Video/Audio vs Text - Effectiveness vs. Efficiency

Published: by

In a previous post, I discussed how audio/video, because of their 1:1 nature, are more "analog" or perhaps "serial" in nature, and thus highly inefficient compared with text/images, which are n:1 and are thus "digital" or "parallel."

David Wenner noted that his app, VocalReference, uses audio, video and text to capture customer references, that it is more effective that way. In his words, the world loves video/audio, accept it. In end, we are both right, the key element is the context.

Text and images will always be more efficient ways to transmit data. As heuristocrat pointed out, humans have an incredible ability to combine scanning with chunking and pattern-matching and thus absorb a huge amount of data visually at once. This is why text and images are so effective, as they enable our brain to optimize its potential, by using those abilities in ways that audio/video simply do not allow.

However, there are contexts in which even the most efficient method of data transmission will nonetheless fail to meet their goal for one of two reasons:

  • Interest: Because the human mind is more than just a data absorption machine, it requires variety and at times entertainment. As David pointed out, at conferences, people look up from their iPads when the speaker moves to a video. 
  • Cues: In many cases, the unwritten text is part of the data. This is particularly true where body language matters. No matter how much one writes emphasizers to the customer references, actually hearing the customer's voice and seeing their body language is an important part of the reference. This cannot be gleaned any way other than face-to-face in real-time or by audio/video

David's correct comments highlight that when data transmission is the purpose (i.e. the context), then text/images will always be the most efficient. However, when either other data such as cues are a crucial part of the information or context, or the psychology of human interest becomes part of the environment, then audio/video may not be efficient, but it is more effective.

I often do due diligence on companies for the purpose of potential investors, partners or customers. Inevitably, my clients ask for two analyses: is the product/market as good as the company says (truth-in-advertising, if you will); and is the product/market as unique as the company says. I always add a third: are the people as capable as the product appears. No matter how brilliant a marketing plan, or beautifully designed a piece of software, real people had to think of it, plan for it, and execute it. I want to see and evaluate those people, face-to-face, on the ground.

Sometimes no amount of efficient research will be able to replace the effectiveness of speaking with the people who built the product, run the operations, market the services.