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The role of deep human insights in creative strategy

Laura Simpson, a renowned expert in the intersection of deep human insights and creative strategy, shared invaluable perspectives in her presentation at AudienceCON. These perspectives reshape how we understand and engage audiences in today’s dynamic consumer landscape.

Laura delved into the balance between human insights and creative strategy, exploring the evolving concept of audience. Here’s our key takeaways from this awesome session. 

The evolution of audience in marketing

The term audience has been a staple in marketing for years. However, its meaning and implications have evolved dramatically. In the past, an audience was often viewed as a homogeneous group passively awaiting content. Today, the narrative is different. Audiences are active, diverse, and interconnected.

As we delve deeper into the evolving concept of audience, several key trends emerge that redefine our understanding of consumers and how we interact with them:

  • Complexity and diversity: Audiences are no longer singular entities. They are complex and diverse, each individual a part of multiple communities, each with distinct interests and behaviors.
  • Active participation: The passive audience is a myth. Today’s consumers are active participants, curators, and creators of content. They are not just receiving messages but also shaping and distributing them.
  • The audience’s audience: Everyone commands their own audience in the age of social media and digital platforms. This layered audience ecosystem adds a new dimension to marketing strategies.
  • Engagement challenges: The diversity and activity of modern audiences pose a challenge. Marketers must innovate and adapt to capture attention and foster engagement.
  • The common thread: Despite the complexity, the essence of an audience remains a group of people with something in common. Identifying and tapping into this commonality is key to effective engagement.

Marketers are tasked with navigating overlapping audiences, each influenced by multiple factors. The audience is no longer a static concept but a dynamic entity, necessitating a marketing approach as fluid and adaptable as the audiences it seeks to engage. The focus shifts from broad messages to personalized, relevant content that resonates with the varied and overlapping identities of the modern consumer.

Understanding and engaging with today’s audience requires a blend of creativity, adaptability, and precision. Marketers are not just communicating with audiences but with them, fostering a dialogue that is as enriching for the brand as it is for the consumers.

The decline of demographic data

For decades, demographic data was the linchpin of brand strategy. Audience segmentations were created around age, gender, and other demographic markers. Yet, McCann Truth Central’s recent research, The Truth About Age, unveils a startling revelation - demographic data is losing its gravitas. 

As it turns out, age is a poor predictor of attitudes and behaviors.McCann’s research unearthed four key insights that challenge conventional wisdom and offer a fresh perspective on aging:

  1. Age is just a number: Our findings debunk the myth that age dictates behavior. A staggering 71% of individuals in their 70s agreed with the sentiment “you’re never too old to casually date,” a perspective shared by 62% of those in their 20s.
  2. Uniform self-perception: When asked to rate their perceived age on a scale of 1 to 10, respondents across decades, from their 20s to 70s, consistently averaged a 5. This uniformity underscores the diminishing relevance of age as a determinant of self-perception.
  3. The aging narrative: Brands and media often portray aging as a journey of decline. However, our research reveals a disconnect. Many individuals report enriched, fuller lives as they age, contradicting the societal narrative of loss and limitation.
  4. A call for relevance: The aging population feels misunderstood by brands. There’s a palpable gap between the portrayal of aging in media and the lived experiences of individuals, unveiling a significant opportunity for brands to bridge this disconnect.

As we forge ahead, the mandate is clear - transcend the confines of demographic data. modern audience is not bound by age or other demographic markers. They are diverse, dynamic, and multifaceted. In this new paradigm, the focus shifts to human-driven insights, rooted in the rich tapestry of individual experiences and narratives.

Brands are tasked with a new challenge - to see, understand, and engage audiences not as demographic segments, but as complex, nuanced individuals, each with a unique story to tell. 

AI and creativity

Over 70% of artists and graphic designers feel that AI cannot replicate the complexities of their job, while marketing is often viewed as a profession highly susceptible to AI disruption.

