Media Behavior Institute’s Alice K. Sylvester on The Changing Media Landscape

Alice K. Sylvester is co-founder and Chief Operating Officer of the Media Behavior Institute, an industry leader in research surrounding how people interact with digital media. Alice is also a partner at Sequent Partners, a New York-based brand and media metrics consultancy. The Makegood recently spoke with Alice about her positions and the challenges of the changing media landscape.

The Makegood: Alice, you held a variety of positions in research and planning at several major advertising agencies including DraftFCB, JWT, Leo Burnett and Young & Rubicam Inc. How did you get into the advertising business and what inspired you to found the Media Behavior Institute?

I picked advertising as a career because I saw several cute guys walking through the reception area as I waited for my first interview. Oh! And the reception area had Wassily chairs. The combination was cool, modern, sexy. In a split second, I knew I’d found my place in the world — culturally, intellectually and emotionally. A Gladwellian “blink” moment.

My foray into Media Behavior Institute was more planned. I joined Sequent Partners as a consultant a few years back and Media Behavior Institute was already on the drawing board. My partner Jim Spaeth had partnered with the Center for Media Design at Ball State University and developed an innovative technique for tracking where people are, who they’re with, what they’re doing and all the media they’re exposed to.

They had just found a scalable alternative to this costly research and licensed the “Touchpoints” system from the UK’s Institute for Practitioners in Advertising. We added unique variables like moods and emotions and collect things no one else does.

The Makegood: With your market research application USA TouchPoints ©, you track study participants’ behavior and usage of different media by asking questions every half hour of the day for a limited period of time. Can you elaborate on how the app works and how you get your target group engaged in using the app?

We recruit people and give them a good incentive for participating in our study. They keep track of their behavior on an e-diary app that’s loaded on their smartphone (or ours if they don’t have one.) The phone acts as a research device, not a phone, which allows us to have a representative sample of smartphone owners and non-owners. The app is very simple and easy to operate. It’s loaded with icons. Every half-hour, respondents scroll through screens and record where they were, who they were with, what they were doing, their moods and emotions and their media exposure. Our data covers things like … were you at home? At the store? Relaxing? Working? Exercising? On your own? With your kids? How were you feeling? Happy? Exhausted? Contented? And were you on the computer? Using your mobile? TV? Social networking? It’s all there – and very simply and easily recorded with a touch of a finger.

If we haven’t heard from our respondents in 2 hours, we send them a reminder text and if they haven’t recorded something really basic, like eating or using media, they get a phone call from us. That’s how we ensure high quality compliance and reliable results.

The Makegood: What are the most surprising results from Media Behavior Institute’s 2012 USA TouchPoints analysis?

Wow. Where to begin? Women start the day really confident and energized – but as the day progresses, their confidence and positive mindset wanes. We think that’s a perfect time for a supportive message or new product aimed at women’s mid-day moods.

We also learned that simultaneous use of TV and Social Media represents a tiny fraction of total TV time, (like 2%) but a big chunk of Social Media time (like 30%!). Interestingly, compared to the times people only watch TV, their moods aren’t very positive. They’re more likely to be overwhelmed, lonely, bored and indifferent and want to connect with their friends via social media – perhaps as an escape.

And finally, we discovered people don’t spend very much time with their partners/ spouses throughout the day. And when they do, their moods aren’t always positive. During the week, partners or spouses actually add to some women’s frustration and exhaustion levels! But on the weekend, being with a partner/spouse is the antidote to these negative emotions. Maybe there are just too many conflicting demands during the week to truly enjoy family time.

The Makegood: In 2000, you published the book ‘Advertising – and the mind of the consumer’. How do you get relevant consumer insights and what are the biggest changes compared to 2000?

The insights in the book are drawn from tons of tracking studies and consumer research my co-author Max Sutherland and I had conducted over the course of our careers.

The biggest differences between 2000 and now are the myriad of video screens and mobile. At the time, the Internet was only about search, not video, streaming, gaming, social networking or any of the emerging applications. As a result, the book addressed fairly traditional advertising media and concepts. But I still really like the front end of the book that talks about how advertising works on memory and the mind. Those concepts still apply.

The Makegood: At advertising week, the Media Behavior Institute presented the research on the usage of digital media. What will be the future of media consumption and how can advertisers successfully address these changes?

Media consumption will evolve in five directions:

1. Media everywhere. We already see this among some segments of the population. It will become universal.

2. True media device convergence. In the future, we’ll see a smart screen through which all kinds of content, in all kinds of media formats — audio, video or text — will be accessed. The boundaries between media devices will be blurred much more than

3. Devices diminishing in importance. Content will continue to be the driver of media consumption. As Cloud-based services provide the flexibility for consuming the same content across devices, the impact of specific devices will weaken.

4. A la carte media. VOD TV shows vs. programming blocks, individual articles vs. the entire magazine will be the norm.

5. Right time, right place content and ads. Huge amounts of behavioral data will be collected by media devices enabling specific, personalized and highly relevant message and targeting.

Advertisers will need to LISTEN MORE.

Advertising will need to BE MORE RELEVANT and linked to the media being used.

Advertisers will need to BE READY to read and respond to behavioral insights.

Advertisers will need to WORK HARDER and develop ads that are relevant in time, space and feeling.

The Makegood: Thanks, Alice.