3 strategies to unlock the mobile opportunity

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Towards the end of 2014, I wrote a blog post on 2015 predictions and put mobile at the center of it (blog post is here). Today, just three months later, I’m surprised by how quickly mobile is reshaping content and by how many new experiments since the beginning of 2015 have already pushed the boundaries of ‘made-for-mobile’ content.

For example, YouTube launched just recently 360 degrees videos (news article here), which leverage phones’ gyroscopes to provide users with an immersive 360 degrees video experience, without any need for VR devices. To get an idea, watch this RedBull F1 video (it’s so mobile-first that watching the video on desktop is really annoying!). Obviously, Facebook didn’t wait long to announce that they will also embed spherical videos right in the news feed (news article here), even though they didn’t specify timing.

In February, Facebook has also started to actively push ‘cinemagraphs’, basically GIF images in which only a part is animated (see examples in the news article here). Cinemagraphs have actually been around for a few years, but they have never been used at scale due to the complex and manual production process required. Facebook seems to have cracked the code to build cinemagraphs at scale: “You’re going to start seeing a ton of these on Facebook”, said a spokesman from the company. Obviously, they work really well on mobile, especially when embedded in a news feed experience.

In short, the mobile revolution is here, and it’s changing content in a big way. We’ll certainly see more innovation in this space, and marketers (and especially their creative agencies) need to think differently and adapt quickly. It all starts with understanding what mobile is from a consumer perspective, and therefore the role that it can play in your marketing campaigns.

1. Mobile is UBIQUITOUS

Mobile devices are used throughout the day, and everywhere. Your idea must be portable and follow the user wherever s/he goes, at any point in time, always providing a relevant and engaging experience. For example, Lux Japan recently launched a campaign called “Sakura dream”. The center-piece of a campaign is a site which uses Google street view and overlays cherry blossoms to the user’s current location, effectively providing an augmented reality experience (try it out at http://sakuradream.lux.co.jp/, it’s only in Japanese though). It’s a beautiful example of how a brand can be relevant without being intrusive, by providing a mobile native, entertaining (almost magic!) experience.

 

2. Mobile is URGENT

1 in 3 searches on smartphones are local searches. This is just an example of how users interact with mobile for a range of immediate needs, whether practical needs (go from A to B, find a convenience store, etc), productivity (such as checking emails or calendar appointments), information or entertainment needs (watch video, browse a news feed, etc). We unlock our phone on average 150 times a day and always demand immediate response, zero latency, and a vast range of capabilities. Being relevant and providing utility to users is even more important for advertisers on mobile, as users are more likely to skip ads (their thumb is just a few millimeters away from the skip button) or browse/swipe away from it. However, advertiser can also capitalize on the higher propensity to interact on mobile, by providing more opportunities to engage and explore more content. So two effective strategies at the opposite end of the spectrum are:

  1. Entertain users to make your ad ‘unskippable’ (i.e. block the users’ urgency to interact). A recent great example comes from Geico (insurance company in US), who produced a series of video ads in which the actors freeze after the first few seconds, while the ad keeps going (my favorite video is here)
  2. Leverage interactivity by providing plenty of opportunities to engage and browse through content (i.e. let users swipe, tap, and move across content types). A recent example is how Burberry used a new ad format on YouTube called ‘info-cards’ to let users watch a womenswear show and at the same time browse additional content (backstage, interviews, catalogs, etc). This video showcases the campaign and formats used.

3. Mobile is ANTHROPOMORPHIC (i.e. human-like)

Smartphones have eyes (one in the front and one in the back, in the form of cameras), ears, voice, and they don’t have legs of their own but ours are generally sufficient. They are truly the global maxima in terms of degrees of creative freedom. From an advertiser’s perspective, there are plenty of opportunities to leverage these capabilities to provide a more relevant user experience. The following are three strategies that work well (the ‘3c’ of made-for-mobile content):

  1. CONTROL. Mobile devices can become remote controls to activate or interact with other devices. This is a particularly effective strategy when orchestrating across different media (example: Nike Phenomenal Shot campaign during last year’s World Cup – video here) or when using mobile as a tool of convergence between the online and offline worlds (example: Adidas Neo Window Shopping campaign – video here)
  2. CONTEXT. Leverage smartphones’ position to gain relevance, for example as in the Lux Sakura Dream campaign mentioned before
  3. CUSTOMIZATION. Leverage interactivity to provide a highly tailored, personalized experience. The 360 degrees RedBull F1 video is a great example of personalization. Another example (even though a bit dated) comes from the Re:Brief project with Coca-Cola, in which people were able to send a coke (together with a personal message) to people around the world through particular vending machines (here is the campaign explained)


Ubiquitous. Urgent. Anthropomorphic. When writing the next brief, think about what role you want mobile to play in your campaign, and think mobile from the very early stage of idea generation.

On measuring video effectiveness, and teaching dogs to fly

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It happened again… In a discussion on effectiveness of video ads, I heard once again a statement like: “sales is the only valid metric for us to measure effectiveness”. This time I have to write about it.

Why your dog won’t fly.

Let’s keep it simple. There are only a couple of ways in which video ads could drive sales directly:

  1. A user watches a video ad, then closes the browser, walks to the store and buys the product (offline conversion)
  2. A user watches a video ad, clicks on the ‘buy now’ button, and buys the product (online conversion)

#1 doesn’t happen often. It used to be marketers’ belief that an attention grabbing TV would make people flock to the stores. Today, “put an attention grabbing ad on TV, and people will flock to the internet” (Greg Satell). If the video ad is digital, people are very likely to do some more research online before buying.

