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Acoustic Mirrors and Contextual Communications

by Hank Barnes  |  May 15, 2013  |  Submit a Comment

This past weekend my daughter (who I have referenced in several posts) graduated from NC State University–Summa Cum Laude and Phi Betta Kappa  and heading on to UNC Chapel Hill for Medical School(proud parent addition of information irrelevant to this story).   During the weekend, she took several out of town visitors on a tour of the NC State Campus.

One of the interesting items there are a set of acoustic mirrors:


As you can see, the mirrors are pretty far apart (I’d guess 50 yards).  If you sit in one (like my daugther is on the left) and someone else sits in the other, they can hear each other talking, even if you are speaking in a whisper.  It was definitely an interesting and unique experience.

I went searching for more information on these mirrors.  As it turns out, they were originally used in Britain to help detect the sound of enemy aircraft (before the invention of radar).  Now, they are mainly used in science museums to demonstrate how to focus sound.

As marketers, it would be great if all of our audiences were sitting in acoustical mirrors, ready and willing to listen to our messages, not matter how quietly we speak them.  But that is not the case.  Instead, we need to find ways to get our messages heard through a din of noise and competing messages.   Expecting an acoustical mirror effect is unrealistic.

There is a great model for communications that was originally put forth by Don Schultz, Stanley Tannebaum, and Robert Lauterborn  in the book, The New Marketing Paradigm: Integrated Marketing Communications, which was published in 1996.  There model which still applies today is shown here (with a recreated graphic):


The model shows that awhen a sender wants to communicate with a receiver the ability for that message to be received is impacted by how much of a shared field of experience the two parties have and the impact of noise in distracting the receiver.  Furthermore, if feedback can be provided, that enables the sender to verify for the receiver that they got the right message or to make adjustments until the communication is received properly.

Acoustic Mirrors are a lot like fields of experience–they create an environment for more focused communications.  In today’s world, marketers must use context to increase the overlap in fields of experience and reduce the likelihood of noise being introduced into the communications stream.

In effect, context is the modern version of acoustic mirrors and a key focus area for all forms of business communication.


Category: go-to-market  

Tags: acoustic-mirrors  communications  context  marketing  

Hank Barnes
VP Distinguished Analyst
4+ years at Gartner
29 years IT Industry

Hank Barnes provides research and advisory services on go-to-market strategies for technology providers. He focuses on issues related to positioning, storytelling, the technology customer life cycle, and customer experience. Read Full Bio

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