Multi-Taskers and Cross-Screen Engagement

According to Microsoft Advertising, with Flamingo Research and Ipsos, as attention shifts from evening primetime to ‘always-on’ screen time, consumers are combining devices in new ways to multi-task, amplify experiences, share and connect with others and get things done. The new research shows four common multi-screen pathways and the underlying consumer needs that drive each one, says the report.

Response from consumers aged 18-54 who owned multiple devices (a mix of smartphones, tablets, e-readers, gaming consoles and laptops) and used a second screen on a daily basis, shows that consumers are increasingly reliant on laptops, mobile phones, tablets and gaming consoles for inspiration, information, communication and entertainment. The hyper-mobility and seamless connection among these devices is changing the way publishers drive content, and consequently, the way businesses shift marketing dollars.

Understanding the motivations behind these behaviors can help marketers gain digital advantage through authentic interaction with customers under a new set of ‘always-on’ rules.

Individual screens provide a device-driven layer of context that affects how consumers absorb and react to content. As a result, marketers must now take a multi-layered approach to content distribution, one that enables portable, personal and interactive engagement across devices. Understanding the consumer motivations underlying cross-screen engagement is therefore a critical part of planning and executing multi-channel marketing campaigns.

Key take-aways from the study, says the report, include:

1. Four pathways of multi-screening behavior exist, with distinct motivations behind each:

  • Content Grazing (68%: separate multi-tasking or ‘distraction behavior’)
  • Investigative Spider-Webbing (57%: simultaneous, information- & discovery-driven)
  • Social Spider-Webbing (39%: simultaneous, connection and sharing)
  • Quantum (46%: sequential, intent-based)

2. Consumers relate to each device in unique ways. Carl Jung’s archetypes can help marketers adjust messaging to meet the consumer’s mindset:

  • The television is ‘The Everyman’
  • The computer is ‘The Sage’
  • The mobile is ‘The Lover’

The new Cross-Screen Engagement study introduces:

  • ‘The Jester’ as the gaming console
  • The e-reader as ‘The Dreamer’
  • The tablet as ‘The Explorer’.

3. It’s now critical that marketers take a holistic view of their content strategy, one where they pivot to the consumer need-state driving multi-screen behavior, while also adjusting content to fit the context of each screen, concludes the report.

4. While each archetype illustrates unique motivations and behaviors, screens are no longer used in isolation. Multi-screening, including sequential, simultaneous and separate usage, is increasingly the default mode for consumers. 70% of consumers use a second device in some capacity while watching television.

5. Consumers are connected for nearly all their waking hours: mornings tend to be reserved for task-based, orientation activities, while evenings are more reflective, emotive and open. Marketers should tailor their messaging throughout the day, while shifting from traditional ‘primetime’ moments to meeting consumers in their moment, opines the report.

6. Cultural and infrastructure differences across the five markets studied drive some distinct attitudinal variances. In Australia, Brazil and Canada, consumers view technology as adding significant value to their lives, while in the UK and US, there is some resentment related to the ‘always-on’ mentality. 48% of consumers across all five markets say they miss the days when they could do just one thing at once.

7. Multi-screening consumers are open to the right kind of advertising: 74% agree that “Advertising can be helpful in telling me about new products or brands that might interest me,” while 87% of consumers agree that “It’s great that I can check out products or brands that interest me whenever or wherever I see them.”

Multi-Screen Consumers Most Open to Advertising on TV


% Users Open to Advertising







Gaming console


Mobile phone


Source: Microsoft/FlamingoResearch/Ipsos, March 2013

Screens merge, separate and rejoin in varying combinations. Identifying these patterns and the need-states that motivate them can help marketers simplify their approach to cross-screen consumer engagement.

