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Q&A: Gabriel Lewis, EVP Development & Strategy Maker Studios, on Media for Millennials

November 20, 2014 | By Michelle Manafy, Editorial Director – DCN @michellemanafy

Q: Do millennial readers have brand loyalty as a rule? How do you develop brand affinity/loyalty with them?

A: Brand loyalty for millennials ​is less a rule, and more of an ongoing dialogue. They’re the most media-savvy generation, having been raised in an ever-expanding ecosystem of platforms and content that gets more and more niche and targeted. As these choices become greater, brand affinity becomes more valuable for consistency of voice and identity (and identification, i.e. “this represents who I am, my values, etc.”), but the flip side is that it’s easier to move on when and if a brand betrays their trust. It’s also the first generation to be raised in an environment where direct feedback to brands is very, very public. Millennials ​aren’t just consumers, they’re participants… and they expect to be treated with an appropriate level of respect in that conversation.

Q: Do you approach the development of user experience or content differently for the millennial audience?

A:  At Maker, our core business is short-form content, and there continues to be a trend for shorter and more snackable digital video. The length of the average online video dropped 27% in the past year from 5.1 to 3.7 minutes. Once you start factoring in mobile video consumption—something 98% of millennials​ do every day—it’s inevitable this trend will continue for a large segment of digital content.

This leads to a broader conversation around producing the appropriate content for the platform it will live on. User behavior varies from platform to platform, and more than ever it’s important for content creators to have a distribution strategy in mind before going too far down a path developing the actual content. Just taking it across four typical distribution paths–TV, OTT, Web, Mobile–will yield a different approach to how the content is developed and produced. Within each of those distribution paths there’s also an additional layer of UX that will inevitably dictate how audiences interact with that content; the key is to be as far upstream and as aware of your goals as possible.

One of the most important questions any content creator can ask before starting any project is: “what does success look like?” It seems pretty basic, but I’ve oftentimes found myself in conversations with marketers or producers who start with the love of an idea or strategic approach and then try to force it into the proper lane to find success, as opposed to starting with a goal, e.g., audience, brand affinity, engagement, conversion, etc., and then developing their content and distribution strategy accordingly.

Q: When working to attract and retain millennial media consumers, what would you say are the most important things to consider?

A: While the word has become a bit commoditized, I would say authenticity is paramount. More specifically, having a clear perspective, being transparent, and fostering meaningful dialogue are assets for attracting and retaining millennial consumers. The explosive growth of social media among millennials is indicative of this dialogue-driven culture shift. Audiences can now connect directly with brands and creators that resonate with them. The elimination of gatekeepers and the continuing evolution of audience expectations are quickly relegating legacy approaches to content creation (and marketing) obsolete.

Digital platforms have opened up a world of opportunity to create content that leverages data and direct feedback. While programming has always been both art and science, at this point the science is getting more and more robust, and the artistry needs to start adapting accordingly.

Gabriel_LewisGabriel Lewis serves as Executive Vice President of Development and Strategy at Maker Studios, leading the company’s development of original content across platforms and strategic programming partnerships. Maker is the world’s largest network of short-form online video bringing together a diverse community of YouTube creators and global franchises as part of The Walt Disney Company. The company is home to the biggest digital stars and leading programming such as the hugely popular online series “Epic Rap Battles of History.” Prior to Maker, Gabriel served as Head of AOL On Originals, overseeing creative development, production, marketing and strategy for AOL’s original series and branded entertainment initiatives. Gabriel also served as Vice President of AOL Studios, where he co-created and launched the award-winning live streaming network “HuffPost Live.” Prior to AOL, he worked as a writer and producer for a variety of television and film projects. Gabriel is a graduate of Ithaca College and holds a B.S. in Communications.

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