Urban List research finds gap between consumer sentiment and the media and marketing industry

Urban List has released the findings of its latest research report — The Big Still — revealing insights from 10,000 Australians and 100 representatives across the media and marketing industry during its 2021 Urban List Upfronts webinar.

The Big Still explores two core themes — community and culture — highlighting the pandemic-fuelled shifts in sentiment likely to stick longer-term; the impact of these changes on Australians’ lifestyles and spending decisions; and where consumers’ views contrast starkly with those shared by media and marketing professionals.

Urban List head of brand experience, Sophia Wilcox, played a key role in defining the themes of the report. “We’ve always prided ourselves on our deep understanding of consumers’ current sentiment and mood — an empathy that enables our content to connect with audiences more effectively,” Wilcox said. 

“Whilst Australians started out with a somewhat unified experience — our lives being collectively turned upside down — over time, it’s become apparent that we are not all in the same boat but in very different vessels, with different captains, steering toward different goals,” Wilcox explained.

“Given the disparity in the Australian experience right now — state vs state, metro vs regional — this research felt particularly important and timely, ensuring that we had a true view of the plurality of perspectives and experiences across the country, increasing both our ability and our flexibility, to connect.”

Urban List CEO, Susannah George, supported Wilcox’s view: “Because we have dedicated teams on the ground in each of our markets, and because they are deeply connected to the reality of how it truly feels to be in that place, we’ve been able to create content that connects more authentically, and the insights that emerged from The Big Still offer a true advantage when it comes to understanding these markets even more intimately.

“Going into the pandemic, I anticipated the need for a platform like ours might shrink — I was pretty worried. In reality, our page views are up 40%. Our audience is more connected to what we’re creating because we’re creating with laser focus on each market’s mood and needs. And that’s been a skill we’ve been able to transfer for our partners’ benefit, too — flexing to deliver campaigns differently state-by-state so brands have been able to maintain momentum whilst mitigating market-based risk.”

The Big Still highlighted a movement away from the individualisation consumers demanded through the 2010s, the shift in consumer needs fuelled by an inability to reliably socialise with family and friends — moving from a desire to be recognised as unique, an individual; to a desire to feel belonging, part of a group.

As consumers became more aware of the impact they had on their communities, the research indicates they began to reappraise brands’ relative contribution and role — steering support towards those brands and businesses aligned with their newfound community values. 

76% of respondents agree doing what’s right for the community is more important, while 77% said brands have contributed to their community more than before. And eight in ten said that when they saw brands encouraging them to support local, they felt more positively about that brand.

When it comes to anticipating future brand sentiment and saliency, brands seen to give back to the community came out ahead of brands being socially or environmentally conscious.

Urban List also pointed to consumers’ changing definition of community — a shift, over time, largely based on the extent of their experience with lockdown life. The longer and more frequent the lockdowns, the less important location appeared to be when defining community —  moving from an initial neighbourhood-based connection (highlighted in research undertaken in June 2020) to an increased bond and belonging through interests and passions.

“In contrast to what we saw earlier in the pandemic, the majority of survey respondents said where they live is now tertiary when it comes to where they source their sense of community, trailing what they love and what they believe,” George said.

“This opens up such fresh and fertile territory for brands to explore — providing consumers a sense of belonging through platforms and conversations dedicated to shared interests; a concept particularly relevant for companies eager to align with community who can’t authentically do so through the movement to shop local,” George added.

Lockdown inflicted a hard reset on the pace of the previous decade, with research results indicating  “culture is on the move — shifting from a culture of aspiration and optimisation (which peaked in the 2010s) to a culture of conscious choice and pleasure in the present,” according to Wilcox.

Two in three surveyed agreed with the statements: this is the reset we all needed; I’m enjoying the slower pace. 

“Rather than aspiring to return to a life that was, many of us are turning down the volume on relentless productivity, hectic social cals and constant optimisation — we’re willing to slow down and embrace enjoyment over enhancement, balance over busyness,” Wilcox explained.

“It’s important to recognise, though, that while the pace has slowed, consumers are far from chilling — if anything they’re more engaged: clearer about their priorities and where they invest their time. The majority are making a conscious choice to move away from filtering their best life for the feed, leaning into a more meaningful, selective and balanced existence,” she said.

George went on to highlight the role brands could look to play through this period of cultural change.  

“As always, change comes with challenges —  an underlying need for support as we navigate the push pull of adapting to this new way of life — and this is a prime role for brands to play: helping us to adapt, to identify our new aspirations and goals, and to satisfy this equilibrium we seek,” George said.

One hundred representatives of the media and marketing industry also responded to the survey, allowing Urban List to explore commonalities and points of contrast when compared to the consumer sample. 

The data highlighted significant differences across a number of key lifestyle factors, including that less than half of industry respondents agreed finding balance between professional and personal life was a priority, compared with 82% of consumers.  

“These differences in perspective expose potential for unconscious bias when it comes to campaign strategy — inflating the desire to return to a fast pace, all-in life when many Australians are actually more inclined to recalibrate and reset,” George said.

“The data has already inspired a number of shifts in strategy across our own content and client campaigns — ensuring that we’re truly moving at the pace of culture and supporting our partners to keep that pace, too — and I’d encourage all brand marketers, strategists and media buyers to dive into the data to check whether their assumptions really do align with Australian attitudes,” George concluded.


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