September 18, 2021 Suzanne Bennett

The end of a relationship?

2020 got us all thinking. We had time in the new reality, to be in the present moment, in touch with our thoughts and consciousness. And for the first time I became aware of a relationship that was beginning to feel unhealthy. Never further than two metres from my reach, my mobile phone has become a good friend during 2020. At the touch of a button, we can see and speak to friends and family, capture, and share pictures of a once in a lifetime moment, turn the lights on, and order anything we need.

Technological progress has enriched our lives immensely.

It’s an understatement to say this year has changed the way people and businesses use the internet, their devices and social media. And it’s the first time I’ve personally been in the company of grandparents attached to their phones. It’s fair to say I wasn’t a fan.

The year has profoundly changed the way we interact, in many positive and unthinkable ways.

But the very thing that connects us to the world and the people we care about is the same thing that can make us feel divided and disconnected from it. It emphasises the distance between us and amplifies what many of us want most. Human contact.

Of late, the relationship with my mobile phone has become all-consuming, and not always by choice.  We’ve formed unhealthy ‘habits’ with our digital devices. As the chilling Netflix documentary, ‘The Social Dilemma’, starkly points out, generations of human behaviours are being manipulated beyond our recognition. We’ve been programmed to pick up and spend more time on our devices prompted by new notifications, likes, messages, driving egotism all in the name of capitalism.

And I’m not alone in this feeling. Countless celebrities have spoken about ditching their mobile phones, disconnecting from their online networks and/or the internet in favour of the landline. Back to the good old days meeting friends, enjoying an afternoon shopping. Simply being in the present moment. Perhaps we all have our own digital saturation points, unique to us and our circumstances.

The endless stream of emails and intrusive pop-up ads promoting ‘must have’ products, has lost its veneer, along with the insurmountable presence of negative news and a social media shaming culture, which has become overwhelming, and destructive for people and the fabric of society.

In recent years we’ve seen digital take centre stage for marketing teams and their brands, and with good reason. It can drive considerable sales, customer acquisition and facilitate engagement. But for the marketing and PR industry 2021 is likely to mark the advent of a new era in relationships between brands, consumers and how they engage with them.

Brands will have to think more creatively in the future.

Consumers have changed too. They are looking for something more meaningful from their brands. Some will demand a much stronger moral stance. There will be a move away from the large corporate giants towards smaller independent brands more genuinely placed to deliver this.

Marketing teams will be wise to remember that the medium plays just as important role as the message itself.  Those who recognise this and prioritise the customer relationship will rise to the top. It’s an opportunity to develop deeper connections with their customers who value the human face of a brand, where there’s authenticity and moral duty in what they communicate and how they communicate.

This is not to say that digital or social is dead, far from it.

A ‘mobile-first’ approach will remain a primary platform, but we can expect a shift in the balance, where human interaction has greater value placed on it again. Where the physical world starts to claim back some of what the digital world has taken from it. In time, we may even see the re-emergence of our highstreets. Or new versions or alternatives…the localstreet?

The mere fact I’m using a digital platform as we speak pays testament to the power and importance of digital to connect us, in many positive ways.

But with power comes great responsibility.

When we are online, in the coming years, it’s likely that demand for private social networks will continue to grow as we seek to hide from trolls and shadowy manipulators.  And savvy brands can play into this. Creating their own bespoke forums and communities to facilitate communication between likeminded consumers. Spaces free from advertising.

We’re already seeing this with the launch of exclusive invitation only social network apps, such as Clubhouse, where users can listen in to conversations, interviews and discussions between interesting people on various topics – it is just like tuning in to a podcast but live and with an added layer of exclusivity.

I for one, post Lockdown, will be spending less time staring down at a screen. Instead, living in the moment, making the most of the precious moments we have with family and friends, and enjoying the brands that play into this.

Suzanne Bennett, Director, Macbeth Lankester

Image courtesy of – IHeart, It’s not you it’s me.


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