The upheavals of 2020 have led to some fresh consumer habits and the revival of some more traditional ones. Communicators must stay alert to change. By Rodolfo Oliveira.
“A great disturbance in the force” is under way.
This is probably one of the most well-known quotes from movies. It’s certainly a phrase that summarizes the situation we’re going through, given there is a consensus that this is a defining moment in modern history, where all existing assumptions are questioned and key pillars of society and economics are challenged.
If the ongoing trend of science and facts versus conspiracy theories, myths and fake news amplified through social media was not a big enough challenge, we are now faced with an upheaval of unprecedented dimension, with the current pandemic and the changes it has brought.
As the dust starts to settle, and from the first decisions around “being all together to face this challenge” at the beginning, we are witnessing some startling changes.
Online news spike
One of the areas where this change can be felt is in the traditional media space, which has seen a spike in online readership of news sites that is still going strong (as Comscore highlights) at about 28% above average before covid-19, even if there is not so much of a similar trend on ad investment, as brands shy away from the kind of news that people follow. Yet, more and more people are relying on these sources to provide validated information and insights as to what’s happening around them, and there is a growth in subscriptions for many news outlets, mainly digital.
There has also been a number of new sites and initiatives from the most credible media outlets to develop fact-checking initiatives that can cope with the flurry of fake news being published via social media and amplified in some extremist outlets.
In Portugal, that initiative started with Poligrafo in 2018, a site single-focused on the subject, but has since been replicated in many other publications.
On the business side, we witness industries such as tourism being entirely redefined. Key trends include the acceleration of ecommerce to address lower footfall in retail spaces and telehealth suddenly becoming something normal. In Portugal, all major healthcare groups and the National Healthcare Service have engaged in developing solutions for distance medical appointments, including video support.
Commuting is being replaced by work-from-home scenarios, which further drives the growth of ecommerce referred to above. And, overall, consumers want brands to address their specific needs and requests, creating more meaningful and customized experiences.
This all-new landscape creates a challenge for companies, which need to adapt fast. Where do consumers now spend their time? What do they do while there? And what are their evolving expectations? These are all new challenges that completely void existing assumptions. It’s time to get back to the drawing board and redefine engagement and experience, as well as be ready to adapt as needed, mastering the new formats that are growing.
Public relations professionals and their customers need to ensure that their skillsets cover all these new fields, from branded content to digital skills, including podcasts (which are growing in terms of reach and total value of investment from brands), and to infuse storytelling in everything, while also being able to measure results effectively, showing the business value of the initiatives under way.
Rise of the podcast
The growing importance of the Podcast has been recognized in Portugal with the launch of a brand-new Podcast festival last year. Named Podes, it brings together the ecosystem of people developing them, educating visitors through workshops and recognizing the best podcasts across several categories.
Globally, Stitcher, one of the leading platforms (now part of SiriusXM), has seen the number of podcasts published skyrocket, with a growth of more than 129,000% since 2010. Also, there is a trend of shorter episodes and a rise in the mini-series format, with listeners tuning in to learn about a multitude of themes they are interested in. And there has been a clearer match of the population age to the listener base.
So, the fact that you’re putting yourself in isolation for a moment and given everything that is going on right now, having access to a focused audience is critical for brands who are trying to make sure that they’re top of mind. And as I said, there’s a lot of new listeners, especially younger listeners — people in their 20s who are building their domestic habits — so if you want to find a relatively clean environment where somebody is focused, listening and paying attention, podcasting is a great way to do it.
At the same time, traditional engagement methods such as email marketing have proven their resilience and enjoyed strong growth in 2020, with Open Rates up 21.8% and clickthrough rates up 22.5% worldwide according to data from Klaviyo published by AdWeek.
It is therefore critical to develop both strategic and tactical approaches since, as John Lennon put it so appropriately, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans” (Beautiful Boy/Imagine).
So, make sure you have a masterplan that covers all your digital properties and tools, together with cohesive messaging. Yet be prepared and able to switch course if needed.
Enlist social listening to quickly identify trends and changing consumer behaviors, while also ensuring that social media is leveraged and has coherent messaging. Ensure that key messages are tailored for each audience. Diversify content to be able to match the patterns of information gathering, including infographics, video, audio and traditional written content, with adequate SEO support.
Be creative! Remember that people do not expect an answer to all the questions and that, at a juncture in time when uncertainty is the new normal, the focus should be on listening to customers. Practice flexibility and adapt, being with the customer and available wherever they are and in whatever channel they use.
Customers are eager to have someone they can trust, that has values and principles and strives to excel at them. That is what we should all look at. Above all, keep in mind that expecting the best while planning for the worst is always the best option.
May the force be with us all.
Initially published in IPRA. Opinion article by Rodolfo Oliveira, Managing Partner at BloomCast Consulting.