Science & Tech

Digital communications will reshape the way businesses market goods

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Researchers identify three challenges posed by the Web

In a chapter of the forthcoming book Digital Marketing, Harvard Business School Professor John A. Deighton and coauthor Patrick Barwise of the London Business School identify three qualities that distinguish the Web from other mass media. First, the Web fragments its audience’s attention. Where television brings people together and lets advertisers build giant brands and promote broad cultural trends, the Web segments the audience into small pockets of interest. Mass marketers have a whole new game to learn if they aspire to integrate across these fragments of attention. Second, as the already-low cost of digital communications declines toward zero, the Web’s radical interactivity presents new challenges to marketers, who must now learn how to build and sustain intimate customer relationships on a far larger scale than ever before. The third distinctive quality of the Web is something of a handicap. To be frank, the authors say, it is a boring medium when compared with television, lacking TV’s power to engage fantasy and arouse emotions. Instead, the Web is an instrumental medium, a tool for getting things done. Much of its future will lie in the background of consumer life, where, like plumbing, it will be indispensable but seldom conspicuous.