The first and most common of the four pathways is called Content Grazing. Grazing occurs when consumers use two or more screens simultaneously to access separate or unrelated content. While consumers identify this behavior as “multi-tasking”, the study found that it tends to be the most habit-forming pathway, and likely closer to distraction behavior. The high prevalence of entertainment activities suggests consumers are less concerned with getting things done, and more focused on grabbing a quick moment of fun or escape.

“ When the ad breaks come on, I’ll check Facebook and my email, just to see what’s going on, and catch up on any news,”  notes one respondent.

The challenge for marketers trying to engage Content Grazing audiences lies in inserting themselves into this moment of distraction; marketers must either provide a quick snippet of content that satisfies this need or attempt to overcome short-attention spans and encourage deeper engagement.

Habit is highest in Content Grazing scenarios compared to the other three pathways. While most consumers choose efficiency as a reason to graze, background noise and killing time are higher, suggesting that this habit is less about getting things done and more about overcoming boredom or tedium with quick bursts of distraction.

Content Grazers Characteristics (% Grazers vs. Avg. Multi-Screeners)


Content Grazing

Average multi-screener

It's just my habit



I like to have a device as background when I'm doing other things



To be more efficient



To increase my enjoyment



To stay in the loop on things/not miss something



To kill time at boring bits



Source: Microsoft/FlamingoResearch/Ipsos, March 2013

Relaxation and entertainment activities are higher, suggesting that even separate content pathways offer consumers some form of entertainment and an enjoyable moment of escape.

Content Grazing Activities (% of Group)


Activity Types

Average Multi Screeners

All relaxing/entertaining



All shop/task



All social



All info



All work/study



Source: Microsoft/FlamingoResearch/Ipsos, March 2013

Respondents reflect on the reasons to “multiscreen:”

  • “... I always want to feel like I’m occupied and I’m doing things.
  • “... always constantly wanting to do things and feel engaged, occupy our minds…”
  • “... have much to do and not much time to do it in before bed, so I do several things at once to save time... ”

For more about the characteristics of the various groups of multi-taskers, (Content Grazing, Investigative Spider-Webbing, Social Spider-Webbing, and Quantum,) and access to the complete PDF file, please visit here.



4 comments about "Multi-Taskers and Cross-Screen Engagement".
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  1. Maryanne Conlin from RedRopes Digital/4GreenPs, March 26, 2013 at 9:01 a.m.

    TMI- great stuff, but really need to sit down with it and absorb it.

    It adds some context as to why so many consumers dislike mobile ads - only a snippet of time allocated to that screen, so don't want to waste it with an ad. Offers a challenge to brands to work with that knowledge.

  2. Edmund Singleton from Winstion Communications, March 26, 2013 at 10:29 a.m.

    Since I always have my tablet in the room with me while watching television, referring to it often. You could hear me shouting when I had to run to have the tablet re-charged...

  3. Michael Natale from MCM Media Sales, March 27, 2013 at 9:38 a.m.

    This article continues to support the thery that the Traditional ad supported TV model is = an epic failure. Athough,advertisers will run to the upfronts, get schmoozed and then pay higher premiums for less ratings....then, Moonves will claim they charged low double digit increases in cpm's and Scanzoni and the other agency leaders will claim low to mid level cpm increases....either way advertisers lose. And, with an 80% failure rate on new shows it's an even more compelling reason to spend more fore less each year! Keep up the good work guys!

  4. Piyush Aggarwal from Vdopia Inc., March 27, 2013 at 1:55 p.m.

    Great article, more so because it would surely tickles the planners sitting inside big media agencies. At the end of the all those big excel full of impression & TRP data would boils down to whether the brand was able to inspire or motivate the consumer in some way. Also, I would like to use this thread to put an argument in favor of mobile or other digital device, despite all its inefficiencies being portrayed by the conventional planners, it still is the more intuitive medium around for human communication. Isn't what we were always looking for? We always wanted others to take decisions on our behalf, today through complex behavioral data modelling powered by strong targeting methodologies, it is possible to engage with the user just when he will be most receptive to the communication.

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