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Social Risk: Understanding Your Audiences

April 26, 2019

The audiences of today and tomorrow can no longer be reached through mainstream, traditional methods. To reach them with positions, concepts, ideas or products, business leaders and marketers must use the language of the new age of information.

While there are more ways than ever for people to pursue their personal passions and connect with others who share their interests, the challenges posed by this new reality are tremendous.

Technology lowered the barriers for participation in an unprecedented fashion—social, cultural, political and economic—thus creating a new type of environment: Participatory Culture. The term, coined by USC’s Prof. Henry Jenkins, refers to “the ability to take part in media around us.”

While not all people participate in an equal manner, the “new participant” in the age of information is a proactive coproducer of content and, therefore, should not be viewed as a passive consumer. Participants are encouraged to take part in the conversation in a forthcoming and empowering manner. Their contribution is welcomed by others and is usually accompanied by informal mentorship.

New participants spend more time online than any other group in history. They receive the majority of their information from an unprecedented wide variety of online sources, and are able to self-design their informational feed. If it’s not in their feed, it does not exist. They actively choose whom to follow and connect with. They tend to be younger—although the generational theory does not always work as it is more a matter of mindset than chronological age. They strongly believe in connectivity and view technology as empowering. They demand privacy and transparency at the same time, and are able to comfortably function in a state of constant tension between conflicting factors.

Generally, they see themselves as “work in progress,” and are not necessarily looking to have definitive answers to every question. Their local and urban identity is rising. They have more in common with other like-minded people across the ocean than their next-door neighbors whose areas of interest are far removed. To them, the world is one global community, ever expanding.

Business leaders should pay attention to three main strategic inputs:

One, new participants are intensely engaged in conversations about identity. They spend time, resources and energy in the study of their own identity, family history and DNA more than any other group in history. Their search for identity can be political, national, urban, tribal and personal. This explains the popularity of identity politics, digital tribalism and rising urbanization among many.

Two, the concept of fairness is central to their world view. They expect people to “do the right thing”; to be fair to their own body (fitness, wellness, nutrition, mindfulness, etc.); to be fair to fellow human beings (social justice, charity, promotion of social goodness, etc.); and to be fair to the environment (climate change, recycling, alternative energy, etc.).

Three, the new participant has developed a profound mistrust when it comes to institutions: governments, corporations and “establishments” of all sorts. Governments, once viewed as parental institutions, are now being viewed with suspicion, if not ridicule. They would rather trust their peers than officials.

To successfully reach them, one cannot just simply invite them into their world by unilaterally disseminating a self-congratulatory message, which is precisely what most of us still do. Business leaders tend to focus on “what we want to say” rather than focus on “what they want to hear.”

Increasing relevance in the age of information overload and hyper-connectivity is the biggest challenge for business leaders. The way to get there is by tying the business strategy to a meaningful purpose: “for-profit” meeting “for-purpose.” It is incumbent upon business leaders to thoroughly study their target audience. Micro-targeting and predictive segmentation will enable the design of a very precise and customized action plan.

To better prepare to deal with this new informational culture, which is not necessarily a generational phenomenon but rather a question of mindset, business leaders are encouraged do the following:

1. Learn more about your own organization: internal social risk assessment is a form of participatory threat forecast that could benefit the organization greatly. It could empower employees while enabling management to collect valuable data about social risk.

2. Invest more in independent predictive research: proper investment in independent market research can keep business leaders ahead of the curve. The purpose of such research is to provide an accurate assessment as to future trends, by thoroughly and effectively studying relevant market segmentation. The days of guessing are over. Technology allows business leaders to precisely identify and predict market behavior.

3. Look for the winning trifecta (MCD): predictive segmentation requires three capabilities. One, the ability to effectively map the turf using big-data analysis. Two, the ability to create the relevant content (messaging, creative, ideation, conceptualization). Three, the ability to micro-deliver the content to relevant segments while keeping it below the line. MCD: Mapping, Content, Delivery.

4. Recognize the importance of the emotional landscape: there is an abundance of scientific evidence that points to the centrality of human emotions in decision-making (voting patterns as well as financial decisions are often recorded as irrational, as in the case of Brexit). Insight as to the emotional landscape of one’s target audience could become a significant business advantage. Understanding the social, political and cultural meaning of brands is a way to learn about their loyalists. This could become a critically important guiding insight in devising new business strategies.

5. Integrate business goals with causes central to the new participant: expanding the organization’s mission statement to include elements of “force for good” can only benefit the business. In the age of participation people expect businesses to act responsibly and be accountable (e.g., the treatment pharma company Purdue and the Sackler family are getting from main stream media).

Bottom line: The new participants are different. They require us to join their world. And their world is ever-expanding in the most unprecedented fashion.

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