Rethinking Engagement in a Digital World

I was recently interviewed by Joel Pilger of RevThink on what I would tell agencies looking to get into TV. In listening back, I might sound overly pessimistic about traditional linear media. Let me be clear, I am a TV guy. I have spent almost two decades developing, selling and producing television. So no, I do not think that TV is going away. But the thesis of that discussion, and also of a recent article on media as a “never-ending buffet” I published, centers on the premise that the “menu” for media is changing: from a linear-only world into one where linear takes up a smaller portion of the menu and viewer time. This is even more important when speaking of Generations Y and Z, who have devoured the digital side of media with an appetite that defies metabolism. So, when approached last week by another publication that had heard the podcast, I was asked, “how might corporations rethink engagement in the digital world?”

Here are a few thoughts:

  • Digital won’t fully replace strong TV engagement. True, the growth of digital streams means that corporate ad spending and engagement are having to hit more avenues than ever, and as there are only so many ways to slice the pie, companies have to choose between the platforms. But TV (at least for the foreseeable future) is not going away. In fact, there is a strong argument to be made that linear media advertising is strengthening, especially for baby boomer and Gen X audiences that remain loyal to traditional linear television. This is also true for brands that rely on live sports and news to engage their consumers.
  • Not all brands benefit from digital … yet. Who are you trying to reach? Is your audience mobile? Do they engage with your social media? Are they national? Many brands (especially those not associated with the questions asked above) don’t benefit as frequently from an increasingly mobile digital experience. But that is not to say that they won’t in the future. As more and more people across all demographics become comfortable with digital media, even very local brands (from florists and restaurants to attorneys and arts venues) will find that digital engagement will be increasingly important.
  • Engagement does not mean banner ads. For many companies used to SEO strategies for connecting on digital tiers, media really means banner ads and video pre-rolls that consumers can click on to learn more. But more and more, studies show that these means of connecting with clients and customers are becoming increasingly ineffective. Consumers are active, savvy and are looking for engagement, so passive marketing and advertising are no longer effective strategies for corporate growth.
  • In digital – integration is as important as advertising. Brands have caught on to the idea that viewers of digital media can sniff out an ad from a mile away. Brands have put a lot of time, talent and treasury into finding ways to engage consumers through influencers and properties where the brand is a part of an organic whole (versus the old product placement days where a Coke can is randomly in a shot).  A great example is what David Beebe has done with the Marriott brand. In the projects developed by Marriott’s content studio, the hotels are characters, the corporate culture is part of the story DNA. Viewers engage with and believe the brand because they are part of the brand, not an afterthought.

  • Digital can better develop community. The early idea of second screen (a place where viewers could foster ties with a linear project via their computer) hasn’t taken off like it was hoped. Viewers often find the bifurcated experience more trouble than it’s worth. But the idea of developing value-added community remains a good goal. To be part of a community allows for a stronger sense of belonging with a brand. Social media, influencer channels, digital communities around specific brands and areas of focus are growing in popularity. Companies that have the right products and services should be looking at ways to foster community, especially in partnership with those communities that already exist. PopSugar, as an example, has developed numerous brand-centric communities on its platform. It becomes a win, win for the brand (that wants to foster the same people that PopSugar has cultivated), and for the network (that wants to have even more value-added content and engagement opportunities).
  • Digital platforms have a unique ability to focus group new ideas in a way that linear television does not. In traditional television, product takes months (if not years) to produce, schedule and present. Viewers are tracked via time spent watching. Eyeballs become the litmus test of value, and for corporations looking to invest in the product, value takes a long time to test. Digital, on the other hand, is immediate and viral. If you have great ideas and platforms to present them (either developed as a company or in collaboration with other platforms), the time to market can be much faster, and the true effectiveness of an idea can be measured in many more ways. Shares, likes, mentions, embedded click-throughs, time spent on channel, these are just a few of the ways content can be measured. As comments and reactions are immediate, digital allows for much faster refinement of messaging and of products/services themselves.

These are just a few thoughts in terms of the value of digital for companies. There is not an exact when it comes to media engagement. Like the ever-expanding digital world, linear television continues to evolve and the relationship between the two platforms continues to change. But in terms of the question (how digital shapes corporate engagement), one thing has become true: digital is the open end of the media funnel. It boasts a much broader range of opportunities that, in conjunction with traditional television, must be taken seriously by 21st century companies as they look to grow and engage their consumers in ways that are meaningful.

I love the unknown. I love that we are in a time where companies like my firm, CORE Innovation Group, can help shape the future of engagement, and help develop content for both traditional and emerging media outlets. This is exciting and the opportunities are tremendous. But as to the how, that is unique to each company. How might digital shape your engagement?


Patrick Jager is the CEO of CORE Innovation Group – expert strategy and implementation in media, communications and business development.

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