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How Discovery, Inc. Builds Audiences and Creates Personalized Shopping Experiences Across Their Many Brands like Travel Channel, HGTV, Food Network and TLC

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Some brands are lucky enough to have a built-in audience of millions, while others need to develop an audience from scratch. Chris Mainenti has been on both sides of the coin and he knows that in either situation, once you have a base of potential customers paying attention to you, the next challenge is converting those browsers to buyers. 

Chris is the Director of Commerce Strategy at Discovery, Inc. where he is helping turn the millions of viewers who tune into Discovery’s channels such as HGTV, TLC, Food Network and more, into customers who buy across various platforms. On this episode of Up Next in Commerce, Chris explains how he put his history of building audiences at previous companies to work at Discovery — including some tips for young companies on how to utilize newsletters. And he discusses how to use the data you collect as a starting point for creating a more personalized, one-to-one relationship with your audience on various platforms. Plus, he looks into the future to predict how shoppable experiences will be made possible with universal add-to-cart and buy-now options.

Main Takeaways:

  • Developing Your Audience: Audience development goes beyond marketing. When you are building your audience, you have to know who you are as a brand and understand the audience you have and want to bring in, and what they want and need. In the early days of a brand, certain audience development strategies work better than others, including tapping into the power of newsletters. 
  • Lights, Camera, Take Action: Every company is collecting immeasurable amounts of data, which then needs to be sorted, analyzed and acted on. But the actions you take should be nuanced and applicable to the specific needs of specific audiences. For example, it would be wrong to lump together all of the women in your audience because a woman who is exploring your dot-com presence is likely looking for something different than a woman that is scanning a QR code on their TV. Those segments of women shop differently, and therefore should be approached in unique ways after the data tells you what they each want.
  • Dreams of a Universal Cart Experience: Many believe the future of ecommerce revolves around the development of a universal cart experience. Every business wants to create shoppable moments and engage with customers across many different platforms. But getting to this nirvana means you also have to remove all the friction points.

For an in-depth look at this episode, check out the full transcript below. Quotes have been edited for clarity and length.

Key Quotes:

“[When creating shoppable moments] you have to be honest and say, ‘Look, not everything is going to hit.’ And honestly, it’s not always meant to hit. It’s about understanding not everyone is going to want every single thing. That’s first. Secondly, again, we start with, what’s our expertise? What do we believe in? And, what do we want to showcase to our various audiences across all of these different platforms? And then, from there is when we start to really start getting down to the nuances.”

“We have created what we dub internally as the commerce hub, where we’re bringing in data feeds from all different platforms, our affiliate networks, our in-house reporting platforms, social, so on and so forth. We’re bringing that all together and understanding what are people consuming? And, what is their mindset when they’re on social, versus linear, versus a DTC, or our dot-coms? We’re really starting to look and pull out trends from that. I always like to say I prefer the term data influenced versus data-driven, because you can’t just take a dashboard of data, and sort in descending or ascending order, and say, ‘Okay, whatever is at the top or bottom, do or don’t do.’ And, call it a day. We focus much more heavily on insights, and use that data as a jumping-off point, but then do very, very deep analysis, and pull actionable insights out of that for all of our different brands and teams for when they’re creating new content, or when we’re optimizing old content.”

“The way I always like to frame this when I’m talking to our merchant partners, and talking internally, is we’re really here to humanize the star review. When you come to us, you’re not just going to see, ‘This is a four out of five, or this is a five-star item,’ and that’s it from the random ecosystem of the internet. We are heavily focused on saying, ‘Here are the things we recommend, and why.’ And I think that’s where our partners can really leverage us, and where you’re really seeing us shine. We don’t have to just throw a bunch of random stuff out there and hope for the best.”

“Sometimes people get too focused on, “What looks cool?’ And, ‘Let’s just do that.’ We wanted to really focus on what’s the goal here? And what do we think we can create that’s actually going to help our audiences that come to hgtv.com be inspired and feel comfortable, making purchases based off of what they’re seeing?” 

“The most common ways of driving from linear to digital is the QR code experience. We’re working on some of those solutions as we speak and trying to understand what will it take to bring more linear folks from TV down to digital and make this a frictionless seamless experience?”

“[On Instagram] our goal is how do we cut out all of these extra steps that are unnatural? Normally, when you see a product you like, you want to be able to say, ‘Okay. Great. Let me buy that.’ Not, ‘Let me go to a bio, let me click this link, let me wait for this page to load, let me do that checkout experience that is completely different from the platform I was just on.’”

“We really are trying to be everywhere it makes sense, but also really tailoring our content and strategy based on what that platform is. So, for some of the stuff that’s working on Apple News may not make sense for Instagram or vice versa.”

“Convenience is key. That’s our hypothesis and we do plan to see increased conversions by building a more intimate shopping experience across our dot-coms with a lot of our partners.”

“The biggest misconception with the term audience development is it’s just another word for marketing. But it’s not…. The easiest way to think about this in a very basic form is, marketing is more about how you want to look to the world as you bring those audiences in initially — it’s more on the branding side of things. [Audience Development] is more, ‘Who are we to the world?’ And really drilling down on understanding those audiences that were brought in and who they are, and then building those audiences through different engagement tactics and community tactics.”

“With a universal cart experience also comes a lot more first-party data which would allow you to focus on more one-to-one relationships with your audiences, specifically in the shopping space, which I think is key.”

