Media consumption in the Covid-19 era is hitting record levels as captivated audiences try to stay on top of non-stop news headlines and updates. It’s an upward spiral that is causing a massive shift in consumer behavior. But new research from J.P. Morgan shows that audiences are specifically gravitating to established media outlets that make sense out of news developments – not just report them.
Harvard Business Review (HBR), is finding new success – and subscribers – with a lively mix of content. Their strategy combines in-depth analysis, podcasts, and social media experiments to put all aspects of our “new normal” into perspective. From how to maintain a work-life balance to how to cope with grief and loss, HBR is increasing reach and revenues by providing audiences analysis and answers.
To kick off our new series of DCN video interviews, I talk to Maureen Hoch, Editor of HBR.org and Managing Director, Digital Content of Harvard Business Publishing. Hoch leads Harvard Business Review’s digital newsroom and the HBP Content Lab. She joined HBR as Senior Editor in 2013. And she played an instrumental role in the redesign of HBR.org, which has since garnered three Webby awards. We discuss how HBR is harnessing podcasts and narration, as well as a growing portfolio of new audience projects, to keep audiences informed and connected.
Here are three key takeaways from our talk:
Speed matters, but advice triumphs
At first, Hoch says, HBR switched gears to publish information and insights at a “newsroom pace.” This cemented HBR’s position as a prime destination for hard analysis, around the business impact of the crisis. But the incredible success (“millions of page views”) of high-touch articles is shaping a new approach to storytelling that focuses on people first.
Audiences have a sizeable appetite for digestible content
Longer-form content is a hit with audiences, but audio versions of magazine articles knock the ball out of the park. HBR relies on a mix of narration and curation to engage audiences online and in-app. But this is just the start as HBR continues to look for more audience-first ways to make content accessible and forge the relationships that make it happen.
Audio content strikes a chord
Podcasts are driving audience engagement and subscriber numbers. But where is the money? Hoch discusses the models working for them to power monetization and increase retention. These include selling sponsorship on a CPM basis as well as more inventive models (“exclusive audio features”).
Hoch also offers some practical tips on how to emulate HBR’s success.
Life in unprecedented times is propelling our collective experiences enhanced by Augmented Reality (AR) an unexpected boost. Companies are scrambling to provide audiences with meaningful ways to spend days stuck at home or add value for the over one billion students continuing their education from home, rather than school. People can tour colleges, national parks, and museums online. Google’s AR objects in search—announced last year—are finally getting their due as people bring virtual tigers, leopards and cats into their living rooms to keep a nation full of home-schoolers entertained.
Smart content companies are moving quickly to take advantage of the burgeoning interest. One of those companies is Axel Springer, which commands one of the biggest media portfolios in Europe. Made up of about 100 print titles, over 70 online sites, and more than 200 digital ventures worldwide, Axel Springer is a venerated German publisher. However Chris Krauss, senior product manager with spring_, a division of Axel Springer, told me that they have more than media ambitions. “We want to become a media tech company,” he said. With 400 employees, spring_ is an “enabler” to help all of Axel Springer’s brands adopt digital technologies to engage audiences and attract advertisers.
AR for the masses
A key part of executing that strategy is a partnership with HEADGEAR. The mobile-first agency for immersive B2C activations has expertise in building experiences for educational, entertaining, or visualization purposes. To make the experiences accessible to all consumers, not just those with VR goggles or AR glasses, the company has prioritized mobile AR for consumer adoption.
Together, Axel Springer and HEADGEAR are working to bring AR to the masses. Their first effort is a virtualtour of the California coast. It premiered in the print edition of the Welt am Sonntag (a Sunday newspaper belonging to the publisher Die Welt) in March. The tour lets people grounded by coronavirus take in the breathtaking view from Pacific Highway 1 at Carmel-by-the-Sea or check out the California sea lions near San Simeon.
It’s stunning. But, more importantly, it’s seamless. “You touch your screen to place this AR portal,” says Krauss. “Then literally walk through it and you find yourself in another place somewhere in the world.”
The collaboration with HEADGEAR effectively allows editors to create AR portals – which appear in front of a user – that will transport a reader to a new location. In practice, any content team member with some experience in 3D modeling has the skillset to build a “simple doorway” into an AR world, according to Philip Wogart. He is co-founder of HEADGEAR and Executive Director DACH for the VR AR Association, an international organization designed to foster collaboration between companies and brands in VR and AR. “Once you have the portal, it’s no different than any other kind of filming, except that you need a 360 camera to do it.”
However, HEADGEAR’s tools aren’t just easy for publishers to use, they also simplify the experience for readers. It is built on top of the 8th Wall platform. So, readers don’t need to download an app to access the AR experience. Instead, audiences can access other worlds and rich experiences right through their browser.
This means “publishers can add Augmented Reality to any type of online advertising or any type of content really,” Wogart explains. “In this case, the Travel section of Sunday newspapers got enhanced with our portals. The print and desktop article included QR codes that readers could quickly scan with the smartphone camera app. Then they’d be automatically redirected to the AR browser experience.”
Easy AR for everyone
This web-based experience is not just immersive, it’s also frictionless. Consumers don’t need an app. And brands and publishers don’t need to be convinced that AR is a new tool in their toolkit they can start using now to engage audiences. “A simple experience is the first step to reaching massive audiences,” Krauss explains. “So this first AR experience is kind of a test.
But it’s not a one-off.” He sees this as a tool they can provide to editorial departments across Axel Springer). It will allow them to create and run AR portals and experiences. This, in turn should make it easier for them to start their own series. It will also allow their readers to get immersed within the world of the article (360° video) all using just their smartphone.
In this scenario, the tool is part of a white-label package. “We customize it for the new customer and then they can create their own editorial AR content with 360-degree immersive video,” Krauss explains. The goal is to roll it out within Axel Springer. We’ll make it available to all the publishers and titles within the group.
Significantly, AR, which used to be a hard-sell to publishers, just got easier for Krauss and his team. “Within the first 24 hours of publishing the print and digital editions, we had over 20,000 views of 3 AR experiences,” he explains. “This is an impressive number alone. But we are also calculating a 30% conversion rate for those completing the entire experience. This is amazing as it’s not a tech-savvy audience we’re addressing here. It’s 40 and up. These readers haven’t been experimenting with AR the same ways teenagers have on Snap and other platforms.”
The potential for AR
This pilot, and the positive initial results, give the companies the support they need to pursue a mission that has been top of their agenda for years. It’s all about making AR exciting and inclusive for audiences and removing the friction that has slowed its move to the mainstream.
The implications here aren’t just editorial. Smart publishers can work with advertisers to create immersive experiences that will help keep brands top of mind during the coronavirus outbreak. It will also allow grateful readers to escape reality for a few minutes.
Just imagine if a tourism board or automotive company sponsored Axel Springer’s virtual drive. Well, that opportunity is exactly what Axel Springer’s in-house agency Brand Studio is offering to advertisers and their clients across all their publications using HEADGEAR’s AR tools. It is pretty compelling stuff. In fact, after the AR experience, consumers might find themselves inspired to book the first flight to San Francisco as soon as travel bans are lifted.
A decade ago, The Power Of Pull described the amazing outcomes possible when we have the tools to find and access the people, content, information, and resources we need. Pull was seen as the mechanism that would put people in control. It would give them more choices and more information to make those choices.
Today, pull has been turbo-charged by mobile, a transformative technology (the impact of which the authors could not address in their book, so I will here). Mobile has become our collective default state. It eclipses all other digital technology and enables us to do exactly what the authors hoped we would: “collaborate in a complete re-imagination” of our experiences. From content to commerce, and from advertising to advocacy, mobile has left an indelible mark.
You could even say that, thanks to mobile, the Power of Pull has finally arrived. But it’s the advance of messaging apps and platforms that takes this to a new level. Pull brought us the toolset and the mindset to take charge of our content and experiences. Mobile amplified this ability exponentially. And messaging is giving us a new environment to experience both.
A new wave
The first wave of messaging saw the emergence of what I will call pull content, delivered primarily via app notifications. In this scenario, individuals granted permission and volunteered preferences (the choice of news categories, the frequency of alerts and notifications, the level of personalization). And that they opt-in is a must for audiences increasingly concerned about personal privacy. For this reason, content companies that delivered pull content could build trust and brand. In retrospect, it was this reach and impact that allowed the first wave to deliver scalable efficiency.
The second wave of pull, powered by mobile messaging apps and platforms, is destined to be even more transformative because it promises scalable connectivity. Messaging is a platform where companies can deliver interactive, personalized, and conversational experiences. And they can do it affordably at scale.
Messaging is also free to consumers. It also vastly reduces the blight of unsolicited communication. That’s because, as a rule, messaging platforms do not permit companies to send bulk messages as they can via SMS. And it’s growing in popularity. Analysts forecast that the volume of messages sent via the major messaging platforms is expected to exceed the number of SMS text messages by as much as 10x in 2020.
