The year audiences need extra cheer

“Life might start to return to pre-Covid normality, but audience mindsets have changed for good.”

In last year’s prediction, I told you that I would spend time studying our readers’ needs during different moments of news consumption. Little did we know then how much audience behaviors and mindsets would change in 2020.

At Condé Nast, my coworkers on the global audience research team have tracked audience sentiment and behavior throughout this pandemic year, complementing the understanding of audience behaviors we get from looking at dashboards of story data.

Here’s some of what we learned in 2020 — and what it means for audience behaviors in 2021.

2020: A year of altruism

In 2020, we found that audiences became more altruistic. Yes, stories that documented displays of altruism from the fashion industry, such as Zara owner Inditex donating masks and Burberry using its factories to make gowns instead of trench coats, did well with Vogue readers. But our qualitative research (via surveys and focus groups) with Condé Nast audiences found that people really became more selfless. (Of course, Condé Nast audiences are not representative of the general population of the countries in which we operate; they skew far more affluent in the majority of our markets.)

  • 86 percent of people became more worried about the economy, the survival of small businesses, their parents’ health, and the healthcare system at large — compared with 63 percent worrying about their own employment and job security, their own health, and food availability.
  • The research found that altruistic sentiment, especially among younger consumers, began turning into action, with 68 percent of people saying they would be more likely to make a fashion purchase they wouldn’t have made otherwise if the proceeds went to charity — a figure that rose to 87 percent when shopping for luxury goods.

At the end of 2019, huge numbers of people took part in movements and marches, demonstrating their desire for a better, more sustainable world — and the coronavirus increased that demand this year.

2020: A year of social responsibility

A second big change in consumer sentiment in 2020 was that audiences became more socially aware. 74 percent of people told us at Condé Nast that companies behaving more sustainably took on more importance because of coronavirus. This was even more true among Gen Z and millennials compared to boomers.

One stat I find particularly revealing is that consumers are now doing their homework before they shop. 40 percent of consumers say they look into if and how brands are addressing things like racial injustice and equality before spending their money with them. I hope we can serve these audiences with the facts they need in 2021.

2020: A year of trusted information — and then escapism

Both audience data and qualitative research found that readers sought out trusted hard news as the impact of pandemic started to reveal itself.

News became not just “America’s new favorite pastime” but the world’s hobby, especially with live sports and film production on pause. Pageviews jumped; traffic doubled to the BBC News website. But after a relatively short-lived coronavirus bump, audiences soon wanted brighter reads. By May, 35 percent of people we surveyed wanted uplifting news, and 29 percent wanted escapist news.

2020: A year of lockdowns

Having a deep understanding of our audiences’ habits — when people read, the type of stories they enjoy at particular times — helped us understand how they changed as the pandemic hit and lockdowns were introduced.

For example, by the time the U.K. and the U.S. went into lockdowns, we knew how the audiences of Vogues China, Spain, Italia, and Paris had reacted when strict lockdown measures were enforced. We could understand not only the stories that resonated, but how daily audience behaviors changed.

If there’s one thing to know about Vogue audiences — both print and digital — it’s that readers like to unwind with Vogue in the evening before they go to bed. Here is a chart that shows when audiences read the Vogue sites. This is a chart for July to September 2019; the time of day is along the bottom. You can clearly see the 10 p.m. peak for both loyal and flyby readers. (Vogue Japan is excluded because the peak is even more pronounced as they push stories to messaging app Line at this time.)

But during the first two weeks of lockdown — whether in Italy, Spain, the U.K., Mexico, or Russia — the Vogue sites were quieter in the evening, presumably while people were glued to TV news and to trusted news sites on their phones.

Here’s Vogue Spain, for example. Spain went into official lockdown at the end of week 11 of 2020. You can see how during weeks 12 and 13, the volume of sessions to the site was slightly lower throughout the day — and much lower in the evening. But after two weeks, the usual audience behaviors bounced back.

After a quieter April for many of the Vogues, particularly in the evening, audiences started to grow again. Stories of positivity, of hope, and stories that diverted readers away from the painful stats and stories of disease and death provided a welcome relief. Indeed, Vogue audience numbers have grown all year, reaching record highs, with a new milestone of 74 million global readers in November 2020, up 34 percent year on year.

2021: A year of altruism, social responsibility, trusted journalism — and of escapism and cheer

Next year, audiences will need trusted journalism from trusted news sources to ensure that science and facts win over misinformation and rumor. But audiences are also fatigued and need cheer.

In 2021, those trends of altruism and social responsibility will continue. Audiences need help to become better versions of themselves and guidance in how to be socially and environmentally responsible. Life might start to return to pre-Covid normality, but audience mindsets have changed for good.

You can see how much we learned from surveys and focus groups. Looking at story data is no longer enough. As editors, we need to listen to audiences directly in order to understand these seismic shifts in sentiment and behavior if we are to serve them.

