Advertising Guest Columns
4 mins read

The rules of finding audiences have changed for advertisers post-pandemic

There’s no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic, unprecedented in our lifetime, has had a massive impact on consumer behaviour. At a basic level, the enforcement of extended lockdowns forced consumers among different demographics to adapt in a variety of ways. Alongside the very obvious changes in our physical behaviours, more subtle behavioural changes have emerged among different demographics relating to propensity to buy, the sort of content they are consuming, or how and when they are consuming it.

For example, the time spent on social media has increased by 48% in general, but this was even higher among older demographics. Likewise, the audience for food delivery boxes (such as Hello Fresh) is older today than it was before lockdown. There’s been a similar trend in online grocery shopping generally. This increase may have been driven by heightened nervousness among older people about visiting a supermarket or restaurant in person, making it a temporary change, or perhaps the shift is a lasting one with more subtle factors at play? 

With pandemic restrictions starting to ease and ad spend on the rise once again, understanding and predicting which consumer behaviours are short-term and which are permanent is, arguably, the single most important challenge facing marketers today. But knowing the different behaviours between demographics is important for brands to ensure they are reaching the right audience, rather than a ‘spray and pray’ approach of believing social platforms have reach and therefore the right message will eventually land. There is now a broad range of new things to consider that could make your traditional targeting techniques significantly less effective than before. Media planning, already a complex activity, just became a lot more complicated.

Out of time

A sensible way to prepare any media plan is to draw on a wide range of data sources to learn as much as possible about your target audience. Traditionally brand advertisers have drawn on data sources such as mobile location data, which might be based on activity during the previous week, all the way through to census data, which could be anything up to 10 years old.

Before the lockdowns, you could reasonably expect a strategic marketing plan (based on the best quality data available to you) to remain valid for at least six months to a year. Post-pandemic, the shifts seen in consumer behaviour mean that making media plans and targeting customers based on data that’s even a few months old, is no longer a good idea: the shelf-life of marketing decisions has shortened significantly.

For example, let’s consider the travel and hospitality sector. In 2021, many of the marketing techniques these industries have looked to in the past can no longer be relied upon. It’s no longer as simple as remarketing Greek holidays to people who visited Greece on a previous break. Perhaps, today, those customers are scared to travel or object to wearing a mask on the flight. Perhaps they don’t want to risk being quarantined upon their return. Perhaps they are especially patriotic and want to support their local economy this year. 

The point is we, as marketers, can’t honestly predict how consumers will respond to an ad in the same way we could before. Relying on the pre-pandemic means of finding and targeting customers, therefore, risks wasting a significant portion of your marketing budget. 

Be here now

For advertisers, it’s never been more important to understand who your audiences are today, rather than who they were six months ago. For example, are they interacting with different digital channels and inventory? Are they using the same platforms they were before the pandemic? Are they consuming more video content or listening to a particular sort of podcast more regularly?

Where exactly is your audience, not simply in terms of the place they live, but also how they are moving throughout the day? Are they visiting public spaces and going out to socialise? How many are commuting? 

Of course, the pandemic is not the only driver of change for digital marketers right now. With the final withdrawal of third-party cookie-based targeting fast approaching, combined with increasing privacy regulations on the use of personal data, there were already good reasons for brand marketers and their agencies to be looking at an increased role for contextual advertising. This, in turn, will require high-quality, up-to-date, privacy-compliant customer data.

This means using data assets that are updated daily and have a long window for retrospective analysis, allowing organisations to take a view on what has changed since the start of the pandemic and quickly understand how it continues to change as the world opens up again. This sort of analysis has been particularly welcomed by businesses that rely on physical customers, such as gyms and rail operators. The key is to stop relying on out-of-date, perishable data to target their ad campaigns.

Instead of relying on historical impressions of where your audiences once were, it’s time for marketers to live in the moment and acknowledge the new world we are living in today.

Jonny Whitehead
Board Director at Skyrise Intelligence

About: Skyrise Intelligence is a leading, next-generation media planning company, harnessing the power of telco data to improve marketing effectiveness. Its data science team works with the UK’s largest telcos to define web and app usage, monitor location and movement data across an audience of 30 million+ every minute, every day. This data is used to profile groups of people via demographic, publisher engagement, online behaviours, for out of home (OOH planning), and local advertising. Headquartered in Manchester with offices also in London, Skyrise Intelligence works with brands, agencies, and ad tech vendors providing relevant and up-to-date data insights.