In college, which is sadly now over 20 years ago now, I was studying to be a doctor and majored in philosophy as well. The philosophy bit was out of interest and medicine out of pragmatism. It turned out, after volunteering in a hospital for a few years, I enjoyed the study of science but not so much the practice of medicine. Thus, the practical bit became a bit less practical and so, as I’ve moved into a marketing career, I’ve learned to utilize my philosophy background in a corporate setting.
There was one class that I have found particularly useful in working through differing perspectives and that is the study of logic, a practice that uses a deductive system to look at the inferences behind arguments to deduce validity. In breaking down the inferences which lead to an argument, you can assess the validity first. In short, it’s a method that encourages great investigation, which I have found helpful over my career.
My entertainment background has been valuable in content marketing strategies no matter whether I was working for an entertainment brand or a CPG brand. Storytelling has been a key component of each position that I have held. Engaging consumers in those stories has always required investigation into the many target segments of the brand, to find out what drives these audiences and thus how to engage them with stories that matter to them.
"Engaging consumers in those stories has always required investigation into the many target segments of the brand, to find out what drives these audiences and thus how to engage them with stories that matter to them."
Over your career, you’ve navigated many waves of change in marketing, as well as cultural shifts. Now more than ever, marketers are struggling with leading in uncertain times. What is important to remember when entering uncharted territory? What should marketers keep in mind as they change their approaches? How much can marketing actually evolve and how can you make sure to keep up with it?
When working with emerging advertising opportunities, the important thing to remember is that the execution is very much trial and error. There will absolutely be some failure but those failures provide just as many learning insights as the successes in building a marketing approach that increases impact and drives revenue. While the platforms and media choices change from year to year, the marketing objectives of reach and engagement stay the same.
Being nimble in marketing is primarily based on researching consumer behavior shifts that drive viewers into emerging platforms. For example, while marketers everywhere can read the data about the exponential growth on a platform like TikTok, there is a deeper investigation necessary to uncover the insights regarding why consumers are spending their time there. Armed with those insights, marketers can then determine the right advertising opportunity suitable for that platform rather than trying to recycle something and launch it on a new platform.
As to cultural shifts, we’re living in a year in which the shifts seem endless, first triggered by a pandemic that led us to be quarantined at home and then by the death of Mr. George Floyd, which served as a stark reminder as to the deep systemic racism endemic in our society. In both of these cases, I think it is necessary for marketers to do some deep investigation and listening to understand how the needs of the community they serve are changing. Otherwise, brands will communicate messages which are tone-deaf and off-putting. Authenticity is not something that can be manufactured as that is indeed hypothetical to the cause.
"Authenticity is not something that can be manufactured as that is indeed hypothetical to the cause."
Where do you see the opportunities for growth in 2020 and beyond? What should brands be mindful of as they craft and implement their marketing strategies?
Have you shifted your leadership style? Why, or why not? What can others learn from your experience?
In 2020, with the pandemic upon us, an election year and thousands of people in the streets addressing systemic racism in America, I think brands have needed to be even more flexible than they have ever been, so as to be in mindful of the climate, and in many cases speak to their positions. For example, many streaming platforms made the decision early on during the pandemic, to offer extended free trials of their programming to audiences who may have experienced financial hardship as the result of job loss. This was a smart move, but of course, those platforms need to now retain as many users as possible to show positive revenue impact. Their success in actualizing real growth will be dependent on the value of the platforms themselves in terms of what viewers can watch and how much that content costs.
In regards to specific platforms, I see incredible opportunity across services in the short-form content space including TikTok and Snapchat. These platforms have always trended younger, but as a result of the quarantine, they have seen some older audiences now logging on, extending the variety of consumers who can be reached there, and therefore the variety of advertising opportunities.
Overall, I think brands should be obsessing about who their consumers are and where they are spending their time, especially as the rules of the quarantine shift globally in many different ways.
As to my leadership style, I have tried to become more empathetic and listen more to the needs of my team. I have always offered transparency in my communication style and I think that sets many at ease knowing that I won’t keep important information from them. Instead, even when the news is difficult, I share it and try to help work through any of those challenges alongside my team.
"Even when the news is difficult, I share it and try to help work through any of those challenges alongside my team."
The entertainment industry has been undergoing a massive disruption with streaming for many years; one which the global pandemic has accelerated. Please describe the mindset shift that entertainment executives need to adopt in order to be successful.
