Why brands will need to be more empathetic following the pandemic

Rosie Fleming

Audience Intelligence Strategist

Much research in the past 18 months has focused on how the pandemic has impacted people’s wellbeing. According to one YouGov report, conducted in November 2020, over half (53%) of Brits say the pandemic has harmed their mental health.

While this is troubling, more concerning is the gender disparity. According to Global Web Index (GWI), 45% of women say their mental health has worsened due to the pandemic, compared to 29% of men. This means women are over 50% more likely to say their mental health has declined in the past year. This could be due to a number of reasons such as women being disproportionately impacted by job losses (McKinsey study, 2021), an increase in domestic violence (BBC, 2021), more women being the stay-at-home parent (ONS, 2020) – and therefore more impacted by the stress of home schooling and lack of escapism. The list goes on.

Understand how your consumers live, think, feel and act – it changes constantly

The variance in how individuals are feeling because of the pandemic hammers home the message that no human is the same. We all live, think, feel, act, and react differently to one another. For brands, this means having a thorough understanding of one’s audience is vital to reaching and truly engaging all members of that audience.

In the current climate of continuously changing consumer headspaces and behaviour, this kind of in-depth audience comprehension has never been more important. Of course, gender is just one demographic differentiating people. There is an abundance of other discoverable data that helps us better understand how people are feeling and thinking.

If a brand can identify demographic differences in their audience, as well as psychographics such as self-perceptions, and online behaviour like social media usage, highly granular audience segments can be produced. Hyper tailored content and messaging can then be promoted to each segment, ensuring all audience members are reached and engaged.

At iCrossing we have world leading audience intelligence tools at our disposal that allow us to do just this. Global Web Index (GWI) is a survey-based tool with available survey data spanning over 40 countries, 18 million consumers, 4,000 brands and 40,000 human attributes. The depth of the data means we can profile audiences in extreme detail, analysing robust data on characteristics, interests, preferences, and actions. Understanding favoured media channels, brand preferences, where people engage with content online and why, means we can build exhaustive insight-led targeting frameworks.

iCrossing stands out from the competition by amplifying audience insights with search and social listening. We take a holistic approach, not only unearthing what an audience looks like, how they view themselves, and how they behave online, but also identifying an audience’s thoughts and emotions in real time, as well as predicting their future wants and needs.

The importance of audience segmentation and messaging

An example of how we implement this multi-phase approach in our work is a project carried out for Public Health Wales (PHW), as part of the Keep Wales Safe campaign. PHW provided us with previously identified Welsh audience segments – based on tendencies to abide by Covid restrictions – ranging from ‘Cynical Non-Compliant’ to ‘Trusting Compliant’. The ask was “to expand” on these segments and recommend how to engage audiences in future campaign messaging.

We started by reproducing the segments in GWI and uncovering new behavioural and psychographic insights. For example, we discovered that the favourite social channel of ‘Cynical Non-Compliants’ is Facebook. They over-index in using Facebook messenger, and in using (or viewing) Facebook groups. Immediately, we could say that Facebook posed a major targeting opportunity for this segment.

We enhanced the depth of our understanding further by overlaying our audience insights with social and search listening. Using our consumer intelligence tool Brandwatch we unearthed conversations among each audience – showcasing how people in Wales were talking about Covid restrictions at the time, highlighting themes driving conversation as well as topics igniting negative and positive sentiment. Fundamentally, we revealed what was motivating people, what was aggrieving them, and why. Meanwhile, using Google Trends and Google Keyword Planner we looked at search terms – and trending searches – associated with each audience. People search things they wouldn’t necessarily post on their social accounts, so looking at both search and social allows us to gain a well-rounded view of what audiences require and desire, both now and potentially in the future.

Having collated and combined these multi-sourced insights, all in real time, we provided PHW with an in-depth, highly relevant, data-led audience targeting framework, advising content ideation, messaging, and wider campaign strategy. PHW can now confidently produce truly impactful marketing, that meets the personal wishes and pain points of people in Wales.

Recognising the influence of unpredictable consumer trends

A second example of this multi-phase approach to our insights work is when Very.co.uk approached us, wanting to move away from pre-planned content. They recognised how unpredictable consumer trends can be and wanted to be able to keep their finger on the pulse to create truly reactive content.

Our response was to conduct bi-weekly search and social listening reports over a 6-month period. Very had shared their four campaign pillars with us – ‘Work’, ‘Relationships’, ‘Wellbeing’ and ‘Fitness’ – prior to the project. We took these core pillars and homed in on social conversations and trending searches within these themes specifically, ensuring relevancy by conducting research though the lens of Very audiences. Within each report, not only did we identify engagement triggers (and demographic variances in these triggers), but we also highlighted behavioural & attitudinal traits displayed by those engaging with the Very brand and products.

Ultimately, these insights enabled us to propose content recommendations, highly relevant to the brand, validated by robust data. Moreover, the timely monitoring of both social and search data ensured the campaign content was always culturally relevant at the time of production. For example, within the ‘Work’ pillar, accessories for home offices and comfy WFH clothes drove social and search demand for the first three months. However, as time went by, and the Covid climate shifted, demand was driven by a desire for new work wardrobes – with a focus on “office casual” – as people returned to the office, with revived attitudes to workwear.

Our parent company, Hearst, harnessed these reports to create content for Very’s Autumn Winter 2020 campaign which has been described as “the most data driven, agile and culturally relevant campaign to date”.

Know your audience

To sum up, brands cannot assume to know their audience; they must make the effort to find out. Insight into how an audience live, think, feel, act, and react, enhances our ability as marketers to create highly targeted and truly engaging content. How is the wellbeing of your audience fairing? How has the pandemic impacted their health and behaviour? Are they feeling optimistic? What are they lacking in their life? What is important to them? Brands who do not aspire to discover these kinds of audience insights will be left behind in a world increasingly directed by data.

Speak to Specialists

If you’d like iCrossing to provide you with relevant real-time insights enabling you to truly get under the skin of your audience, do not hesitate to get in touch.

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