Russian protester holding up opinion sign as being against war

Will Russian public opinion turn against Putin?

It is now a month since Russia invaded Ukraine.  Despite the terrible suffering inflicted on the Ukrainian people, Russia has failed to win the overwhelming victory that many anticipated. 

At present, due to a combination of genuine nationalism and rigidly controlled state misinformation, opposition to Putin’s war in Russia is limited to a minority.  However, as Russian casualties mount and Putin’s failure becomes increasingly hard to cover up, this may change. 

The big question now is, will Russian public opinion turn against Putin? And, if so, how fast?

A failing military campaign

Initially, the Russian army made some significant gains, as a combination of surprise and numerical superiority played in their favour.  However, Russian military failings coupled with stiff Ukrainian resistance led to the Russian advance slowing to a crawl within a few short days. 

Russian casualties are significant.  Precise numbers are difficult to ascertain but some sources place their losses as high as 10%.  And somewhere between 7,000 and 12,000 Russian soldiers have probably died.  These losses are higher than those suffered by the US at the height of the Vietnam war in 1967/8.  Yet, despite the sacrifice, the Russians have only managed to capture a single Ukrainian city to date.

Nevertheless, Russia still commands a massive advantage in terms of material and manpower.  If Putin remains determined to push ahead with his plan, even in the face of such losses, the Russians theoretically have the resources to continue to wage war.

However, the one thing that could stop Putin’s war in its tracks are the Russian people themselves.  Sanctions are now starting to bite and as time goes by it will become increasingly obvious that things are not going well.  It is also the case that, the longer the war goes on, the harder it will be to disguise the truth from ordinary Russians.  But gauging this is difficult because assessing true Russian public opinion is very challenging.

Censorship and disinformation

It is important to recognise that the Russian media has been heavily censored and subjected to state interference for a very long time.

State propaganda has been pumping out misinformation to paint Ukraine and the west in the most negative possible light for months during the lead up to the invasion.  And let’s not forget that this has all been happening in a country that is highly intolerant of any criticism of Putin.

To any objective outside observer, the claims of genocide and nazification made by Russian state media appear patently ludicrous.  However, for the Russian public, who have been bombarded with this propaganda for months, it is a different story.  This is especially the case for a large section of the public that only obtains their news via official state sources.

Measuring Russian public opinion

Bearing this in mind, it is nevertheless critical to understand the mood of Russian public opinion.  The fog of state disinformation and the rapidly changing situation on the ground clearly makes this difficult.

In a democracy, with a free press, people have access to multiple news sources and (for the most part) do not face such overt state coercion to adhere to an official ‘state line’.  Here we might rely more on opinion polls, reasonably safe in the knowledge that survey respondents feel free to express an honest opinion.

This is clearly not the case in Russia, especially now.  It is criminal to speak out against the state.  Those who even express doubts about state policy could find themselves branded as a traitor and ostracised.  Hence, when people come to answer an opinion poll, even where their anonymity is promised, they have good reason to be guarded in their replies. 

On the other hand, it may be that the culture of fear is such that many people resist participating in such surveys at all.  If this happens, the opposite effect might be true, i.e. you end up with a poll based only on the opinions of the bravest / most liberal thinkers.

Whilst a few polls of Russian opinion have been taken, what we have at present is often based on polls that were taken pre-war, or which have skirted around the issue of war to avoid provoking the state.

Despite the limitations of these measures, they often represent the only measure we have of Russian opinion that is not state fabricated.

So, what can we learn from them?

Russian public opinion in 2022

The Levada Centre is one polling organisation that sits independent of the Russian state.  They have a long history of producing measures of Russian public opinion and, as such, it is possible to use their information to pick up on any trends.

The Levada Centre data shows that Putin has enjoyed considerable popularity with the Russian people for years.  However, this admiration is by no means universal.  Also, the trend over time reveals some interesting facts about Putin’s personal appeal:

  • Putin’s popularity received a huge boost in 2014 when he annexed the Crimea.  His personal approval rating shot up from around 60% (which it had been through 2012 and 2013) to approaching 90%.
  • This boost did not last, however.  Nevertheless, Putin remained incredibly popular (80%+ approval) until around the middle of 2018. 
  • After the middle of 2018 Putin’s approval rating dropped back to around 60%-65%.
  • This drop occurred after his election win of 2018 following accusations of election rigging and the banning of Alexei Navalny’s participation .  Later that summer Putin’s decision to hike up the pension age fuelled a further slump in his popularity.
  • Since then, Putin’s rating has remained at around the 60%-65% until the recent jingoism over Ukraine.  This nationalist ‘boost’ nudged his ratings up to 71% by February (pre-invasion).

