The raw numbers are staggering for the streaming service Twitch.tv, which specializes in content that showcases video games and the players who love them: More than 8.5 million daily active users, 1.7 million broadcasters (that is, players), and a top 5 ranking as an Internet traffic generator in the U.S. In 2014, Amazon acquired the service for $970 million. And, perhaps the most impressive number: The business is just five years old.
Matthew DiPietro, Twitch’s senior vice president of marketing, has been there from the start—back when the company had a different name and a different mission. How the business found its niche and came to dominate the new category is a master class in what can happen when marketing meets strategy and focus.
Twitch allows people to watch other people play video games. How did the company know there would be a significant market for that?
Twitch was the brainchild of Emmett Shear. He was one of the co-founders of our original service that launched in 2007: Justin.tv. The idea there was essentially a very broad, live video platform for anybody and everybody to broadcast any kind of video. We had puppy cams and church services, sporting events, music—all kinds of different things across 12 or 13 content communities.
Emmett’s stroke of genius was to look at which communities had the strongest social graphs—which communities looked like they could grow rapidly and organically—and double down on them. That’s what led us to focus on video gaming and becoming Twitch.
Startups constantly iterate, but this sounds different.
That's exactly right. A lot of startups tend to pivot, but we thought of it as strategically finding our focus. From a technology standpoint, Twitch is a very similar product to Justin.tv, a very similar platform, a very similar experience—but it’s a completely different business in that it focuses on a specific consumer base with a high value.
How do your core values translate to your marketing strategy?
My job is to make sure the Twitch brand is known, loved, and used. Our platform helps me achieve that because it’s a platform in which our users can build and create the value for themselves. Everything we do is focused on "How are we helping our broadcasters be successful?" Some of our broadcasters consider fame to be important. Some value the number of viewers. Some are in it for revenue. Twitch is built to be flexible enough for all of these broadcasters to find success on their own terms. They build the value that they consider important—and our marketing strategy is shaped by staying true to that message.
How do you adapt to a marketing ecosystem that is continuously evolving?
You have to pay very, very close attention to where your customers are. The classic example is the rise of mobile over the past ten years. Facebook, Twitter, etc. all started as online services that people accessed from their computers. Now they're upwards of 50-60-70-plus percent mobile, which is simply the primary way through which people consume entertainment and experiences. There were a lot of companies over the last ten years that didn’t understand this in a really visceral way. You have to build your platforms and your experiences and your entertainment for a media consumption world that is largely out of your control.
At Twitch, that complicated things because we have web experience, mobile experience on android and iOS, but we also have several experiences via various platforms—PS4, Fire TV, etc. And trying to build those products in a way that is native to that particular device but also true to the core experience is a big challenge, but it's a crucial one to tackle.
Twitch has been so successful so fast. What keeps you up at night?
When you get a lot more resources and a lot more people, sometimes a company can become tempted to stray from its original mission. You have to stay true to your community and the path that created success in the first place. Fortunately, we have been very adept at doing this.
How do you avoid that temptation when it comes to marketing?
By staying on strategy and knowing what a strategy really is. I hear marketers talk about social media as if it’s a strategy. It’s not. It’s a tool that can potentially be used to implement a strategy. So are email and brand marketing and performance marketing. When you pair those tools with the appropriate strategy, it starts to become fairly obvious how to best utilize new technologies or services. Strategy becomes your most important guide.
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This article was created and commissioned by SteelHouse, and the views expressed are their own.