Mediation and communication

Swedish Prime Minister Erlander with an Ericsson videophone in 1969.

Who says what to whom with what effect?

This question is the doctrine in classic communication models. In other words we measure the succes of the communication with four parameters:

  • Who (communicator)
  • What (message)
  • whom (audience)
  • What effect (reaction)

But what is the role of the medium itself? When the early electronic mass media (radio broadcasts and film screenings) became commonly accessible in the 1920's and 1930's the media itself became a parameter in the contemporary communication models. And the doctrine was changed to:

"Who says what, in which channel, to whom, with what effect?"

Classic communication model based on Harold D. Laswell's communication model and the Shannon-Weaver model of communication

Mediation

Mediation is when communication is processed through a medium. The medium is the channel for the communication and can be a simple graphic symbol, a letter, a facebook status update, a poster, a movie theatre and much more. It can be argued that language, including rhetorical skills, body language and gestures are media in their own respect, which would mean that communication could not occur without mediation. But most commonly we use the term mediation when the medium amplifies or enhances the communication. Either by allowing the message to reach a broad audience, or by enabling transmission/reception over long distances.

Choosing the right medium depends on the other parameters in the model. If a corporation is promoting niche products or trying to gain strong relations with a small target audience, a personal SMS, E-mail or letter might more appropriate media than a poster in the subway. If it is important to measure the exact effect of a campaign it makes sense to use a medium that supports more than one-way communication.

Media types

Communication media can be divided into 3 main types depending on how the communication flows through the medium.

  • One-to-one (Interpersonal media)

    Can be one-way or two-way communication. One-to-one media includes letters, phones and other channels designed for correspondence and conversation.
  • One-to-many (Mass Media)

    One-way media like books, newspapers, TV or radio.
  • Many-to-many (New Media)

    Network communication in many directions. These media includes chat-rooms, social media websites and apps, community websites and web fora.

We also distinct between one-way-media and two- or more-way-media.

Noise

If the communicator has not chosen the right medium there is a risk that the message will not not reach the correct audience or not be perceived or understood as intended. In other words the mediation process has distorted the communication. This risk is represented by the noise synbol in the classic communication models. In the 1930's analogue radio broadcasting, noise was often quite literal and audible but today the term is more abstract and could extend to whether, or whether not, a certain social media platform is a suitable channel for a certain message.

Madonna, one of the artists who saw the potential in the music video as a medium and branding platform in the 1980's

Media attributes

The Level of Immersion

One of the qualities to consider in a medium (or combined media) is the level of immersion it invokes. Media with high level of immersion make it easier for the audience to be absorbed in the content and provides a feeling of actually "being there". The technical attributes of media with high immersion levels are first and foremost the ability to shot out disturbance. A movie theatre is an example of a medium with a high immersion level. When the movie is running the lights in the theatre are dimmed and external noise is eliminated. The movie theatre might also provide surround sound or 3D glasses to enhance the level of immersion. However, a high level of immersion is no guarantee for an engaged and devoted audience. The last ten years have shown that a cheap produced hand-held viral video mainly watched on small hand-held devices can provide extreme user engagement and add a high degree of authenticity and credibility to a brand.

Telepresence

Telepresence is a quality that some media provide by reducing the feeling of distance in communication. It is is a valued quality in interpersonal and two-way media. Communication with high level of telepresence often includes cameras and live or near-live streaming of audio and video. An example could be a conference where some participants are not physically present but instead communicates with the present participants via webcams and monitors. Low practical enhancements to the feeling of presence can be gained by placing the remote participants in an environment similar to the actual conference room. Telepresence in media can contribute to the level of immersion. Allowing an internet user to wach and interact with a live video event can contribute to the perception and adds a sense of realism to the user experience.

Immediacy

Immediacy describes the attempt to make the media "invisible" by implementing intuitive, instantly understandable intuitive and accessible designs. For UI designers immediacy is used to reduce the technical barriers of a program or device. This is why your PCs interface resembles a desktop. But immediacy heavily depends on hypermediation and remediation of "traditional" media. Bolter and Grusin discuses this paradox in their book Remediation - Understanding New Media (ISBN: 9780262522793). Referencing and reusing design patterns from other media can make the user even more conscious of the presence of the media. The play button icon for video on many interfaces is a pictogram of a traditional movie projector. The icon is easy to perceive but at the same time it reminds the user that he/she is interacting with a medium.

Hypermediacy

In contrast to immediacy hypermediacy relies on the user being very aware of the media presence and possibilities. Instead of trying to "hide" the medium, it is always present with a variety of advanced options for the user. As a result the user’s immersion is quite low and the control is in her/his hands. Despite the low immersion level the user is able to interact with the combination of various data, media, devices and interfaces. Hypermediacy is process oriented concept and does not have a beginning or end.