Ukraine is different

What this shows is that events can influence (and influence negatively) approval of Putin.  It also shows that his bullish support for Russian ethnic minorities in countries like Ukraine and the Baltic states can serve to deliver him a popularity boost (however temporary that may transpire to be).

It could be that the big boost in his ratings that he received from annexing the Crimea has encouraged him to believe that annexing the whole of Ukraine would similarly bolster his position.  However, the annexation of the Crimea was bloodless and rapidly achieved.  His Ukrainian war is a very different story.

Russian attitudes to Ukraine

Again, opinion measured prior to the war is the only way to judge in detail attitudes to Ukraine. Levada Centre data here, as measured in February, just before the war shows:

  • 45% of Russians, by this time, thought war was likely.
  • But 47% said the prospect of war scared them.
  • 60% of Russians supported the state line that NATO and the US were to blame for the recent escalations.  Very few saw Russia as an aggressor at this time.
  • Interestingly, only 25% of Russians thought the solution to the crisis was for the Donbas region to become part of Russia.  (33% thought a better solution was for the Donbas to form separate republics that were independent of both Ukraine and Russia).
  • The idea that a greater Russian federation should somehow absorb Ukraine as a whole, does not seem to have occurred to people (except of course, to Putin).

Russian support for the war

One Russian polling group has been brave enough to conduct an opinion poll of attitudes to the war since military operations began (between 28th February and 1st March).  The Washington Post published the results anonymously to avoid state reprisals.  It showed that:

  • 58% of Russians support the ‘special military operation’ in Ukraine.
  • 23% opposed it.
  • 19% expressed no opinion, didn’t know or refused to answer (or were too scared to answer).

First, it should be noted that support for the ‘special military operation’ in these figures rates lower than that recorded in ‘official’ state run polls (perhaps unsurprisingly).  Nevertheless, it does confirm a clear majority in support of the conflict.

However, the survey shows there is a huge generational gap in Russian public opinion.  Younger Russians (18-24), who are most likely to get their information online, are most opposed to the war (39% opposed as against 29% supportive).  Older Russians, who often rely exclusively on the state-run news media, were most supportive (75% of the over 65s support the war).

The majority of Russians therefore back Putin.  However, that sentiment is far from universal, and it would seem than many Russians have their reservations about what’s happening.  Putin has no doubt been able to bolster support for his actions by playing the flag waving card.  The question is, how long can Putin maintain this level of support as the war drags on?

The fact that Putin’s government has acted to heavily censor Russian media and introduce strict legal penalties for anti-war protestors proves that Putin does not take support for granted.  Indeed, such measures can only indicate that he fears public opinion might turn against him.

Uncharted territory

We are now in uncharted territory.  Putin has remained personally popular (despite ups and downs in his approval ratings) throughout his tenure.

It is undeniably true that his annexation of the Crimea boosted his popularity.  And it is also clear that wars in Chechnya and Georgia have not adversely affected his position. 

However, the main phase of the Georgian conflict lasted only a few days and saw few casualties.  The Chechen war was a different story, however.  This conflict and the ensuing insurgency lasted much longer.  It also saw more significant casualties as it is estimated that the Russian army lost some 3,600 killed. 

On the one hand this shows that fighting a war over a long period of time, even with significant casualties, has not significantly dented Putin’s hold on power.

But on the other, Russian losses in Chechnya over several years were significantly less than the Russian army has already lost in a single month in Ukraine.  It is also the case that Chechen Islamic terrorism probably served to greatly bolster support for that conflict.  In addition, Russians hold a much stronger affinity for Ukrainians, as many Ukrainians speak Russian as their first language.

Ukraine therefore represents a very different situation to anything Putin has presented the Russian people with before.

Will the Russians turn against Putin?

