One hundred years ago, the advent of radio technology and home-based devices for receiving broadcast transmissions ushered in a new era of so-called “mass media.” Before that, community-based outlets and “word of mouth” marketing prevailed. As radio and then TV spread everywhere, marketing and advertising were changed, seemingly forever. A new science of demographics was needed to determine what ads to run in which markets. You had one shot – a single message to run on a radio or TV station with thousands or even millions of people listening or watching.

Throughout the industrial world, mass media played a key role in forging shared values and a new sense of identity as a global citizen. Brands like BMW, Chanel, Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, and Sony became emblems of a collective experience that spanned regions and cultures.

Today, so-called mass media is quickly becoming a thing of the past. That megatrend toward a consensus culture changed directions, first in the 1980s with cable and then in the 1990s with the internet. We’ve quickly moved away from a culture unified by mass media, toward a culture of affiliation enabled by satellite radio, cable TV, and online media. Some research even indicates that “demographics are dead.” The new megatrend has forced marketing and advertising organizations to retool, first for e-marketing and search engine optimization, and now for social media marketing.

The corporate website centered around a traditional marketing funnel is now just a series of transit points to and from a tangle of online communities, social networks, and content sharing sites.

But even with the splintering of audiences into smaller and smaller channels, the global nature of our media culture remains intact, because the advertisers that ultimately fund media, entertainment, and information already target global audiences. What’s changed? Now marketers must go hyper-local in order to reach narrower and narrower segments. Hyper-local means local language, local jargon, local stories, and local media assets (see “How to Get Your Brand on Video and Social Media,” Apr12).

In the emerging culture of affiliation, company representatives must follow their audiences, not expect audiences to follow them. Today’s marketing landscape is an off-road jungle of online communities, social networks, and content sharing sites. Add to that the real world analogs accessed through handheld devices using people-locator apps that show a user who else is in proximity and available for direct interactions. As marketing shifts from uni-directional to bi-directional and ultimately omni-directional, it becomes a “person to person” activity where every employee, customer, or other interested party may share your brand, your story, your offers – and their opinions (positive or negative).

We are back to word-of-mouth marketing. The job of the marketing professional becomes one of proliferating great images, stories, events, offers, and experiences into online and real world environments where individuals will pick them up and serve as transmission repeaters – in as many languages as possible.