Section 2: User Engagement
Engaging and influencing the digital consumer requires a novel approach
With the initial digitization of the MEI industry, marketers applied the same approach to reach consumers as they did for traditional media channels like print and television. Digital advertising offered new forms of engagement, but the underlying model of “pushing” messages out to consumers in a recognized advertisement format did not significantly change. Publishers have historically designed webpages with more regard for the advertiser than the digital media user, something referred to as Advertising 1.0 by Johnny Ryan of PageFair, a tech start-up exploring the growing issue of advertisement blocking.33 According to Ryan, industry – publishing in particular – must move to Advertising 2.0, which focuses on the end user experience and revisits the quality of digital advertising. Despite a slowdown in advertising growth over the past few years, Advertising 1.0 has historically been successful, generating billions of dollars for the advertising industry and satisfying brands.34
But digital media consumption patterns are evolving: content sharing has become effortless and popular; consumers have become more invested in sharing and creating content that enhances their online reputations; and technology has enabled both the blocking of display advertising and the collection of more detailed information about user interests. Marketers who master the art of communicating to consumers through meaningful content, targeted in a non-invasive and personalized manner, stand a better chance of fruitfully engaging the end user.
The challenge facing the advertising sector
According to comScore, a global media measurement and analytics company that collaborated on the Implications of Digital Media Survey, the average user is bombarded by more than 1,700 digital banner advertisements each month, making it difficult for businesses to make a memorable impression.35 While up to one-half of global respondents to the Implications of Digital Media Survey said that they are likely to click on different types of advertisement when actively searching a similar product, only one-quarter of users in the USA are likely to do so (Table 11a and Table 11b). More concerning is the fact that display advertisements cannot be shared – an important way for content to gain user attention. In fact, about two-thirds of respondents state they are likely to express support for a brand through social media within their peer groups
The higher the usage, the greater the willingness to pay
High-intensity digital media users are twice as likely as low-intensity users to click on online advertising. But, within the frequent-user group, Millennials are least likely to respond to online advertising (Figure 9).
A development that may prove the most disruptive to display advertising, however, is the popularity of advertising blocking software, commonly known as ad blocking. Citing recent data, a report issued in August 2015 by Adobe and PageFair, an ad-blocking measurement service, notes that 6% of internet users worldwide actively block advertisements. The Adobe/PageFair study shows that ad blocking rose an impressive 41% in second-quarter 2015 from the corresponding quarter in36 Ad blocking is most popular with Millennials, 41% of whom said they use ad-blocking tools.37 Ad blocking in video, the fastest-growing, most-important content format for the MEI industry, is even more prevalent, with rates as high as 62% for desktop video in Germany.38A report by Sourcepoint and comScore finds that consumers who block the most advertisements are those most attractive to publishers – people with higher incomes.39
But why are consumers blocking digital advertisements? Research conducted in 2015 by the Interactive Advertising Bureau, a global non-profit group for the online advertising industry, concluded that the rise in ad blocking by consumers is mainly due to a general antipathy towards advertising, as well as user concern about how their viewing behaviour is being tracked and used by third parties.41
Indeed, the Implications of Digital Media Survey found that 35% of respondents worldwide have installed third-party ad-blocking tools, and 34% have activated privacy control settings on digital browsers to block third-party trackers and cookies (Table 13). Users in the USA are least likely to block advertisements or activate privacy controls – 69% of USA respondents had no privacy or ad-blocking tools installed, but German and Chinese users are most likely to use advertising and privacy controls.
“I think ad blockers themselves are not going to help the industry, they’re not going to help the user, because the quality of content won’t be there, but I do think the industry needs to make sure that it focuses on the creativity and quality of its advertising.”
Mark Thompson, The New York Times
These findings highlight three emerging consumer psychological traits that seem to be fairly consistent across geography and demographics: a desire to be in control of the messaging to which individuals are exposed, where “pulling” this messaging to one’s screen is preferred to having it “pushed” by marketers; a rejection of having online behaviour tracked without fully understanding how that data are ultimately used; and a growing awareness of personal data’s business and commercial value to businesses.