Pull and pictures
Messaging apps and platforms provide an ideal space for companies to forge relationships with audiences and drive connection with brand fans. They have also become the epicenter of our most frequent digital activity: messaging. In August 2018, app market intelligence provider Apptopia reported users globally spent a whopping 85 billion hours in WhatsApp over a period of just three months. (Compare that to 31 billion hours spent on Facebook).
Messaging platforms have experienced explosive growth in users and usage, outpacing some of the biggest social media channels. Together, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger alone have nearly three billion daily active users– that’s almost half the planet. In 2018 the Big Four messaging apps (WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, WeChat and Viber) had 4.1 billion combined users. A whopping 72 trillion messages were sent across these platforms (compared to 1.6 trillion searches on Google).
However, people aren’t just messaging more or more often. Empowered by pull, are using the universal language of pictures. People share more than 4.5 billion photos, 1 billion videos, and 80 million GIFs per day on WhatsApp alone. A comprehensive analysis of people’s messaging behaviors on Facebook Messenger (conducted by Facebook) reveals that nearly 60% of respondents have sent emoji-only messages to communicate a concept. What’s more, over half indicated that messaging has replaced all other forms of communication.
United by their passions and interests (supported by a shared visual language), this audience craves instant access to what matters. There’s no room for trial and error. Content must be hyper-personalized, highly visual, and always to the point. Against this backdrop, messaging platforms offer the perfect petri dish to experiment with new approaches around content design and distribution.
Bite-size is back
Messaging platforms also unlock the potential of content companies to satisfy our appetite for bite-sized content. That means short videos, short-form content, graphics, and memes. Content that might feel out-of-place in-app or online is at home on messaging platforms. Media companies and publishers need no convincing. In fact, some new organizations are encouraging audiences to visually enhance the conversation.
The Washington Post, which distributes snackable news content via Viber, a messaging app used by more than one billion people worldwide, has had remarkable success with a series of news-related stickers. The packs count more than 2 million downloads since they were first launched in 2016. “The stickers we’ve created allow users to say what they want about news without having to type a complete thought and simply add delight and character to their conversation,” Amy King, Design Director of Emerging News Products at The Washington Post said in a recent interview.
The Washington Post is just one of a long line of news organizations — including the BBC, The Economist, The Wall Street Journal, HuffPost, and Financial Times — that are experimenting with messaging apps as an additional distribution channel. For many, the primary focus has been on providing short news updates and links to related and relevant content. However, some companies have zeroed in on the interactive nature of messaging platforms. They’re adding a new dimension to bite-sized news and leveraging yet another aspect of pull: two-way conversation.
Micro-newsletters for mass audiences
Bloomberg has harnessed WhatsApp to send messages every day and hear back from users directly, Katie Boyce, Managing Editor, Digital, Bloomberg, stated in an email interview. “After big news would break, we started to ask our WhatsApp audience what they want to know. We would get such thoughtful feedback that we could then incorporate it into our reporting and send back updates,” she explains. “It was a much different conversation than what we get on our public social channels. We built up a very highly engaged audience.”
It also paved the way for Bloomberg to bundle bite-sized content into personalized packages that balance depth with the demand for distilled information. The outcome was a new format it calls the “micro newsletter.” The content is longer than a push alert but shorter than a typical newsletter.
Boyce describes the content as a “very conversational update three times a day at the end of each region’s news day, summarizing the big stories of the day.” It has been so popular with the audience that it prompted Bloomberg to “create multiple sub-groups around topics like markets or the Middle East so that we could send more targeted messages.”
Using this approach, which was nominated for a SOPA (Society of Publishers in Asia), a benchmark for world-class journalism, Bloomberg has done more than grow its numbers. It has recruited and audience of advocates eager to follow the discussion no matter where it takes them.
In December Bloomberg moved its distribution to Telegram, a messaging platform projected to hit 1 billion users by 2022. (Admittedly, Bloomberg’s move was driven more by necessity than inspiration as Facebook, which owns WhatsApp, made good on its promise to crack down on what it considers “non-personal” use on the platform. In December efforts turned to the gray area of newsletters. And it ruled that publishers will no longer be allowed to send out newsletters on WhatsApp.)
Within two weeks of moving the micro-newsletter messages over to Telegram, Boyce reports that Bloomberg “gained over 25,000 followers” on the new platform many of whom migrated from WhatsApp. But efforts to leverage the popularity of messaging platforms doesn’t stop there. Bloomberg is “continuously evaluating other ways to meet users where they are,” Boyce says. It’s a smart approach in the age of pull.
Messaging is the new frontier
As we kick off a new decade, it’s critical that content creators — be they media companies or marketers — understand consumers’ growing appetite for concentrated content on their terms and in the spaces where they choose to congregate. It’s a global phenomenon that sees audiences flocking to messaging apps, drawn by the simplicity of snackable content.
It also offers audiences the opportunity to “share and discuss news, away from the toxicity of political debate that threatens more open spaces,” according to the Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2019. Based on data from almost 40 countries across six continents, the report highlights this mega-trend. It notes that WhatsApp has already become a primary network for discussing and sharing news in western countries (where WhatsApp has a strong presence) as well as non-western countries including Brazil (53%), Malaysia (50%) and South Africa (49%). The upshot: “as more people use messaging services, news usage has also risen.”
Now that news organizations and media companies have an audience on these platforms, they must adopt the culture and language of these communities and capture the Zeitgeist to deliver on the promise of pull. A decade ago, companies were just beginning to develop this mindset, with the understanding that constant and instant accessibility of information was an audience demand and responding with models that would rebalance businesses and organizations to be powered by pull.
But there was a catch. We had the message, to borrow a concept from the visionary Marshall McLuhan. But without messaging platforms, we lacked the medium to deliver at scale. Today we have both. Mobile — messaging in particular — is where people spend their time. And content companies who build experiences that are right-sized and optimized can leverage this behavior to engage highly-receptive audiences.
Frustrated by fierce competition in a marketplace that counts over 6K new Android apps added daily to the Google Play app store alone and infuriated by reports that suggest Apple routinely favors its own apps in App Store searches, app companies and developers are adopting bold approaches to get their apps in front of potential audiences. The outcome is a flurry of activity and experimentation that could make 2019—destined to be the biggest year in mobile and apps yet—the best year for mobile app distribution models that pay real dividends.
A company writing the playbook is Epic Games, the company behind Fortnite. The shooter game on PC, consoles, and now mobile and apps has become a cultural phenomenon; as of March 2019, it had amassed an audience of almost 250 million worldwide. Addictive gameplay is certainly a big factor that has contributed to the blockbuster success of Fortnite since its launch in 2017.
However, if we dig deeper, a
critical driver is a brilliant direct distribution strategy shaped by the company’s
determination to bypass the app store. “Avoiding the 30% ‘store tax’ is a
part of Epic’s motivation,” the
company’s CEO Tim Sweeny told Forbes. “It’s
a high cost in a world where game developers’ 70% must cover all the cost of
developing, operating, and supporting their games.”
It’s also high time to ask some basic questions about the app store distribution model that hasn’t changed since the app stores opened for business in 2008. Leave it to the edgy El Reg to call out the elephant in the room. “More pertinently, after a decade, is the question why Apple and Google still take a 30% cut. In a competitive marketplace, wouldn’t that rate have been whittled down over the years?”
In a world where prices are
falling everywhere, the article concludes, “that 30% over a decade is
starting to look plain embarrassing.”
Clever moves to cut out app
The Apple-Google app store
duopoly is increasingly the focus of broad government antitrust investigations.
That’s because these two companies serve as gatekeeper for a massive
marketplace where consumers are expected to spend an incredible $120 billion this
year, according to app market intelligence provider App Annie. Think of it:
That’s 5 times the growth rate of the global economy. So, its little wonder
companies are lining up for their share of the action (and revenues).
A pioneer in the alternative app-marketplace was Facebook’s Instant Games. The platform where consumers can launch games from within Facebook’s chat apps has gained significant traction this year. The content library—6,000 Instant Games compared to over a million Android games and over 800,000 games on iOS—may seem tiny, but the goal here isn’t size. Facebook leverages its social connections to power an app-like ecosystem that doesn’t require an app store.
In China, the mobile messaging
app WeChat has done one better. It has evolved into a one-stop-shop platform
for a wide array of content and services. Consumers rely on it every step if
their daily journey. With the help of “mini-programs” they download
directly into WeChat, users can access content, order meals, make payments, and
call a cab—and that’s just the start.
The alternative app marketplace
The ranks of companies
building the capabilities to take aim at Apple and Google’s dominance of the app
economy are growing. Realistically, though, it’s a strategy only a handful of
companies can afford to pursue. So, what are the options for the masses of
companies and developers that want to reach new audiences with their apps but
lack the resources to construct and command their own alternative app marketplace?
One approach gaining traction is the Direct 2 Device (D2D) model. I learned about this one through my own informal survey at Mobile Growth Summit. D2D is the choice for an increasing number of app companies—particularly media and entertainment apps eager to engage more users across more regions. In this scenario, app companies work with Digital Turbine, a mobile delivery platform that leverages more than 40 partnerships with handset makers and mobile operators worldwide to pre-load apps on devices. Apps are delivered directly to the device because Digital Turbine’s technology sits at the operating system level of new Android phones, enabling companies to reach consumers as they set up new devices.
