With many of the normal roles we play removed, while others are exaggerated, how do we classify ourselves in the age of COVID-19?
As a strategist, I have always both needed audience classifications and taken them with a strong grain of salt. On personal reflection, we all understand we are far more than our age, gender, income bracket, political leanings and the myriad of other ways we seek to classify our audiences. We understand that this way of thinking is inherently partial but considerably better than nothing.
But in the current environment, I question that. I don’t argue that we have suddenly become one amorphous blob of humanity, largely indistinguishable from each other. Instead, I wonder whether the most important ways we are – or should be – categories as audiences have changed, and should rely on a handful of attitudinal (or psychological) metrics, rather than more traditional demographic ones.
To take but one example, our response to uncertainty is probably guiding our content engagement more than anything else right now. Clearly, one of the greatest challenges at present is continued uncertainty. Uncertainty about the virus, our economies and society as a whole. And while (almost) everyone struggles with this uncertainty, the degree to which we struggle is hugely varied as is the way in which we respond. For example, I can see the potential for the following type of segmentation to have value in these times:
Authority advocates: Those who are turning to traditional sources of authority for trusted information to guide them through the uncertainty. Frequently found to be: waiting for the nightly news conferencing, sharing leader social media posts. Engage with them by quoting trusted experts.
Positive posters: Those looking for ‘good news’ stories about the end of the virus or lockdown (however credible). Frequently found to be: quoting sources, searching other country’s media. Engage with them by telling a positive story of the response, or short term expectations.
Overwhelmed observers: Those who try and get as much information as possible. Often to be found: staring at a computer screen, head in hands and muttering. Engage with them by summarising debates with clarity.
Data doubters: Those who distrust traditional sources of authority, challenging the data, often with other contrary data sets. Frequently found to be: sharing counter arguments on social media, in the comments pages. Engage with them by sharing new data which surprises them.
Scared silencers: Those who avoid content about COVID-19 entirely. Frequently found to be: reading consumer media, blocking social content. Engage with them by talking about something else.
And there are other qualities which are also guiding our behaviour as never before. To cite a few extremes:
Rebelliousness/obedience. Those who are rigidly sticking to the rules of the lockdown, versus those who are constantly seeking ways to flout the rules.
Caring responsibilities. The growing dichotomy between those with caring responsibilities and little time for content consumption, and those without and with more free time than ever before.
Personal risk. Those who have been told they are at high personal risk (the elderly, those with pre-existing conditions) and everyone else.
Collectivism/individualism. Those who see this as a time to take extra responsibility for others, versus those who are solely focussed on themselves and those they love.
Revolutionary/status quo. Those who had long-argued the world needed some form of revolution (from one of many angles) and those who are looking for a return to normal.
Each of the above is driving the content we seek and our availability to consume it. On a personal note, I am an obedient collectivist, hoping for something of a revolution, with caring responsibilities and no specific personal risk. I find I am seeking a few pieces of long-form content per day, which I feel is as a credible and detailed as possible in telling me what will ‘truly’ happen and what I can ‘really’ expect, in the short, medium and long term.
If nothing else, I think this strange period is likely to provoke a long-term revision of how I think about audiences, which is far more nuanced and contextual than ever before. I know I, for one, will come out the other side of this changed, re-weighting my commitments and efforts, and I’m sure others will do the same.