Mentions:

Bio:

Chris Mainenti is the Director of Commerce Strategy at Discovery Inc, where he oversees the commerce digital portfolio for Travel Channel, HGTV, Food Network and TLC. PRior to his work at Discovery, Chris was the Executive Director of Affiliate & Commerce at Apartment Therapy Media, and he also worked at Fusion Media Group, OZY Media, and NBC doing audience development. 

Up Next in Commerce is brought to you by Salesforce Commerce Cloud. Respond quickly to changing customer needs with flexible Ecommerce connected to marketing, sales, and service. Deliver intelligent commerce experiences your customers can trust, across every channel. Together, we’re ready for what’s next in commerce. Learn more at salesforce.com/commerce

Transcript:

Stephanie:

Welcome back to Up Next In Commerce. This is your host, Stephanie Postles co-founder of mission.org. Our guest today is Chris Mainenti, the director of commerce strategy at Discovery Inc. Chris, welcome to the show.

Chris:

Thank you, Stephanie. I appreciate you having me on and talking all things commerce here in the current climate that we’re in.

Stephanie:

Yeah. I am very excited to have you guys on. I was just thinking about how long Discovery channel, and all the other channels, HGTV, and Food Network and Travel Channel have been in my life and with that, I want to hear a little bit about your role at Discovery. I mean, it seems like there’s so much going on, so many digital portfolios that you guys have over there, and I think just a lot behind the scenes that an average consumer wouldn’t even know. So, I’d love to hear what you’re up to at Discovery. What is your day-to-day look like?

Chris:

Sure. So, I would say, first and foremost, for commerce specifically in the digital media space, we’re probably slightly different than a lot of others. We’re really multifaceted in terms of how we work, and who we work with across the org. Obviously, like you said, Discovery is huge, has a ton of major, major worldwide brands. So, we actually sit on the portfolio wide level with our lifestyle brands, and we’re really in the weeds with them on the day-to-day basis. And, that really starts with, obviously, our editorial teams. That’s our bread and butter, that’s our voice and our authority in this space. So again, that’s really where we begin, and that’s obviously where we’re doing our content output, and producing all of this great shopping content for our different audiences, and again pulling our experts from all of these different brands to come together.

Chris:

So again, folks are really getting the full spectrum of expertise in all of these different categories. And from there, it just really starts branching out into other groups. So, we work heavily with our ad sales and branded content teams, where we work on much larger partnerships and deeper integrations which we can talk about today as well. We have a licensing team, where we work on licensed products, and we take our learnings that we’re seeing on our shopping content on a day-to-day basis, and analyze that, and then speak with licensing to see where there may be some room to actually create a new line with one of our partners.

Chris:

We also, believe it or not, and I know you don’t know this, we have a video games team at Discovery, and we work closely with them as well on trying to find those shoppable moments, and again bringing our brand and our voice into those games when they’re being built. So again, we’re always serving the reader no matter who or where they are, and again pivoting as necessary. So, those are just a few groups, and obviously our marketing and ops, and audience development teams were heavily embedded with as well when it comes to promotion.

Chris:

So again, there are just, I would say, a lot of areas that we focus on. I know in the beginning it was always all about, commerce is part of diversifying your revenue streams at a digital club. But, we see it more as now, we’re trying to diversify our commerce stream into all of these other areas. So again, a lot of exciting stuff has already happened, and we’re working on some cool stuff too as we head into next year. So, a lot of exciting stuff in an area that’s obviously blowing up for a variety of reasons.

Stephanie:

That’s a lot going on there. It’s actually really interesting because you just mentioned video games, and I just did a recap episode with one of my coworkers for the first 50 episodes of this show, and the one thing I was bringing up was like, “I think there’s a big opportunity in having shoppable moments in these worlds or video games.” And, we were mentioning Unreal and Epic Games specifically, that I hadn’t really seen that yet. So, it’s interesting that you guys are starting to explore that arena, because it feels like that’s something of the future, but it’s needed, and that’s where everything’s headed.

Chris:

Yeah. And again, I can’t stress enough. I mean, our portfolio is just so suited for so many of these different, avenues that we could always find something where, again, we’re not being gimmicky just to say we’re there. This is our bread and butter, and we’re making sure that we stick to our tried and blue, into who we are, and not shy off too much, and again just try to say, “We did something here or there.” Really making sure we’re always serving our audiences and giving them what they want on the platforms they want.

Stephanie:

Yeah. Which I think that’s a really good jumping off point, then because that was actually my one biggest question I had of how do you strategically think about what an audience wants without disrupting the content? I mean, it seems so tricky, because you see a lot of shows, and whatever it may be where you might have product placement in a show or a movie, but it might not actually uplift sales, because it wasn’t done correctly. Where I was also just talking about the Netflix original, the organizing show where they partnered with the container store, and how they had an instant, I think was a 17% uplift in sales after that show aired. That worked, and many others don’t. So, how do you guys think about making those shoppable moments, and actually having it work?

Chris:

Sure. First and foremost, I think, you have to be honest and say, “Look, not everything is going to hit.” And honestly, it’s not always meant to always hit. So, I think we go into that, first being real with the current situation, and understanding not everyone is going to want every single thing. We’re always talking about integrating, promoting, so on and so forth. So, I would say that’s first. Secondly, again, we start with, what’s our expertise? What do we believe in? And, what do we want to showcase to our various audiences across all of these different platforms? And then, from there is when we start to really start getting down to the nuances.

