Fast Forward - Week 5: Engagement - NABS
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Fast Forward – Week 5: Engagement

Words by Susan Poole, Head of Planning at ZAK and Fast Forward M

Engagement: the Holy Grail that we are all seeking.  It’s what ensures that our efforts don’t just passively reach our audiences, but make a difference – sometimes easier said than done.

This was the topic of NABS’ recent Fast Forward session. The support organisation gathered a selection of the great and good from the world of media to join a panel on engagement, including the likes of Google, This is Global, Channel 4, News UK and Hearst Magazines.

Whilst there was a lot of talk about the shifts taking place in technology and how people access and consume media content – music shifting from an ownership to access model, news consumption patterns diversifying and time shifted TV viewing, I would assert that these are behaviours that the young delegates of the NABS Fast Forward programme are more than familiar with.

During the panel discussion, two key trends stood out for me: serendipity and grazing (and no, this wasn’t the surprise of finding a yummy sandwich at the back of the room). Here’s a little more detail on both:


The biggest influence on changing habits is mobile – smartphones are now overtaking the desktop in terms of accessing content, with UK users spending 1 hour and 54 minutes online via their mobile in comparison to an hour and 9 minutes on their desktop.  This shift in device is having more impact that just requiring mobile optimisation of pages as mobile is fundamentally different behaviour. It is a snaking and grazing media.

The notion of ‘going online’ is dead – it’s now something we do instinctively every time we reach for our phone. Mobile is changing how people ask questions, what questions they ask and what they expect in response.  The rise in local search and short-form ‘how-to’ content in YouTube are examples of this.  What this leads to is a long tail of micro moments when consumers are looking for answers and content – and expectations – for relevant content will be high in these moments. As a marketer, you could either view this as an incredibly difficult long list of content you need to create, or as a whole host of moments where you can win the hearts and minds of your consumer.  What was clear from all the panellists is that we need to embrace these moments and design content specific to each moment. In short; this is the death of the ‘one size fits all’ approach to content.


In amongst all this talk of bespoke content, algorithms and high expectations of personalisation, the other thing that jumped out was ‘serendipity’.  As consumers begin to control more and more aspects of our lives and as a result, expect more specific content on demand. There is also a growing need for the unexpected – the coincidental and fun discoveries.  This is particularly the case for millennial audiences.  You can see this need for serendipity coming through in everything from the dating app Happn, to the growth in radio listening, be that on traditional radio channels or streamed music like Spotify Discover Weekly or Pandora – the latter being the fourth biggest app in the US behind Facebook, YouTube and Google. But I hadn’t thought about it in terms of news, yet News UK believe the power of newspapers today lies in providing serendipity. A chance to read and find out things you didn’t know you wanted to know.

But aren’t these two contradictory?

Grazing media is all about getting what you want, when you want it, in contrast, serendipity is about discovering things you didn’t know you wanted.  How can these trends coexist? I would assert that whilst they sound contradictory, they are in fact two sides of the same coin.

As time goes by, we are beginning to control so much of what we see, and with that comes the rise of two fears: the fear of being idle and the now well-known fear of missing out (FOMO). That’s why people are building in moments of serendipity into their life.  And it has been scientifically proven that things always seem better when they have been created by someone else (a sandwich prepared by someone else always seems to taste better than if we make it ourselves).  This is why people are looking for brands, publishers and content providers to surprise them.

The two trends of on-demand content and serendipity don’t have to be fulfilled by different brands – they can be the same brand in different moments.  This isn’t an approach I’ve yet seen many brands capitalising on, as many are either going one way or another.  Just as people aren’t binary, neither should brands be in meeting their needs.

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