How Millennials and Gen Z will change the future of media

Millennials, born between 1980 and 1995, and Gen Z, the fledgling generation following Millennials, will radically change how media companies create and distribute content. These younger cohorts, weaned on smartphones and tablets, constantly connected to social networks and visual-first, have a drastically different set of preferences for what kind of stories they want to enjoy, on which platforms, at which times. 

In the midst of this change in consumer behavior, publishers and brands are presented with a unique opportunity to turn these shifts into opportunities. 

At this year's Association of Magazine Media Mobile summit, I moderated a panel on how brands can respond to these shifts and convert change into opportunity. 

The state of mobile app usage - and what it means for publishers

Recently, comScore released its 2015 U.S. Mobile App Report, an in-depth analysis of the U.S. mobile app market, including user behaviors, app downloads and advertising implications. 

At a time when more and more time is spent on mobile, (61% of time with digital media is now spent with mobile, according to a recent comScore report), there has never been a more exciting time to create and serve content to people on their mobile device.

The stakes, however, are high. People's attention spans are attenuating -- and viewing is being fragmented across many platforms and apps. Plus, as smartphones get smarter -- and features evolve (with everything from faster internet access to ad blocking), publishers need to develop a robust understanding of reader habits, and create compelling experiences based on these insights. 

After closely reading comScore's research, here are some takeaways I found particularly interesting in the context of media:

NOTE: ALL IMAGES ARE PROPERTY OF COMSCORE

Digital media usage is exploding, predominantly driven by apps: Total time spent with digital media grew 49% from June 2013 to June 2015. Mobile accounted for 77% of that growth. 

When it comes to mobile usage, younger generations skew toward smartphones, while older generations skew (relatively) more toward tablet: Millennials spend roughly 3x as much time on smartphone apps as on tablet apps. Boomers, by contrast, split their time roughly 55/45 among smartphone and tablet apps respectively.

While social app usage outpaces entertainment app usage, don't discount the fact that much news is consumed within social apps: Social apps including Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat are increasingly doubling down on in-app content. Facebook recently launched Instant Articles, a service that allows publishers to publish directly within the social network, and Snapchat has been doubling down on Discover, its in-app content network. In May, the company reported that it has more than 2 billion video views a day. With all of these content discovery features available within social networks, it's no surprise that 88% of Millennials say they regularly get news from Facebook, according to a March study by the American Press Institute. Quartz was built on this insight, with all content designed to be consumed seamlessly within a social app.

The possibility of becoming a killer app (i.e. one that reaches 5M+ unique visitors) appears to be growing: The number of apps that reach 5M+ unique visitors grew 29% from June 2014 to June 2015 (from 95 in total to 127 in total).

Searching the app store is the most common tool for app discovery, followed by hearing about it from friends or family: Among Millennials, 27% discovered an app via the app store, 19% discovered an app via friend/family. Notably, getting an app featured in the app store is a more common discovery source for Millennials but less so for Gen X and Boomers.

The number one driver of whether an app makes it to the home screen is how often it is used: Only 11% of people said the look of the logo influences their decision to move an app to the home screen (vs. 46% who cited frequency of use).

And there is a very clear positive correlation between an app's reach and whether or not it's located on a home screen.

One handed vs. two-handed smartphone use is a generational phenomenon: 9% of Millennials only operate a phone with two hands, compared to 34% of Boomers.

Openness to push notifications is modest. And people are more open to sharing location than receiving notifications: 33% of people often or always agree to an app's request to allow push notifications. 42% of people are comfortable with apps accessing their geographic location information.

Among the top 25 apps by unique visitors, some noteworthy year on year unique visitor growth came from Instagram (35%), The Weather Channel (17%) and Spotify (236%).

Podcast listening looks likely to continue given its popularity: 41% of Millennials listen to podcasts on their smartphone at least once a month.

A large amount of news is now consumed in-app: 49% of time spent with "finance - news/research" content is in-app, 40% of time spent with "news/information" is in-app.

Mobile ads are significantly more effective than desktop ads: Mobile ads cause percentage point lifts 2-3x greater across key metrics compared to desktop. For instance, ads on mobile lead to a 4.3 percentage point lift in likelihood to recommend vs. 1.4 point lift on desktop. Ads on mobile lead to a 4.3 percentage point lift in purchase intent vs. 1.3 point lift on desktop.

It's clear that there are some tectonic shifts happening not only in how people access the internet but also how they consume content. Publishers have an exciting opportunity to radically reinvent how they operate, especially if they want to tap into the $100 billion+ worldwide mobile advertising market.

How publishers can respond to a rapidly changing digital media landscape

At Digiday's Publishing Summit, I spoke to Lucia Moses of Digiday on how MindBodyGreen is planning ahead for the new digital media landscape. Read the full article here

Will Palley, head of strategy and insights, MindBodyGreen
"I see that definition of mobile expanding beyond smartphones and tablets, and when you think about mobile, it’s going to be in these two areas: wearables, wireless devices. And when you start designing for those, you have to be thinking about the mindset of the consumer. It’s going to be exciting for publishers and advertisers to partner on that."