Chris:

And look, we have created what we dub internally as the commerce hub, where we’re bringing in data feeds from all different platforms, our affiliate networks, our in-house reporting platforms, social, so on and so forth, bringing that all together. And again, understanding, what are people consuming? And, what is their mindset when they’re on social, versus linear, versus a DTC, or our dot-coms. And, really starting to look and pull out trends from that. I always like to say I prefer the term data influenced versus data driven, because you can’t just take a dashboard of data, and sort in descending or ascending order, and say, “Okay. Whatever is at the top or bottom, do or don’t do.” And, call it a day.

Chris:

We focus much more heavily on insights, and use that data as a jumping off point, but then do very, very deep analysis, and pull actionable insights out of that for all of our different brands and teams for when they’re creating new content, or when we’re optimizing old content. Again, wherever that is. And then, I think lastly with that comes, how do we visualize that to the audience. On digital.com, is it more about, again, really simple to read, simple call to actions to buy items. Again, on linear, what is that? A QR code experience? Is it some type of more deeper integration with a smart TV company on our TV E experiences? Is it more deeply integrated where you can actually tap to purchase within the app? So on and so forth.

Chris:

So again, there’s just a lot of things that we’re looking at. We never make it cut and dry, that’s probably because personally I don’t think anything is ever cut and dry, especially this space and shopping behaviors across, not only brands but the platforms those brands are on, and that’s how we look at it. I know that’s a lot, and that sounds a bit crazy, but we do really pride ourselves on, again, using these things as a jumping off point and then really diving in deep and making sure that we’re serving our audiences, again, where they like to consume this content.

Stephanie:

Got it. Yeah. It sounds like everything is very custom, and every channel and project you start from scratch where you start figuring out what your audience might like. But, do you have any internal formulas where you’re like, “Well, we always follow this in the beginning.” and then, it goes crazy after that, because we find other things out. Is there anything that’s similar among all the campaigns or projects that you’re working on, at least from a starting point?

Chris:

Yeah. I think, honestly, it’s probably not surprising whenever you’re talking about items on sale, or whenever we’re talking about certain merchants, or price points, or categories, like organizing and cleaning is always up there for us. We know very specific furniture categories that do very well for us. So, we do have our basic what we call playbooks that we start off with, but like you said, we still are always constantly learning and pivoting as necessary. I think a perfect example is in the beginning of the year, I don’t think anyone in this world saw what was coming, so we were doing our thing, and then when everything started to unfold, we got together and we had to pivot. And again, the good thing about Discovery’s brands is, again, we are so widespread in terms of the categories that we’re experts in, that we were able to easily pivot and, again, make sure we’re giving our audiences what they need at that moment.

Stephanie:

Do you see more companies starting to shift? Like media companies turning into ecommerce companies, and ecommerce companies turning into media companies. I’ve heard that saying quite a bit, especially over the past six months, but it feels like you guys have been there for a while. Do you see other companies looking to you for maybe best practices of like, “How do I make this shift?” Or, “Should I make this shift?”

Chris:

100%. I think, the beauty in that is that we can coexist and really do things that benefit each of us. I don’t think this is an either, we succeed or they succeeded. This is, I think a space where we can coexist. The way I always like to frame this when I’m talking to our merchant partners, and talking internally, is we’re really here to humanize the star review. When you come to us, you’re not just going to see, again, this is a four out of five, or this is a five star, item, and that’s it from the random ecosystem of the internet. We are heavily focused on saying, “Look, here are the things we recommend, and why.” And, I think that’s where our partners can really leverage us, and where you’re really seeing us shine. Again, we don’t have to just throw a bunch of random stuff out there and hope for the best.

Chris:

Again, given our brands and our standing in this space, we can really leverage our expertise and authority there when growing this portfolio with all of our partners. To be honest with you the thing that drove me to Discovery the most was, “Wow, these are huge brands, with huge audiences, and huge respect. Now, we just got to tie all of that together, and go from the moment of inspiration to action.” And then again, that’s what we’ve been working on.

Stephanie:

That’s really cool. With all the data that you were mentioning earlier, since you joined have you seen any changes in consumer shopping behavior?

Chris:

So, yes. Obviously, the biggest one occurring this year, and that was with online grocery. I think it’s no surprise that it’s been building up now for a year or two in terms of mainstream, but it never really caught on. It’s only a five to 10% of folks are really engaging and entertaining the online grocery space. But then again, obviously, earlier in the year when things started to shut down, and people were uneasy about going out, we did see huge spikes in that space, obviously, on our FoodNetwork.com site. And, I would say that continued for a bit, and did peter out a bit recent months which, again, is obviously expected. So, I think that’s probably one of the big ones.

Chris:

The other thing that we have seen, not so much in terms of major shifts in shopping behaviors, just more increased sales in categories that we already know are performing. So, organizing and cleaning is always been a winner for us, and then as the months went on, we’ve just seen it doing better for us. I think we do a lot of buying guides where we talk about the best cast iron skillets on Food Network, or the best humidifiers on HGTV. We started to see those things gain more and more traction as we went, and we’re attributing some of that to us really getting our audience to trust us, and now know that they can come to us as a trusted resource to really be a personal shopper for them.

Chris:

And again, we’ve seen that across the board in all of our main categories. The only other thing I’ll say in terms of, not only, I wouldn’t say shifts in behaviors, but just something else we’ve pulled out from the data is that, everyone loves a good deal and good price points, but our audience is willing to spend more, especially when those items are either offered at a discounted rate for a holiday or something, or if we’ve worked with the merchant to get an exclusive discount for our audience, so we have also seen uptakes in that as well. But again, holistically, we haven’t seen any huge shifts outside of, like I said, the online grocery, which again is expected given the situation we’ve been in.

