Navigating the Next Digital Era
We’ve seen many technology buzzwords enter the mainstream over the past year, heralding an exciting new technology-driven world: Crypto, NFTs, The Metaverse, Web 3.0. All amazing concepts, all somewhat difficult to grasp and all carrying a bit of controversy—especially given their volatility and obscurity.
While dreams of virtual worlds dominate the headlines, there’s a far more exciting transformation happening as we speak that’s signaling the beginning of a new era.
And a new era is on its way, thanks to a shift in user behavior brought by the pandemic. We’ve seen a complete mainstreaming and maturation of digital technology to deliver us an instant and frictionless world. The pandemic forced us to Zoom instead of physically meet, stream instead of go to the movies, and Instacart instead of driving to the supermarket. All of a sudden, these things became normal for everyone, not just a segment of the urban elite.
Society may be opening up as the pandemic enters its second year, but user behavior is not going back. We’ve learned to embrace a new level of speed and convenience in how we interact with companies and each other. And because of that, companies have been forced to scramble and adapt. For organizations, digital channels are no longer a side project, but the primary touchpoint for consumer interaction and communications.
The pandemic did not just accelerate digital adoption; it inspired everyone to quit their jobs. Americans in particular abandoned ship at a record pace in 2021, and roughly 23% of these employees will seek new jobs in 2022. The “Great Resignation” is part of the “Great Reassessment”—the pandemic’s seismic shock to society forced people to reevaluate everything about their lives. People reassessed how they work, how they live and what’s really important—realizing the former demands of their work were unreasonable. That the better way focuses on family, home and an overall better world for all. This radical shift in the collective mindset forces brands to rethink their approach to consumer acceptance.
This new era is forcing brands to confront a new and somewhat paradoxical consumer: one who rationally wants things now and with no effort—but emotionally wants those things to have greater meaning and importance. So, what exactly does this mean for brands?
Brands must think five years ahead. Imagine a future where everything is more instantaneous than it is today. It’s faster and simpler to do business with your company, and with less headache. This is what the future-focused consumer wants from most brands. Instacart’s same-day delivery may be great, but what would be even better is getting your groceries in fifteen minutes, not five hours (and sure enough, there are startups trying to do just that). The brands that truly win are the ones that can get as close as possible to Star Trek’s mythical Replicator: the moment a prospective buyer imagines something - it just appears.
Brands must prioritize sustainability. The “Great Reassessment” means more consumers choose brands that serve a purpose beyond the mighty dollar. Sustainability and an eco-friendly mindset is now a priority for our future-focused consumers. It’s a primary consideration when people choose the companies that they want to do business with. But, sustainability does not only apply to the environment; it applies to fostering a healthy community within. Consumers reward companies that treat their employees well and are positive contributors to the worlds in which they operate. Brands must follow suit.
Brands must facilitate spending with purpose. The consumer’s desire for sustainability extends not only to how companies behave, but to the types of products they purchase. And that means buying products that have real purpose—the functional over the frivolous; the durable and fixable over the disposable; the products that have true long-term value, not immediate gratification. It means consumers value customer service and the companies that truly stand behind their products. The days of our blighty throwing away last year’s perfectly functional iPhone for next year’s model is rapidly coming to an end; instead, we celebrate REI’s 1 year return policy and warranties.
Brands must hyper-target. As people think more and more about what’s important to me, they want to interact with companies that treat them as unique individuals, not a part of a sea of potential buyers. This ultimately means that consumers value the companies who are thoughtful in how they communicate and display a deep understanding of who they are and what they want. Brands must therefore go deeper in how they communicate and embrace a hyper-targeted approach to consumer interaction. The goal is true 1:1 messaging and 1:1 personalization, but done at scale (and obviously without invading customers’ personal privacy). Companies must make each person feel as if the brand was built just for them.
Brands must embrace the everyday content creator. With the Great Reassessment came the realization that we’re all just people; everyone’s the same. Celebrities were stuck in their home quarantined, just like the rest of us. And faceless companies aren’t really faceless, polished entities—they’re made up of a bunch of working folks, just like you and me, and they struggle just as much to keep up. Which means, when it comes to marketing, humanity and relatability wins, not slickly-produced messages. The rise of TikTok exemplifies this trend: the most popular TikToks are decidedly home-grown and amateurish. The brands that win embrace this issue, relying on everyday people producing everyday content for stellar results. See, for example, Fenty Beauty’s Creator House.