Paul Watts

If Trump and Pope Francis were in a marketing campaign

Planning a marketing campaign for 2022?

When designing a marketing campaign, one of the first questions that needs answering is ‘who’s my target audience?’

A good understanding of target demographics (or firmographics in b2b markets) is usually a good starting point but it can only get you so far!

Many people who share the same demographics have very different needs and preferences.  And the more precisely you’re able to define your target audience the more effective your marketing campaign is likely to be.

Beyond demographics

Basic demographics might tell us that 99% of our past customers are female and aged 25-49.  Or, if we sell b2b, we might be able to say that most of our customers are SME engineering businesses.  But clearly, not all women aged 25-49 (or SME engineering businesses for that matter) are interested in our product.  So, it’s getting a step beyond this that’s often the problem.

So, how might we sharpen our focus to ensure we are targeting the right people with the right messages.

What we need is to develop a profile that includes other useful information. It might tell us something useful about how they like to buy that could affect the way in which we sell.  Or, perhaps it might tell us something about their interests that helps us to design a more effective advertising message.

Knowing what is likely to interest and engage our target audience is key.  It helps us make important decisions about messaging and message placement. 

This all sounds great in theory, but it is not without its challenges.

Pitfalls

I’m sure we’ve all heard some ‘marketing persona’ horror stories.

The trouble is that once you go beyond demographics you are looking at increasingly intangible things.  This makes it harder to pinpoint exactly what you need to focus on and what is, frankly, not relevant.

Typical problems in these cases might well include:

  • It becomes hard to see the wood for the trees, as you have so much detail. 
  • You can create some great looking personas but, when it comes to actioning them, it’s hard to see how they help you design and execute a marketing campaign.
  • With several different persona types, it looks sensible but …  you struggle to see how or why you can practically approach these groups any differently from each other.

In essence, you end up with information that you can’t action.

So how can you get it right?

Having a clear business goal

It may seem obvious but having some clear overall business objectives in mind before you even start is a critical first step. 

A vague objective like “we need to improve our marketing communications” is not only going to make it hard to define your target audience, but it also makes the design of any marketing messages very challenging.  And, of course, it makes it very difficult to measure the success of any marketing campaign.

Often the objective might simply be to boost sales.  That has the merit of being tangible, but sometimes there might be more to it than that. 

Perhaps we’ve identified our brand has an image problem with certain customers?  If this is the case, we might want to look at which customers these are and why, so that we can address these issues directly. 

Perhaps we want to attract more customers of a particular type (e.g. higher margin)?  That means we need to understand what makes these people different from other customers and how we can engage with more of them.

Our business objectives determine what kind of information we need to consider or collect to better understand our target audience.

Deciding what we need to know and why

Once we have our objectives clearly in mind, we can start to make some choices in terms of the kind of information we need.

Clearly, we are going to want to look at buyer behaviour, preferences, attitudes, and interests.  But we can’t look at everything!  So, we need to set some rules early on in terms of what’s relevant.

Ultimately, when the chips are down, we only need to know three specific things about our audience:

  • Who are the people I need to target?  And,
  • How do I reach them?  And,
  • How best can I engage with them?

A good marketing agency can certainly help with these, especially the latter two.  However, the more focused your brief, the easier it will be for them to get it right. 

So, you need to define your target audience but only in terms of information that sheds light on these three key questions – not in terms of everything!

Knowing that someone has a particular hobby is potentially interesting.  But what do we do with that information?  Does it help us assess whether we should be selling to them or not?  Can it help us target them more directly?  Does it help us design a message that engages them more effectively?  If the answer to those three questions is ‘no’, then, interesting or not, it is useless information since it is not actionable.

On the other hand, if, for example, we were considering whether to sponsor a sporting event, it could help us a lot to know how popular that sport was in our target audience.  If it is only 5% then sponsorship is hardly worth it.  If it is 90% on the other hand, then sponsorship looks like a good investment!  Then the information becomes actionable.

The key thing is to make sure that each piece of information we consider (or try to collect) has the potential to be directly related to one of our three key questions.

Information gaps

Sometimes it is possible to create a detailed, meaningful, profile of our target audience just with the information we already have.  The results of past marketing campaign activities, customer interactions with salesmen and CRM records might all help you build up a picture of your target audience.

However, sometimes you might find that there are gaps in your knowledge or aspects of customer behaviour that you simply don’t understand. 

Maybe you have some of what you need buried in your CRM somewhere that just needs digging out.  But maybe it’s information you just don’t have.  This is where market research can come in; helping to plug any gaps and provide the answers to anything you might be missing.

Developing meaningful audience personas

It is one thing having information – it is quite another making effective use of it.

Pulling it all together and sifting out what is important from what is not is an important step in itself.  The last thing you want is to end up in a situation where information overload prevents effective action.  During this sifting process it is key to keep referring to our three key questions.

One of the reasons these exercises can sometimes run into problems is when people go overboard and (for reasons ultimately unclear) develop numerous different marketing personas, each of which represents a different potential target segment.

Before you start going down that road, ask yourself this – do I even need that?

It is all too easy to divide your audience up into different audience personas.  However, although they may indeed be different in very real and measurable ways, the question is are they different in a meaningful way?  This come back to our three key tests – should I target these people?  How do I reach them? What should I say to them?  If the answers to these three questions is the same for all the different personas you create, then it is pointless having all these different personas. 

Perhaps you only need one target audience persona – unless there is a tangible business reason for having more than one, there is no need to over complicate things.  Developing multiple personas can provide valuable insight when it’s actionable but is nothing more than a confusing distraction when it’s not.

Success Criteria

When you arrive a definition of your target audience, there are some key things you need to check to make sure it’s on the right track.  More specifically, ask yourself; is it…

  • Identifiable: your definition of your target audience has a distinct / characteristic mindset that sets them apart from everyone else.
  • Significant:  it may sound obvious but there is little point in defining a target audience that only represents 1% of your market!
  • Reachable: You need to have a good idea of how to reach your audience.
  • Differentiated: Your target audience needs to be clearly differentiated from the rest of the market.  Also, IF you have ended up with more than one target persona, you need to be able to differentiate between them.
  • Actionable: i.e. it helps you design and execute a marketing campaign.
  • Has sustained relevance: you need to be confident personas aren’t based on passing fads that won’t apply two months down the line.

If your able to define your target audience in those terms, you can really make your marketing campaign a lot more focused and effective.  

About Us

Synchronix Research is a full-service market research agency.  If you have any questions about our services or would like to explore the concept of creating meaningful audience profiles further, please get in touch.

You can email us with any questions; we’d be more than happy to hear from you.

A Christmas scene

What makes a Merry Christmas?

Christmas approaches. 

With Omicron now looming we once again find ourselves facing uncertain times. 

But we shouldn’t let the Omicron grinch ruin our Christmas.  And so, this blog aims to be a bit more festive in the hopes of raising our spirits – at least a bit! 

Let’s try to think, instead, about all the things we love about Christmas.  Christmas day, Christmas dinner, Santa, nativity scenes, Christmas trees and spending time with our family.

In thinking about these things, it suddenly occurred to me – how did all these things come together to make a modern Christmas?

What makes Christmas Christmassy?

Well, Christmas is obviously a Christian festival to celebrate the birth of Christ.  I think we all get that bit.  So, it’s easy to see how the nativity fits in. 

But what about the rest of it? 

Santa?  A jolly man in a red suit from the North Pole?  I’m not sure what he would have been doing in 1st century Bethlehem.  Reindeers?  You don’t see many of those in the middle east.  Come to think of it, I’m pretty sure turkey and Xmas pud weren’t on the menu at the Bethlehem inn.

So how did we end up with the Christmas we have today?  Where did all these seemingly unrelated ‘trimmings’ come from, I wondered?

