Comms focuses too much on 'young, enthusiastic and engaged'

PR strategies often favour audiences who are 'easiest to persuade', giving the industry a 'highly distorted picture of society', according to a new report from Grayling and Opinium.

For the Dis/Connected Consumer Index, Grayling and Opinium surveyed 12,000 adults globally, asking respondents about the frequency of their media consumption and preferred types of media, then determining how much these consumers trusted each form of media.

The results showed that the most common type of consumer in the UK was one who consumed lots of media and had high levels of trust (nicknamed ‘the plugged-in’), making up 30 per cent of the respondents.

However, Josh Glendinning, research director at Opinium, said the comms industry tended to tailor its work too heavily towards these “people who are young, enthusiastic and engaged”.

“They tend to be the most passionate advocates of brands, the earliest to adopt new technologies, the most forthcoming in expressing their views, and often the easiest to persuade through marketing. However, focusing on this group alone gives a highly distorted picture of society.”

In a less promising discovery for the comms industry, Grayling found that the size of the highly engaged category was almost matched by its polar opposite group, those who consumed less media and had lower levels of trust – the 29 per cent of the UK population known as ‘the opt-outs’.

“These people feel a growing sense of alienation from and cynicism about society and contemporary culture, resulting in them actively leaning away from communications, content and information,” said Grayling.

The report emphasised that ‘the opt-outs’ were not a “fringe group”, with nearly four in 10 (39 per cent) earning more than £30,000 per year, and nine in 10 make key purchasing decisions.

To better reach ‘the opt-outs’, Grayling recommended using hyper-local media and addressing regional issues rather than global ones. This comes as 70 and 85 per cent of the group saw newspapers and social media as untrustworthy, respectively, leaving them distanced from significant global issues. 

Additionally, nearly three-quarters (73 per cent) of ‘the opt-outs’ did not trust the government to make decisions in the public interest. In response to this, Grayling said comms pros should “think about ways you can support neglected regions and local areas and connect on heartland issues (e.g. economy, jobs, local services)”.

Another group with little trust towards the media was ‘the informed sceptics’, said Grayling, who were cynical despite consuming lots of media. When combining the 21 per cent of surveyed Brits who fit this category with 'the opt-outs', Grayling pointed out that half of the UK was therefore distrustful of the information it received.

With an appetite to stay on top of trending topics, the ‘informed sceptics’ were the most avid consumers of social media, with 81 per cent engaging daily, meaning brands can reach them by becoming “part of contemporary culture”. This is a difficult task however, given that 70 per cent said they did not trust what they saw online.

“They are the group most likely to pay ‘lots of attention’ to brands, but struggle to spontaneously think of any brands they trust – indicating what they are currently hearing isn’t working effectively,” said Grayling.

It explained that “the challenge isn’t in reaching this group but cutting through to them”, meaning brands should develop campaigns with “believability”.

According to the report, both groups of distrusting consumers were unlikely to approve of  brand narratives around purpose and ESG, meaning businesses were most likely to win them over by instead emphasising the value of their products or services.

In the report, Glendinning concluded: “We often assume that having more ways to communicate than ever is an unalloyed good. But communication is underpinned by trust and good faith. Without these, new technology is an irrelevance at best and a recipe for further alienation at worst. 

“Communicating with groups who feel disconnected starts by better understanding them. We hope that this report goes some way to improving this understanding and starting an important conversation about how we can reconnect.”

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