Delivering a frictionless
In practice, the approach gets apps directly in the hands of consumers. It also puts consumers in control of their apps, giving them the option to keep what they like and delete the apps they don’t. The result is a frictionless experience that streamlines app discovery, which saves users the hassle of sifting through digital shelves packed with millions of apps.
This is a big deal in a global
app economy where app store search, though not broken, is clearly not optimal.
Many apps show up high in search results because the companies that made them
have mastered app store optimization or bid on the right keywords, not because
the apps are the best fit with what consumers are looking for in the first
Digital Turbine’s EVP of global
revenues and growth Matt Tubergen tells me his company has preloaded over 2
billion apps via its software platform, which is installed on more than 270
million devices. Shopping and gaming—hypercompetitive verticals where too many
apps are chasing too few users—were the first to embrace Digital Turbine to capture
and convert new audiences. More recently, media and entertainment apps have
joined the party.
From CNN to the BBC, and from
Smart News to News Republic, companies are making D2D the cornerstone of their
customer activation strategy. News portals and social platforms, including Yahoo!,
Opera News, and Reddit, are also harnessing the platform to fuel growth.
Turbine’s Tubergen says many media companies don’t just see D2D as a play to bypass
the app stores. “It’s about augmenting their channels—increasing reach in
a way that allows them to take back control of the download experience and
determine their distribution in addition to the app stores.”
You have options
Whether companies have the
wherewithal to build their own app store marketplaces (without a store), or join
the ranks of companies making their apps available to consumers directly on the
smartphone at the time of device activation, it pays to explore other ways to
distribute your app and grow your audience.
Media consumption on mobile is headed for the stratosphere this year. In fact, roughly 10 minutes out of every hour spent consuming media will be on a mobile. So, it’s no surprise that the dominant distribution channels are noisy and crowded. Harnessing alternative distribution channels allows media companies to drive customer connection—without the friction. It also lets them focus on an even bigger challenge: ensuring that consumers engage frequently and deeply with their apps.
In a market where the cost to acquire an app user is rising through the roof, and the increase in app abandonment (the number of users who quit an app after one use) is alarming, it’s clear that the traditional focus on top-funnel metrics is fatally flawed. Our focus on a linear journey is completely out of line with user lifecycles. Mobile had forever altered the consumer path to purchase and funnel models no longer fit.
Architecting campaigns and strategies that prize acquisition over retention doesn’t just force marketers to burn considerable cash. It blinds them to the key engagement activities and metrics that are the sure-fire indicators of highly valuable and deeply loyal consumers who are primed to engage with content—and more.
It doesn’t matter whether the goal is to drive registrations,
encourage consumers to volunteer information such as personal preferences that
will allow you to deepen the customer relationship, or sell subscriptions: Ensuring
a predictable and sustainable cash flow quality trumps quantity every time. In
the App Economy, success isn’t a numbers game. It requires strategies that get
the right users into your app—and keep them coming back.
A strategy that harnesses AI and machine learning to connect
with customers in a relevant way based on an analysis of the millions of data
points and signals that communicate their context via mobile and in-app can be a
bonus. But even the best mix of analytics and analysis will miss the mark if
marketers segment their audience by static demographics, not dynamic actions.
Embracing the engagement pyramid
First and foremost, marketers need a firm grasp of the hard
data around the “who” of their customer base. However, they must also command
the soft skills around the “why.” They need to understand what motivates
their audience to take action in the first place. Effective app marketing
engages with users throughout the lifecycle based on these two inputs.
But an ongoing data investigation by Phiture, a leading mobile growth consultancy based in Berlin, and CleverTap, a full-stack customer retention platform, ads a third dimension. They’ve built a framework to measure and analyze the user engagement we observe.
Published for the first time last month, Phiture’s framework offers marketers a more nuanced view of user engagement and a roadmap to increase retention. The authors of this must-read resource (Andy Carvell, Kevin Bravo ,and Tessa Miskell) present the Engagement Pyramid, a model that breaks engagement down into three layers:
Acknowledgment, where users show an appreciation
for the app, but not high intent. (For example, opening the app or reading a push
Interest, where users deliberately
interact with the app and demonstrate a willingness to do more. (For example,
tapping on items in a feed, consuming content and initiating search queries.)
Conversion, where users follow through
and complete a core action that is aligned with the purpose and value
proposition offered by the app. (For example, booking a trip with a travel app
or managing money with a finance app.)
Maslow and measurement
The framework gets high marks on several counts. It bravely questions the practice of monitoring DAU (Daily Active Users) or MAU (Monthly Active Users), or employing performance metrics that simplify engagement into binary terms (counting users as engaged or not). It also gives the concept of a purchase funnel a rehaul, literally turning it on its head in a hat tip to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
Maslow’s theory in psychology divides our human needs into
five levels, placing the most basic needs at the bottom of the pyramid and
elevating our most complex needs to the top of the pyramid, the Engagement
Pyramid inspires marketers to aim high—and be highly focused on outcomes.
Above all, the authors open our eyes to the model and the mindset marketers must embrace to increase meaningful engagement and stop churn before it starts. “It’s important to understand that engagement is a continuum, ranging from low-value to high-value actions,” they write on their latest blog. “A user may traverse this spectrum rapidly within the space of a few sessions, or remain stubbornly stuck in a low-engaged state for days, months, or years, without necessarily abandoning the app.”
Tracking events and asking questions
Applying the framework doesn’t just equip marketers to analyze
key user actions and assign them to the proper layer in the Engagement Pyramid.
It enables marketers to assess the value of user engagement and the potential
impact on the business. “Observing how layers grow or shrink over time gives
an indication of how well the app is performing,” the authors write.
Are more users performing actions that demonstrate Acknowledgement
at the bottom of the pyramid than are striving to complete events associated
with Conversion at the top? Review your app onboarding strategy and double-check
that your user acquisition campaigns are designed to attract the right
users from the get-go.
Is there a high correlation between the number of users who
belong to the Acknowledgement layer and the number of users who progress to
Conversion? Read that as a signal that you can scale campaigns, increase spend
and aim high—because you can.
Piecing together the retention puzzle
While the authors don’t specifically address it in their framework,
insights into how users engage and how much it’s worth also empower marketers
to enhance the user experience and—ultimately—increase customer lifetime value.
This was the focus during Cutting-Edge Retention Strategies,
a recent webinar and fireside chat where I was a guest along with Jessica
Osorio, Lead, Mobile Growth at Mozilla. While she doesn’t formally apply the AIC
framework (our discussion preceded its release by roughly two months), her analysis
of engagement metrics and their impact is just as rigorous.
“All apps face a really steep drop in retention on Day
1, just 24 hours after the app install,” she told me. To plug this “leaky
bucket” and deepen user engagement with the app, Mozilla has improved the onboarding
experience, adding what it calls the “welcome journey.” It’s during
this stage that Mozilla delivers a series of automated push notifications and
in-app messages to “walk users through all the things to do with the app that
we know will drive the most value for them.”
Osorio is also realistic about the “natural usage frequency”
and the importance of setting reachable targets for how (and how far) her
company can drive app engagement. “We want users to come back and enjoy
the app, but it’s not a target we miss if the users don’t come back on a daily
basis,” she said. “For us, it’s not DAU or WAU. It’s about building
products that meet users’ needs and journeys that surface that value from the
Audiences evolve, and marketers must keep the pace with app
messaging, ad creative and the value proposition tailored to match with the
needs of users as they move through the app journey. Whether companies embrace
new frameworks to assess engagement or architect customer journeys to boost loyalty,
the increased interest in retention marketing has profound implications. It
also demands marketers master the capabilities to reach and segment users based
on what users do (and don’t do) in-app with messaging that motivates them
throughout the customer lifecycle and the life span of the app.
The advance of high-speed networks and affordable data plans hasn’t only whet audience appetites for unlimited anytime, anywhere access to the content they desire. It has created ideal conditions for data-hungry streaming apps to proliferate, displacing traditional broadcast TV, and driving the meteoric growth of on-demand video. The phenomenon is global in scale, but nowhere is the impact as profound as in India, the fastest-growing video streaming market in the world. In India, on-demand entertainment services are forecast to account for more than 74% of mobile data traffic by 2020, up from 47% in 2014.
Streaming viewership is soaring, but it’s Hotstar—part of the Walt Disney entertainment empire and India’s largest premium streaming platform —that is seeing numbers climb into the stratosphere. In June Hotstar set a new global benchmark for live events. It reported a record 18.6 million users simultaneously tuned into the company’s mobile website and app to watch the deciding game of the Indian Premier League (IPL) cricket games. This sort of high-octane content has allowed Hotstar to grow the number of monthly users across app and web to 300 million, up from 150 million the previous year.
Hotstar balances a mix of blockbuster entertainment (including rights to popular movies and shows from ABC, HBO, and Showtime) with a bouquet of content aligned with India’s obsession with Bollywood and demand for local language translations. (Note that India hosts hundreds of dialects and over 20 official languages). As a result of this winning combination, Hotstar dominates India’s on-demand video streaming services market. The latest research from Jana pegs Hotstar’s total market share at 69.7%, compared to Amazon (5%) and Netflix (1.4%).
