consumer behaviour

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/


Flying Drone

The Drone Revolution

Since 2010, the growth in the use of drone technology has been gathering pace at an incredible rate.  When first developed in the mid-1930s drones were highly experimental and expensive.  Today, they are not only used for a wide variety of commercial applications, but have also become a popular and affordable piece of consumer tech. 

So, are we on the verge of a Drone Revolution?

How many people are using Drones?

In the UK, in May 2021, there were nearly 4,500 certified commercial drone operators of small drones and 1,751 operators of larger drones.   These are businesses using drones for serious commercial applications – applications deemed to present an equivalent safety risk to that of manned aviation.

However, these are now dwarfed by the number of hobbyists.  The CAA estimated there were over 130,000 UK drone users at the end of 2019 – the vast majority of which were hobbyists rather than commercial users.

In a larger market like the USA, the numbers are even higher.  The FAA figures show that there were nearly 875,000 registered US drone users in May 2021.

The Hobbyist

Drones are now very affordable, and a hobbyist can buy a decent drone to easily get up and flying for under £1,000 these days.  

Research by Drones Direct shows that hobbyists are mainly using their drones for filming video (77%) or taking photographs (75%).  The typical profile of these people is mostly male (96%) and middle aged (52% are aged over 45).  It is also clear that these are hobbyists using their drones quite frequently (58% fly at least once a week). 

There would appear to be a strong link between drone use and photography, with two thirds of drone users are also keen on photography.  Around one fifth of the adult population list photography as a hobby (that’s potentially millions of people), so the potential for future growth, just based on current use patterns, is clearly significant.

Commercial Users

Drones have been used extensively by the military for decades now and much of the impetus for the development of this technology has come from the development of such applications. 

The military will no doubt continue to provide an important impetus for innovation in drone technology.  However, these days, a wide variety of other commercial applications are emerging.  These are likely to prove increasingly important markets for drone tech suppliers in the future.  Key commercial areas where drones are now being used would include:

  • Journalism & film making; drones are increasingly providing the primary way for obtaining aerial shots.
  • Disaster management; in gathering information and getting emergency supplies to isolated areas following disasters such as earthquakes.
  • Search and rescue; when fitted with enhanced imaging and thermal cameras, drones can play a critical role in search and rescue operations.
  • Mapping: drones can map terrain features in locations that are difficult to cover by other means.
  • Law enforcement and surveillance; drones provide a relatively unobtrusive means of surveillance and allow observation to be undertaken without the need for a physical human presence.
  • Weather monitoring and storm tracking.
  • Building inspections; drones allow construction workers to view the exterior of large structures and gain detailed photographs of places that are difficult to physically access by other means.
  • Inspections of processing plants (e.g. for the oil and gas industry); any large structure can now be inspected by drones.  Detailed images, including thermal ones, can be taken of inaccessible areas, allowing maintenance engineers to view the state of equipment without being physically present.
  • Shipping and delivery; at present applications are being developed that focus mainly on the distribution of small packages. However, in the future, it may even be possible to transport larger cargos using large drones.

Developments

Virtually any application involving observation, or transport and delivery of small items are potentially suited to drone use.  One thing is for certain.  As the price of the technology reduces and the technology improves, it will become increasingly practical to perform a wider variety of commercially viable applications.

So, what further developments should we look out for in the future?

Logistics – Amazon Prime Air

Amazon have been working to develop a fleet of drones to deliver small packages as part of its logistics network.  One key potential advantage of such an approach comes from the fact that drones can avoid traffic and deliver packages by a more direct route (as the crow flies in some cases). 

The service will be called Prime Air and is currently being tested in several countries.  In the UK Amazon have recently doubled the size of their Prime Air team and we are likely to see the service launch in a matter of months rather than years.

