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Follow the Data or Stay on Brand? A DEI-Focused Digital Strategist’s Dilemma

Striking a balance between responding to what data tells you about your fan base’s desires and staying true to your brand identity is a constant issue for digital strategists, in the FAST world as much as any other part of the media ecosystem. It can be especially difficult for a company like Fuse Media, with its stated mission of telling positive stories for diverse audiences, when the analytics say “more true crime” or “be more like TMZ.” Fuse Media VP, Digital Strategy Rashaun Hall explains how he walks this tightrope in this discussion with Media Cartographer Evan Shapiro at Streaming Media NYC.

Keeping users engaged within the same ecosystem

Shapiro asks Hall how he develops a pure digital strategy for CTV, especially for Fuse’s specific audience.

“As the VP of Digital Strategy, I'm not only responsible for CTV and FAST, but also all of our social channels and our owned and operated digital content,” Hall says. “So it is about figuring out what that ecosystem looks like and how do you get people from one end to the other to stay in the same ecosystem.” For example, he outlines how if a user follows one of Fuse’s social channels, the goal is to guide them to a FAST or SVOD channel. Or, if a user is on Fuse+ ad-free, they want the user also to discover one of their FAST channels.

“We have our FAST channels within the SVOD suite, and some of those channels are our best-performing content,” Hall says. “So it is keeping you in the stream as long as we can to engage with that content, and we know that that content needs to be different on each platform. So, on social, there are a ton of vertical videos, clips of the show, and funny moments that hopefully drive you to want to see more. You see the caption, you click the link, you go watch the content, you subscribe to the platform.”

How data shapes the role of Fuse’s overall strategy

“Where does data sit in your org relative to the daily adaptation of the strategy in real-time?” Shapiro asks.

“It is square and center, particularly with CTV and FAST and our SVOD service,” Hall says. “We know it's working and then we lean into that.” He mentions their first FAST channel, Fuse XL, which launched in 2019 but lacked a clear identity or focus. “It didn't have a rhyme or reason, it didn't have a narrative, but as we grew, we understood that we needed to hone in as the platform matured and FAST matured,” he says. “What people knew Fuse the most for was music and entertainment, so let's lean into that and let's tell a very specific story, but even as we've done that, we found out in the last two years that people are really interested in true crime, the salacious element of entertainment and celebrity. So how do you lean into that, but not necessarily being a true crime channel? How do you lean into the interesting side of celebrity in that intersection of celebrity, crime, culture, and gossip without being a TMZ? They do that really well. So, how do we do something differently? And all of that evolution was led by data.”

Aligning content with Fuse’s aim to provide a positive voice for diverse audiences

Shapiro asks, “You're developing strategy, and then you're adapting a strategy on a day-to-day basis. How do you keep your team focused on what’s most important?”

Hall says that while their analytics drive their direction, if insights gained from their data point towards programming models that do not fit their overall mission of diversity, inclusivity, and positivity, they will work to keep the programming more in tune with that. “We have to strike the balance of the stories we're telling with giving a different, more positive angle,” he says.

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