Skip to main content
mark healy

Are you exhausted from all the communication in your life?

Too many e-mails, texts, voicemails, conference calls, Facebook messages, tweets, LinkedIn reminders, and RSS feeds? I know I am.

We are not alone. If you Google "communication fatigue," you'll find interesting data and opinion pieces.

We have likely all read some version of the "over-communication-leads-to-productivity-losses" argument. That may or may not be true, and I have no expertise on the topic. But two other implications stem from communication fatigue:

  • Just as marketers are figuring out mass customization and social media, it’s time for them to go back to the drawing board. Communication fatigue is leaving fewer opportunities for marketing messages to get through, so unless you are communicating a deal or a life-changing perspective or piece of information, consumers don’t want to hear from you.
  • More than ever, brands need to limit consumer choices. Communication fatigue is leading to decision making and choice fatigue, so curation or guided choice is imperative for brands.

Communication fatigue is not well defined. No dictionaries or encyclopedias, or even Wikipedia, recognize the term. Susan Orlean wrote a short piece on the topic in The New Yorker in 2011. And the idea is nicely summed up by Jessica Miller-Merrell, who blogged this last year: "It's Monday morning. Even before I roll out of bed, I've checked my emails, Twitter, Facebook, text and voicemail messages before I even officially start the day. … taken a long weekend to enjoy the holiday or spring weather with friends and family.

"Upon your return you are bombarded with more messages and communication that one human being can bare. And you've only been up for a total of 30 minutes."

Over-communication is real. More than 100 trillion e-mails are sent every year, and that number is rising annually by about 10 per cent. Of those emails, about 76 per cent flow to consumers while 24 per cent are sent to corporate users. According to Radicati Group the typical consumer sends or receives more than 45 emails a day while the typical corporate user sends or receives more than 167 emails a day.

Eighty one per cent of global emails are spam. The numbers are higher for text messaging, with typical U.S. teens and young adults sending or receiving more than 100 texts a day. There are more than 400 million tweets sent every day, and Facebook users send more than four billion private messages every day. And on and on.

What is perhaps more staggering than the format-by-format statistics is the fact that they are not mutually exclusive: consumers and business users utilize most of these communication formats daily, so the effect is cumulative.

The numbers are huge but what do they mean in context? According to Radicati, for corporate users about a quarter of daily activity is e-mail related. And a study performed by Ofcom found that consumers spend 45 per cent of their waking hours on media and communication, and about 30 per cent using mobile phones and social media specifically to communicate (taking television out of the math explains the 15 percentage point difference).

More to the point, over-communication by consumers and the resulting communication fatigue is having a big impact on marketers. For years, we have talked about engagement and two-way dialogue as the same concept, and about empowering consumers and ratcheting up choice as another connected idea.

We have succeeded in finding ways to personalize emails and uncovering ways around spam filters, in sorting out how to increase our likes on Facebook and have consumers follow us on Twitter. And we gone away from discounting or deals at the expense of increasing choices.

It's time to rethink our rethinking.

July 24: An analysis of two key marketing implications. Look for it on the Report on Small Business website.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Mark Healy, P.Eng, MBA, is a partner at Satov Consultants– a management consultancy with practice areas in corporate strategy, customer strategy and operations strategy. Mark's focus areas inside the customer strategy practice include consumer insights, customer experience, innovation and go-to-market strategy. He is a regular speaker and media contributor on topics ranging from marketing to strategy, in telecom, retail and other sectors. Mark is known as much for his penchant for loud socks and a healthy NFL football obsession as he is for his commitment to Ivey and recent Ivey grads. He currently serves as chair of the Ivey Alumni Association board of directors. Mark lives with his wife Charlotte and their bulldog McDuff in Toronto.

Join The Globe's Small Business LinkedIn group to network with other entrepreneurs and to discuss topical issues.

Report an error

Editorial code of conduct

Tickers mentioned in this story