Stephanie:

Yeah. That makes sense. Yeah. I saw for the Food Network, I think you had a subscription platform and you partnered with Amazon. Was that something that was already in the works, or did that get sped up once everything was happening with COVID?

Chris:

Yeah. So, that was already in the works with our DTC group, and for folks who don’t know that’s our subscription platform on the Food Network side that we call internally FNK, because it’s just easier. And yes, that was in the works, and again we’re working more and more in getting that to more and more folks who are really looking to get more classes, get more recipes, just be more intimate with our brand.

Stephanie:

Yeah. It looked very cool. I was on there looking around at, “Oh, you can follow these chefs and have cooking classes with them, and then you can tell your Amazon Echo to order it for you the exact things you need.” And, it looked like it would be really fun to engage with that.

Chris:

Exactly. It goes back to that 360 approach that we have really been focused on, when it comes to our shopping portfolio.

Stephanie:

Yeah, that’s very fun. So, you’ve talked a lot about partnerships where you’ve touched on a bit. But, tell me a little about what does a partnership look like from beginning to end? What does that process look like when you’re finding a partner, figuring out how to actually strategically partner with them in a way that benefits both parties? What does it look like behind the scenes?

Chris:

Sure. So, I think there’s really two paths there, there’s the partnership stuff that we handle directly with merchants through affiliate networks, and so on and so forth. And, for that we do a lot of research on our end, again we already know what type of product hits, what type of merchants hit. So, one thing we do is take that and then say, “Okay. What are similar merchants in this space?” And then, we’ll reach out and discuss the opportunity of working together on that front. And then I would say, on the other side, bigger picture stuff is, again, we’re heavily embedded with our ad sales team on much larger partnerships.

Chris:

And, I think a great example of that is our shop the look campaign with Wayfair, which is a deep integration that spans across linear and digital that, again, was really spearheaded by our sales team that we then came in and assisted with. But, for folks who don’t know, basically what this is, when you go to any of our photo inspo on hgtv.com, you’ll see a little flyout of all the products within the image that are shoppable on Wayfair.com. And obviously, that’s not just a basic integration that you just wake up one day and do. So for that, we came together and we’ve said, again, “What can we do that is going to benefit both of us, that’s going to serve our audiences for the long run, and really make a successful integration here?” So again, that’s what turned into shop the look.

Chris:

It’s one of our best partnerships that we have across our dot-coms right now, and it’s super successful, our audience loves it. And again, I think It’s always starting with, “Well, what is the goal? And, what do we want to achieve from this?” I think sometimes people get too focused on, “What looks cool?” And like, “Let’s just do that.” We wanted to really focus on, “Well, what’s the goal here?” And, what do we think we can create that’s actually going, again, to help our audiences that come to hgtv.com be inspired and feel comfortable, making purchases based off of what they’re seeing.

Chris:

So, that’s really how we approach these, we’re super particular about who we work with, and what that looks like. You mentioned the Amazon partnership, we have a really strong relationship with them as well. And for us, again, it’s always looking at the brand and our audiences first and saying, “What makes the most sense for them?” And then, that’s when we start peeling the layers here, and figuring out what are those experiences that we could bring to them on different platforms.

Stephanie:

Yeah. I think that’s really smart. Like you said, not to just do something because it looks cool or seems cool, but actually do something that you know the audience will like, and will convert into sales to also help the partner. What are some of the success metrics for the shop the look campaign for example? What did you go into hoping to achieve when you set up that partnership? Is it affiliate based, or what do you guys look for and be like, “Oh, this is a successful campaign versus the previous ones that were maybe okay, or good.”?

Chris:

Yep. So, I think just simply put it, consumption and sales are the big ones. Consumption being, are we seeing more and more folks coming to these different integrations across our platform, and then again how are they translating into sales? Looking at things like, “Okay, so we are getting them to Wayfair.com, but once they’re on Wayfair.com what are they doing?” So obviously again, looking at conversions, average order value, so on and so forth. Again, just to really gauge what these audiences are looking like, as the days, weeks, and months go by. I would say, one of the things that we were looking for, especially as COVID first hit was, “Are we seeing an increase, a decrease? What are we seeing in terms of shopping behaviors across our platform?” And again, the metrics we looked at for that was, obviously, click through rates, conversion rates, average order value. Because we even saw in some instances where experiences weren’t driving as many views or clicks, but the average order value was much higher.

Chris:

And again, just goes to show that our audience is a very qualified audience that trusts us, and is willing to spend with us. So, we try to pull out all of these different metrics. I think one of the things with commerce that is either for better or worse, is that you can’t just look at one metric and just live and die by that number. So again, that’s why we have a handful. And look, we also pivot based on what that platform is, what the experience is, who the partner is, so on and so forth. So, we don’t have a one size fits all solution, again, that was done by design. And, that’s how we approach these things. And again, just making sure that we stay true to who we are, and we’re benefiting everyone involved.

Stephanie:

Got it. How do you keep track of, if there’s a TV viewer who’s watching HGTV, and then you’re trying to send them to maybe Wayfair to shop that look like, what are the best practices with converting those people, but also keeping track of them in a way that’s not maybe creates friction? Are you telling them, “Go visit this URL.”? Or how do you go about that?