#2 happens very rarely, for example in shoppable hangouts or in other forms of shoppable video ads. However, most video ads don’t have a call to action to purchase the product. Also, video platforms don’t have an always prominent ‘buy now’ button like e-commerce sites.

In other words, video ads generally don’t drive sales directly, they just can’t. Video is increasingly important in the consumer journey, but it is often only the beginning of it. Video platforms are also not built to drive sales. If you are trying to optimize your video ads to see a clear impact on sales, you might as well try to teach your dog to fly.


The bad, the worse, and the ugly.

So your metrics are wrong. Ok, it can’t be that bad, right? In fact, you won’t change the entire culture of your very sales-driven company, just to change ONE metric! And you certainly don’t want to go and tell your boss that sales are not important. Let’s keep quiet and find some work-around…

Good luck.

The bad. Your content strategy will be wrong, in so many ways. For example, you might focus on your product and benefits (including plenty of product shots in the video), in order to reinforce mental availability for your product when the consumer is making a quick choice in the aisle of a supermarket. However, many viewers will find your product and benefit irrelevant, simply because they are not ready to buy (or even considering). And because they have plenty of choice, they will skip your ad, or just close the browser.

The worse. Your media strategy will be wrong. If users don’t watch your ad, video won’t work for you. You’re likely to decrease your investment in video ads and move spend to other media types, which are more effective delivering sales. The equivalent in the offline world would be to spend your entire budget in trade marketing and just hope that people will find your store and walk into it, almost by chance. Obviously, sales will also go down soon…

…and that’s the ugly. Your entire business will suffer. While your competitors are out there building new relationships and deepening connections (with video ads), you will be alienating even your existing customers, attempting to sell something to them at every touch-point. You’ll bleed customers, sales, then employees, … Doesn’t sound great, right?


So what does great measurement look like?

In one sentence, you have to cover every touch-point with the right ‘tools’, and measure their effectiveness based on what each of them is supposed to deliver. For a more comprehensive read on the topic, I recommend this article by Avinash Kaushik, colleague at Google and great thinker on digital.

Let’s look at measurement specifically for video. My recommendation is to start with what you need to know in order to measure effectiveness but also to make smart decisions on how to optimize your content and media strategies. There are 3 questions you need to ask yourself.

1. Am I creating content that people want to see?

Keep in mind that you don’t have an option: on digital, you need to craft content that people want to see. If you don’t, they’ll skip you ads or close the tab, and possibly feel annoyed by your brand. Metrics to track are:

  • View-through-rate (on skippable ads): tells you if people are willing to listen to you
  • Audience retention and/or completion rate: tell you when people stop listening and will allow you to tweak your creative (or run A/B testing pre-campaign)

2. Am I distributing my content effectively?

Creating great content doesn’t mean that people will see it. On YouTube, most videos don’t achieve 1000 views, including some great content. Ensuring your best content is seen is at the core of a digital marketer’s job. Key metrics to track are:

  • Unique reach across devices (and possibly incremental reach to any offline campaigns)
  • Views or watch-time: views is a key digital currency, it tells you how many users have chosen to see your ad (make sure you count opt-in views and not auto-played views, they are two different currencies!). One important note: measure both paid views and earned views, as well as the ratio of total views over paid views (a ratio of 2 is generally the threshold for good content as a rule of thumb)
  • Traffic sources: tell you how many users are landing on your content and from where. It’s important because it will allow you to ‘find’ more users in the right places

3. Am I driving engagement and subscribers?

Video ads are a great way to deepen connections and build a community of loyalists (to understand why, read this previous post). Metrics to watch here are:

  • Subscriber gains/losses (for each video!): tell you what content attracts more subscribers (so you’ll produce more of it!) and indicates your overall ability to turn casual viewers into ‘fans’ of your brand
  • Comments/likes/shares per ‘000 views: indicate the amount of engagement and participation your content is able to achieve (normalized by the number of views)
  • Click-through rate from ads and annotations: indicates your ability to drive follow-on engagement with users and cover successive touch-points

Finally, your golden metrics: measure the impact on your brand.

Every brand has its own strategy and specific objectives, but in general monitoring the impact on key brand metrics is paramount. Brand awareness is obviously important, but for many big brands it’s already very high, so brand consideration and favorability become better indicators of an actual shift in consumers’ preferences.


Build your own scorecard for success!

Obviously these metrics might change depending on your brand and objectives, but hopefully the ones I mentioned will constitute a good starting point to build your own scorecard. The metrics above are summarized graphically here.

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A final tip: focus on few metrics and select those that you can use for decision-making and influence directly with clear levers.

CES and the internet of things: what does it all mean for brands? Not much, for now.

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CES 2015 has largely disappointed. Some pretty cool gadget and lots of old ideas. Those who said that all cars would drive themselves by 2020, now predict the same for 2030 (moving by decades is always safer, as 2025 might suggest a real plan to make it happen). In the year of Marty Mc Fly, all we got excited about were a selfie drone and a bunch of smart washing machines.

Yet, the enthusiasm for the internet of things and opportunities for marketers remains high, as in some recent interviews published by AdWeek. However, statements about how marketers will take advantage of the internet of things remain vague, such as: “[marketers will have] opportunities to weave narratives that are far more useful for consumers”. But what does that really mean?? My personal view is: some of the hype on the internet of things is justified, and some is smoke and mirrors.

