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A Data Geek’s Take on Holiday Shopping and the Election

Posted by Brant Cruz

Fri, Dec 11, 2020

Brant Cruz Data Geek Holiday Shopping and Electon Dec 2020 Blog Opener

As someone who has spent nearly 25 years finding insightful truth in piles of data, I’ve accidentally trained my brain to be good at little else. For example, I’ve been in the top percent of dads when it comes to teaching my kids how to “estimate” in their early math classes, but could almost hear my brain crack when they needed help with geometry and its many obtuse angles

This is why, for nearly every topic I stumble upon, I immediately start analyzing and contextualizing the numbers. Instinctively, my brain takes me through the following sequence:

  1. Is that number in line with what I would have estimated?
  2. Can I contextualize it in terms of a number or change I am familiar with, and explain to someone less familiar “why” the number is what it is?
  3. If the answers to both #1 and #2 are “no,” is there other data can I use to reconcile the disconnect?
  4. If things still don’t line up, can I reasonably conclude that I am missing some important context that isn’t available publicly or in the data set that I am analyzing?
  5. If the answers to #3 and #4 are also “no,” have I or the author done something wrong (accidentally or intentionally through some bias)?

In my professional life, this is a perpetual stream, but all the best examples are proprietary. So, instead, I’ll illustrate with a couple of current newsworthy events: the 2020 Holiday Shopping Season to date, and the 2020 US Presidential Election.

Example 1: 2020 Holiday Shopping Season

This is a great CNBC article that features multiple data points, publicly available thanks to the power of Adobe Analytics, related to the US Holiday shopping season. Just picking one:

Holiday shoppers spent $10.8 billion on Cyber Monday, up 15.1% from 2019.”

Here’s an abbreviated recollection of my thought process:

  1. The number feels intuitively right in light of what I remember from past Cyber-Mondays, the overall trend of eCommerce, everything I have been reading about Brick & Mortar retail struggles…and, I have very high trust for Adobe’s data and the rigor of that team. Plus, there are other numbers in the same article that feel intuitive, e.g., $10.8 billion of a total ~$185 billion holiday season. My head-math says that current definitions of holiday season are likely around 50 days, meaning each day is 2% of the season. And Cyber Monday would be ~6% (3x average), which checks out.
  2. As far as the contextual “why” goes, it fits with my mental model of how the combination of headwinds and tailwinds for eCommerce net out in 2020:
    1. Headwinds: COVID-19 might be depressing total holiday spend across all channels given the economic struggles, short-term uncertainty, desire to save, and sad letters you can find (but also help!) through the USPS’s Operation Santa site.
    2. Tailwinds: eCommerce sales rose 18.8% in 2019 so this just continues that trend. Plus, perceptually, shoppers en masse feel far less “able” to shop of brick & mortar retail this year due to COVID-19. Rather than reinvent how my colleague Erica Carranza so aptly described the Fogg Model’s two axes of Motivation and Ability and possible implications for shopping months ago, I’ll point you to her blog.  

Given I feel so confident at this point, no need to continue with steps 3-5.

Example 2: President Trump says, “There is no way Joe Biden got 80 million votes”

Putting aside all other political issues leading up to, during, and since the election, this one stuck out to me as appropriately data-geek-worthy. President Trump may have made this claim multiple times, but I can say with certainty that he made it on a call with Fox News on November 29. Here’s how I processed this claim:

  1. I know that combined Trump and Clinton received 129 million votes in 2016, with Clinton winning the popular vote at just south of 66 million. And that Obama set the record in 2008 with 69.5 million votes. 80 million votes for Biden represents a ~21% lift over 2016 Clinton, and a ~15% over Obama’s record. Big jumps and certainly within the realm of possibility, but worth more investigation.
  2. There are lots of ways to contextualize a 15% lift, but I wanted to make sure I understood why.
    1. Anecdotally, people on both sides are more passionate about politics as evidenced by social media posts, strong passion for and against Trump, and media ratings.
    2. The candidates combined for >$14 billion in election spending, more than double what Trump and Clinton spent in 2016. That’s an increased spend of 100%+, for a 20% increase in turnout. Certainly believable.
    3. Back to the trusty Fogg Model: both Ability (in some neighborhoods, the need to wait in 9-hour voting lines due to closed polling locations was replaced with the ability to vote by mail) and Motivation (the aforementioned hyper-partisanship and Trump’s polarization) axes have seen big bumps since 2016.
  3. Is there other data available that I can reference? I don’t think so—and it seems like recounts and the courts agree.
  4. Could I be missing something? Likely not. (See above response to step #3.)
  5. Yes, I can see that President Trump may have some bias, given the prize and some historical context.

