The Power of the Digital Written Word

The expression that the pen is mightier than the sword may soon need to be updated … if the recent news about the Oxford English dictionary foreshadows the future.

In this recent news article, it was reported that the next edition of the world’s most definitive work on the English language will never be printed again, due to the impact of the Internet on book sales.

The power of the “written” word obviously still exists today … just look at all of the blog postings, comments and feedback that is typical on any given day. However, it is now becoming increasingly obvious that the Kindles, iPads and future book readers of the world will indeed replace the printed book, as well as the daily newspapers and monthly magazines. This transition will likely take an entire generation to be completed, but, the transition has already begun and will continue.

As a marketing communications professional, if the future of your business model or lead generation campaign is based on collecting leads from ads in a paper newspaper or magazine, now might be a good time for an overhaul (either strategically for your business, or time for a new career). More importantly, if you are a publisher of paper books (ex: Random House, HarperCollins or Simon & Schuster), you face a challenge no different than what Blockbuster and Hollywood Video faced … and failed miserably. Having a vision of what the future holds isn’t a panacea to identifying a replacement business strategy.

One challenge why an incumbent provider in a “dying” industry is seldom the next leader in the transformed industry is the fact that the incumbent has significant psychological and physical investment in the way things used to get done. Think about the physical infrastructure that today’s leading book publishers have made investments in – it would be very difficult to simply “chuck” their existing equipment, facilities and employees.

Yet, a new crop of businesses will emerge without the financial “baggage” of the incumbents, helping them to be more nimble and willing to experiment with new approaches and untested methods or strategies. This highly dynamic nature of start ups is a powerful force, one that will ultimately result in a new market leader in how this industry evolves into one that is not based on paper, but the power of the digital word.

One business strategy that has worked in the past is for an existing player to set up completely new division, one that is not encumbered with financial, political and other constraints of the parent company. The smart car is a good example, which began as an idea by the Swatch watch company, and became a reality with an investment by Mercedes Benz. The car is clearly not a luxury product, so Mercedes thoughtfully financed its launch it to address the growing sub-compact car market, which it correctly predicted. This strategy enables the new entity to be given a truly “free reign” on trying a new business strategy without diluting the parent company’s brand.

As a marketer, it helps to keep an extremely open mind on how to find the next lead, as well as what industry you choose to work in. Content is still king, but it will increasingly be a digital king, and not a paper one. When naming my blog, I am sure glad “Making Every Word Count” works in both paper and digital format, helping to avoid future obsolescence, at least the foreseeable future, which is all I can reasonably expect in today’s highly fluid business climate!

Gordon Benzie is a marketing adviser and business plan writer that specializes in preparing and executing upon business plans and marketing strategies. Gordon can be found on Google+.