How data-driven personalization will radically disrupt media

Harnessing user data to analyze people’s habits and serve them meaningful relevant content is an increasingly important discipline for any major media company.

Thanks to an endless sea of content and the unlimited choice this allows, people have come to expect to quickly indulge their whims and discover what they want. With so many media properties at the tips of our fingers (via smartphones, tablets, smart TVs and PCs), people know that, if they don’t discover what they want on a given site, they can find the same information somewhere else.

What’s worse is that this massive mist of information is quickly becoming overwhelming: too much content leads to anxiety and inaction.

Faced with these ever-increasing demands for immediate satisfaction, as well as reader confusion, more media companies are focusing on delivering readers the most interesting and relevant content.

Here at MindBodyGreen, we are focused on providing our readers with the most delightful experience by harnessing data to pinpoint people's wants and responding with highly personalized, relevant content. This increasingly common practice is the field of data-driven personalization. And it’s set to redefine media.

Last Friday, I delved into the topic of personalization at a Personalizationpalooza, an event hosted by the  NYC Media Lab at Hearst HQ in New York.

This information-filled morning event explored the ever-widening realm of data-driven personalization in media, offering valuable insights, practical recommendations and a hefty dose of inspiration.

Here are some key takeaways

“All data is your readers telling you what they care about” - Sachin Kamdar, CEO of audience analysis service Parsely

Before anything else, develop a deep understanding of your user

The first step to successful personalization is developing a deep understanding of your user: their behaviors, mindset and needs. “Knowing the customer is step one before we can actually personalize to them, “ as Rick McFarland, Vice President of Corporate Data Services at Hearst remarked.

Alejandro Jaimes, Director of Research at Yahoo!, affirmed the importance of placing the user at the center of the personalization process. Constant analysis of user behavior is key, so researchers need to always be listening and learning.

 

Importantly, Jaimes reminded attendees that readers’ habits fluctuate and encouraged researchers to be mindful of unexpected deviations. He gave the example of a 60-year-old Yahoo! visitor who follows the same patterns as his peers during the week. However, this 60-year-old temporarily behaves like a 20-year-old on Friday nights. Media companies need to account for these erratic behaviors and personalize accordingly.

Media brands can use a combination of qualitative and quantitative tools to understand their users: focus groups, surveys, data analysis and more. Yahoo! tracks user behavior closely, looking at how often people come back, what they watch and how long they watch for. As far as video, Yahoo! also uses a deep learning system to serve up videos based on content.

Building good algorithms requires complex weighting of attributes

Algorithms are complex beasts. It’s obvious but often understated.

Tony Jebara, an Associate Professor of Computer Science at Columbia University, underscored that building good algorithms is best based on considering multiple attributes and weighting them appropriately. For instance, his team attempted to understand how to successfully match incoming freshmen roommates. They profiled incoming freshmen on everything from social networks to interests and then used algorithms to create fruitful matches.

 

But which attributes should be weighted higher than others? Do shared interests trump shared social connections? Jebara encouraged media companies to constantly assess what’s most important and tweak frequently.

Algorithms should be constantly evolving, either through manual adjustment or automatic learning

Personalization algorithms need to evolve in tandem with readers’ shifting behaviors. Systems, as Jebara explained, need to “model a user as a person who is changing in time.”

Manual tweaking is one side of evolving algorithms, as Chris Wiggins, Chief Data Scientist at The New York Times, pointed out.

At the same time, it’s critical to use learning algorithms that automatically adjust to readers’ behavior in real-time. Jebara encouraged data-driven personalization founded on constant iteration and automatic updating.

Use behavioral data to create interest graphs, forecast patterns

With so many data points available to media companies, it’s becoming possible to identify patterns and create an interest graph: a map of how certain interests correlate to other interests.

Etsy, for example, adopts interest graphs to serve users products they are likely to enjoy. Melissa Santos, an Engineering Manager at Etsy, briefly took the stage to discuss how Etsy tracks visitors’ clicks (sequentially) to identify links in interests. Santos and her team aggregate this data to identify patterns. For instance, Santos described understanding what people who search for jewelry are likely to buy. Her team is breaking this down according to searches via silver or gold.

Ian White, the CTO and Co-Founder of Sailthru, uses data to identify patterns around how likely people are to opt out/unsubscribe from an email list depending on email design, send time and other factors. Sailthru can even predict likely revenue from certain users.

For any digital publishers, an analysis of past behavior can yield rich information on future behavior and help create a robust interest graph. Harnessing this interest graph can help publishers serve personalized, relevant content, as well as allow for rich insights on consumer behavior and adjacent interests and opportunities.

Create news for the ADD era

People are easily distracted and want quick, impactful information in easily digestible formats. Arsenio Santos, CTO of Circa, a news app, explained that his team is catering to ADD era Millennials by delivering information-packed, highly condensed news bursts. And, to ensure that people get exactly what they want (and cut out everything else), Circa allows users to follow specific authors or topics, allowing for a highly curated experience.

