Five Ways Audiences are Changing Now

Know your audience. That’s Marketing 101.

Dang near impossible to reach, connect and engage without understanding the why, what, when, where, and how of those customers.

That equation is evolving at a rate faster than we’ve ever known for reasons … Well, you know the reasons.

So, it’s more important than ever to both investigate and redefine audiences.

The Harvard Business Review agrees: “Marketers will want to measure sentiment and consumption trends on a regular basis to better adapt messaging, closely observing the conversation across social media platforms, community sites, and e-commerce product pages to look for opportunities and identify looming crises more quickly.”

That’s the Ivy League way of saying rethink, recalibrate, reengage.

Here are the five ways your audience has changed in the past three months (written in the middle of June 2020):

#1 They are using Google differently

According to newly published data from Google, as summarized by Search Engine Journal, there are five “shifts” in search behavior.

People are looking for information in these categories:

  • Critical Information: searches for foods you can freeze, home delivery, short-term employment, and mortgage suspensions are increasing
  • How to Foster Connections & Relationships: people are looking for ways to have fun, like hosting online happy hours or playing online games with family and friends
  • Changes to Routines: people are seeking out information around home exercise, DIY projects (where once they might hire a professional), recipes, sewing, etc. There are even searches about how people are adjusting to adjusting.
  • Praising Everyday Heroes: how to thank doctors, nurses, grocery store workers, delivery people, and other essential workers that have kept us going?
  • Self-Care: searches around easing anxiety, boredom, and stress are growing while people look for puzzles and virtual tours of galleries and vacation locales to distract themselves while at home.

#2 They’re not spending money on non-essential things

Guarding cash can’t be a surprise.

Sabrina Helm, associate professor at the University of Arizona’s Norton School of Family and Consumer Sciences, says that the decrease in discretionary spending will continue to impact the restaurant, apparel, footwear, accessories, travel, and entertainment industries.

“As many consumers are under stay-at-home or shelter-in-place orders around the nation,” Helm explains, “they are likely to continue reduced spending patterns in these and other product categories. We can see from other countries that are ahead of the United States, in terms of progress along the contagion curve, that shopping habits before, during, and after the COVID-19 peak indicate that spending in a number of categories remains low…”

Big Commerce says that we see the most significant shift in younger generations, who appear to the most concerned with the financial impact of COVID-19.

“This concern is leading [Millennials and Gen Zs] to change their behavior more dramatically than other generations, which includes cutting back on spending, stocking up on items, and spending less on experiences,” says Big Commerce’s Susan Meyer.

There are also some variances by gender, as data shows that men are doing more online shopping than women.

#3 They are buying essential items

Consumers are still spending on items like food, household supplies, at-home entertainment, and personal care items.

Helm suggests that the uptick in online shopping, for groceries, in particular, is notable.

People are also stockpiling, or “panic buying,” at a significant rate, which will have implications for consumer behavior going forward.

Helm argues that this experience of “scarcity and under-preparedness for disasters” will cause more consumers to maintain a consistent stockpile of essentials for the future.

#4 More people are going digital

And it’s not the generation you think — it’s the Boomer bracket and above who are spending more time online to stay connected and informed. And, they’re spending more money on e-commerce stores.

Brett Barr, an instructor at Ryerson University’s Ted Rogers School of Management, was interviewed by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. He points out that “elderly shoppers who might’ve been reluctant to adopt computers before COVID-19 are now forced to communicate by digital devices to maintain contact with their families.”

Barr also points out that this new behavior may signal the end of tried and true marketing tools such as postcards, flyers, and sales mailers. “[This has] opened up the likelihood they would entertain the thought of a digital flyer,” he says.

#5 Consumers are going to stay close to home

Some recent client experience and research from McKinsey & Company point out that “consumers in countries still under stay-at-home restrictions plan to spend more time on domestic activities.”

Whether that’s traveling closer to home or spending on home entertainment, the focus remains on staying sheltered in place even as local governments loosen restrictions. “Spending on groceries and at-home entertainment continues to show positive momentum, as it has since we first started measuring in mid-March,” says McKinsey.

In very “consultant-y” language, the firm adds: “While overall spending intent on most discretionary categories remains negative, there is reduced pessimism about future spending on categories such as restaurants, restaurant delivery, apparel, footwear, and consumer electronics today versus in mid-March.”

So, what’s next?

Back to the statement above, it’s time to rethink, recalibrate, reengage.

First things first, challenge your assumption that you know who your customers are and what they are looking for right now. Check out Google Trends and just maybe invest in a social listening platform.

Second, it’s critical to be flexible in messaging and delivery. Where once you were the “benevolent” expert, perhaps now you share the journey to discovery with your customers. Offer guidance or suggestions. Provide a new way to look at your service or product.

At the same time, take a second look at how you’re getting your message out there. For instance, maybe outdoor isn’t the best investment right now because traffic has slowed down dramatically. Perhaps it’s time to try social media advertising, PPC, or email newsletters since more people are online. Or broadcast across different channels — podcasts, streaming services, etc. —are more efficient and cost-effective channels. Measure results and invest more in what’s working.

Finally, show your customers goodwill. Offer a refund, get a human on the phone as fast as possible, meet their needs as if your business depends on it. (Narrator: it does.) Let them know that we’re all in this together.

Look for ways to inspire, especially if you’re offering a non-essential product or service that’s aspirational for a potential customer.

While it’s a phrase that’s become a cliché, brands and businesses must make storytelling a significant part of their communication efforts. Let customers know about the people behind the product. Give them a human story to connect with and let them understand how your “thing” will help.

Listen. It’s hard out there. We are all facing challenges and seeking solutions. But, remember, there’s beauty and hope and opportunity. Let’s do this together and come out stronger than ever.

We’re eager to hear your thoughts!

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