OPINION1 April 2021

The balancing act: demographics, attitudes and pandemic behaviour

Covid-19 Opinion Trends

Researchers should keep an open mind about how people embrace different identities at different times, says Mark Inskip. 

As the pandemic reshapes our lives, there is pressure on market researchers to provide rapid insight that takes the pulse of the nation. But in the race to understand what people are thinking, doing and buying during extraordinary times – and how this will change – it’s essential that we don’t lose sight of the human being behind the data.

To reflect an increasingly complicated consumer picture, we need a nuanced and multifaceted approach to analysing behaviour.

Using demographics to segment data will always be important, but we also have to recognise the role of cultural factors in influencing how people act. 

Identity is more fluid than ever and during the pandemic many people have had time to think about what matters to them and how they see themselves in a new world order. What career change might they embrace after lockdown? New hobby? Perhaps a nascent interest in politics, given the way government has intervened in our lives these past few months?  

We can certainly still gain valuable insight and challenge assumptions by segmenting data along more traditional lines like age, race and social class. For instance, people aged 15-24 are 22%* more likely than the average adult to agree that it is only worth doing environmentally-friendly things if they save you money.

Those aged 65 or over, on the other hand, are 35%* less likely than the average adult to agree with that statement. That runs counter to the stereotype that younger people are more engaged in ethical issues.

But segmenting figures in different ways and overlaying more diverse categories (attitudes and preferences as well as age, marital status and income) can not only reveal novel insights and surprising trends, but also highlight potential new audiences and targets.

To take a specific example, people who drink a lot of bottled water are a relatively consistent group from a demographic perspective. It might sound counterintuitive, particularly given recent public focus on issues around plastic, but there is actually little change in how likely someone is to drink bottled water across different ages, incomes and marital status.

So how else can we paint a picture of who these consumers are? What do they like and dislike? What are their habits? In terms of what makes them tick, a lot can be gleaned from commonly held attitudes, leisure activities and patterns of media consumption.

For instance, frequent bottled water drinkers are 57%* more likely than the average adult to routinely meditate or practise mindfulness – a hobby that we might expect to tally with people who are more reluctant to use plastic. Anyone looking at product development or marketing can capitalise on this cultural grouping to create effective and highly targeted campaigns, whether that’s in the form of a direct offer or a corporate sponsorship that speaks very specifically to them.  

That is just one part of the story and, beyond leisure activities, we know from our research that people who drink a lot of bottled water are more likely to get their news from mobile internet and magazines rather than newspapers. These insights can help brands and advertisers cherry-pick the most effective channels to reach their audiences and really hone their messaging. 

On the flip side, these insights can also help businesses identify who isn’t buying their product or service and why. By extension, they can work out therefore who they should be directing their campaigns at and where those campaigns will create the most impact.

Market researchers know there are myriad, complex factors influencing how we think, feel and act and a line has to be drawn somewhere to allow meaningful analysis. But let’s not stick to rigid societal markers and keep an open mind about how people embrace different identities at different times. After all, research is about finding fresh insight, not validating old assumptions.

*All figures sourced from Kantar GB TGI consumer data, 2021

Mark Inskip is chief executive of Kantar’s media division 

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