It would be wonderful for marketers if they could dictate what device, content platform or internet browser consumers use to access media.
But unfortunately for brands, a growing variety of devices are becoming able to play more and more media formats, and everyone has their particular favourites. As each person’s media consumption converges on to a small clutch of technologies that’s slightly different from everyone else’s, it means people are retrieving more material from just a few preferred screens.
The debate has moved on from marketers asking how to reach fragmented audiences across different devices, to second-guessing the technologies of choice among a brand’s target consumers at any given time.
The move from desktop PCs to laptops, and from there to tablets and smartphones, has been swift. Meanwhile, games consoles such as PlayStation and Xbox are competing along with connected televisions to offer their own internet browsers, apps and media streaming services such as Netflix, Lovefilm, Spotify and YouTube.
In fact, while the established trend in the TV industry has previously been for programmes owned or licensed by traditional TV and film companies to be sold on to digital service providers, the recently announced deal between Virgin Media and Netflix shows it can also go the other way. Virgin will now allow its UK customers to view TV shows such as House of Cards and Breaking Bad, to which Netflix owns broadcasting rights, via an on-demand service on its Tivo set-top boxes.
As Tivo spokesperson Steve Wymer told the Bloomberg news agency: “It’s the first time Netflix has ever been added to an operator box. It’s a big deal, especially if it helps open the gates for [TV] operators globally to integrate and stream content.”
It now appears any combination of media format, content platform and technology device is possible, but while multi-screen media consumption is only likely to grow, it appears many marketers have earmarked smartphones and tablets as the devices to concentrate on in the short to medium term.
“When I leave the house I check for three things: my keys, my wallet and my smartphone. What does that say if it’s not a device of choice?” says The Marketing Society’s marketing director Gemma Greaves.
Samir El-Alami, online marketing director at dating website Lovestruck.com, agrees. He has been discussing with his media buying and planning agency AdConnection how to react to the smartphone becoming such an integral part of people’s lives.
“It is logical for brands to create awareness, interest and action on the device which absorbs most of their prospective customers’ attention,” says El-Alami. “If you provide a service that transfers and translates effortlessly from web to mobile, then the issues are much smaller, although the affiliate marketing industry is yet to transfer over to mobile in an effective way.” Of course, this whole question about favoured devices and media platforms is not straightforward.
In many homes the main screen is becoming a full entertainment centre for movies, live sport, TV, gaming, internet browsing and even video calling, while the mobile screen is more about communication, convenience and entertainment on the go. But marketers also need to discover how much time their audience is spending on mobile devices in the home.
“There is no doubt that marketing has become more technical with so many media platforms and devices and we have to ensure that the content we do put online can actually be accessed by our target audience,” says Vanessa Frenehard, product marketing manager of beauty brand Minerva Research Labs. “When we first launched our online shop we quickly realised it could not be accessed on smartphones, so urgent changes had to be made.”
She adds that, as part of its social media communication strategy, Minerva has begun to ask customers which devices and platforms they are using. But it is not only the popularity of particular devices and platforms that marketers must keep up with. The attractiveness of different browsers also changes.
According to the educational website w3schools.com, in May 2002 Microsoft’s Internet Explorer was the most popular browser among 86.7 per cent of users. By May 2013 that had dropped to 12.6 per cent. Google’s Chrome is now the most popular on 52.9 per cent, up from 39.3 per cent a year previously. Firefox is number two with 27.7 per cent.
Such is the difficulty in accurately predicting future trends when it comes to technology and consumer preferences that most marketers – for the time being at least – must still be flexible with their marketing budget and ensure all bases are covered. Of course, the alternative is that they try to future-proof their content to remove the need to build separate products as trends and technology change.
Publisher Condé Nast’s digital director Jamie Jouning is on a mission to future-proof his brands. “We are investing heavily now to ensure we use the right technology to protect each brand and the business, because no-one can predict for sure which devices and platforms consumers will adopt,” he says.
Jeremy Gibson, brand director for Carling at brewer Molson Coors UK is also trying the future-proof approach and the business is investing today to avoid additional costs later on. Gibson has decided on a fully responsive website for Carling.com, meaning users can view it on four screen types: mobile, tablet, desktop and television. It has been created by technical developer and search company Fast Web Media.
“Most UK consumers are still ‘platform agnostic’ and use different platforms depending on their location or situation, and can use up to three devices simultaneously,” says Gibson. “But brands must be agile, and developing a responsive website is the logical next step.”
Not everyone is getting over-excited about mobile, however. Martin Hayward, vice-president of global digital strategy at Nectar owner Aimia, believes marketers must not react disproportionately and put too much of their marketing spend into targeting mobile devices.
“There is a lot of talk about ‘mobile first’, but we prefer to call it a ‘mobile forward’ approach because people are still using other devices such as their PC and watching television,” he says. “If you focus too much on mobile, you can forget what your brand stands for. Mobile is certainly not the best device for building brand image and perception.”
Hayward wrote Aimia’s recent report ‘The Four Futures’, published in June, which revealed that the volume of customer data generated by increasing online commerce could create “offer anarchy” with customer relationships under threat as people feel overwhelmed. This could have a negative impact on loyalty.
“The real challenge for the marketing and loyalty industries is to embrace the digital transition with both hands while showing enough restraint and respect for consumer’s permissions and their device and platform preferences,” he says.
According to Steven Van Belleghem, who lectures on digital marketing at Vlerick Business School, marketers can rest easy and should not worry too much about which device consumers will ultimately favour to access digital content.
