The consumer calls the shots in today’s hyper-connected, digitized and fragmented media world. Over the past few years, consumers have come to expect original content whenever and wherever they want it. For businesses, this trend indicates industry volatility, but also multiple potential business opportunities. “The reality is, if you’re in the digital media world for an extended period of time and your company is anything smaller than a Facebook or a Google, you’re constantly iterating, because as these giants move, they create earthquakes,” says Reza Izad, co-founder and CEO of digital media company Studio71.
With consumer demands and larger companies influencing the ways in which digital media grows, content marketing today has become one of the most rapidly changing areas for any business. “You have to always stay ahead, or at least not be on the wrong side of digital movement,” warns Izad. “Do not rest on what you did last year that was so great, because it may not be so great next year.”
This is exactly how Studio71 has managed to adapt and remain competitive in the ever-changing media landscape. With more than 1,300 global channels and 7 billion monthly views, the studio is one of the fastest-growing digital networks in today’s media world. From developing, producing and distributing original entertainment programming, to being the hub for content creators, Studio71 has a broad global network and audience.
To ensure that Studio71 stays ahead of the game, East West Bank uses a new integrated payables solution to help automate and securely process Studio71’s domestic and international payments. “This solution allows an international firm like Studio71 to send payment instructions to the bank with a secure file for processing,” says Fanny Lee, vice president of Global Transaction Services (GTS) sales at East West Bank. “It increases flexibility and payment security.”
“We didn’t start out as a global media company,” says Izad. “We started as a talent management firm with a focus on music. We pivoted to be more focused in the video business and in service for the brand or talent.”
With digital algorithms constantly evolving and consumer fads skyrocketing one minute, only to plummet the next, businesses must remain focused on their overall objective and long-term goals to identify key metrics and consumer behaviors that bring the most brand value.
“There are two things that you should measure,” says Izad. “How your content is doing among viewers, and what that value means for advertisers.” The first part, as Izad mentions, is fairly binary, since data should answer questions about viewership demographics, health and engagement. The second part requires going into detail on viewership engagement.
“Engagement metrics are much more important if you’re looking to partner with someone who wants to sell a product, service or a brand,” says Izad. “Engagement is a good bellwether of conversion rates. Will this translate to sales? And will this drive value for me down the line? Those are the things advertisers look for.”
"Engagement is a good bellwether of conversion rates. Will this translate to sales? And will this drive value for me down the line? Those are the things advertisers look for."
With digital spend set to outpace TV spend by 14 percent this year and expected to widen to almost 50 percent by 2020, brands must equip themselves with better analytics tools and campaign strategies in this space. Basic metrics such as cost-per-click (CPC) and cost-per-thousand-impressions (CPM) are now the base standard, and more advanced dissections of engagement metrics need to be present. Brands must dig deeper to understand the consumer’s day-to-day activities, attitudes and content journey—such as when they tap into specific media platforms, how long they engage on that platform and also on your content, and what they move onto afterwards. These are all important factors to analyze. Moving beyond simple reach to identify important touch points, amass cross-channel data, online and offline consumer behavior are the first steps that allow for big data to tell a consumer story.
“We’ve been in this business for a while, and while the industry isn’t fully mature, it’s fast-growing,” says Izad. “There are some really sophisticated brand marketers that are building consumer brands and services that leverage influencers repetitively on a broad range of product types.”
The digital space is rife with content creators and digital influencers who have their own image and respective followings. For Studio71, there is never a one-star-fits-all model among digitally native and creative talent. “The reality is that we look for people we think are going to become stars. And that’s a pretty loose definition that we don’t get right all the time, but we get it right more often than not,” says Izad.
But why invest in potential influencers when you might already have digital advertising spend? “You want to have content that’s going to cut through all the clutter, because this space is really crowded and we need to resonate with a certain audience,” says Izad. An example he gives is of Nike Inc.’s controversial advertising campaign with athlete Colin Kaepernick, whose level of influence and politically charged rhetoric created $163.5 million worth of brand exposure. Despite some backlash, Nike ultimately came out as a winner with a $6 billion increase in its brand value. “Partnering with that specific influencer paid off greatly,” says Izad.
With regard to the use of nano and micro-influencers, Izad reminds brands of return on investment and the purpose of partnering with content creators. “Think of the words nano and micro, and then put the word influencer next to it,” says Izad. “When was the last time you voted for the least influential politicians? No one buys shoes from the least popular pop star. Nano and micro-influencers are a euphemism for cheap content creation. There’s nothing wrong with it, but it’s just not the same thing if you want to think of influencing with real value.”
The intensity and constant inundation of digital cacophony pushes audiences to hone in on messages that are relevant, but also completely tune out irrelevant content. With brand messaging and competition in this digital space only getting louder, how does one build brand loyalty and meaningful engagement?
“Have regular programming,” says Izad. “You’ll get consistent feedback, so you can adjust what you’re doing and find ways to engage your audience.” By creating a routine schedule, businesses can better gauge brand health, market perception and collect data over time. “When you go all in, you don’t get hung up on the one execution that didn’t work—you’re focused on the 100th that did,” says Izad. “You can’t just run one ad, one time, somewhere. You’ve got to let everyone know what you’re doing over and over again.”
Before committing to a specific type of programming or content, Izad stresses the importance of knowing what you want from the outcome. “When an unsophisticated partner, regardless of category, tries to come in ill-informed or ill-defined, there’s usually a ton of argument about the creative and not much focus on what we’re trying to achieve,” says Izad. “I call it the Martin Scorsese effect, where you end up obsessing over the creative—but without direction, you fall flat on your face.”
The nature of your business should determine your digital call-to-action. “If your goal is transactional, it’s calculating how many times did that ad or branded content deliver clicks to the app? How many downloads were there? And how many of those people converted to becoming paying customers? That’s a very tangible measurement and clear performance model,” says Izad.