Where do you feel traditional entertainment companies are missing opportunities to tell their stories? As we shift from shared experiences (in theatrical releases and appointment TV) to on-demand streaming series, what are the marketing techniques that programmers need to master? Is there a “secret sauce” or “playbook” for properly launching a streaming service or a new series? Why or why not?
With so many changes in 2020, I think entertainment companies need to become more agile as to the needs of the audience right now, rather than their needs 5 months ago. We’ve seen successful examples of this with streaming platforms offering extended free trials, which helps those that may be unemployed for the short term and takes advantage of the increased subscriber growth on streaming platforms as a result of stay-at-home orders. That said, now, we have a complex patchwork of states operating with different rules and opening strategies. Entertainment executives need to be thinking about the realities of their audiences in all of these different situations, especially when looking at streaming data patterns.
I think the Quibi launch was an example of a vision misstep, which must be partially a result of misunderstanding the needs of their target audience during a pandemic and frankly, beyond it. The service was targeted to younger audiences at a monthly fee, a fee that I would argue younger audiences wouldn’t want to pay even in normal circumstances. In addition, while short-form content on Snapchat was seemingly geared to addressing the moment we were living in, with shows like Will From Home, in contrast, Punk’D on Quibi seemed tone-deaf. On the one hand, Quibi must have been enticed to launch a streaming platform at a moment in which streaming consumption was way up, but I think more research was needed in regards to what younger audiences are willing to pay and what content is most intriguing in this moment.
Traditional and non-traditional entertainment companies both need to think through the entire experience. It’s not enough to have a powerful library, the platform also needs a seamless launch strategy for users, one in which it is easy for users to figure out how to use your platform.
On-demand streaming has been flourishing for years. On the marketing side, the challenge there was in promoting episodes without ruining the plot for those who haven’t yet watched them. During the years of appointment viewing, much of the audience would have been following along episode by episode and therefore PR and program promotion was a bit easier. The challenge, as on-demand flourished, was how to create a marketing trajectory that made sense no matter when viewers watched episodes.
What I hope to see going forward is tech being launched that helps viewers watch shows together so as to create collaborative viewing experiences but also to recreate a digital watercooler. You see a trickle of this with Hulu Watch, Scener for HBO, and Netflix Party, but all those experiences are either missing the mark with chat functions only or built on cumbersome Chrome extensions that aren’t native to the streaming platform and crash frequently. There is an opportunity to create a new wave, in which we have flowed from appointment viewing to individual on-demand streaming to collaborative on-demand streaming.
To say there is a ‘secret sauce’ is a bit too simplistic I would say. That said, to provide the most successful launch possible, these platforms need to focus on simplicity and first impressions. In retail, we used to speak about a customer’s first few minutes in the store being paramount, and the same is true for viewers in a streaming platform. The first open of the platform needs to be seamless, employ a well-thought-out UI, the tech needs to be flawless with no lag, and the content needs to be enticing.
"There is an opportunity to create a new wave, in which we have flowed from appointment viewing to individual on-demand streaming to collaborative on-demand streaming."
You are included in a number of exciting conversations around trends in the industry. What can established companies learn from the recent events and the rapidly changing landscape? Which are the most important consumer trends within the entertainment industry that should advise storytelling and marketing strategies in 2020?
It’s interesting because I think many companies are trying to reinvent the wheel, so to speak, without focusing on the core consumer insights driving what these viewers are looking for. I think there is much room for innovation for companies bold enough to employ additional sharing functionality to encourage conversations around their content. I look at a platform like TikTok and see all the tools entertainment companies should be thinking about to encourage sharing of their content and conversation. For example, in reaction to protests across the country around police reform and systemic racism, Warner Brothers offered the movie ‘Just Mercy’ across several streaming platforms for free. Platforms like YouTube have commenting features that engage audiences in the content of the film, and the movie’s Instagram did a nice job of encouraging conversation. That said, a variety of short clips could have been offered across a platform like TikTok to allow users to take those clips and drive their own personal conversations. This allows the content to become a springboard for the conversation but also encourages promotion of the film. The action of offering the film for free is wonderful, but I think some additional insight could be used to drive further promotion and engagement.
"I look at a platform like TikTok and see all the tools entertainment companies should be thinking about to encourage sharing of their content and conversation."