Evolution Shift
A Future Look at Today
September 18th, 2006

High Touch Media

[Last week I wrote a commentary piece for Media Daily News, a well respected on-line newsletter for media and advertising professionals, and a publication of MediaPost Communications.  As a futurist, with extensive experience in the fields of media and entertainment, I think that there is a new era we have entered in the world of media and marketing.  I have taken the liberty of providing last week’s column to you in order to share these thoughts with you.  Apologies to those subscribers who may have already read this last week.]

Three months ago, I had an “aha” experience that led me to the realization that we are in the High-Touch Media era.
I was on a Newark-bound plane out of Chicago that had a scheduled departure time of 4:30 p.m. Due to “weather” and “flow control,” the departure time came and went. We rolled out onto the tarmac and waited in a long line of planes. 5:30 came and went, then 6:30. So here we all were on a completely full airplane at dinnertime, with no food on board and people getting surly. All of a sudden the flight attendant came on the intercom to announce that due to the generosity of two passengers, everyone would be getting a free Dove candy bar. Evidently two employees of the Dove company were going to a candy convention with their new product line, so they had a duffle bag of candy bars.

Needless to say, the mood on the plane elevated dramatically as empty stomachs were filled and everyone was on a mild chocolate sugar high. The entire plane was talking about Dove candy bars, and there was a line of passengers thanking the two Dove employees. [For a fuller account of this experience, please click on my futurist blog post: http://www.evolutionshift.com/blog/category/high-touch/ ] This was a high-touch experience for the entire plane. For me it was the beginning of a new way to look at advertising.

In this post-digital media landscape, where what used to work no longer feels adequate and what we think might work is yet to be tested, we have moved into a completely new time: the time of High-Touch Media.

First, let’s break the phrase down to its component parts, according to the dictionary:

High: is defined as “upward, elevated, active, most fully developed or advanced, exalted, rich, forceful, intoxicated or stupefied, and luxurious.”

Touch: is defined as “to bring a bodily part in contact with, using the tactile sense, to strike or push lightly, to lay hands upon, to become involved with, to get to or reach, to leave a mark or an impression, to move to sympathetic feeling, to make a brief stop, to be in contact.”

Media: “The singular media and its plural medias seem to have originated in the field of advertising over 70 years ago; they are apparently still so used without stigma in that specialized field. In most other applications, media is used as a plural of medium. The great popularity of the word in references to the agencies of mass communication is leading to the formation of a mass noun.”

So what these definitions tell me is that the words high and touch are the dominant words, as the word media is the most narrowly defined. What that means is that, since media is an advertising word used by advertising and communication people, people in those industries need to be educated on the more expansive words of high and touch. (I am not talking about upfront parties, leisure-time activities or aspects of encounters better kept secret.)

Another way to put it is that to best understand the phrase, and the concept of High-Touch Media, those in the advertising and communication businesses must un-tether themselves from standard usage of the word media. Think of media as a descriptor of how to message. Think of McLuhan’s most famous phrase: the medium is the message. Since media and advertising are ubiquitous these days, it is all about the message, and delivering that message in such a high-touch manner that, to take from the above definitions, it delivers a rich, forceful impression that moves the recipient to a sympathetic feeling.

As a futurist, I look for trends, ultra-trends and to the directions that we as Americans and global citizens are moving. As a former media executive, I wonder what the media business and its advertising engine will look like in the coming years and decades.

I am convinced that the overarching conceptual direction is High-Touch Media. How do we touch our desired customer at the highest level possible? Touch them physically, emotionally, intellectually, psychologically on their own terms, plugging into their own unique wiring. It is no longer about GRPS, reach and frequency or other standard forms of media measurement. It is about impressions (see above definitions); and it is about “engagement,” but those are just part of the larger activity of High-Touch Media.

There is much more to write about and to explore in this new era, but since space here is limited, let me leave you with some statements that may in fact become axioms in the very near future.
•  High-touch media will be the way that companies will connect with customers and potential customers from now on.

-High-touch media is the way to connect to individuals in a time of transformation and disintermediation.

•  High-touch media is about you and them, one by one by one.

•  High-touch media can be very physical, very emotional and very psychological.

•  High-Touch Media can and will be very situational.

•  High-Touch Media incorporates every single media that has ever existed, some more than others. The situation, the product, and the target individual equals choice of media.

And the last one for today:
•  High-Touch Media is high-cost in the short term and comparatively low-cost in the long term. Decide if you want a long-term relationship. If you do, then practice High-Touch Media. If your time horizon is short-term, forget about high-touch.

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In times of global uncertainty and disruption it takes a futurist to provide context and understanding.

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