As you can see, this approach is pretty helpful in a job where I’m constantly involved in proving the rigor of my team’s data and analysis (and the resulting insights/business implications) to some of the world’s smartest and most passionate clients.

But you can imagine the faces I get from my daughters when statements like, “Dad, we need YouTube TV” are met with, “Oh yeah? Prove it.”


Brant CruzBrant Cruz is one of the many data geeks at CMB and is our VP: Platforms and Audiences Practice Leader.

Follow CMB on FacebookInstagram, LinkedIn, and Twitter for the latest news and updates.

Topics: strategy consulting, business decisions, marketing science, marketing strategy, brand health and positioning, digital media and entertainment research, Market research, Election, retail, consumer psychology, ecommerce, COVID-19, mrx, Holidays

Walt’s Golden Child+

Posted by Ann Mondi

Fri, Dec 04, 2020

Disney+ Golden Child Blog Opener Dec 2020

Growing up as the second oldest of five children, I can confidently say that you parents of multiple children are lying when you say you don’t have a favorite. Sure, the favorite may vary depending on time or circumstance, but still…we know. Most parents, despite this, do a great job of making sure their time, love, and attention is spread equally for the most part. But when Disney reorganized its media properties under the heading of Disney Creative (Disney+, ESPN+, Hulu, Disney-ABC TV), it made no secret of it that Disney+, with its 73M subscribers, is the current golden child.

With the pandemic still taking a toll on Disney’s parks, resorts, and cruises and the streaming wars impacting the success of cable networks across the board (yes, even Disney-ABC TV), the company has turned its attention and resources to streaming, specifically Disney+. It announced a strategic reorganization of its media and entertainment business, including the addition of a distribution team, with the goal of amplifying its success in the space. The distribution team will take the lead on monetizing content and oversee operations of the company’s other streaming services, including Hulu and ESPN+. These reallocation of resources and public affirmations make clear that Disney sees this direct to consumer model, specifically in the form of Disney+, as the path to the future financially and strategically.

Why specifically Disney+ when there are so many offerings under its media and entertainment umbrella? There’s a number of factors that set up the streaming service to win from the start, from the timing of COVID-19 and the subsequent increase in streaming to the library of solid classics and originals not just drawing in but retaining subscribers. Disney+’s strong value proposition and brand awareness gave it an edge that other platforms had to build up over time – and some, like Hulu, are still struggling to do so.

Interested in reading more? Read this article about the Emotional, Identity, & Other Benefits of Disney+ >

You may remember that back in 2019, Disney took control of Hulu, the then-future of Disney’s streaming ambitions. As any child knows, there are few things more disheartening than having your parent take something from you only to give it to your sibling. Soon after Disney took over Hulu, the streaming services proposed a plan for its competitive growth via international expansion. While initially backed by the parent company, Disney has since pivoted and now chosen to pursue a new general entertainment service outside the United States under Star, the company’s Indian media subsidiary. The reason for this change? Disney claims it’s due to Star’s preexisting international name recognition, though there is room to speculate that it does not want to inflate the value of Hulu when it still owes Comcast one-third ownership share at a price TBD in 2024 for the takeover deal. For now, Hulu will take a backseat to the golden child Disney+. Perhaps we should anticipate some more angsty content from Hulu (or maybe it’s “just a phase”).

