Communication in the Consumption Age


February 2014

The consumption age has changed not only how we find and receive our news, but also how we communicate amongst ourselves and with organizations. Everything has become more specific to individuals — from suggested content to targeted ads, we have a fundamentally different experience with media and marketing than we did before. In some ways, it's easier to reach our audience — they're always connected with smart phones and computers, and tracking what they read is practically par for the course.

But in other ways, target audiences are harder to reach, given the deluge of information to which they're subjected every hour. How can we find our target audience and grab their attention? What factors determine what they respond to?


Communicating with your target audience has changed a lot. Gone are the days of broad demographics — target markets are now far more narrowly-defined than they used to be. Now that we have the technology to identify people by their online habits and preferences, we're no longer limited to demographics like age, gender, income level, and geographic location. Unless you're marketing a product or service wholly dependent on geographic region or gender-specific biology, that data won't get you far. If demographics are the "who," psychographics are the "why."

Now that we can pinpoint people by multiple preferences, data can start to show them as a consumer, not a one-dimensional statistic (like the classic Prince of Wales — Ozzy Osbourne example). Behavioral targeting, which puts people's preferences and habits in the context of individuals with commonalities, is a much more effective way to target your audience based on the nuances of who they are. Since we can now track what people look at online, what they like, and what they do, talking to your target audience requires more finesse and personalization, because it's too easy for them to tune you out.

Psychographic targeting is not new, but it is more specific than ever before. So how to hone your psychographic data? Before you invest in new services, look at the data you already have with a new perspective. What blog topics garner the most traffic? That's what your readers care about. What times is your content shared on social media? That's when your audience is on social media.

Next, up your regular interaction with customer-facing teams. Find out from sales and customer service what questions are usually asked, what features people like or dislike, and how callers heard about the organization. Consider setting some time aside to listen in to some of those conversations regularly. Of course, you may encounter some resistance, so don't ask to listen on calls first thing. Focus on establishing a better relationship with sales or customer service reps, as they are the touch point for prospects and clients and thus have first-hand experience with the target audience.

But you'll need to know more about your audience than just about their interest in your product. What other things are your customers interested in? Are they readers, athletes, or video game buffs? Where do they find and share their information, and how do they communicate? Knowing what's important to your audience means you know where and how to reach them, through Facebook ads targeted to their location and likes, through native advertising on the top sites they visit, or through apps they use. Reach them where they are, not where you think they might or should be.

This is where a lot of conversations turn toward big data. Tracking and storing big data means that companies can look at every bit of information they've stored and determine how their customers act and what they're doing. Big data — and small data — can be a very powerful thing if you and your organization learn how to use the right metrics for fact-based decision-making. But with big data comes a lot of potentially overwhelming tangential, irrelevant data, so for data to be most successful, it's necessary to determine your key metrics and use big data to retrieve those metrics.

How to find those key metrics? Don't fall prey to the thinking that the metrics that are easiest to retrieve will be the most useful; ease of accessibility should be far down on the list of key metric attributes. The most important metrics are unique to each corporation, but Mike Myatt divides data into five categories of measurement that the best data-driven companies monitor: Static historical measurements, quantitative return measurements, qualitative return measurements, quantitative performance measurement, and qualitative performance measurement. After finding those metrics, success in using them depends on a change in attitude and company culture. It's not the data that matters, but how you use it.

Big data is not an easy fix or an instant solution, but with time, care, and patience, it can provide the foundation for the most effective behavioral targeting methods.

Social Media Communication

Chances are you’re probably doing the majority of communication digitally. Unfortunately, so is everyone else, and there’s a risk that your messages get lost in the sea of digital blabber. How to not be left adrift? First, don’t try to reach everybody on Twitter. It’s not going to happen. Start with trying to reach the segment of your target audience that’s already on Twitter. Find out who they follow, the content they post, and how they interact with each other. Yes, like most other effective marketing strategies, this one calls for lots of research, but it also calls for a hybrid, evolving approach. Traditional print media dominates online discussions, so an integrated approach can help strengthen your messaging.

And though we’ve said it a million times, we’ll say it one more: engage with the people who engage with you. Don’t let an @ or a RT go by without a thanks, a favorite, or an answer. Don’t let your social efforts be exclusive to a single channel. Though demographics aren’t everything, they do still matter, especially when determining where your audience is. Reaching out to women? 33 percent of women online are on Pinterest. Whereas if you wanted to reach the over-65 audience, Instagram would be the worst choice, with only one percent of Internet users in that age bracket on Instagram, whereas 45 percent of those 65 and up are on Facebook.

Those, of course, are very broad categories of people, and within each of those demographics, there’s a lot of variation, and that’s where behavioral targeting and psychographics come in. But how do we get users to pay attention once we’ve targeted them? Start with an image, as posts with photos get 53 percent more likes, 104 percent more comments, and 84 percent more clicks. Consider asking more questions with the words “should,” “would,” and “who” to get more comments; holding contests, giveaways, or sending out coupons on your social media page; and, strangely, using emoticons to increase engagement. :)

Remember that your audience also has an audience; who are they, and what sort of content would your target customer share with their audience? That is certainly not a one-size-fits-all question, but if you create content they want to share with their audience, you stand to gain far more engagement. That is the trick and the advantage to communication in the consumption age: people share what’s happening, good or bad.

Putting it all together

So how can we determine how to reach people? There’s a lot out there about how to communicate with Millennials. Sure, Millennials are digital natives on the cusp of coming into their purchasing power. But “Millennial” behavior isn’t limited to that specific age range; the digital age has changed the behaviors of just about every generation, and we think that a lot of the things we can learn about engaging with Millennials can extend to most other segments of other age demographics.

ComScore found that Millennials are about as responsive to digital ads as other generations and that while they don’t respond to television ads as much as older generations do, they remember those ads longer. Perhaps the most important finding was that Millennials are more engaged with all kinds of media than older generations. While this might be true, it’s pretty common to see people in older generations just as glued to their smart devices as Millennials are, and while there may be differences in interactions, it’s probably fair to say that the behavior of all generations has been altered by digital technology. We are all, in some way, archetypal digital beings.

So more than ever, it’s important to be memorable, and that starts with compelling content. But “memorable” is abstract and subject to the whims of the public consciousness. Think about some of the recent videos that have gone viral, or the most shared commercials from the Superbowl. Most of them had elements of humor and sentimentality. Our inner digital beasts want value and relatability in brands, and depending on our generation, we consult our online or offline networks to determine value and trust.

Though how we share information online is different across generations, we still exhibit many of the same digital behaviors no matter our age. And while it surely is a digital age of continual consumption, breaking through the chatter requires successfully straddling the online and offline realms to remain relevant, communicative, and impactful.

About BurrellesLuce

BurrellesLuce is the U.S. leader in media monitoring. Professionals in a wide range of industries rely on our comprehensive curated content from local and national print, online, broadcast, and social media sources. BurrellesLuce has a turnkey copyright compliance program that allows us to provide copyright-compliant, behind-the-paywall content not available to other services. BurrellesLuce combines grade-A content with easy-to-use software, allowing users to evaluate and analyze their media coverage and PR efforts. It's all integrated into our user-friendly interface, BurrellesLuce WorkFlow™.

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