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We spoke to several media brands on how to create innovative and seamless content experiences for customers regardless of platform. Here’s what the experts from Quartz and Freeform Digital said.

Individuals at the forefront of storytelling today have to grapple with creating seamless experiences across an ever-expanding diversity of platforms. An award-winning essay, groundbreaking investigative report, or new pilot episode that doesn’t load properly? Readers and viewers will not only be judging the content, but also your company’s mobile or OTT apps, websites, email newsletters, and brand presence on other emerging platforms—and if they don’t like what they see, they may unsubscribe, delete their accounts, and write bad reviews about their experiences, letting the cycle of judging perpetuate.

That’s the worst case scenario, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

We spoke to Ashley Rodriguez, Reporter at Quartz and Tim Campbell, Director, Product Management at Freeform Digital, a cable channel and Disney property, on how media brands can improve the customer experience on mobile and other channels and how doing so is now key to overall success. Here are six lessons they’ve shared from their days pouring through customer data insights on the front lines.

Lesson 1: Media companies are in direct competition with non-media companies for consumer attention. At all times of the day. Every day of the week.

“We compete with everything that anyone can do all day long,” says Campbell. To attract and hold audience attention, Campbell suggests brands:

  • Be on every platform possible. It’s to a brand’s benefit when aggregators and streaming content platforms include your content.
  • Ensure control over owned branded experiences...and while you’re at it, make a point of working to ensure those experiences are highly engaging for the customers you’re trying to speak to.
  • Encourage account creation to foster personalization, loyalty, and long-term relationships. “If you sign up with our identity system, which is part of Disney's identity system, you get a Freeform account, you can then take your viewing from your mobile device to your Roku later on and we can keep that experience seamless, which every other streaming service does, so everyone expects that,” says Campbell. “But what makes it unique for us is we can then say, ‘Great, you love Grown-ish, you should check out Young and Hungry next.’ We can keep that ecosystem powering Freeform programming. You're not going to get that potentially from a streaming platform. They may recommend a TV show from another network or one of their original programs...We have a much tighter relationship with the user and can email them, send them a push, send them something that reminds them, ‘Hey, finish this episode,’ or, ‘Try this new series,’ and that is invaluable for us as we try to launch brand new programs every single year.”

Lesson 2: It’s time to figure out what differentiates your company from the competition.

Given the array of content your audience has to choose from, what will help set your brand apart? For starters, they suggest media companies:

  • Cut through the noise. Try to provide really sharp, straightforward, straight-to-the-point journalism.
  • Listen to the interests readers and viewers indicate actively via preference centers or indirectly via engagement metrics over time.
  • Be consistent. Because of all the different places where (for example: social media, OTT, owned apps, and website), brands might not always have a lot of control. But try and relentlessly focus on making each choice as consistent to the brand as possible.

Lesson 3: Ignore customer data and feedback at your own risk—otherwise bad experiences will likely persist.

You can’t fix what you don’t know is broken, but there’s no reason brands shouldn’t know what’s going on—because customers have more avenues than ever for sharing the specific issues they’re dealing with. The good news for marketers is there should be a wealth of information at your fingertips. The trick is to dig into it. To do that, Campbell offer the following advice:

  • Listen to customers. They’re telling you what’s working (and what’s not). Read app store reviews. Conduct focus groups. Respond to social media feedback. “We have a customer service team that's part of Disney/ABC Television Group that can respond,” says Cambell. “Hopefully, they respond fairly quickly and ask them for more details. Sometimes it's very hard to know and the more they can tell us, the more that we can try to help them but we want to be responsive. We set up a Freeform support Twitter handle so you can directly message us on Twitter… [I] talk to my Dev team all the time. I'm like, ‘I know we've worked on this 10 times. We've got three reviews that say this is still not working. Here's what we know about them. Let's chase this down and make it part of our next sprint because it's very important that we take it seriously.’ People are taking time out of their day to be like, ‘Help me.’ And we need to hear that.”
  • Start things off right with proper onboarding. “There are 80 million people in the United States that have access to cable,” states Campbell. “How many of them remember their password on a given basis is a real challenge for us. So we, especially on the mobile apps and OTT apps, really concentrate on an onboarding experience that steps you through, ‘Okay, create a Freeform account. Connect your cable provider.’ Once you connect that, we can remember at least what you used last time. The cable companies won't give us access to those passwords, so we can't store them for you but Apple is helping us with single sign-on. Amazon's helping us with single sign-on on FireTV. And that is helpful. There [are] also a slew of people that don't have cable and we don't want to ignore them so we offer what is ungated content.”

Lesson 4: Ungated content is here. You need to have a strategy for it.

Campbell works a media brand that is finding ways to help customers without a paid account with a streaming service like Hulu or a paid cable subscription access their content. Here are some recommendations they offer:

  • Figure out ways to bring your content to individuals without paid subscriptions. This could be for owned and operated apps on Roku, AppleTV, FireTV, and the like, but brands can also leverage social media capabilities like Facebook Watch.
  • Guide customers through the process of finding more content through partners. Instead of hitting a subscriber-only wall with no options, Campbell’s team looks to present as many options as possible to consumers, including Hulu, Comcast, and newer options like YouTube.

Lesson 5: Content isn’t in a vacuum. Brands need to develop channel-specific strategies.

Storytellers have more places to connect with audiences and that means thinking about those platforms when coming up with ideas and, once produced and launched, measuring their success.

  • Create-platform specific content. For content that lives on social, a casual and informal feel caters to a mobile-first audience.
  • Channel-specific performance is critical. It doesn’t help a Chromecast viewer if everything’s working great on Roku. Readers and viewers expect content to be “like water, to turn on when you need it,” says Campbell. “And we just hope that we're giving all of our content creators a beautiful platform by which to experience those things.”
  • Understand channel-specific behaviors. There are many different ways people experience news, in particular. Whether it’s a lean-back, feet up night watching a beautiful documentary or in-the-moment, fast-paced Twitter alerts, understand what people are looking for when they tune into each channel.

Lesson 6: Thanks to AR and VR, the future of storytelling will be even more immersive.

Still trying to figure what your company’s strategy will look like with the rise of AR, VR, and other technologies? Here are some early endeavors for inspiration.

  • As with any new technology, content creators shouldn’t adopt AR or VR for the sake of it, but to serve a purpose for your audience. In the case of Freeform, they’re looking for ways to create a fantasy that users will want to be a part of—with the hope that viewers will feel even more connected to Freeform shows’ talent, creators, and the worlds they’ve created.
  • Storytelling can and should become more personal. Part of the tech evolution means the way brands tell stories is becoming immersive. Both Campbell and Rodriguez agree it’s an exciting development that puts consumers in the middle of the action.

Final Thoughts

Customer data is key to improving experiences for content audiences. If your brand doesn’t have access to real-time insights, your approach to storytelling, especially as you consider multiple devices and platforms, may suffer.

Mary Kearl

Mary Kearl is a writer and digital strategist, who has led email, social media, and content marketing for several brands. She has helped launch six mobile apps and one niche social network and is always up for a good Netflix/Hulu/Amazon Prime binge recommendation or travel tip