Well as I am a researcher, I should be able to find that out!

Christmas Day

Christmas day falls on 25th December.  This is the day when we celebrate Christ’s birthday.  But wait.  How do we know he was born on that day?  The Bible itself does not actually say when he was born.  So where do we get that date from?

The earliest record we have of Christmas being officially celebrated on December 25th was in 336 AD.  It was just after the Roman Emperor Constantine had converted to Christianity.  So why did the Romans pick that day?

Well, as it turns out, December was a popular time of year for festivals.  The pagan Germans celebrated Yule at around this time and the Romans themselves had Saturnalia.

Saturnalia, by Constantine’s time, ran from 17th to 23rd December.  It was a festival of the Roman God Saturn.  It was typically celebrated with banquets, private gift giving and general drunkenness.  Sound familiar?

Constantine’s new Christian regime was no doubt keen to ween people off their pagan beliefs and festivals.  So perhaps that might explain why 25th December was picked as the official day to hold a mass to mark the birth of Christ.  Or perhaps it just seemed like an obvious time of year to have a festival.

Whatever their thinking, the Romans picked 25th December as the official date for Christmas Day from 336 AD onwards.

Santa

So, how does a jolly North Pole dweller with a penchant for chimney potholing and distributing gifts to children find himself in Bethlehem at the time of Christ’s birth?

Well, obviously, he didn’t.  But don’t worry – Santa is real!

Or, at least, Saint Nicholas was real.  Saint Nicholas was born in Turkey (not the North Pole) in 270 AD.  He is officially the patron saint of sailors, merchants, archers, repentant thieves, children, brewers, pawnbrokers, unmarried people, and students.  That’s a lot to look after if you are also expected to dish out presents to every child on earth in just one night every year.

Saint Nick famously inherited a large amount of cash from his parents when they died.  However, being a devout Christian, he took all the teachings about the potential evils of wealth very seriously and decided the best thing to do was to give the money away to the poor and needy.  But he didn’t want to be tempted with pride by taking the credit for his charitable acts, so he distributed the cash at night, hooded and cloaked.

Never went near the north pole.  Probably never saw a reindeer.  Elves?  Right out.

How Saint Nick became ‘Santa’

Anyway, in 1087 AD (we think) the Spanish brought the celebration of Saint Nick’s saint’s day to the Netherlands.  In the Netherlands, they called him Sinterklaas – from which we get “Santa Claus”.  It was the Dutch who seem to have taken the gift giving aspect of Saint Nick’s story one step further and added tales about him riding across the rooftops (on a grey horse rather than in a sleigh) dishing out presents to kids.

Originally his saint’s day was set on 6th December – close enough to Christmas for him to eventually become a part of the main event. 

‘Father Christmas’

Meanwhile over the channel, in England, the English invented a character they came to call “Father Christmas”.  The earliest record of this was a carol written by the Reverend Richard Smart; most likely published sometime during the 1460s or perhaps the early 1470s.

In this carol the Rev. Smart mentioned a character called ‘Sir Christmas’ who announces Christ’s birth and encourages those who heard the good news to ‘make good cheer and be right merry’.  The good Reverend Smart was certainly an optimist since the War of the Roses was raging all around him when he wrote it!

By the time of Henry VIII, the character of Father Christmas was well established in England.  By that stage he was usually depicted as a large man dressed in robes of green or scarlet.

At some time – no one really knows exactly when – the image of Father Christmas and Sinterklaas blended together in an English-Dutch fusion to create the Santa Claus we know and love today.

Santa gets his sleigh

When Europeans began to settle the Americas in significant numbers, they brought their various Christmas stories and traditions with them.  And so it was that Santa first acquired his sleigh and his reindeer not in the North Pole, but in New York! 

In early 19th century New York, the image of Santa riding in a sleigh pulled by reindeer first appeared.   The grey horse had obviously been traded in for the sleigh and reindeer but, aside from this, New York’s Santa was the same Santa inherited from England and the Netherlands. 

An academic by the name of Clement Clarke Moore was the specific New Yorker most directly responsible for popularising the new look Santa.  He wrote a poem about Santa and his sleigh in 1823, even going so far as to give all the reindeer their names. 

It all had little to do with 3rd century Turkey, but it soon became very popular – so popular that Moore’s image of Santa with his reindeer and his sleigh stuck. 

And where do you find reindeer?  Well obviously, in places like Lapland of course!  And so it was that Santa found a home in the North Pole – all thanks to a New York Professor of Oriental and Greek Literature.

Christmas Trees

Evergreen firs are most common in northern climes, so not necessarily an obvious choice of tree for a Bethlehem scene.  So, how did Christmas trees get in on the act? 

In more pagan times evergreen trees were viewed as a symbol of life in mid-winter.  They appeared to thrive at a time when other plants died.  However, they weren’t necessarily associated with any festival.  This came much later.

There is one story that says the tradition of decorating trees for Christmas started with Martin Luther – the 16th century founder of Protestantism.  The tale goes that he was walking home one night and was awestruck by the sight of stars shining through the trees above.  He apparently decided to re-create the effect at home for his family by decorating fir trees with candles.

Whether this is true or not, the custom of decorating a Christmas tree began around this time in Germany.  However, they were not universally accepted as part of the Christmas tradition by any means.  In the 17th century, many puritans in both America and England disapproved – denouncing them as a “heathen” practice.  But 200 years later, when Queen Victoria (another German) allowed herself and her family to be sketched enjoying a family Christmas around one, they became firmly established as part of Christmas tradition.

Christmas Pudding

The very earliest Christmas puddings appeared in 14th century England.  Originally, they were a kind of porridge called “frumenty” – a savoury dish made from meat mixed with wines and fruits.  It was eaten during the preparations for Christmas but not as part of the day itself.

By the 16th century, tastes changed and it became more of a sweet pudding than a savoury dish.  Dried fruit had become more readily available and were increasingly used as a standard ingredient.

It wasn’t served as a standard dessert for Christmas Day until around 1650.  By this time, it was called “plum pudding” and much more like the recipes we use today.  The puritans of course tried to ban it on the grounds that it was “sinfully rich” in flavour.  They were probably right, but that doesn’t stop us from eating it these days!

Christmas Turkey

Turkeys were first brought to England in the early 16th century via Spanish merchants returning from South America.

There was an advantage in eating turkeys in the winter rather than killing a cow or a chicken.  A cow could provide milk through the cold months if kept alive and a chicken could provide far more eggs than a turkey.  This meant that turkeys presented a very attractive alternative for a hearty mid-winter meal.

Henry VIII was the first person to specifically include turkey in a Christmas feast.  Before then such feasts had typically included geese, boars’ heads and even peacocks!

So, this is Christmas

As it turns out, the Christmas we know today is a truly international creation – blending traditions and stories from a diverse mix of different countries and peoples. 

Romans, Dutch, Germans, English, Turks, Americans, and Spanish have all contributed their own traditions to the Christmas story.  Everyone from American academics to Turkish Saints and English Kings have all played their part.

Christmas really is for everyone!

So, raise a glass this festive season and take the advice of the good Rev. Smart to ‘make good cheer and be right merry’.

Merry Christmas everyone! 

About Us

Synchronix Research offers market research and content writing services. 

You can read more about us on our website.  

You can catch up with our past blog articles here.

If you like to get in touch, please email us.

Sources

Britannica

Christianity.com

History.com

Pudforallseasons.com.au

Squaremeal.co.uk

Thefactsite.com

Wikipedia – Saint Nicholas

Wikipedia – Saturnalia

Kindle against a mountain backdrop

Books in a digital world

These days, it seems as though virtually everything is rapidly going digital. But, as it turns out, not so much when it comes to books.

