Mastering the Multi-Screen Phenomenon

As marketers battle to keep the average consumer's diminished attention span, they must also embrace multi-screen behaviors to deliver relevant content and maintain audience engagement.

The popularity of digital media and online social interactions has given rise to a new rule of customer engagement for media companies: Marketers must engage in meaningful and active dialogue with customers and prospects across multiple screens to create strong connections and foster brand advocacy.

Essentially, media marketers must disrupt their own industry to stay ahead.

"We're all familiar with the example of Millennials using multiple screens at a time-the TV will be on in the background, tablet on their laps, and buzzing cell phone by their sides," says Paige O'Neill, CMO of SDL. "But these habits aren't limited to Millennials. Most of us do some variation of multi-screen viewing during work, switching between mobile devices like phones, smart watches, and laptops, and after hours, in front of tablets or the TV."

Thus, as emerging consumer behaviors continue to blur the lines between demographics, media brands must adjust internal strategies to cultivate an external approach that caters to such trends. Multi-screen marketing, at its core, provides companies with the opportunity to engage in effective storytelling, thereby allowing the brand narrative and subsequent experiences to unfold across multiple platforms, says Wilson Raj, global customer intelligence director at SAS. Marketers and advertisers can target audiences precisely where they live, work, and play.

For marketers, the multi-screen phenomenon helps brands engage with their consumers more immediately, offering insight into how audiences react to content in real time, says Amit Avner, CEO at Taykey. These insights also aid advertisers' efforts to extend the reach and relevance of an ad campaign by enabling increased personalization and improved targeting.

However, Raj notes that there's a prevailing mindset within the space that believes TV remains the base of all such multi-screen strategies, while other screens merely augment consumer reach. Thus, most media plans are skewed toward one screen, ultimately disregarding the actual media behaviors of many consumers. Instead, media companies must look at one single campaign objective such as increased awareness, reduced attrition, or customer retention, and then align their multi-screen strategy to that particular goal in an effort to maintain consistency across all devices.

"The ways in which consumers interact with brands have changed," Raj adds. "They're engaging across a range of devices and media, but still expect consistency around look, feel, and messaging. The trick for cross-screen marketing lies in understanding the user as a single person. We used to consider social media users, or even mobile consumers, different from desktop or in-store consumers. Now it's essential for marketers to look at all of the screens as opposed to just TV and online video."

Sean Coar, group vice president, strategy and business decisions for Time Warner Cable, emphasizes that marketers must learn more about their consumers' behaviors so they may customize media placement and messaging in ways that connect with viewers at the right time via the right channel. These strategies enable marketers to be more creative and responsive, as this improved understanding allows them to develop campaigns that work across all screens to connect consumers. Typically, campaigns become fragmented because marketers lack reliable audience data. Therefore, as leading companies grow familiar with these new screens, they will begin to incorporate demographic and behavioral addressability into campaigns, as well as frequency management across screens to limit repetition and maintain customer connections.

Coar also notes that, when it comes to relevant messaging, much depends upon both place and context. Devices used, screen size, and time of day impact how audiences consume various forms of content. Therefore, marketers must recognize and acknowledge that screens are no longer exclusive to the living room, as content consumption isn't solely limited to TV. Smartphones, tablets, and limited attention spans all contribute to this perfect storm of impending innovation, leaving media companies with no choice but to embrace this technological evolution and align with emerging audience behaviors in order to connect with consumers where they are using the most appropriate message for that environment.

Twitter continues to be one of the most commonly used second screens, with 72 percent of users tweeting during live television broadcasts. However, listening applications, such as Shazam and TVTag, are also on the rise, according to Taykey's Avner, as these tools allow viewers to identify TV commercials that are currently airing and help audience members interact more closely with the given brand. Consumers can unlock special deals or enter contests without needing to actively search for this second screen content. Thus, brands can bring content directly to their target customers with relative ease.

Shazam, in particular, was originally intended to identify or tag songs users may hear during their daily routine. However, the app's developers shifted into the TV business last year, introducing tagging capabilities for programming and advertisements, while still remaining true to its musical roots. This new model drives viewer engagement during commercial breaks, drawing up bonus content and links that encourage purchases and interactions related directly to what's on screen. Such methods also provide brands with valuable insight into user engagement with their ads and audience size at the given time. By engaging in this process of perpetual learning, media companies will effectively evolve alongside these technological advancements in ways that allow them to develop dialogue and connect with consumers regularly and relevantly.

ABC Brings Multi-Screen Engagement to its Primetime Lineup

For ABC, social media has become an integral element of the viewing experience. While many networks may see Twitter and Facebook as mere distractions, executives at ABC embraced such tools in an effort to generate buzz and cultivate engagement. ABC Family, the company's sister network, saw early success with its original hit show, Pretty Little Liars, which continues to dominate the social sphere by garnering consistent engagement from the age 12-to-34 demo bracket. With nearly 14 million Facebook fans and more than 2 million Twitter followers, the network encourages conversations by displaying pre-designated hashtags in the upper left corner of the television screen. These strategies encourage audience members to discuss their theories and share their reactions in real time, thereby promoting live TV in an era where DVR and on-demand services have altered traditional viewing habits.

Dancing with the Stars (DWTS) has also taken the social sphere by storm, as the network's hit reality show now enables viewers to engage with the live broadcast. Though DWTS typically displays viewer tweets at the bottom of the TV screen during the results portion of each dance, for season 19, the show introduced two new ways for audience members to interact via social that go well beyond voting for their favorite couple. On "You Raise the Paddle" night, viewers can tweet their scores for each competing couple. These scores are then totaled and calculated in real time and combined with the judges' scores, allowing viewers to help or hinder these stars' chances of success. For the show's traditional "Switch Up" episode, viewers were also asked to tweet their ideal partner choices, with the winning combinations dictating which pros and which stars would dance together the following week. Such strategies allow viewers to use this second screen to both share their thoughts and directly influence the fate of each contestant.