The pandemic has compelled us all to reflect on the important relationships in our lives.
We miss seeing friends and family in person without worrying about risk factors and masks and social distancing. We are grateful for (and sometimes fed up with) the loved ones we are quarantining with. We long for chats with colleagues in the break room, rather than on Zoom calls, even if we like working from home.
COVID-19 has thrown into sharp relief the relationships that are essential to our happiness and well-being—and not just with other people. Our relationships with the brands we choose to share our lives with have also taken on new significance in the past six months.
For brands, this reality opens up immense opportunities, but it also carries great responsibility. Business leaders must change their mindset and, instead of focusing on short-term financial gain, prioritize building long-term, mutually beneficial relationships.
The Share of Life™ concept - the deep digital interconnectivity between brand and customer on a day-to-day, minute-to-minute basis—hardly needs explanation anymore. We see it clearly woven into the fabric of our lives as we stay connected on Facebook and Instagram, shop for groceries and household goods on Instacart and Amazon, conduct business on products built by Microsoft and Google, and entertain ourselves on Netflix and YouTube.
How many minutes or hours do you actually spend each day with these companies? When you start to think about the time, it adds up quickly. Before the pandemic, you might have worried about the effect all this screen time was having on you or your children.
In 2019, the time-tracking and distraction-blocking app RescueTime analyzed the data of 11,000 active users and found that, on average, they checked their phones 58 times a day and clocked 3 hours and 15 minutes in daily phone usage.
RescueTime conducted another study in May 2020, evaluating the data of 14,000 users, to see the impact of COVID-19 on screen time. Before March 11, when the WHO officially declared COVID-19 a pandemic, U.S. users were averaging 5 hours and 58 minutes of daily device time. A month later, the daily average jumped to 6 hours and 54 minutes a day—56 minutes more, a 16% increase—with a trend toward communication (+13.5%) and entertainment (+ 2.3%).
But our attitude toward constant connectivity has changed in short order. In the past, we might have bemoaned all that wasted time spent on screens. Now we see the value in that time, and in the brands responsible for it.
Tech reporter Nellie Bowles, who has covered the dangers of too much screen time for years, wrote in the New York Times this March that she has “thrown off the shackles of screen-time guilt” and embraced the positives it brings to her life:
The screen is my only contact with my parents, whom I miss but can’t visit because I don’t want to accidentally kill them with the virus. It brings me into happy hours with my high school friends and gives me photos of people cooking on Facebook. Was there a time I thought Facebook was bad? An artery of dangerous propaganda flooding the country’s body politic? Maybe. I can’t remember. That was a different time.
Covered in screens these past few weeks, I have noticed some positive changes. I FaceTime my friends so much that I know them better than I did before. I decided to learn what TikTok was, and I love it. I spend hours with my chin tucked into my chest and a weird smile on my face, watching. I’m using Duolingo, an app to learn languages.
This is why Share of Life™ is so powerful. Without it, we aren’t able to live our best possible lives.
We have developed strong relationships with certain brands, and they have become increasingly important to us in recent years—but especially in recent months. If they disappeared tomorrow, I would argue that you would miss them in the same way that you would grieve the end of a close friendship or romantic relationship.
Some may say it’s concerning how dependent we are on companies, and it’s fair to debate the best way to approach the boundaries we should set as individuals and as a society. But on the other hand, we are also extremely dependent on our governments—for everything from public safety to infrastructure. Depending on where you live, you may have more confidence in these companies than in your own government to act in your best interests.
Brands that value this connection have a remarkable opportunity to achieve an entangled relationship with their customers. They can become an indispensable part of their customers’ daily lives, without being intrusive, but only if they take the time to cultivate the intimacy and respect of a long-term relationship. Full entanglement occurs when the customer interacts with your brand reflexively without even thinking about it, such as downloading from iTunes or streaming from Netflix or purchasing from Amazon. It’s just part of the customer’s day.
Business leaders have to change the mentality that customer relationship management really means, “How can I sell people more at every interaction?” They wouldn’t try to sell something to a close friend or family member every time they talked, and they shouldn’t treat their customers this way either.
Brands that achieve Share of Life™ will learn to ask instead, “How can we serve this customer in the best possible way, so we can continue deepening our connection—together?”
Can you have a meaningful relationship with a brand?
Smart marketers recognize that there will be a distinct “before” and “after” in consumer behavior as a result of the pandemic. You must start now to create the digital tools needed to embed your brand in the customer’s post-COVID life.