That is not to say that ebooks and downloaded audiobooks have not enjoyed significant success in recent years.  But, despite all this, the fact remains that paper formats remain highly popular.

Paper remains king

Figures from the Association of American Publishers show that ebooks and download digital audio combined to account of just 16.5% of book revenues (for consumer publications) in September 2021.  The market, in cash dollar terms, is still dominated by paper.

Some have pointed out that such figures probably exaggerate the position of physical books.  AAP figures come from major publishing houses that tend to be more paper reliant.  The self-published/indie market generates a higher proportion of digital sales that is not represented in their figures. 

Also, digital format books are usually sold for a significantly lower revenue per unit than paper.  So, volume share and revenue share will be very different animals.

However, even if we take account of these factors, print still accounts for the largest share of the market.  Estimates from the bookseller place ebooks as accounting for something closer to 19% of the market value and 36% of the volume in 2019.  You would need to add to that the share taken by the growing audible market.  Nevertheless, it’s still clear that paper remains very popular.

Why do paper books remain so popular?

Given so many other sectors have ‘gone digital’ so quickly, the ongoing resilience of the paper book market requires some explanation.

An obvious question to ask is whether this is a generational thing?  In many aspects of modern life, the older age groups have proven more reluctant to move to digital.  The same factor is likely at work here – but that does not fully explain why the non-digital option remains so popular in this market compared to others.

Others might point to the fact that there are people who struggle to read books in digital form.  Some people don’t like screen reading and some even some find that screen reading gives them headaches.  No doubt this is an issue for some but surely not that many.  Also, screen issues would not serve as a barrier for download audio.

Another factor is the fact that you rent digital books – you don’t own them.  Some people may object to this on principle and stick with paper as a result.  But how many people are even aware that they don’t own the books stored on their ebook reader? 

Of course, practically speaking, a paper book requires no battery and as you can only read one book at a time, it is almost as easy to carry around as a digital version.  So, in that sense, the e-version offers only a minimal advantage.

Emotional appeal

People do take practical considerations into account when making buying decisions, but much of our consumer behaviour is driven by emotional need rather than simple logic.  So, perhaps paper books continue to have appeal because they are, in and of themselves, appealing as a physical product.  Fans of the format like it because it has a tangibility and an aesthetic appeal in and of itself. 

The pleasure of storing a book on a shelf or of building a physical library may provide an emotional motive for preferring paper to digital for some.  The satisfaction of signposting your literary tastes to others on a train or in a coffee shop, by displaying the cover of your chosen read may also be a factor.  Even the sensory feel of a physical book may provide a subconscious motive for sticking with paper.

Preference is not an either/or choice

We asked 119 fiction readers about their preferred formats for fiction this autumn.  The results revealed that, for many people at least, it is not always an either-or choice when it comes to buying ebooks vs print.

68% say they enjoy reading fiction in ebook form but 71% also expressed an affinity for paper.  There is considerable overlap here.  Indeed, 42% of readers say they enjoy reading both ebooks and paper books.  29% express a preference for paper but not for ebooks and 26% prefer ebooks to paper.

Clearly then, 42% of the market would happily consider buying a book in either format depending on the book and the situation.

Younger readers are more open to new formats

It is true that younger readers are more willing to try newer formats.  80% of the under 45s enjoy ebooks, compared to 62% of the over 45s.  Younger readers are also more likely to be willing to try audio books (30% of the under 45s like this format, compared to 19% of the over 45s).

Paper remains a highly popular format regardless of age.  Younger readers remain significant fans of paper books and show no signs of abandoning the format any time soon.  Indeed, they are no less likely to express a fondness for paper than older readers.

Higher volume readers rely more on ebooks

If we take a look at people who say they ‘love’ reading ebooks and compare them with other people who are less keen we see some behavioural differences worth considering.

eBook lovers do tend to read more (although it is important to note that some of this will be consumed in paper form as well as digital).  71% said they read ‘very often’ as compared to just 44% of other readers. 

Naturally, if you are consuming a higher volume of books then opting for an ebook format makes more sense.  For one thing, ebooks are less expensive, so acquiring them in volume would work out at a significant saving vs paper. 

Also, if you are reading more then you are likely to be getting through more books in a shorter time frame.  Hence, whilst you are travelling, ebook readers make it easier to carry more books with you.  If you are reading less, then it’s unlikely you need to carry more than one book with you.  In fact, an infrequent reader might not see the need to carry books around at all, opting to read only when at home in bed.

The desired reading experience

However, we did find evidence to show that format preference may well be influenced by emotional/aesthetic appeal of the format rather than practicalities or demographics.  The kind of reading experience a reader is looking for influences whether they might choose to read a book in a paper or ebook form.

ebook lovers were more likely to say that they enjoyed reading books with comforting themes (32% expressed a preference for this experience, compared to only 16% of other readers).

On the other hand, ebook lovers were much less likely (7% vs 27%) to express a strong attraction to books that covered unsettling themes that really made them think. 

Could it therefore be that the electronic form exerts a greater appeal for situations where readers are looking for a relaxing and comforting reading experience?  By contrast, could the desire for paper have greater appeal in situations where a more thoughtful and challenging reading experience is desired?

There may, of course, be other emotional drivers that may cause a reader to pick paper over digital (or vice versa) that we have not yet had the opportunity to fully explore.  But it is nevertheless clear that consumer choice is dictated by factors other than practicality and function.

Digital won’t replace paper any time soon

Paper format books remain highly popular.  Significant numbers of younger readers (the majority in fact) continue to enjoy reading paper books.  So, we can safely say that we won’t be seeing any rapid migration to digital led by younger readers any time soon.

Paper continues to have enduring appeal – an appeal that may well transcend any practical advantages of the digital format and which is actually more deep rooted in the emotional experience of engaging with a paper book.

For these reasons any migration to purely digital consumption is likely to be slow.  Maybe, in time, it will accelerate.  Perhaps concerns of the environmental impact of consuming paper books might eventually tip the balance in favour of digital. But that’s something for the longer-term future.  For the immediate future, paper looks set to remain a key format.

About Us

Synchronix is a full-service market research agency.  We believe in using market research to help our clients understand how best to prepare for the future. 

You can read more about us on our website.  

If you wish to follow our weekly blog you can view all out past articles on our website here.

If you have any specific questions about our services, please contact us.

Sources

Association of American Publishers

CNBC

The Bookseller

Synchronix Market Research

Figures watching eSports on screens

eSports – The rise of new mass media

eSports is emerging as a serious new mass entertainment medium for the 21st century. 

But what are eSports?  That may sound like an odd question to ask if you are close to the world of gaming, but the fact is that some people don’t know that much about it. 

Indeed, 10% of UK gamers in 2021 did not even know if they had ever watched an eSports event or not.

For the uninitiated eSports are not, as you might think, something to do with a Peloton membership.  eSports are all about playing computer games competitively in a tournament. 

Not only do these events attract large numbers of competitors, but they also attract significant online audiences.  The fact is that millions of people around the world enjoy watching other people play in gaming competitions.

A growing sport

eSports has grown enormously in popularity in recent years.  Major events now claim global audiences in the millions.   This has attracted significant advertising and sponsorship revenues from big brands like Red Bull, Coca-Cola and Intel. 

But they have only scratched the surface in terms of potential sponsorship and advertising revenues.  Many brands outside the industry still simply don’t yet know enough to decide whether to get involved.

So, just how popular are eSports today?

Big numbers

There is no doubt that some events are posting big numbers when it comes to audience sizes.  Global estimates claim that as many as 435 million people watched at least one eSports event in 2020.  Big tournaments like the League of Legends World Championship are now able to generate a peak viewing audience of around 4 million.

