As we in the business of brand communications go increasingly gaga over the multitude of new media options for engaging consumers – particularly millennials – we might want to quit our marketing multi-tasking long enough to really concentrate on new research that points out a growing societal (and therefore business) concern: namely, that fundamental changes wrought by our digital lifestyle and exploding new media marketplace may just blow up any chance we have in the future of creating brand trust and maintaining brand loyalty.
ARE WE ENCOURAGING CONSUMERS TO JUMP SHIP?
The latest evidence: research referenced in the New York Times article aptly titled “Growing up Digital, Wired for Distraction.” As the article notes, “The risk [researchers] say is that developing brains can become more easily habituated than adult brains to constantly switching tasks – and less able to sustain attention.” Or, as the lead researcher is quoted, “Their brains are rewarded not for staying on task but for jumping to the next thing.”
Now, am I the only one who sees not simply an implication for issues of learning, where we seek to instill and maintain knowledge, but also for those of branding, where we seek to instill trust and maintain loyalty? Just replace the words “task” and “things” in that sentence with the word brand and you’ll see what I mean: “Their brains are rewarded not for staying on brand but for jumping to the next brand.”
TOO MUCH OF NOTHING
It raises the question of whether or not we’re really “engaging” our prospects via social media, and capturing their long-term attention… or even creating short-term interactions of value. As one teen quoted in the NYT article says, “Facebook is amazing because it feels like your doing something and you’re not doing anything. It’s the absence of doing something, but you feel gratified anyway.”
That’s worth repeating, in its own chilling way: It feels like you’re doing something, and you’re not doing anything. Is that meaningful engagement, or just sponsored distraction?
A REAL NEED FOR REAL-WORLD INTERACTIONS
My point is not that we are wasting our time on Facebook et al, but rather that, given the possible “re-wiring” of young consumer brains we need to be circumspect about how we use digital interactions, and cognizant of their depth and quality. It also suggests to me that rather than giving short-shrift to traditional communications we need to up the ante in terms of offline contact and real-world interactions… or, as that same teen might say after attending a sponsored live event, or even just reading a billboard or print ad, “That was amazing, because it felt like I was doing something… and I was actually doing something!”
Failure to engage consumers beyond the digital realm will leave brands to fight an increasingly futile battle for the fractured, and fickle, attentions of consumers who live in “the state of permanent distractedness that defines online life” (Nicolas Carr, in his book The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains).
In the future – which of course starts now – our communications can be something or nothing. Our brands can build trust and loyalty (and shareholder value)… or build nothing. It’s our choice as CMOs, brand strategists, creative directors, copywriters, designers. We just have to keep from getting too distracted.