Van Belleghem’s latest book, The Conversation Company, tells businesses how to exploit digital media and it has sold more than 10,000 copies in six months. He says new technology is already automatically adopting online content to the different devices and screens that people use.
He cites the example of the news reading application Pulse developed for iPhone, iPad and Android apps and the web, which allows users to access traditional media, favourite blogs, websites and social media in one interface.
“Pulse.me uses technology that allows it to have the same interface at its end but the consumer has an adapted version of the ‘site’ depending on the device they are using. Even the menu on the app responds to the particular device being used,” says Van Belleghem.
He adds: “This will be the future because it doesn’t force marketers to choose between devices. They can focus on content and design, the device is selected by the consumer.”
He makes it sound simple, but it’s no mean feat to achieve.
Share of television viewing by owners of four screens aged 18-44 :
5% Mobile phone
Likelihood of people aged 18-44 to use a second device while watching TV:
77% Owners of four screens
69% Owners of three screens
63% Owners of two screens
Source: Econsultancy, ‘The Multi-Screen Marketer’
Nissan’s David Parkinson started at the company 20 years ago on the factory floor making cars
Today he is the brand’s EMEA general manager of social media and digital engagement and an expert in mapping how Nissan should target the specific devices and media platforms consumers are choosing.
Parkinson says the challenge over the past couple of years for all brands, especially global corporate brands like Nissan, has been to develop one strategy to link marketing and social media together so content can be streamed consistently across all devices.
“We are working on this, but even with one device there is not always consistency,” he says. “Consumers use different browsers or have different apps to access social media sites like Facebook. Things can still be very fragmented, even on a preferred device.”
He adds: “Consumers are expecting more and more from their devices and from the brands they access via them. We need to understand exactly how people use them so we can communicate with them without being annoying.”
Parkinson has a technical background and has developed sales and marketing IT programmes for Nissan over the years. He says many brands are playing catch-up, having spent so much time and money developing their content for desktop computers. Taking a future-proofing approach will not be enough on its own, he warns.
“The technology world moves so fast that at best you can only future-proof for five years ahead. Instead, we must be more reactive as an organisation so we can respond quickly. “This can be difficult in a large company, but staff need to able to play and take risks with new technology so they can learn from their mistakes.”
One relatively new social media platform which Nissan is “taking an educated risk with” is Pinterest, which enables members to share pictures. It is already one of the top 10 most popular social networking sites and is providing brands with an increasing amount of insight into consumer engagement on the platform, in a similar way to Facebook.
“Pinterest is massive in the US but take-up in Europe has been much slower. We will catch up,” says Parkinson.
Nissan recently ran a pan-European Pinterest campaign to tie in with the launch of the new Nissan Micra, which has been redesigned to allow consumers’ personal choices to be taken into account.
Nissan’s ‘Micra Attitude’ campaign asked users to post pictures on Pinterest showing their own personality and individuality for a chance to win prizes. In the first week 50 boards were started with about 500 images pinned and more than 200 re-pinned by other users. The campaign has been supported by complementary activity on Facebook and Twitter.
“Pinterest is a visual, creative platform that allows users to express their own personalities, interests and passions – so it’s the perfect venue to engage with customers,” says Parkinson.
Despite the move to mobile devices Parkinson warns marketers against turning their backs on more traditional technology. He says that even though more people are replacing their PCs and laptops with tablets, every brand for the time being must still be able to talk to customers across all touch points.
Econsultancy Best Practice
Perhaps we as marketers, who like to work with big ideas and concepts, have been asking the wrong question when it comes to changing media consumption habits. Instead of wondering ‘what is the ultimate device of preference?’ or ‘what is the next big change in technology?’ perhaps the only question we should be asking is ‘how quickly can we adapt when something changes?’
While asking device-specific questions is a necessity in the short term, long-term plans are harder to nail down, as a change in consumer habits can easily render them obsolete. In a world where consumption of content is no longer defined and controlled by brands, the ability to adapt and to be agile is essential.
Technology has created a world where the choice ultimately lies with the consumer. We choose when and where we interact with brands over a range of touch points and platforms.
According to Econsultancy’s Multi-Screen Marketer report, 65 per cent of respondents with four screens in their home (television, computer, smartphone and tablet) are at least somewhat likely to multi-task on another device while watching television. Therefore the onus is on brands to optimise their media for all devices, not favour one over the other.
This level of choice gives customers the power to choose and engage with what they deem worthy of their time, attention and money. During this year’s Super Bowl, the main marketing-related talking point after the event was determined by the proof of social media, not the size of a brand’s budget.
Oreo’s ‘dunk in the dark’ picture, which took advantage of a blackout that postponed play, received more than 10,000 retweets, more than 18,000 Facebook likes and 5,000 shares in just the first hour after it was posted. In total, it earned 525 million media impressions, crossing a range of different media platforms and devices.
While the Super Bowl blackout was a one-off event, Oreo’s ability to react is a well-honed skill. The brand spent much of 2012 creating daily ads and content based on recent events, and which would work across a range of screen sizes.
The brand collaborated with its creative, digital and PR agencies daily over the period to develop a series of processes that allowed them to react to news surrounding the iPhone 5; Elvis Week, celebrating rock-and-roll singer Elvis Presley, and The Emmy Awards. This laid the ground work for Super Bowl success.
While creating an image or ad is an entirely different beast from creating an agile organisation, it is important to realise that change can come from anywhere. Organisations that develop the ability to adapt instead of planning in a vacuum will be in a much better position to maximise the new opportunities that arise.
Download ‘The Multi-Screen Marketer’ report at Econsultancy.com