Digital Communications. Differences between Many-To-Many, One-To-Many and One-To-One

Essay, 2019

16 Pages, Grade: 80%


Table of contents

The Evolution of Communication

Three Types of Communication

The power of social media

Marketers Today



This document looks at the evolution of one-to-one, one-to-many and many-to-many communications and reveals the main differences between these communication approaches. A separate section will take a closer look at social media which have influenced how audiences want to be marketed to today (Heinze, Fletcher, Rachid & Cruz, 2017).

As seen by Heinze et al. (2017), the world can be divided into physical and virtual parts. Prensky (2001) distinguishes between digital natives and digital immigrants. Because digital technologies evolve very fast, companies must adapt quickly in order to interact with customers in a sustainable way (Shimp & Andrews, 2013). Lastly, this paper displays the techniques that are required of today’s marketers.

The Evolution of Communication

Before the Industrial Revolution enabled mass production, local store owners relied on one-to-one communication (Wirth & Sweet, n.d.). While storekeepers knew their customers and their individual purchase histories, it was not possible to expand to a high level of personalisation.

With the arrival of print and later broadcast advertising, marketing evolved to one-to-many communications (Shimp & Andrews, 2013) . In 1994, the World Wide Web enabled an even broader reach than television, radio and newspapers (Heinze et al, 2017; Shimp & Andrews, 2013). Hackley and Kitchen wrote in 1998 (p.229-235) that “consumers are social”. Early websites erased the boundaries of space and time (Shimp & Andrews, 2013), although they did not yet enable two-way communication (Heinze et al., 2017). Marketers were still targeting their customers with mass media messages (Heinze et al., 2017).

In the early stages of digitalization, people feared the end of human communication (Heinze et al., 2017). However, with the arrival of Web 2.0 and social networking services such as Facebook, consumers were even more connected than before. Anyone with a computer could publish content and comment on other people’s opinions. As seen per Heinze et al. (2017), this was the birth of many-to-many marketing communications.

In the year 2005 Yahoo was the first company to mention the term “social commerce”, launching the sale of products and services on social media (Heinze, 2017). When Google launched its free analytics tool in 2005 (Clifton, 2012), this then enabled data analysis. This marked the beginning of the data-driven era and big data became the fuel of the economy (Heinze et al., 2017; Ryan, 2012). When smartphones were added to the communication channels, people could be reached 24/7 and interact with each other on-the-go (Heinze et al., 2017).

Today the digital landscape has evolved even further. Products have been added to the communication models. The Internet of Things, virtual reality and augmented reality are here to stay and will increasingly be a part of daily life (Heinze et al, 2017). Because the digital world has become very competitive and noisy and despite a dropped attention span, consumers look for meaningful conversations (Ryan, 2012). In order to target their buyer personas with highly personalised content, marketing managers have started to re-use one-to-one (Heinze et al., 2017; Shimp & Andrews, 2013).

Three Types of Communication

Marketers that focus on the needs of their consumers know that the old methods are not outdated (Barak, 2012; Heinze et al., 2017). The so-called outside-in approach (Heinze et al., 2017; Shimp & Andrews, 2013) starts with the many-to-many method, extends to one-to-many, ending with personalised one-to-one communication (Barak, 2012). Whichever the approach, quality content should be the core value of each conversation (Heinze et al., 2017).

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Figure1: Slide from Web 2.0 at Work by Berg and Gustafsson (2008)

There are various touchpoints where customers can interact with businesses (Hoffman, 2016). Whether on the company’s website or blog, on social media platforms, in the store, on customers’ phones or at home, via a podcast or word of mouth; businesses must apply an omnichannel approach and adapt to customer needs (Heinze et al., 2017, Shimp & Andrews, 2013).


As seen per Shimp and Andrews (2013), eight out of ten internet users engage in blogs and social media. These are channels where organisations can interact with their audiences and show their human side (Heinze et al., 2017). Many-to-many communication is about the relationship built in a dialogue between two or more interlocutors.

Shimp and Andrews (2013) argue that engagement is the key KPI in marketing ever since Web 1.0 and companies that are perceived as genuine and transparent are rewarded with engagement (Heinze et al, 2017). Clifton (2012) speaks of “love buttons” when portraying the engagement that social media can generate. Provoking customer engagement is a difficult task as nine out of ten users are so-called “lurkers” that passively consume online content (Heinze et al., 2017, p.196).

There are many tactics on how to engage users. Good video material, images and text as well as promoters, influencers and positive word-of-mouth are effective marketing tools (Ryan, 2012). As the digital environment is loud and busy, marketers should be humble and listen (Sprout Social, n.d.). As seen per Newman (2015), many digitally immature companies still use social media in a broadcast way - a missed chance to improve customer loyalty (Heinze et al., 2017).

By offering a customer-oriented service on social media, Buffer ’s so-called Happiness Team has managed to build an emotional connection with its customers (Morgan, 2018). The support team engages in open discussions and answers customer feedback in real time. Last year, the software application entered Forbes’ list of the ten most customer-friendly companies in the world (Morgan, 2018).

Further details about how many-to-many communication interacts with one-to-one and one-to-many will be discussed later in this document.


One-to-many is a popular communication method to reach the masses (Heinze et al., 2017; Newman, 2015; Shimp & Andrews, 2013). As seen per Shimp and Andrews (2013), organisations that want to ensure top-of-mind awareness within their audiences, rely on one-to-many communication. Companies with a low market share cannot afford not to invest in awareness campaigns.

Radio, television, print newspapers and magazines are the best-known examples for this category of communication (Shimp & Andrews, 2013). Emails, webinars and social media are also popular one-to-many channels (Sivakumaran, 2018). When a company sends out a survey to its buyer personas or practices social listening it is called many-to-one (IMRE, 2018).

