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An unprecedented time for everything, including accelerating audience trends

By October 28, 2020 News & Viewpoints

In 10, 20, 50 years, we’ll look back at 2020 and reflect on how our lives changed. We’ll remember the momentary actions, like fighting for a grocery delivery timeslot or panic-ordering an indoor exercise bike, and also the long-term effects, like normalizing remote work and perhaps overall views on public health. But what has stood out to me over the last seven months is how we’re changing and adapting the way we consume media to fit our new routines and lifestyles.

What does this mean from a marketing and communications perspective? With 2021 planning in full effect for many of our clients, this behavior shift impacts how we think about our target audiences and therefore, how we build successful integrated marketing and communications campaigns.

There are many trends and behaviors to understand as we look ahead to the next six to 12 months. Some are new, while others we’ve seen for years – the pandemic just amplified and accelerated these changes. Here are three key trends to pay attention to:

Mobile-First Mentality.

This isn’t new information – the world is moving everything to mobile. Nielsen recently reported that the United States saw a 215% difference from March 2019 to March 2020 in time spent online on mobile devices accessing current events and global news. How does this impact the planning and execution of integrated campaigns? Mobile is no longer a “nice to have” – we must look at everything through the mobile lens – from building web properties and developing creative to where we target audiences and with what message.

From an advertising and digital perspective, it’s never been easier to reach people online, but an influx of mobile users also means a more competitive marketplace. It’s critical to develop content that stands out, speaks to your target audience and engages them fully, no matter what device they are viewing from.

Cord-Cutting for the Masses.

We’ve seen the cord-cutting trend steadily increase for years, particularly in younger adults. In 2018, we saw 4% of subscribers cut service to five of the largest pay TV companies, and in 2019, that percentage rose to 7%. In 2020 we’re anticipating 9% of subscribers will cut service, likely amplified by the pandemic. In fact, more than 1.6 million subscribers cut service in the first quarter – a 70% jump from last year.

At a rapid pace, consumers are turning to streaming services to consume traditional TV content. For example, over-the-top (OTT) media streaming lets consumers watch video content without paying for cable since it’s mainly served via the internet. According to ComScore’s latest data, OTT consumption spiked from 44 million households per month in February to 300 million in March this year, based on average daily streaming hours per household. Why? Because people were forced to stay at home and perhaps reconfigure their monthly spending habits on things like cable TV.

That said, people are still watching cable TV – I’m one of those odd Millennials who still loves to watch the morning news live and record shows on my DVR – but we need to expand our reach by including streaming networks and platforms to meet our audiences where they are.

Cross-Device Targeting and Retargeting.

A good digital strategy puts the audience first, taking the time to understand behaviors like platform preference, active times of day and interests. While we should look through the mobile lens first, it doesn’t mean we’re living in a mobile-only world. Cross-device targeting and retargeting are great ways to reach audiences around the clock and re-engage them with personalized messages. This strategy allows organizations and brands to serve ads or messages across various mediums, not just through one device and/or platform.

For example, in a public affairs campaign we may need to reach specific members of Congress, their staff and key inside-the-beltway media with messaging related to a specific policy. Cross-device targeting and retargeting allows us to message our audience while they are commuting to work – perhaps on the Metro or driving – again while working – maybe through a music streaming service – and then again after they’ve put the kids to sleep as they scroll social feeds, all with different messages. Not surprisingly, retailers saw a huge boom with this tactic during the pandemic since more people are home and shopping online. We’ve also seen a huge uptick in retargeting via mobile applications, which is applicable to all verticals, not just retail.

So, what does all of this mean? To reiterate, these trends aren’t new, rather, they’ve been amplified and accelerated by audiences spending months in this unprecedented situation. As we continue building, executing and reporting out on integrated campaigns for our clients, we’ll keep these – along with other emerging trends – at the forefront to ensure we’re meeting our target audiences where they are now.

Will these changes last and if so, for how long? Or will we see a complete shift when the country begins to reopen again? Only time will tell for certain, but we’ll keep a pulse on the trends; check back in a few months for an update.

Kara Frank is an Account Director in Stratacomm’s Washington, D.C. office. She has a keen eye toward digital and social trends (and pop culture), leading integrated marketing and communications campaigns for several of Stratacomm’s transportation clients.