Marketers on Fire: Twitch CMO Doug Scott
Our monthly profile of an outstanding marketer whose leadership and campaigns are moving the needle for their brand.
The gaming industry has thrived during the pandemic, and perhaps nowhere is this more evident than when looking at the growth of Twitch. The platform’s daily users exploded in 2020, up from 17.5 million to a whopping 30 million. That’s a whole lot of eyeballs—and brands want in.
Lockdown orders and social distancing mandates during COVID no doubt played a part in Twitch’s rise, since gaming is a pandemic-friendly activity. But according to CMO Doug Scott, as a category it has grown tremendously over the last several decades and the Twitch community now engages with other types of content, including sports and music.
In fact, non-gaming content on the platform has quadrupled over the last three years, he says. Plus, the majority of Americans exhibit behavioral characteristics that would classify them as gamers. We spoke with Scott about his strategy for maintaining Twitch’s growth, how the platform markets to its user base and his approach to brand building and fostering community.
Chief Marketer: Let’s start with the incredible rise in Twitch usage. What do you attribute that to? Anything other than the pandemic?
Doug Scott: Obviously, people being home, creating connection and looking for entertainment options was critical to what drove Twitch’s growth. I do think there was a bunch of other things at play there and a few trends that existed before the pandemic—and I think will continue after the pandemic as well. First, Twitch has historically been known for and thought of often in terms of gaming content. And gaming as a category has grown tremendously over the last several decades, but certainly through the pandemic as well. As people find games that they’re excited about, the natural place for them to turn is Twitch because that’s where communities start to develop around games.
But our growth wasn’t confined just to gaming. In fact, we saw tremendous growth in music and in sports. The biggest growth category is actually chatting, which is just that—people talking about whatever they’re interested in. Ultimately, it’s not really about the content. People come to Twitch to find content that they’re interested in, but the real stickiness of the service is that ultimately people find a community that they connect with.
Other things are happening here as well. Livestreaming is not an experience that a ton of people have had. It’s still got a tremendous amount of growth ahead of it. The experience of coming for content and finding a community that you become a part of and building real human connections through that is something that is surprising to a lot of people when they come for the first time and find that connection. That content grew a tremendous amount over the course of the pandemic and allowed more and more people to understand that livestreaming is something that has a place in their palate of entertainment consumption.
CM: Are there any new interactive features that you have leaned into to enhance that experience recently?
DS: We are constantly investing and trying to find ways to make Twitch more engaging and more interactive. One example that was launched in the last year is “channel points,” which is something that you accrue for just doing what you would do anyway, like watching, chatting and things like that. You can use them to unlock a specific emote, which is an emoji-style image that you can post to chat that might be exclusive only to subscribers to a channel. You can use it to highlight messages; you can use it to vote.
Another product is called “predictions.” As you vote on certain outcomes, like if the streamer makes it through this level or what song the streamer will play next, everyone can be voting on that. All of those things drive the interaction with the streams, raise the profile of that individual viewer and help people participate in what’s actually happening.
CM: As the country begins to open up after the pandemic, do you have any retention efforts in mind?
DS: We’ve seen tremendous growth over the last year. We’ve gone from roughly 17 million daily viewers up to 30 million-plus daily viewers. And it’s continuing to grow. So, we’re thinking about retaining a lot of the people who’ve come to Twitch and found it for the first time. We’ve found that helping people find the right content on the service is an important tactic. From a marketing standpoint, we’re leaning into driving people to specific pieces of content and then connecting them to creators and/or other channels that they are likely to find interesting based on the content that we’ve driven them to. We’re building a multi-step marketing process to help drive deeper engagement, particularly for some of the less engaged segments of users who maybe come infrequently or just occasionally to the service.
As things go back to “normal” and IRL becomes a real thing for people to lean into again, we’re looking forward to being able to do that again with our communities in person. We throw TwitchCon every year, which is a huge moment for the community. We know that the experience people have at our events help bond them to the service and deepen their commitment to Twitch.
CM: How does Twitch approach expanding its audience while still catering to gamers?
DS: Twitch does have its core roots in the gaming world. That said, nothing about the experience on Twitch is specific to gaming. We ran a brand campaign over a year ago with the tagline, “You’re already one of us.” The idea is that there’s content on the service for every interest and that it is an inclusive environment where you can come and find that community. We saw tremendous success from that. It helped people understand that there was a broader set of content on Twitch but also reinforcing that there’s clearly a core gaming community as well—and that those things aren’t mutually exclusive.