Using data to differentiate the customer
At first glance, it’s remarkable that large global players with deep pockets continue to struggle in the Indian market—despite significant investments to ramp up local content. But look under the hood, and you may be surprised. Hotstar’s success may start with broadcast rights for live premium sports paired with high-quality vernacular content that attracts record numbers of viewers. However, it’s driven by a strategy that harnesses personalization, recommendations, and psychographic segmentation to keep them coming back.
the right balance between acquisition and retention is crucial for a company
like Hotstar, which thrives on live events. It pays to spend millions of
dollars to acquire audiences at scale—but only if users don’t leave in droves
when the event is over. Hotstar turned a potential problem into a massive
opportunity by mapping individual user journeys to move audiences across the
funnel from freemium viewers to paid subscribers.
Hotstar moves viewers from fremium to subscription
exclusive interview, Mihir Shah, VP of Product & Marketing Growth at
Hotstar, distills the company’s data-driven approach into the four fundamentals
companies must get right to turn casual users into committed fans.
1. Personalize the entire user experience
important to look beyond demographics to gain a deeper understanding of who
your user is, what job your product solves in their lives, and how they use
your product, Shah explains. In this scenario, actions are just as important as
inactions to develop relevant engagement and re-engagement strategies. How many
times has the user opened the app or viewed the content? How long has it been
since the last interaction? How quickly or slowly is the user moving through
the funnel, and what“nudges” might convince and—ultimately—convert them?
Shah says these are critical questions marketers can only answer if they get a
firm grasp of behavioral segmentation models aimed at understanding and
predicting user attitudes and outcomes. “Once you establish a degree of
predictability around how your users behave, the way is clear to progress users
through the funnel with the help of content that is packaged and promoted based
on a deep understanding of user personas and psychographics,” he says
2. Recommend your content along the customer
acquisition burns money if audiences don’t stick around to explore and consume
the breadth of content available on the platform. This can be a major marketing
challenge, and why a big part of Shah’s job revolves around “converting the
sports fans who come to our platform—about 70 to 80 million daily for live
events like IPL—to start watching more of the entertainment we offer. And,
ultimately, get them to commit to a subscription.”
this objective requires the ability to identify and segment users based on
digital details, including their browsing and viewing history, content
consumption patterns and other preferences. “Based on a collaborative filtering
method, we recommend entertainment titles that other sports viewers watch,”
Shah says. “If the user is a free user on our platform, we move them through
the funnel by recommending content from our Premium library that they are most
likely to appreciate—content suggestions based on freemium viewership patterns.
The relevant recommendations are then delivered to users off-platform as part
of an omnichannel campaign strategy that spans push notifications, social and
3. Messaging must be personal and perfectly
up the momentum with campaigns that seek to influence user behaviors, not just
move metrics. Shah illustrates using the example of users who have streamed
live cricket matches. “We know that sending them push notifications based on
the actual game event will encourage them to relaunch the app and view the game
in progress.” In practice, he says, this means “delivering over 100 million
push notifications tailored to the moment and timed perfectly within a very
small window of just a few minutes.”
It’s a critical timeline that Shah says Hotstar reaches with the help of CleverTap, a customer lifecycle management and engagement platform that is capable of delivering more than 25 million push notifications a minute/ Shah says it was essential to reach Hotstar’s app install base of over 250 million. Significantly, “event-centric” campaigns appear to resonate most with audiences, boosting engagement and the average watch time per session by 12% and more.
cross-sell entertainment content, let’s say a movie, to our sports viewers, our
marketing creatives bring out a connection between the sport and the
entertainment content, thus making the content more appealing to a sports fan.”
But making the connection is just part of the strategy. Shah stresses it’s also
a good idea to pinpoint the days and times of the week that different user
segments are the most active and receptive to push notifications. Hotstar used
these insights to optimize send times, increasing click-through rates by 3x in
Engaging with users in real-time is a game-changer
(Recency, Frequency Monetary) analysis is a behavioral segmentation model that
examines user activity to identify how recently and frequently they performed a
key action. To make sure the effort marketers invest in this model also drives
returns, RFM also looks at the monetary value of the action (such as purchasing
an item or, in the case of Hotstar, subscribing to programming). Shah is a huge
proponent of RFM, a framework his company has harnessed to bring context to
user engagement campaigns and, more importantly, predict churn. In both cases,
Hotstar segments users in real-time based on certain actions or inactions they
undertake within the app.
a scenario where users who were watching a particular episode of a series
simply leave the app for some reason. “We see that as a trigger and send them a
customized push notification encouraging them to come back to finish viewing
that particular episode at precisely that moment.” Similarly, users who have seen previous episodes of
a series but not the latest one, are sent a contextual push notification as
soon as the latest episode is released. The outcome, he adds, is “more
conversions and increased content consumption.”
The future is interactive
As Hotstar continues on its impressive
growth trajectory, Shah says, the company is ready to take on one more bet:
that “the future of all sports streaming will be social.” As he sees it,
there’s no reason to limit the flow of content to push or pull. “Why should
content consumption be one way?,” he asks. “Why can’t it be immersive and
To enable two-way exchange, Hotstar is
laying a new layer on top of its platform. Last year it introduced Watch`N`Play, a game that challenges
users to guess cricket gameplay and outcomes, as well as social features and
streaming using virtual reality (VR) to make the match more immersive. This
year Hotstar is going one better, adding “another layer of chat” to the
platform, allowing fans to invite their friends from their Facebook account or
phone book contacts to the platform.
Effective user acquisition ends in
advocacy, and that means meeting and anticipating needs that consumers
themselves might not be able to identify. “It’s becoming increasingly clear
that customers are hungry for more, even though they don’t know what they are
looking for,” Shah explains. It’s up to companies like Hotstar to pave the road
for this future, building a platform and adding what he calls “unique,
inevitable and incremental experiences” that go beyond just entertaining
Nielsen numbers released last month show media consumption continues to climb with more attention being diverted towards smartphones than ever before. The total percentage of time spent on mobile among 18 to 34-year-olds has reached a new high — 34% up from 29% the previous year — at the expense of more traditional TV viewing. It’s a dramatic development that turns up the pressure on companies to produce content that is digital, mobile and video first. However, it’s not enough to get the array of platforms right. The approach to storytelling has to reflect a broader range of emotions and appeal to the desire of digital natives for news that is as personal as it is pertinent. ABC Owned Television Station is doing both. They are focused on creating a consumer connection with hyperlocal stories, which drives revenue.
Peggy Anne Salz —mobile analyst and Content Marketing Strategist at MobileGroove — catches up with Jennifer Mitchell, SVP Content Development for the ABC Owned Television Stations. Mitchell is responsible for leading the content strategies and original, digital content production for non-linear platforms across the group. She works directly with the station content teams to fuel expansion of the digital footprint. She leads production teams in New York and Los Angeles to develop new content and revenue opportunities. The most recent is Localish, a digital-native media brand that brings out the good in America’s cities, which launched on ABC platforms in fall 2018. Mitchell discusses how Localish has combined local storytelling and a diversified distribution strategy to engage Millennials and enhance the value of branded content.
Salz: At ABC, which owns its local affiliate in six of the eight largest media markets, you are building a new type of local-nation brand through Localish. What is the motivation and distribution strategy behind it?
Mitchell: Our eight local television stations have strong connections to our communities. With our Localish brand, we tap into those existing strong connections to broaden the types of content we produce. We provide more diverse storytelling than what you might normally see in a traditional newscast or local news website. Drawing on the demand for authentic and relevant local storytelling, Localish launched with four series – “More In Common,” “Secretly Awesome,” “My Go-To,” and “Worth the Wait.” Each individual series helps viewers live like a local by sharing insider tips on hot trends, cool digs, and best-kept secrets around food, travel, and culture. We’ve since added six additional series under the brand.
Our view is that this
is a brand and a type of content, locally sourced yet nationally relevant, that
can be everywhere and discovered anywhere. To support this, we have a very
diversified distribution strategy. To start, you can find the Localish content on
our eight local stations, both digital and linear. Because our stories generate
interest across the country, and not just locally, as well as around the world,
they transcend geographic boundaries. To reach
and engage these audiences, we have built out a footprint across the major
social platforms, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and
Instagram. We also have a presence in Oath and
there are other distribution opportunities that we are currently pursuing. The
goal is to seed the content where viewers prefer to consume it; what we call
the next generation of news and information.
Salz: You have a presence on the abc.com platform, which is where localish.com lives, and you have chosen not to have a standalone mobile app at this point. Was this decision deliberate?
Mitchell: Our brand is a digital-native media brand, and we want to be discovered and enjoyed by our audience, where our audience is. Our research on our top target audience tells us that 50% actively consume content on their smartphone across the day. They are also increasingly interested in local content. This trend is mirrored in Mary Meeker’s 2018 Internet trends report, which showed a 900% increase in Google searches for things that are “happening near me” or just nearby.