Chris:

Yeah. So, totally right. I think, obviously, the most common ways of driving from linear to digital is the QR code experience. And, we’re actually working on some of those solutions as we speak and trying to understand, again, what will it take to bring more linear folks from TV down to digital, and like you said, make this a frictionless seamless experience? So again, is that as simple as a QR code, or again is this more about a stronger deeper integration that’s a bit more sophisticated and partnering up with folks who can actually understand what is on screen at any moment, and then surface that product on screen.

Chris:

Again, if you have a smart TV and allowing folks to enjoy that experience, or again, when it comes to TV E we have our go apps that you could log into with your cable subscription. And again, obviously, it could be more sophisticated on your mobile device. So, what does that look like? Is it again, while you’re watching it at minute three or whatever, five minutes in, do you surface what is currently being seen in the screen and saying, “Look, shop this room?” And, what do you do from that point down to the device. Can it be as simple as just a tap to buy, or do you have to tap and then open up a new browser window? What do those integrations look like? Again, ultimately trying to find the most frictionless experience. So, I think we’re still experimenting with that. I don’t think anyone in this space has really nailed that down in terms of what is shoppable TV, or just shoppable video in general? And again, how do we go beyond what just looks cool and turn that into actionable?

Stephanie:

Yep. Yeah, I think creating a frictionless experience is key, and there’s a lot of room for innovation in that area. I’m even thinking about just Instagram, where I’ll find a blogger I like and I really like her outfit, and then it’s like, “Okay. Well, now go to the link in my bio.” And then, that’s going to open a LIKEtoKNOW.it app, and then maybe you’ll be able to find the outfit. But at that point, it’s probably just on the home screen if that new app. And, it just feels like there’s so many places for a customer to drop. I guess I was just really eager to look at that outfit, so I stuck with it. But any other time, I probably would been like, “Oh, that’s too much work.” It seems like there’s just a lot of room for innovation around this shoppable moments, whether it’s TV, social, video, audio, anything.

Chris:

Yeah. I mean, I think you nailed it right there. I think Instagram is a perfect example, and that’s a platform we’re looking at as we speak, and we have some ideas around that as well. Because like you said, our goal here is to, how do we cut out all of these extra steps that are unnatural? Normally, when you see a product you like, you want to be able to say, “Okay. Great. Let me buy that.” Not let me go to a bio, let me click this link, let me wait for this page to load, let me do that checkout experience is completely different from the platform I was just on. And then obviously, you’re playing around with browser settings and everything else.

Chris:

So, I think you’re spot on, and again that’s something we’re heavily focused on, again, literally as we speak. And, what does a more integrated Instagram shopping experience look like for Discovery and our partners? So, there’s going to be more to come on that soon. But, we are thinking about that, and trying to find, again, these ways to make it as frictionless and seamless as possible. Again, no matter where our audience is consuming our content.

Stephanie:

Yeah. Well, it seems like if anyone can figure it out, it would be all because it’s not like you’re trying to put your products on someone else’s show, or having to utilize someone else’s platform. You have your own platform, you have your own shows, you can build new shows, and try out different ways to influence. There’s shopping behaviors. That seems like there’s just a ton of opportunity for you to experiment with everything that you all have.

Chris:

Yeah. No. A 100%, and those are these ad conversations we’re having with a lot of our partners as well, and understanding from their world how they see it, and then bringing our world into that, and marrying that together, again, so we can coexist here, and at the end of the day just create a better experience for our viewers.

Stephanie:

Yep. Love that. So, what are some of your favorite platforms that you guys are experimenting with right now? You said, you were looking into Instagram, but what’s really performing for you, and what are some of the more moonshot platforms that you’re trying out, and you think it will be good, but you’re not so sure?

Chris:

Sure. Yeah. I mean, obviously, the bread and butter is our shopping content on our dot-coms, those are our top performers. But, I will say some of the more areas of interest, again we already spoke about Instagram. But, another one where we are seeing some really good traction, believe or not, is in the Apple News space, most notably on Food Network. We’re getting a lot of traction on that platform, and seeing what our audiences are resonating with the most on Apple News, which I again I know it maybe a shock to some folks, but I think-

Stephanie:

Yeah. So, tell you more about that. I mean, I have an Apple phone, but I have not opened up Apple News probably since I got the phone, so tell me more about, what are you guys doing there?

Chris:

Sure. Yep.

Stephanie:

Because you’re the first person who said this.

Chris:

Okay. All right. Again, understood I know that’s not always the first thing that jumps into someone’s mind when you’re talking about commerce, and lifestyle brands, especially because they name Apple News. But again, I know you don’t really use it, but again this is just the basic free version that’s included with your device when you get it. And again, we’re syndicating our day-to-day content onto that platform. And, we’ve built really strong audiences across Apple News. And again, it’s a similar experience to our dot-coms, just slightly different because it has to fit obviously the specs of the Apple News platform. But again, we just have seen some really strong successes in different areas, again most notably in the buying guide space, or sales events that are happening, and dabbling with pushing notifications for that.

Chris:

Obviously, with some of the recent shopping events that occurred, we built a push notification strategy around that as well, and it did really well for us. So again, I think that’s one of those ones that is also intriguing to us. But I think, again, the high level, we really are trying to be everywhere it makes sense, but also really tailoring our content and strategy based on what that platform is. So, for some of the stuff that’s working on Apple News may not make sense for Instagram or vice versa, so on and so forth. So I think, again, those are two areas. And I would say, the last thing that we’re really, or me personally is really intrigued by, is this universal cart experience/straight to cart experience that more and more folks are dabbling with. There’s a handful of platforms out there that can help publishers do this.