Of course, 4 million is still less than the peak audiences generated by many of the world’s biggest televised sporting events.  BBC1’s peak audience for Wimbledon reached 9.6 million in 2019.

However, far more important than the current audience size is the rate of growth.  Audiences have grown from 160 million in 2016 to 435m by 2020.  At that rate the biggest of these events could well be matching the viewing figures of Wimbledon soon.  The future looks a very exciting prospect.

But beyond the big numbers, what about some specifics?  Who watches eSports?

Audience specifics

What do we know about the people who watch eSport?  Is (for example) an audience of 2 million, an audience of kids or adults?  Are they Americans, Russians, British or Chinese?

It might be tempting to assume that most viewers are likely to be kids and teenagers.  However, adults make up over half of the global audience. 

It is important to remember that eSports is still a relatively young and fast-growing medium.  There are many people today who only watch occasionally that may well become regular viewers in future.   We are talking about a global audience that has nearly trebled in size in the space of just four years after all.

So, let’s look at this emerging audience in more detail by focusing specifically on the UK.  Who watches eSports in the UK today?  How might this change in future?

The UK Audience for eSports

Nearly 9% of all UK adults now say that they often watch eSports.  This equates to 3.6 million UK adults. 

However, a further 24% say that they have watched eSports at least occasionally (a further 9.8 million).  The potential UK audience is therefore significantly larger than currently.

In terms of what kind of eSports people like to watch, the most frequently mentioned was FIFA (which appeals to 49% of UK viewers).  The second most popular watch was Fortnite (35%).

However, when it comes to the third most popular watch, it’s too close to call.  Games like Rocket League, Call of Duty, Streetfighter and League of Legends cluster close together with around 15%-20% of viewers citing such games as eSports favourites.

UK Audience Demographics

Infographic of UK Adult eSports Viewers

The majority of UK viewers are male but eSports are attracting a significant female audience as well (one in three).

In terms of age profile, eSports are attracting a younger audience.  55% of the UK adult audience is under the age of 35. Although, at the other end of the spectrum, interest clearly falls away significant amongst the over 45’s.

This highlights one of the key strengths of eSports as a new medium.  More traditional media such as the major terrestrial TV channels struggle to engage with the under 35s in the same way.  2019 Ofcom figures show that, of the five main terrestrial TV channels, only around 17% of the audience was under 35.

The Future of eSports

eSports will provide advertisers with an increasingly attractive way to reach the under 35s in future.

However, eSports is still in its infancy in many ways.  The biggest commercial terrestrial TV channel (ITV) was reaching 54% of the UK population every week in 2018.  Contrast that with the current 9% of UK adults who say that they often watch eSports. 

There is clearly a long way to go before this new medium matches its more traditional rivals in terms of overall reach but the future potential is immense. 

If all those people who’ve only watched occasionally become regular viewers in the next few years, eSports could reach 33% of the UK adult population.

For further information about the UK gaming market

The statistics quoted in this article come from our UK Gaming Market Report of 2021. 

This report provides invaluable insight into current trends in the UK gaming market, covering detailed gamer demographics, genre preferences, device preferences, trends in Cloud, eSports audiences, VR, gamer consumer profiles, aspirations for the future and more. 

You can find out more about this report on our website.  

If you wish to follow our weekly blog you can view all out past articles on our website here.

If you have any specific questions about our services, please contact us.

Sources

Playbook – UK Gaming Market Report 2021, Synchronix Research

eSports Trade Association

Ofcom

SportsPro Media

Wimbledon

People gaming

The Evolution of Gaming 2 – How Gaming Has Spawned Different & Diverse Audiences

In our last blog we talked about how the gaming community has evolved and diversified over the years.  Once upon a time it may have been reasonable to think of ‘gamers’ as a homogenous group.  But as different genres and types of gaming experiences have developed, so too has a diverse mix of very different gaming audiences.

Different gaming audiences

Fans of one genre often represent a very different mix of people from the gamers who favour a different genre. 

This is obvious if you think about it.  But the devil (or rather the insight) lies in the detail.  Our new gamer survey explores exactly how audiences differ for different genres of games.  Let’s consider a couple of examples:

First person shooter games have been with us for years.  Early classics like Doom and Halo have become so huge that they have spawned film adaptations and a stream of international merchandising.

Contrast this with casual gaming – a genre that has really hit the big time largely since the millennia.  Some of these games have also made a big impact on modern culture.  Just think how influential games like Angry Birds or Candy Crush were at the height of their popularity.

Some gamers – many in fact – enjoy playing both casual games and shooters.  However, these two genres nevertheless attract a very different profile of fans overall.  Different in terms of the kind of people they are, how they like to play and even in terms of their consumer behaviour outside of gaming.

Shooters vs casual gaming

To illustrate this, let’s compare fans for casual gaming with those of shooters in the UK.

Infographic of how different games attract different gaming audiences

Both genres are popular. More than one in five adults have played a shooter in the past year and more than one third have played a casual game.

However, the typical casual gamer is a woman who usually plays on a Smartphone. She buys her games from App Store or Google Play. 

The typical shooter fan is male, plays on consoles and gets his games from Amazon, PlayStation Store or Game (a major games retailer in the UK market).

Both genres also hit different sweet spots in terms of player age.

Shooters appeal to a younger audience; 75% of players are under 45.  For shooters the young age demographics are important and the under 25s form a significant proportion of players.

Casual gaming is very different, attracting an older fan base.  Most casual gaming fans (67%) are aged between 25 and 54; the under 25s being significantly less important for the success of these games.  

Different buyer behaviour

But the differences do not end there.

Casual gamers are a lot less likely to pre-order new games (just 14% say they’d usually pre-order a game they like the look of, compared to 24% of shooter fans). 

Casual gamers are less likely to buy new games in general (just 60% bought a new game last year compared to 90% of shooter fans). 

However, casual gamers are more likely to acquire free-to-play games (39% acquired 6+ new free games last year vs. 33% of shooter fans).

Both types of gamers use social media extensively.  Media such as YouTube and Facebook are popular with both groups.  However, more dedicated ‘gamer’ media like Twitch or Discord have a much stronger appeal with the shooter fans.  Shooter fans are twice as likely to use Twitch for example.

Different consumers

Fans of shooters and casual gaming also have different consumer tastes and preferences in their lives outside of gaming.

It is in this regard that the difference between the audience composition for different genres are likely to become more important for gaming brands in future.

Gaming, as an industry, now forms a major part of mainstream culture.  One of the consequences of this is that gaming businesses are increasingly looking to partner with brands outside the world of gaming.

Joint promotional opportunities with non-native brands will be either more or less attractive depending on the type of audience a game attracts.  One obvious area where this is developing fast is in eSports.  eSports are attracting growing and increasingly diverse audiences, presenting attractive opportunities for advertising and sponsorship. 

eSports and gaming can often attract and engage with audiences that more traditional media struggles to reach.  For brands outside gaming, access to these audiences is an appealing prospect.

Each to their own

Knowing which audience a particular game or eSports event is likely to attract is therefore vital.  Big audience numbers are important – but unless these numbers can be accurately profiled, they remain problematic for would-be sponsors and advertisers.

For example, casual gamers are more likely to list arts and crafts in their interests (30% vs 21%).  That means arts and crafts brands, content and events offer a much more meaningful area of potential opportunity. 

On the other hand, shooter fans are more likely to list technology and gadgets as an interest (45% vs 26%), which makes technology brands more obvious partners for this genre.

Non-native brands, looking to partner with gaming brands will increasingly want to understand how different games, different genres and different events work in terms of the audience they attract.

New Media

Gaming has already started exploring its potential as a new media (with big brands like Coca-Cola now involved with eSports) but in many ways this journey has just begun.