Our goal is to bring
in the audience from wherever they are and familiarize them with the brand so
that they continue to come back no matter where we are. Mobile websites do
this. Social is also a big component of driving traffic and audience for us.
From the perspective of discoverability and growth, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter have been strong
platforms for us.
Salz:Granted, social is critical for discoverability and virality. However, there can also be tension.
Mitchell: It’s a delicate balance. And we weigh each decision about every additional distribution point very carefully. Data and research tell us that consumers congregate in certain places, and Facebook is one of them. Twitter, Instagram, and Youtube are also important platforms. We will continue to play in that space and we are also pursuing other opportunities to diversify the portfolio.
Salz:Nationally, TV is experiencing a difficult shift in business models. But local news appears to be experiencing a comeback. At Localish you recently marked a milestone of 140 million video views. What do you think is driving this renewed interest in local?
Mitchell: There is a local renaissance. And this isn’t just about there being increased interest in local stories, although our research shows there is. It’s about trust. With the public concern about “fake news” it’s local that is emerging as the most trusted source. In some cases, local news is more trusted than national news brands. We have that trust, and we are leveraging it in our markets. So, trust—consumers wanting to believe in the news—is driving a lot of this.
Audiences also want to
connect with the people and places that are important to them, both locally and
nationally. Localish becomes the connection point, connecting dots for people
and introducing them to things that they might not otherwise have known about. And when we talk about local news and
information, we have to recognize that the definition of news has changed and
evolved. It is not just about the day’s top stories. It’s about things that are
happening near people, where they live, and they want to know about it. It’s
our goal to surface that type of information locally. But we also want to
introduce it to a wider audience, using the platforms and technology that can
bring these stories to national and
international audiences who have an interest or are just curious about these
“Secretly Awesome,” a
show uncovering the hidden gems in communities, is an example of this. We see
from the engagement, particularly on Facebook Twitter, and Instagram, that
people are sharing this content with others who don’t live in those cities
saying, “Hey, the next time you’re here, we must go to this place” or “we must
visit this business” or “we must buy this product.” So, what we’re seeing is
content locally sourced, resonating with national audiences. It’s conversion
and the activation of audiences through a new approach to storytelling that
focuses on communities and connection.
Salz:Local news has evolved. What’s different about storytelling at the local level?
Mitchell: In a word: everything. It starts with the categories and topics we’re covering and extends to how we’re shooting pieces and telling the stories. The content is the focus, and many of the shows don’t have presenters. We’re finding it’s resonating with audiences because we’re getting right into the story. Our rule of thumb is to make sure the first three to six seconds of every piece of video we produce is compelling so that we draw the viewer in right from the start. We are also focused on positive storytelling. In many ways, it goes back to our brand attributes. Authenticity, curiosity, optimism, connected, unconventional: These are the words that we associate with the Localish brand. And this is the lens we use when we think about story selections.
We also extend the
concept to tell stories about commonalities people share that transcend local
storytelling to be more universal.
“More in Common,” which is different from many of the other lifestyle
travels shows we launched, is an example of this. It’s a show we did for
Facebook telling stories about people who are seemingly very different, from
different parts of the spectrum. But despite differences in their backgrounds,
politically, economically or socioeconomically, they come together and find
common ground and a common purpose. It shows the bridges being built between people of various races,
religions, genders, and backgrounds in
cities and towns across America. These are stories that resonate with our
audience. They defy the odds and remind us that, in a time when many Americans
feel divided, we can be the best when we can be together.
Salz:By design, these are stories that move our hearts and minds. How do you measure impact and gauge success?
Mitchell: Virality is certainly one. However, that’s something no media company can control, so it’s not something we count on—or measure—from a business perspective. Engagement is a key metric. Real-time data that we can see on our social platforms shows our audience is extremely engaged. We’re a video brand and so we naturally focus on video views and completion rates. In just 30 weeks since launch, we’ve seen over 140 million video views.
Performance is measured in audience and revenue. It’s
important to build a business and grow revenue opportunities. To this end,
we’re pursuing a number of traditional
and non-traditional revenue opportunities as it relates to this new brand. In
addition to licensing fees, we’ve also had some very successful ad sales deals
around sponsorship and branded content. As we evolve the brand, we will look
for ways to align our goals with the goals of our advertisers. There are local advertisers who want to acquire
local audiences at the granular hyperlocal level. This is at the heart of what
we do. We make connections with local audiences through content that they
Salz:It’s interesting that you can achieve this level of engagement without a strong emphasis on technology to enhance the experience such as AR/VR, for example.
Mitchell: Content is the central focus for us. Our distribution strategy is diverse and we’re always looking for new opportunities in technology to deliver the story to our audiences. But, through all of these mediums, the content comes first. To broaden our reach, we’ve packaged the digital content into linear television specials airing across stations, hosted by up and coming talent. To expand even further, the brand is additionally shown on TaxiTV in New York City and in major airports around the country. What excites me most about the future of Localish is the continued evolution of engagement, how people are consuming content the way they want. Where our content lives, and how it can be accessed will always be aligned with the consumer first.
We approach all
branded opportunities in the same way. The
aim is to seamlessly integrate the brand into the story in a way that our
audience views it as quality content, not advertising.
We were recently chosen as
one of seven premium brands for the Local Media Consortium and Local Media
Association’s Branded Content Pilot Project, which will further help us
accomplish that goal. With this support, we’ll have additional resources to
develop branded content with strong storytelling that makes sense for our
audiences. We’ll also have tools to better
understand which types of content work for our advertisers.
Editorial and storytelling are the priority, and we make that very clear with our clients and advertisers. We have the creative control, and these stories will be released in the weeks and months ahead. In many conversations with advertisers, clients and agencies, they tell us local content and our approach to storytelling is “new and shiny.” This is interesting because the technology isn’t the attraction. It’s the brand and the positivity—and the feeling of community we reinforce with content.
About the Author
Peggy Anne Salz is the Content Marketing Strategist and Chief Analyst of Mobile Groove, a top 50 influential technology site providing custom research to the global mobile industry and consulting to tech startups. Full disclosure: She is a frequent contributor to Forbes on the topic of mobile marketing, engagement and apps. Her work also regularly appears in a range of publications from Venture Beat to Harvard Business Review. Peggy is a top 30 Mobile Marketing influencer and a nine-time author based in Europe. Follow her @peggyanne.
Hot on the heels of reports that reveal AR and VR will become mainstream sooner than we expect, media companies are lining up to test the waters and push the boundaries. While they recognize that implementation of immersive technologies can bring audiences deeper into a story than text, 2D images, and video ever could, many have yet to grasp that they have to create stories that move people, not just “wow” them.
One company that is further along on learning curve is USA TODAY NETWORK, part of Gannett Co, Inc. and the largest local-to-national media organization in the U.S. It’s cleverly harnessed talent from a variety of disciplines, including video games development, to bring new life and excitement to environments (life on the USS Eisenhower), events (launching a Falcon 9 rocket from Kennedy Space Center), and formats (an investigative podcast revealing the hidden power structures behind our cities really work).
Peggy Anne Salz—mobile analyst and Content Marketing Strategist at MobileGroove—catches up with Ray Soto, Director of Emerging Technology for USA TODAY NETWORK, to discuss recent AR projects and delve into how media companies can leverage growing interest in AR and VR to elevate storytelling and engage audiences.
PAS: Please bring us up to date on the storytelling experiences you have created and what you have learned.
RS: We recognize that both virtual and augmented reality are fairly new within our industry. But that’s what really motivates and inspires us to take that extra step to experiment and try something new. An example is the 321 LAUNCH app, our first AR app. It gives users a close-up live view of real launches and landings, allowing them to build and launch their own Falcon 9 rocket within the app—an experience enhanced with access to live video and real-time updates.
The aim was to combine immersive storytelling with a live launch AR broadcast, paving the way for users to engage with content in new ways. Metrics show strong retention rates and long session times, even on non-launch days. Overall, we have seen engagement times of around 3.5 minutes, and we observed that user engagement for our live launch broadcast spiked up to around 8 minutes. Right now, we hovering at around 3.5 minutes on non-launch days and about 5 minutes on launch days.
We learned a lot from the app about how to reach and engage audiences. We also learned a lot about the development cycle and the UX. The experience of creating the app—and seeing how users wanted to be in control of their experience—helped us to focus on building the foundation that would support all our augmented reality experiences moving forward. We saw that there was deep engagement with AR through interactivity, and what we didn’t want to do was leverage existing APIs that would limit us in the types of stories we could tell.
PAS: So, it sounds like you have “augmented” augmented reality platforms to suit your requirements and ensure you can support how audiences have shown they want to interact with your app…
RS: You’re right. So, we ended up leveraging the GUI game engine, and that is essentially the foundation of our AR platform. Unity provided us that foundation, where we can leverage AR kit and AR core. But we also built on top of that to incorporate the functionality we envisioned we would need for our storytelling experiences. So what we have created is a series of editorial templates, that include design templates and animations, allowing us to quickly support interactive storytelling through AR.