Chris:

And for folks who aren’t familiar with this, it’s basically saying, if someone comes to HGTV, or FoodNetwork.com, or tlc.com, and they see an item they like on there, instead of saying, “Buy now on X merchant site.” And getting thrown off to that merchant, you could hit buy now, or add to cart, and you could actually check out within our platform, which I think is definitely going to be a big piece of the puzzle for the future of commerce on digital publishers. I think the big question will just be adoption, and then what does that look like. I think, again, Discovery is in a perfect position for this, because folks are already coming to us for this expertise, and know and love our brands already. So, there won’t be a lot of convincing in terms of like, “It’s okay to check out with us as well.”

Chris:

But again, we’re anticipating some shopping behavior adoptions that are going to occur during that process. But again, I think that’s an area where you really start to open up a lot of new doors here when it comes to shopping for digital media sites. And, I think that’s when it gets even more exciting for deeper integrations with Instagram shopping for example.

Stephanie:

Yep. Yeah, I love that. I mean, I’m excited to look into the Apple News more. And, I was just intrigued by that, because I like hearing things that others have not said yet. Because I’m like, “Oh, that means there could be opportunity there if you know how to work with the platform.” Especially, if you can set up a push notifications. That’s huge to make it in front of Apple users. And then yeah, I completely agree about the being able to shop instantly from a page. We just had the CEO of Fast on, Domm. And, I thought it was really interesting how he was talking about how every website should have buy now buttons under every single individual products, and he went into the whole thing of, “You actually will have higher conversions.” Because of course, I was like, “Well, then you have to get past the minimum shipping amounts, and maybe higher order values, if you let me add stuff to a cart.” And he said, “Based on everything they’ve seen, people will buy more if they can buy it instantly.” And, it’ll batch it in the background and ship it out after the fact, all together. So-

Chris:

Yeah.

Stephanie:

… I think you said it.

Chris:

Yeah. Convenience is key. I mean, everyone likes convenience, and again that’s our hypothesis as well here, that we do plan to see increased conversions by building a more intimate shopping experience across our dot-coms with a lot of our partners.

Stephanie:

Yeah, that’s great. So, the one big topic I also want to touch on was about audience development. So, when you guys, you have these huge audiences that you can tap into, but for especially a smaller brand, I want to hear how you all think about building that audience to then eventually being able to sell some products to them as well. What does that process look like? And, how can a new brand do that?

Chris:

Sure. So, I think first and foremost, I think it’s important to understand what is audience development as it relates to your brand and organization. I think the biggest misconception with the term audience development is, “Oh, yeah, it’s just another word for marketing.” But it’s not, and this has been written about it as well. And, I think the easiest way to think about this just in a very basic form is, marketing is more about how you want to look to the world as you bring those audiences in initially. More on the branding side of things, whereas dev is now like, “Okay. So, who are we to the world?” And, really drilling down on understanding those audiences that were brought in and who they are, and then building those audiences through different engagement tactics and community tactics.

Chris:

So, I think that’s always a good place to start, to understand how those two worlds kind of then meet. And then once that happens, to answer your specific question, again start with understanding who your audiences are, and where they are. I think sometimes and probably not so much now, but in the past when I was first getting into this space, I think a lot of people just thought that, “Well, content is content. It could be put anywhere, and it’s going to work the same way everywhere. Obviously not the case, even more so for shopping content, and behaviors. So, it’s really, again, drilling down and pulling out insights based on, “Okay. Who is my Facebook audience? Who is my newsletter audience? Who is my Apple News audience?

Chris:

And, really starting there, and once you understand high level who they are, what they like, what they’re consuming. More specifically when you talk about newsletters, what type of keywords are working to increase open rates, and so on and so forth, then you could start drilling down on the specifics. Saying like, “Okay. High level, here are the different topics and content archetypes that are working, now how do we build out an editorial calendar with that in mind.” Again, with the understanding that we’re not just going to set this and forget this across the board. What this looks like in newsletters is going to be slightly different than how we’re positioning it on Facebook for example, and so on and so forth. So, I really think that’s the key right there, and using data to your advantage and saying, “Okay. Well, here’s all the different metrics that we’re currently compiling, which ones can we look at, and pull from to better understand what these audiences are coming to us for.” And again, working with your editorial teams, and the branding teams to bring that all together and say, “Okay. Now here’s the plan for output.”

Stephanie:

Yep. Got it. So, if you don’t have an audience, and you’re starting really from scratch, where would you start? Because I read quite a few articles, maybe from your past life at other companies about you increasing conversion rates by 60%, through maybe newsletters or increasing newsletter subscriptions? Is that maybe a place that you would start? Or where would you recommend someone brand new, who’s like, “I don’t really have an audience. I have five followers on Instagram.”? What’s the best way to acquire an audience and then keep them around to build it?

Chris:

Yeah. So I would say, if we’re talking about limited resources and funding, I do think newsletters are a great place to start. And that’s really because, it gives you an opportunity to have this one-on-one intimate relationship with the folks on the other side that for the most part you’re not having to be held against what the algorithm is going to decide to show at any given day. Obviously, you have to worry about, spam and junk mail and things like that. But for the most part, if you’re running a really clean newsletter list or lists, you don’t have to worry about that so much. So, I do think, starting in the newsletter space is a really low budget, friendly way to start growing audiences, and it’s really great to use as a gut check to see what is resonating. You could look at your open rates, you could look at your click to open rates.

