Tom Roy ponders over whether consumers’ multi-screening is an opportunity or threat for brands

(from Campaign Middle East, October 26, 2014)

Our target audience today is consuming media across multiple screens at the same time. Multi-devices and multi-tasking has become a key driver of today’s media planning and marketing. You’ve heard all of this before. But here’s my question: is this an opportunity or a challenge?

Earlier on, the ad industry jumped at the idea of an increase in consumer engagement across multiple screens. This was a broadening of horizons beyond TV (the ‘first screen’ once). We talked about the shift from monologue advertising (lean back TV) to dialogue and lean forward engagement. Experience, participation, multi-platform engagement became buzzwords. What we blinked on was the fact that the proliferation of screens today fuels fragmentation – it causes consumer ADD – Attention Deficit Disorder. And we were caught dozing.

Yes, it’s much easier to engage and hold attention in a conversation than in a monologue, but with some unforeseen pattern shifts, multi-screen engagement becomes a challenge. Consumer time and attention is getting lower as we move from traditional to digital (think banner blindness, low click through rates). Now as ‘digital’ is increasingly via mobile, small screens offer even smaller real estate for those of us planning to build engagement on.

Four other media consumption habit shifts are becoming nightmares for media planners. Today the consumer is ‘snacking’ – self packaging content from TV and online and consuming it anywhere, anytime, in bits and pieces sometimes. They are ‘time-shifting’: recording, borrowing, downloading content and watching it at a time that’s convenient to them (and not the media planners’). They are ‘place-shifting’: watching TV programmes on their tablets or iPhones. And they are ‘multi-tasking’: consuming different content simultaneously. They are surfing while watching TV, e-mailing via phone while reading the news on their laptops. Go ahead, blame mobile for that.

There’s no denying that in modern day marketing, mobile is at the epicenter of the digital ecosystem – intersecting the Paid-Owned-Earned venn diagram. Mobile is the new ‘first screen’. Facebook is no longer a ‘social’ brand, but a ‘mobile’ enabler. Its investment in Instagram stands witness to this shift.

No surprise really, as 60 per cent of smartphone users access social media on their devices. And the smartphone is kick-starting many of our daily activities like search, browsing, shopping online, managing finances, planning travel, and of course, social networking. And here in the region where smartphone penetration is amongst the highest in the world, this paradigm shift has huge impact.

Ninety per cent of all media interactions are screen-based, and we spend around 4.5 hours of our leisure time in front of one screen or another. And we do this across multiple screens on multiple devices. Either sequentially, moving from one device to another at different times to complete tasks, or simultaneously – for complementary usage in a related activity or multi-tasking across unrelated activities.

As consumers move seamlessly between devices, what really drives device choice is context: amount of time we have or need, what we want to really accomplish, where we are at that time, and our attitude or state of mind. Whatever the case, TV is no longer a singular focus activity. We tend to use another device nearly 80 per cent of the time we watch TV.

And, there’s one more screen, one more attention divider rapidly coming our way. Wearable. What’s scary is that wearable too is both an opportunity and a threat for marketers. Because wearable is both ‘whenever-able’ and ‘wherever-able’. I don’t need to tweet about my long wait in a bank queue, because my watch can auto do that.

Seriously, how do we plan for this multi-head (read multi-screen, multi-device) monster of a challenge? By turning its head around into an opportunity – for creativity, use of Big Data and hopefully RoI. It calls for more engaging content via omni-channel storytelling.

Suits. The world’s favorite TV series about a law firm on overdrive. Not just the USA TV network, but how partners Lexus, Esquire magazine all band together to provide a multi-screen, sometimes simultaneous beyond-TV, #-driven, value add experience is a classic example.

The basics don’t change. We start with a common strategy that creates and orchestrates the music – the compass for engaging across the consumer journey.  The consumer today wants an experience that is both enjoyable and beneficial – one that provides resolution to their needs. Resolving problems, curiosity, service, need, identity, belonging, need to share, need to feel in control, need to be rewarded.

Then we pick the instruments that play, and who comes on and when. The ad, the TV spot, the advertorial, the radio, the website, the microsite, the social – each has an on-off point. And, don’t forget we are in a sing along, so your song sheet should have plenty of room for the consumer’s part.

And the conductor? The one who does not play a single note but whose face is on the CD? The brand is the conductor. It drives, orchestrates the experience, the beautiful buzz across all screens, devices and touch points. It can.

(The author, chief innovation officer at MCN, was a speaker at Gitex 2014 this October on the subject. Views expressed are personal.)