As the streaming category continues to grow and evolve, consumers will likely need to decide at some point which services to keep and which to cancel. These decisions will be based on several factors, including the habits they’ve established and budgetary reasons (who doesn’t want to get the most bang for their buck?). Bundling options may become more important. With Disney+, its parent company also owns linear networks (ABC, ESPN, etc.), Amazon Prime Video is included in your Prime subscription, and the streamlined connection to Apple’s hardware ecosystem may make Apple TV an easier choice.

Another huge deciding factor is obviously the content libraries. Why subscribe if your favorite shows and movies aren’t available? Netflix, perhaps the only “pure” streaming service, may struggle in this area compared to Disney, who has a myriad of content at its disposal. Disney’s media re-organization may suggest that it plans to go around traditional cable operators and package its networks’ content via a streaming bundle. The seismic shake-ups continue with yesterday's announcement that Warner Brothers will simultaneously air ALL of its 2021 movies on HBO Max. With so much uncertainty, the one thing we can count on is more disruption. Personally, I can’t wait to grab my popcorn and watch it unfold.


Ann is a serial streamer who loves keeping up with industry trends in media and technology. She frequents virtual webinars and conferences to continuously grow her understanding of the market and consumer (want to know which one she’s signing onto next? Just ask!).

Follow CMB on FacebookInstagramLinkedIn, and Twitter for the latest news and updates.

Topics: television, digital media and entertainment research, Market research, technology, COVID-19

The Rise of Multiplayer Shouldn’t Be Sus to Anyone

Posted by Blair Bailey

Thu, Dec 03, 2020

Among Us Blog Opener

Ask any CMBer what they love about CMB and there’s a good chance they’ll say it’s the people. Social distancing hasn’t been easy on anyone, but it’s been especially difficult for a company that works so collaboratively and regularly schedules social events and club meetings. Since March, we’ve been looking for ways to stay connected and recently, a group of us hopped on the bandwagon for a game of Among Us.

THE SOCIAL IMPACT OF MULTIPLAYER GAMES

Multiplayer has been a part of the gaming community since the 1970s. But the desire for social connection in a year of social distance has increased their popularity. At the start of lockdown in March, Microsoft reported a 130% increase in multiplayer gaming among Game Pass users, and 23 million new friendship connections over Xbox Live. Research on massively multiplayer online games (MMOs) show that benefits of this genre include a stronger sense of social identity, more social competence, and lower levels of loneliness. Nurturing social connections through multiplayer online gaming can create and build friendships as strong as those IRL.

HOW AMONG US IS BREAKING BARRIERS

Even so, many online multiplayer games have an air of exclusivity. The idea of joining an MMO or jumping into a game of Fortnite is daunting to non-gamers and even some casual gamers. Both in terms of gameplay itself – a battle royale situation feels more isolating than ever these days – and hardware – if you don’t have a console or PC for many games, you’re out of luck.

It’s Approachable

Among Us dismantles some of these barriers. The overall gameplay is familiar to many who spent their childhoods playing neighborhood games like Mafia: the crewmates works individually and collectively to build trust and uncover who among us are the Imposters (or if you’re an Imposter, to avoid being suspect…or “sus”), all while engaging in micro-tasks—quick little puzzles and games—throughout the spaceship. It takes a few rounds to get into the groove, but overall, the gameplay is very approachable and a lot of fun.

It’s Accessible

Making the game even more attractive is how accessible the program itself is – Among Us can be played on either PC or mobile, and it’s cross-platform so your friends can play together using whatever technology they have available. You don’t need a high-powered gaming rig to play the game, but if you already have one, that’s fine too! With the rise of video conferencing during COVID, players can easily enhance their games. While discussions in Among Us are typically done via in-game chat, you can invite your friends to a Zoom call and have those conversations “in person.”

Its Connecting Us

It’s no wonder that Among Us reached over 80 million players by mid-September, a number previously met by Pokémon Go in 2016. It’s the perfect game for this day-and-age. The definition of a “gamer” has been expanding for a long time, and the major change in everyone’s lifestyles has helped with that expansion exponentially. We saw this with the major success of Animal Crossing in the spring and it’s continuing with Among Us and other games now. With both Animal Crossing and Among Us, there’s a social aspect – either through direct multiplayer or a larger game community. Recent research showed that the longer a player played Animal Crossing, the happier they felt, possibly due to the social features the game presents. The only question remaining is when social distancing ends, will these newly minted gamers continue to play?

