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The Time for Tablets

In 2011, the iPad took on all comers, and publishers and advertisers discovered this was the mobile format for deeper engagement... Now, what’s next?
  • February 13 2012

Tablets could be one of the most paradoxical—and hyperbolic—technologies to ever hit the marketplace. Are they handy gadgets or platforms for wizardry? Are they simply smartphones with bigger screens or drivers of the post-PC age? Will they transform media consumption or are they slightly smarter e-readers? All this may be open to debate, but one thing is clearly true: Marketers and publishers need to be paying attention.

2011 may very well have been the much-promised “year of the tablet.” Now at the start of 2012, with the iPad continuing to rack up impressive sales and Android competitors pacing in the wings, the question is: Where are tablets heading?

According to eMarketer, one in three online consumers will be using a tablet by 2014. The analyst estimates that 33.7 million Americans were using a tablet at least monthly at the end of 2011 (a rise of 158 percent over 2010, the year the iPad was introduced), and that figure will hit nearly 55 million in 2012 and close to 90 million in 2014.

Yet users appear to be interacting with tablets more deeply than they do with other mobile devices. Tablets are frequently considered “lean-back” devices, meaning consumers are likely to use them when they’re in a more relaxed mindset, especially compared to a smartphone or laptop. As a result, tablet users are more engaged with the material they’re consuming, whether it’s an interactive magazine, a movie or an ad campaign. “This is in contrast to consumer engagement with mobile phones,” notes Paul Cushman, senior director of mobile sales strategy at Yahoo, “which is usually briefer since they’re used more for getting stuff done.”

It’s that thinking that led to Yahoo’s recent Living Ad format, which launched with a Toyota Prius campaign last November. These ads, running on Yahoo’s Livestand, blend video and photography with interactivity, personalization, and customization, with a goal of increasing brand engagement. Yahoo studies have shown that not only do people interact more with the Living Ads, but they also make people more likely to buy. This, of course, is the key to how marketers view tablet engagement.

Yahoo isn’t the only provider encouraging this level of interactivity. In December, Google brought out Currents, its magazine-style publishing platform, which like Yahoo Livestand and the independent Flipboard, aggregates content into a tablet-friendly magazine style. It is being supported by Forbes, Popular Science and other publishers. Just as important, Google came out with the Rich Media Designs for Mobile platform to help advertisers create rich media units for tablets using features such as tappable images, 360-degree product views, embedded maps and slideshows.


Tablet Magazines Taking Charge

Publishers as well are hoping to capitalize on lean-back engagement. Andrew Rashbass, CEO of The Economist Group, calls this “Lean Back 2.0” and says that tablets and e-readers are creating a new generation of readers who are experiencing printed material on their devices. In a presentation published online, he indicated that a user’s eye activity is more focused on reading when using an iPad app than when reading on a website (where the reader can be distracted by Internet browsing). Moreover, he contends that within two years, The Economist expects reader preferences for paper to fall by half in favor of other formats.

In an interview with U.K. newspaper The Guardian, Rashbass notes that The Economist found a distinction between “the lean-back, immersive, ritual pleasure” of reading the print magazine and the “lean-forward, interactive” way people use the publication’s website. Interactions with tablets are more akin to interactions with print. “We suddenly [realized] that if we were making a distinction between lean-back and lean-forward, here was lean-back digital or lean-back 2.0,” he notes. “We made a conscious choice to avoid the Web-style interactive approach. Instead, we saw the potential of delivering a better lean-back experience than we have ever achieved in print.”

This shift is continuing across publishing. Affinity’s latest American Magazine Study found that between spring and fall 2011, the number of people accessing magazine content and advertising via tablets and mobile devices increased more than six percent. Moreover, the demographic profile of digital readers is different from that of print readers—and often more valuable to publishers. Digital readers are frequently younger (a median age of 41 compared to 47 for print), report a higher median household income ($69,938 vs. $63,624) and are better educated (36 percent are college graduates compared to 31 percent for print readers).

Affinity also indicated that digital magazine consumers are taking advantage of the interactivity that these platforms offer. In the fall 2011 study, it notes that 52 percent tap on links that provide more information about a particular topic, 38 percent have watched a magazine-sponsored video and 36 percent tap on links that provide more information about an advertised product.

Assessing the motivations of print loyalists, it is likely that the trend toward moving from print to tablets is likely to continue, especially as readers become more accustomed to interacting with magazines on a screen. Affinity says that of those readers who are not accessing magazines in digital form, about half report they “just prefer reading the printed versions of magazines.”  Many tablet advocates believe that won’t be a difficult sector to convert.


A More Receptive Shopper

Now that tablets are reaching a critical mass, the behaviors of tablet users are becoming more apparent. The deeper, lean-back engagement readers have with their tablets carries over into consumers’ shopping habits.

Looking at the 2011 holiday shopping season, Bazaarvoice, a provider of software that helps companies host and analyze user-generated content (UGC) such as product reviews, discovered that tablet users were among the most engaged. Its January 2012 “Conversation Index” notes that the iPad overtook all other mobile device usage in 2011 holiday shopping, making up 40 percent of all mobile use, beating out the iPhone and Android devices.

“Forward-thinking brands will embrace these new behaviors and give customers the experiences they want, however they choose to shop,” says Erin Nelson, CMO of Bazaarvoice. “In return, they will gather a tremendously valuable trail of customer data to help them improve their businesses and boost profits over the long term.”

Similarly, an analysis by Adobe found that consumers who visit retail websites using tablet devices are more valuable online customers than those who visit websites using smartphones or traditional desktop/laptop computers. Tablet users spend over 50 percent more per purchase than visitors who use smartphones and over 20 percent more than computer users. Additionally, tablet visitors are three times more likely to make a purchase than smartphone visitors, and nearly as likely to purchase as computer visitors.

Why are tablet users so valuable? Adobe cites two factors. First, they’re more affluent than other online shoppers. But more importantly, Adobe posits that the tablet user experience may be more conducive to online shopping, and shopping on tablets may take place in a less stressful environment.

“The results of this study indicate that tablet devices have become an absolutely critical new sales channel that marketers must address head-on,” says Brad Rencher, SVP and general manager of Adobe Digital Marketing Business. “This study shows the importance of optimizing your 2012 e-tail strategy for tablet visitors to avoid the risk of underserving a highly profitable, fast-growing customer segment.”