Media vs. Advertising vs. Communication

When getting started on messaging channels, it can be tricky to grasp exactly how messaging works. Where does it fit in the marketing mix between media, advertising, communications and engagement? Messaging is its own thing, but it’s helpful to use this framework to understand if the approach being tested makes sense.

Organizations that have classified messaging incorrectly have really struggled making the channel work.

Is messaging media? IMHO, No! 👎
I would think of media as content or programming. Typically, that’s TV, radio, print (magazines & newspaper), movies and podcasts. Media is a product that’s distributed and supported with either a direct payment or advertising model.

For most people it would seem obvious that an SMS or Facebook message isn’t media, but social media confused the issue a bit. Social media was a big trend before messaging was. Some organizations turn to messaging as the new social media channel, once their success on real social media channels leveled off.

Two important factors make it clear that messaging isn’t media. First is cost. Messaging has a real cost to reach end users. With most media, the cost is in the creation. Once created the economics dictate that the producer should try to serve the product to as many people as possible. This model just doesn’t work with messaging as there is no production cost, no product and cost for each person reached.

Second, all media can be supported via advertising. That’s not true of messaging. Many people have tried to send content via messaging and then tack on an advertisement to support the message. This is never a good subscriber experience and the cost of sending messages, among everything else involved, doesn’t leave enough margin for profit.

Is messaging advertising? No! 👎
This is a slightly different question from whether messaging can be supported by advertising.

Advertising is a way for an organization to find new people. An advertiser leverages media to deliver their message to people that the advertiser does not have a direct connection to. Leaving aside brand marketing, advertisements would promote a call to action for the user to visit a website or a location to purchase something, signup or connect. Advertisers are looking to reach a new audience.

Messaging is not advertising because messaging is an opt-in channel. In order to receive a message from an organization, the recipient must have already engaged with that organization and opted-in. According to the definition above, the message sender wouldn’t be finding new people with messaging, because they would have already found them for the opt-in to have happened.

Messaging is communications! 👍🏽
Communications is the process of taking connections that have already been made, driving engagement activation and other value for the organization. Messaging is a pure communication channel in fact I’d argue that messaging is the first pure communication channe;

Email can be a communications channel, but it can also be media. I’m not finding new people with email – treating sending an email like delivering an ad - that would be spammy. Email can act as media though, as it can be sponsored by ads. Even though a few approaches are trying to turn messaging into an ad channel (Facebook with Messenger and P2P texting) my prediction is that it’s not going to work well.

Messaging is supported by engagement and activation.
This is what separates messaging as a communication-only channel. Communication channels cannot be supported by advertising, they can only be supported by activation. Messaging can get people to take actions that are valuable, and messaging is better than other approaches at driving action.

Let me share an old example to illustrate. I worked with a client that built an SMS campaign for wedding planning. When the user subscribed the campaign would collect the wedding date, among other pieces of information. The campaign would then send a script of reminder messages all timed around the wedding date. For instance, “Your wedding day is only 3 months away. It’s essential that you connect with a florist now to have the flowers you’ll want on your special day.” Every subscriber would receive this message on a different day – scheduled for their particular date.

This client tried to have a sponsor add an ad to the end of the message. It was an abject failure.

What worked extremely well was when they asked the user to reply and be connected directly with a florist near their wedding venue. The connection on messaging is so strong, that simply showing an ad doesn’t fit. The same way that google capitalizes on the intent that’s built into search with a click, organizations can capitalize on the attention given to messages by asking for response.

That is the strength of messaging as a communication channel.

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