The history of business communication is, of course, closely linked to the history of communication itself and to that of business operations. When the two merge, they become an essential part of a successful trade.
Communication is the process by which a concept is shared between two living beings. It can happen in the form of a gesture, a sound or visually in the form of images or prints. Some of the earliest forms of visual communication came in the form of pictographs. People conveyed stories, histories, or instructions through a series of illustrations usually drawn on the walls of caves. The second stage of written communication emerged in the form of raw alphabets used to create written language. Mobility of communication also occurred in this era, with writing being found on clay, wax, and tree bark. The next leap was that of the printing press in the 15th century. Then come the tremendous technological advances using air waves and electronic signals: the radio and the telephone.
At each stage of communication development, business practices have done the same. The advent of common alphabets and a written language meant that artisans could order raw materials from previously inaccessible sources. Consumers living outside the city could order goods from merchants in the city without having to travel. Invoices could be written and paid, and purchase orders sent. One might even assume that international business practices began at this time. Since exploration was taking place and wonderful new things like spices and fabrics were being brought home, perhaps written business communication now enabled sellers to offer their high-end customers the latest discoveries.
The printing press brought with it books, newspapers and catalogs bearing advertisements for local businesses. Businesses now had a whole new way to attract potential new customers. The latest product advancements could be announced, along with sales and new services offered. Catalogs were usually only printed by companies that could afford such an expense, but for many families who lived in rural areas, it was their only way to shop.
Print communication served consumers and business owners well, but when radio came into use in the late 19th century, it again revolutionized business communication. Henceforth, the products and services of each company could be marketed on the basis of mass communication. Once a household had a radio, broadcasts could reach far beyond any newspaper or catalog. And it was instantaneous. As soon as the message was delivered on the air, the word spread. When print ads were published, it sometimes took weeks or months to get a response. Many entrepreneurs who have seen the potential of radio have found huge success. Their market share has increased, and with it their profits.
Once the radio takes off, the telephone and television are not far behind. Of course, in the beginning, the phone was not used for advertising in business, but rather as a practical tool. Manufacturers could communicate with commodity representatives, business owners could communicate with consumers, and investors could communicate with their beneficiaries. It wasn’t until the late 20th century that the telephone was used to advertise a business, through telemarketing and the fax machine. From its earliest days, television has been used for marketing purposes. Media broadcasters would recruit local business owners to sponsor their show, in exchange for a few minutes of airtime to advertise their products. The exchange worked well.
When technology gave birth to the computer and the Internet, business communication changed drastically once again. In fact, the change was probably as big as when the printing press was invented. Not only could marketing spread further than ever before, but the speed at which it could happen was revolutionary. Business operations could now become much more efficient, further increasing profits. Consumers had more say in what they wanted and how they wanted to receive it. In many ways, the middleman has been taken out of the equation. There was no longer any need for traveling salesmen. Customers could be reached in a much more cost-effective way through the use of computers and the Internet.
Our business practices have become so dependent on these forms of media that it is hard to imagine life without them. But now that technology has advanced so much, customers are looking for companies that strive to communicate with their customers in a more personal way. Consumers want personalized service in a convenient way, which is why business communication must evolve again.