Time was, it was pretty easy to reach a given demographic segment using advertising or other content. You could reach adults by advertising in the most popular show on one of the small number of available channels, and you could reach kids during ad breaks in cartoons on Saturday morning or the after-school TV slots mid-week. Demographics were also pretty reliable at consuming print media for their age, sex and lifestyle choices.
We’re now living in a world where media consumption is far more complex. Kids aren’t watching TV ads any more, they’re on Tiktok, bingeing ad-free cartoons on Netflix or playing Minecraft or any of a number of other computer games.
For adults it’s arguably even more complex: their time can be split across TV, streaming services, internet and other forms of media. They’re opting out of conventional ad delivery systems either by installing ad blockers online or by using ad-free services such as Netflix.
It’s also harder to organise people by interest types. One example might be fishing; the UK’s most popular sport or hobby according to some surveys. Media for this sport used to be focused on a small number of specialist print publications, clubs and events.
These days the audience for fishing enthusiasts is likely to be split between a large number of online forums, amateur blogs, video content on streaming sites, podcasts dedicated to the sport, online fishing courses both paid and unpaid, as well as the traditional print media.
There’s also some evidence that demographics are less predictable than in previous generations. People tend to be more flexible in terms of how they live their lives; many delay the age of starting a family or retiring, and it’s less easy to correlate their age with their behaviour or vice versa.
People aren’t as easily split on gender lines. Not only are people more relaxed about gender definitions, particularly younger people, but their behaviour can’t as easily be predicted based on their gender. For example, advertisers are starting to recognise that men shop for food too and even use washing machines.
Private islands of information
With the media that people consume becoming increasingly fragmented and the communities they belong to clustering themselves in different ways, the average consumer can consume very different information even from their peers in their immediate community.
Two people the same age in the same block of flats, sports club or office can live very different lives in terms of the content they are exposed to and what information they access. It’s not just as simple as them having separate activities and interests; they can have the same activities and interests and still be in very separate worlds of information.
It’s an effect that’s been christened the ‘information cocoon‘, or alternatively the ‘filter bubble’. In some ways, this filtering of information is to be celebrated. Consumers can choose the information they are exposed to and control the sources they access rather than passively consuming whatever is broadcast by a small number of content creators like in the past.
We’re all privy to far more information and a wider range of entertainment and informational content than ever before, thanks to the digital ecosystem of content creators.
But it’s also pushing us into strangely isolated communities that often don’t interact with one another. Consider how much easier it is to curate a friendship with people on the same social network as you than on those that refuse to use them or the challenge of having a water cooler moment at work when your colleagues don’t subscribe to Netflix.
Crossing the information divides
What’s the solution? Well, it’s a complex problem and requires a complex strategy to resolve it. Segmenting your audience is certainly essential. Spreading your content widely around the digital ecosystem is another. It’s no longer sufficient to only reach customers by focusing on particular channels because they are split across many different locations both online and offline.
Some brands working in China are starting to recognise the problem of consumer information bubbles. There’s an unusually high level of competition for customer attention in this market, and customers here are particularly inclined to research thoroughly before they buy. In fact, they seem to do twice the level of research that Western consumers carry out before making a purchase.
The new era of customers living on information islands means that one big advertising concept isn’t sufficient to win the market.
Forget winning marketing slogans such as ‘go to work on an egg’ or a consistent creative spread across all channels; today’s fragmented audiences require more segmented messaging and channel-specific content. It’s a ‘snackable’ content approach that’s tailored to each channel and segment.
Creating novel content is a key way to reach and engage with customers who exist in information cells. Spreading novel pieces of content across the various social media properties is one way to approach your fragmented audience.
It’s a bit chaotic as an approach and can leave audiences confused about what exactly a brand stands for. But it’s an approach that some brands are trying out in China, where the information bubble situation seems particularly pronounced.
Make no mistake, the world is now a challenging place to operate in for anyone with a message to convey.
Although the internet makes it easier to reach people in some respects, in other ways it makes it harder to connect. Perhaps the most important thing brands can do is simply recognise this new reality and try to adapt to it in the best way they can.