What Multitasking Consumers Mean for Marketers

Media consumption and technology have never been as diverse and ubiquitous before. Even with the upsurge of social media and its exponential growth, Twitter hasn’t upstaged Facebook and Facebook hasn’t replaced email. The same is true for traditional media: radio never replaced newspapers; TV never killed radio. Instead, consumers adapt to new technologies not by replacing them, but by finding ways to incorporate new media as they become available.

Multimedia marketing campaigns that blanket all outlets, including the technologies or platforms du jour, need to reassess their strategy. It’s not about placing ads on mobile because it’s the hot new thing; it is about reaching a busy mom on her mobile device while she is on the go. Neither is it about millions of impressions on MySpace, but rather it is about reaching that music lover who’s looking for the genre of music you are selling.

The best ad management technologies are built around this philosophy of using data to understand and incorporate content, context, and consumers in order to deliver the right ad, to the right person, at the right time.

For today’s consumer, multitasking has become something of a necessity. Millions of people watch TV, listen to the radio, or read magazines while online. Marketers need to gain a better understanding of multitasking behavior to effectively plan advertising. Media multitasking is often taken for granted but actually has a profound impact on the ability to absorb and remember content, including advertising messages. By understanding multitasking behavior, marketers can begin to work toward the larger goal of planning advertising expenditures from a consumer-centric rather than a media-centric position.

So, what exactly is media multitasking? The term “multitasking” has its roots in the computer industry. It describes the way computers handle multiple tasks by sharing processor resources. Researchers studying media multitasking use varying terms, such as “concurrent media usage” and “simultaneous media exposure,” to describe the phenomenon. Simply, media multitasking is simultaneous media exposure: “Individual consumers being exposed to more than one media system or approach at a single point in time” (BIGresearch).

A consumer may choose to combine two or more media to gratify a particular need or accomplish a task such as typing in a web address from a magazine to get more information about a product or browsing a newspaper in a dentist’s office while the radio plays in the background. Consumers choose some, but not all, of their media exposure; in particular, they may be subjected to “environmental” media content in public places such as restaurants and bars, retail settings, medical offices, etc. Media use, and consequently concurrent media exposure, also varies by location and time of day. Marketers must keep this in mind.

While multitasking divides consumer attention, it also opens up opportunities for advertisers. By understanding media pairings and how media are woven into a consumer’s day, advertisers can discover what medium is most engaging and when, and plan for that in their media allocations. Multitasking consumers necessitate multi-platform marketing campaigns. How effective is an ad if it only receives partial attention? Marketers need an advertising platform that reaches all the digital touchpoints in one comprehensive package.

So what’s the key takeaway? Each medium provides a different pattern of behavioral engagement and the value of exposures to each medium will vary greatly as a result.

Let’s take a look at mobile and IPTV. Mobile media is fast-growing. Mobile media is expected to grow at a faster rate than any other major medium, apart from video. In 2010, nearly 1.3 billion mobile phones shipped globally, and 250 million of them were smartphones. Within five years, virtually all phones sold in the U.S. will be smartphones, according to Advertiser Perceptions’ Advertiser Intelligence Report from May 2010. And according to Morgan Stanley, more users may connect to the Internet via mobile devices than desktop PCs within five years.

Being able to leverage a turn-key ad management solution alleviates some complications and logistics of building a sales team, working with multiple companies, several products, or platforms to achieve similar results. Smart marketers who want to reach people and provide them with information about things they may be interested in or would appreciate discovering new media technology platforms because they can reach their next customer on all the digital devices that they use and via the media that they consume. Businesses must think long-term, so choosing the right vendor is crucial. It will serve them well in the long run.

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