Communication theorist Marshall McLuhan—who’s perhaps best known for his statement “The medium is the message”—divides media into two categories: hot and cool.
Hot media provides comprehensive information and engages a single sense of its audience in “high definition.” Print, lectures, and photography fall into the hot media category.
Cool media provides less-detailed information and necessitates high levels of sensory involvement from the audience to complete the experience. Cartoons and seminars require this type of involvement.
With an array of platforms (social networks, email, blogs, etc.), the Internet provides marketers the opportunity to create both cool and hot media.
If McLuhan were alive today (He died in 1980.), how would he classify the content that digital marketers produce?
Here’s an educated guess:
“A cartoon is ‘low definition,’ simply because very little visual information is provided,” McLuhan wrote in his 1964 book Understanding Media, The Extensions of Man. “Cool media are high in participation or completion by the audience.”
1. Twitter and Facebook
Marketers typically take to Twitter and Facebook to disseminate snippets of information, hoping to spark a virtual conversation. McLuhan classified conversations as cool.
Lief Larson on Social Media Today agrees that Twitter and Facebook are cool and predicts they will get cooler.
“I think Twitter requires less sensory involvement than Facebook, and the future of social media will increasingly trend towards higher sensory experiences,” Lief wrote.
2. Email – Lead nurturing and offers
Not all marketing emails are created equal. Some inform while others encourage action.Lead nurturing emails are sent automatically as new leads come in to encourage customers to action. Offers also encourage the reader to click through. That’s what makes them cool. These emails rely on participation from the reader and should be written in a way that encourages action.
In many of the best blogs, the thoughtful, actionable content appears in more places than the actual post. Comment boards let people join conversations sparked by the blog post and create a fuller experience for everyone involved.
Adding a question to the end of blog posts will often make your post cooler.
“High definition is the state of being well filled with data. A photograph is, visually, ‘high definition,’” McLuhan wrote. “Hot media do not leave so much to be filled in or completed by the audience. Hot media are, therefore, low in participation.”
Webinars are effective at attracting new customers, but that’s often where the participation ends. The format of a webinar is often much like a lecture or radio broadcast, both of which McLuhan classified as hot.
Yes, often webinars include Q&A sessions at the end, but for the most part it is a hot medium.
2. Whitepapers and case studies
Authors of these pieces take comprehensive looks at whatever subject they tackle and pack the copy with data and evidence to prove the point.
Much like a manifesto, which McLuhan classified as hot, reading a white paper or case study should fill the reader with knowledge.
Hot AND Cool Media
LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Instagram
Is this a cop out? Perhaps, but it really depends on how you use these social networks.
Used properly, LinkedIn provides an authoritative and complete professional story for viewers of your profile. However, it also provides access to terrific discussions with other industry insiders.
Pinterest and Instagram use photographs as the primary form of content. McLuhan classified photos as a hot medium. However, the goal of these sites is to build an engaged and participatory community that will take action on seeing the picture, whether that’s engaging your business or clicking through to make a sale.
How do you think McLuhan would classify the different parts of digital marketing?
Image: Tc Morgan (Creative Commons)