As Lockdown Continues, People are Craving Interaction. How Can Brands Help?
As the lockdown goes on, reports up and down the country are showing that loneliness is growing. But it will surprise no one to hear that human beings are a social species, that ‘no man is an island’. Introvert or extravert, we all need to interact deeply with others, and that is something we have been able to do only sporadically, and temporarily, for close to a calendar year. But what does this loss of connection have to do with brands?
First, it’s worth looking at the business landscape. Despite the continued uncertainty, brands do not have the luxury of failing to look ahead. Fleet-footedness and evolution are not nice-to-haves for organisations but absolute necessities. A business can only hunker down, pull up the drawbridge and wait for the storm to end for so long before it runs into commercial trouble.
And what this means is that regardless of the current uncertainty—the undisputed buzzword of last year—we have to interrogate the past, scrutinise the present and try to see if we can identify the patterns that will help us make plans for the future. So long as businesses remain on their toes, ready to change in evolving conditions, they can take an educated guess about what’s to come and make decisions with some confidence.
So where does connection come in? Well, all the signs and signals suggest that we have already entered a year of connected brand experiences, and progress towards this point was already being made long before the outbreak of Covid-19. Over 90 percent of consumers have more positive feelings about brands after joining events and experiences, but the coronavirus has caused it to accelerate.
Refused the ability to interact physically with consumers and other stakeholders, organisations in every single sector have had to undergo a period of rapid digitalisation. Even progressive companies have been forced to ask themselves how they can be more digitally savvy.
Self-isolated consumers have had to do something similar. They’ve had learn how to build or strengthen social ties through virtual concerts, dinner parties and video calls to friends and family. This is perhaps why 68 percent of consumers say they would attend a virtual iteration of an event they would have typically gone to in person.
Meanwhile, the renewed emphasis placed on brand-building and positioning at a time when selling hasn’t always been possible in the conventional sense has further driven change.
The trend towards connected brand experiences has gained momentum in consequence, and has dragged along with it even the most old-school and risk-averse organisations. This is why this year might just be the year that we see connected brand experiences—talked about for such a long time—start to show their potential.
But of real importance is that there’s a deep need among the public to relate to and spend time with others. There’s a deep need to connect. And despite the lack of socialising throughout the pandemic, there’s also been a new sense of community in ascendence. Everyone has been “in it together”, despite suffering individually, since everyone has been united against a pandemic that doesn’t discriminate.
What’s clear now is that we are in a recession, and still in confusing times. It’s therefore critical for brands that they connect with their unsettled audiences, and that they strive to do this by delivering hybrid digital and physical, connected, immersive experiences.
We’re already starting to see this in the arts space, in the shape of drive-in experiences, outdoor performances and socially distanced open-air concerts. And as restrictions lessen, there will be more and more opportunities for brands to connect physically—so long as health and safety is made paramount.
Digitally, the name of the game is not to exhaust “Zoom-fatigued” audiences by prolonging the time they spend staring at screens, but to provide personal, entertaining experiences that factor in the wants and needs of consumers and make every moment meaningful. Nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of consumers believe new technologies are critical to the success of events they plan to attend in the next year.
Here, social listening and other information-gathering tools that allow brands to understand their communities well are vital, since they give those brands the ability to conceive, create and curate experiences that are targeted and personal—and therefore meaningful.
We know for sure that people are desperate to connect or reconnect. And this will be a year for brands to show how innovative they can be in making this a reality. They show this in how they use data and an understanding of audiences to deliver digital and physical connected experiences that are new and exciting.