Putin’s political fate is now largely dependent on the outcome of the war with Ukraine.  If he can deliver an outcome that he can present as a reasonably successful victory of some kind, it will no doubt shore up his position for years to come.  If, however, the Russian public come to regard the intervention in Ukraine as a disaster, Putin’s position becomes very insecure.

At present our most up-to-date information tells us that only 23% of Russians oppose the war.  That might seem like an encouraging figure for Putin.  However, here are a couple of figures from old Gallup surveys that might be less encouraging for Putin:

  • In 1965 only 24% of Americans opposed American military involvement in Vietnam.  By 1968 over 50% opposed it.
  • When American troops first invaded Iraq in 2003, only 23% of Americans opposed it. One year later, over 50% opposed it.

Public opinion can and does change when things go badly.

However, America has a free press and Americans were not living under the same draconian state restrictions as are now in place in Russia.

That said, the longer the war goes on, the more destructive its consequences and the more Russian casualties mount up, the harder it will be to cover up the truth.  More and more Russians will begin to question the wisdom of Putin’s war.

That means, the longer the war goes on as it is, the weaker Putin’s position becomes.

A lie big enough

Knowing how long it might take for significant numbers of Russians to seriously question the state misinformation with which they are being fed is difficult to say.  The power of propaganda cannot be under-estimated. 

But in understanding how that change might come, it helps to tap into the knowledge of an expert in state propaganda:

“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”

Joseph Goebbels

Interestingly, as Goebbels observed, a lie can only be maintained as long as people can be shielded from the consequences of it. 

With sanctions already hitting the Russian economy, the economic consequences are already becoming all too evident.

The Russian state can shield its people from the military realities for only so long.  News of mounting casualties and information concerning the devastation on the ground cannot be kept from the Russian public forever, especially not in the modern information age.

So, the longer the war goes on, the more the clock is running down for Putin.  However, if public opinion does start to turn significantly against him, the risk that Putin will resort to ever more desperate measures grows.  We can only hope that Russian opinion turns against him fast enough and strongly enough to put an end to the conflict before that happens.

About Us

Synchronix Research offers a full range market research services and market research training.  We can also provide technical 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

CNN

Fivethirtyeight

Historic Gallup Polls

Levada Centre

Washington Post

Image: Russian Protestor – by Silar, Wikicommons

Hands holding tablet and watching Youtube

The Visual Communications Age

The past few years has seen a boom in visual communications across social media.  An estimated 2.3 billion people now use YouTube every month.  Instagram and TikTok have around 1 billion monthly users each.

Visual social media of this kind – be it in the form of still images or video clips – are transforming the way in which we communicate.  Part of this change is simply a function of accessibility.  Technology has made it far easier for people to create visual images and make short video clips and mini films than ever was the case, even ten years ago.  And now there are more social media outlets than ever before where it is possible to publish such material.

It is incredible to think that twenty years ago Facebook, YouTube and Twitter did not even exist.  How much the world has changed!

However, we should not be tempted to think that social media platforms will continue to grow forever.  There is a finite limit to the number of users any platform can attract, after all.  Like in any other market, market growth will inevitably give way to market maturity at some point.

Platform maturity

Facebook’s owner Meta Platforms recently recorded a record daily loss on the stock market.  This came in the wake of the news that Facebook’s Daily Active Users fell to 1.929bn in the three months to the end of December. This compares to 1.930bn in the previous quarter.

This is the first time Facebook has experienced such a fall; a clear sign that this particular platform is reaching its mature phase.  Of course, it was bound to happen eventually.  After all, there are only so many active daily users you can have from a global population of 7.7 billion (some of whom do not have good internet access).

Rising Platforms

TikTok’s owner ByteDance, by contrast, saw revenues grow by 70% in 2021 (although even this is slower than the spectacular growth seen previously).

Facebook is primarily about written communication, albeit pictures, images and gifs are often shared on the platform.  TikTok is, of course, mainly about the short form video clip.  The BBC recently reported that Facebook’s owner has warned of pressures on revenues precisely because of stiffer competition from TikTok and YouTube.

Are these signs, therefore, of a wider trend?  Are we seeing a real sea-change in the way in which we communicate?  A transition from a culture of communication based on the written word to one where visual images and video become the dominant mode of interaction?

A visual future?

