In 2020 through early 2021, people across the US shuttered their social lives in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many canceled travel plans, limited social interactions to those in their household, and worked from home. However as more Americans receive COVID-19 vaccines and restrictions begin to lift, people must now navigate a new chapter of their lives.
And often, they turn to the media for guidance.
When reuniting with his best friend after 15 months of pandemic separation, Edwin Wong experienced “the most awkward first 15 minutes.” Wong, the Senior Vice President of Insights and Innovation at Vox Media, notes that media brands like Vox can play an important role in consumer’s lives as they re-enter once-familiar social situations.
“R&D [at media companies] is about understanding the moment and surfacing the stories we need to talk about to drive a more productive society,” he says.
In his role with Vox Media, Wong works with data to identify trends in Vox’s audience. That information can be used to identify stories that most interest readers and help the company secure advertisers, a heavy part of the business’ revenue model.
How Consumer Insights Sharpen Storytelling
“[When] there’s a post-pandemic process that actually occurs, we need to be observing,” Wong said, looking for relevant data points and trends. “That isn’t just going to be helpful for what we talk about in the newsroom, but also how the consumer is going to likely engage with each other, which ultimately has market implications.”
Wong points to traveling as an example. Pre-pandemic, he says, travelers were often searching for new places or cultures to experience. Now, people are looking for “mental release, and escape, and to see something different” than the walls they’ve spent their time in since the start of quarantine.
“It changes the way you can talk to consumers about travel, where they’re willing to go, and why they’re willing to go there,” he says. Recent travel stories reflect that trend and can better help readers as they start to travel.
Exploring New Forms of Media: Podcasts, Netflix, and CAFE Studios
As Vox Media’s leader of insights and innovation, Wong also seeks out new digital spaces and platforms that allow the news company to better connect with its audience. “It’s incredibly important to engage the consumers where they are,” Wong says.
New opportunities include documentary-style explainer videos available to stream on Netflix. Launched in 2018, this “Explained” series provides context for different hot-button issues — from why diets fail to how cryptocurrency gained popularity — in 20 minute episodes.
Vox Media also acquired CAFE Studios, a podcasting company, in pursuit of new platforms to foster new audience engagement.
“Leveraging new mediums like podcasts or streaming brings [news items] forward for people to watch and experience,” he says. “The heart of innovation — it’s really about storytelling and understanding.”