Information Is Flowing: The Digital Age Has Guaranteed it

Written By Tony Poidomani, Adjunct Lecturer, Medill IMC Department, Northwestern University
Edited By QinXin (Cathy) Hu, Medill IMC Class Of 2015

Published on 10/21/2015


The speed of change is blurring the lines from the legacies of the Industrial Age to the aspirations brought about by the Digital Revolution. Seemingly endless volumes of content-rich information are leaving small windows of opportunity to gain context, depth and speed of action. Sanity seems to find its salvation in measurements and metrics. Discourse on the healthy balance of analytics and experiences should ensue. Steve Lohr from The New York Times has said, “Listening to the data is important…but so is experience and intuition. After all, what is intuition at its best but large amounts of data of all kinds filtered through a human brain rather than a math model?”

Drive a Car to Empty

IMC students were asked to contemplate a hypothetical test of when a car being driven on a full tank of gas would reach empty. The challenge was to complete the test without the benefit of reading the gas gauge.

Two approaches emerged. The first approach involved math: the size of the tank in gallons was researched along with the anticipated miles per gallon. The result was a calculation of total range in miles for predicting the empty tank. Using the odometer, actual miles were then tracked until the range in miles reached empty, courtesy of this measured calculation.

The second approach involved reflecting on a series of personal experiences that would be common during the use of a full tank of gas. Methodically, these activities such as commuting to work, running errands and visiting relatives were documented in relationship to their perceived gas consumption. Using intuitive predictability, pattern consistency presented a time horizon that placed reliance on when the tank would be empty.

The math approach used an analytical technique to systematically solve for the test. This is also referred to as an “inside-out” approach. The experience approach looked “outside-in” to form a predictable pattern to solve for the test.

Could it be possible that this test is a microcosm of a bigger struggle between enriched content supported by numbers and intuitive context supported by experience?

Content Make Room for Context

Content in its broadest meaning is defined as information that provides value for an end user. Content is intended to provide value in its breadth and depth, in its time and place, and in its richness of prose and presentation. Content is meant to fit like a comfortable pair of shoes.

Context, however, is “the circumstances that form the setting for an event, statement, or idea, and in terms of which it can be fully understood,” according to the Oxford English Dictionary. Context is meant to be relentless and curious like a well-designed pair of track shoes.

The mechanism of moving information around society as content is easy, like spraying a fire hose. It is more difficult and time consuming to provide context, like a hose with many settings such as mist, soak and jet.

Leaving out context in content delivery can have intended or unintended consequences. Ask any person receiving emails if it would be more valuable to receive correspondence in context to the sender’s intention. With context, the receiver can narrow the options into a more targeted digestion and response. Without context, we invite a wandering brain to look for context and establish “tone” as a byproduct.

Context is Important, but is it a Substitute for Numbers?

Polling an audience I asked how many people in a given week weigh themselves on a scale. From a show of hands, it was concluded that 50 percent step on a scale in a given week. The resulting number as depicted on the scale delivers content to the participant. Context is derived by some other “anchoring” information. This could be a comparison to another time in their life or in comparison to another person who is the same height.

The remainder of the audience admitted to not weighing themselves weekly. Probed further, it was discovered that a majority do not weigh themselves for months or even years at a time. Asked how then does a person know if he/she has put on weight, they colored it in with context. The answer in context was the comfort of the fit with their clothes, energy level, honesty with healthy eating and commitments to workouts.

Marketers and Finance Unite

Today, it is imperative that activities, dominated by “outside-in” decision-making such as sales, marketing and innovation work in harmony with the “inside-out” driven activities, most associated with the activities of finance and operations.

IMC leaders are in a great position organizationally to drive more context into content-rich information and provide an “outside-in” approach. This places the value on experiences forming this context. IMC leaders also naturally develop storytelling skills to aid in this pursuit. Known as the “narrative,” this approach is widespread in the marketplace in areas such as politics and business crisis management.

Budgets, campaigns and initiatives all leverage content-rich information. The focus on analytics is natural and a short route to deal with heavy data sets. Using context can be the bridge to communicate heavy data in the new Digital Age.

Numbers matter and analytics are important drivers for measurement and results. Content is rich and the search for context is endless. Experience may hold part of the key to embrace context, leverage causes, appreciate intuition and in some instances be the measurement driver itself. Force the organization to embrace “outside-in” thinking and let IMC lead the way. [END]


Tony Poidomani Tony Poidomani is an adjunct lecturer of financial accounting at the Medill IMC program. For over 20 years, Tony has been an Executive MBA instructor of accounting at Lake Forest Graduate School of Management, receiving accolades for Professor of the Year in 2007. Tony is currently a partner in Azure Services delivering “analytics as a service,” as well as a consultant assisting CFOs in project management, continuous improvement and daily services.
DSC_7498 Cathy Hu worked as a summer intern for L’Oreal group as the brand manager assistant in charge of consumer interviews and competitor analysis. She received her undergraduate degree from the University of Nottingham Ningbo China, where she majored in international business economics.

Sorry, comments are closed for this post.

Journal of Integrated Marketing Communications (JIMC)
Medill Department of Integrated Marketing Communications
1870 Campus Drive, Evanston, Illinois | 847-491-5665 | Fax 847-491-5925