Are these portents of things to come?  Of a world where communication is primary achieved with the video clip and the streamed podcast?  Some would argue it is already happening, after all it is now quite easy for anyone to broadcast their own content on YouTube, TikTok or Twitch and it will only become easier with each passing year.  Now everyone is a content publisher.

There are also signs of generational differences.  Anecdotally we are hearing that younger people are more likely to engage with social media like TikTok and YouTube.  Social media such as Facebook, with its higher reliance on written content, still has an appeal for older generations but is, perhaps, less suited for a generation addicted to the video clip. 

But can we put any hard numbers to these claims?

Generational differences

A Synchronix survey from last year looked at social media use amongst gamers.  We wanted to understand the extent to which people of different ages engaged with social media to discuss or exchange information about gaming.  The results showed some clear generational differences in terms of preference.

Graph of gamer social media preferences by age

Platforms

YouTube: Emerges as the most popular social media platform for gamers under the age of 45.  Older gamers also engage with it extensively but, for the over 45s, is relegated to the number two spot. 

Instagram: is the second most popular media with the under 25s.  It is less popular with the 24-35 age group but still ranks 3rd overall.  Its popularity clearly diminishes with age, especially amongst the over 45s.

TikTok:  If anything, TikTok illustrates the most significant generational differences of all.  It is used by nearly 40% of the under 25s, placing it neck and neck with Instagram within this age group.  This drops to 26% amongst the 25-34’s (still significant).  However, its popularity wanes markedly in older age groups.

All three brands of visual based social media reflect the same overall pattern.  Their popularity is greatest in the youngest age groups and lowest amongst the over 45s.

Facebook:  Despite the recent slight dip in use, Facebook is popular with all ages.  However, it is not even one of the three most popular platforms for the under 25s, although this soon changes when we start to consider older age groups.  It is the second most popular platform for the 25-44 age group and the most popular with the over 45s.  Its higher reliance on written content lends it greater appeal for older audiences.

Twitter: Twitter is fourth most popular in the under 25s but drops in popularity with older age groups (especially the over 45s).  This is interesting as it shows that Twitter, which is primarily text based, demonstrates that written communications retain a certain degree of popularity with the younger generation.  The short form tweet, with its soundbite feel, is still able to resonate with generation Z in a way that other forms of written communication appear to struggle to do.

The future

One thing is now clear. Visual media has become critical for effectively communicating with Gen Z.  However, they are not entirely abandoning the written word.  Their preference for Twitter above Facebook is likely influenced by a texting culture in which short soundbites are strongly preferred to longer written posts.

The recent dip in Facebook usage likely reflects this generational behaviour shift.  However, the downtick in Facebook engagement should not be exaggerated.  The fact is that Facebook remains very popular amongst the over 25s and the most important social media for engaging with the over 45s.

As newer generations of internet users reach adulthood, it is likely that different generational preferences will become increasingly marked.  Marketeers will increasingly need to adapt strategies to employ a different mix of social media channels depending on the generation of customers they are aiming to communicate with.

So, a campaign aimed at the over 45s may need to focus more on Facebook, YouTube and WhatsApp.  However, a campaign aimed at a Gen Z audience would need to take very different approach, and would do better to focus mainly on Instagram, TikTok and YouTube.

Given the rapid pace of change we have experienced in the world of social media over the past decade, we can expect further significant changes over the next few years.  The next TikTok is likely to be a platform that facilitates video and/or audio interaction rather than something more reliant on the written word.   

As Gen Z comes of age and as younger generations follow, we will move to a culture highly dependent on streaming, video communication and visual interaction.  Perhaps we will eventually see this evolve into virtual reality driven experiences.  In fact, I’m sure this will happen at some point.  And although I suspect it is still a good way off, I would not be surprised if we found ourselves living in such a world twenty years from now.

About Us

Synchronix Research offers a full range market research services and market research training.  We can also provide technical 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

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-60255088#

Playbook – UK Gaming Market Report 2021, Synchronix Research

https://www.un.org/en/global-issues/population

https://backlinko.com/instagram-users

https://backlinko.com/tiktok-users

https://www.globalmediainsight.com/blog/youtube-users-statistics/

https://www.reuters.com/markets/funds/exclusive-tiktok-owner-bytedances-revenue-growth-slowed-70-2021-sources-2022-01-20/


Graph of UK hospitalisations from Covid

Omicron: Have we made it through the third wave?

