In 2020, content diversification will be brands' top challenge and opportunity

Lack of order and predictability in how content is consumed is reaching new scale; budgets are shifting to reflect it.

As CEO of a national media network, I spend the majority of my time working with global brands across nearly every consumer category, to better understand how they’re specifically solving marketing problems. And all involve driving business and brand growth with marketing expected to deliver as a key growth driver. What they share paints a picture of the problems they’re facing now, and the headwinds they’re planning for in 2020.

The through-line in 2019 is that the forces impacting their marketing are guided by the invisible hand of content diversification. As consumers spread out in pursuit of their interests, the smartest people in our industry devise ways to turn that differentiation into data to help brands. The data-driven debate has raged for the past decade on targeting vs scale, reach vs personalization, and brand vs growth marketing. 

Below are a collection of topics and takeaways from my conversations with brands grappling with a shift in the content landscape, with notes on their approach to adapting. 

TV TUNE OUT & CONTENT CONSUMPTION SHIFTS

A November report from eMarketer suggests 2020 linear budgets will drop below 30 percent of total spend for the first time ever. The question for brands whose dollars are part of that $2.4b dollar spending gap, is: how will they spend it?

Behind this is the continued decline in broadcast viewership. While TV was at the center of the Big Bang that led to the narrative-driven advertising universe we all emerged from, today it resembles a star that’s about to implode.

Disney+, HBO Max, Apple TV+, NBC’s Peacock, Hulu, YouTube, social platforms and others fill the void. The rise of more services, subscriptions and consumer control is a boon for content bingers, but ominous to balance reach, targeting and strategy in a media plan that needs to solve serious marketing challenges.

Brands have to navigate them all, which means budgets need to be built for agility. The days of set-it-and-forget-it are gone; they need to know where every dollar was spent and what it did, no questions asked.

Six years ago, Hershey’s was convinced linear TV was the way to go, representing 97% of their budget. This year, it’s under 50 percent, underscoring that a diversified media investment is key for growing their brands and reaching new customers.

Of course, TV isn’t going down without a fight. Earlier this year, Nielsen announced it will be counting "out of home" viewing – watching via mobile, in hotels, restaurants and at other people’s houses – to give a clearer picture of true audience size. 

EXTERNAL PRESSURES: SUMMER OLYMPICS & PRESIDENTIAL RACE 

They will occupy mindshare, but also dominate in terms of available inventory on TV (broadcast, cable and satellite alike), digital (in the form of media coverage and video) and social (breaking news and video), driving up prices and demand, distorting the environment for brand and consumer connection.

A year ago, dollars not spent on linear would have shifted to digital. But brand safety, fraud and viewability issues persist, and there seem to be enough new places for brands to go that digital is a bit stagnant. 

OTT is a pricey, confusing and still untested alternative, considered a "broadcast inventory extension", but shows promising signs of validating itself from an ROI perspective. Influencers, podcasts, and OOH are all surging too, yet none of these alone are enough to give marketers the scale they need.

The takeaway for brands trying to reach consumers: rather than fight for space among crowded inventory, refresh your media mix with new platforms that give scale and engaged audiences where you’re out of that fray.

WHAT’S COOL AGAIN: OOH & AUDIO

Podcasting fits perfectly into content diversification as it’s a key format consumers have turned to as they turn away from TV. Per IAB, marketers will have spent $479 million on podcasts by the end of 2019, a 53 percent jump from 2017. 

Furthermore, we’ve come out the other side of mobile growth to realize data, personalization and targeting still can’t always earn you attention in a sea of scrolling (300+ feet per day), ad blocking and so on. So the world’s oldest and largest creative canvas – OOH – is once again the shiniest new object.

OOH revenue grew 7 percent in Q3 to nearly $6.4 billion as the largest brands, from McDonald’s, Geico, Apple, State Farm, Chevrolet, Amazon, Facebook, Anheuser-Busch, AT&T, and HBO accelerate spend and use.

Both OOH and Podcasting are seeing technological advancements that will keep them hot in 2020, namely programmatic capabilities that will extend their run as the cool kids on the block, and lead to the emergence of indirect paths to utilization.

Marketers tell me they interrogate their own assumptions about media partners, channels and choices as new innovations and efficiencies exist beyond the latest ad-tech play.

SUCCESS STARTS AND ENDS WITH ATTENTION 

The cost of consumer attention is ROI. We’re asking consumers to think about brand messages at moments where that isn’t possible. It’s the natural effect of having so many content options. 

Consumer behavior is a moving target, and a tricky one to ever nail down. For that reason, attention has once again captured mindshare across the market. Where can I find engaged, captive audiences, and what is being done to maintain that attention? 

The most interesting brands I speak to all reference a similar theme: there is often innovation hiding in plain sight.

CONCLUSION 

While the growing availability of content and decreasing attention spans makes 2020 out to be a chaotic year to navigate, it’s quite the opposite. There is great reward ahead for brand leaders ready to embrace the unknown and realize the strongest accelerant for marketing success is embracing the disruption by finding balance in the art and science. 

Dare to be bold by challenging creativity beyond the creative. Build a media strategy that’s agile and welcomes incorporating platforms that can reach attentive consumers and deliver results at scale. Be OK with trying something new, which might mean something so-called old that’s newly relevant again. The same goes for failing, if doing so uncovers insights on consumer trends or messaging that stood out. At GSTV, we’re bullish about the new year because these trends will challenge brands to think about what’s important to them -- audience, engagement, agility and delivering on growth outcomes. Here’s to a great year.

Sean McCaffrey is president and CEO of GSTV.

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