Unless you've been touring Antarctica by dogsled for five years, you've heard of AMC's hit show "The Walking Dead." Even if the zombie apocalypse isn't your cup of plasma, you've probably heard the acclaim. And it isn't just from madly tweeting teenagers and overwrought critics. Something else is at work the average viewer doesn't notice: multiscreen marketing.

Multiscreen marketing is a storytelling strategy that brands employ to reach audiences across multiple platforms. It keeps messaging unified while playing to each medium's strengths.

Think about TV ads that include a link to the brand's website. Or Google display ads promoting the brand's mobile app or social media presence on Facebook or Twitter.

For example, online ads are promoting a TV ad turning up in perfectly optimized formats on PCs, tablets, smartphones, and other devices before the TV ad even airs. The ads may include Twitter hashtags that brands hope to see incorporated into consumers' social interactions.

MillwardBrown's AdReaction 2014 report described typical multiscreen users diverting to a second screen out of boredom, habit, and a desire to be more productive and in touch. Users spend two out of seven-plus hours of daily screen time eying a digital device while watching TV.

The research found those multiscreen consumers most receptive to micro-video, interactive TV ads, and TV ads promoting mobile apps, Facebook pages, and brand websites.

Encourage Actions

Consumers respond to a well-crafted brand story that feels the same, regardless of where it surfaces. They're interested and motivated to engage further.

AMC marketers have been masterful with "The Walking Dead" multiscreen strategy. They pulled in a whopping 16.1 million viewers for its Season 4 premiere! And viewers stay engaged, enticed by a social multiscreen campaign that includes TV, Facebook, Twitter, and an online game. Viewers can re-watch episodes online, live-tweet questions to the cast, and cheerfully kill zombies online together.

Another multiscreen marketing stand-out was Nike's "Greatness" campaign during the 2012 Olympics. Along with the brand's famously inspirational television spots, Nike invited folks to share their own achievements with the hashtag #findyourgreatness. The ads linked to a series of "digital missions," encouraging participants to complete them and then share results with friends via a website and social streams. The fan-generated content and footage were aggregated into the Nike+ "Fuelstream"—interactive displays and digital billboards featuring tweets, Instagrams, posts, and more.

The Perils of Multiscreen Marketing

Handled poorly, multiscreen marketing is risky. Some 71% of connected customers feel negatively toward brands that show inconsistencies; one in five expects you to "know" them across devices, according to Forrester Research.

Then there's the prevailing mindset. Traditional "multiscreen buying" builds from TV as its base and presumes different objectives for each screen. Today, media companies need a single campaign objective—increase awareness, reduce attrition, retain high-value consumers, etc.—and align all screens around it.

Tips for Your Multiscreen Strategy

What should you bear in mind when devising your multiscreen strategy?

  • Find audiences where they live, work and play through cross-screen analytics and targeting. Mix Web banners, interstitials, rich-media ad units, and more to deliver a compelling and relevant consumer experience.
  • Don't skew automatically toward one screen (TV) while disregarding actual consumer behaviors. Choose the most efficient media—TV or other—to achieve your reach and frequency objectives.
  • Emphasize mobile screens to generate buzz. A May 2014 comScore data study reports 18-24 year olds spend 65% of their online time on mobile devices. Don’t overlook gamification and apps.
  • Establish clear objectives and metrics. Apply what you discover via rapid test-and-learn to refine future multiscreen campaigns. Metrics should follow the 3 C's—consistent, comparable, and combinable—across multiple screens for a complete view of campaign effectiveness.

* * *

Multiscreen marketing must be part of an overarching—not screen-specific—strategy. Be sure to incorporate a creative mix of hashtags, follow-up social engagement, and user content re-purposing— across multiple screens—to inject life into your campaigns.

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image of Wilson Raj

Wilson Raj is the global director of customer intelligence at SAS, provider of analytics software and solutions. He has 25+ years' experience building brand value, engagement, and loyalty.

LinkedIn: Wilson Raj

Twitter: @wilsonraj