Engaging digital media users through content marketing
In reaction to the decreasing effectiveness and reach of traditional display advertising “pushed” to consumers, more companies are turning towards content marketing to “pull” customers into brands. By developing valuable content (as opposed to “clickbaits”, sensationalist headlines or images to attract click-throughs), marketers hope to not only attract users but also encourage them to share that content.
Paid advertising certainly is not going away anytime soon, but the new marketing model emphasizes the creation of content that, because of the value it delivers, enables a brand to “earn” media (i.e. obtain publicity that is free and not gained through advertising). The goal is to encourage consumers themselves to become the conduit for the company’s marketing messages.
The 2015 Edelman Trust Barometer found that content produced by a company that a user patronizes is more trusted than content produced by a journalist or an NGO.42 This finding underlines the importance for brands to develop customer engagement and loyalty, because loyal customers can be expected to share compelling content with others in their networks and act as multipliers.
It is essential, however, to create and publish content in ways that maintain consumer trust. Based on a survey conducted in the United Kingdom and the USA on consumer attitudes towards sponsored content and “native advertising” on news sites, Reuters Institute’s Digital News Report 2015 found that one-third or more respondents feel disappointed or deceived after reading an article later found to have been sponsored; and more than one-quarter are less positive about the news brand due to the sponsored content or native advertising.43
The promise and perils of using consumer data for targeted marketing
Several issues have the potential to undermine the trust that digital media users have in the industry, as discussed earlier in this report. One issue pertains to the way consumer data are used, analysed and sold. Data generated by individuals intentionally through their use of digital media can help businesses to develop products and services that are better aligned to consumer needs, giving users access to more desirable products and services at a lower cost.44But data also can be used to undermine the credibility of digital media players. Consider the case reported in early 2015 of a cancer patient, who, after using Google to research his disease, subsequently was fed advertisements from funeral directors via his Facebook account – blurring the boundary between personal data privacy and the creation of relevant, targeted advertisements.45More insightful and less intrusive approaches to collecting and using consumer viewership data are essential to build consumer trust.
A brand’s visibility on social media is important for engaging consumers – especially those aged 16-24 years
Becoming part of the conversation through innovative messaging is quickly becoming the industry’s norm for effective marketing. A brand’s visibility and engagement strategy on social media platforms has proved important to draw in the emerging digital media consumer, especially in the age group of 16-24 years. The Internet Advertising Bureau’s Mediascope Europe study in 2013 found that 32% of this age group is more likely to buy a product from a brand they follow on a social networking site than one they do not. Moreover, 83% of those in this age group have liked or become a friend of a brand online, while 76% have visited a brand’s fan page.46The Implications of Digital Media Survey showed that 64% of Millennials, 69% of Generation X and 61% of Baby Boomer respondents are likely to express support for a brand through social media within their peer groups (the global average is 65%).
Engaging consumers through employee advocacy
Another marketing strategy that can help to curtail the impact of ad blocking is employee advocacy. Employee advocacy does not depend on the advertising sector because it grows corporate brand value through employee networks, mainly on social media platforms that can be influenced by creative employee enablement and evangelization. In other words, employee advocacy is word-of-mouth marketing through corporate assets.
This strategy has influenced a shift in the attitude of businesses towards their employees’ social media use. A growing number of companies have realized the massive potential of employee networks; they have started to move away from compliance management towards enabling their employees to create conversations on social media about the company and the brand.47
The importance of corporate social responsibility (CSR) in engaging digital media consumers
Evidence of social responsibility by media and entertainment brands significantly influences consumer choice, shows the Implications of Digital Media Survey. A leading concern is corporate transparency, particularly related to a company’s efforts to educate customers on storage and use of their personal data and to provide them full control to decide – 72% of respondents worldwide consider it most important, along with environmental sustainability, among possible CSR activities (Table 14). As digital media continues to become an integral aspect of people’s lives, CSR’s influence on consumer choice is likely to continue to grow.
