Welcome to the world of 4D. No, it's not a new science fiction show - it's a new way of looking at communications. While communications are largely still organized by discipline - advertising, PR, digital, etc. - the 4D model neutralizes the disciplines and focuses on consumers and the role they have in communications efforts. 4D organizes communications by the amount of participation the consumer has with the different channels.
4D communication encourages efficiently well-rounded engagement with a brand. The way the 4D model works is that media channels are divided into categories, according to how much interaction the consumer can have with them. For instance, consider two extremes: a billboard on a highway and a viral video. The billboard offers no interaction with the consumer and is simply there to offer information about a brand. With the viral video, one can grab the URL and either forward it to friends or embed it into your own space to share with a broader audience. Under the 4D model, media channels can fall under one of four groupings: 1D, 2D, 3D and 4D.
1D media channels are relatively self-explanatory: They, like the billboard, offer one-way communication. Most traditional media channels - when executed traditionally - are 1D: print ads, TV spots, radio spots and billboards, for example.
Direct response TV spots like Geico commercials, however, are a good example of 2D media channels: those offering two-way communication (in this case, a call-in number). The marketer still sends out the message, but in this case the consumer has the option of responding. Other examples of 2D communications include all other forms of direct response, customer relationship management and interactive banner ads, among others.
3D media channels - also controlled by the marketer - are those that offer an experience that people can immerse themselves in. Pop-up stores are a great example, like the ones UNIQLO opened in SoHo to give people a taste of the brand two weeks before the flagship store's opening. The 20 restrooms that Charmin debuted in Times Square last winter for hordes of holiday shoppers are another such example. Channels don't have to be physically involving to be considered 3D, however. In-game advertising is also an example of 3D (experiential) communications, in which brands can expose themselves to people as they're immersed in another world.
4D communications encompass viral and personal channels. The recent Cadbury spot that features a gorilla playing drums to Phil Collins has been forwarded all around the world between friends (see it at AGlassandaHalfFullProductions.com). While a spot like this would typically be considered 1D, the fact that it lives online - which facilitates the viral "passing between friends" behavior - elevates it to 4D. It's all about how consumers interact and behave with the brand. Most Web 2.0 properties like blogs are also considered 4D because they let people take over, own their digital space and communicate with each other on them.
4D channels are not necessarily better than the others. A successful brand more often than not uses all four dimensions, but, more importantly, understands their roles and interrelationships. A clear example of a brand that has successfully done this is Nike. It lives in 1D with artfully concepted TV spots (like the recent Michael Mann-directed "Leave Nothing" Nike football spot, viewable on Nike.com); 2D is covered through the interactive Nike Web site; experiential Niketown stores let you live and experience the brand in 3D; Nike Plus rounds the brand out into 4D by allowing consumers to create and participate in virtual running communities and interact with each other for support and encouragement.
The exciting thing for brands today is that the 4D model examines the integration of media channels and takes it from being across disciplines to being about people and behavior. It creates countless options for understanding the roles of different channels and how they work together; and for combining the different channel types to create a cohesively synergistic experience with the brand at multiple levels of engagement. It's not about what channel you use anymore - it's how you use each one in tandem with others to create a well-rounded campaign that will fully reach people.
Written by Johanna Beyenbach, associate strategist, and curated by Paul Woolmington, Naked Communications. (firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com)