Sarah Marshall works with the global Vogues on audience growth and development.

In last year’s prediction, I told you that I would spend time studying our readers’ needs during different moments of news consumption. Little did we know then how much audience behaviors and mindsets would change in 2020.

At Condé Nast, my coworkers on the global audience research team have tracked audience sentiment and behavior throughout this pandemic year, complementing the understanding of audience behaviors we get from looking at dashboards of story data.

Here’s some of what we learned in 2020 — and what it means for audience behaviors in 2021.

2020: A year of altruism

In 2020, we found that audiences became more altruistic. Yes, stories that documented displays of altruism from the fashion industry, such as Zara owner Inditex donating masks and Burberry using its factories to make gowns instead of trench coats, did well with Vogue readers. But our qualitative research (via surveys and focus groups) with Condé Nast audiences found that people really became more selfless. (Of course, Condé Nast audiences are not representative of the general population of the countries in which we operate; they skew far more affluent in the majority of our markets.)

  • 86 percent of people became more worried about the economy, the survival of small businesses, their parents’ health, and the healthcare system at large — compared with 63 percent worrying about their own employment and job security, their own health, and food availability.
  • The research found that altruistic sentiment, especially among younger consumers, began turning into action, with 68 percent of people saying they would be more likely to make a fashion purchase they wouldn’t have made otherwise if the proceeds went to charity — a figure that rose to 87 percent when shopping for luxury goods.

At the end of 2019, huge numbers of people took part in movements and marches, demonstrating their desire for a better, more sustainable world — and the coronavirus increased that demand this year.

2020: A year of social responsibility

A second big change in consumer sentiment in 2020 was that audiences became more socially aware. 74 percent of people told us at Condé Nast that companies behaving more sustainably took on more importance because of coronavirus. This was even more true among Gen Z and millennials compared to boomers.

One stat I find particularly revealing is that consumers are now doing their homework before they shop. 40 percent of consumers say they look into if and how brands are addressing things like racial injustice and equality before spending their money with them. I hope we can serve these audiences with the facts they need in 2021.

2020: A year of trusted information — and then escapism

Both audience data and qualitative research found that readers sought out trusted hard news as the impact of pandemic started to reveal itself.

News became not just “America’s new favorite pastime” but the world’s hobby, especially with live sports and film production on pause. Pageviews jumped; traffic doubled to the BBC News website. But after a relatively short-lived coronavirus bump, audiences soon wanted brighter reads. By May, 35 percent of people we surveyed wanted uplifting news, and 29 percent wanted escapist news.

2020: A year of lockdowns

Having a deep understanding of our audiences’ habits — when people read, the type of stories they enjoy at particular times — helped us understand how they changed as the pandemic hit and lockdowns were introduced.

For example, by the time the U.K. and the U.S. went into lockdowns, we knew how the audiences of Vogues China, Spain, Italia, and Paris had reacted when strict lockdown measures were enforced. We could understand not only the stories that resonated, but how daily audience behaviors changed.

If there’s one thing to know about Vogue audiences — both print and digital — it’s that readers like to unwind with Vogue in the evening before they go to bed. Here is a chart that shows when audiences read the Vogue sites. This is a chart for July to September 2019; the time of day is along the bottom. You can clearly see the 10 p.m. peak for both loyal and flyby readers. (Vogue Japan is excluded because the peak is even more pronounced as they push stories to messaging app Line at this time.)

But during the first two weeks of lockdown — whether in Italy, Spain, the U.K., Mexico, or Russia — the Vogue sites were quieter in the evening, presumably while people were glued to TV news and to trusted news sites on their phones.

Here’s Vogue Spain, for example. Spain went into official lockdown at the end of week 11 of 2020. You can see how during weeks 12 and 13, the volume of sessions to the site was slightly lower throughout the day — and much lower in the evening. But after two weeks, the usual audience behaviors bounced back.

After a quieter April for many of the Vogues, particularly in the evening, audiences started to grow again. Stories of positivity, of hope, and stories that diverted readers away from the painful stats and stories of disease and death provided a welcome relief. Indeed, Vogue audience numbers have grown all year, reaching record highs, with a new milestone of 74 million global readers in November 2020, up 34 percent year on year.

2021: A year of altruism, social responsibility, trusted journalism — and of escapism and cheer

Next year, audiences will need trusted journalism from trusted news sources to ensure that science and facts win over misinformation and rumor. But audiences are also fatigued and need cheer.

In 2021, those trends of altruism and social responsibility will continue. Audiences need help to become better versions of themselves and guidance in how to be socially and environmentally responsible. Life might start to return to pre-Covid normality, but audience mindsets have changed for good.

You can see how much we learned from surveys and focus groups. Looking at story data is no longer enough. As editors, we need to listen to audiences directly in order to understand these seismic shifts in sentiment and behavior if we are to serve them.

Sarah Marshall works with the global Vogues on audience growth and development.

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