Restrictions lifting

In the UK the government has recently relaxed covid restrictions imposed to contain the spread of the Omicron variant.  We have been told that the limitations imposed in recent weeks have worked.

The vaccination programme which ran through the course of last year brought us all hope of some light at the end of the tunnel.  But just as we were thinking it might all be over, along came Omicron. 

Case numbers rose significantly over the Christmas period as the new strain took its toll, and hospitalisation numbers soon followed suit.

Now that we have enough data to better assess the impact of Omicron, it seems like a good time to take a fresh look at the numbers and see what they tell us.

Bad news

The bad news is that the rise in case numbers has caused hospitalisations and (sadly) deaths, to spike once more.  The number of new hospitalisations reported each day is currently higher than at any time since the end of January 2021.  The current spike in admissions now ranks as one of three major peaks of the pandemic. 

Fortunately, it looks like new cases and the hospital admission numbers are now starting to flatten and potentially reduce.  If current trends continue, this recent wave will end up being nowhere near as a deadly as the earlier peaks.

Good News

The good news is that the protection afforded by vaccination appears to be working – and working well.  Omicron has not only caused case numbers to spike but has caused them to spike to levels that are truly unprecedented.  Yet, despite this, the levels of serious illness recorded are surprisingly low.

A look at the government data tells us that during the first 10 days of January this year an average of nearly 145,000 people were diagnosed with covid every single day.  That is a significantly higher infection rate than we have seen in any previous wave; nearly three times the level that we were seeing in the same ten-day period for January 2021 (the peak of the previous wave).

However, there is cause for cautious optimism.  The average for new infections during the first ten days of January 2022 is actually a little lower than the average for the last ten days of December 2021.  The most recent data suggests that numbers of new cases look to be on the decline.  Let’s hope this trend continues.

Graph of UK Covid numbers January 2022

Fewer hospitalisations and deaths

But whilst case numbers have reached record highs, the numbers of hospitalisations and deaths certainly have not.  The first ten days of January witnessed an average hospital admission rate of 2,230 covid patients per day.  That is significantly less than the average of 3,935 we saw during the last peak.  So, a near threefold increase in case numbers is now resulting in a much lower rate of serious illness. 

Put simply, if you get a covid diagnosis now, you are five times less likely to end up in hospital than if you’d been diagnosed with covid this time last year.

The news in terms of deaths rates also looks promising.  Despite the higher overall infection rates, death rates are now a fraction of past peak levels.  The average number of deaths recorded per day in early January was 205, compared to a number more than four times higher from a much lower infection rate at the start of 2021. 

As a result, you are 12 times less likely to die of covid if you get infected now, than was the case this time last year. However, that statistic does come with one very important caveat – vaccination.

Vaccination works

Vaccination has played a critical role in keeping hospitalisation and death rates low over the past month or so. 

The success of the vaccination programme does mask some disturbing statistics, however.  The population as a whole is certainly seeing significantly lower rates of hospitalisation and fatalities from covid.  But this is only true amongst those who are vaccinated. 

For the unvaccinated minority, the story is much bleaker.

The Intensive Care National Audit and Research Centre recorded that 61% of the patients admitted to critical care in December 2021 with confirmed covid-19 were unvaccinated. 

Government data shows that just 9.4% of the total population is now unvaccinated.  That means that 9.4% of the population account for 61% of the most seriously ill patients. 

Clearly, the lack of vaccine protection makes people significantly more vulnerable to serious illness and death.

The truth is, if you are unvaccinated, you are 15 times more likely to end up in an intensive care unit with covid-19 than someone who is vaccinated.

Weathering the storm

As January 2022 wears on, it looks increasingly likely that we have weathered the storm of the Omicron wave.  A milder (if considerably more infectious) strain, combined with widespread vaccination, has limited the impact of the third wave.

Death rates and hospitalisation rates are far lower than in previous waves.  Nevertheless, the sheer number of infections has placed significant strains on the NHS and that is a problem that we shouldn’t ignore.

That said, the data shows beyond doubt that the vaccination programme is working.  We can afford to be hopeful about the future.

About Us

Synchronix Research offers a full range market research services and market research training.  We can also provide technical 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

BMJ

UK Government coronavirus statistics

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

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