While the first impulse once the pandemic is over may be to rush outside and connect in-person, being isolated in lockdown has highlighted the importance of social connections, both as a human need and within the gaming industry. Gamers will be drawn to these new types of social connections made in quarantine, and developers should continue to build games within this space.


Blair BaileyBlair Bailey is a Data Manager at CMB, and avid gamer who graciously coordinates our Among Us games at CMB.

Follow CMB on FacebookInstagramLinkedIn, and Twitter for the latest news and updates.

Don't forget to immerse yourself in our latest gaming research: A Gamer's Journey | The Virtual Reality Edition. And stayed tuned for more of our findings--VR and beyond.

Explore A Gamer's Journey

Topics: marketing strategy, digital media and entertainment research, Market research, Identity, Gaming, Social Benefits, COVID-19

It’s Not Just About Baby Yoda

Posted by Dr. Erica Carranza

Tue, Jan 14, 2020

Emotion, Identity & the Benefits of Disney+

Welcome to 2020! If you’re like me, you did at least three things over the holiday—visited family, ate too much, and read about the “decade in review.” Most articles looking back at the 2010’s mentioned the massive evolution in how we consume entertainment and the onset of the streaming wars. Disney+ and Apple TV+ have launched; HBO Max and Peacock are on the way. Analysts predict there will be too many subscription services to survive. Which will be among the last ones standing?

Netflix famously focuses on the customer, not the competition. But, if they’re going to learn to live with a major competitor, I suggest they focus on Disney+. Primarily because of how well Disney’s bastion of brands delivers emotional and identity benefits, and how important those benefits are to driving engagement—even compared to the functional benefits (like convenience) that helped Netflix upend the industry.

What are these different kinds of benefits? I’m so glad you asked! Here’s a bit of background…

At CMB, we identified four psychological benefits that drive brand engagement:

  • EMOTIONAL BENEFITS (e.g., positive feelings; enhanced joy; reduced frustration)
  • IDENTITY BENEFITS (e.g., strong self-esteem; pride; a positive self-image)
  • SOCIAL BENEFITS (e.g., conversation; social connection; a sense of belonging)
  • FUNCTIONAL BENEFITS (e.g., ability to accomplish tasks or goals; saving time or money)

Each plays a role in BrandFx, our approach to helping clients attract and retain their target audiences.

As a psychologist, I love our framework because it captures what drives people in all things—not just in how they spend their time and money. Each type of benefit fulfills a core human motivation. People strive to maximize good feelings and minimize bad ones (emotional benefits), enhance their self-image and self-esteem (identity benefits), connect and build relationships (social benefits), and efficiently achieve their goals (functional benefits).

In a recent study with over 20,000 consumers, we found that these benefits are important for brands across diverse industries. But the relative importance of each benefit does differ by industry, sub-industry, and even by brand. In the media space:  

  • For umbrella brands (e.g., Disney, Universal, Warner Bros.), emotional and identity benefits dominate importance, followed by social. So, to drive engagement, these brands must inspire positive feelings, bolster positive self-perceptions, and facilitate social bonds.
  • For franchises and IPs (e.g., The Simpsons, Harry Potter, Stranger Things), the same three benefits are key. Emotional and social are most important, followed by identity.
  • For streaming brands (e.g., Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime), functional benefits are pretty important—so streaming brands should make things easy and affordable. But emotional and identity benefits still dominate.
StreamingWars_ImpDrivingBrandEng

And, while streaming brands score well on functional benefits, they lag Disney on emotion and identity. Among the many media brands we tested:

  • Disney brand Pixar wins on delivering emotional benefits to fans (by a large margin!)
  • …and Disney itself wins on identity.