CM: From a marketing standpoint, how do you balance Twitch as a brand and as a platform for other brands?
DS: We look at ourselves as a service for creators. Twitch has a wonderful brand and I personally care deeply about nurturing and maintaining its health and extending its reach and understanding amongst other people. That said, our mission as a company is to empower communities to create together. It’s not to build Twitch as a brand, per se. We do that by serving creators and making Twitch the best place for them to build that community. And by building product, that helps drive interaction and participation amongst the various members of the community. In doing so, we will accrue positivity to the brand itself.
CM: When you joined Twitch in 2019, what were your priorities—and have they evolved since then?
DS: The evolution—and this is somewhat driven by the growth of the pandemic—has been an increased focus on making sure that we’re servicing, even from a marketing standpoint, communications to our existing user base. We have a lot of work to do to scale communications to existing users and make sure that they’re understanding the work that we’re doing to help improve Twitch as a service on every front going forward. When I first got here, there was quite a focus on external growth. I’d say that’s shifted a little bit to more of a focus on our core community and making sure that we’re communicating with them as effectively as we possibly can. It doesn’t mean that we’re not continuing to drive growth and looking at ways that we expand, of course, but there’s been a shift there.
CM: What are the tactics you use to communicate to your user base?
DS: On the service is the most effective form of communication that we have. We have multiple groups that we need to communicate to—creators, advertisers, developers and of course the viewers. Those are all key constituents that we’re actively communicating with. They might be quite different messages, but the service itself is the most effective channel that we have. But we have a huge social footprint, as you might expect. That’s an important area for us, in terms of scaled communications to folks and continuing to build our brand.
We do lifecycle marketing through email and push notifications as well so that viewers are aware when people are live or when we have upcoming content or promotions they might be interested in. We do a significant amount of media buying. I come most recently from a mobile gaming background, which is very dependent on user acquisition. There are a lot of tactics I’ve implemented since coming over here to try to drive more efficiency in our media operations and drive both new user acquisition as well as re-engagement with lapsed users.
CM: Is music content a big area of growth for you? And was that your intention when you started at Twitch?
DS: It was certainly an opportunity. I’ve spent my career mostly in games and music, so I have an affinity for music and some awareness of the industry. I saw a huge opportunity for a working musician to establish another important revenue stream on Twitch. It was something that they hadn’t really embraced yet, and there’s no livestreaming service that has the set of tools, existing audience and the opportunity that Twitch presents for musicians.
Non-gaming content on Twitch has quadrupled over the last three years, and that has only been accelerated by the pandemic. It’s something that develops fairly organically, but we do invest in key areas. Music is a key area of investment for us. Sports and sports talk are key areas because there’s such a natural fit with the service. And they’re very closely aligned with people who might’ve come for gaming interests. Gamers are not only interested in gaming. Something like 79 percent of Americans have behavioral characteristics that would classify them as a gamer. A lot of that has been driven by the growth in mobile gaming over the last couple of years.
What we’ve found is that there’s room for all types of content to live together on Twitch, and that a single user might not actually just come to watch gaming. They’ll watch a streamer for a while, and then they might switch over to a music channel and then catch someone talking about their favorite team on a sports channel. It’s a complimentary experience, as opposed to siloed.
CM: How would you describe your personal marketing approach? What has brought you success?
DS: The first thing would be that brands matter. Brand equity is real and it needs to be cared for if you’re inheriting it. Real value and impact on the overall success of the company can be created by caring a lot about the value of your brand and what it stands for.
The second is my belief that brands are built by serving your core community. That unleashes word of mouth, which will drive organic and viral growth. The best way you can do that is by empowering and serving your core users. Word of mouth is one of the most powerful marketing channels—if not the most powerful—in terms of driving users. When you get a recommendation from a friend or a trusted resource, they’re much more likely to go and try something than if you just see an ad from the company. Think about super-serving your core community to make sure you’re maximizing that virality and that organic growth in the business.
Finally, I believe that in measurement lies truth. Now, you have to do it well and be quite disciplined about it, but the loops that have been established through digital marketing and performance marketing channels are insanely powerful. I think they debunk some of the more macro historical chestnuts that many marketers have held onto. In the old days, it was “50 percent of my marketing is working, I just don’t know what 50 percent.” That doesn’t have to be true anymore. I believe in trying to be data-driven in how we understand the efficacy of different marketing campaigns.