There's nothing better than a personal conversation – right?

In the Middle of the Knowledge Inferno of the 21st Century

"One second, I'll just google that real fast!" – Everyone has been in the situation where you simply couldn't recall a particular piece of information and then quickly searched for it on the Internet using your smartphone, tablet or laptop. This explains the significantly increased number of Google search queries worldwide. Over the past ten years, this has grown by more than eightfold. No matter what you want to know, Google knows it. And if you just ask it, Google is more than happy to share that knowledge.

Google, however, is merely our information access point. This includes individual persons, companies or other institutions which have published part of their knowledge online and thus have provided it to other people. Today there's a lively interactive exchange of knowledge that everyone can participate in. The mass and penetrating power of knowledge, which has grown exponentially, is indicated by the currently existing 44.5 million Wikipedia articles. And there are more every day. The daily publication of on average nearly 5,000 new Wikipedia articles and the uploading of approx. 400 hours of video to YouTube ensure that new information and insights are constantly available.

At the same time, everyone has the opportunity to disseminate not only the thoughts they express themselves, but also those of others. For this reason, we are no longer solely dependent on our own knowledge, but can rather access, share, comment on, or reuse existing information whenever and wherever we want. These possibilities are like gasoline on the fire of interaction. This is also the case with online newspaper readers, 65 percent of which say they frequently or even very often write comments for articles.

A digital voice on the Internet with the power to make oneself heard is now available to all who choose to use it. But anyone who thinks that content is only good for self-representation is dead wrong. Compared to status updates, almost twice as many Twitter posts are of a dialogical nature. The main motive for the use of social media is the exchange of ideas for both women and men. People therefore use their new digital voice above all for dialogical exchange. The result: an interactive knowledge inferno of the 21st century has been kindled.

Loved Digital Voice

People seem to like the fact that they can now say something more easily and instantaneously, and can contact other people or companies using their digital voice. The use of social media alone has steadily increased in recent years and is forecast to continue to grow. Currently, approx. 2.46 billion people regularly use social networks. They busily comment, like and share. More than 40 percent share content every week and more than 20 percent even do so on a daily basis.

Furthermore, the possibilities for expressing themselves more and more specifically with just a single click are constantly being expanded. Where we could once only click "like", we can now react with six different emotions. Where we used to only be allowed 160 characters for a text message, we now send GIFs and three messages at the same time. Where we used to make a call, we're now constantly sending "on-the-go" voice messages. But what ramifications do these developments have for simplifying personal expression for businesses and for brands?

Loved Brand Now Only Through Brand Love?

Purely quantitatively speaking, the individual now has more opportunities to contribute: whether it's in social media, or through online petitions at a national or regional level, e.g. on, or, as part of a community, such as the image community Flickr or the question-answer community Lycos IQ, or in a very personal blog. More exciting still is the psychological aspect that describes the outcome of the changed circumstances. It has become a powerful instrument, as the individual person feels the increased value of his opinion.

Today, people are leaving feedback on Facebook with comments visible to everyone, instead of formulating addressed complaints. Today, a public digital rating on Google, TripAdvisor, or other platform can be completed with less than five clicks instead of engaging a boss or shopkeeper in dialogue. We use this new tool against companies in a direct way.

The author of a dissertation assumes, for example, that commentaries published online about active environmental control and persuasion of others are written from their own point of view. People thus derive from their new possibilities from the need to have their opinion taken more seriously. Companies must adapt to this.

The starting shot has fallen and the first steps have been taken. Advertising investments increasingly shift from classic to interactive channels. About a quarter of the budget is now flowing into digital media, although channels offering a great deal of interaction potential such as social media are particularly popular.

New jobs also reflect the sought-after qualifications. Today, numerous companies are looking for professional specialists such as community, social media or content managers. Technical tools, like chatbots on websites and social media platforms, are being set up and should provide round-the-clock communication for customers. In addition, language-based technologies such as, Alexa, Google Home or Siri increasingly realistically simulate a dialogue. Facebook Spaces goes a step further and creates the visual conditions of interpersonal conversations.

The goal of these technologies is clearly recognizable. Digital communication should feel more genuine. The conversation partner hears a voice and sees a face. Meeting in virtual reality becomes a substitute for real personal conversation. These are the first steps in addressing the need for interaction. But is that enough? In the next step, and it will be important to see this as the ultimate step, the quality and the personal added value in the communication must be increased.

75 percent of people today want personal communication and almost half want individual relevance in advertising. Therefore, there is desire for communication that makes more for a content-driven personal dialogue, rather than focusing on the repetition of range-appropriate messages. For brands, this means that it's becoming more and more important to design advertising activities so that they feel like a personal conversation. A breakthrough to truly tangible brand personalities that we've been striving for for decades.

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Detlef Arnold Executive Consulting Director

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