Marketing communications has arrived at its complexity inflexion, and that complexity needs IT. Period. From now on, when you say "I'm a marketing communications consultant", you'll also be saying "I'm in IT".

Computers 'do' numbers, and they can 'do' numbers pretty well. Accounting is about numbers, and so is much of science and engineering, so computers were rapidly deployed in these disciplines in their early days. They helped crunch complexity, and this same capability drove complexity. IT advances have driven today's advanced stock trading platforms and other financial systems. It has underpinned our analysis and knowledge of genetics. It has driven finite element analysis, fluid dynamics and other engineering modelling technologies. These are just a few examples, but however you cut it, modern accounting, science and engineering is entirely reliant on IT.

In the 70s, manufacturing was about turning out millions of identical products repetitively, cheaply. Retail was about piling them high. By the 90s, mass production had become mass customisation, as IT enabled complex yet efficient supply chains. Each and every car gliding through production can now be any one of a thousand permutations. The number of Zara's annual product lines exceeds the volume made of each; all at affordable prices. Retail analytics informs every decision we make in retail design. However you cut it, modern manufacturing and retail is entirely reliant on IT.

These professions, and others, reached their complexity inflexion. You could say that IT was both a cause and the saviour, and now it's time for marketing communications. Let's look at some numbers.

Marketing communications last century

Here's a 20th Century PR campaign:

  • Your campaign execution demands that you reach out to twenty journalists across your target publications and broadcast media; your tier 1. You might want to "spray" the rest too with a wire distribution. In effect then, you have 21 points of focus.
  • A few target journalists are freelance and write for two or three key publications, so you have, say, three dozen media to track.
  • The immediate campaign outcome consists of possible coverage across this media, and assessment of sentiment (good / neutral / bad) and readership. A clippings agency sweeps up the tertiary coverage for you, which you'll treat as tier 2 and weight accordingly.
  • A share of voice analysis reviews all coverage in your thirty odd tier 1 media, and teases out the mentions of your brand, your product, and those of your nearest competitors. How do you compare?
  • You commission a research company to interview 1000 householders and ajudge their perceptions of your brand.

The products of the variables here are in double and triple figures. Even though the market research breaks sweat at 1000 respondents, there's no mathematical product here, just some some simple high school maths based on averages and spread.

This is low order complexity and manageable without IT.

Marketing communications now

Let's look at a marketing communications dialogue in 2008. Technology has changed your landscape.

  • Communication / media technologies proliferate: email, chatrooms, forums, blogs, UGC sites, social networks, newsfeeds, mobile messaging, PVRs, gaming, etc. Media consumption is unrecognisable from 10 years ago
  • Company-to-customer communication now competes for attention with customer-to-customer communication
  • Not one newspaper can now command a readership over two million, yet many blogs do
  • Active and passive customer-to-company communication is multi-channel and in the public domain
  • The format of communication has expanded massively beyond the press release to include the social media release, blog posts, podcasts, video, virals etc.

Ultimately, this means you now have many different ways and channels to engage with customers and prospects. They have many ways to engage with each other. Traditional market research is supplanted by continuous, active listening. You're involved in thousands, possibly millions of relationships.

When you multiply these numbers together it becomes immediately clear that you have incredibly massive complexity, at least relative to our industry's history. We have way more permutations than a human can juggle. You're in IT.