Travelling on the Tube this morning, I scan my surroundings and see every passenger glued to their phones (yes, myself included). Between Tube stops, I anxiously wait for the next WiFi connection, to scroll through the latest set of selfies on Instagram and continue my group chats. And I'm not the only one; we can instantly make digital connections to the global community, hundreds, if not thousands of people all at the touch of a button. This isn't new news - the internet and social media have changed how we live our lives and how we are connecting with one another.
"It is a lonelier world now as people have simply stopped trying with one another."
Our (Dis)United Kingdom study found that us Brits don't value our online interactions as highly as those in-person. One person told us:
"We rely so much on video chat and conversations on WhatsApp that we forget about face to face conversations and how important they are."
We are quick to like and then scroll to the next post. 'Play' Tinder and swipe left without a second glance. Leaving us somewhat empty, craving genuine relationships and connections in our lives.
Yes, it's easier to interact online, but these interactions are also easier to throwaway and dismiss. So, if we scroll past our best friends' photos on Instagram and swipe past a potential partner (both connections we do truly value) why would consumers value any brand interaction?
Online channels help brands make a first impression, but brands can't just rely on an online presence to make a connection with consumers (well, if they want to forge connections that feel authentic and genuine to their audience that is). More than ever, brands need to step up from pure transactions and make purposeful, meaningful consumer interactions.
So how can brands build on basic transactions to connect with consumers? Well, it's not easy and many brands try and fail, no one has the fool proof answer to that one yet!
But our study highlighted one way brands can make these meaningful connections with consumers, by helping them to better connect with each other - creating meaning in an authentic way.
Airbnb has excelled in this space. Since 2008, they have made it their mission to "create a world where anyone can belong anywhere", recognising that everyone is united by a "universal, powerful, human desire to connect". These core values provide a common thread between all users, and Airbnb have provided spaces for them to interact both in person with Airbnb experiences and online in their Community Centre. Through fostering this desire to connect, Airbnb revolutionized the travel industry, creating a community of users which are passionate and most importantly, feel a part of Airbnb's brand purpose.
Today, we are undeniably better or more easily 'connected' by technology, so it should be easier to interact and build relationships with others, right? But as we've heard from the Brits we spoke to, as a nation (and society in general) we are struggling more than ever to forge meaningful interactions with those around us, let alone the brands in our lives. Perhaps then, the most meaningful way for brands to be in our lives, is to meet one of the most basic, psychological human needs; to connect and belong? For brands to dedicate their purpose to creating spaces for people to meet, share experiences and build relationships with each other? It sure seems to give consumers something they are regularly missing out on in their digital lives.