Chris:

Again, you can monitor what the churn is and stop to see if what you’re producing is causing people to drop off for good, so on and so forth. So I do think, for publishers where it makes sense that is a great place to start. You can obviously acquire new users through a bunch of different audience development tactics, whether it’s on site widgets or modals, or do some small paid spend to try to bring folks in, and do the sweepstake partnerships as well. Again, obviously I’m a little biased, just because that is part of my background. But again, over the years, newsletters, again, I know they’re not the sexiest platform to talk about, but they have been the most consistent in terms of performance and really bringing your most loyal and engaged users from that platform.

Stephanie:

Yeah, I completely agree. And, you also get access to quite a bit of data that you don’t on other platforms, and if you can figure out how to properly engage with them, you could have newsletter subscribers for years to come, which is everyone’s goal.

Chris:

100%. Yeah. And, I think even to take that one step further, you could even start to get more and more personalized where you get to a point where you’re launching a newsletter to half a million people, and no two newsletters are alike because it’s all based on past user behaviors that you were seeing within email and the dot-com, and again adjusting that based on different predictive intelligence tools. So again, I think 100% there’s a lot there, and if done correctly, and go a long way. I mean look, this has been tried and true in the space. We see a lot of folks who start there, we’re even seeing in the news media space a lot of journalists, and editors, and things like that backing off from the larger brands, and going this newsletter route to get their word and opinion out. So yeah, I think email is here to stay, and it’s going to be a huge piece of the puzzle moving forward.

Stephanie:

Yep. I agree. So, you’ve been in the media world for a while, I think I saw at least back to 2012, maybe even before then.

Chris:

Yeah.

Stephanie:

I went as far as I could on your LinkedIn, I think it cut off.

Chris:

No, you got it. Yeah. I have been in media basically since the day I got out of college. So-

Stephanie:

Okay. Well, this is the perfect question for you then. What do you think the future of online commerce in media look like? Maybe in 2025 or 2030, what does that world look like?

Chris:

Yeah. So, I think it’s going to be an extension of what we talked about a little earlier about this universal cart experience, and turning digital publishers into this space where audiences can come and also feel comfortable making those purchases. And again, not being bounced off to third party sites, and really being able to start building an even stronger shopping relationship with your audiences, because again with a universal cart experience, also comes a lot more first party data where you could, again, focus on more one-to-one relationships with your audiences, again, specifically in the shopping space, which I think is key.

Chris:

And, I don’t foresee a place where merchants are going to have a huge problem with this, because, again, you’re just helping to legitimize their product. Like your previous guest said about increased conversions. I think that’s another huge piece of this puzzle. So again, it’s really just now, again, bringing this all together, this whole 360 approach and saying, “Look, you’re not just coming to us for flat inspirational content, you’re now coming to us for the inspiration, and the ability to take action immediately.” Again, versus being bounced off to one, two, three other platforms depending on which platform you’re on, like your experience with Instagram.

Stephanie:

Yep. Yeah, I love that answer. Really good. So, now that we’re talking a little bit about the future, what do you not understand today that you wish you did?

Chris:

What do I not understand today that I wish I did? That’s a that’s a good question. So, as it relates to commerce?

Stephanie:

Yep. Or the world, where you’re like, “I really just wish I knew more about this.” But yeah, it could be a commerce one, that would be cool too.

Chris:

Sure. I would say, I think not so much about not understanding this, but more not understanding why it’s not better. And, that goes back to, I would probably say, affiliate data, and what that data looks like, and what partners have access to, or don’t have access to. Obviously, being a part of many different networks, and merchants being on all different networks and so on and so forth, it becomes, quite difficult to manage all of that data coming in, and really having a platform that can easily bring this all together in a unified way. We do have a really strong partner that we work with to aggregate a lot of this data. Again obviously, it’s never going to be perfect, because you’re pulling it from all different places, and you have to understand, “Well, how does this platform leverage conversion rates and click through rates, versus this platform?” And again, just like, “What do those measurements look like?” And, the methodology behind them.

Chris:

So, that becomes challenging. But, I do think that’s probably one of the biggest things that I just wish. And, I know it’s not easy, hence the reason why it hasn’t really been done yet. But, finding a more universal way to bring all this data into one data warehouse. Again, we were working on some stuff along those lines, but just high level, just generally speaking in this space, I do think that’s one of the more challenging situations that a lot of digital media folks are in when it comes to with the shopping space.

Stephanie:

Yeah. That’s a great answer. It does feel like a lot of technologies in general started out in that way. Very chaotic, things are everywhere, data is everywhere, and then things eventually end up in a dashboard, or it starts coming together in a more useful way. So, I hope that world comes to be in the future as well.

Chris:

Yeah. I mean, look, at the end of the day, that’s only going to help all parties. It’s going to help the audience, it’s going to help the media company, it’s going to help the merchant, so there’s definitely reason to really get this right. But again, then, to do a bit of a 180, I think that’s why you’re going to start seeing these universal cart experiences take off more and more, because it does make that a bit cleaner in terms of what you’re going to have access to and when.

Stephanie:

Yep. Very cool. All right. So, we have a couple minutes left, and I want to jump into the lightning round, brought to you by our friends at Salesforce Commerce Cloud. They’re the best. This is where I’m going to throw a question in your way and you have a minute or less to answer. Are you ready?

Chris:

Let’s do it.

Stephanie:

All right. What’s Up next on your… Well, do you have Netflix? I would say Netflix, and I’m like, “He’s going to be like, “No.””

Chris:

I do.

