Today’s Consumers Want To Unplug, And Want You To Help Them Do It Online (Really)

Women at beach taking photos

As technology encroaches on our lives and as our smartphones start to feel like an extra appendage, more and more people say they are looking to “unplug”—to relieve that twitchy phone finger from the burden of non-stop engagement with the online world.

The challenge for brands in this atmosphere, it seems, is to get their audiences to engage online without appearing to add to the digital muck. But our research has shown that consumers who say they want to unplug don’t necessarily want brands to get them to turn off their phones. What they want is for brands to create an experience that makes them feel like they’re unplugging. And there are ways to do this without being disingenuous or deceptive.

Here are four ways brands can help consumers have more authentic social interactions online.

1) Concentrate on One Experience

Brands that try to accentuate one experience will probably have more luck getting users to engage online. Honing in on one digital experience makes users feel as though they are, at least for the most part, tuning out technology while still engaging with it.

 

The Light Phone is a credit card-sized phone that its designers say “is designed to be used as little as possible,” but still keeps users connected. GoPro cameras and drones help users maximize their outdoor experiences through technology.

2) Create an Aspirational Atmosphere

Speaking of outdoor experiences, one of the best and most authentic ways to get consumers to engage on social media and other technologies is to project the lifestyle consumers aspire to, and invite them to contribute to the image-building. The #vanlife movement, which blossomed primarily on Instagram, is a perfect example of this. Users share their tranquil experiences of natural bliss on the road, but they do it on Instagram rather than in a diary. If you can get users to feel as though they are depicting, online, the lives they aspire to, then you’re on the right track.

3) Tap Into Nostalgia

The Netflix series Stranger Things was immensely popular in part because it tapped into a deep, widespread sense of nostalgia for simpler, pre-Internet times: the 1980s. This sense of nostalgia carries across generations—it’s felt by Millennials, Generation X, and Baby Boomers. The irony of this nostalgia is that even a show that taps into a deep yearning for a time before smartphones still requires engagement with technology. Stranger Things fans watched the show via a streaming service, on devices like smartphones, tablets, laptops, or big screen TVs. Still, if you can tap into nostalgia, consumers don’t care about those contradictions.

4) Unplug Now, Share Later

Some destinations force you to unplug in the moment and share your experience later. Long wilderness hikes take you out of range, so you have to curate and share your photos once you’re back to civilization. Increasingly, organizers of social gatherings are trying to replicate this experience. At weddings, couples ask guests to pocket their phones and be more “present,” to create a more authentic experience. Online engagement still happens, it just happens later, when the couple posts their official photos to Facebook and Instagram. If brands could tap into this desire to disengage from technology in the moment, while encouraging consumers to get involved later, it could go a long way in how they present themselves as authentic to their audiences.

 

Strava, a smartphone and smartwatch app, tracks runners and bikers as they exercise. After they’ve finished exercising, Strava users can share their route, time, and speed with followers, who can congratulate them with “kudos.” The app tracks run and bike segments in a leaderboard, so, when a session is over, users can see how they compared to athletes in their area. And it does all this without interrupting the run or ride itself.

A Challenge for Marketers Everywhere

To get consumers to believe that you want them to unplug—which you do—you have to be in it together. Speaking directly to their frustrations about their desire to untether themselves from their smartphones will allow people to have authentic social interactions while, at the same time, also engaging on social media.

Research Questions:

What single experience/need could consumers see your brand fulfilling?

What unplugged experience does your target consumer aspire to?

What is your target consumer nostalgic about, and how could your brand fit in?

What are the best ways for your brand to help consumers unplug now and share later?

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