Opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of Rolling Stone editors or publishers.
There are many ways to describe 2020, but one noteworthy word is scarcity. For all of us, the world turned upside down in early March 2020. Just like that, we were sheltering in place. Restaurants and retail closed, and unemployment skyrocketed. Our world was anything but normal, and it got small. Suddenly, toilet paper and disinfectant wipes were new social currency. Divisive politics consumed our everyday lives, while society held a mirror up to face the social injustice that has long plagued this country and the world.
As 2021 approached, there was a sense of optimism.
That year was finally behind us. The vaccine rollout was about to be underway, and a new administration was imminent. But hope was somewhat fleeting, driven by the capitol insurrection of January 6, the surge of the virus, news that the vaccine rollout was slower than anticipated, and those crushing unemployment numbers. The pile-on felt never-ending. What else could possibly be right around the corner?
Hitting a Pandemic Wall
Consumer needs and values shifted quickly and dramatically in response to the pandemic. Greater emphasis has been put on what we can control, especially our health and home, which both have taken on new meaning. Our home is now our office, our theater, our brand (what’s on the shelves behind us, the animals or family members that appear on our calls, etc.), our laboratory (more bread baking). A focus on health has taken us to new depths of exploration of our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual selves.
We’ve spent a whole year on this journey — meaning consumers are now rushing for new experiences informed by this tumultuous (sometimes perplexing) time. More than ever, they will be looking for indulgence and escape. But it won’t be in traditional ways — it can’t be. This demand to satisfy wanderlust and passion is a huge opportunity for all forms of media.
Media’s Shifting Form Factor
The entertainment business was shaken up by WarnerMedia’s decision to release all films on a direct-to-consumer platform on the same date as the slated theatrical release. Was it the end of Hollywood? Or was it a necessary shift? The fact is, audiences are not only discovering new content and experiences but also consuming them on myriad platforms — further proof it is now consumers dictating the terms of media consumption to a degree.
Take note of these shifts and consider how they apply to the media you are creating and distributing:
• Time Spent: For too long, media companies assumed consumers had a short attention span. The reality is consumers have short “consideration” spans: When they find something they connect with, they make time to engage. The explosion in popularity of podcasts in recent years comes to mind.
• Need for Community: More than ever, the idea of community has been redefined on social platforms. Clubhouse is a testament to the next generation of finding your tribe. And watch for the wannabe Clubhouses any day now.
• Diversity: The reckoning of 2020 has created an enormous opportunity to give voices to marginalized and often ignored communities by creating experiences that speak to and support underserved audiences.
• Authenticity and Trust: While they may be considered two of the most overused words in media, you have to deliver them for your consumers, now more than ever.
• Splurge: Remember the pandemic wall? Engage and inspire your audience with the big, bold, even outrageous. Instagram sensation @zillowgonewild is a terrific example of an all-out escape.
• Agility: Consumer need is an even faster roller coaster than it has ever been. Creators have to be more agile and flexible than ever before to respond to ever-changing need states. Hold fewer internal meetings, and ask your customers directly what they want to see and hear. Get the answers, and listen carefully. You’ll likely be surprised at the responses you get.
There is nonstop disruption in the media business, but that creates a new space for enormous creativity and heaps of innovation. The big question is: What can you do with your media business to address these nascent consumer needs and find success, even while it’s ever-changing?