Redefining relevance in a changing society

05 Sep 2017  |  Andrew Tenzer 
Redefining relevance in a changing society

We need to think less about what’s relevant to our industry and more about what’s relevant to the people we’re trying to reach, writes Trinity Mirror's Andrew Tenzer

I know it’s corny to start an article with a reference to Chinese philosophy, but Lao Tzu was definitely on to something when he wrote “Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don't resist them...Let reality be reality”.

Written over 2,000 years ago, his words have never been more pertinent - we are currently in the midst of a new reality.

Political events of the last few years tell us that we’re living in spontaneous and unpredictable times. From Brexit and the general election, to Jeremy Corbyn attracting the largest crowd at Glastonbury, the world clearly isn’t what we thought it was.

Our new study, ‘When Trust Falls Down’, revealed the factors leading to recent events have been so seismic; they’ve had a much wider reverberation across society. With anti-establishment feeling running high and a crisis in trust amongst all major institutions, brands are not immune to this on-going shift in the mindset of consumers.

The research highlighted the issue brands are facing to win back the trust of the public. Being seen as ‘Establishment’ and part of the small metropolitan elite; brands are losing relevance, particularly with consumers outside London.

There’s no doubt that Britain is going through significant change, but why should brands care? In times of great change, one of the biggest dangers a brand faces is loss of relevance.

As an industry, we’re obsessed with the latest technology. Not a day goes by without an article appearing about VR or AI - all very interesting, but how relevant are these new technologies to a consumer in Doncaster or Newport?

We need to think less about what’s relevant to our industry and more about what’s relevant to the people we’re trying to reach - particularly those outside our London media bubble.

I think it’s fair to say that we perceive our industry to be changing at a ferocious rate. However, I’d argue that it’s the rest of the country that’s changing, and we’re lagging behind; clinging to an unrealistic view of the world we live in.

Towards the end of 2016, Trinity Mirror had already detected some worrying signs - 56% of consumers agreed that most advertising doesn’t portray the lives of people in their local area.

With this in mind, we have recently launched the first ever brand relevance index to highlight brands lacking resonance outside of London.

We surveyed 2,000 Adults in the UK, asking questions about 56 leading consumer brands. A “relevance” score is then calculated indicating the gap between perceptions of the brand in and outside London. The results are alarming, 46 of the 56 brands record a negative relevance score, which implies these brands have greater relevance inside London.

There has been a lot written about filter bubbles and echo chambers, but until now, we’ve not been able to fully understand the severity of the problem. Based on an analysis of the 56 brands, people outside London are:

- 11% more likely to say that brands are out of touch with people in their local area
- 25% more likely than people living in London to say brands don’t understand people in their local area
- 21% more likely to say that brands don’t aim its advertising at people in their local area.

As marketers, we live and breathe brands, but we’re all guilty of overstating their importance in people’s lives. The reality is that there is a widespread apathy towards them - 48 of the 56 brands scored 40% or over for not caring if that brand exists.

Interestingly, this disconnect spans all ages and social grade. With the younger demographic being so well represented within our industry, this not only strengthens the notion of an echo chamber but also suggests we aren’t fully appreciating that life can be very different for a 16-34 year old living in other parts of the country.

It isn’t all doom and gloom though, there are a number of measures brands can pursue to tackle this growing problem outside London. These include anecdote-telling to replace brand story-telling, and moving from implicit to explicit geo-targeting. If it was once the marketers’ job to amplify a brand truth, now is the time to prove a brand’s truth.

It’s no longer enough to tell people what you stand for. You have to actually stand for it - stand up for it - and demonstrate it in real-world action.

Most brands aren’t London-centric but that doesn’t mean that consumer perception recognises this.

Explicitly demonstrating to your audience that you’re talking to them - on their turf - will go a long way to dispel the London establishment prejudices that exist. We believe this can have a disproportionate effect on brand affection, attribution and affinity.


Andrew Tenzer is head of group insight at Trinity Mirror

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RupertCarter, MD, Consumer insight on 6 Sep 2017
“I feel similar coming from out to in, London feels demonstrably different to much of the rest of the UK - and if this is the cultural context that most creative and media planning sits in, it feels an inevitability.”

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