Remediation

Remediation refers to the conversion of content from one media to another. The concept is far from new: For centuries tales and myths has been converted to books, plays, ballets and operas, which again has been remediated to movies and video games. Artistic concepts like Collages, Mash-up and Remix has adopted remediation itself as a part of the artistic process. Remediation is implemented to reach a new or broader audience but remediation is also necessary to eliminate noise caused by the original medium (see the communication model) or just to keep content available as new media evolves. Music and other audio recordings have undergone a massive remediation in the 80's and 90's when many analogue recordings were remastered to digital formats. The process of converting apps for different platforms and desktop vesions of website to a mobile/ responsive versions are more recent examples of remediation.

video
One of the most succesful examples of remediation was when Orson Welles dramatized H. G. Wells' novel "War of the Worlds". The story about an alien invasion was broadcasted as a radio drama in a news reportage format in Halloween 1938. The format was so realistic that it caused panic as many listeners believed it to be a real news reportage

Mediation in marketing

Traditional marketing campaigns are usually one-way communication through mass media (one-to-many). This strategy is particular efficient for product branding campaigns on a broad and unsegmented marked. Another traditional marketing strategy is direct marketing which is done by contacting potential consumers directly via interpersonal media like telephone or mail. This approach is often ideal for focused/niche-campaigns with highly segmented target audiences. Direct marketing can be highly improved with digital media, as the user can respond to a campaign with comments, sign up for information or the brand can push certain products to a certain group of users, based on tracking of patterns of user behaviour and preferences. It is also very easy to measure the instant effect of a campaign when using networking technologies as traffic and conversion rates easily can be monitored and analysed. Viral Marketing and Peer to Peer marketing is only possible through interactive many-to-many media as these strategies depend, not only on communication between the brand and the consumer, but on communication among the consumers themselves. The idea is to have users share the communicated message while adding credibility and authenticity to the brand in the users own networks and relations. This type of marketing is can be extremely powerful but also difficult to control and predict.

Mediation in branding

A brand will almost always offer some sort of selling point or selling proposition. The simplest example of a selling point is low prices. "Dead cheap" is a message that is very easy to communicate, understand and react on, but it requires inexpensive product development, a good chain of low cost suppliers/ resellers, cheap storage, cheap distribution etc. More complex selling points includes Emotional Selling Points (ESP) and Unique Selling Points (USP) in which a corporation tries to add value to the products or brand. The added value should to some degree be actual qualities of the products and services, but the more important thing is how these values are communicated and how relations between the brand and the target audience are established and maintained.

Compared to the low price selling point, USP/ESP values are much harder to communicate. The corporation would not only have to convince the market that their brand (or products) has emotional or unique qualities. A strong image will also have to be established in the mind of the consumers. To achieve this a carefully designed visual identity is needed. The visual identity is (re)mediation of the brands values via graphic elements. Consumers often perceive, and respond to, colours and shapes much quicker than text or other media. A good logo should be identified and recognized by the audience in fractions of a second, which is why graphic elements of a brand is often done with very simple and stylized shapes. The design of a visual identity must match the brands selling proposition. A bakery producing traditional old fashioned waffles should probably also choose a traditional old fashioned typeface and so on.

Sensory Identity and Tone of Voice

A brand identity does not consist of visual elements alone. Appealing directly to other senses than the visual is sometimes referred to as sensory identity. Many brands are likely to have developed a certain tone of voice, which is simply the "language" of the brand. If the brand would like to be associated with "trust" and "stability" the tone of voice would have to be quite formal and correct. On the other hand, if the brand would like to be perceived as "fresh"and "young", the tone of voice can be informal and contain slang and irony. Just like the visual identity the tone of voice is part of the mediation process of the brand values.

Sound and music can also be elements of the brand identity. A good example is the Danish National Railway Company DSB which has a sequence of 3 notes playing at the beginning of all their speaker announcements. The 3 notes are: D, Eb and Bb (pronounced D-S-B in Danish). The note sequence is recognized immediately by millions of Danes.

The Sensory identity can also be extended to product development. Attaching an appealing sound, surface texture or scent to a product can highly increase the consumer experience. The interesting thing is that the product then becomes a medium for its own brands values. Have you ever observed what happens when a Macbook user closes the lid. It is very likely that he/ she will move the palm over the lid, simply because the surface feels like "good quality". Apple have used countless resources on product development to achieve this. The Mackbook performance is not improved by developing a texture for the lid but the brand/consumer relation is strengthened to a degree where the user physically caresses the product.

Sensory identity is closely related to the experience of a product or brand which is crucial for an emotional selling point. The waffle bakery in the example before might not produce the cheapest or most unique product on the market. Rather than developing the product or lower the prices the bakery could try to enter the market by giving the customers an original experience along with their product. In order to enhance the story of the product being traditional and authentic the bakery people might choose to wrap the waffles in brown rustic expensive paper, which then would be a media for the story. By doing so the bakery is adding sensory value to the product. Feeling the quality of the paper should give the user a certain experience when buying the waffles. Pine and Gilmore introduced the concept of Experience Economy in their studies in the late 90's. They describe how a product can be sold for a price way beyond its actual value if it is accompanied with the right experience.

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