AI promises unprecedented insights yet evokes anxiety about the human touch in a world increasingly governed by algorithms.

McCann World Group delved deep into AI’s capabilities, exploring its prowess in pattern recognition, data correlation, and causal analysis. A recent internal exercise, involving strategic problem-solving through AI, unveiled the profound disruption AI is poised to unleash in our industry.

  • AI’s promise: AI promises enhanced pattern recognition and data correlation, offering nuanced insights that were previously elusive.
  • The anxiety: The integration of AI in audience engagement is not without its anxieties. This shift brings along a mix of anticipation and apprehension.
  • The hope: Inspired by a scene from ‘Good Will Hunting’, the realization dawns that AI, despite its encyclopedic knowledge, lacks the experiential wisdom that defines human existence.
  • The challenge: As AI becomes integral in our industry, the imperative to preserve and amplify the human touch becomes a top priority.

The truth about diversity & inclusion

Laura moved on to a topic that’s as complex as it is necessary - DIVERSITY. They conducted a massive research project involving 30,000 global respondents. 

McCann’s study revealed an encouraging trend - 67% believe in the strength derived from diversity, a number that’s on the rise. But, this consensus was marred by a disconnect between the endorsement of diversity in theory and its active promotion in practice.

The respondents were broken down into five core mindsets:

  1. Diversity denier: Those resistant to the idea of diversity and inclusion.
  2. Change champions: The advocates and warriors fighting for diversity on the front lines.
  3. Protectionist purists: Individuals who appreciate diversity but are hesitant to embrace it in their immediate surroundings.
  4. Sideline sitters: Those who acknowledge the importance of diversity but view it as someone else’s battle.
  5. Cultural conformists: People who believe that diversity issues don’t exist within their own communities or organizations.

Despite the apparent polarity in values between the Diversity Deniers and Change Champions, a common thread unites them - their engagement with human stories.

Amidst the diversity deniers and change champions lies the majority - the "yes, but" segment. These individuals endorse diversity but are motivated by varied, often conflicting, factors. The protectionist purists, sideline sitters, and cultural conformists present unique beliefs and behaviors that underscore the complexity of the DE&I narrative.

Despite the diversity in perspectives, one element emerges: the power of human stories. Both ends of the spectrum, though seemingly polar opposites, are profoundly engaged with human narratives. These stories, rich in universal human insights, hold the potential to bridge divides, fostering a deeper, more authentic connection amidst the varied audience segments.

The focus should not just be on acknowledging diversity but actively promoting inclusion. In the era of personalization and niche marketing, let’s not lose sight of how universal human stories offer common ground.

Key takeaways

Laura’s presentation underscored the complex and dynamic nature of modern audiences, the pivotal role of data and technology, and the enduring importance of human insights and ethical considerations in marketing and audience engagement.

  • Audience evolution: Audiences have transformed from passive recipients to dynamic, active participants with voices amplified by diverse platforms. They're not just listeners; they're influencers and creators.
  • Data meets personalization: Marketers are drowning in data, yet demographic info is losing its edge. The new gold is nuanced data that captures behaviors and attitudes, paving the way for hyper-personalized engagement.
  • The human touch: Amidst the data deluge, the soul of marketing remains human. Universal truths and ethical data practices are the compass that guides meaningful connections in a world obsessed with numbers.
  • AI’s double-edged sword: AI is revolutionizing audience engagement, offering unprecedented insights yet stirring a mix of hope and anxiety. The challenge? Balancing tech innovation with the irreplaceable human touch.
  • Bridging the DE&I gap: Diversity is more than a buzzword; it’s a lived experience. The speaker unveils the chasm between diversity ideals and reality, underscoring the power of human stories to bridge divides and unite diverse voices.

Laura Simpson, CIO, MW, and President, of McCann Truth Central, delivered a must-see presentation at AudienceCON on the importance of deep human insights in creative strategy. Watch it here in its entirety.