Is there really science in communications?

Since kicking off Verbology, people have asked me whether ‘The Science of Communications’ is really simply a glib positioning line, or if there science behind what I do.

People have every right to be sceptical. in my earlier career, communications was regarded as more art than science and, to be honest, we did not really have the technology to do any meaningful science. Communications people like me were largely drawn from the ranks of journalism or creative arts.

But these days, the best communications and marketing teams draw together a wide array of specialists, including a hefty share of people with mathematics, psychology, analytics, coders and others. Most teams naturally include product and technical specialists, depending on the complexity of the offer.

I still have this rather romantic notion that big creative ideas make the difference between simply reaching people and engaging them. However, there is no doubt that the diversity and number of communications channels and the volume of material being shoved down those pipes need science to ensure that crafted messages reach their target audiences at times, on devices and in places where they are likely to have maximum effect.

I wrote in a previous post about the advantage of small business and the fact that it could leverage what should be a more intimate knowledge of its customers. You could say that what I write next is contradictory to this, but it isn’t. At the core of every successful business is intimacy with customers. Whether they are conscious of it or not, successful small business owners are masters of psychology, even if a sort of pop version.

For larger businesses with larger and more complex customer bases, the application of scientific analysis and method is far more critical and much broader. The challenge for them, also discussed in the earlier article, is creating the perception of a personal relationship with customers because, in most cases, it is impossible to deliver products and services face-to-face.

The largest and best-resourced businesses in the personalisation game are typically the dominant digital behemoths, Amazon, Facebook and Google. They have refined complex mathematical algorithms to process vast banks of data on our every preference, location and expenditure. It’s also a practice that landed at least one of them in trouble more than once, but that’s for another day.

Some of this is hard data and some derived from conversations and connections we have in our digital communities. And don’t be deluded by voice. Alexa, GoogleHome and others are collecting and processing our words through the ether, requiring no keyboard or touch interactions to deep dive into our daily lives.

This is data science. The algorithms are encoded by computer scientists supported by clever psychologists and mathematicians. Our personaliities, ambitions and preferences are sliced and diced, reconstituted and cubed to build our digital profile.

Science has created endless possibilities for building personal profiles around virtually every connected person on the planet, which brings me to another set of people who create the environment in which all this takes place - ethicists, sociologists and others.

So where does the humble copywriter fit into this matrix of scientific endeavour?

As a communicator, I need to know the audience, the financial priorities and challenges of its members, their confidence in the future and their preferred communications channels. With sophisticated insights and segmentation, I can head off to write a simple message in multiple ways and suited to different distribution channels and the people who use them.

Gone are the days of the simple, one-size-fits-all newsletter article. Everyone wants their fragment of information that at least appears to be tailor-made for their top-of-mind concerns and decisions.

That’s the job the communicator, to bring the ancient art of language (apologies to linguists who are also scientists) to the application of scientific methods in order to deliver messages that resonate.