Is it the message or the mode that counts?

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Jack Dorsey in 2006 created a simple,small group intercommunication tool for internal use at ODEO, and soon after, Twitter became  publicly available. This new tool’s designed didn’t seek  to replace or displace existing communication modes. it’s design served a specific need.

A similar need led Stewart Butterfield in 2013 to publicly release Slack,  the IM based team communication tool that had proved useful to his own internal development team pursuing an alternative venture.

The originating intentions behind Twitter and Slack did not concern the personalization of messages. Both focused on small team communications with a dual purpose:

  1. Enable team members to give and receive answers to questions that arose while working, while remaining on task; and
  2. Avoid fragmentation or disconnects by keeping team members up to date on change.

Small teams working in the same room, makes it possible for team members to raise questions and respond verbally. But what about teams that were no physically proximate, or co-located, and frequency with which the same information needed to be repeated lead developers to create solutions that work for themselves.

It’s remarkable that others, non-development team members, with no working relationship also found great value in the short, convenient messaging systems.

Mobility has elevated the significance of convenient, immediate communications tools evident by the growth of text messaging, and the emphasis on personalization.

Today’s array of communications options challenges all of us to think through not only the content of the message we want to send, but also select a mode that boosts the effectiveness of the message.

Messaging is the grease to social interaction. Informal physical gestures signal intent that most, but not all of us, are wired to recognize.  Language-written or spoken can clarify or distort the message as the content gets processed differently in our brains.

The strategy for communications remains an art form and sadly fewer people take the time to think through the proper pairing of message and mode.

Case #1: Potato Parcel

When Alex Craig launched Potato parcel in May of 2015, it’s unclear what his intent was other than to prove a few things to himself and his girlfriend about the state of communication today.  Craig took the challenge of getting marketing messages and the art of personalization to an extreme.  He created a personalized message system via US mail on potatoes.

Besides the message, Craig took advantage of surprise and convenience of long established messaging systems exploiting an  underutilized communications channel–the US mail. The parcel post system permits his business  direct message delivery,  greeting card style, handwritten on a spud.  In an hour, he put his programming skills to work and created a simple ecommerce website and then posted an ad on Reddit. He knew what I didn’t, that Reddit hosts 234 million monthly unique visitors, permitting low cost mass messaging.

By September of 2015, he reported $43,000 in sales.  I have no idea how much it cost to ship a potato first class across the US. His service costs $7.99 for a medium spud with a personalized message up to 100 characters, and $9.99 for larger potato with messages up to 140 characters.

What I find  refreshing about Potato Parcel is the marriage of technical and non-technical to rapidly scale his business and profitability.  Craig demonstrated execution skills, and

  1. Bootstrapped his own business to try out his crazy idea.
  2. Took advantage of tools he knew to extend his own learning. In his case, at 24 he applied his knowledge working in business development at Bottle Rocket, a mobile dev company, developing campaigns for major brands.  In this case, it required a website that he built in an hour, complete with ecommerce
  3. Disagregated the Value production and leveraged only his core capabilities. Notice his business success leveraged one insight across multiple channels. He used existing networks with proven capabilities to move large volumes to allow content creators to deliver personalized messages anonymously.

PotatoParcel, an Excess Mail Pioneer, is For Sale

His story stretched the meaning of personalization in business in an untraditional manner. His launch message led with the benefits to the payer. It also leveraged absurdity,brevity and anonymity that insured the message’s impact upon receipt.
Like Dorsey’sTwitter, and Butterfield’s Slack, Craig’s Potato parcel accrued business value by the reliability of the delivery platform to insure the message reaches its intended audience.  Personalization of the message content itself plays a minor role.
 All three modes connect people and enable idea sharing.  Each
opened a new channel reserved exclusively for message exchange, contributing to the overall increase in available modes to communicate.  If Facebook is now for the Boomers, and instagram the domain of the latest generation born post the availability of mobile, why does personalization rank so highly in priority for marketers?
Privacy and security are linked, where personalization tries to assure the intended audience that yes, the sender is talking directly to you. On its face the premise is absurd, when mass media provides the mode of transmission for the personalized message.
It’s valentine’s day, perhaps you received a note today.  What made it personal? Since most messages are mass printed, they’ve become cliched, irrespective of whether printed
the cliches of the day are mass printed on little candy hearts, or greeting cards as well as packaging encasing traditional tributes–like candy or flowers.  I picked up this message on Twitter, which personally, I feel makes my point well.  (By the way, it turned up searching for love–no hashtag.)

I love when people say my name when texting me idk it’s weird

Why Twitter? I was curious to see the public declarations of love on valentines day that had no audience limitations.  Face it, digitally speaking, very few messages can be truly private, which perhaps gives the potato parcel an advantage—the offline transmission.

Immediacy and convenience of transmission make the message not more personal,but more appropriate.  A valentine’s day message received in July loses it’s impact, and similarly, the offer that fits the situation needs to get to me at just the right time and just the right place with the right tone.

So for marketers, the personalization needs to take into consideration more data. Today effective personalization insures the message and the mode of delivery fit and then hit the target on time.

The element of surprise matters too, or more broadly stated, personalization is the entire experience as demonstrated by
the reactions posted on Twitter and Instagram (#potatoparcel) reveal.

Interaction and sharing

Unlike Twitter and Slack, potatoparcel.com  offers an element of surprise. It also sacrificed its ability to enable users to reciprocate, or respond in the same mode.
Sure potatoparcel was intended as a lark, and the Craig’s buyer considers the business to be firmly in the gag gift retail category not the messaging space.  It also serves as a great reminder, to consider the purpose of the message you send.  Consider whether you seek  a response, direct follow-up or follow-through. If so, choose a mode that includes that capability.
The sharing features available digitally sadly  may not replicate themselves in the physical environment.  Forcing someown to switch their natural communication mode increases the liklihood that both of you will miss the moment.  Its why  SMS  continues to captivate users universally using three elements: privacy, immediacy and sheltered.
The messages exchanged primarily between two parties known to one another, feel as if they arrive immediately. The channel makes the traffic flow easily between connected parties to the exclusion of any other activity.
Personalization acknowledges more than my name, or obvious demographics. Meaning and consideration for my personal needs and efforts–time or expense–makes a message feel personal.
 What I love about Alex Craig’s concept is its intention for impact. He ultimately elevated the significance of the content and landed the sender consideration.  The medium, like Twitter doesn’t seek to preserve the message forever.
The potato will degrade over time, its shelf-life limited as I suspect is the business itself. Note: Craig did succeed in selling his business on Flippa. The new owner described the pass off and plans for the future on this podcast:
So please, when you focus on personalizing experiences, remember it’s  the content-the actual message construction that will win over your target, not the mode.
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