A good example is the augmented reality Hurricane Florence tracker. At first, it was a challenge that I presented to my team, which is made up of former video game developers with experience working with companies including Electronic Arts and NC Soft, to turn this AR experience around quickly. And we did this. By drawing from our game design experience and working closely with our product development, mobile dev team, and the editorial team, we leveraged our template to create the tracker—which we were able to ramp up, turn around and publish within 24 hours.
PAS: In the case of the hurricane tracker, you harnessed AR to bring breaking news to life. But to go mainstream AR will need to enhance content and experiences that are a little more downtempo. Do you have an example where AR adds a layer of storytelling, not just effect?
RS: A great example is our AR experience for The City, an investigative storytelling podcast where we developed the augmented reality trailer. The podcast is already a powerful story paired with an immersive audio experience—but it was missing an equally powerful visual. We recognized that, through our AR platform, we could create an experience that would allow you to explore the community that is the focus of the podcast and “tease” users to engage with the powerful story that was being told within the podcast.
In this scenario, AR gives the audience a sense of place. Clearly, it was a different type of story to tell and a different goal from launching a Falcon 9 rocket. However, we found we could just leverage what we’d learned from earlier projects and that was a plus. It was exciting to think no one had ever done this before—and we did. And through this, we recognized there is a real opportunity to fill in some of the gaps in content, such as audio, with AR and adapt what we create based on the story we’re trying to tell.
PAS: It’s exciting to push the envelope, but you also need to know where to draw the line. How do you decide if AR is a match with the storytelling in the first place?
It can be a tough one to call. So, we start by drawing from our experience and our understanding of the unique opportunities that emerging tech can provide and support when it comes to creating a very strong interactive story. The story comes first. Before we commit resources or time to develop an augmented reality experience, we work very closely with the editorial team to define what the story should be and how augmented reality can drive value to the story we’re trying to tell. It’s very much a collaborative process. There have been times when we’ve gone down a path of exploration and determined that the particular story might actually be best suited to being told with the support of an interactive graphic on the web or a video experience.
We’re at the point now where we’re able to produce an offline prototype quickly to really understand how we can tell the story in a new way that the audience can engage with again and again. The goal for an AR project can never be to create a one-time gimmick that folks will see and walk away from saying, “oh hey, that was neat.” The goal—and this is our goal—has to be to give audiences the feeling they have gained something from the experience or learned something. You don’t want the technology to overshadow the story because it comes down to the story first. We understand this because our team has had years of experience, not just with game design but in VR and more recently AR.
PAS: Your team is made up of talent from video games companies, which you’ve pointed out is a plus. What talent mix should publishers assemble and orchestrate if they are serious about creating AR experiences?
RS: We’re fortunate to have a team that is made up of former game developers, but I don’t think it’s a team that has to made up of game developers exclusively. Yes, it definitely makes it much easier to create AR experiences and ramp up a team to support AR and VR. But it’s not the only way. Publishers also need to bring together people who have a passion for the work and a desire to explore what’s possible. It’s through passion that companies can build a team able to go outside of their comfort zone. Passion guides you and helps you find ways to tell a story that hasn’t been done before. So, game development is helpful, but it’s not required for interactive storytelling.
PAS: So, what is required? What is the checklist publishers should have top of mind?
RS: Start by thinking through how you can create a narrative arc. As I said before, it’s not about gimmick. It’s about trying to do things differently and avoid getting too comfortable with how you have told stories in the past. Even if you have a template to build a story, you don’t want it to be the same every time. The aim is to encourage people to engage and come back. We want audiences to recognize that USA Today is telling interactive stories in a new way with AR, and that means pushing the boundaries through seeing the opportunities and exploring approaches.
It’s also important to identify the gaps within the story. This is where AR platforms can enhance that story. Again, a great example is the City podcast where we could improve an immersive audio experience with AR. It still just boggles my mind that we even considered it in the first place and I’m proud of the results. We recognized that it was a strong story that we could do differently. That’s the mindset you have to have for every project: try to do something that’s different but do it by creating a narrative arc that engages your audience and helps them coming back.
Everyone has a unique opportunity to define their path, but don’t only focus on the visual experience. You have to think about scalability and accessibility. You don’t want to exclude users who are impaired in any way –and this is why we have incorporated subtitles within our USA Today app. We want everyone to be engaged with the experience and able to make it what they want.
PAS: Brands are also focused on engaging users with brand storytelling and experiential content. Is there a place for brands in your future plans?
RS: We’re looking for opportunities to work on branded content. That conversation started because we observed such high engagement and retention rates. These metrics tell us there’s an opportunity—through AR—to create a personal connection. We’re poised to tell our stories in new ways, and we see ways brands can build on the growing excitement around augmented reality to engage with their existing audiences and acquire new ones.
Ten years into the iPhone and global App Economy and all the rules have changed. For nearly a decade, app makers focused on app downloads and installs, the lower-funnel activity that powered staggering growth in the early days of the app store. Now, this focus has shifted due to a dawning realization that sustainable success is the result of a strategy that drives engagement and activity deeper in the funnel. The focus has rightly shifted to app retention.
A defining moment was the observation by mobile measurement company Adjust, which found that on average users delete apps 5.8 days after they used them last. Significantly, Entertainment apps have the shortest lifespan, with users deleting this app category less than one day following their last session.
What’s worse, the average app loses its entire user base within a few months. Media apps may offer fresh content to nurture engagement, but even that appeal can grow stale. A recent report that provides an overview of Media and Entertainment engagement and retention metrics reveals 43% abandon the app a week after they install it and 67% of users churn within two weeks.
Indeed, 2018 will go on record as the year our fascination with the hockey-stick growth of the global App Economy as measured in app downloads (pegged to grow globally from 205 billion in 2018 to 258 billion in 2022) was replaced by the sober realization that the average retention rate for mobile apps plummets after just the first three days.
It follows that 2019 will be the year we see an avalanche of interest and activity aimed at finding new and better ways to encourage app engagement, app retention, and drive lasting loyalty.
It’s a given that effective marketing is personal and relevant, aligned with who your consumer is and understanding of their individual needs. However, apps introduce a new dynamic: activity. To deliver marketing and messaging users will accept and appreciate, marketers must also segment audiences according to what they have or haven’t done in-app.
If you want users to keep coming back to your app, you need to understand user profiles (age, gender, geography). But you also need to grasp user behaviors and the patterns that point to churn. (Have they launched the app in the last 3-5 days? Where did they drop out before committing to a subscription? What did they choose as news preferences and how often would they prefer updates?)
Unfortunately, the work required to segment audiences and – more importantly – market to each user segment differently has moved beyond human capacity. It requires marketers to sift through billions of data points (trillions if you count the input from the smartphone sensors).
In a recent interview Anand Jain, Co-Founder at CleverTap, a mobile marketing platform company sharply focused on the science of app engagement, told me marketers typically tend to use “less than 5% of the data available to them to make decisions.” However, it’s not just because marketers are overwhelmed by the sheer volume of data. Marketers, he said, also increasingly struggle with bias. “Preconceived notions about what the data is ‘telling’ them about how users should – and must – act in their app or react to marketing messaging is blinding marketers to the smart ways they could be prioritizing and personalizing campaigns to match every user’s unique engagement preferences.”
Removing bias to deepen engagement
That’s where machine learning can play a major role. It has the capacity to weed out human bias and help marketers open the aperture of how they view and engage their audiences.
Right now, marketers tend to operate according to rules. If users haven’t done x in the app for a certain period of time, reach out with y message via the channel that makes the most sense (push, in-app messaging, text, email, social). But without a deep understanding of who the audience is and what will bring them back (insights that emerge when marketers wield all the data, not just 5% of it), the outcome—even if it is personalized to address the user by first name—has many similarities to one-size-fits-all marketing.
Good marketers are clearly customer focused and likely have a strong intuitive sense of their customers’ behaviors. However, they will undoubtedly achieve greater success by understanding the vast amount of customer information that digital makes possible. This is the first step to architect strategies that will allow them to achieve customer intimacy at scale.
Engagement is emerging as “the” performance metric that matters across the every stage of the marketing funnel and every step of the user journey. But keeping users active and interested remains the biggest puzzle marketers have yet to crack. That’s where machine learning shines. It gives marketers a much greater ability to tailor engagement approaches to specific audiences, even specific customers, based on the probability that they are very likely, likely and even less likely to churn. The opportunity and ever-present challenge of mobile is its intimacy. To retain customers, every offer, incentive, “nudge” in the desired direction must strike a personal note.
With so many new and immersive ways to reach audiences on their mobile devices, it’s natural to wonder if email, now nearly 50 years old, has lost its luster. But before you make a call consider reams of researchthat show email rules as the most reliable way to reach consumers everywhere on the planet. Granted, email took a hit in the wake of the European Union’s May 25 General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), legislation that raised opt-in standards for email campaigns. However, the cleansethat followed also produced audiences that are genuinely interested in receiving communications and content from companies that have their express consent. It raises the question: Can companies do more with email newsletters to drive deeper engagement with their content?
