The Evolution of Customer Engagement in the Age of Digital Disruption

Digital Customer EngagementLike it or not, digital disruption is bringing a tidal wave of change that is washing over the entire customer engagement landscape. For newer companies, those sparked by the excitement of innovation, these dynamic transformations are offering a host of incredible opportunities. For many brands among the old guard, however, these changes are presenting extraordinary customer engagement challenges.

Nowhere has this become more apparent than within the media industry. Many traditional media outlets are stumbling on the digital paths trail blazed by transformative companies such as Netflix, Amazon, and YouTube. This digital disruption is completely altering the way content is consumed and shared, and many brands are scrambling to rewire their digital efforts in an attempt evolve any way they can.

Ad Tech in San Francisco recently assembled a panel of experts to discuss how various brands are successfully avoiding digital disruption. This session titled, “The Evolution of the Media Company,” examined how these dynamic changes to the media landscape are also continuing to influence the customer engagement strategies many are adopting.

From Traditional to Digital

Phillip Morelock, SVP/Chief Product Officer of Digital Media at Playboy, began by offering an interesting philosophy regarding the trajectory of digital media and how the gap between print and digital can be bridged.

“We are pursuing a multiplatform strategy that we are calling the ‘two screens’ strategy, which is the idea that the only two screens that matter are largest screen you own and the smallest screen you own,” said Morelock. “We are still perceived as a magazine-based organization, but we have built our own digital editorial team to leverage the magazine brand to create great digital experiences that other, purely digital, content publisher brands just cannot do.”

Many brands also find themselves in the same position as Playboy. They are looking for innovative ways to bring their brand and content further into the digital sphere. Those that have been able to do this effectively have found customer engagement success, but it not the only way to overcome digital disruption.

From Digital Back to Traditional

Some brands, Fox Sports for example, are looking at this problem from an entirely different angle. Even though digital has seen a meteoric rise in popularity, the old forms of media still do endure, and Fox is interested in a reverse realignment.

“We are not just looking at how our digital platforms can extend from something that originated on television,” said Pete Vlastelica, EVP of FOX Sports. “We are really looking at how something created on a digital platform can be turned around to use television as its extension. We are thinking that way in terms of content, sponsorship programs, and even talent.”

Fox is starting to mine online resources such as YouTube and various blogs to find digital native talent, who can then be trained as television talent. This marks a remarkable shift in the way most brands have tended to think.

“We have found that crossing over in that direction, from the web back to TV, is a lot easier than trying to move in the opposite direction,” said Vlastelica. “Training television talent to operate on a digital platform is actually very, very difficult. So we are creating digital-first programing, incubating it online, before crossing it over to TV. ” 

Dividing Between Traditional and Digital

Janett Haas, VP of Western & Central Regions at Forbes, offered perspectives regarding the unique position her company has occupied.

Instead of transitioning toward digital or even moving backward from digital, originally made a clean break from the established magazine. Designed as a completely separate company, operated from a different location and was managed by a different CEO.

Since its original launch a number of years ago, Forbes, of course, has made efforts to combine these two different channels. But Haas continues to see the original model as an immense benefit to the brand.

“The split enabled to be really nimble and to carve out that leadership space in the business category,” said Haas. “Today we are integrated, but the original model was significant because of the leadership was able grab early on. It wasn’t encumbered.”

Whether or not this approach can still be taken by brands today remains difficult to discern. But it was an unquestionably successful move by Forbes.

“ is currently the largest website in the business category with over 35 million unique visits in the U.S.,” said Haas. “Interestingly, Forbes Magazine has also benefited tremendously as well. Our readership is at its highest in its 98-year history, which may go against conventional wisdom. But we attribute that to the growth of the digital product, and the brand’s ability to reach more people than it ever would have if we had not set off down this path.”

There is no “correct” way to avoid digital disruption. The path each brand takes will vary greatly, and depend on a host of variables including available resources, consumer segments, fundamental goals, and so on.Digital Customer Engagement

But regardless of how the transition occurs, the key to successful customer engagement will ultimately hinge on an ability and willingness to remain nimble and flexible. Brands that remain static will quickly find the ground falling out from underneath them.

As the digital media landscape continues to evolve before our very eyes, those that can progress in tandem will stand a much better chance of survival.

About the Author: Mark Johnson

Mark is CEO & CMO of Loyalty360. He has significant experience in selling, designing and administering prepaid, loyalty/CRM programs, as well as data-driven marketing communication programs.

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