A more in-depth understanding of these audiences is the way forward.  As gaming develops, the audiences attracted will become increasingly diverse.  It is already the case that fans of sports games have a different profile from either casual gamers or shooter fans.  The same is true if you look at virtually any other genre – be it horror, RPGs or racing games etc.

This starts to matter even more in the emerging world of eSports.  This new media is still growing and, to some extent, still on a steep learning curve. 

Knowing that an eSports event attracts 4 million viewers is great. However, the value of this audience is seriously limited if you know little or nothing about it beyond a headline number.   What countries do these viewers come from?  How old are they?  Are they male or female?  If even these very basic questions cannot be accurately answered, the appeal of such eSports events for non-native brands will never reach its full potential.

These are important questions that eSports will have to answer. So this will be the theme of our next blog.

For further information about the UK gaming market

The statistics quoted in this article come from our UK Gaming Market Report of 2021. 

This report provides invaluable insight into current trends in the UK gaming market, covering detailed gamer demographics, genre preferences, device preferences, trends in Cloud, eSports audiences, VR, gamer consumer profiles, aspirations for the future and more. 

You can find out more about this report on our website.  

If you wish to follow our weekly blog you can view all out past articles on our website here.

If you have any specific questions about our services, please contact us.

Sources

Playbook – UK Gaming Market Report 2021, Synchronix Research

A couple gaming

The evolution of gaming – from niche to mainstream

There was a time, perhaps not so long ago, when gaming was viewed as a niche hobby, appealing only to young men.  Many people’s idea of a ‘gamer’ was of a teenage boy glued to a computer screen, leading a semi-reclusive and often nocturnal lifestyle.

But this has changed.  Gaming has evolved significantly since those times and now reaches a far more diverse demographic than ever before.

In 2021, the fact is that most people are gamers.  Using the results from our recent gamer survey, we explore just how widespread and diverse gaming has become.

Old stereotypes persist

Surprisingly, some people still regard gaming as a niche interest, apparently clinging to many of the old stereotypes.

Only this year in September an article appeared in the Telegraph under the headline “Grown men shouldn’t be wasting their lives playing video games.”   The story implied firstly that gaming is a bit of a frivolous waste of time for an adult, and secondly that it’s mainly men, rather than women, who tend to ‘waste’ their time doing it.

Of course, it is strange indeed that gaming should be singled out in this manner. Other equally unproductive leisure pastimes like watching movies, attending a gig or being a spectator at a sports event are, for some reason, considered to be less of a waste of time.  But leaving that aside, the idea that gaming is still the exclusive preserve of geeky teenage boys couldn’t be further from the truth.

Most of us are gamers

The reality is that gaming is now a mainstream interest.  Our survey shows that 76% of adults aged 16+ played a game last year. 

Now you might argue that playing Call of Duty for an hour on your old Xbox360 once last year does not a ‘true’ gamer make.  There are of course a few people who only play occasionally like this.  However, perhaps a better way of looking at it is that around 60% of us play games on a regular basis (at least once a week).

So, the truth is that most adults are playing games regularly.

Gaming is no longer an all-male preserve

The idea that gamers are mostly all men is also false.  The reality is that the majority (57%) of adult women play games every week (compared to 64% of men).  So, male gamers still make up the majority – but only just.

Men and women often engage with gaming differently, however.  They have different platform preferences, different genre preferences and even different preferences in where and how they like to buy their games.

Info graphic of UK gaming habits by gender

Men are more likely to play on the more conventional gaming platforms like PCs or games consoles.  40% of male gamers would solely play regularly on such devices, with only 18% being predominantly mobile gamers.  For women, the reverse is true. Nearly half of female gamers play regularly on mobiles but hardly at all on PC or console platforms.  Only a minority of women (15%) would tend to avoid mobiles in favour of playing regularly on a PC or Console.

Men are more likely to opt from games like shooters, sports and fighting games – all classic genres with a long-established history.  However, for women, casual games are by the far the most popular.  Women also like games with a mystery solving theme (rather than fighting and/or shooting themes) and many women like to play what we’ve termed “table games”.  This relates to a mobile, console or PC version of a conventional game that you might expect to physically play at your table (like sudoku, scrabble, jigsaw puzzles or solitaire).

Platform and genre preference also impact on where people like to buy their games.  Women, with a stronger preference for mobile and casual gaming are much more inclined to source their games from places like the App Store and Google Play.  For men, sources like Amazon and PlayStation Store become far more important.

Gaming across the generations

But is it still true to say that gaming is mainly all about teenagers and people in their early twenties?

No.

68% of youngsters aged 16-24 play games every single week.  This is higher than the average for all adults, so gaming certainly appears to be most popular with this age group.

However, a very similar proportion of 25–34-year-olds play just as often. And if we look at the 34-44 age group we see that as many as 64% also play regularly. 

Gaming remains almost as popular with the 45-54 age group; 62% of whom play every week.

For the 55-64 age group, we do see some decline in interest in gaming.  However, significant numbers of people of this age still play and still play regularly.  41% play games every week.  It seems that many of the old Space Invaders generation are still gaming strong.

Gaming is evolving as a key media for the C21st

Gaming is fast becoming as much a part of our daily leisure activities as watching movies or listening to music. 

As a leisure medium, gaming benefits from the potential to offer a high degree of interaction.  The player does not passively experience a game, they actively participate in it.  If a game designer can get it right, they can create a truly absorbing, interactive experience that will attract a highly engaged audience.

This isn’t simply an opportunity for gaming brands but, increasingly, a fast-evolving opportunity for brands outside the industry.  The medium of gaming provides such brands with a golden opportunity to connect with a highly engaged audience.

eSports events already attract significant sponsorship from brands like Intel, Coca-Cola, Honda and Red Bull.  For a brand like Intel, the tie-in is an obvious one, with gamers being such important consumers of higher-end PCs.  But what about soft drinks and automotive brands? Well, here the tie-in is also compelling; regular gamers account for as many as 70% of adults who say they enjoy soft fizzy drinks and 61% of car owners.

Gaming offers all these brands a means to reach out to highly engaged audiences; some of which may be hard to connect with via other more traditional media.

One thing is for sure, as gaming continues to evolve, it will reach out to wider and more diverse sections of the community. This will bring with it new challenges as well as new opportunities.

For further information about the UK gaming market & Synchronix

The statistics quoted in this article come from our UK Gaming Market Report of 2021. 

This report provides invaluable insight into current trends in the UK gaming market, covering detailed gamer demographics, genre preferences, device preferences, trends in Cloud, eSports audiences, VR, gamer consumer profiles, aspirations for the future and more. 

You can find out more about this report on our website.  

If you wish to follow our weekly blog you can view all our past articles on our website here.

If you have any specific questions about our services, please contact us.

Sources

Playbook – UK Gaming Market Report 2021, Synchronix Research

Mental Health Foundation

Telegraph, Camilla Tominey, September 2021

Fantasy castle

Amazon’s Quest for Gaming Success

For Amazon, it is rarely enough simply to expand into new markets; the aim is always to become a key player in everything they do.  

Of course, Amazon has served as an important channel to market in gaming for some time now.  However, more recently, Amazon has been turning its attention to other opportunities in the gaming market.  With its launch of Luna in the autumn of 2020, it set out its stall to become a key player in Cloud Gaming.  And soon, it is set to launch New World – its major new Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (MMORPG).

A New World in a Mature Market

We often think of online gaming as a new and rapidly growing market and, in many ways, it is.  However, the MMORPG space now has a long, and well-established history. 

World of Warcraft (WOW) has, since its launch way back in 2004, been the dominant player in the market.  WOW has been with us for 17 years now. Its key rival, Final Fantasy XIV (FFXIX), has now been around for 11 years. 

