ITL #556   Don’t fall prey to lazy assumptions: how consumer insights can help with effective communications

5 months, 3 weeks ago

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Gut feeling remains a comms professional's super skill, but only when used in conjunction with audience knowledge. By Vic Miller.



 I’ve been lucky enough to work with some cool data over the years, particularly in my past two roles. Using both social and survey data, I’ve been given a rich view into how people think about, and react, to a wide range of topics globally.

 

And something that continues to stop me in my tracks, is how the data can tell a counterintuitive story and give a viewpoint that makes me reconsider my comms approach. An approach that may well be different to where my gut or assumptions would have led me.

 

I work at a consumer research company, so it might seem a little self-serving to declare that consumer insights are critical for effective comms, but here’s just some of the ways they really are – with the data to back it up of course:

 

Understanding your target audience

It’s no revelation to say that you’ll be more effective in your comms if you understand the behaviours, views, and feelings of your intended audience. However, there are still many well-established brands and businesses that look at, and categorise, their audience in a very broad way. For example, consumer goods brands targeting ‘women aged 25-50’. As a woman in the upper of this category, I can tell you my viewpoints have differed greatly since I was 25.

 

Looking at trends and insights by popular generational groups can be very helpful, but we do also need to consider the differences within them. Taking Millennials as an example – 36% of graduates in this generation describe themselves as career-focused, versus 19% of those that didn't go to university. And university goers are twice as likely to want to stand out in a crowd compared to peers that didn’t.  

 

Knowing your audience isn’t just a necessity for external comms. It can be easy to go wrong when communicating with employees – presuming that there’s broadly a shared feeling on certain topics, especially where there’s a strong company culture. But let’s take remote and hybrid working as an example of how even when there’s strong shared values, multi-market audiences can have very different views and experiences. Forty-two per cent of UK employees can work remotely compared to it being the norm for just 22% in Italy and 20% in China.

 

It’s also easy to make assumptions about generational groups in the workplace. Gen Zers have only relatively recently joined the workforce, many doing so under the strange circumstances of the pandemic. And yet there are some well-worn stereotypes created by trends like ‘lazy girl jobs’. In fact, consumer data tells a different story – yes, there might be some morale issues with the number of Gen Z workers who rate their company’s morale as poor or very poor, up 48% since 2020, but their own level of job satisfaction is the same as it was three years ago.

 

This generation may well be sensitive to the feelings of those around them, but the fulfilment they get from their jobs might not depend as much on company culture as we’re sometimes led to believe. Despite the stereotypes, this data reminds us that Gen Z are at a time of life where ambition is high. Assuming a level of disengagement would seriously impact comms with this important and growing audience of employees.

 

And when it comes to highly emotive and deeply polarised topics and world events, consumer and employee insights can help give you a lens on how different people are feeling – removing your own emotions and biases to dictate how you respond.

 

Trusted comms

It’s no secret that there’s a trust issue with the media, and mis and disinformation is rife. In the US, over a quarter (27%) have no trust in big brands or businesses and the number who don’t trust the media at all has climbed 24% since Q2 2020. And when you dig deeper into this audience there’s further nuances. Trust is down significantly among Hawaii residents (-69% since 2020), creative services workers (-64%), and 55-64 year olds (-42%).

 

Whilst this is not something that can be fixed overnight, it’s better to know what challenges you’re facing and what impact your chosen channels will have on trust in your message.

 

Also important, is gaining as much of an understanding as you can on what’s keeping your audience awake at night and where anxieties will be high. There’s a lot for consumers to worry about – from cost of living to conflicts across the globe. Consumer research helps to stay in touch with the biggest concerns at any given time. For example, in 2020, gun violence was sixth on Americans’ list of worries. It’s now neck-and-neck at the top of the list alongside healthcare, with concern driven by some surprising groups, including aspiring Marines and readers of Guns & Ammo magazine.

 

It’s also important to consider how engaged – or not as the case may be – your audience is likely to be with a given topic. With the US elections looming next year, there’s some great examples of how data can highlight key challenges with engaging different target audiences. For example, of all audiences, we see the highest increase in non-voters (since 2020) in Body Shop consumers (+400%). There’s also a steep increase with people who work in law enforcement and emergency services (+331%), in aromatherapy users (+195%), and paleo diet followers (+159%).

 

Trust fluctuates and can’t be guaranteed or presumed. Take financial services as an example. For some time it was widely known that trust for banks was in decline. However, since October 2022, those who say they trust banks for financial advice has increased 7%, overtaking ‘friends and family’ as the most trusted source. And consumers have become less trusting of online financial tools (-10%), websites about finances (-12%), and books and magazines (-21%).

 

Another big consideration for consumer trust is the rise of AI. While interest in AI has grown 36% year-on-year, worries about its use have doubled. And 7 in 10 internet users are worried that AI tools can easily be used for unethical purposes like spreading misinformation. In fact, 4 in 5 consumers believe that AI-generated content should be labelled as such online.

 

Identifying the best comms channels

Preferences for different channels change at pace, as so often seen with fluctuating social media trends. Let’s take just a few examples:

  • It’s easy to presume that Boomers are simply best reached via Facebook. And in fact, it is still their favourite social media platform. However, the number of Boomers globally using video-based apps is climbing – the use of TikTok (outside of China) is up 57% since Q2 2021.
  • And TikTok’s influence spreads way beyond just Boomers. Since last year, there’s been a 12% increase in TikTok users who say they use the platform to follow or find new information about products and brands.
  • Social media is also growing in influence (+14%) when reaching business leaders in the West. But it’s not all about social. The use of email newsletters by business leaders in Europe and North America to keep up with industry news and developments has grown 19% since 2022 and podcasts by 49%.
  • And it’s not just the question of which channels we should be utilising. Upfront research on consumer behaviour online can help us nail the timing too – Brandwatch’s State of Social report analysed 347 brands across eight industries to reveal the best time to post by industry – for example, retail brands are best placed to engage consumers on a Tuesday, followed by a Thursday.

 

Managing a crisis

Nearly half (47%) of consumers have boycotted a brand for a public mistake they’ve made. And dealing with a crisis in the right way is key – 63% want to see a company apologise.

 

This guide from Brandwatch gives a great overview of how using social listening to understand consumer sentiment online – pre, during and post a crisis – can be invaluable in making comms decisions at the speed needed in these situations.

 

Analysing social data gives a real time view on how consumers are reacting, which is so critical in a crisis. Just as important though, is the ability to monitor bubbling topics and conversations that can help you identify, and ideally control, a situation before it has the chance to escalate.

 

Ongoing consumer research is a must for informed, strategic, and effective comms. Data shows us what we’re often blind to and can highlight where easily made assumptions can be way off track. I’m a big believer that gut feeling is a comms professional's super skill, but only when used alongside these all-important insights.

 

 

 


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The Author

Vic Miller

Vic Miller is VP PR & Communications at GWI, which helps the world’s biggest brands and businesses understand their audience with instant access to the views, behaviours, and interests of nearly 3 billion consumers.

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