John Bowser: Media Channel Trends
  • Season 2
  • Episode 9

Navigating the digital media landscape can be tricky, especially in the wake of the pandemic. Today we’re talking John Bowser, President and CEO of Target Media USA, about his thoughts on the current media marketplace, what trends his company is starting to evaluate and how they plan to move new strategies forward to help their clients.


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Jessica Hughes
Viscul / Fork & Lens

John Bowser
President and CEO, Target Media USA

Quote from John Bowser
“Everything we do is data-centric. And understanding the new consumer behaviors will be key in driving successful marketing strategies forward.”


Jessica Hughes: 00:00 Hey everyone. Today, we are talking all things media. We are bringing John Bowser from Target Media USA in. He is a skilled media professional with over 20 years of experience in marketing and advertising. As the owner of Target Media, he’s responsible for the development of innovative advertising strategies that consistently generate results for their client partners. His leadership and experience have been critical to the growth of the agency, and he has led the development of new service offerings, including specialty groups in analytics, digital lifestyle, sports marketing, and emerging technologies. The company’s expertise and partnerships span across numerous business verticals, including financial, higher education, healthcare, telecommunications, entertainment, travel, retail, and services.

John understands the challenges facing today’s marketers and how a strategic media agency partner can accelerate business results. He has seen how relentless focus on the customer, clear messaging, and truly integrated media planning can increase a business’s impact. Prior to becoming a partner at Target Media, John held various top-level management positions for Cumulus Radio and other media advertising agencies. He also oversaw the direct marketing programs for Hersheypark Arena Stadium and Hershey Bears Hockey Club. In the community, John and his family have been very involved in supporting Children’s Miracle Network and other charities. He’s a graduate of Shippensburg University. Welcome to the podcast, John.

Welcome to the Fork & Lens podcast, brought to you by Viscul.

Ooh, smells delish.

Well, thanks so much for joining us today, John. I appreciate it.

John Bowser: 01:46 Absolutely. My pleasure.

Jessica Hughes: 01:48 All right. Channel selection and distribution obviously, is constantly evolving, especially in light of this year’s events. I think everyone has experienced a drastic change in their landscape because of that, but at Target Media, you’ve always used strategy as the foundation of everything that you do. How can companies plan for distribution in today’s marketplace, especially with all the new technology that’s coming out?

John Bowser: 02:13 Yeah. Great question. While the full marketing impact of the coronavirus on consumer buying habits is still… We’re still weeding that out. There’re many factors that are going to guide the short-term decision making here. Right now, while we’re still coming out of this and uncertain as to how the next few months will impact the global community, both professionally and personally, we’re really looking at it, at both spectrums, to really look at educated decisions regarding marketing investments. When we’re making these decisions in advertising campaigns, two primary areas that we’re considering are, looking at how the changing consumer behaviors and impact on individual industries, and that could range from supply chains to point of sale. We really need to strategically be thinking through some key areas and making right decisions for brands or clients.

The first area that we’re really focusing on is consumer behavior shifts and impact, as we’re calling it, and increased work from home periods. Some companies are now working permanently from home or remote, and that’s leading to an increase in time spent online for personal use, as well as professional use. This is going to have a trickle-down effect that will potentially lead to an increase in ad inventory across several media platforms. It’s the supply and demand conversation, so if ad inventory is increasing, and ad purchasing stays the same or decline, then the cost to purchase that inventory will naturally fall, which from our perspective, in negotiating media campaigns for our clients, that’s not a bad thing. We’re getting more bang for our buck, as a lot of people opt-in to remain in their homes and utilize delivery services like Amazon, DoorDash, which I’ll admit, I’m now a big DoorDash fan, Uber Eats. We’re likely to see increases in demand due to the ability there, to provide products and services directly to the consumer’s door, from a convenience standpoint.

As well as with the economic downturn, consumer behavior is really changing in large part. For those without significant disposable income, or in retirement, or small business owners, an economic downturn like this might result in a sharp decline in their propensity to spend. While the consumers are taking, we’re going to say, a wait and see approach, advertisers really need to consider their target audience and how their buying habits may change as a result of the economic climate, and really look at performance data, and adjust campaigns quick, and be very nimble as needed. That’s a big first area that we emphasize. The second area is how industries are affected, and events, as Twitter’s going to say, “Everything’s canceled.” The trickle-down effect on businesses participating in or located around events is likely to occur.

