Network society is fundamentally transforming our relationship engagement patterns. While in the past, a common history used to be the prime bond between friends and partners, these days the chances of a shared future are becoming more important: Experiences we might share in the future are what keeps us together. With the new qualitative study Committed STURM und DRANG has developed a three-tiered model of relationships that can provide brands with a tool for future relationship engagement.
What is the meaning of relationships today and in the future? Do 20-year-olds expect something else of a friendship than their parents do? Is it possible to transfer relationship patterns between people onto objects and brands? STURM und DRANG teamed up thought leaders and experts for digital culture and brought together consumers of the generations X, Y and Z. The following analysis made clear: The meaning of relationships has changed drastically throughout all generations. Digital life is transforming how we bond.
Digital omnipresence: In Skype sessions we bridge country borders and time zones to far-away family and friends. On WhatsApp grandma can eyewitness her grandchildren from first cry to graduation party. Colorful emojis substitute words. Online we are permanently connected to our families and friends. But is that not a kind of pseudo closeness? Saying hi on Facebook may be a nice gesture, but what makes us happy are shared, ephemeral moments. Only those create true attachment.
Hyper individuals: At the same time we feel ever more unique. Being one of a kind flatters our vanity. And digitalization confirms our feeling of being singular. Intelligent algorithms provide us with customized suggestions for movies, music and books. But the consequence of being singular means to no longer share a common denominator with others – which produces counter-movements like normcore that yearn for sameness.
Boundless possibilities: But who or what is right for me? Digital tools make it easier than ever to find the perfect partner, the coolest apartment, the best-designed corkscrew. Which has us permanently on the hunt – only to risk missing the other, better option. In a world of updates, it takes courage and discipline to make and stick to a decision, to be reliable.
The more our everyday life is defined by the digital, the less we experience touch and face-to-face contact, the stronger we long for something human. For faces, surprising and irrational behavior. But even brands and products can gain a human element: by the people behind the corporation, the players or fans of a soccer club. Even empathic, unexpectingly reacting machines can appear human. Little robot vacuum cleaners may not be as autonomous as a real housekeeper yet, but they are well on the way. In the science fiction film Her, Joaquin Phoenix even falls in love with his operating system. Which, only too human, eventually dumps him.
“Can you fall in love with technology?” asks Vorwerk, manufacturer of a robot vacuum cleaner.
So how do relationships function today? One thing is certain: They are in flux. STURM und DRANG explored the subject and invited international experts for media usage, interactive design and digital strategy to a think tank. Their theses on bonding, friendship and love in the 21st century were then discussed by consumers of different age groups. STURM und DRANG analyzed the results and defined three primary relationship patterns characteristic of post-digital society. One interesting insight: While each generation leaned more towards one of those three relationship strategies, they were all applied throughout the age groups.
The Intimacy Relation connects through a shared background and closeness. It is maintained especially by representatives of generation X, the 35 to 54-year-olds. An intimacy relation is highly personal, understanding and mainly addresses the individual. In relation to brands this means: Products are more than offers. They are relationship partners alluding to human interaction. The handwritten note in your shoe order from US retailer Zappos, the Facebook timeline that makes us reminisce and anticipate new shared moments, or Lufthansa’s service “Bedtime Stories“ that sends personalized, yes, bedtime stories, from travelling parents into the nursery.
The Chance Relation connects through future benefits and agency. It appeals especially to members of generation Y, the 21 to 34-year-old. A chance relation is in search for the enhancing opposite following the same goal. Brands can provide a platform where likeminded people connect: Audi‘s service Unite that allows private households to share a car, the streaming service Spotify that curates individualized bespoke playlists out of the vast mass of music. Loyality is no longer an issue when you are in chance mode. Only those who constantly improve their services or who surprise with new rules of the game prevent their customers from switching to the competitor.
The Purpose Relation connects through participation and idealism in an isolated society. Especially the very young of generation Z network globally with likeminded people in order to follow a shared vision, to exert influence and make a change. This might be a responsible use of resources as in a recent appeal by outdoor outfitter Patagonia not to throw damaged clothes away, but instead fix them. Or a call for collaboration like Nike‘s app “Making“ where product designers from all over the world share their knowledge about the quality of different materials. The platform Airbnb where individuals rent their homes lets its hosts share its vision of a more hospitable world.
People want more than a product experience: They long to be understood, they don’t want to be lonely, they want to feel empowered. They want to swap ideas, get closer to their personal goals, to participate in a vision. For the branding of the future this means to give services, interactions and experiences a human shape. The new relationship modes intimacy, chance and purpose visualize how people connect to others and to things – powerful knowledge that in the future might also benefit insurance companies, political parties or employers. For those who facilitate and manage relationships between people can create emotional bonds: a commitment.
Would you like to find out more about STURM und DRANG’s cultural relationship study Committed? Linda Ahrens is happy to send you further information and answer any questions. We will also introduce in detail the various relationship strategies people and brands can use to establish bonds in the upcoming weeks.
© Header photography Flickr Matthew G
Vorwerk. Kann man sich in Technik verlieben? 2014.
Talk by Europa Bendig, Managing Partner at STURM und DRANG, given at MetaDesign’s Brand New Day 2016 (in German)