Hydrogen power

Hydrogen is an emission-free fuel and has the advantage of keeping a drone airborne for longer. The technology first appeared in 2016 but we are now starting to see more hydrogen powered drones come onto the market.  The capability to remain airborne for longer makes them particularly suited for applications such as agriculture, mapping and for disaster response in remote locations.  Any application, in fact, where there is a need for a long flight time.

At present the primary barrier to hydrogen power is the cost but as prices come down and technology improves we can expect to see more hydrogen powered drones in the future.

AI and improved navigation

As more drones fill our skies it will become increasingly important for them to navigate their way around avoiding each other and various other safety hazards.

AI drones that use computer vision to detect and navigate their way avoiding other airborne objects and hazards are now starting to appear on the market. High performance on-board image processing coupled with other navigational aids will make this increasingly possible.  At present, of course, such technology is expensive, but we can expect to see it become more commercially available over the next few years.

Perching drones

Drones all have a limited amount of flight time available to them.  However, this can be prolonged significantly if a drone is able to land on a building or other high object and make its observations without needing to expend energy to remain airborne.

Various technologies are being developed to allow drones to do this; perhaps enabling a drone to ‘perch’ on a streetlight or to rest on the corner of a building.  This would have the benefit of making a drone more stable whilst it is making its observations as well as conserving power.

Problems and dangers

Of course, as drones become more ubiquitous, they bring with them their own unique set of problems and challenges.  Not least is the potential for this technology to interfere with existing air traffic or for it to be misused by criminals and even terrorists.

In 2019, the year before Covid cleared our skies of aircraft, UK aircraft pilots reported 91 confirmed incidents involving drones and a further 29 incidents that may well have been drones but were unidentified.  This compares to only 4 confirmed incidents involving drones and 1 unconfirmed incident that were reported in 2010.

This has prompted the UK government to introduce a registration system in 2020 and to require users of certain types of drones to obtain specific certification.  Now even hobbyists must hold a flyer ID and past a test to legally fly their drones in the UK.

Whilst such measures will no doubt serve to help minimise the danger of accidental incidents, the threat of criminal or terrorist misuse is a different matter.  In warzones, drones are already used for surveillance, to disrupt airspace and even to deliver small explosives. 

With new threats comes new technology.  Countermeasures of various kinds are being developed, these include directed energy weapons with the power to disable drones using such techniques as lasers, particle beams or radio frequency waves.  One of the latest uses high-powered microwaves to knock out a drone’s onboard electronics.

If future, we can expect to see measures of this kind deployed to protect airports and other sensitive potential targets.

The Future

It seems clear that the coming decade will see an increasing proliferation of drone technology.  This technology has grown from the highly specialised and niche use of a decade ago to a stage where it is now beginning to experience mass commercial and consumer adoption. 

The coming decade will see this technology becoming more ubiquitous as it develops further and the costs come down.  The challenges faced by drone suppliers will be to keep developing the technology at a rapid pace whilst remaining conscious of the public safety concerns.

However, the future is bright and no doubt there are many potential applications out there that new technological advances will enable drones to exploit.  There is also a potentially significant untapped consumer market.  As the technology reaches out to a mass market, so manufacturers will need to think increasingly about their marketing, and building strong and distinctive brand image and awareness amongst potential customers. 

It would seem that we are indeed on the verge of a drone revolution.

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.  That means understanding change – whether that be changes in technology, culture, attitudes or behaviour. 

We have considerable experience in the design and execution of market research surveys in the field of both b2c and b2b science, engineering and tech markets.  We can offer a range of services to help you identify new market opportunities and to understand the position and strength of your brand in the market.  You can read more about this on our website.  

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

Sources

Airprox

Amazon

BBC

Business Insider

CAA

Cloudemployee

Dronelife

Dronesdirect

FAA

Interesting Engineering

Pilot web

Reliability web

Sciencefocus

UAV coach

Your Story

The Rise of the Female Gamer

One half of all gamers are women

Gaming is fast becoming as much a female hobby as a male one.