We handle hospitality and entertainment clients. In major conferences, sporting events, and large gatherings being called off and travel restrictions or stay-cations, as we’re calling them, local-based businesses are going to struggle to generate the anticipated demand. As consumers are less likely to go into malls or theaters or other public entertainment venues, the ability for what we call brick and mortar businesses, to generate profit is really going to become more challenging overall. We see potential benefit for those delivery companies, some I mentioned earlier, such as Uber with shared ride services, Airbnb, all these public transit, air travel, all these companies that put people in close proximity to others are going to face challenges, and they’re going to have to pivot and be able to adjust accordingly. But really at the end of the day, it’s how brands will communicate on how they’re not only taking precautions with their own internal team, but also how quality controls are increasing to ensure that level of confidence with consumers. That’s going to be a big plus for or big push for industries.

Ultimately, how is marketing going to shift? Staying on top of the latest trends, watching data, everything we do is data-centric, and understanding the new consumer behaviors will be key in driving successful marketing strategies forward. In-store traffic is going to be an area that we’re really keeping a close eye on, with the exception of some retail, grocery, that is overwhelmed by this. We’re going to see the trend be in-home online activity, TV viewing’s increasing. Advertisers are going to look at reaching their target users in these ways and investing more heavily in, from a TV standpoint, both traditional and connected TV, which is a huge area of growth for us, and one that will continue to just skyrocket out of this. Digital is just presenting all new opportunities and really driving new ways of thinking for engagement.

As we really push forward through this, and we’re sort of coming out of the post-COVID, and back into somewhat phasing back in, it’s going to be critical that brands remain in a positive light. We’re suggesting to our brands that they take a compassionate approach to advertising, and that’ll ultimately lead to long-term consumer trust, satisfaction, and really the loyalty factor here.

As this all continues to unfold, we’re just going to need to keep a close eye on changing consumer behaviors and impacts on individual industries, and really ask the right questions to ensure that they’re prepared for the outcomes and out of this, finding new opportunities. At the end of the day, brands and clients need to really figure out what industry or business they’re in. Are they brick-and-mortar, e-commerce, or a combination thereof now versus before? Who are the core target markets or users that were impacted by COVID? How is the coronavirus influencing the consumer’s buying habits? Where are the opportunities for the brand to go above and beyond and give back, that we talked about earlier with keeping in a positive light and remaining compassionate as well.

That’s how we’re really viewing this. Some of the emerging opportunities that’s come out of this are online digital, that I alluded to, and search engine optimization, SEO, is a huge area for us. That is the key foundation of what we’re recommending for our clients and brands.

Jessica Hughes: 10:41 As you talk about how brands can communicate, not only their precautions, but also quality control and all those different things, are there some companies that you already see doing this and doing it really well? How do you recommend brands go about putting together their messaging and then finding ways to distribute that to the mass public?

John Bowser: 11:01 Yeah. First of all, they need to understand their audience. What they’re passionate about, what they’re looking for. Develop multiple marketing strategies to deliver both targeted inbound traffic through relevant marketing channels at the right time, which is key. I think timing, I want to emphasize, is really the key here, and then being able to verify the sources of leads and sales. I get back to analyzing the data, being able to adjust and implement and improve. We see search engine optimization being at the top of that list here, video and social content marketing, is right behind it, and being able to, whether you’re selling a product, service, a membership, your number one source, broadcasting the message out there, really needs to reach out and get to new audiences to grow your business and nurture them from leads into clients. You’ll see social platforms already coming more into play from video in TikTok, the online platforms there, social networks that are even bringing in brand influencers even more so, which we see as, given the right environment and the right audience, a great opportunity.

Retargeting as well, is another dovetail off of the paid search marketing, and really looking at getting the message to the target and maximizing the dollars most efficiently and effectively. Influencer outreach, a lot of different ways there that the brands can look at funneling that. But I think it really comes down to having a cross channel marketing strategy and looking at asking all the key questions. How much budget do I allocate to each channel? How do I get the most out of each channel? What can I do better to connect when we’re doing Google or Facebook or those platforms that continue to be implemented as part of strategies here? But really have that strong cross channel strategy.