So first of all, let’s look at some of the key news at CES about the internet of things.

  1. Smart homes: clearly any domestic appliance has potential to be connected, and it will. Even relatively dull devices (e.g. sprinklers) can become much more useful once they are connected and, most importantly, smart.
  2. Wearables, touchables, and more: wrists took the center stage with watches and fitness trackers. But we also saw some great new ideas, such as chest-worn stickers and smart headphones. New smart devices are not just extensions of smartphones anymore, they provide new native services to benefit users. My personal favorite: your yoga mat could soon suggest how to improve your practice.
  3. Television: amazing 4K / UHD resolution, super thin and curved, but more importantly always smarter and more connected.
  4. Automotive: driverless is now a must-have, but Mercedes went way beyond, rethinking the entire user experience.
  5. Virtual reality: Oculus Rift led the pack with the impressive Crescent Bay, with Samsung Gear and Open Source VR following behind

Clearly, all these trends represent great opportunities for marketers (at some point in the future). Here are some concrete ways in which this could happen.

  • Smart devices can collect a wealth of user data and make marketing efforts smarter as well. CRM could be transformed as marketers better understand how consumers engage with their products. Your washing machine might call a repair service even before breaking down, and your yoga mat might suggest you useful YouTube videos on how to perfection your postures. The consumer experience will improve dramatically, and this will provide brands to establish stronger relationships. Simply put, we will love more brands, because they will speak to us in a more personal and useful way.

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  • Connected TVs will offer more opportunities for marketers to provide seamless multi-screen experiences to users. The amount of simultaneous usage of TV and smartphones or tablets will increase further (especially meshing, i.e. simultaneous consumption of related content on multiple screens). Samsung is following Google’s Chromecast philosophy with Tizen, and smartphones will increase their functionality as remote controls for TVs. In the “anytime, anywhere” paradigm of content consumption, advertisers will need to offer choice and useful content to users (forget forced consumption of TV ads as it still happens today), but the reward will be more engaging experiences across multiple screens.
  • Virtual reality could explode very soon, and it will open up new frontiers in gaming and entertainment in general. Storytelling might soon become story-blending, as marketers place their messages within the content that users decide to consume, leveraging immersive VR experiences. Marketing partnership with gaming companies will become widespread (e.g. a friend working at an oil company mentioned to me that they discussed placing their brand of engine oil in car-racing video-games to provide a special boost to cars). To use a hyperbole: we might all go back to how tobacco companies build their brands with Hollywood movies. At the same time, valuable in-gaming advertising spaces will be traded programmatically, and contribute to personalize the experience even further from a user perspective.

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  • As cars drive themselves, people will discover a new living room, as Mercedes envisioned with his “Luxury in Motion” prototype at CES. Considerable time previously spent driving will be spent connecting and consuming content, and marketers will obviously tap into this new opportunity. Connected cars will also be location-aware and possibly offer opportunities for augmented reality. Imagine waiting at a red traffic light and at the same time being able to virtually enter a nearby shop and explore the shelfs, all without ever leaving the car and just using a window as a touch-screen.

Now, let’s play devil’s advocate and look at some of the reasons why many opportunities for marketers in the internet of things might be more remote than we think.

  1. The internet of things will need to disrupt industries before it really happens in a big way, and some of these industries will take considerable time to change. For example, many companies in the ‘smart home’ space don’t have much experience developing software and leveraging big data, and it will take time before they turn the possibilities of a connected home to their advantage and really improve the consumer experience. For how anachronistic this might sound, I believe that the pace of technology will slow down, before accelerating again.
  2. Looking at how connected devices are presented at CES, the internet of things seems to entail a world where consumers are connected with a whole lot of devices and control them through hundreds of apps on our smartphones. This contrasts with the current reality, where the average smartphone user is not even downloading one new app in a given month, and smartphones still have limitations (e.g. battery life). For the internet of things to become reality (beyond just niches), devices will need to be not only connected but also inter-connected, in order to exchange signals and work in logical patterns or sequences (e.g. start brewing my coffee and turn on the water heater as soon as my alarm goes off, and then start a music playlist that well suits my mood and the current weather). Inter-connectivity and exchange of signals (on top of big data) will require partnerships and standard-setting in the industry, and these take time to happen.
  3. While connected devices look cool in isolation and in a demo environment, I find that many of them are still not practical and provide a clunky user experience. For example, by and large, connected devices require a good internet connection to work properly, or work with bluetooth connectivity which has issues of energy consumption and short range. Coming to energy consumption, I already can’t tolerate recharging my smart watch every day or two, and definitely wouldn’t bother recharging my yoga mat. In other words, many connected devices so far have not been designed with the consumer in mind. Inevitably, adoption will be slow.


While the prospects of the internet of things might be exciting for marketers in the long run, a number of existing challenges make the potential more remote than we would imagine just looking at the new gadgets at CES. While less exciting, I believe that for the next few years smartphones and smart TVs (on top of desktop and tablets) will remain the main platforms to reach and engage audiences at scale.

5 predictions for 2015: The mobile transformation in digital marketing

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2015 promises to be another year of high growth for mobile, but also a year of transformation. Users will continue to do more of the same (watching video, listening to music, search, engage socially, …) but will also do new and different things, such as using mobile as a virtual assistant, a payment method, a remote control to activate other devices, and much more. As advertisers seek to deepen connections with consumers and be relevant in the key touch-points, mobile will often become the platform and opportunity to do so.

