The Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread

When the Chillicothe Bread Company first began marketing sliced bread on July 7, 1928, they described it as the “greatest forward step in the baking industry since bread was wrapped.”  This was just one of the dozens of household innovations that were introduced in the commercially fertile 1920s, fueled by the first wide spread availability of consumer credit.  Some of  these inventions, frozen food and refrigerators, for example, have stood the test of time, but few homes today still feel the need for the electric cream separator touted by General Electric in 1927 as the next hot thing.  Some times, of course, the value of an innovation is so completely and compellingly obvious that nothing can stand in its way.  On May 15, 1940, New York stores put the first nylon stockings on sale.  They sold 780,000 pairs the first day and 64 million within a year.  At other times, adoption takes a more circuitous route.

Which brings us to the current heavy breathing about social media, consumer-generated content and micro-blogging.  On this topic (like so many others) Yeat’s words fit well:  the best lack all conviction and the worst are full of passionate intensity. We don’t know yet which of these many conversation channels will survive and we don’t know which uses (sorry, of course, I meant apps)  will turn out to have lasting utility.

We believe the best responses to this environment are governed by three principles: the first is to try every new medium and be imaginative about the uses to which you put each one.  Some of this will be quirky and probably look comical two years hence, but we can only learn by experimentation.  The second principle is to invest a reasonable amount of time in each activity, an amount of time at least commensurate with the nature of the medium.  Nothing looks more ridiculous than a once a month Tweet or a Facebook profile last updated in June 2008.  Finally, allocate enough resources to the effort to create fresh content specific to the channel.  Sure, go ahead and post your advertising spots to YouTube, but try to get a little more creative.  Posting the same material to your Twitter account, your Facebook fan page and your website does save time but is awfully hard on your fans.  Don’t tinyurl your press releases, at least not if you want to learn anything about the medium.


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