Forget Traditional vs. Digital – It’s All About Engagement

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You’ve got to get a grip on who your masters are.

-Frank Underwood, House of Cards

The idea of creating content and campaigns that are mobile-first - that's so 2013. These days it's all about being screen-agnostic. That's the new watchword for brands and advertisers as they struggle to deliver a seamless brand experience across the multi-device world of their customers.

Here's where we are today from a recent Microsoft study:

  • 71 percent of U.S. consumers view content on two or more screens daily
  • 1 in 5 Americans watch TV on a mobile device
  • One in three Americans own a tablet

And it's changing how we do business, of course. Invitation-only shopping site Rue La La mapped their customer's journey and found that customers first use the mobile Web, then a smartphone app and then a tablet app. "We see that a multiscreen user is six times more valuable than a single-screen user," said Gerry McGoldrick, vice president of marketing at Rue La La, Boston. They also claim 60 percent of their sales are driven by mobile .

Clearly, consumers are charging ahead in this new behavior and agencies and media companies that don't recognize this are not optimizing engagement. Everyone should be trying to better understand the daily interaction consumers have with all their screens.

We're seeing onscreen additions of text and searches in TV shows like House of Cards and Sherlock as part of the story. And ad tech companies are springing up to help brands and advertisers track consumers across their different devices to find commonalities that link one device with another. In essence, this could help brands serve up content on a work computer, ads on a mobile device on the commute home and a third brand message while sitting with a tablet on the couch. Oh, and a fourth on the TV, if the data can link it all together.

Another example is music. Every year, music discovery app Shazam tracks and identifies 4 billion songs for eager new fans and generates $300 million in music sales. According to Shazam's VP of Music & Content, Will Mills, their consumers' multi-screen experience "has dramatically increased the speed of music discovery and sales and is often a factor in helping new artists break bigger."

In their Changing Channels study published in 2013, research house Millward and Brown observe that "Multi-screen device usage is creating a new landscape for content consumption that can be simultaneous or sequential and can be driven by related or unrelated content."

Why is this important for advertisers? Let's say the consumer is watching a cooking channel on TV and also searching for a recipe online. The study points out that "Marketers will tap into this by ensuring their advertising content is an extension of the programming content. Messages will be relevant, fluid, and related." Helping the consumer have a positive brand encounter at these interaction points is critical.

Or think about a viewer checking social media while watching a football game on TV. In this case, brands with no connection to sports might reach out to other related devices (family members, partner) during sports games. Again, the brand encounter needs to be positive and meaningful to make sense to the consumer.

And don't think that traditional 'outdoor' screens aren't part of the multi-screen experience. PepsiCo just announced it is posting user-generated Vine videos into outdoor ads in what it claims to be a 'media first', a move that signals the brands shift away from traditional, TV-led campaigns to digitally focused efforts.

Clearly, brands and advertisers will be rewarded or punished by how well they help deliver content and marketing messages to the consumer in ways that are pleasing but don't interfere with their lives. And marketers will need to get better at understanding data and research and resist the old way of thinking as 'traditional' or 'digital.' This is the new reality. Understanding the ecosystem and the new paths to purchase could unlock a new era of brand storytelling and consumer acceptance.

Beverly Macy is author, educator, and thought leader in social and digital business and a frequent contributor to Say Daily. She is also the author of The Power of Real-Time Social Media Marketing and the host of Social Media Radio.

[Image Credit: House of Cards]