However, contradicting a general belief that Millennials are enthusiastic supporters of corporate transparency and involvement in social and environmental issues (“Corporate Social Responsibility is Millennials’ New Religion” says one headline), the Implications of Digital Media Survey found that Generation X and Baby Boomers respondents place greater weight on these factors than do Millennials (Figure 11).48
Best practices: winning over the emerging media consumer
Much can be learned from successful examples of digital engagement within the MEI industry. Authenticity and user control, transparency, service accountability and emotional story-telling are all important attributes for digital media consumers in choosing services and platforms, as well as the content to consume, share and participate in. Consider the following illustrations of best practices.
The New York Times
Finding healthy revenue models while garnering consumer trust and fulfilling customer preferences is a challenge. The New York Times (NYT) was tested by the industry’s digitization, but managed to stay relevant to its customer base, acquire new consumers and innovate. Several factors contributed to the NYT’s digital success, but one in particular has strengthened its brand identity through effective segmentation – the NYT manages to serve the right content, in the right format, to each of its reader segments. This is such a strong value proposition in today’s world of overloaded news content that the company has managed to charge a fee for the service. Of the NYT’s 33 different newsletters, subscribers open 70%, which is a great example of how important relevancy is to heightened user engagement and ultimately trust.49
Effective segmentation brings more precise data on consumption patterns and preferences. Industry players that employ personal usage data to provide the right benefits to consumers, will be the best placed to charge for their services while simultaneously building loyalty. Netflix owes much of its success to its proprietary content algorithm, whose function is clearly visible to its users.50 In fact, this algorithm generated the data and Intel required for Netflix to design and produce the perfect television series for its viewers, allowing Netflix to make the decision to invest $100 million in 26 episodes (two full seasons) of House of Cards – a strong sign of service accountability.
Digital businesses that manage to instil a sense of authenticity in their brand will ultimately attract the most users. This reflects user tendencies to value products and services that help them to build and protect online reputations. LinkedIn is a good example: 400 million people are currently on LinkedIn, which equates to approximately one in three of the world’s professionals.51 The service is fundamentally free, with only 39% of its user base paying for the premium service. A key selling feature of LinkedIn is its ability to build authentic online identities that can essentially be certified by public verification through peer and manager reviews, endorsements and news feed engagement.
MasterCard and WestJet
Authenticity in the way businesses tap into user emotions is paramount in customer engagement strategies that drive participation in content and ultimately the shareability of brand messaging. With its A Mother’s Day to Remember campaign in 2014, MasterCard was able to generate brand visibility by establishing an emotional tie with a subject of global relevance, our mothers.52 In doing so, MasterCard had no need to actually advertise anything. Authenticity in the company’s gesture was enough to imprint MasterCard as trustworthy and genuine organization.
WestJet, a Canadian domestic airline, used a similar strategy in 2013 with its Christmas Miracle campaign, pushing the brand to international stardom with more than 42 million YouTube views (and counting).53 Such authenticity in the search for an emotional bond with the user is increasingly becoming the norm in digital content creation and marketing strategy. Interestingly, both the MasterCard and WestJet campaigns highlight the benefit of physical user participation in successfully engaging consumers digitally.
With currently more than 1.5 billion monthly active users, Facebook is the most popular social network worldwide. The company has much influence on a significant part of the world’s population and thus Facebook’s responsibility for respecting user rights and preferences is of utmost importance. On its mission “to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected”, corporate transparency and social responsibility form an important cornerstone. Facebook has an extensive Data Policy and has done much in past years to make it more comprehensible and to give users more control of their privacy settings, e.g. the “privacy check-up” and “ad preferences” tools.545556 Facebook also issues a Government Requests Report on how requests received from governments are handled.57