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Rethinking Consumer Engagement — Why Brands Will Disconnect in 2019

a photo of a phone beside the year "2019" with the zero as a power button amidst the talks about brands rethinking consumer engagement strategies

Five decades have passed since the very first successful transfer of data between two computers. Since then, the role of technology in connecting the world has grown monumentally. Innovations and revolutions have changed lives in profound ways. But as the internet is over a quarter century old, more people are trying to break away from it and other technologies with similar impact. Seven out of 10 consumers have taken steps to cut down time spent online. Forty-five percent of Americans try to unplug from technology at least once a week. Moreover, the awareness of digital addiction is increasing. A re-examination of value creation and consumer engagement is in order.

Now, brands that are too loud might just find themselves at risk of being deleted from people’s feeds, inboxes and lives.

Changing Habits Due to Digital Clutter

Technology appeals to the basic human need for connection. This fact heavily influences consumer engagement. However, it has also caused many people to develop an addiction. Tim O’Reilly, founder, and CEO of O’Reilly Media Inc. cited social media engagement as an example. “If you look at Facebook’s algorithm, Facebook is a mirror. Go click on a lot of news articles that reinforce your beliefs and you’ll see more of them,” he said. “This is a business model that is based on trying to create addictiveness.”

Indeed, numerous companies have been taking advantage of such addiction to push online customer engagement efforts. Tactics such as omnichannel marketing constantly place product messages in front of consumers. Various content and notifications dominate devices. In many cases, consumer engagement leads to brand fatigue. There are even people who opt to stop using their personal emails due to the volume of marketing messages.

The awareness of the negative impacts of technology is causing habits to change. Salesforce Founder and Co-CEO Marc Benioff unplugged from devices during several vacations this year. New York Times’ Internet Culture Reporter Nellie Bowles is limiting her smartphone use by switching to grayscale display. Best-selling Author Baratunde Thurston disconnected from the Internet for 25 days.

Sure enough, many social media users who belong to Generation Z have quit social media entirely. The group is expected to make up 40 percent of consumers by 2020. Moreover, recovery programs for digital addiction abound.  These examples underscore the need to rethink consumer engagement.

Realigning Technology with the Consumer’s Best Interest

According to Fjord Trends, 2019 marks an era when silence is gold.  The report examines emergent trends that can impact business, technology, design, and society in the year ahead. Also, it provides suggestions on how to navigate the trends for positive change. For 2019, it urges brands to “pipe down” when it comes to consumer engagement.

Fjord Trends 2019 describes a growing demand for businesses to try and regulate the degree of which consumers are becoming addicted to their devices. Digital well-being will take center stage in online customer engagement. As businesses try to respond to this demand, there will be a shift from a relentless pursuit of ideas to a focus on trust.

Relevance and value are what will build such trust in consumer engagement. People will further scrutinize brands and products competing for their attention. They will favor those who can offer value amidst the noise. Loud messaging will be out of place. Ultimately, consideration and respect for every individual’s context will make long-term relationships and meaningful consumer engagement possible.

“Digital is facing a big spring cleaning: a time when we decide whether something still has value and relevance to our lives,” says Fjord’s Co-founder and Chief Client Officer Mark Curtis. “Digital is now so widely adopted that its novelty has worn off. In their attempt to declutter, people are being more selective about which products and services they incorporate into their daily lives, choosing to disconnect, unsubscribe or opt-out if the value exchange is not mutual.”

Shifting Dynamics of Consumer Engagement —Disconnect to Reconnect

It will be challenging to break the long-established behavior in consumer engagement. The trends entail a very different approach from what consumers have already become used to in the boom years. Nevertheless, it’s crucial.

Brands and marketers need to disconnect to reconnect. When it comes to online customer engagement, they need to lessen the number of messages in digital channels and increase their brand or product quality instead. They need to disconnect from consumers at certain periods of time to give them space.

A growing number of companies have been making efforts in reducing digital noise and promoting connection to the physical world. Apple and Google added settings to help users limit screen time. Facebook introduced tools to reduce time spent on social media engagement. Microsoft created features that respect users’ time, attention and privacy. Tech company Bandwidth forces employees to unplug by making vacation mandatory. Camp Grounded in California holds detox holidays, and guests must surrender their digital devices on arrival.

Similarly, Selfridges in London launched an initiative to celebrate the power of quiet way through their “No Noise” program back at the beginning of 2013. Shoppers were instructed to leave their ‘ 21st-century distractions’ in lockers. The list goes on. Indeed, businesses are rethinking consumer engagement. It will be interesting to see how digital promotion companies like Quotient Technology Inc. and Catalina Marketing adapt to this change

Rethinking Consumer Engagement cartoon
It’s time for brands to make the bold move of rethinking their consumer engagement strategies!

These Trends Point to a Better Direction

Companies who haven’t taken steps in line with these trends need to ask hard questions. What is the scope of responsibility of businesses with balancing marketing objectives with the need to minimize tech addiction? How can you put human value back at the center of innovations?

The good news is that we’re better informed from all those years of digital progress. These trends now point to a better direction. The conversations about consumer engagement have reached a new level. We’re now aware that technology has grown to dominate us along the way. Now, we can regain control. Perhaps it’s high time to hit the reset button.



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