This week’s excerpt from the forthcoming book, Disrupting the Future: Uncommon Wisdom for Navigating Print’s Challenging Marketplace by Dr. Joe Webb and Richard Romano, takes that general idea a few steps further, and offers six concrete strategies for making the transition from a “printing company” to a new communications logistics management company. The goal is to minimize risk, which is actually a key attribute of successful entrepreneurship, while creating a new relationship with the marketplace that others can't seem to see.

Podcasting. RSS. Blogging. WOM. Viral marketing. YouTube. Facebook. Twitter. LinkedIn. Digg. StumbleUpon.

How many of these terms are recognizable to you? How many of them are recognizable to marketers and media providers? How many of them do you wish you had never heard of? And yet, these are the some of the hottest topics in advertising and marketing today. To give you an idea of how fast things change these days, some of these terms are already verging on becoming passé even before many people—let alone people in the printing industry—have heard of them.

Let’s be clear, though: the average end user of information—the consumer—probably doesn’t know what half those things are either. If asked to define them, they would probably have to run to Wikipedia and copy-and-paste a definition.

But people use all or some combination of these things transparently and often without thinking about them, as naturally as if they were talking to the person next to them—sometimes more naturally, in the case of the socially challenged. After all, people can talk to each other without being able to define the larynx or understand how the vocal cords work.

Marketers, advertisers, publishers, and everyone else responsible for developing content have been wrestling with an increasingly diverse media mix. One major consequence is the growing trend toward entirely on-demand content, while another is the related trend of increasing audience fragmentation. What does a diverse media mix mean for the concept of “mass media”? Is there even such a thing any longer? What are the consequences of this media mix for those who develop content? What strategies have they been implementing? What strategies should they implement?

There was a time, not too long ago, when advertisers wanted to reach a large mass audience, they took out a 30- or 60-second TV spot during The Six Million Dollar Man (adjusted for inflation, that would be The Twenty-Six Million Dollar Man in today’s dollars) or some other top-rated show on one of the “big three” TV networks. Or they took out a print ad in a popular newspaper or national magazine like Time or Newsweek. Business-to-business product and service companies could rely on a particular industry’s trade press to reach potential customers.

However, the idea of mass media has been gradually eroding. Arguably, it started with the magazine publishing industry. Remember a time when general interest magazines like The Saturday Evening Post or Collier’s were top media channels? New media like radio and television siphoned audiences away from these publications and the magazine publishing industry diversified into hundreds or even thousands of niche publications that served very narrow interests. The same thing happened with radio after the advent of television; each station began appealing to a somewhat narrow audience with a common interest—sports, top 40, easy listening, jazz, and so on. Still, the categories were broad enough that it could still be considered “mass” media. In fact, mass media became a collection of family or narrow media all using the same delivery mechanism.

Cable television was the next step in the evolution toward what the television industry refers to as “narrowcasting” (in contrast to “broadcasting”). Different channels that emerged that were highly targeted toward particular subjects—science, gardening, science-fiction, sports, and so on. This, too, is another example of the collection of channels being viewed as one…because that’s the way the advertising is sold.

In point of fact, while the channels may be targeted, ad sales are bundled, and an advertiser who wants to reach, say, men of a certain age group may want to advertise on ESPN, but will be required to also advertise on ESPN2, ESPNU, ESPN360, NESN (and other local cable sports channels), the NFL network, and other related channels.

The reason it works is that cable channels now have higher total viewing than the broadcast networks.

Ultimately, the Internet took this trend to its logical conclusion, and now there is an almost infinite number of places people can go to get information, news, and entertainment about any conceivable interest or “micro-interest.” Web sites, blogs, YouTube and other online video sites, games—you name it. Now mobile media are taking this in new directions as well. Aggregating a mass audience is now like getting cats to walk in a straight line. Why? Radio stations sell their time to major advertisers as packages that include multiple stations and multiple geographies. Cable channels do the same. The Internet, however, has no such parallel, especially when search engines are the primary entry point to the Internet audience. Search engine marketing, also called contextual marketing, has been one relatively successful strategy for coping with this. But even many times has clicking on a sponsored link in Google’s search results ever been helpful? Not very many.

As a result, marketers and advertisers have found that it is increasingly necessary to deploy messages through a variety of media channels to wrangle an audience back to a size that is effective for advertising and marketing. The real change in media was that advertising had to be used to reach the marketplace, and the marketplace is increasingly hiding from or ducking advertising. Public relations was a weak method, and placement of public relations efforts unfortunately had a relationship to the size of advertising spending that the company issuing the public relations message had. Today, public relations has the upper hand because there are media that do not require advertising revenue for their existence in the same way.

In  a nutshell, the expanding number of channels has a significant effect on any given marketing budget, as well as on expectations for responses. Marketing and advertising budgets are finite; they rarely if ever expand to encompass all the channels there are to spend money on. At the same time, different sectors of the audience will prefer to access content in different ways using different media channels.

The situation can be easily illustrated using pizza:

What Marketing Was

What Marketing Is Now

In the past, a major mass marketing effort that used a small number of channels could potentially draw a large number if responses. Now, the same marketing budget needs to be divided up among many different channels, and each channel by itself yields a much smaller number of responses—but when aggregated, ultimately, a substantial response is yielded. Remove any channel that has a significant number of adherents, and you lose those potential responses.

There is an illustration we’ve probably posted here before that depicts all the new communication and media channels—we unofficially call it the “Twister mat.” (Surely many of you have played the game Twister when you were kids. We understand, however, that playing Twister as an adult can be quite different, depending on the circumstances in which it is played...) Anyway, it (that is, the illustration) shows that all of these items circle around—and, in fact, clamor for pieces of—a given marketing budget. And, as we said, marketing budgets rarely increase as exponentially as the number of media available, if they increase at all. Thus, when planning a campaign, marketers need to choose wisely and strategically from these and other channels. Dollars, after all, are allocated based on expected returns—the nebulous concept of “return on investment.”

The ROI metric is unique to each company and industry—and perhaps even each executive at a company. Indeed, a given executive may even have a different definition of ROI each year.

The Twister Mat

We mention all these things here because printers need to take note. Ever wonder who printers’ competitors really are? Take a look at that illustration. That’s where the competition is. All of those media and channels that are not print-related are competition for the same dollars that print is. As a result, printers’ competitors are those companies that can produce and disseminate content for those other media channels. And how many of these things have been around longer than ten years—or even five years? That gives you some idea of the rate of change of communication channels—and why the industry needs to pay attention to them and not blithely dismiss it all as some passing fad.