When I was growing up, Christmas was all about one screen: the television set. Some of my favorite holiday memories are sitting around the TV with my family enjoying old classics like ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ and eating one too many Christmas cookies. Today it’s a very different story. My wife and I will cook up a big meal in the kitchen, checking recipes and streaming holiday music through our tablet. Our children will be home from college sharing status updates, pictures and videos with their friends over Twitter, WhatsApp, Snapchat and Skype. After dinner we may still gather around to watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” but we will be streaming it through the Netflix on our Xbox One console. This isn’t some sort of futuristic panacea; it’s my house – and probably your house - at Christmas. Similarly, in my younger days Christmas shopping was about one screen: the shop window. Christmas shopping meant slowly and painstakingly looking into store windows, selecting presents for each family member store by store, bag by bag, receipt by receipt, hour by hour.
Again, today it’s a very different story. This year I’ll do the vast majority of my Christmas shopping online sitting on my couch. And I’m not the only one. A PwC report shows across 11 markets globally over 40 per cent of shoppers used a PC, 9.5 per cent used a tablet, 8.5 per cent used a smartphone and 6.5 per cent used a social media channel to make a purchase at least once a month last year. And according to the World Bank, by the end of 2013, global smartphone penetration will have exploded from 5% of the global population in 2009, to 22%. That's an increase of nearly 1.3 billion smartphones in four years. Shopping on phones and phablets is poised to continue growing. One thing is for sure – this Christmas will be well and truly cross-screen.
It might be November, but – for retailers at least – Christmas is already upon us. Stroll through any shopping mall and I guarantee you’ll see at least one store ushering in the festival season with tinsel, colorful lights, holly or ivy. Who can blame them? Christmas is big business. According to a Gallup poll, American families planned to spend a whopping $770 on gifts alonelast year. This is ‘men from the boys’ season in the world of retail and no brand wants to risk getting left behind.
But are brands ready for a cross-screen Christmas? The answer to that is less clear.
If, as we have established, people are using a combination of devices and platforms – smartphones, tablets, social channels, PCs, interactive TVs and games consoles – for information, entertainment, communication and, increasingly, for purchases this holiday season, then surely a simple sixty second spot won’t cut it? Maybe –a sixty second spot plus an online display campaign won’t cut it either.
A richer story needs to be told through multiple channels to sink in, and some of the world’s biggest brands have already figured this out. In the summer, Unilever announced it would run its first multi-channel ad campaign to promote its Persil Bio Small & Mighty detergent. The campaign – entitled ‘Mighty Moments’ – ran across a host of different screens including games console, mobile, PC and tablet leveraging Skype, Xbox, MSN and Windows 8. It demonstrates the extent to which leading brands understand the power of leveraging multiple screens.
But we need to go even further as an industry. A study we recently conducted across United States, the United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia, Russia and China called Meet the Screens revealed that consumers have different relationships with different screens. TVs were like an ‘old friend’, the PC was an ‘older sibling’, the mobile phone a ‘lover’ and so on. The study showed people are using different screens at different times during the day; one for work, one for surfing, one for communicating. This represents a huge opportunity for brands to multiplytheir engagement with a target audience and feed different messages for different products across different devices at different moments in the day, achieving new heights of contextual relevance.
This explains why advertisers – and retailers are no exception – are so excited about the potential of ‘sequential targeting’, something we’re working on with our brand partners. Here’s an example. A media company, promoting their latest holiday blockbuster aimed at a female audience, tells a sequenced story that unfolds for a consumer through three sets of creative assets: the building of intrigue around the film and its characters, teasers on the plot, and motivating consumers to visit the movie theatre to see it. Our target female might see the first creative once on Outlook.com, once while conducting a Skype call and one more time while searching Bing on her phone. But after that – say when she fires up her Xbox to watch her favorite TV series – we serve her the second creative, and then the third while she’s checking out the latest trends on the Glamour app, prompting her to buy movie tickets at a discount for the next showing.
That’s the power of leveraging cross-screen. It’s about building up a story and engaging consumers with consistent but personalised brand messages – developing intrigue, increasing information, then generating incentive – at different parts of their online journey. This story exponentially boosts interest, excitement and recall, and is perfectly attuned to the changing situation, mood and yes – you guessed it – screen that the individual is experiencing. This is an opportunity that, back in the good old days of Christmas in the Holland household, would have been a complete fantasy. Now it’s reality.
This Christmas is the time for brands to ask themselves the tough questions. Am I reaching my target audience in a joined up way, across multiple channels? How can I make sure my carefully honed creative engages a consumer across all of the different screens they will be using while remaining contextually relevant? How can I connect my story across a consumer’s whole online experience? The big winners will be able to hold their audiences’ attention at different times, in different places and in different ways though experiences people love.
There’s no denying Christmas is ‘high stakes’. The success of a peak shopping season can make or break a brand. Is there a better time to start embracing cross-screen for a connected experience?
Frank Holland, Corporate Vice President, Microsoft