ccording to British theologian Joseph Priestley, "The more elaborate our means of communication, the less we communicate." I highly doubt Priestley, who passed away in 1804, had any idea just how elaborate our means of communication would become. But more than 200 years later, we have reached a state of such elaborate communication and heightened connectivity that we can, for instance, instantly and wirelessly send text messages, photos, videos, and more to anyone, anywhere, anytime.
There are clear, undeniable benefits to this new world of seemingly limitless and immediate forms of communication. But the era of e-mail has ushered in a side effect that Priestley would have likely predicted: While the quantity of our communications has undoubtedly increased, the quality has reached an all-new low. Or, in the words of Dr. H. Kimball Jones, "The very technology that has improved global communication has led to less personal communication."
Instead of traditional dialogue, we now communicate with one another through a series of annotated monologues sent via the electronic medium of our choice. And while that's all fine and dandy for keeping in touch with old acquaintances and high-school classmates, a handful of tweets is not tantamount to a personal phone call or face-to-face conversation.
That's one reason the Vatican urged Catholics to give up text messaging and social-networking sites for Lent earlier this year. "It's a small way to remember the importance of concrete and not virtual relationships," a diocese in Modena, Italy, said.
So what does all this have to do with you and your exhibit program? In your rush to adopt and apply exciting new technologies, be mindful of one thing: Trade shows and events are lumped together in this vibrant and effective category called face-to-face marketing. As you move toward virtual alternatives - be it an exhibit in Second Life versus a live, in-person trade show presence, or even an impersonal pre-show e-mail that
replaces a personal phone call to invite top prospects to your booth - you essentially eliminate the differentiator that makes your efforts so unique within your organization.
Exhibit experiences are personal, sensorial, tactile, emotional, and tangible. No alternate or surrogate for that kind of personal intimacy exists. And it is your job, within your company, to protect and champion the role that face-to-face efforts play in your overall marketing efforts.
In his book, "Email Less, Talk More," author Martin Rola warns that while face-to-face conversations and digital dialogue have their place, the quality of communication is more important than the efficiency. And it's personal methods of communication - like face-to-face conversations that happen in your exhibit - that help to build the informal relationships critical to an organization's success.
Now I'm not suggesting you give up pre-show e-mails and purge your company's Facebook page. When used correctly, in conjunction with face-to-face initiatives, Facebook, Twitter, e-mail, and all the other social-media and digital-communication tools out there absolutely have a place in the general marketing milieu. And if you're using them to enhance your more personal efforts, more power to you - even Pope Benedict the XVI has his own channel on YouTube. But if you find yourself replacing trade shows and more personal forms of communication with elaborate online efforts, you may inadvertently be sacrificing the elusive customer connection that makes face-to-face marketing so effective.
After all, "The most basic and powerful way to connect to another person is to listen," says Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen. And no matter how hard you try, it is nearly impossible to listen and tweet at the same time. e