An MMORPG with an even longer history is RuneScape.  It doesn’t attract the number of players you’d see with the big two, but it remains a popular and enduring game.  It has been around for 20 years now – testimony to the potential longevity of a successful MMORPG.  I remember playing it years ago (yes, I used to be an adventurer like you, until I caught an arrow in the knee…).

So, MMORPG is a market with several well known (and well loved) established players.  It is also a market that has found a comfortable niche for itself.  Only around 1 in 20 gamers would say they were MMORPG fans, so it is very much a minority interest even within the gaming world.  However, as we all know, many of those fans are very devoted, spending many hours playing these games, month in, month out.

Breaking into a mature market like this, populated by several well established and popular brands, won’t be easy.  But that’s never stopped Amazon before.

MMORPG in 2021

Exact figures on player numbers are hard to come by. The major MMORPG brands keep their numbers close to their chests these days). 

WOW has been the most popular MMORPG for years now. It reached a peak of 12 million subscribers in its 2010 heyday.  Its popularity has waned somewhat since then (the last official published figure was 5.5 million subscribers in 2015) but it is still the key player.  Figures from mmo-population (which can’t be taken as gospel) currently place it as attracting around 3-4 million active players every month.  That still places it ahead of its nearest rival FFXIV, which the same source estimates to have around 2-3 million active players per month.

FFXIV took a while to get established but in more recent years it seems to have been steadily building momentum.  In the overall scheme of things, it came to the market fairly late (2010). At that time WOW was most dominant.   Its success has come from a long haul rather than an overnight sensation but is now well placed to challenge WOW for the crown.  It has taken a while to get to where it is today and that is despite the advantage of being based on a popular franchise that has been around since 1987.  This just goes to show that establishing a successful game in the world of MMORPG can be a tough grind.

But that is often what it takes to make it in a mature market – sheer persistence, coupled with getting things right over the long-term, counts for much.  After all, the nature of the genre is as much about building an engaged community as it is about selling a game.

Mature but Attractive

Attracting 2-4 million players worldwide each month may not seem like so many.  These numbers are easily dwarfed by the tens of millions that play many free-to-play games (not least Hearthstone, WOW’s free-to-play spin-off card trader).  However, WOWs players are not free-to-play, they provide Activation Blizzard with a regular source of fee-paying subscription income. 

So, it is a potentially lucrative market to get into.  You can see the appeal for the likes of Amazon.

How then might Amazon go about establishing New World as a leading MMORPG?

Troubles at Activation Blizzard

Any discussion of WOW these days can’t ignore the elephant in the room.  WOW has clearly suffered from the sexual harassment scandal that has engulfed Activation Blizzard.  Many point to a migration of MMORPG players away from WOW to the likes of FFXIV as being a direct result of this.  Some speculate that perhaps WOW may finally be on the verge of losing its market leading position.

Could this be a weakness that might be exploited?  With Amazon about to launch New World, the scandal that broke at Activation Blizzard over the summer could hardly have come at a worse time.

However, despite these troubles, I still think it would be a brave man who’d bet against WOW in the long run.  Many have forecast its demise before, only to be proved wrong.  The game has proven surprisingly resilient over the years. 

The scandal has left WOW vulnerable but by no means fatally so.  But the onus is clearly on Activation Blizzard to get its house in order and any failure to do so could yet lead to its demise.  All that said, Amazon will need to do a lot more than simply capitalise on WOW’s woes to establish New World as a key force in the MMORPG space

Entering Mature Markets

The strategies that Amazon can use for successfully entering this market are not any much different from entering any other mature market.

First off, the mere fact that the market is mature means that it is inherently difficult to do anything radically different or ground-breaking.  However, that is not to say it’s impossible to re-imagine and re-package the MMORPG concept in fresh and appealing ways. 

Secondly, we need to remember the Jeff Bezos maxim “Your margin is my opportunity”, and the current subscription models generate a margin that Amazon can attack. 

Thirdly, one way to attack a mature market is to make creative use of channels to market – by finding new and innovative ways to reach out to your target audience.

These will be the three things to watch out for in my view.  If Amazon can get these elements right, it will, with perseverance, successfully carve out a place for its New World.

The New World

There are a number of ways in which New World may be able to offer enough points of difference to tempt players into giving it a try (and more importantly, retain them).

New World does have the advantage of being new.  While it lacks the historic pedigree of its rivals, the flip side of that is that it also lacks the baggage. There is an advantage in representing a completely fresh start.  It can leverage the latest technology without having to worry about legacy and, if it can do that well enough, it can make itself stand out.

It has so far promoted itself as offering a strong Player v Player (PvP) element.  This may prove an attractive selling point if it works reliably.  The beta test revealed some possible issues here, but Amazon should have the necessary resources to set these right.  Certainly, the lesson of Cyberpunk 2077 should be that premature launches are dangerous waters.  In the MMORPG market, this can be especially costly.  FFXIV’s faltering start in 2010, cost it a good three or four years before it was able to get to a place where it could build some momentum.  Amazon must avoid this at all costs.

Building a Strong MMORPG

New World’s early modern world setting is different enough and certainly promises the potential to offer a rich gaming environment.  The challenge now is to really bring that to life with strong narrative content.

In the long run, it is crucial for an MMORPG, perhaps now more than ever before, to have a strong set of engaging storylines and intriguing quests.  Strong PvP is great but Player v Environment (PvE) is key. PvE has, for many WOW players, been the key to WOWs enduring popularity.  Indeed, many MMORPG players never or rarely play PvP.  For these players, the richness of the environment, the quality of the quests and the strength of storytelling is why they play.  This is what ultimately wins and retains players.  This will be the key test for Amazon’s New World.

Margins of Opportunity

A real strength of Amazon is the brand’s ability to bring compelling offers to market at a great price.  It is a common Amazon play to attack a market with the aim of making lower margins to leverage a price advantage that buys market share.

With New World the approach to pricing looks like it might be designed to create just such a point of competitive difference.

Rather than charging a monthly subscription, it looks like New World will simply require a single one-off payment.  In all likelihood, it will then seek to make money from the publication of additional in-game content.  That seems like an approach deliberately designed to attack the competition – why pay monthly fees when you can get the rival product for a one-off cost that’s less than a six month subscription?

That would appear to the aim anyway.  A point of difference for sure – but it remains to be seen how appealing this will prove to be in practice.

Leveraging New Channels

In launching the beta version, Amazon set out its stall to attract key influencers in the form of streamers.  Amazon have bet that if they can get enough streamers to buy into the concept, these people can each promote New World to potentially hundreds of followers.

Ultimately, the gaming market is heavily influenced by a cohort of highly engaged gamers who stream content, write blogs and contribute to online reviews and game ratings.  They represent a highly influential minority and, if you can get them on board, they will do much of the work of promoting your game to the wider market for you.

Amazon have realised this and have clearly tried to woo these influencers during their beta testing.  The only question is, have they made a strong enough impression upon these people to have sold their New World to them?  The obvious risk stems from the fact that these streamers are not beholden to Amazon.  If they like the game, they will promote it to a wide audience quickly.  But if they don’t like it, they could just as easily put potential players off.

Launch

New World launches later this autumn.  That’s when we’ll begin to find out if Amazon have got the ingredients right. 

Launching in a mature market does require persistence and can be a tough learning experience if you haven’t got your ducks in a row.  The one thing Amazon can’t afford is to launch with anything incomplete or buggy.

However, if it can launch a game with that works well for PvP, offers good value, makes good use of new technology and which, critically, offers strong worldbuilding and storytelling, it could make a serious impact on the world of MMORPGs.

About Synchronix

Synchronix is a full-service market research agency.  We believe in using market research to help our clients understand how best to prepare for the future. 

You can read more about us on our website.  

If you wish to follow our weekly blog you can view all out past articles on our website here.

