Medium matters


Newsletters, expert blog posts, social media updates, emails, technical specs, product descriptions, case studies… it sometimes seems as if all we do in business is produce content. But there’s no point continuing to do so if it doesn’t reach the people we are trying to inform or advise and if they don’t pay attention to it when it’s delivered. This year, more than ever, with the move to online communications forced upon us by the pandemic, there’s a real need to stand out from the crowd if you want your message to be heard.

We’ve become accustomed to the idea that “content is king”, but over 50 years ago, long before Bill Gates coined that slogan, Marshall McLuhan was telling us that “the medium is the message” and it remains a fact that the way you present information has an enormous effect on how it is received.



Words and pictures

We all know that “a picture’s worth a thousand words”, but maybe you haven’t stopped to think about why that is. When you see an image, a large proportion of the message it conveys enters your brain immediately – even after just a quick glance, you can’t “unsee” it. Words, on the other hand, have to be read, understood and processed, all of which takes time and effort on the part of the reader.

This means that charts and infographics are powerful ways to communicate, while, for verbal content, headlines, soundbites and slogans are the most we can hope for our audience to grasp before we risk losing them. All of these also become powerful ways to mislead, as people are quick to assume that they have understood: they seldom check on how accurately a chart depicts actual data, the detail behind a scurrilous headline, or whether a catchy slogan truly reflects reality.

Platform, format and context

Of course, “medium” goes beyond text or imagery to encompass the platform and format: digital, print, video, audio… and includes real-time speech and face-to-face interaction. Even then, there is more to take into account: this year,for example, “face-to-face” encounters may in fact be screen-to-screen, and we’ve all realised that those two are not 100% equivalent, particularly when you’re talking to a large audience.

The context in which content is consumed plays a huge part in how it is received.

When we talk about video, for example, we need to think about how and where that video is to be watched: will it be on a cinema screen, with a captive – albeit socially-distanced – audience? on the TV?  on a desktop computer? on a tiny hand-held screen? If it's on a handheld device, will the viewer be in lean-back mode and fully engaged, or multi-tasking and inattentive?

Consider the difference between seeing the same film at the cinema or on TV,  or on another personal screen: the effect a film has just isn’t the same when you can pause it to answer the phone or make another cup of tea. And it isn't the same if the experience involves a single person, a group or friends or family, or a larger, public audience.

Remember, too, that these days, TV series are seldom watched as a weekly event, but are often released with all episodes available en bloc to be consumed as an intense, full-on experience. Older series with their cliff-hanger breaks and catch-up scenes at the start of each episode can now seem frustratingly old hat, so the way new programmes and series are plotted and presented has changed.

Content, audience and medium

At Tantamount, we deal with all types of words and imagery and we know that when it comes to business collateral, there are many, many options. It’s important to consider the content and the audience and make sure the medium is appropriate for both.

This isn’t a simple or superficial decision. Even in the techno-centric world of 2020, not everything needs to be sent out digitally: a physical printed brochure will create a very different effect from a downloadable PDF. And, with the printed option, there are all the different physical formats and quality of papers and inks to be taken into consideration.

It’s a fact that many printed flyers get binned before they are ever read. And many emails are deleted without being opened and without the attachments being downloaded. But, in general, a nicely produced brochure or book is more likely to be kept at least for a while, as we tend to respect the printed word. Then again, some people will see print collateral as an ecological outrage, so it’s important to think hard about who your audience is and how they will react.

Maybe digital is the correct medium for your content, in which case we need to consider whether the message is best communicated as video, text, infographics… Even then, there are still a host of delivery options: newsletter, personal email, downloadable PDF, web app…

Engagement and connection

The sense of touch is incredibly evocative and when someone handles a glossy brochure they receive a very different message compared to when they pick up a lightweight paper flyer. At first sight, you may think this experience is lost when you communicate digitally, but there are all sorts of exciting possibilities to get the user involved by including rich media in digital artefacts.

Content can be presented as accessible marketing materials that feature video, audio, animation, true interactivity, API integration, analytics etc., and that take advantage of the non-linear structure and navigation options made possible by digital devices. Tapping, swiping, clicking and scrolling all feed into the creation of an interactive, participative experience that is unique for each user and creates an emotional reaction and strengthens memory.

It's important to remember, that the dichotomy of print and digital isn't the whole story: we still need to give serious thought to whether it might be better to make a phone call or have a face-to-face – or screen-to-screen – meeting with a client. Perhaps a brief personal connection may be enough, and then you may choose to give a potential client the URL of a webpage or interactive artefact where they can find the information they need, or give or send them a brochure so they can think things over in their own time.

The point is that great content isn’t enough to make your message stand out: it’s got to be presented in the right format and delivered in a way that will engage and connect with your audience. The ultimate goal is to communicate your business message effectively by finding the right words, the right visuals, the right format and the right medium.

Word of mouth is the best medium of all.
― William Bernbach

At Tantamount, we specialise in words and design and in making sure they work together to communicate brand messages effectively and appropriately. If you need help finding the right words and getting the tone right, why not mail us on or give us a call on 0798 661 3437 and let’s have a chat?