The Year Big Things Squeezed Us Into Smaller Places

The Year Big Things Squeezed Us Into Smaller Places

In this guest post, Pulse’s associate director of creative and digital, Ben Cooper (main photo), says of all of 2020’s hell we’ve gone from thinking big to rediscovering small…

It’s been a big year. Bigger than most. An unprecedented amount of big, some may say. The infancy of 2020 brought us blankets of choking smoke and nation-wide destruction. It then segued into an epidemic-turned-pandemic that shut down the world’s borders and economies, and cost us the lives of millions. It all seemed unfathomably big – and despite the control that we, as humans, thought we had on the world, 2020 felt like mother nature telling us to go to our collective room for twelve months. With no dinner.

But the bigness of 2020 also helped us rediscover the compact pleasures of keeping things small. Like lockdown COVID-bubbles, shopping local, new daily rituals and the joy of a gallery of tiny little faces at the bottom of a Zoom call. While the world’s problems felt impossibly big, our day-to-day experiences shrunk. And as our lives contracted, so did the way we work with brands. Budgets reduced. Some brands rose to new levels of dependency with Australian consumers, while others faltered and flat-lined, never to be seen again.

In our world, we still had plenty of opportunities to think big, but – if anything – 2020 taught us how to be smarter in our delivery, more strategic and way more nimble.

From our home offices, we found time to reflect on how the crises of 2020 kicked pre-existing trends in brand storytelling and marketing into hyper-speed. The recently launched report on Culture of Consumption unpacked the ways in which crisis has accelerated culture, and how brands should adapt – at pace, of course – to the lightspeed changes in how people are consuming news and entertainment.

The information world shifted on its axis in 2020. The way we internet changed fundamentally. A global state of crisis injected a dose of steroids into the symbiotic relationship enjoyed by culture and consumption. We saw this happening in front of our eyes every day; new trends being birthed on Tiktok, meme culture exploding, generational barriers being worn away through rapid adoption of technology platforms. And as adoption of digital platforms increased through necessity, our collective trust in traditional media channels wavered, fuelled more so by the shuttering of newsrooms and media outlets across the country. In fact according to 2020 research by Roy Morgan, our media has had the largest increase in distrust of any industry in the past eight months and is the third most distrusted of 25 major Australian industries.

It was this cultural chaos that cemented the power of Starting Small. A recent study by Reach Solutions entitled ‘The Aspiration Window’ acknowledged the futility of trying to understand the motivations and aspirations of broad audiences. It suggested that accessing the ‘cognitive world of audiences by association, finding places where there is trust and a community of shared values, where there is ready alignment with intrinsic motivations like love and relatedness.’ In simpler terms, without going smaller with targeting, brands can forget any sense of authentic connection.

It’s all about going niche and acting with cultural credibility, helping brands connect with consumers, breaking through distrust and building advocacy. At Pulse, we call this the Minorstream and define it as small networks of like-minded people where self-expression is celebrated. These are the people shaping our culture and making it real. They’re breaking their passions into the mainstream, and this connection with large audiences means they’re influencing the success of brands more than ever before. TikTok is a goldmine for Minorstreams. Those late-night scrolling frenzies we all sought out as an antidote to the smallness of our lives during the height of lockdown would have exposed you to many.

It’s been proven too. Campaigns targeting the Minorstream reach 38% more than those targeting broad audiences and drive 46% more campaign efficiency and effectiveness when smaller budgets are at play*. Just take a look at the gaming sector. Xbox has leveraged core groups of fervent fans who live out their passions on Twitch and in subreddits for some time. For the launch of Ori and the Will of The Wisps early in 2020, Xbox turned the game’s central character, the mystical Spirit Tree into real-world Bonsai replicas. Understanding fans’ love for limited edition game merchandise helped the brand ignite latent passion for the title, and news of the Bonsais spread through the gaming community like wildfire. It didn’t go big in the traditional sense, but it was huge for fans of the game.

As we trudge to the end of a remarkable year, many of us will find ourselves dreaming of the bigness that our pre-pandemic lives once afforded us. But it’s worth remembering that the practice of keeping things small can sometimes lead to big, beautiful things.

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