If you have any specific questions about our services, please contact us.

Sources

Activision Blizzard

Denofgeek

Eurogamer

mmo-population

PC Gamer

Windows Central

Forest fire as an example of climate change effects

Climate Change in 2021

The Latest IPCC Report

On 9th August, the IPCC released its latest report on climate change.  Based on a detailed assessment of the available scientific evidence, it concluded that we are virtually certain to see global warming of around 1.5oC over the next 20 years.

In the longer-term global warming could rise even further, potentially exceeding a 2oC increase by 2050.  And, if it does exceed 2oC, that is bad news.  At that level the report warns, “heat extremes would more often reach critical tolerance thresholds for agriculture and health”.  Indeed, under one possible scenario we might be seeing a rise of as much as 4.4oC by the end of the century.

The report warns:

“…unless there are immediate, rapid and large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, limiting warming to close to 1.5°C or even 2°C will be beyond reach.”

Who are the IPCC and why does this report matter?

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is the United Nations body for assessing the science related to climate change.  All 195 countries around the world support its work. Scientists from all around the world contribute to and assess its reports.

Every few years it publishes a detailed up-to-date assessment of where we stand.  The first report was published in 1992 and this latest report (August 2021) is the sixth.  As a result, its reports represent the most up-to-date, detailed and authoritative assessment of climate change available. 

The impact of global warming

Delving into the detail of the report reveals some rather frightening statistics that bring home just how significantly climate change is impacting our world:

  • In 2019, atmospheric CO2 concentrations were higher than at any time in at least the past 2 million years.
  • Global surface temperature has increased faster since 1970 than in any other 50-year period over at least the last 2000 years.
  • Global mean sea level has risen faster since 1900 than over any preceding century in at least the last 3000 years.

Over the past century, our world has experienced an average temperature rise of around 1oC.  We have only taken action to curb that increase relatively recently.

Where are we now?

Many nations have taken action to drive down CO2 emissions over the past two decades.  And, of course, the COVID pandemic temporarily forced a significant short-term reduction whilst much of the world was in lockdown.  So, we have made some progress.

Between 2000 and 2010, global CO2 emissions increased by just over 30%.  Between 2010 and 2019, emissions have continued to increase but, overall, at a much slower rate (10%).  Indeed, since around 2014/2015 the rate of increase has flattened significantly.

However, although CO2 emissions are no longer rising by much, they are not yet falling.  We are still a very long way from achieving anything approaching net zero.

What does the future hold?

Where we go from here will, of course, depend very much on what we do.  Do we take dramatic action now?  Do we aim for sharp and significant reductions in emissions and take the economic and financial pain that such action would surely demand? 

Or do we prioritise protecting the economy as far as possible and aim for much more gradual reductions? Depending on how fast (or how slowly) we act, the IPCC has calculated five possible scenarios.  Everything from a best-case scenario, based on what is likely to happen if we take drastic action fast.  Ranging through to a worst-case scenario, where CO2 levels continue to rise until late on in the century before finally seeing any reduction.

IPCC Climate Change Forecasts - 5 possible scenarios

Drastic Action

If we take drastic action now and achieve a global wide net zero for CO2 emissions by 2050 then the best-case scenario will apply.  However, so far, only 137 out of 195 countries have published a target of achieving net zero by 2050 (and even this is still under discussion in 72% of these countries).   Also, China (the world’s largest source of CO2 emissions) has set its net zero target for 2060, not 2050.

So, at present, the best-case scenario is unlikely.  Indeed, even under this scenario we are still almost certain to see a mean global temperature rise of 1.5oC relative to the average temperature of the world in the period 1850-1900.  It is now already too late to prevent that.

Given recent trends and current government targets around the world (and assuming those targets are all met), we are more likely to be looking at something similar to Scenario 2 or 3. 

In Scenario 2, we would need to see a more gradual but sustained reduction in emissions, achieving global net zero by around 2070 or 2075.  If we achieve that, we can just about avoid a temperature rise of 2oC.

Scenario 3 would assume a very limited/modest rise in CO2 emissions, gradually flattening as the century wore on, followed by a steady reduction in emissions from around 2060 onwards.  In this scenario we would not achieve net zero until the end of the century.  If this happened, we would see a rise of over 2oC by 2060, approaching a potentially catastrophic 3oC by the end of the century.

How will global warming affect us?

Depending on where you are in the world you are likely to experience different effects from global warming. 

Global warming has led to significant Artic ice melt but less significant melt in the Antarctic.  So it is not affecting us all equally.

However, places that have seen problems with extreme heatwaves leading to wildfires will see these events become increasingly common.  Places that have experienced more spells of torrential rain, leading to serious flash flooding will see such problems become a more frequent occurrence in future.

For northern Europe, global warming is likely to mean more heat waves in summer and fewer cold snaps in winter.  It will also mean more rain, especially in the winter, and more flash flooding following heavy downpours.  We can also expect to see more coastal flooding in those areas that have experienced such problems in the past twenty years or so.

For southern Europe and the Mediterranean region droughts, increased aridity and an increased incidence of wildfires in summer are very likely if global warming hits 2oC.  Agriculture in these areas is likely to become a lot tougher and the threat posed by wildfires will mean scenes like those in Greece in the summer of 2021 will become increasingly common.

Right now, we stand at a crossroads.  We can, if we so choose, act and limit the impact of global warming to something closer to that forecast in Scenario 1 or 2.  However, if we decide to act more slowly and opt to place short term economic and financial concerns before the longer-term environmental impacts, we may well be facing a serious crisis situation by the middle of the century.

In the light of this report, the decisions made at Cop26 this autumn will have a critical impact on our future. 

About Synchronix

Synchronix is a full-service market research agency.  We believe in using market research to help our clients understand how best to prepare for the future. 

You can read more about us on our website.  

If you wish to follow our weekly blog you can view all out past articles on our website here.

If you have any specific questions about our services, please contact us.

Sources

IPCC

Our world in data

Visualcapitalist

Thames Barrier

London Floods

Last Sunday London experienced serious flash floods following torrential downpours.  The London Fire Brigade received over 1000 flood related calls.  Two hospitals had to close for patient admissions.  Many roads and underground stations had to close, as did the Blackwell Tunnel.

But was this just a freak natural event or a symptom of global warming?  Is it a portent of things to come?

Global warming means heavier showers

It is difficult to specifically link these flash floods directly to global warming. 

However, a warmer climate will mean that showers, when they happen, will tend to be heavier over time.  According to the Grantham Institute, warmer air can hold more moisture.  That means that an increase in temperature of 1-1.5 degrees centigrade will lead to storms being about 10% stronger than they would otherwise have been.

Since 1880, global temperatures have warmed by a total of around 1oc but over the next century global warming looks like it will increase average temperatures by between 1.5oc and 5.5oc.  On that basis we can expect showers to become, typically, 10% – 50% heavier. 

So, London could be seeing a lot more flash floods by the end of the century.

Polar melt and rising seas

Climate change brings another threat to London beyond flash flooding from torrential rain.  A warmer climate is melting ice in the northern hemisphere, which is causing sea levels to rise.

London is built around the Thames Estuary and, for much of its history, it has served as a major port as well as the nation’s capital.  As sea levels rise, the danger of flooding from the Thames becomes more significant.

In the period 1971 to 2009, glacial melt is thought to have occurred at a rate of 226 gigatonnes per year.    Over the period 1971-2012 Arctic sea ice has been melting at a rate of 3.5 to 4.1% per decade.  Warming has also affected areas like Alaska and Siberia, melting permafrost over time.  Average temperatures in these places are thought to be on average 2-3oc higher now than they were back in 1971.

Of course, all this melting ice inevitably means more water in the oceans.  During the past centuries it is estimated that sea levels have risen by an average of 1.7mm per year.  It is also accelerating and by 2010 it was rising by over 3mm per year.