The answer is a resounding “yes.” That is if they move beyond offering collections of links to offering content that has a distinct voice, format and style all its own. This is the strategy championed by Quartz, a six-year-old mobile-first publisher widely credited with helping reinvent the email newsletter. The company, which was recently acquired from Atlantic Media by Uzabase, a Japanese business intelligence and media company, broke new ground in 2017 with the launch of Quartz Obsession. The edgy email deep dives into topics that have “seismic importance to the global economy” and reports an open rate of 78%, much higher than the industry average of 22%.
Peggy Anne Salz – mobile analyst and Content Marketing Strategist at MobileGroove – catches up with Adam Pasick, a senior editor at Quartz who oversees Quartz’s push team, which includes email newsletters, apps, and bots. Pasick discusseshowQuartz looks beyond the newsroom for content that inspires and engages audiences, and why it pays to publish newsletters with a “sense of purpose and cohesiveness.”
PAS:Katie Weber, VP of client partnerships for Quartz, is quoted as callingthe inbox “the new homepage for executives.”How do you choose and craft newsletter content that will consistently appeal to this high-value audience?
AP:I think we’ve certainly struck a chord with an audience that is more than the sum of the numbers. We have bespoke editorial and news coverage that we tailor for our products including the Quartz Daily Brief, Quartz Obsession, as well as the Quartz app for iOS and Android. Each has their own content and their own voice.
Sometimes we adapt articles from the main Quartz site, but most of the time we are writing the content from scratch. It’s the best way to treat each of those products as their own thing, with their own audience, their own appeal and their own writing staff to make the package complete. Quartz Obsession is a great example of this. We looked at just piping regular Quartz content into these products, but we found it to be an unfulfilling experience. It just fell flat.
PAS:I’m hearing that your audience is a demographic that values an element of serendipity and rejectscontent that feels stale. How do you keep your content fresh?
AP: We are constantly testing and rolling out new products, and the Quartz Obsession email is a great example. It’s had a hugely positive response out of the gate because it invites readers to go down a rabbit hole every day on one very kind of narrow topic. Then it opens your world by giving you a big-picture view of the topic in the context of the wider world.
PAS:You call it the daily “digression.” But is the starting point the daily news?
AP: The content is inspired by topics that are in the news. But we go a step further delivering more evergreen content that sheds light on the weird and wild tangents. In this way we fill a need that people have to be delighted and surprised with content that touches on the issues of the day but also takes some unexpected turns to inspire them to see and experience what is beyond the news.
Across all Quartz stories and products there’s kind of a common editorial DNA that should run through them. But we don’t only use Quartz stories as a starting point. We are agnostic in terms of where our stories start off. It can start with a Quartz story, we are also happy to use stories from other sources for the app and the emails. It’s not about driving traffic back to the Quartz mothership; it’s about finding the best stories for our audience no matter where they started off or where they may have originated.
PAS:You oversee several products, including apps and chatbots. What are the content offers and audience preferences across these platforms?
AP: Each of those products has its own advertising format, one that is appropriate and native to that platform. This ensures that we are not reliant on driving people back to Quartz.com. This is why we feature stories from other news outlet and then adapt it and tell it in our own way. Across all these formats it’s about channeling the news into a more casual conversational style, while keeping it very tight and concise. The tone that we are aiming for is one that is how you would write if you were describing the story to your friends.
The chatbot on Facebook Messenger presents content in a conversational format, so we use different tools to kind of mimic having a conversation with a real person. There are real people writing the responses, but it takes place in an automated algorithmic fashion. The starting point is often a push notification. Thenthe experience can go beyond what’s happening in the world to sharing ways you can enhance your world. For example, we’ve taken people through lifestyle ideas and inspiration like how to bake your own soda bread. We’ve experimented with different experiences and see audiences spend the most time on content around the news. But for chatbots, as well as apps, it’s also important to mix serious stories and with topics that are off-beat or lighthearted. You want to have a diverse story mix that doesn’t kind of beat people over the head with one kind of story. It should feel more eclectic.
Our app is available on the watch, so we know we touch reader’s lives in ways that are immediate. It’s about developing innovative ways to be valuable and offer value throughout the day and across platforms. So, you start the morning reaching for your smartphone and you scan the news on what happened while you were sleeping. The Daily Brief provides a kind of editorial intelligence service and it has a very loyal audience. With the app, that’s where readers dip in and out to learn something or be delighted with content and then get on with your day. Obsession comes in when your day is wrapping up, when you’re a little exhausted and you just need something to kind of take you out of your world and into an unexpected direction.
PAS: You provide me the news and experiences you think I want. Why don’t you ask me?
AP: We are assuming that if you found your way to us you that you also like the Quartz editorial. That’s why we purposely pick, curate, and write stories that fit in with our kind of Quartziness. And that’s our goal. It’s not about the capability to write something different for every individual person. It’s about having a purpose and approach to telling the story that resonates with our audience.
Brands and companies are well acquainted with the power of video to communicate stories and drive consumer connection, but the real growth opportunity is in virality. In a market where 92% of mobile video viewers share stories they love with friends and family, it’s a smart move to expand the creation and distribution of video content that is both effective and emotive. USA TODAY is doing both, organizing and leveraging its portfolio of content brands and experiences to deliver video content that moves and motivates audiences at scale.
Peggy Anne Salz – mobile analyst and Content Marketing Strategist at MobileGroove – catches up with Kate Gutman, who joined USA TODAY NETWORK, part of Gannett, Co., Inc., in July to head the company’s newly formed Content Ventures division. Gutman, who previously served as VP of Strategy and Digital Media at A+E Networks International, discusses her focus on revenue diversification opportunities and ambitions to extend the content and experiences offered by the media and marketing company’s niche brands.
PAS: You have just taken the helm at Content Ventures, a new business where you can draw from your expertise and experience at A+E — where you grew the company’s distribution and launched new digital products. What are your priorities and how will you measure success?
KG: I was quite fortunate in coming into this role because there is a lot of exciting work already in place here. My focus will be to put all this under one umbrella, and that’s a lot of what I’m doing right now. Over the next six to 12 months I’m also going to be focused on potential new acquisitions and investments that will fuel growth. We have strong organic growth, and video is an example of that. But then you have to go out into the marketplace and see what you do, or with whom you can partner, to get more scale and unlock the real potential of businesses that are growing fast. I’m reviewing our activities to find the opportunities to scale what we’re doing—where we can supersize growth to go 4X, not 2X.
PAS: You call out video. How does that fit in the content brands and experiences that extend the portfolio beyond USA TODAY and 109 local news brands?
KG: I oversee a portfolio of niche brands. However, I describe them as “passion brands” because they appeal to audiences who want to dive deep into the content. For example, the content group that runs our sports media division falls under me. This is a group that publishes 45 different websites — ranging from team-specific sites to sites about recruiting — targeted at the hardcore sports fans. Grateful and Reviewed.com, both of which were Gannett acquisitions. These are examples of passion brands.
Grateful is a site that aggregates content from food influencers, and also creates their own content, including recipes and videos. Overall, it’s a content vertical that is appealing because it opens up a new advertising category for us around consumer products and food advertising.
Reviewed.com provides reviews of products ranging from consumer technology to appliances. What makes Reviewed.com interesting and relevant to my team’s mission is the model. A significant amount of the revenue it generates comes from licensing and affiliate fees. In this way, Reviewed.com offers us a way to experiment further with affiliate revenues and models which are not a large part of our traditional business because that has been driven by ads and news subscriptions.
PAS: You could say you have a fascinating sandbox to play in, where you can explore content areas and monetization models.
KG: Yes, definitely. “Sandbox” is a good description of it. But it’s more of a “targeted sandbox” because I’m also very focused on our primary goals of revenue diversification and audience diversification. With Grateful, for example, there are more possibilities to integrate consumer brands into recipes and some of the videos that we do in the food space. With Reviewed we have the opportunity to explore affiliate marketing.
But there’s also the opportunity to go beyond this—and this is what we want to do in order to target specific passion groups looking for the niche content or niche information that matters. To engage these audiences, we’re exploring new kinds of subscription models and experimenting with monetizing live events.
PAS: Passion groups, as you call them, are universal. What are your ambitions to take this content to an audience beyond Gannett?
KG: One of my goals is to grow Gannett’s off-platform distribution revenue further. So far, our ad sales team monetizes our print products and our digital products including mobile apps. Now we’re looking at ways to distribute our content to other platforms, whether that’s with partners like MSN, or social platforms like YouTube, or Facebook.
In the case of MSN, our partnership centers on the distribution of our content, local and national news, news video and what we call our franchise videos–which are not news-related, but rather news-adjacent. MSN syndicates the content across all of the MSN sites and they compensate us for that content.
I think there’s a lot of growth in video, and right now we’ve got a couple of tests in the works with some platforms that we hope to have larger partnerships with going forward. Growing mobile video, both video creation and distribution, is one of our key targets this year, so you’ll be hearing more about that, and you’ll be seeing us doubling down on video and a couple of businesses and initiatives that are already in the works.
PAS: Video is the new black, and the space is crowding as more media companies and brands get in on the action. How are you going to stand out and—more importantly—appeal to the passion groups that expect a more personal touch?