As mobile usage will transform itself in 2015, digital marketing will be transformed as a consequence. Here is how I believe it will happen.

 

#1. The rebirth of content marketing

Content marketing is based on the mantra that users will engage with content that is valuable to them. The right content at the right time can educate users, entertain them, inspire them, and users have been willing to trade their attention for relevant and useful content. Content marketing is an exchange of value between users and advertisers: your attention in exchange for a service that has some value. Now, as mobile becomes the main platform to engage with consumers, advertisers will reap the benefit: mobile devices have always been providing a service to consumers, and as users perform new activities with their mobile devices in 2015, advertisers will have the opportunity to enable valuable experiences in native ways. For example, as mobile devices increasingly assume the role of personal assistants, advertisers will be able to provide content to meet that expectation and be useful to consumers.

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#2. Content types will further converge

Video, music, gaming, and social will further converge. We are already seeing a dramatic increase in watchtime of gaming content (passive gaming), dominant video and music platforms like YouTube and Spotify are becoming more social (and YouTube just launched a music service as well, Music Key), and branded content is following the same direction, with more gamified content and more music partnerships. In 2015 these trends will only accelerate, and new experiments will take off, blending different types of content. For example, gaming will grow in virtual reality and become even more social and connected to video. Alternative reality gaming is another interesting space to watch, as Niantic Lab’s Endgame kicked-off just recently and will bring gaming, social, and video together in the same experience.

 

#3. Context (not content) is king

So far, the potential of mobile devices to provide context-based signals hasn’t really been exploited, largely due to technical and privacy constraints. However, tech players like Apple, Facebook and Google have been gearing up to provide more context-based signals to advertisers (for example, in October Facebook launched hyperlocal ads to target users within a mile of a business), and advertisers will massively embrace these new possibilities, especially as they strive for relevance and better ROI on their ad spend. Also, in 2015, as people leverage their mobile devices for new uses, they will be increasingly keen on trading their personal information (including position, what they buy, etc) for useful services, which should give a further boost to context-based advertising.

 

#4. From storytelling to magic moments

This is going to be a hard one to swallow for many marketers. In 2014 (and 2013) we saw a convergence of film-making and advertising, which resulted in beautiful pieces of storytelling (my favorite remains P&G’s thank you mom campaign). Lack of constraints when it comes to duration of creatives has been a key strength of online video advertising (vs. TV advertising), and many brands have even crafted short films as ads. Unfortunately, I believe that this trend is doomed. First of all, short form content works better on mobile. Most interactions on mobile last for less than a minute, and users are becoming less patient: as they discover video content increasingly on social platforms, the next video is just one scroll-down away. If video watching used to be for users like a date with one brand, it has now become like a cocktail party where they can always walk away from you to go get another drink. Secondly, if the objective is to build deeper relationships with consumers, the opportunity for brands to engage on mobile platforms in more fragmented but meaningful moments is so much bigger. Mobile users demand full control of when and where they consume content, and brands will win by engaging with valuable content when and where consumers need it. Obviously, storytelling won’t die, but it will morph itself into something new, possibly more episodic, with shorter yet interconnected experiences that reinforce the purpose and value that a brand stands for.

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#5. Brand and Performance advertising will come closer to each other

Mobile is great for branding (e.g. video watchtime is shifting very quickly to mobile) and is great for performance too (e.g. more conversions are happening directly on mobile, better targeting, etc). It is a tool of convergence, and an opportunity for advertisers to satisfy an audience which is engaging with mobile devices in a jumbled way: as an entertainment platform in one moment (e.g. watching video) and a utility in the next minute (e.g. getting directions, setting reminders, purchasing something, etc). Brands have been slow at leveraging this trend for a number of reasons, from technical (again, limits of technology and privacy) to know-how, and to organizational (different decision makers for brand and performance advertising). While a year might not even be enough for advertisers to adapt, in 2015 we should begin to see a significant shift in mindset towards a more comprehensive approach, blending branding and performance objectives, metrics, and consequently content strategies.

One last prediction… It would be the 6th, a little bonus. Brand building will become even more collaborative. Digital has already transformed brand building from a one-way communication to a 2-ways conversation with an audience. In the last couple of years, we have seen how successful advertisers have been engaging with audiences through participation. After GoPro (every minute a GoPro user uploads a video of him/her while using the camera), other advertisers like Nike, Mercedes, and Unilever have put their brands in the hands and voices of their audiences. Driving participation is effective, scalable, and cost-efficient, and that’s why it will go mainstream in 2015 as a marketing strategy. Beyond collaborating with their own consumers, brands will increasingly collaborate with stars, mainly YouTube creators. Celebrities like Bethany Mota, Michelle Phan, PewDiePie, Devin Supertramp and others, move huge masses of people as they respond to their passions: music, fashion, culture, gaming, comedy, sports, etc. These celebrities are already very busy working with brands, and in 2015 they will become impossible to ignore.

In what other ways do you see digital marketing changing in 2015? What impact will the mobile transformation cause?

TV advertising: demise or resurgence?

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Special thanks to my friend and colleague Caroline Murphy for contributing to this article.


