Coming out of the pandemic and into new generational challenges, like high inflation, how can brands and publishers navigate the ongoing changing consumer behaviors?
This question was posed by Dan Nathan, CNBC Fast Money Contributor & Principal at RiskReversal on the Zeta Live stage with Taboola CEO Adam Singolda, COO of Forbes, Jessica Silbey, Chainman and Co-Founder of ThirdLove, David Spector and COO of Reddit, Jen Wong.
Below, we’ve highlighted stand-out questions and thoughts from the panel. You can watch the full panel here:
How are you thinking about changing consumer behaviors during this time?
The common theme among all panelists was that everyone—publishers, brands, tech platforms—have the ability to better understand consumers despite changes. In fact, the consensus was that all companies can find new opportunities to connect with customers.
Singolda commented that all companies can get an accurate “pulse of humanity” in this way and on places like publisher websites, consumers tend to portray a more accurate version of themselves.
“You’ll never tell Facebook about your healthcare situation, but you’ll read about things you’re curious about,” said Singolda.
“For advertisers, we’re trying to bubble up these readership and curiosity habits and share what people are reading as a proxy for what they want to buy.”
For instance, during the pandemic, we saw people were reading about face masks – and this turned out to be a multi- million dollar business within 30 days, but we knew way before. People today are interested in travel and restaurants – if you try to get a good reservation in New York City, you can’t.”
Reddit’s Jen Wong echoed the sentiment that there have been clear shifts in consumer behavior, noting moves from people reading about finance on channels like ‘wallstreetbets’ to employment on ‘antiwork.’
“Similar to what Adam mentioned they’re seeing at Taboola, we’re seeing at Reddit,” said Wong. “Before, it was masks and office set-ups, but now, there are spikes in travel. And currently with inflation, people are asking – how do I spend, but make good choices? Similarly, our business is rooted in where people are going, what they care about and how this translates for marketers.”
On the publisher side, Jessica Sibley at Forbes noticed some drastic shifts towards remote work and employment, and also leaned into audience cues as an asset to drive business, partnering closer with brands that enabled that lifestyle.
“It’s about our audience and what they’re consuming content-wise on our site. We rely on partners and on data – and saw that during COVID, our audience was focused on stimulus, remote work and learning more about the workforce. We then created an editorial engine to put out preferred content for our audiences. Then, we partnered with digital audiences to help drive accessibility. Today, we’re also seeing travel and other similar content areas rise in interest.”
On the brand side, David Spector at Third Love highlighted that uncertain times, whether COVID or consumer pullback, gave them a chance to experiment with their media mix, and find a balance that was less Facebook/Google-heavy and more efficient at capturing more engaged customers.
“We had to shift our product, strategies and supply chain – along with where we find our customers. We didn’t know what they were looking for or how long this would last,” said Spector.
“There was a proliferation that having more publishers and platforms actually made it harder for our marketing team to decide how to spend our advertising dollars. We actually ended up reducing our Facebook spend by 40% during the pandemic, which left us extra budget to spend on other channels and platforms like Forbes and Reddit that we normally wouldn’t go to.”
Looking forward to 2023: What types of qualities will set companies up for success?
One key point to close out the session was around the qualities that businesses will need to survive, whether through economic uncertainty or another unexpected global event. The general consensus was that adaptability, creating a culture of ‘quality’, delivering actual value to customers, and even a little optimism are key to thriving.
“I was that person who said, ‘see you in two weeks,’ but two and half years went by,” said Sibley. “Now [at Forbes], we’re still fully remote and meet at places like this. I never would have predicted that.”
“So much has changed for the good, and it’s been interesting. We’ve all learned the importance of embracing a younger mindset and pivoting when needed. It takes a great operator to run a changing business. It’s never easy, but optimism is key.”
“For the last two years, companies succeeded for no particular reason. Now, companies have to be really good at what they do to succeed,” said Singolda. “You have to have all the right ingredients to build the right companies. I think people have to work hard to win, and I see this as an opportunity to re-energize and become different and better than others who may not deserve it.”
Spector had a similar response. “It’s about two things: quality and profitability. When we look back on this era, the best companies will have survived it – we have no predictability anymore in business cycles, as this year has proven, but every good company has turned profitable and quality is what defines success in businesses.”
“Ultimately, everything will land in a healthier place,” said Wong. “From a market and investor standpoint, it’ll be a balance of growth and sustainability. From a work standpoint – all businesses will have to get stronger and work harder to achieve success, but at the same time, there’s this spike in interest around adopting a southern European work-life experience – and the two things are rising at the same time. It’ll be interesting to see how it all shakes out because they are in conflict with each other.”