The first thing would be to set up a baseline cost, to inform what we’ll call a full-funnel strategy here. Once you establish a baseline, understand what costs are going to take to fuel the rest of the funnel. You constantly want to have that funnel being filled and taking shape. That’s something that we look at, greater volume of leads at lower cost. How do you work it through the funnel here and get the channels working together to, not only enhance the brand, but also the bottom line. Managing that is a lot of work, and it’s something that we’ve been fortunate enough to have in our quiver with our Pacers platform and attribution, being able to monitor that, and also being able to track and report the results, which is key. I mean, I can tell you, there’s so many companies that we come across that have all the data, but they don’t know how to effectively use that data that they garner, but that’s gold. You really need to know how to use that.

There’s a push-pull kind of approach that we look at with the different marketing options, not only the paid social from Facebook, Instagram. I will tell you, Pinterest has even come into play and is showing really nice traction, in terms of that model or that platform and pairing that with paid search and some of the other digital platforms, over-the-top has become a huge compliment to those other digital platforms.

Basically, the YouTube, Netflix, Hulu’s, Slings, Pluto’s, they’re all now leading the way here from an OTT standpoint in complementing traditional TV. It really gets down to, how consumers are consuming their media. That’s one of the huge benefits of digital media and being able to monitor report and track that. That’s something where we see video content to desktop, mobile devices, smart TVs, any internet connected device, it gives us the ability to follow, track and justify how that is being spent and the engagement that it provides. That’s been a great growth area. Pre-COVID, it was taking off, but this just helped it to explode and become a great compliment to the other, more traditional TV cable, video options out there before.

Jessica Hughes: 16:28 One of the surprising things that kind of hit us in the past couple of years, a great example of this would be, how vertical video popped up, especially with Instagram and IGTV. What are some of the other kind of things that you see coming down the pike that marketers can begin preparing for, as they develop content? That way they’re prepared, as soon as those platforms launch, that they can kind of say, “Okay, I have something to run on that.”

John Bowser: 16:58 Mm-hmm (affirmative). Great question. Cord-cutting, that trend isn’t slowing down any time soon. Actually, we’re seeing the gradual shift from traditional TV to streaming services accelerating, as more of these platforms become available. Where traditionally, TV had that players’ monopoly, and content being spent there. With more streaming service options, we see this as something that businesses’ advertisers should be preparing for. NBC just launched their own streaming service, Peacock, in April. It’s a combination of things, you have Disney+, you have all the different platforms now that I think, the ability to look at this area and take advantage of it from, not only the video and content perspective, but fragmentation with other platforms.

We’re seeing a shift of ad dollars here and looking at it through an array of these programmatic exchanges, OTT platforms, and really an area that we feel has a huge upside to it moving forward. Paid search continues to be the backbone, if you will, of where we start and really needs to be built upon that. We call it the strong foundation of paid search, and then layer on these other media platforms based upon goals, objectives, certainly budgets and dollars and how far we’re able to take that for brands. But the online digital content video area I see as a definite priority for brands and businesses to be prepared for, if they’re not already doing it, which they should be.

Jessica Hughes: 19:05 Right. How much segmentation do you see companies using in that as well? Do you find if they’re advertising on Disney+ that they’re creating separate content just for that platform versus another?

John Bowser: 19:16 For the most part they’re not doing too much different content. Although with Disney+, you’re talking about younger audiences. It may be, depending on the product or service, tailored a little bit more, but what they’ll look to do is, how can I use the existing assets and creative to cross as many of these media platforms as possible and be consistent with their messaging too. It just gives them more deployment opportunities and channels to go in and really get granular and focus on who the target is, and how to best hit that target and engage accordingly.

Jessica Hughes: 20:03 Okay. Well, one of the other trends I know that you and I have spoken about in the past couple of weeks is AI, and how that’s going to come into play, especially in the upcoming years. What do you know about that, and how can we better prepare ourselves for it?