2014 will mark the first year in history that TV advertising is soft, even though the industry overall is still growing at robust pace. Industry observers and practitioners will finally have a chance to say “I knew it!” and will predict that within the next two or three years a seismic shift of advertising spend from TV to digital will have happened. Yet, they might be just as wrong as they have been for the last decade, as the demise of TV which many have thought inevitable it hasn’t quite happened yet. In APAC, TV remains the largest media category with 41% of total advertising spend, and growing by 5.5% in 2014. TV might not be the future, but it is still certainly the present.

So is TV really going to die? The truth is more likely that the current and future nature of television is more complex than we have allowed or given credit for.

A step back: inability to predict adaptation

When we look at trends, we often underestimate the ability of industry players to adapt themselves and morph their business model to follow their customers and find new avenues to growth and profitability. A couple of examples:

  • Just a couple of years ago, Programmatic buying was believed to be suited mostly to performance advertisers, given the perceived trade-off between buying efficiencies and brand association. Today, with the emergence and phenomenal growth of PMPs (Private MarketPlaces), brand advertisers are taking massive advantage of programmatic buying in a very effective way
  • The Facebook IPO was largely considered a secular flop, as many analysts believed that Facebook had been unable to monetize mobile ads effectively, exactly when its user base was flocking towards mobile. Today, Facebook is largely mobile-first in all its efforts, and the shift to mobile is seen as its biggest opportunity

TV is certainly going through a number of challenges. TV ratings are steadily declining; the explosion of premium content available is leading viewers away from linear TV watching, while young audiences (the most coveted by advertisers) are flocking to digital and especially mobile. Ads are not viewed on DVRs, no matter what studies from Nielsen say, and advertisers don’t really believe in C3 or C7. Forcing viewers to watch ads can’t be the right answer for brands trying to build more meaningful connections, and permission-based advertising is the new paradigm.

So is this the end of TV? Or is it just the wake-up call which TV needed to accelerate the pace of change and morph into a new form of media that people will be attracted to?

Embracing the new video landscape

TV is already changing. While many of us in the tech world have been racing to advance our entertainment offering, we neglected to see that the old dog had indeed learned some new tricks. For example, TV players have understood that leveraging social media to drive buzz around a show can persuade more people to tune in, hence they are investing more in highly social shows and live programming (e.g. reality, sports).

But the biggest trend that TV is gearing up for is how audiences consume content, from a variety of sources and platforms, utilizing catch-up TV as well as appointment-based watching and engaging in these actions in non-traditional ways and at all times, always demanding full control. Content consumption today is anytime, anywhere, and this is where some of the most interesting TV innovations focus on.

Broadcast replication: enables consumers to view their linear broadcast content on devices outside of the home. Sky Television in the UK has a strong product offering for its subscribers providing them with the option to watch their favorite show wherever they are by logging in online using their unique subscriber ID.

Advertising parity: Up until recently broadcasters were extremely limited in monetizing VOD (Video On Demand). Ads were traditionally baked into the content at the time of encoding, meaning that if the user watched the video a year after, he would see the same ad that was originally embedded. With new technological advancements by companies like BlackArrow it is now possible for broadcasters to insert ads dynamically, creating a monetization model that exists and operates correctly in order for broadcasters to finally make this operation profitable. This also means that OTT players can better support consumers’ trend of ‘Binge Watching’, creating catch up services online as well as extending the programme experience through behind the scenes and deleted footage.

Content delivery optimization: Smart TV’s and Smartphones will soon be equipped to learn a viewers habits and deliver a customized programming schedule that matches their preferences.  The traditional television guide will evolve to resemble something like the iTunes library where viewers will face a list of recommended published content accessible on demand through a myriad of channels including web, broadcast, apps etc. In this way the traditional television model will look more like a curator of content and audiences rather than the box in the corner of the room.

Original content production: It would be a mistake to assign Netflix, Yahoo Screen and Amazon the titles of original content producers only, networks have been doing this since the advent of TV but without doubt they have been taking greater risks on their investments because of the wins to be gained in live and follow up programme viewing. ITV’s global darling ‘Downton Abbey’ costs this station a cool $1.5million per episode and the debut episode of HBO’s Boardwalk Empire cost $20million alone.

The next TV

So where is TV headed? Rob Norman, Group M’s Chief Digital Officer, recently made the following predictions on what media will look like in 2016:

Most media:

  • Will be over the top – disconnected from schedules
  • Responsive – its form will respond to devices and their capabilities
  • Intelligent with some form of personalization
  • Chapterized and skippable
  • Traded programmatically

Much media:

  • Will be short form
  • Snackable
  • Stream or feed based
  • Created by a much much broader production ecosystem
  • Perhaps half of long form media consumption will be ad free

Some media:

  • Will retain huge audiences
  • Some, but almost no media outside of live sport and events, will retain significant simultaneous audiences
  • These media will trade at massive premium to the market
  • Will still be bundled but cable subs as we know them may have fallen by between 25 and 50%

The key question is, in which of the three buckets above will TV fall? So far, the TV ecosystem has been slow at adapting to consumer and industry trends. Will 2015 mark a turning point?

Turn-Learn-Return: the path from unawareness to fandom

Creating brand love is hard. Consumers are bombarded with brand messages every day, and we are all professionals in sorting out what’s useful to us and ignore the rest. We are wired to ignore the large majority of the information being thrown our way. For example: while our eye has a field of view of almost 180 degrees, we can focus with high-resolution only on the central 2 degrees. This means, for example, that we really ‘see’ between 2 and 10% of a screen at any point in time. It can be shocking for marketers: what is ‘viewable’ is not necessarily viewed. Having real estate on a screen might not drive any lift in awareness at all. For most brands, your starting point is unawareness, and brand love is a long way uphill.

