OPINION23 January 2019

Going beyond the gloss

Innovations Media Opinion Technology Trends UK

Too many media industry trend reports are developed within the London bubble, focusing on glossy emerging tech and disregarding the attitudes of people across the country, write Julia Ayling and Sophie Harding.

In 2018, as ever, the shiny and the new were most likely to have grabbed our attention and interest levels. This industry wide ‘neomania’ typically reaches its peak level of excitement as one year ends and another begins. A rush of trends reports appear, exploring the developments we can expect – highlighting the impact that new technologies and emerging platforms will no doubt have on our businesses, and the shiny opportunities that brands just have to trial in the coming year.

Now, more than ever, agencies exploring these future trends have two important considerations to address. Firstly, they need to think beyond the gloss of these shiny technological innovations to focus instead on the consumers whose lives these developments may impact in the future.

Secondly, they need to avoid the distortions that can be created by working in the London bubble. Unfortunately, it’s still the case that too many industry reports are developed using media opinion and technological opportunity only, often disregarding the behaviours and attitudes of real people across the breadth of the UK, who are likely to be on the receiving end of these changes.

So, how can the industry approach trends research differently, making it more productive and relevant for their clients and their clients’ customers?

Audience first
In our opinion, it’s imperative that an ‘audience first’ approach is adopted when developing trends – something that we aim for in everything we do at Mindshare. By beginning with a focus on people rather than the technology, agencies can identify, refine, size and future-proof their thinking – thereby extending the usability of their research long into the future. Doing so also makes it easier to spot nuanced changes within specific audience groups, thereby driving higher quality insights for clients, and a more responsive media strategy.

Limit preconceptions
Even though the opportunities offered by an innovation may be crystal clear, those preconceptions should be kept in check in the first instance, by spending time listening to people’s views and behaviours using a wide range of approaches and questions, before taking research efforts to a wider consumer base.

This year, we began our trends process with mobile ethnography and trend exploration workshops with over 120 consumers in various locations across the country. Only then did more extensive quantitative research follow; we expanded our research to over 6,000 consumers aged 18+ to both size and assess people’s behaviour over time.

Once the research team had this clear visibility on the trend themes, the quantitative and qualitative research was supplemented with social and search insights for further refinement. Then, finally, future-scoping consumer sessions were used to map out the longer-term direction of the trends in people’s lives.

By combining a series of methodologies, in this particular order, agency research teams can identify not only the who, the what and the how many, but also get to the crux of why – looking at the human drivers behind people’s thinking and behaviours. At every stage in the programme, researchers should ensure they are talking to a wide spectrum of people, representing all age groups, areas of the country, technological abilities and walks of life.

Client implications
Although the audience comes first, manifestations scoping and expert opinion – both within the organisation, and more widely across the industry – still have important roles to play. We used expert interviews in particular to test potential industry impact and explore tangible strategies and application for the trends we had identified. When something is new, the more that can be done to ground its application, using real examples and thinking from different sectors and countries, the simpler its practical adoption will be in the future.

Ride the zeitgeist
Positioning people at the heart of trends identification is becoming increasingly important, particularly as we now see marked differences in opinions and behaviours when speaking to the wide variety of people we meet around the UK.

Growing polarisation in British society is impacting much more than the now familiar issues of politics and Brexit. We have found that London (and indeed urban) attitudes and behaviours, for example, are quite different from elsewhere in the UK when it comes to technology and innovation – especially around areas such as voice related technology, live streaming, smart payments, smart homes and virtual celebrities. These innovations were all more likely to be used, and perceived positively, in comparison with the rest of the country.

This approach to trends is not an easy or a straightforward one. Speaking to people about technology that might not be featuring widely in their day-to-day lives (blockchain, anyone?), uncovering the themes and patterns around nebulous concepts, and sometimes not even knowing exactly what it is we need to be asking about can make for some tough research challenges. But the variation we see in people’s activities, attitudes, interest and comfort levels, combined with understanding how technology can fit into their wider lives, makes it worth the extra efforts.

With this consumer perspective, we believe it’s unlikely 2019 will be a year for emerging tech, despite the industry’s obsession with the new. Rather, we see the coming year as one that will consolidate the innovations we’ve been talking about for several years as they become embedded more deeply in people’s lives.

Julia Ayling is head of research and insights and Sophie Harding is trends and insights director at Mindshare UK.