GroundFloor Media & CenterTable Blog

This is part one in a three-part series about the key themes from South by Southwest® (SXSW) 2022 from our colleagues Jim Licko and Rachael Roark 

What happens now?  

That question, or some version of it, has been top of mind for most of us, in a lot of ways. How has the pandemic changed us – in our personal lives, as well as our business lives? One of the main overarching themes we experienced that has a direct impact on each of the other themes in this series is The Shift to Individualism.  

Put bluntly, this means people will – and have already started to – shift from the “we” to the “me.”  

Over the past decade, we’ve seen seismic shifts in people’s behaviors. The shift of population to urban areas, proliferation of social media adoption and use, the rise of streaming platforms and the “now” economy, where we have virtually anything and everything at our fingertips, are just a few of those shifts. Many of those shifts included a “we” mentality, but coming out of the pandemic, many of the speakers and panelists we heard at SXSW believe people have grown tired of following the pack and have already started to focus on their own individual happiness.  

Individualism doesn’t mean people don’t wish to gather. On the contrary, it can mean an increased focus on developing even stronger relationships, but likely with the people YOU choose to spend your precious time with. It can also mean a stronger sense of possibilities, spirituality and willingness to move away from social norms and toward what fulfills you individually.  

We’ve already seen this with The Great Resignation, and as writer Zac Jason points out in his Wired Magazine article, we’re tired of the various aspects of our lives being “smushed” into one never-ending Zoom meeting. We want, and actually thrive on, having different personas for the various aspects of our lives. For example, “Uncle Jim” interacts differently than “professional Jim” who also interacts differently than “ski lift Jim,” and that’s not only okay, but something we all need. Space. Change. Individualism. The opposite of how we’ve all been living for two years.  

Gen Z has been signed up for this trend since day one, as a SXSW session with DJ Krystal Lake, Esther O’Callaghan and Jay Richards titled “Gen Z, Metaverse and the Future of Work” highlighted. Comparatively, Gen Z may be much more reserved and less vocal than their Millennial older siblings, but polling shows they only want to buy from brands that align with their personal values, and they stick strong to whatever those values may be. They’ve been raised to understand that it’s okay to be your own person, find your own identity and just do it without any form of shame or pause.  

Even a panel of sports media executives finally came around to the idea that the age-old way they’ve quantified their entire existence (number of readers/viewers) matters less today than the number of engaged individuals who are invested in the brand, acknowledging quality over quantity. They’re focused on the value of the individual now rather than just vanity metrics.  

With the abundance of data we all have at our fingertips (or in our pockets and purses), individuals, now more than ever, have infinite options for when and how we receive answers. This can be both good and bad. On the good side, it’s never been easier to receive medical advice or educational opportunities. On the bad side, misinformation and echo chambers abound. This means individuals can more easily find community around niche topics, and they also choose what information to receive and when.  

The Big Takeaway 

We, as marketers, need to meet our audiences one-on-one, where they are and with the information they’re seeking in that moment. This means providing space for audiences to explore their different personas, including removing racial and gender biases from all our marketing efforts. It also means providing a sense of meaningful community to different audiences or meeting individuals within those communities at the right time. All of this will take more time and require uncovering the right and most meaningful data points to drive decisions, but the result will be quality over quantity, and a mutually beneficial relationship with the right individuals.

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