Yet, we all have a handful of brands we are attached to. Our favorite coffee chain, clothing brand, car manufacturer… We choose our favorite brands every day, often subconsciously. Brain science proves that we make choices at emotional level, and only afterwards we justify them with logical reasons. We are ‘fans’ of those brands: we listen to them, engage with them, and are the best promoters of those brands with our friends and colleagues. We market those brands on their behalf. This is why taking consumers to ‘fandom’ is nirvana for any brand.

So how do you take consumers from unawareness to fandom? Here is a construct to help you map this journey: it’s called TURN-LEARN-RETURN. I’ll refer to the framework in my previous blog post (“Intent and engagement: a framework to create better video content” – link here), but you don’t need to have read it to follow this article (I’d recommend it as a follow-on read to go deeper on this topic).

Step 1: What will make consumers TURN?

Imagine a real-life scenario where your consumer is in a busy shopping mall, with hundreds of brand messages around him at any point in time, most of them automatically filtered out by his eyes. If your brand is one of them, the key question for you is: what will make consumers turn and focus their attention on my brand? In my intent-engagement framework (previous post), this is the low-intent left half of the 2×2: people are not looking for you. In fact, they might not even be aware that you exist. Your objective here is to get their attention and make them interested in your brand message.

Content that works well at this stage is either ‘water-cooler’ type (in the ‘connection’ quadrant – low intent and low engagement) or entertaining and inspiring (in the ‘entertainment’ quadrant – low intent and high engagement). In terms of targeting in the digital space, if engagement is what you are looking for, you need to appeal to the needs and wants of consumers, hence psychographic targeting is the best option. In the digital world, you also have the luxury to know who has ‘turned’ to listen to your brand message (this will come in handy, as explained later) by using choice-based ad formats (e.g. skippable video ads, or engagement-based display ads).

Step 2: What will consumers want to LEARN about?

If you got their interest, it will manifest itself in intent. Consumers now know that you exist, and they will wonder what you are all about. This is why successful video ads drive significant uplift in search queries for the same brand: intent is most commonly reflected in search. So the key question for you as a brand is now: what will consumers want to learn about and search for? We know that education is key in the path to purchase (especially for high-engagement categories), and that consumers are real ninjas when it comes to finding information about your products before making a purchase. So you will need to know what critical information will nudge consumers to buy (or stay away) from your product.

Here is a short story about myself which I often tell to clients. I used to drink Coke, weekly if not daily. Until one day, after a discussion with a colleague about Coke ingredients, I went on YouTube and searched: “what does Coke contain?”. I found this video of Crazy Russian Hacker, where he boils Coke in a pot and shows what’s left of it once all the water evaporates. I’ve been coke-sober for about two years since that day. Now, Coca-Cola generally produces really great video ads to drive mass awareness (ads that will make people ‘turn’ – step 1 in this framework), but where was Coca-Cola when I searched for Coke’s ingredients? And if Coca-cola intentionally doesn’t create content to address that question, does it mean that they are happy with the answer I found? Now contrast this with the McDonald’s example of “Your Food, Your Questions”, where the company addresses many consumers’ tough questions in a transparent way, often with video content like this. It will give you a sense of how important it is to give the best answer to what your consumers want to learn about, especially when those answers are going to be critical to the purchase decision.

This scenario is the low-intent and low-engagement which I called ‘EDUCATION’ in my framework (previous post). Content that works well here is obviously educational, and it stems from insight into what your audience is looking for (e.g. Google search trends will give you a glimpse of that – type your brand name and look at the ‘related queries’ at the bottom of the page). It could be video content or text, on a website or on other platforms (e.g. your YouTube channel). Targeting is not required for this type of content, because people will look for you, hence discoverability of your content is more important. You can enhance discoverability by tagging the content appropriately and just giving the best answer to what people are looking for (and the search algorithm will do the rest and bubble your content up to the top of the results). If you want to be sure to be on the top of the page, obviously you can also bid on the right keywords (in this case, go broad and cover branded keywords as well as category-level ones).

Step 3: What will make consumers RETURN to your destination?

Now that you have attention and engagement from your target consumers, it’s time to turn casual viewers into subscribers. But how will this happen? Here are some techniques:

  1. Along step 1 and step 2 it’s crucial to gather insight about who is engaging with your brand message. This is why using permission-based ad formats (in step 1) is so important: you will know who is open to your brand message and has chosen to listen. In step 2, you will know who has been looking for your brand and what information she is interested in. With this wealth of insight, you will be able to target those consumers who are most valuable to you (i.e. lower in the funnel) and more likely to engage further (in marketing jargon, this is called ‘remarketing’ or ‘retargeting’)
  2. People will subscribe to your channel or follow your page if you are sharing a passion point with them. But how will you know about their passions? Simple: that’s how you picked them in the first place if you used psychographic targeting in step 1
  3. Offer opportunities to engage further and subscribe at every step. In reality, the ‘path to fandom’ is not always as linear and logical as described here. Users might decide to subscribe to your channel at any point, so offer them ample opportunities to do so, for example by adding a ‘subscribe’ or ‘follow’ button wherever you can

But is a ‘fan’ equivalent to a subscriber? The answer is no. A subscriber is certainly more than a casual viewer, but generally not yet someone who feels represented by your brand and will market it on your behalf. In fact, many channels acquire subscribers thanks to great video ads, and then bleed them slowly as they fail to engage further. In other words, a subscriber is akin to someone who has entered your ‘home’, walked around, found it interesting, and then left. So the key question here is: what will make her return regularly?

