MS now with Nokia had an interesting graph that showed the peoples usage of media and another that showed the ad spend allocation.

    Needless to say the two were quite different. We all know about resisitance to new media on the bases of lack of exposure, risk averseness, age and mentality, overconfidence etc on the part of agency/brand teams worldwide.

    So I hope I’m clear when I say if only 15% of ad spend is shifted out of traditional to new that’s a misleading figure.

    Another thing the relationship between offline and online advertising is as shrouded in mystery as the social networks you talked about.

    I agree we need more research into consumer behavior and other fields that impact marketing in general.

    Coming to the traditional media in Pakistan (a place with not a very high digital penetration) we have seen how the mass media TV esp are using new media as avenues of interaction as well as avenues for content generation etc.

    Being a watcher of BBC and CNN I’ve seen the level to how digital has changed the way these two traditional media giants operate. They respond to feedback from new media, they have segments catering to new media, they even turn to new media ‘experts’ such as bloggers etc during world changing events like the attacks on Mumbai, earthquake in Haiti, the floods here.

    Thru new media the local Pakistani channels as well as the worldwide communication networks are encouraging citizen journalism/reporting as they realise their teams can’t be everywhere and audiences like to see news from a subjetive viewpoint as well.

    I agree there are ‘hawks’ on both sides who sees the other as enemies or of no consequence but each camp also has its own roster of sympathisers lurking among the combatants and even a few peace activists trying to end the warfare!

  7. December 1, 2010

    Thanks for your input Tyrone.

    Just one question. Do you know any media companies that pay their bills with “people’s usage of media?” Because every company I know of pays their bills in legal tender.

    – Greg

  8. Tyrone Tellis permalink
    December 6, 2010

    Hi Greg,

    Thanks for replying.

    My point was that there’s a disparity between how ad/brand teams think people use media and how they actually do.

    I know that media companies pay in legal tender but if they’re going to keep making that they need to match peoples’ habits and practices better.

    I say that new media has changed old media and also changed the way we view stimuli and interpret information.

    By the way I’ve come across links to your articles on quite a few Linkedin group discussions.

    Here’s a question a friend who works at Unilever (London) had asked me:
    What are your views?
    ‘I will throw a question your way. Imagine you are in 2020 or some such year. All media is digital. By virtue of being digital, it is on demand. By virture of being on demand, there is no specific “given time” at which people would consume that media/channel. They do so according to their convenience, and needs, In essence, consumers are the one who are writing their own “TV listings”, hence your media schedule. How would you draw channel boundaries here, and to what purpose?’

    Take care,

    Tyrone Tellis

  9. December 6, 2010


    I understood your point. It was first made by Mary Meeker in the 90’s. I just never thought it held weight.

    Time spent with media has never been an indication of value. In fact, the opposite is often true. For instance, Talk Radio attracts huge time spent listening, but is not necessarily the most profitable. The issue is the same with social media, which commands extremely low ad rates. rates are determined by supply and demand and there is no simple formula.

    As for your friend from Unilever’s point, Time shifting is indeed something that’s here to stay. I’m very doubtful that all media will be digital by 2020, but the point still stands, the media landscape is changing more rapidly than ever before.

    However, more than anything else up to this point, the old stuff still works better than anything else and that is a significant consideration that shouldn’t be ignored.

    – Greg

  10. Tyrone Tellis permalink
    December 6, 2010


    Isn’t that the argument mass media and traditional ad agencies put up? Tv is better because people spend longer time with it?

    Some people talk about critical mass and you yourself mentioned how digital is only 15% and will take a while to reach the level of TV.

    My question is is the only judge of how pervasive a media is, is when it becomes the number one recipient of ad spend?
    In that case radio is of no consequence then or OOH?

    One aspect of the new media advent is the overlapping of media – radio being listened to on mobiles, IPTV etc.

    Do you think convergence is a reality or an imaginary state a sort of utopia?

    ‘However, more than anything else up to this point, the old stuff still works better than anything else and that is a significant consideration that shouldn’t be ignored.’
    I think that all depends accoring to what you consider works better- what’s your measure of success/failure.


  11. December 6, 2010


    I can only speak for myself, but I’ve never heard that argument given for buying TV. Fast coverage build, awareness uplift and sales effect, for sure, but never time spent as a reason for buying it (if you buy a 30 second spot, those are the only 30 seconds that matter).

    I wouldn’t say money spent is the only important factor, but it is probably the most important factor (it certainly is for those who spend it). And yes, radio and outdoor tend to be far less important.

    I do think convergence is real, but again, I don’t see how it will make a tremendous difference in planning (although it will, of course, in implementation). You can still have dayparts for ads even if they are not relevant for programming.

    As for your last point, I would say whatever achieves marketing objectives most efficiently is what works. For better or for worse, right now that’s TV.

    – Greg

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