We don't need average Joe any more
A view from Sue Unerman

We don't need average Joe any more

We must mirror the diversity mosaic of the UK and plan for individuals.

How average are you? Most people consider themselves above average. It is a behavioural heuristic known as illusory superiority. Yet planning for the "average" or typical person is normally how we make things work.

Offices, for example, are planned for the average person. Average size, average outgoing personality and average behaviour. But those averages have become meaningless since Covid-19 changed our lives. MediaCom’s five offices across UK accommodate about 1,500 people normally. Since lockdown, of course, we have moved from five offices to 1,500. Each individual workplace is tailored by each colleague to a greater or lesser extent, depending on who they live with, where they live and what kind of flexibility that affords. It has been remarkable how swiftly we have all adapted, with not one ball dropped, with an overnight transition.

The rhythm of the office has been disrupted and many believe it will never entirely return to pre-Covid conditions.

This gives us a once-in-decades chance to reconsider everything and reimagine what office life is for and how it should work. Pre-lockdown, offices were largely based on what had gone before. Some people had fruit and sweets and hanging-out areas on top of a series of desks and laptops, but one office more or less matched another. Now we can really get radical.

Jeremy Lee points out that planning for exceptional behaviour rather than the average will be good, even great, for advertising, writing: "Offices as collaborative spaces, to be used from time to time and only when necessary: this sounds like a progressive move that the entire industry – and its employees – can benefit from."

There is a paradox. Some are thrilled at the prospect of returning to work. Others are dreading the commute and a resurgence of the culture of some businesses’ toxic presenteeism.

There is no consensus at the moment about lockdown easing. There is also no consensus in terms of public sentiment.

Britain is awash with paradox: FOGO (fear of going out) and BOSH (bored of staying home). People are anxious about conspicuous spending and yet also yearning for treats as US MediaCom chief strategfy officer Anush Prabhu points out in a recent podcast.

Many advertising strategies segment audiences into cohorts with similar attributes. Creative and media strategies are developed to reach the average person in each of those five to eight tribes. Yet, within the tribes, there are polarised attitudes that are made more extreme by lockdown conditions. For example, a Generation Z living with their grandparents will not have the same attitudes or behaviour as another who is not. A mum of two who is a key worker won’t feel the same as a mum of two who is furloughed.

The differences in outlook mirror the diversity mosaic of the UK. Just as MediaCom now has more than 1,000 offices instead of five, there are many more than 1,000 consumer types instead of five for every sector. We don’t need to aggregate for an average any more; we can examine the detail and plan against it.

Media planning was originally designed for averages. But it has been reinvented for individuals.

Media intelligence can observe the differences and commonalities, and create effective solutions. Are you a TikToker or a Pinterester? OTT or linear TV? Instagrammer or Facebook? Amazon or eBay? Every one of those consumer types will create a data trail of intelligence that allows the design of communications strategies to best drive outcomes for the brand.

Group M global chief executive Christian Juhl has pointed out that adaptability and fast understanding of data are crucial as communities exit lockdown: "In China, where lockdowns have eased, we’ve done things like track road-traffic activity to identify when and where weekend travel has or has not returned to normal."

There is no more "average". We are divided by our experiences now more than ever. The challenge of 2020 is to diagnose and plan for the differences and at the same time seek the common human cultural truths that bring us together.

Sue Unerman is chief transformation officer at MediaCom
Picture: Getty Images