For an in-depth reading on this topic, I’d recommend to read the YouTube creators’ playbook for brands (learnings from the best YouTube creators on how to create and retain a fan base – download it for free here). For now, 3 basic tips are:

  1. Create episodic content to engage users on specific passion points. You should set the expectation that, on a periodic basis, users will find fresh content on a topic they are passionate about. Importantly, episodic content needs to be authentic to your brand message (people will share a passion with you only if you are genuine about it) and to the user’s experience (they won’t share their passions if the experience feels contrived or artificial)
  2. Segment your fan base on specific passion points. While at step 1 you might target a whole set of psycographics, in order to retain subscribers you will have to create specific sections in your channel, each one dedicated to a consumer segment. As an example, look at how American Express structured his YouTube channel (here) with different series and playlists (I love the “everyday genius” section with useful life hacks)
  3. Reward your subscribers and make them feel special. This can be as easy as replying to their comments, but there are plenty of options. For example, invite them to participate by uploading their own content, make them vote on what they would like to watch, or invite them to an event (even if a virtual one, such as a hangout on air). Having a passion involves investing some time to cultivate it, so you need to give your subscribers various options to do so. If you reward them and make them feel special, they will reward you in return by taking your brand message into their passions and become the best ambassadors for your brand


How are you turning casual viewers into subscribers and eventually into fans? Is this framework useful to you? Share your opinion, I’d love to hear it.

Intent and engagement: a framework to create better video content

Every brand wants to forge a unique relationship with consumers. However, in today’s world, where consumers are hit by as many as 5,000 branded messages a day, just shouting louder will only increase the clutter, hence driving deeper engagement becomes imperative. So let’s take a closer look at how to create the right content to strengthen connections with your audience.

As usual, the journey starts with consumer insights. If you want to forge deeper relationships, you first need to understand users’ behaviors and how you can become relevant to them. In particular, you need to understand HOW and WHY users land on video content in the first place. So the two dimensions I will consider here are level of intent and level of emotional engagement. By level of intent I mean the user’s intent to find video content about a specific topic (this is the ‘why’). By level of emotional engagement I mean the users’ attitude when consuming video content (this is the ‘how’). For the consultants and other lovers of 2×2 matrices, if we put these two dimensions in orthogonal axes we get an interesting framework and some initial insights.

  1. Low intent – Low emotional engagement: From a user’s perspective, this is about killing time, not looking for any content in particular, and in a ‘quiet’ emotional attitude. The classic case for this is browsing a social newsfeed. There’s no intent as users do not have a destination or topic in mind, or even a type of content (they might discover videos, but are not looking for them). Generally, there’s no great emotional connection to the activity in itself (think that it often happens while commuting, or sitting on a toilet!). The underlying user’s need is to seek connections with the world outside and see what’s going on, so let’s call this quadrant CONNECTION.
  2. Low intent – High emotional engagement: From a user’s perspective, this is about discovering entertaining content, typically in the form of video. The classic case for this is scrolling down on suggested videos, or it might even happen through a search but a very broad one (so low intent, e.g. “funniest video ever”, “epic fails”, etc). While it might still happen during downtime, it does carry some emotional connection as video content is typically more engaging. So let’s call this quadrant ENTERTAINMENT. One important note: you might think that the difference between this quadrant and the previous one might seem a minor one. You would be wrong. In the real world, CONNECTION is equivalent to wandering in a mall for no specific purpose, while ENTERTAINMENT is like heading straight to a movie theatre or an arcade. This is why the level of engagement on YouTube is so much higher than on other platform where video is not native: recent research from Millward Brown (on a sample of 18-34 years old in US) shows that people are 4 times more interested in watching video on YouTube than on other platforms (note to the reader: I’m obviously biased since I work at Google, but research findings prove the point).
  3. High intent – Low emotional engagement: Users in this quadrant have high intent because they are searching for something specific. However, the topic searched for carries low emotional connection with the user, so it is typically a functional need. This is the case for a number of the “how to” type of searches on YouTube, e.g. “How to fix a leaking aircon”. Let’s call this quadrant EDUCATION, since that’s what users are mostly looking for.
  4. High intent – High emotional engagement: Users in this quadrant are also after specific video content. However, they are searching for something they are passionate about. This can also happen through a “How to” search (e.g. “How to play harmonica”). Other times, users will return to a destination which they are already familiar with (e.g. go to a brand page they subscribed to). This quadrant might also look very similar to the previous one, but again, it’s not. While it may manifest itself in similar user behaviors (i.e. a “how to” type of search), people exploring a passion are in a state of ‘flow’ and therefore high engagement (there’s quite a bit of research on this, cfr. Robert J. Vallerand, On The Psychology of Passion). So let’s simply call this quadrant PASSION.

The full framework is below. Two important clarifications before moving forward:

  1. All the user behaviors represented by the quadrants are very important for brands (although in different ways, as we will see). Low intent + low emotional engagement (i.e. CONNECTION quadrant) might not sound great. However, a very large part of media consumption in digital happens in this way (e.g. we spend a lot of time on social newsfeeds, and with high frequency of usage!)
  2. In reality, the boundaries among these quadrants are blurry, as users’ behavior is not always sharply defined. More importantly, users might cross these boundaries and go from a quadrant to another, even within the same browsing session.

