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The Virtual Voice

The importance of message in an age of e-media

February 2010

Over the holidays, we were delighted to receive the usual complement of cards from clients, colleagues, and other well-wishers. Apart from the appreciated good wishes, we noticed a new trend among the cards themselves that got us thinking about the value of clear communications and a distinctive voice in this hopeful new year.

In 2009 we received many e-cards, after getting virtually none as recently as 2007. Many were clever, with animation and bursts of color enhancing the greetings. But several lacked a clear message or a definable voice, the kind that emanates from a cultivated brand. It’s as if the medium, the fact that the business sent online greetings, became the message.

This has implications for communications at all levels, including messages far more business-critical than a greeting card. At Gargiulo + Partners, we have long advised clients to first crystallize their messages, and then focus on the medium. As more of our communications migrate to the digital realm, getting the message right is even more essential. When investor letters, Annual Reports, brochures, and position papers no longer benefit from the touch-and-feel of printed materials, there is a risk of message and brand becoming flattened. Voice is critical, especially when your communiqué is disseminated via a medium you can’t entirely control.

We were reminded of the primacy of message over medium in late January, when Steve Jobs announced Apple’s latest creation, a tablet computer dubbed the iPad. During the presentation, Jobs invited a New York Times editor onstage to demonstrate how the keyboard-less, large-format screen could immerse Times readers more deeply in the content, effectively enabling them to forget about the device entirely.

Over the past decade, the newspaper and magazine industries have been hammered financially and derided by critics for not adapting to electronic media. But in a sense, these industries have been waiting for a medium that would catch up with them – a format that, like paper, at the very least doesn’t distract from content and, at best, enhances the message and the brand. The iPad and other forthcoming e-tablets might or might not be that medium. But there is a lesson for businesses in what these content creators are trying to protect: their message, their brand, their voice.

The clarity and relevance of message remain paramount – no matter the medium.

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