“It's only when the tide goes out that you learn who's been swimming naked.” - Warren E. Buffett
If I had told you two months ago that you could create a strong sense of belonging through a digital space – even more powerful than in an in-person setting – you probably wouldn’t have believed me. You would have insisted that deep emotions, like connection and belonging, will always take place when people gather together in the same physical space.
Now the world has changed at warp speed, and we know that simply isn’t true. COVID-19 has forced us to conduct our business and personal lives in markedly different ways. The face-to-face environments we have traditionally relied on to connect with our employees, customers and partners are closed for the foreseeable future, and we have found digital substitutes for our office spaces, meeting rooms, conference halls and stores. We have learned that it is possible to show love and affection for friends and family in digital environments. We are now working, shopping, talking, grieving and celebrating in ways we couldn’t have imagined at the beginning of this year.
And this evolution will have lasting effects. After we recover from this crisis, we won’t revert to our old habits. Brands have an opportunity to create something new and meaningful with their customers. We are redefining our relationships and how we express them – and these relationships are the foundation of Share of Life™.
Share of Life™ occurs when you remove all barriers between you and your customer. Your brand becomes an indispensable part of your customer’s day-to-day life. You know and understand them, and their interests are also your interests.
A strong sense of belonging in a digital space leads to Share of Life™. Any company that wants to foster this type of unbreakable relationship moving forward must incorporate a digital component into their strategy. Without it, they will never succeed.
It’s important to note that successful digital experiences aren’t merely transactional. Many companies are rushing to build out their e-commerce capabilities, which may be a beneficial business tactic but not a long-term strategy for cultivating belonging.
Take a step back and explore how you can create deeper connections with your customers in a digital space. What existing insights can you draw from? What can you do with them to enrich their personal lives, businesses or careers? What can you do online that you can’t do in person?
James McQuivey, VP Principal Analyst at Forrester said in a recent interview: “Share of Life isn't something that is invented in your head., it exists because humans want to share , want to share information, connections, and want to receive the sharing of others so companies countries and states that allow this to happen in a safe way will be gratifying a fundamental human need”
Share of Life™ goes beyond just building a relationship with your customer. It aims to develop a relationship that will last a lifetime. You know you have achieved this goal when you shift your mindset to incorporate three pillars:
This crisis has forced us to consider who do we want to share our lives with? Who do we want be isolated with? That’s why, we will come out of this crisis with a stronger sense of which people, brands and entities we want to share our lives with – and those we don’t.
Companies show their true colors during difficult times. Customers will remember the brands that demonstrated genuine understanding and concern and the brands that seemed more focused on monetizing or optimizing their relationship for selfish, short-term gains.
Think about the companies you have been loyal to over the years. How many have you heard from in the last few weeks? How many of the messages were personalized, relevant and based on the long relationship you have with the company?
Most brands are failing in this area. Even those in industries hit hard by the pandemic, like airlines, could still reach out to their existing customers with a simple but heartfelt message: We know you can’t travel at the moment, but when you can fly again, just know we want it to be with us.
Compare the radio silence or the mass emails of some brands to this brilliant marketing campaign from the Hawaii Tourism Authority:
Aloha is more than hello or goodbye. It’s love. It’s connection. It’s what we need right now. Mahalo for your understanding that this isn’t the time to visit the Hawaiian Islands. Until we can share our home with you again, we’ll be sharing aloha – and welcome you to do the same. #ShareAloha
Hawaii is dependent on tourism and has obviously been hit hard by current travel restrictions. But instead of saying and doing nothing until people can travel again, the state reached out with an emotional and authentic digital campaign around aloha – a feeling we are all craving right now.
How can your brand nurture a sense of belonging and Share of Life™ with your customers? Here are a few steps to get started:
Don’t treat all of your customers the same way. You can only demonstrate compassion and affiliation if you understand who they are and what they are going through. Ask the right questions, and figure out what is meaningful to them. How are they struggling? How are they thriving? What are their concerns, values, priorities? How can you use technology to help them solve a problem or reach a goal?
Your customers are receiving an avalanche of automated emails from brands that say very little.
Instead of creating closer relationships, these impersonal messages create more distance. Show that you have actually invested time and effort into getting to know your customers. To reach zero degrees of separation, you must communicate with customers in a personalized way – not a one-size-fits-all approach.
One of core promises you can deliver through a digital platform is interaction with your customers. You can’t have a dialogue through TV or a billboard, but you can online – and there has never been a better time to do so. Strive for one-with-one instead of one-to-one connections.
We don’t know exactly what the world will look like in the next few months or years, but it is certain that it won’t be the same as it was before. Take the time now to identify how you can strengthen relationships with your customers and employees in a digital space.
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.