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Alex Petrie 

Shifting audience sands

Shifting audience sands

The world has changed, so why are we still planning with perishable data? Asks Alex Petrie, CEO and co-founder of Skyrise Intelligence

Having worked in analytics and data for almost twenty years, I’ve seen an explosion in what was initially labelled ‘big data.’

Using high quality data to determine tactics and strategies is nothing new, but the availability of datasets to describe complex subjects such as population behaviour, has grown exponentially. Never before has the need for accurate and up-to-date insight been more important.

As restrictions in the UK start to ease and ad spend starts to increase again, understanding and predicting which consumer behaviours are temporary, and which are permanent, will be a big challenge for advertisers. Media planning, already a complex activity, just got more complicated.

A good media plan draws on a range of data sources to learn as much as possible about a brand’s target audience. This could range from mobile location data, which might be based on activity during the previous week , through to census data that might be anything up to a decade old.

Before the pandemic and the lockdowns, a strategic marketing plan put together in September and based on the latest, best quality data available to you could be reasonably expected to remain valid for at least six months to a year.

Post-pandemic, the shelf-life of marketing decisions has shortened significantly.

Today, in summer 2021, if you are making media plans and targeting customers based on data that's even a few months old, the chances are you’re wasting a lot of your ad spend.

The pandemic led to very obvious changes in our physical behaviours; how we work, communicate, and shop. Less obvious have been the subtle behavioural changes among different demographics on things like propensity to buy, the sort of content they are consuming, or how and when they are consuming it.

Let’s look at a couple of examples.

Subtle shifts

Obviously, the pandemic has had a massive impact on sectors such as travel and hospitality, but as things start to open up again, many of the marketing techniques these industries have relied on won’t be as useful anymore.

It’s no longer as simple as remarketing Spanish holidays to people who visited Spain last year. Perhaps those customers are still scared to travel or don’t want to wear a mask on the flight or risk being quarantined upon their return; perhaps they would prefer to support a more local resort this year.

There is now a broad range of new factors at play that could make your traditional targeting techniques significantly less effective than before.

There are also more subtle changes in audience and demography going on that could have a major impact on a brand’s market share.

For example, the audience for food delivery boxes (things like Hello Fresh) is a lot older today than it was before lockdown. That may be driven by nervousness around visiting supermarkets or it may be that older people now have more time available to cook food from fresh ingredients. There’s been a similar trend in online grocery shopping generally.

The social media game has changed

To provide another example, we recently looked into how the use of social media has changed as a result of Covid-19, which showed a shift in user demographics across Twitter, Instagram and Tik Tok.

For example, female users between the ages of 18-49 and males 18-54 increased by 6% on Twitter, while older audiences (females aged 50-65+ and males 55-65+), use of the platform did not change but decreased in terms of audience composition percentage.

This trend was reflected on Instagram too, with a 32% increase in usage from both female and male audiences aged 18-44, while the 45-65+ age brackets increased by 1% but decreased in terms of audience composition percentage.

While over on Tik Tok, its audience grew enormously during the pandemic, with the average age of the user increasing compared to pre-pandemic.

Yet, while the platform's audience has become older and more affluent, its regular users and general audience still remain younger.

The insights also revealed that during the pandemic, audiences were accessing visual-based platforms such as Instagram and Snapchat less, and information and idea-sharing platforms such as Pinterest and Twitter more, when compared to pre-Covid.

Our research also established a shift in the online channels that audiences are using regularly.

Users are now streaming more than before, with usage of audio and video apps such as Deezer, All4 and ITV Player increasing relative to the pre-Covid build.

Top publishers include All4, DAX, Prime Video, Apple TV and Heart Radio.

Any one of these insights could have a major impact on the success of a media plan if not successfully identified and acknowledge. This, in turn, means the advertisers need to stop relying on out-of-date, perishable data to target their campaigns.

A fresh perspective

It would be a mistake for marketers to assume that with the lifting of all pandemic restrictions, things will simply return to the same ‘normal’ as before. They won’t.

We have all learned new behaviours that won’t be ‘unlearned’. Things will never be the same again, across all commercial sectors and all demographics.

For brands, it’s never been more important to understand who your audience are today, rather than six months ago, and how they are interacting with different digital channels and inventory.

Are they using the same platforms as before? Are they watching videos or listening to podcasts?

Where is your audience, not simply in terms of where they live, but also how they move? How many are going out? How many are commuting? How many are visiting public places? Where are the eyeballs I need to reach?

With the final loss of third-party cookie-based targeting fast approaching, there was already good reason for brand marketers and their agencies to be looking at the role of contextual advertising.

The dramatic shifts in audience behaviours we’ve seen in recent months and look set to continue in the months ahead only strengthen the case for contextual.

However, leveraging context requires data: high-quality, up-to-date, privacy compliant customer data.

Is your data based on reality today? Are you currently capable of comparing consumer data gathered in the past four weeks against the previous four weeks to identify the latest important trends and shifts?

If the answer is no, the chances are that your media strategy and your advertising spend are going to miss the mark.

Instead of relying on out-of-date impressions of where your audience once were, it’s time for marketers to live and the moment and acknowledge the new world as we find it today.

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