Disney’s strength on identity benefits is linked to the strength of its brands, franchises and IPs—like Marvel, which also scores well with fans on identity. And, when people think of Disney, its IPs are top-of-mind. In analyzing over 10,000 responses to a free association question, we found that streaming brands call to mind generalities (e.g., “movies,” “shows,” “videos”), while the brands that line the top of the Disney+ homepage call to mind specifics—either specific characters, movies, shows or franchises (e.g., Mickey Mouse, Frozen, Iron Man, MCU, Yoda), or specific content elements (e.g., action, animation, space, superheroes, princesses).

StreamingWars_InitialReactions

This pattern holds even among streaming customers (e.g., Netflix or Hulu subscribers)—i.e., generalities are top-of-mind, not specifics. Arguably that’s good if the goal is to entertain the masses, but it limits the ability to enhance subscribers’ identities. For example, we found that pride in being a media brand’s fan is highly correlated with liking characters from its content.

I may be an outlier—and an ideal scenario—for a streaming brand like Netflix. When I think of Netflix, the first things that come to mind are Peaky Blinders, The Crown and Stranger Things. These are shows I’m proud to watch (identity benefit!), and all three are Netflix originals. Maybe I’m a sign of things to come. But there are yet more reasons to bet on staying power for Disney+, including:

  • Disney’s vast machinery devoted to helping fans experience emotional, identity and social benefits outside the platform. It handily beat other brands we tested on the many ways in which fans interact with its content (e.g., via consumer products, theatrical releases, theme parks and more).
  • Its strength with kids and families. Our study focused on adults, but it’s safe to assume Disney brands would perform well with kids. And today’s Descendants fans are tomorrow’s subscribers.

JediLikeMyFatherUnless-CroppedOn a related note, nostalgia is an emotional benefit that pulls double-duty for media IPs. Kids who are fans grow-up to be parents who bring their own kids into the fold. (This image captures my household dynamic pretty well...)

Then there are the strong social benefits that come with family co-viewing and bonding over shared interests.

Yes, Disney+ will have to succeed in delivering the functional benefits expected in the streaming space—like convenience and value for the money. So pricing Disney+ competitively was a smart move.

But, again, success in media isn’t about functional benefits. Not even for streaming brands. It’s about content that engages; that evokes strong feelings; that resonates, inspires and empowers; that sparks conversations and connects us with larger communities… In a way, the word “entertainment” trivializes the intense emotional, identity and social benefits we get from the content we love. (Why else would so many people be arguing online about Star Wars? They can’t all be Russian bots!)

I’m a sample of one, but my experience fits these findings. I got Disney+ the day it launched. They made the sign-up process easy. So far, so good with the functional benefits. But what really impressed me were the rows of recognizable, quality content I saw when I first logged in. I literally gasped. And I mean literally literally. Not literally in the way Millennials mean literally (i.e., not literally).

Compare that with my experience on other platforms. I tab through rows of shows and movies I’ve heard nothing about, rejecting lots of options before finding something of interest.

This suggests one more way in which Disney+ enters with an advantage: Its well-known franchises create a high ratio of familiar (vs. unfamiliar) content. This matters because…

  • People like the familiar! The comfort of the familiar feels good—it’s an emotional benefit in and of itself. The tendency to prefer things just because we know them even has a name in psychology: the “mere exposure effect.”
  • The glut of peak TV has created “too much choice” for viewers which, paradoxically, generates negative emotions. In this context, the reputable content on Disney+ makes it feel like a cultivated selection. Like Trader Joe’s vs. a grocery store.

To be clear, I’m not counting other subscription services out by any stretch. But they’ll want to carefully evaluate potential strategies for attracting and retaining customers in light of this shift in the competitive landscape (i.e., the giant mouse in the room). For example, by identifying:

  • Which of their original series inspire the strongest emotional and identity benefits for the broadest populations of viewers
  • Ways to market these series—both on and off their platforms—to harness the emotional perks of familiarity
  • Opportunities to help fans of these series express themselves and connect with each other (e.g., via licensed products), which boosts emotional, identity and social benefits

Meanwhile, Disney+ will need to keep delivering fresh content without saturating fans’ appetites. (Our analysis found that boredom is a death knell for media IPs.) But any brand that can showcase so much celebrated content is in a great position to survive—and even thrive—in the streaming wars.


