Sometimes analog just works better

Two weeks ago, the phone system in my office and the phone at my desk were upgraded, from an older system that featured an outdated NEC handset, to a new IP-based system with a Nortel “communications center.” The new system has a lot of features, including Bluetooth, the option to ring multiple lines at the same time (like my office, home, and mobile phones), plus integration with Microsoft Outlook. A lot of features in theory, anyway. As I’m writing this, I still can’t do most of what’s been promised, and the important ability we had to conference in multiple people on my old phone is missing from my new features menu. Adding to the frustration, caller ID was just enabled yesterday, the clarity of the audio on Bluetooth is terrible for people on the other end, and it now takes two buttons to answer the phone on my headset. The conversion has not been smooth so far.
I know this may all sound petty, since I have a fantastic job while the economy is terrible and unemployment is at 7.6%, but the change was going to make working easier. It didn’t. It made it harder, which is why I’m writing about it.
So I started thinking about this conversion – which was intended to add a level of sophistication to our internal communications – in the context of other things in my life that have gone from “analog” (or low tech) to “digital” (or high tech) with some unintended consequences. In that respect, the title of this entry is perhaps too simple. For example, both the old and new phone systems have digital components. But for the purposes of this entry, I want to think of analog as a simple, basic version of technology that works really well, is reliable, and degrades gracefully (meaning imperfect operation doesn’t shut the whole thing down).
Here are a couple of instances where simple just works better than complex:
DTV
With the new digital converter boxes, if a signal isn’t a certain strength, the box assumes there isn’t a signal at all, and the screen goes black. With an antenna, a poor signal simply results in snow or static, but picture and sound are still available. For some people, this actually means less channels in a digital world. Point to analog.
[Note: check back on February 17 for an entry on why and how the Federal Government screwed up the conversion from analog TV to digital.]
My Mobile Phone
I’ve written about this before. My mobile phone operates on Sprint’s digital network and roams on other networks (mostly Verizon here in Philadelphia). The phone works great when I’m at work or in the car, but as soon as I get into my apartment, the digital signal disappears. I can roam on another network with virtually no problem. Point to analog (or Verizon).
Faucets and Soap Dispensers with Motion Detectors
Our office building upgraded all the fixtures in the bathrooms about a year ago. During a recent power outage, the sinks weren’t usable. And when the batteries in the paper towel dispensers die, there is no manual way to dry your hands (unless you use your pants). Point to analog.
So how does this relate to radio, marketing, digital media, the press, or public relations? Well, in the context of moving from analog to digital, from simple to complex, from one channel to multi-channel, from mainstream media to new media, make sure you have a solid transition plan. Your business depends on your marketing working consistently. If you spend time and resources replacing an old system that is already reliable and good at generating results with a new system that is untested but high tech, you had better be absolutely sure it will be just as reliable and generate even more results. If you can’t guarantee the same level of up-time and more revenue in the end, why spend the money to convert in the first place? New media is growing quickly, but many large companies are still wary of social networks because they aren’t confident they will see equal or greater returns. If you plan well, and choose an appropriate media mix, you’ll be fine. But you need to do both in order to avoid the pitfalls of conversion.
I’m sure the new phone system in my office will work as promised at some point in the near future. Until then, call my mobile phone if you’d like advice on moving your campaigns from analog to digital. Unless I’m at my apartment of course.