Like it or not, media changes are affecting all

Tom West If you have no use for a computer or cell phone, then you may want to skip this space this week. I sat in on a fascinating discussion Wednesday about the changes being caused by the Internet and new communications technology.

The first speaker, John Rash, who writes a column on media for the StarTribune, told the audience, “More traditional media is being consumed today than at any time in history.”

When one hears about the troubles at overleveraged daily newspapers, it’s easy to forget that. I’ve long said that the only comprehensive news gathering going on these days is being done by newspapers.

Few radio stations have even one employee assigned to news, and, except for covering the latest ball game, fire or murder, most TV stations are reading news that was first generated by a newspaper reporter.

The difference now from 20 years ago is that so much news from newspapers is also being consumed on-line.

It is also surprising to learn that while the traditional TV networks continue to lose market share, TV viewing is now at an all-time high, 4.4 hours per day on average. But where 10 years ago, the typical cable customer received 61 channels and watched 14, today that customer receives 119 channels and watches 16.

Rash said pressure is growing for “cable a la carte,” which would allow consumers to buy only those channels they want. He is concerned that a la carte cable will only strengthen the political silos that people surround themselves with. For example, few people who watch MSNBC would want to subscribe to Fox News and vice versa.

Even commercial radio, thought by many to be on its way out thanks to, first, satellite radio, and, now, smart phone technology, has seen growth. The nation has 13,750 stations, up from 13,307 in 2000.

Rash said before the Internet, the media essentially conducted a one-way conversation with readers, telling them what the media thought was important.

The media isn’t the gatekeeper anymore. Rash said it’s now a two-way conversation.

It’s been that way for 13 years, ever since the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke first over the Internet, and eventually the traditional media was forced to pick it up.

Today, anybody can start their own blog site and spout off about anything they wish. Media Web sites, like www.dairylandpeach.com, allow viewers to comment on any of the stories we post.

The media are no longer the wizards behind the curtain, but just folks trying to hang on to first chair  in the trumpet section.

The second speaker, Kurt Hodgdon of the Bolin Agency in Minneapolis, tried to make sense of all the changes for small businesspeople.

The old way of marketing a business, he said, was shaped like a funnel. Businesses poured their dollars into traditional media and hoped a few new customers came out the bottom.

Now marketing is more like a pinball machine, Hodgdon said, as businesses bounce from traditional media to social media and back.

A grocery store in Seoul, South Korea, he said, has painted a copy of its display cases on the side of a subway, and shoppers can snap pictures of the QR codes on each item they want and order delivery over their phones so the items are waiting for them when they get home. All while waiting for the next train.

The basketball star, LeBron James, now has 8.4 million followers on Twitter, Hodgdon said, half of them from outside the U.S.  If a marketer can get LeBron to mention the marketer’s product on Twitter, it can have a huge impact on sales.

He said that within the next year or so, people will be able to use their smart phones to make purchases in stores just as they do with credit and debit cards today. He held up a cell phone and said, “This has just become your wallet.”

What’s more, technology already exists to send customers a coupon on their cell phone the moment they walk into your store.

Hodgdon encouraged all small business owners, if they haven’t done so already, to buy a computer and a smart phone. By the end of 2011, he said, more than half of all Americans will own a smart phone.

He also encouraged them to have at least a basic Web site and to post promotions there, and to capture their customer’s e-mail addresses in order to notify them of promotions.

With customers to service, bills to pay, and a dozen other tasks to do before the sun sets, running a small business can be overwhelming at times. Wading through all the marketing choices can be intimidating.

Nevertheless, tremendous growth awaits those that can sort it out and choose the correct strategies for their specific businesses. The Peach sales staff is now
undergoing training to help  local businesses do just that.

Tom West is the editor and general manager of the Peach. He may be reached at (320) 352-6569 or by e-mail at tom.west@ecm-inc.com.

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