If 2018 was a year dominated by headlines surrounding brand safety – where many consumers said they would ditch brands if they encountered their ads alongside offensive content – what will the consequences be for brands in 2019 that financially support platforms known for creating addictive behavior and everything that comes with it?
The word “connected” is a peculiar one. When I think about it, I think about connectedness to family members, friends, co-workers – relationships with substance, and with a story. At the same time, I also think about connectedness to my phone, to the news, and to social media – things that I wish, frankly, I were less connected to.
In 2019, we will be more “connected” (in one sense of the word) than ever before, but when it comes to consumers’ lives and the experiences in them that matter, a growing body of evidence suggests that with greater connectedness to digital media comes greater responsibility on behalf of brands and the marketers who represent them.
In response to a rising tide of tech addiction, a growing number of voices – from congressmen to large corporate shareholders and even former Facebook and Google employees – have called for ways to curb the abuses of big tech and social media, citing study after study of their adverse effects on consumers’ social and psychological well-being. Recent reports highlight technology’s impact on consumers’ ability to focus, monitor levels of connectivity, and perform well at work and in social settings.
As Sherry Turkle, a social studies professor at MIT, puts it, consumers are becoming “connected, but alone.” What’s more, it’s contributing to what strategy consultant Faris Yakob refers to as “anxiety at scale,” a point accentuated by the fact that America’s “national anxiety score” now stands at an all-time high of 51 on a 100-point scale.
Suffice it to say: The stress is real. Real for consumers. Portentous for these platforms. And of real, financial consequence for your brand-building strategy.
So my challenge to you is this: Don’t lose focus.
Don’t lose focus on the brand you’re building, how and where you’re promoting it, and how these experiences might contribute to or mitigate consumers’ well-being. Because, as design ethicist Tristan Harris so sharply opined at this year’s Cannes Lions Festival, “at some point, when there’s a public health crisis around developmental challenges of millions of millions of teenagers, and people are lonely, leading to more suicides, people are going to ask, who paid for all of this to happen?”
In the meantime, as you continue to develop your marketing plans for 2019 and beyond, here are four strategies to consider. My hope is that they will not only help you create healthier connections with and for your consumers, but pave the way toward fresh, well-differentiated brand experiences.
Today, the average person spends more than half of their day consuming media. And as a number of studies have demonstrated, different kinds of media elicit different levels of reported well-being. By this logic, strategist Faris Yakob introduced the concept of the “Media Pyramid,” which, like the food pyramid, provides insight into what a balanced media consumption diet might look like for consumers.
“Media near the top,” as Yakob notes, “makes people feel bad after extended consumption and media toward the bottom tends to make people feel better. Since we process information differently depending on context, it follows that medium has an impact on the efficacy of brand communication.”
While Yakob goes into great detail as to how the Media Pyramid can inform your media allocation (it’s definitely worth a read), the gist of it can be summed up via this recommendation from Professor Byron Sharp, author of How Brands Grow:
Buy the largest number of the highest-quality impressions against the entire buying market for the category for the lowest price.
The operative term here, of course, is “highest-quality.” While I won’t presume to know what that might mean for your brand, the key takeaway here is that with a choice of media channels comes a choice of ethical considerations, given that “every media dollar,” as Yakob states, “supports the channel being utilized.”
In addition to rethinking the quality of your media spend, strive to consider how your brand can go beyond promoting interruptive push messages and create useful experiences that enable customers to provide their feedback in real time. Doing so will not only make consumers’ connected lives easier, but generate customer feedback that can help you continuously improve upon their experience with your brand.
In Action: 7UP’s Digital Bartender Turns You Into a Master Mixologist
Over the past year, the “Do More With 7UP” campaign has highlighted out-of-the-box ways that consumers can use 7UP. Its latest invention? The 7UP Digital Bartender.
With more than 30 custom drink recipes, the 7UP Digital Bartender shows you how to pour from any smartphone. Easy-to-follow visuals and videos provide step-by-step directions, and measuring the perfect pour is as simple as sizing the in-screen graphic to match the size of your glass. If it’s 5:00 your time, give it a try at 7up.com/digitalbartender.
For users, the Digital Bartender represents the perfect mix of fun and brand utility. On the flip side, as the team introduces new mixes over time, they’ll be able to better gauge consumer taste preferences and profiles, all of which can be used to fuel their broader marketing efforts.
Providing a consistent and frictionless omnichannel experience is quickly becoming table stakes for brands, particularly when it pertains to customer service. Brands that will excel in 2019 will reduce consumers’ anxiety by combining digital self-service options with instant access to a human when needed.
In Action: Butterball’s Turkey Talk-Line Saves Thanksgiving
What began as a toll-free telephone line in 1981 for panicked Thanksgiving Day hosts has blossomed into a full-blown operation for food manufacturer Butterball. Today, customers can get all their turkey questions answered via the company’s website, chat, text, and over the phone via its Turkey Talk-Line.
Source: AdAge – Illustration by Wenjia Tang
The surprising part? Of the more than 100,000 customer conversations Butterball’s team fielded in 2017, over 75 percent occurred over the phone. But why? In cases involving considered actions – which involve complex, anxiety-inducing decisions – human conversations become paramount.
To forge deep and meaningful customer relationships, brands need to think beyond creating “fans” and “followers” and consider how they can foster real-world, person-to-person connection among their diverse audiences. Doing so will help consumers combat the stress, depression, and isolation created by their digital habits, and help brands, in turn, discover new and unexpected commercial opportunities.
In Action: Rapha Creates Community Through the RCC
Counted by some as “today’s Harley-Davidson” when it comes to brands with thriving customer communities, Rapha, a London-based cycling company, is a purveyor of more than just premium bike gear: It is, according to founder and CEO Simon Mottram, “a global lifestyle brand.”
Since its launch in 2004, Rapha, through its membership organization, the Rapha Cycling Club (RCC), has cultivated a global member base of more than 10,000 active, paying members. As Fast Company contributor Sebastian Buck remarks, “The RCC has all the hallmarks of traditional community groups: rituals, local organizers, chapters and clubhouses around the world, symbols, shared identity, and social activities.”
While such an investment is not without its costs, over time it has proven to pay significant dividends for Rapha – both in terms of brand loyalty and profit margin. On the RCC’s success, Motra remarks:
“We have seen exceptional growth to date, with thousands of club members now cycling and socialising together, connecting with the sport through Rapha. This membership model is profitable and extremely successful for us, contributing to our growth and providing a strong community platform for the future of the brand and business.”
Everything worth having comes with a cost, from high-quality media channels to deeply meaningful customer relationships. Taken together, the call for brands in 2019 – as tech addiction continues to impact consumers’ social and psychological well-being – appears to be the same as it ever was:
Put the customer first. Always, always, always. Put the customer first.
How will your brand respond?