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Marketing in a Brave, New Multiscreen World

Do your ads easily move across different devices? That's what consumers do--and they won't wait for you to catch up.

Recent research from Google has significant implications for marketers in general and for any company in high tech or media that's trying to reach an online audience. Forget the concept of people looking at a tablet or a laptop or a smartphone. We have become a multiscreen society in which consumers cross among platforms, or use different ones at the same time, and expect the virtual world to keep up with them.

You can read the report for free. The concept is basic and probably already familiar to you, even if you hadn't thought about it. People are no longer tethered to a single computer or a television screen. Depending on circumstances--what we are doing, where we are, and how much time we have--we might use one device or another. You go from the office and shift from the computer to the smartphone, or perhaps tablet.

One implication is that you can no longer assume that a given bit of media you might want a consumer to see needs to appear on only one device. To find new meaning in a cliché, communication is no longer a question of destination but literally of the path traveled. The message you want to deliver has to move along with the people you want to reach.

And that's just one complication. The sequential shift from one screen to another is only one type of multiscreen activity. The other is when people use multiple screens at the same time. Chances are you've watched a movie or television program on a TV screen, wondered about an actor who seemed familiar, and then brought out a laptop or tablet, pointed a browser to the Internet Movie Database (, checked the cast list, and followed the name of the performer to his or her credits.

If so, you see from experience how media habits are changing. And when you're looking at, you've temporarily stopped looking at the television, with your attention split between two devices. So, do you run a commercial? Anticipate where someone might look online and have something formatted for a mobile device there? Do you have a strategy to move from someone's initial interest on a smartphone to complete an order on a desktop when the person returns home or to the office? Does your e-commerce site make it easy for customers to begin shopping on one device and to pick up exactly where they left off on another? Do you have search campaigns that use a multidevice strategy?

If you don't have a multiscreen approach to marketing and communications, then you'd better start to develop one quickly, because consumer behavior isn't going to wait for you.

IMAGE: Getty Image
Last updated: Sep 10, 2012

ERIK SHERMAN | Columnist

Erik Sherman's work has appeared in such publications as The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times Magazine, and Fortune. He also blogs for CBS MoneyWatch.

The opinions expressed here by columnists are their own, not those of

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