KG: In the last year or two, we have created some very interesting “franchises,” specifically, HumanKind, AnimalKind, and MilitaryKind. These short-form videos, anywhere from 30 seconds to maybe five minutes long, are positive, inspirational clips that are created from raw news footage and user-generated content from our local news markets. For example, MilitaryKind focuses on feel-good, really wonderful moments that involve someone who is part of the military. These are stories that resonate and inspire: families reuniting, a father overseas learning about the birth of his child, just feel-good, amazing videos.
The videos move people. As a result, they’re wildly successful and incredibly viral. Some of the top-performing videos in these franchises have been viewed by 100 million people. Overall this year, our Kind brands have generated more than 4 billion views across platforms. I want to develop this further, and I would also like to see them living on social media, on partner sites, on additional platforms. And advertisers want that, too. There’s a big difference for an advertiser to sponsor these human-focused and genuine stories versus a consumer-generated video. The message is positive and uplifting—and that’s what the world and our country need right now.
PAS: Publishers also need advice as they seek to grow the content and relationships that will allow them to thrive in digital. What are some learnings or recommendations you can share?
KG: I think all publishers need to think about how they can diversify revenues and audiences. It’s more important than ever now, particularly since the traditional newspaper audience is growing older. It’s about thinking of new ways to diversify that audience, reach people’s passion points in new ways and grow revenue beyond advertising. Advertising comes in a variety of different flavors, including branded content, but publishers have to innovate and think about other potential revenue opportunities.
Freemium models, offering content as a free service with some sort of upsell, are popular and successful models in mobile and apps. Publishers can harness freemium models to provide packages where consumers can pay a little bit more to get additional content, additional features or additional services. Subscriptions are another model publishers can innovate and move beyond just offering a paid subscription to their core product. They should be thinking about what else they have, what other resources can be packaged or enhanced in some way to create new subscription offerings.
In just a few years, the number of publishers building out branded content has soared from 15 to more than 600—and counting. But it’s not just their ranks that have grown. Many publishers have expanded their capabilities, harnessing teams, talent and tech to help brands create sponsored content and capture audiences. The New York Times has gone one better, establishing T Brand, a complete content studio, to create unconventional immersive and artistic projects that go far beyond native advertising.
Through the strategic acquisitions of Hello Society, an influencer marketing agency, and Fake Love, a design-driven agency specialized in one-of-a-kind live experiences, T Brand has also nurtured new expertise in video, 360-degree filming, augmented reality, and virtual reality. Here, Peggy Anne Salz – mobile analyst and Content Marketing Strategist at MobileGroove – catches up with Graham McDonnell, International Creative Director for T Brand Studio, to discuss the company’s mission to create dynamic and innovative content with a decidedly human touch.
PAS: T Brand is leveraging its tech abilities and acquisitions, but it also benefits from audience trust in The New York Times. How do you make the most of both without blurring the lines between content you create for your brand partners and editorial content?
GM: There is quite a clear divide between the newsroom and advertising; it’s very much church and state. We obviously can’t use journalists from the newsroom. However, the studio is staffed with fully qualified journalists, many of whom have come from our competitors. So, we have the strength of a newsroom, in integrity, and talent, and we leverage this for our advertisers. We also maintain a high standard for our audience. After all, the audience coming to The New York Times expects New York Times journalism and content. So, it’s expected that our branded content should hit those heights as well.
It’s also very important to identify branded content as a piece of advertising content. As soon as an audience feels duped or tricked into reading branded content it will lose trust in the publisher and—ultimately—in the brand. Our most common branded content pieces are labeled “paid posts.” Traditionally, that post was a destination. So, it was a URL that readers could visits via our website or via our app—content that was paid, posted and lived indefinitely. The aim was to make that content accessible to audiences. We still make branded content a destination. But we also make it a journey because getting eyeballs on a page isn’t enough. We’ve started to add what we call “branded footers” to each piece of sponsored content we produce. This way, when a user is finished consuming a piece of content, we offer the opportunity to continue that conversation outside our paid-post environment.
PAS: Branded content is a major revenue driver for publishers, but not all publishers have been able to get brands to buy in for the longer term. How can publishers make that connection?
GM: Storytelling is what we as humans do and relate to—going back to cave paintings and hieroglyphics. Storytelling is an intrinsic part of our human nature and the best branded content taps into that. The best stories come when publishers partner with the client and dig deep into the story the brand wants to tell. You want to nail the narrative first, and you want to think about the execution second. It’s important to tell a human story, one that’s relatable for the audience, and not get ahead of yourself by trying to figure out if VR, for example, might be the best way to tell the story. This is a point many brand marketers forget and it’s up to the publisher to remind them. No one knows their business better than our clients, but no one knows our audience better than us. Put the two together, and that’s when you get the best—and most sustainable—results.
It’s all about the ability to marry the storytelling expertise of the in-house team with the advertiser’s goal to address its audience and express its point of view. So, brands come to us with their brand message and they look to us to position that message within a story that will resonate with our audience. Of course, brands will push hard to put their message first. It’s up to the publisher to push back and put the storytelling first.
PAS: Does it requires some “tough love” to strike a balance between the two?
GM: Yes, and that’s what will drive results. For example, some clients come to us and say they want AR or VR. They want all the bells and whistles and all the flashy toys. But we tell them it’s much more important to think about the story first and then how to tell it. Even in the word ‘storytelling,’ the story comes before the telling. This means taking a step back to think about the type of story your audience will want to engage with, not the tech you’ll need to tell it.
We were one of the first content studios. So, over time, we have found what works, and what doesn’t. Over time we’ve seen that we have much more time spent on our content than on the content given to us by brands. Sure, we get brands coming to us saying, you know, “We have got this video of our CEO. He’s very engaging. It’s 32 minutes long. We just want to put it and you don’t need to do anything with it. Just put it on and people will love it.” My response is, “No, that might not be the best idea.” You have to put the brand message in a story people will like – one that will take them on a journey not blast them with details and stats.
PAS:What is the best way to tell brand stories?
GM: There’s a simple sort of formula that all good stories follow called the narrative arc. The first thing you do is introduce an element, usually a character, that the audience likes and is emotionally invested in enough to care what happens to this person. Then you present a problem or a hurdle, some sort of challenge that must be overcome. Finally, you reveal the outcome, some kind of goal or reward. The brand message is an integral part of the story, but it shouldn’t be too obvious. Just like parents who convince their children to eat vegetables by hiding it the food kids are sure to like, branded content blends the brand story within the story—because these are the things you want your audience to digest. Making the brand message part of the storytelling makes it much more palatable. Once you’ve got the story, then you think about the execution.
The biggest trap content marketers fall into is trying to tick all the boxes. Sometimes they are pushed by their brand clients, and other times they are pushed by their own ambitions. They put together a package of four videos, three infographics and loads of cool stuff for impact across every channel. Without a strong narrative to link each piece to the next the outcome is a Frankenstein monster of fragmented content. We have found it’s more effective to limit yourself to telling very focused stories.
PAS:It’s clear that branded content has to be emotive, but it must also be effective. How do accomplish and measure this?
GM: The best results come when you have a deep partnership with the advertiser and a deep understanding of how audiences engage with content. Knowing the time of day people are consuming content on their devices is an important data point. It’s part of a larger, much more data-driven approach to know when to serve the right content at the right time. Targeting context increases engagement. If you have created a data-heavy infographic that is best consumed on the desktop or tablet, then there’s really no point in serving that during commuting times when most users will be viewing their mobile feeds and devices.
We’ve also found that around three-quarters of our programs have dwell times above the Moat benchmarks for audience attention. So, not only are we getting people to visit our content; we know they are staying to engage with it. Moreover, a vast majority of our programs surpass the Moat benchmark for scroll depth. This means they are scrolling down and exploring the content. We have succeeded in building a narrative arc that offers a reward well worth the audience’s time and attention. You’ve really done your job if you can bring rather drab content to life and a great example of this is when a client wanted us to help promote a white paper. We decided to do it in a quiz format that would draw the reader into the content. We had seven questions and after every question they asked, we gave them a little snippet of content, a statistic related to the answer they just gave. It was a reward scheme, and it worked—showing that it’s a very underused tactic but effective tactic to keep people engaged.
PAS: The international arm of the T Brand Studio is perhaps best known for its award-winning campaign for UBS, highlighting AI and what it takes to be human. The native advertising included a chat bot, a five-chapter article and a documentary-style video, surpassing target reach and engagement metrics. Another more recent campaign for Kia brought the Cadenza model to life in a series of live events. Should traditional creative advertising agencies feel nervous?
GM: As I said earlier, the best content comes from partnership. We don’t usually offer our services like an off-the-shelf product; we build a relationship with the client to tell a story in the way our New York Times audience expects it to be told. It’s not a case of jumping in on every brainstorm or every RFP; it’s a case of looking at what the client wants to achieve and answering the brief with a strong journalistic approach because that’s our strength. A lot of the time we’ll partner with other agencies when we create content for brands. We’ve also worked in tandem with other publishers on certain program to suit the needs of the client. The industry is moving fast and getting faster. Therefore, it’s important we all learn from each other, not fight against each other for first place. The bar for branded content is high—and so are audience expectations.