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94% of our audience said their communications strategy had significantly
or somewhat changed in the last year. (January, 2021)
COVID has been a catalyst for major shifts in consumer behaviour. Remote working and living has changed the way we learn, consume and connect with each other. Brand strategists face new challenges to reach and engage digital audiences in 2021.
Brand Strategy: Audience Accessibility
71% of our audience consider audience accessibility a priority but noted their understanding of learning theory still needs developing.
This is critical and there are two main things we can take from this.
We can take accessibility in terms of access for all learning capabilities, and for representative accessibility and the use of subtitles and other text caption options.
There is a huge difference in a product or a campaign that has placed representation at the end of their comms strategy versus those who designed with the user in mind. Brands are going to see a greater challenge in actively showing that they care. Active is crucial here because statements and policies just aren’t going to cut it. This means representing every voice in the audience group and most importantly, it means designing with every voice.
We have also seen a shift from brands from using the expert voice to the authentic voice. This sees brands move away from using the CEO, the technical specialist, the science lead for representing the voice of the user. Audiences are connecting better with the authentic voice now more than ever, as we see a move away from lecture-style learning and into more discussion-lead learning concepts.
The second piece is accessibility for adoption and using simple content formats to maximise that adoption. The rise in the use of audio is truly fascinating. 2020 saw a rise in audio-first and audio-only book releases, podcasting continues to rise as a rollout channel year on year. This shift is grounded in strong learning theory.
As individuals, we learn in one of, or a combination of, three learning styles:
What’s fascinating about auditory learning is that it is not just about audio consumption, it’s also about those who learn better from conversation and two-way dialogue.
Kinesthetic learners understand and retain information best through tactile or physical play and engagement. The crucial part of strategy planning here is to have dedicated conversations at the very start of the campaign design and make sure you are accommodating for all three types of learners.
Brand Strategy: The Virtual Experience Economy
Active participations (experiences) have a much higher engagement rate than linear channels of engagement.
Offline industries are moving into the virtual experience economy space to reaffirm brand loyalty and keep audiences engaged. For example, digital skiing is now available as an alternative experience to hitting the slopes in person.
There two key trends within this space. On-demand content or the ‘Netflix model’ is rapidly increasing in popularity. Users are looking for a content experience that matches their lifestyle i.e. consuming and learning when, where, and how suits them best.
E-gaming understands how to build an online community and incentivise the audience to return to the game or platform. We are seeing an increase in virtual rewards through streaks, leader-boards, and competition.
Brand Strategy: A Sense of Community
40% of our audience said their biggest challenge for 2021 was building team culture and a sense of community in digital experiences.
The 2020 Time US Survey showed that nearly half of all Americans identified as being lonely, some or all of the time, rising to 79% in those aged 18-38.
Loneliness is not the same as being alone: one can be alone or singular in a household without suffering from loneliness. Loneliness is in fact a gap between the relationships we want to engage with, versus those we actually have.
What that means for us as a communications and engagement industry is that we must focus on building a community through authentic experiences.
We must continue to personalise the individual journey but most importantly, we must identify a common purpose in our audience, and weave a community element throughout the experience to build engagement. It is crucial to allow ample time for social interaction and sharing over the common interest. We ultimately need to design to be “more human.”
Brand Strategy: Useful Data
20% of our audience indicated they are rarely using data to inform comms decisions.
The user is more aware of how their data is used than ever, so we need to be transparent and really build the data journey with the user in mind. They are not only interested in what is legally permissible but what is appropriate for them and what feels like the right level of data personalisation.
On the opposite side, brands are using data to increase engagement and adoption, using insights from your past and current behaviours to make it easier and more enjoyable for you to engage with them.
What we do know about using data is that it should be useful for both parties. Ultimately, data should improve the user experience and simplify it. Brands can tailor digital communications to an individual user to do just that.
Using data to inform the delivery of our communications allows us to speak directly to audiences in ways that work for them.
Brand Strategy: The Hybrid Model
28% of our audience are planning for a year with a range of hybrid events.
Virtual and digital experiences are not trying to replicate live. The key is understanding the audience and designing formats of delivery that will meet the objectives of the experience.
One really important question we need to ask before we start any conversations around hybrid is; Is this experience live-first, virtual-first, or true hybrid?
Live first implies that there will be an enhanced experience if you attend live, a social event, an in-person keynote only opportunity or similar. Virtual first implies a hub-and-spoke model, where regional or similar live engagements are available but the majority of learning will be delivered digitally. True-hybrid delivers the same experience value across both formats.
The key to hybrid in 2021 is to offer choice. Regardless of what we are ‘allowed’ to do, we will still see hesitation from some to travel again too soon, so offering choice is an important channel in putting the user first.
As an agency we are incredibly excited about hybrid design, we can take the community and sensory engagement of live and mix it with the data and accessibility benefits of digital.
This trends report was produced by the Cheerful Twentyfirst strategy team.