John Bowser: 20:16 Yeah. When you talk about monitoring and keeping on top of trends, AI is really an area that we see coming more and more into play here. We’re able to look at these live search trends, optimize client campaigns, and provide immediate feedback that ensures optimal performance of the dollars being spent. With this, we’re able to give brands and clients full access to live results, and be able to act upon it accordingly. We have a portal available that if a client wants to view campaign results as they happen, we have that platform specifically focused on AI that we’re able to, not only see what ads are running, but also who’s clicked on them, what path they took, post-click, full-funnel attribution, as we like to say. It’s an attribution system that tracks leads, not clicks, which I think needs to be really clear, because they’re two different things.

Our system also lets our clients respond very fast and provide easy deployment. It’s quick seamless launch ability, really creates a unique site for each segment that is being tracked and that’s where we get into the segmentation aspects. All this tracking shows which ads are bringing in calls and analyzes data, such as call count and time. We could even look at caller ID, routing information, call quality, you name it. Our AI platform uses the predictive analytics, based on all click attribution and allows us to apply that intel to campaign design.

We’re also able to leverage programmatic algorithms to make adjustments on the fly and optimizations. It really gets down to conversion-based optimization and driving the best campaign performance, such as keywords, ads, networks, the bidding process, phrasing, and even time of day where there’s more, we can zero in on, it’s no different from looking at a television station, a prime time versus a daytime programming here. We can see when people are online, when they’re most apt to engage in and be active and capitalize on that in terms of serving up those ads and really improving the performance instantly as we like to say. It’s pretty, that’s cool. I like that part of our technology part of it.

Jessica Hughes: 23:15 Well, and it sounds like it allows you to really understand more of those customer behaviors and what they’re looking for and the information that they’re tracking. I can even see it being extremely valuable for live events, if you’re doing a live event and you’re looking, especially to get sales leads out of that event, whether it’s a webinar or something else, to be able to use that technology in order to better create leads into your funnel. I think that’s something that we haven’t really looked at.

John Bowser: 23:45 Yeah. Absolutely. When it comes down to looking at that full-funnel attribution and to your point with events, which we’re now looking at virtual events, online events to be able to, and that pains me as a football fan, to not be there live. But fingers crossed, we’ll get back into the stadiums. But it really gives us the ability to have that presence and deliver and engage with the fans and the audiences and best of all, to track the consumer’s journey from inception to conversion. Even though it’s not live in their face, it’s online in front of them. That whole funnel tactic holistic approach really provides a great opportunity to optimize dollars and really to boost that ability to get in front of, and know exactly who we’re talking to, what they’re looking for, and capitalize on those real-time insights and the ability to deliver results and customer intelligence is key and a huge part of what we’re able to do so.

Jessica Hughes: 25:12 Well, thank you so much for sharing John. I really appreciate it.

John Bowser: 25:15 Absolutely. My pleasure.

Jessica Hughes: 25:17 Is there anything else you’d like to add?

John Bowser: 25:20 No. I think it’s an exciting time, I’d like to tell my team and my clients when you dealt lemons, make lemonade and having gone through the last few months here and dealing with pandemic, hopefully we don’t have to deal with anything on this level again, in our lifetimes. But out of this comes new opportunities and certainly the digital online areas of media have presented those platforms. Certainly we’re going to continue to take advantage of that. I’ll be at a new world in new ways of consumers consuming their media and it’s exciting time to be involved. I will say, in addition to not only getting to the end target, it’s important to really make sure your messaging and content and creative is spot on. Invest in the upfront research, know who you’re talking to, what your audience is looking for, and customize your messaging accordingly. It’s a hand in hand program here. I just wanted to add that as well from a content standpoint.

Jessica Hughes: 26:34 Appreciate that.

John Bowser: 26:35 Absolutely.

Jessica Hughes: 26:56 If you’d like to learn more about John and what Target Media USA can offer, you can find them both on LinkedIn. As always, every meal is better shared, feel free to share Fork & Lens with your team, colleagues and friends. If you enjoyed today’s message, please subscribe to get weekly access to new recipes for creative and marketing success. You can also check us out a fork& or Until next time.