Erica CarranzaErica is CMB’s VP of Consumer Psychology. She holds a Ph.D. in psychology from Princeton University. Prior to CMB, she led insights research at American Express, where she was a recipient of the CMO Award for Achievement in Excellence.

Follow Chadwick Martin Bailey on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter for the latest news and updates.

Topics: digital media and entertainment research, BrandFx

The Inner Battle Royale: Who Is The Fortnite Fan?

Posted by Josh Fortey

Mon, Dec 16, 2019

Sirens ring out across Dusty Depot. As the ground begins to shake, a rocket erupts from beneath, its pace intensifying as it scars the horizon. Suddenly, the sky cracks and blue rifts appear, rockets raining down; a meteor ruptures the sky, hurtling to the ground. The impact devastates the island as a black rift emerges, engulfing everything that surrounds it. Nothing is left but darkness­­—is this the end?

It is not the end, nor is it a Hollywood movie or HBO fantasy drama. This is Fortnite Battle Royale, the highly disruptive online video game that serves as a barometer for success in this gaming genre. This much-hyped seasonal event attracted a peak 1.6 million viewers on Twitch and a peak 4 million viewers on YouTube. The success of this event is a positive development for the game following recent reports of a 52% decline in in-game spending, lagging viewership figures and general dissatisfaction with the state of its most recent season. Live content spectacles help renew focus away from the all-too-familiar proclamations of a dying game or a dying and oversaturated Battle Royale genre, but Fortnite has a bigger problem that may ultimately destabilize growth: the image of the typical Fortnite player.

In our recent BrandFx 2.0 research, CMB interviewed thousands of gamers regarding more than 30 media, entertainment and gaming brands on this very topic. We found that for players of a game, the most important driver of recommendation is how well the most recent gaming session elicits positive emotion. For non-players, however, the most important driver of considering a game is their perception of that games’ typical player. We also found that for gamers’ who don’t play Fortnite, perceptions of the typical Fortnite player were considerably more negative than perceptions of the typical brand user for prospects of other media brands.

Fortnite_NonUserPerceptionsTypicalUser_Final_JPG

Takeaway #1: The Battle of Divisive Emotions

Among the users and non-users of any of the 33 media brands we tested (and particularly among other gaming brands such as Nintendo, Pokémon and Mario), some of the starkest differences were between how Fortnite players perceive the typical Fortnite player and how non-Fortnite players perceive the typical Fortnite player. This in spite of what is a relatively cohesive perception of audience demographics (i.e. both Fortnite players and non-players perceive the typical Fortnite player as younger male teens).

 Takeaway #2: A Middle School Dance: Fortnite On One Side, Non-Fornite On the Other

Non-Fortnite players are also more likely to view themselves as “very different” to the typical Fortnite player, “very disinterested” in making friends with them and more likely to “really disrespect” the typical Fortnite player. Only two other brands come close to this level of consistent negative perception among non-brand users across all three categories (The Simpsons and Pokémon are the other two).

Fortnite_NonUserRelationshipWithTypicalUser_Final_JPG

Takeaway #3: Converting Non-Fortnite Players

Ultimately, it could be these typical player perceptions that feed into the negative emotional association to Fortnite among non-players, in turn potentially hindering future player growth.  When asked how they imagine it would feel to play Fortnite, the non-Fortnite gamers are among the strongest of the tested brands to state that they expect the experience to be more "bad" than "good" (35%: +15% vs. media average).

While Fortnite continues to defy critics claims of the game’s death, and hold off fierce competition from the likes of Apex Legends and PUBG, its continued success may hinge on changing the substantial negative perceptions of its user base.


Josh ForteyJosh Fortey is an Account Director at CMB, and avid gamer.

Follow CMB on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter for the latest news and updates.

Topics: Chadwick Martin Bailey, consumer insights, Consumer Pulse, digital media and entertainment research, Market research, Identity, emotion, technology, Gaming