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With this new insight on consumers’ behavior in our pocket, we now go back to the original question: how can brands develop content to deepen connections with their audiences? Of course, strategies will depend on the quadrant in the framework, so let’s examine them one by one.

CONNECTION

Users in this space are not looking for you. They are also not looking for videos. They just happen to be there, on a social newsfeed or any platform which has content of different types: text, images, multimedia, and of course video. Also, there are lots of people in this quadrant (on Facebook alone there are 1.35B monthly and 864M daily active users as of September 2014) and they spend more time on social media than on many other activities (including exercising and pet care, but not eating…), so this is a great place to drive mass awareness for your brand and category.

Regarding content, going back to the metaphor for this quadrant of people walking in a busy mall, you have to ask yourself: “What would make someone turn around?”. Keep in mind that you might not have the luxury of sight, sound, and motion (i.e. video) to catch someone’s attention: videos on these platform could be auto-playing with no sound or even show in the form of a static image and require a click to play. So picking an eye-catching image or showing some action in the first few seconds (in the case of auto-playing videos with no sound) is critical. Another important consideration is that social media is often use for an underlying need of feeling connected and being part of what is happening in the world. So clearly ‘water-cooler’ type of content works really well here, as users feel compelled to participate, share and amplify the buzz (think Ice Bucket Challenge).

To summarize in one word, in this quadrant your content needs to be visible.

ENTERTAINMENT

Users in this space have low intent, so not looking for some specific topic or information. However, they are looking for some kind of entertaining experience. Video and gaming are the most common forms of entertainment on digital, but gaming requires intent (i.e. falls into the last quadrant, as users will go straight to the game they want to play), so this is space is mostly about video.

As users are already on a video platform, brands are likely to have sight, sound, and motion available and generally more real estate on the screen (although it depends on the specific video platform). Also, users will be more receptive to long form video content (slightly less so when on mobile), which enables better storytelling for brands. Both entertaining content (e.g. stunts, sketches, action scenes, etc) and inspiring content (e.g. think Dove Real Beauty sketches) work really well in this case. This is the ideal place for a brand to share its purpose. In crafting content here, think of how Andrew Stanton (Director of Finding Nemo, Wall-E, Toy Story, etc) refers to storytelling: “Everything you are saying is leading to a singular goal. Some truth that deepens our understanding of who we are as human beings.”

To summarize, in this quadrant your content needs to be purposeful.

EDUCATION

Users in this space have high intent because they are actually looking for specific content. However, since the level of emotional engagement is low, the underlying need is generally a functional one (e.g. learn to fix the aircon), not an emotional one (e.g. how to look pretty with the latest makeup).

High level of intent generally manifests itself in a search, which is why we see plenty of “How To” type of searches on both Google.com and YouTube. These users are likely to be at lower stage in the purchase funnel, as they are generally at least considering a specific product category (if not already a specific brand). Brands clearly have an opportunity to engage here, but the content is quite different from what works in other quadrants: users with a functional need generally look for a simple and transparent answer. A perfect example of content tailored for this is McDonald’s Canada “Your food, your questions” initiative, whereby they post videos on YouTube with the answers to their audience’s questions, like this one. Put differently, your content here is truly a service to the user, who will return the value in the form of consideration when it’s time to buy your product.

To summarize, in this quadrant your content needs to be transparent.

PASSION

Users in this quadrant are have high intent because they are looking for specific content, either in the form of a search query or by just heading to a destination they already have in mind (e.g. a website, a YouTube channel, an app, etc). They are also highly engaged at emotional level because they are exploring a passion: these users are in a state of ‘flow’ (highly attentive and immersed in the experience) and they can spend considerable time engaging on the same topic. They are those who watch a long sequence of related videos and spend more than one hour of video watching in the same session.

Content that works well here fuels the passions of these users. Brands need to find the sweet-spot where their brand essence and their audience’s passion points overlap, i.e. an area where they actually have a ‘right to play’ and engage users at an emotional level. It is also important that the content is authentic to the audience’s passion points, since people engage with creators or brands whom they can genuinely share a passion with. This is why on YouTube we see many brands who behave as (or partner with) creators in the way they engage their audiences and build a community of fans who will continue to go back to their content (i.e. brand channels). A great example is Unilever with Be Beautiful in India and All Things Hair in UK (and other countries), where they address their audiences’ passions for cosmetics and haircare with specific content created by video bloggers (similarly to what YouTube stars Bethany Mota and Michelle Phan do to engage with their fans). Note that a functional answer to an emotional need would not succeed: even a user looking for cooking recipes is unlikely to simply have a functional need and is most likely exploring a passion for cooking. Same could be said for any hobbies at large, e.g. gaming, technology, DIY, etc.

To summarize, in this quadrant your content needs to be captivating.

The full framework is below, it illustrates the type of content that works well to engage consumers, depending on their online behavior.

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To conclude, we should note that users display all the four behaviors in the framework at different times, hence brands should have content to engage in all four quadrants (with varying focus depending on the product category). A common fallacy for many brands is to focus mostly on visibility and sometimes on purpose (connection and entertainment quadrants), thus failing to engage on specific education needs and passion points of their audience. The result is that consumers readily identify these brands for something meaningful (e.g. awareness of the logo, or the brand’s purpose) but not at a deeper level for something that they recognize themselves with (i.e. a passion point). More to come on this topic in the next blog posts!