Think hard about how you create your titles

Here at MindBodyGreen, we’re doing a deep dive into how to create great titles. What grammatical structure, length and format delights readers the most.

Fascinatingly, Brian White, the COO of ZergNet, a content aggregation service that used by NBC News, Conde Nast and CBS News, explained that having punctuation marks in headlines causes clickthrough rates to decline.

Be sensitive to readers’ privacy concerns

Although personalization delivers a host of benefits to readers, it can also come across as creepy. Alejando Jaimes of Yahoo! suggested that media companies can assuage privacy anxiety by disclosing why users are provided with personalization. Netflix, for example, explains why it has suggested a certain movie to viewers. Publishers could also establish personalization as socially informed: “your friend liked this, so you might too.”

Ultimately, developing a data-driven culture is entirely dependent on building trust

The success of a data-driven approach is entirely dependent on getting all team members across functions buy into it. As Chris Wiggins ofThe New York Times remarked, “to get an organization to be data-driven, it’s not about change in toolset. It’s about change in mindset.”

However, a data-driven approach is not universally embraced. Editors are the most valuable asset any media company has. If content is indeed king, then editors are the court. Media companies need to place particular focus on building trust between editors and engineers by listening closely to your editorial team’s needs and understanding that they are your most important customer.

Why audience development is the future of publishing

A relatively new but increasingly important discipline is shaping the future of media. As people are presented with an ever multiplying roster of content options, they are grazing from one site to the next, mostly finding them via social. With audiences fragmented and easily distracted, media companies are rapidly embracing new, data-driven techniques to attract people to their site...and keep them coming back. This pursuit is audience development and encompasses all facets of a media company's operations. 

In a recent internal presentation, I outlined some of the strategies for how to bring new readers to our site and keep them engaged by surprising and delighting them with the content they want, formatted according to their device. 

Here are some very topline introductions to potential strategies and levers:

Content: Editorial teams consistently create compelling, highly-sharable content that surprises and delights their readers. Across all publications, editors are the most vital part of an organization, as they are the ones writing best-in-class articles that appeal to a broad cohort of readers, covering topics encompassing food, fitness and relationships. To help editors create content that will truly resonate with readers, media companies need to supply their editorial team with relevant, digestible and useful insights on who readers are, how they operate and what kind of content they want. This means developing a robust set of analytics tools, constantly tracking reader behavior and preferences - and, most important, delivering these insights in a format that all team members find enjoyable and useful to read. 

For instance, we found that men adopt a more focused and functional approach to mindfulness, whereas women are more interested in holistic wellbeing and feeling good. Without giving too much away, we found this information to be helpful in terms of design, content and acquisition.

Data-driven personalization: Our research found that readers felt incredibly loyal to MindBodyGreen,  and are eager to get more of our great content: 91% of readers we surveyed said they trusted MindBodyGreen content, compared to an average of 58% of readers elsewhere who trust editorial content (per Nielsen). However, not all readers are alike - and some are more interested in other kinds of content than others. We are currently investigating a data-driven personalization engine in order to serve readers content that truly matters to them once they are on the site, creating a more compelling experience, driving loyalty and time on site.

Social: Our research found that MBG has developed an incredibly robust following on social. We have more than 2.6 million Facebook fans, 175,000 Twitter followers and nearly 150,000 Pinterest followers. Instagram is growing incredibly rapidly, as well. Together, we reach nearly 60 million people via social each month. We are now presented with the opportunity to increase our social activity to reach a larger base of users, draw them onto the site and build awareness, following and loyalty. All publishers can enlarge their social footprint by launching on new platforms (see Snapchat), equipping team members with the knowledge and know-how to be social superstars and exploring new promotional tactics or social activations.

Email: Email is my favorite tool to drive audience acquisition and engagement. Once the ugly duckling of digital marketing, this old-school channel is having a resurgence. Fed up with the clutter of social, more people are looking to email as a source to get curated, highly relevant information in a discrete, no noise environment. More so than ever, there is a need (and huge opportunity) for delivering relevant content straight to readers’ inbox. Harnessing deep insight into readers' open rates, clickthrough patterns and preferences offers unprecedented opportunities to provide useful, engaging content and drive site visits.

Real-world marketing: As more new digital media brands chip away at the traditional giants, they are becoming big brands in their own right. MindBodyGreen is universally appreciated and has built a strong and loyal following. Our research found that a large proportion of our readers are power users, coming back to the site with incredible frequency. In general, we are a go-to destination for people interested in mindful living - and a keystone resource for many in the health and wellness community. And, one of my favorite parts of working at the company is our mission-driven approach: We aspire to revitalize the way people eat, move and live. And we want this to be achievable for anyone. Increasingly publishers will have the opportunity to expand their brand (and their audience) via exciting and vibrant events and activations in the real-world.