Every year, the leading brands of the world spend millions on Superbowl ads to reach approximately 100 million viewers (Handley, 2019). As seen per Gesenhues (2016), in 2016 three of Hyundai ’s ads made it to the top ten list of YouTube ’s most watched Superbowl videos. The website traffic increased by 500 %. These were organic views that the company did not pay for. A couple of months later the company sold more cars than ever before in the month of July.

Reach is the primary advantage of one-to-many communication (Heinze et al., 2017). Although the method does not provide the personalisation of one-to-one nor the interactivity of many-to-many, one-to-many (and many-to-many) can be perceived as personalised one-to-one. As seen per Sivakumaran (2018), automation is a great tool to send customised messages. The author displays tactics that take away the impersonal tone of automated messages such as using the names of recipients, documenting feedback or A/B testing. When applying automation, marketers must make sure not to end up dehumanising their anonymous customers (Heinze et al., 2017).

In a competitive digital environment, users demand that their needs are respected. Intrusive messaging will destroy a brand’s equity in the long run (Heinze et al., 2017). One-to-many communication must always be handled with care (Heinze et al., 2017).


Customers accept being part of permanent market research provided they receive personalised products and services in return (Heinze et al., 2017). One-to-one communication focuses on personalised messages sent to leads in order to build sustainable relationships (Smith, 2016). Direct mail, telephone calls and web banners fall into this category of communication (Shimp & Andrews, 2013).

In order to understand customer needs and ultimately to enhance customer loyalty, marketers must create buyer personas and ensure a solid customer database (Heinze et al., 2017; Ryan, 2012; Smith, 2016). Highly-targeted ads work, provided customers are further down the sales funnel. As discussed by Heinze et al. (2017), a person that does not know and trust a company yet, will not expect a personal message. This is the reason why marketers should first interact with their customers using many-to-many and one-to-many communication.

Chatbots can start a conversation (Rowles & Rogers, 2019) but content marketing takes the discussion to the next step (Crestodina, 2014). As seen per Smith (2016) and DiSilvestro (2017); in order to establish a one-to-one relationship, marketers can try various methods to push their customers down the sales funnel:

- Send relevant messages at the right time by using Pay Per Click;
- Re-engage website users with re-targeting campaigns ;
- Re-engage email lists with re-marketing;
- Target on social media using demographic and psychographic information;
- Use cookies to customise messaging on a website ;
- Segment the contact base to enable personalisation of e-mails.

As seen per Bacile and Swiley (2014, cited in Grewal, Bart, Spann & Zubcsek, 2016), with people carrying their smartphones with them wherever they go, mobile phones have become effective personalisation tools. Marketers can trigger highly relevant messages depending on time, geolocation and weather. Grewal et al. (2016) mention Sharkey's (2014) example of United Airlines which offers Uber rides to its passengers after they have landed. The app recognises the terminal and the customer's experience is improved.

Customer loyalty, increased sales and reduced costs are advantages of one-to-one communication (Wainwright, 2017). While this approach may still be a competitive advantage, it will soon be part of the norm (Heinze et al., 2017; Wirth & Sweet, n.d.).

Last year, Amazon made it to Forbes ’s top ten of the most customer-friendly companies in the world. As seen per Morgan (2018), Amazon ’s advanced machine learning and instant processing have made the company’s e-commerce known for its excellent one-to-one communication techniques. Although there is no physical store, the client always has a similar experience to a real face-to-face interaction with a human salesperson.

In 2015 Daniel Newman described a pleasant customer experience when receiving a personalised message by Amazon, informing him that the author of his previously purchased book had released a new publication. Newman was offered a time-limited offer to buy the new book. The Forbes author felt understood.

This was four years ago. In order to further improve the one-to-one experience, Amazon is currently working on facial recognition technologies (Punke, 2019; Singer, 2019).

The power of social media

A study by Statista (n.d.) showed that people are increasingly informing themselves online and despite a general lack of trust, people have started to do so via social media. The power of social media is undeniable; communicating through this medium helped Donald Trump become the President of the United States (Parkinson, 2015; Buncombe, 2018).

Social media is multiplex and enables all manner of communication approaches. As depicted by IMRE (2018), a post on social media channels such as Facebook is one-to-many. As soon as someone leaves a comment it becomes many-to-one. When more people are added to the dialogue, marketers call it many-to-many. A personal message in the inbox is one-to-one.

There are approximately 4.4 billion internet users in the world of which 3.4 billion are active social media users (Chaffey, 2019). Most of them prefer Facebook and YouTube, followed by Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat. Because we live in a multiple-touchpoint world (Hoffman, 2016), channel selection is important. As seen via Heinze et al. (2017), content and channels can be grouped into earned, paid and owned. The authors argue that the most important part of the channel selection is to ensure that the communication platform matches the buyer persona’s preferences.

The Conversation Prism by Solis (2013) displays further social channels:

Figure 2: The Conversation Prism by Solis (2013) (not part of this publication)

A McKinsey report, mentioned by Heinze et al. (2017), explains how social media channels create value. Digital natives, born and raised with new technologies, are believed to be value-driven (Cut, 2017) and most of them are active social media users. Digital natives enjoy instant messaging and want to stay connected around the clock (Cunningham, 2007).


Excerpt out of 16 pages


Digital Communications. Differences between Many-To-Many, One-To-Many and One-To-One
University of Salford  (The Digital Marketing Institute Ireland)
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
Digital communication, Many-to-many, one-to-many, one-to-one, evolution of communication, social media
Quote paper
Thorunn Egilsdottir (Author), 2019, Digital Communications. Differences between Many-To-Many, One-To-Many and One-To-One, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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