For a city that has always been vulnerable to flooding, like London, higher sea levels spell trouble ahead.

London’s Defences

The Thames Barrier represents London’s most prominent and important flood defence.  These gates can be shut to protect London from North Sea storm surges.   As sea levels rise London will need to rely on the barrier more and more and we can expect to see the gates being closed more frequently to prevent surges from flooding the capital.

Water levels in the Thames Estuary are estimated to have risen by around 15cm between 1911 and 2018.  So without the Thames Barrier, London would have experienced some significant floods over the past couple of decades.  It is estimated that around 16% of London properties lie within the flooding risk zone protected by the Barrier.

Since its construction in the early 80s the gates have been used increasingly over time.  So far, 2014 stands out as the most active year (during which it was raised/closed as many as 50 times).  During the past couple of decades the barrier has typically been needed about 7-8 times a year.

Graph of Thames Barrier gate closures

How long will the barrier hold?

The good news for Londoners is that the Thames Barrier is reasonably future proof.  It is likely to continue to protect London well until 2070, although the plan is to start looking for its replacement / upgrade in 2040.

Between 2035 and 2050 it is anticipated that London will need to improve flood defences such as raising flood walls and other smaller barriers and reshaping the riverside.

In terms of local conditions, it is estimated that London might expect 59% more rainfall by the end of the century.  By 2100, the water level in the Thames Estuary might be as much as 1 metre or more higher than it is today.  The proportion of London properties at risk will increase from 16% to 23% over that time and the Thames Barrier, as it is today, will not be able to protect Londoners any longer under those circumstances. 

In less than 20 years from now London will need to start thinking seriously about alternatives.

About Synchronix

Synchronix is a full-service market research agency.  We believe in using market research to help our clients understand how best to prepare for the future. 

You can read more about us on our website.  

If you wish to follow our weekly blog you can view all out past articles on our website here.

If you have any specific questions about our services, please contact us.

Sources

Earth.org

Environment Agency

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Freedom Day – a British Experiment

19 July 2021 is “freedom day” – the day when the UK government has relaxed the last Covid restrictions in England.  But does it mark a return to normality (whatever that is), or is it, as some have suggested, a dangerous British experiment?

For many of us, the relaxing of restrictions is a welcome relief.  The cost in economic and social terms has been high.  Many businesses in the hospitality sector have really struggled to survive the restrictions.  That’s not to mention the impact on our social lives.  Covid has left some people feeling incredibly isolated and others struggling on reduced incomes. 

Most of us are keen to see life return to normality.  After all, we cannot go on like this forever.  Sooner or later, we must find a way to live with Covid.

Dangerous experiment?

However, some experts have dubbed “freedom day” as a dangerous British experiment. 

In an article in the Lancet, on 7 July 2021, the idea of relaxing restrictions on 19th was branded as dangerous and premature in a letter signed by 100 experts that has since been endorsed by many scientists around the world. 

These experts highlighted five of key risks:

  1. A significant proportion of the population are still unvaccinated (especially younger adults and children).  This will lead to high levels of infection running the risk of leaving many people with long term health problems.
  2. It risks high levels of infection amongst children that will accelerate when they return to school.  This will lead to further significant disruption of children’s education.
  3. Such high levels of infection represent fertile ground for dangerous new strains of Covid to emerge.  This includes the risk of a vaccine resistant strain emerging.
  4. It will lead to more hospitalisations which will place significant pressure on the NHS.
  5. Deprived and vulnerable communities are the most at risk and likely to be hardest hit by rising infection rates.

The experts recommended delaying easing restrictions further until the vaccination program has covered most of the population.  This would imply a delay until late August or possibly early September.

As it stands, on 19 July 2021, the government statistics show that nearly 88% of the population had had their first jab and 68% had received both jabs.  These are high numbers and positions our vaccination roll out well ahead of other countries.  However, it is nevertheless the case that one in three of us are not yet fully covered.

Infections are rising

Infections have risen significantly since the beginning of June, as restrictions have been eased and we have had to deal with the impact of the more infectious Delta variant. 

Graph of UK trends in cases: July 2020 - July 2021

The number of cases is fast climbing towards 60,000 and could easily hit 100,000 by the end of the month.  There seems little doubt now that case numbers will exceed the peak we saw back in January 2021.

The link between cases and hospitalisation: weakened but not gone

It has been claimed that new cases are not leading to new hospitalisations. 

A few weeks ago, we wrote a blog in which we created a Covid Index to allow us to view trends in cases, hospitalisations and deaths in parallel.  So now seems like a good time to revisit this to see how well the data supports this claim.

Unfortunately, if we look at the data, we can see that this claim is not entirely true.

It is now clear that we are seeing a gradual but distinct uptick in hospital admissions.  More cases does mean more hospital admissions, even if the link is now a lot weaker than before.

UK Covid trends INDEX: July 2020 - July 2021

The good news is that the level of increase is not tracking new cases anywhere near as closely as was the case back in January.  At that time rising cases led to a similar rise in both hospitalisations and deaths.  These followed on fairly quickly behind case reporting. 

Now, the immediate impact is much reduced and instead we are seeing a more gradual but nevertheless notable increase in hospitalisation.

Clearly, the fact that so many people are now vaccinated (especially amongst the most vulnerable groups) means that a much higher proportion of infections are now mild or asymptomatic.

A modest increase in deaths

A closer look at trends over the past month also show that as yet we are not seeing any major uplift in deaths.  However, the figures do show a slight overall increase.

Graph of Covid Trends INDEX: Summer 2021 Trends

Overall case numbers have grown to be around four times higher than the average for the past 12 months. 

Hospitalisations are rising at a slower rate but rising, nonetheless.  The current levels of hospital admissions sit are around 75% of the average number recorded over the past 12 months.  At the current rate of increase it is likely that hospital admissions will exceed that average before the end of the month.

Deaths, at present, show only a relatively modest increase since the start of June.  We’d have to say that at present it is too early to fully judge the likely medium-term impacts on death rates.  Death rates are still low at around 10%-15% the average of the rate we have seen in the past 12 months.  However, this is still up from a rate of under 5% recorded during late May and early June.

Likely trend

As vaccination continues to roll out, it will inevitably have an increasingly depressive impact on infections.  However, the relaxing of restrictions will serve as an accelerant – especially amongst young adults who are the least protected and the most likely to wish to congregate together in large social gatherings at pubs and nightclubs.

It is always difficult to predict numbers given the changing nature of the pandemic and the ongoing rolling impact of vaccinations.  However, it seems that by the middle of August we are likely to see:

  • Infection rates; will probably exceed 100,000 cases.
  • Hospital admissions; likely to be c.1,300 per day.
  • Deaths; likely to be c.50-70 per day.

This would mean that hospitalisations would be around the levels we were seeing in mid to late February and deaths at around the levels we were seeing in mid-to-late March. 

With infection rates about 100,000, many people would be forced to self-isolate based on current test and trace rules, which could be very disruptive.  Although the government plans to modify rules of self-isolation for fully vaccinated people, this will not happen until mid-August.

A race to roll out

We are now in a race between a virus that has been given significant freedom to spread on the one hand and a vaccination programme that is fast progressing to a point where the population will be fully vaccinated on the other.  These two factors combine to push the numbers in different directions.

Of course, we have to re-open society and adapt to live with this virus at some point.  Let’s just hope we have not made that step a month or two too soon.

About Synchronix

Synchronix is a full-service market research agency.  We believe in using market research to help our clients understand how best to prepare for the future. 

You can read more about us on our website.  

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Sources

Government Coronavirus Data

Lancet, 7 July 2021

The Guardian, 16 July 2021

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