Stephanie:

Okay. What’s up on your queue? And then, you can also tell me what’s up on your Discovery queue?

Chris:

Fair. So, I’ll start with us first.

Stephanie:

All right. Go ahead.

Chris:

And, I think this is so obvious, but huge 90 Day Fiancé fans. And, I will say my wife actually started that. I wasn’t always, but she was like, “Come on, we got to watch it.” And, this was a couple years ago. And, once I started, we have been heavily invested ever since. So, from a brand standpoint, we’re 90 Day through and through. So, I think again-

Stephanie:

I like it.

Chris:

Yeah. Probably obvious to a lot of folks just because of the success of it, but that is our thing there. And then, she’s also actually a huge fan of Discovery ID, it’s her favorite channel by far. So, we got both ends of the spectrum there, right?

Stephanie:

Yep.

Chris:

Discovery ID, the DLC. But again, that just goes to show the strength of our portfolio. And then, on a personal front, I would say, what we’re actually currently watching is the Borgias on Showtime. If you haven’t watched it, I highly recommend it. But, it’s three seasons, so that’s good for me. I’m not a huge binger, but I can get through a three season watch, so we’re currently in the middle of that.

Stephanie:

Cool. I have to check that out. Yeah. 90 Day Fiancé, so I have a twin sister, and she’s obsessed with that show, and she’s been telling me I need to watch it. And, I’ve been like, “No, I’m not watching that.” So, now that you say you also enjoy it, maybe I’ll have to want to check that out.

Chris:

Yeah. Come on. It’s only fitting now. You got to at least give it a shot.

Stephanie:

Yeah. I think I will after this. That’ll be the rest of my day.

Chris:

Perfect. So, I’ve succeeded tonight.

Stephanie:

You did-

Chris:

I converted someone.

Stephanie:

You can tell everyone, “I got a conversion.”

Chris:

Exactly.

Stephanie:

What’s Up next on your reading list?

Chris:

On my reading list. So, this is also probably slightly depressing, but I’m actually currently reading the Plague.

Stephanie:

That’s [inaudible 00:49:47]. I mean, I don’t even know what that is, but I’m like, “No.” I mean, is it good?

Chris:

Yeah. I mean, so far, I’m only maybe a quarter of the way in. it’s just eerily similar to the situation we’re currently in, and obviously this was not written recently. This is old Camus. But yes, so that that’s what I’m currently reading. So, not exactly an uplifting read, but I do think interesting to say the least in seeing some of these parallels that, again, just six, seven months ago we thought were just crazy things you would read or watch on Netflix.

Stephanie:

Yeah. Well, if you enjoy the full read, let me know, maybe I’ll check that out.

Chris:

Will do.

Stephanie:

Next up, if you were to have a podcast, what would it be about, and who would your first guest be?

Chris:

That is interesting. If I had a podcast. For me, I think I probably wouldn’t fall into the current podcasting world that pulls a lot of talent from different areas, and makes that the centerpiece of their podcast. I would much rather try to get in the weeds with folks who are making a difference on a local level. I think especially in this political climate, I think that sometimes gets lost that we think it’s only the top that matters, and nothing lower does, which I think is completely false. I think everything starts at the local level. So, I would love to give more exposure and light to those folks who are doing the dirty work on the ground which, again, sometimes gets lost in the standard media cycles, or across social media for example.

Stephanie:

Yes, I love that. It’s also something we’re exploring here at Mission is local level podcasts, because I think that’s what people are leaning into now. They have lost that also a sense of community with everything that’s been going on, and you might want to know what your neighbors or community is up to, and also what they’re doing, like you said, on the ground level. The next one-

Chris:

100%. I think it’s super important. Go ahead.

Stephanie:

Yeah. What does the best day in the office look like for you?

Chris:

The best day. So, when that was a thing-

Stephanie:

When you went to the office, and you weren’t just in your house in New York.

Chris:

Exactly. Honestly, the best part about that is, being able to… And, now I feel it even more, is having that change of scenery, and being able to have those face-to-face interactions with folks. I recently read a study where, I think it came out that people were actually working longer hours, and having more meetings, while working from home, because they don’t have those passerby conversations in the hall, or going in and out of the restroom, and so on and so forth. Which, again, I don’t think people appreciate until it’s gone. And for me, that’s been a huge piece of the puzzle that’s been missing during these times is that, human interaction. I think everyone wants to think that working from home is the future, I’m just not sold on that yet.

Stephanie:

Yeah. I think the flexibility, maybe, but I think a lot of people are eager to get back and see their coworkers, and have coffee together and whatnot. So, there’ll be pent up demand, as economists would say.

Chris:

Exactly.

Stephanie:

All right, Chris. Well, this has been such a great interview, where can people find out more about you and all the fun work you’re doing at Discovery?

Chris:

Sure. So personally, you can find me, Chris Mainenti on LinkedIn, and we can connect there if you’d like to chat further. But more importantly, if you love our brands, you know where to catch us on TV. And then, similar to dot-com, HGTV, Food Network, TLC, Travel Channel. We’re everywhere and we look forward to continuing to serve our audiences wherever they are, and really helping them through these trying times that we’re all in.

Stephanie:

Yep. And most of all, go watch 90 Day Fiancé, everyone. I mean, I feel like you need that fun.

Chris:

Exactly. For the handful who haven’t yet, including you, obviously.

Stephanie:

Yeah. I know. Such a veil. All right. Thanks so much, Chris. It’s been fun.

Chris:

Likewise. Thanks so much again. Bye-bye.

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Episode 60