Once upon a time we used to think of gamers, almost exclusively, as young, heterosexual, white, and male.  That is no longer the case.  Gaming is now a popular pastime and today’s “gamers” are a more diverse community than ever before.

These days, around half of all gamers are women – a fact confirmed by more than one 2020 survey reported on UKIE’s ukiepedia site.  Despite this, many women who play games (two-thirds) do not regard “gaming” as one of their hobbies. 

Why don’t women see themselves as gamers?

So why is this?

Perhaps some mostly only play casual games on mobile devices and are less inclined to regard this as “proper” gaming.  Or perhaps some have come to the hobby so recently that they don’t yet see themselves as gamers. Or perhaps the traditional image of the gaming community as a male dominated sphere makes some women reluctant to overtly identify with it.

Anecdotally, women are still a lot less likely to buy from sites such as Steam and, although accurate figures on such sites are hard to come by, there is some evidence to support this.  One 2015 analysis estimated that only between 4% and 18% of visitors to the Steam homepage were actually women.  Now this may well have changed but it does suggest that there are certain gaming environments where you are less likely to find a female gamer. 

Whether or not women as yet represent half of the gaming market in value terms is an open question.  However, they clearly now represent one half of all gamers.  And, no one would argue that, if provided with the right products, women will not spend as much as men.

But if this potential is to be fully realised, we first need to consider what factors, if any, might be holding things back.

What’s putting women off?

One factor that we certainly can’t afford to ignore is that some (possibly many) female gamers have been put off by the toxic misogyny that has been present in certain sections of the gaming community.  This came to an unpleasant head in 2014 with the gamergate controversy.  Attitudes and incidents of this sort will no doubt discourage at least some women from identifying too closely with the gaming community.  It is particularly likely put off others from engaging in some multiplayer games, where they are more likely to encounter such unpleasant behaviour.

Qualitative research has suggested that the online multi-player environment can be particularly problematic for women gamers.  This study suggested that female gamers did, for example, seek to “…mitigate online harassment, including actively hiding their identity and avoiding all forms of verbal communication with other players.”   This may explain, at least partly, why only 33% of women who play games are happy to self-identify as gamers.

When the hobby gets things right

All that said, some studies suggest the hobby is catering more for female gamers than used to be the case.  A 2016 study by Indiana University analysed 571 gaming titles over a 31 year period and claimed that there had been a decline, since 2005, in the level of sexualisation of female characters. 

It is also the case that there will also be certain spaces where you’d be a lot more likely to find female gamers.  Many would argue that female gamers become a lot more significant when it comes to mobile and casual gaming.  For certain games, the female audience can approach 80% but for others it can be as low as 8% and for others closer to 50/50. 

Clearly some games have done a great job of attracting a significant female following, for instance, by offering strong and interesting female character choices.  Games like Horizon Zero Dawn may be an example of this.   As Malindy Hetfield wrote on Polygon: The complex representation of women in different social spheres throughout Horizon Zero Dawn is one of its best features.

Game developers who make the effort to understand and cater for the female audience can potentially unlock a significant future market. All it requires is a good understanding of what that market wants and the ability to develop and market it in an authentic and appealing way.

One potential issue here is the fact that women still represent a minority of people working in the games industry.  UKIE’s 2020 game industry census reported that women make up only 28% of the workforce.  Getting women more involved in the creative process of games development can surely only enrich the end result.

Tapping into the female gamer audience

However, one size is unlikely to fit all and, with so many women now playing games, it would be wrong to think of them as a single homogenous audience.  Some women may prefer casual tile matching games and puzzles but others like enthralling RPGs, or racing games.  The future is likely to see a variety of different female audiences emerge within different gaming genres. 

Tastes are evolving and changing over time and if game developers can find creative ways to tap into the female gaming market, the potential opportunities are clearly significant.  The challenge is to find the right audience and understand how best to reach them with the right products and messages.

We can help in this process by providing audience profiling and segmentation market research services.  If you’d like to find out more about these services, please contact us for more information.

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