After a year in lockdown, getting away from the screen is what 2021 is all about. Executive Creative Director Gareth Leeding takes a look at how brands have the opportunity to make the most of digital acceleration to build stronger relationships with consumers.

Over the last year, we’ve spent more time online. People have turned to social and digital channels to fill the void left by a lack of human connection of in-person cultural experiences. 

But - thankfully - we won’t be in lockdoom forever. With the UK (along with many other places in the world) now allowing hugs and pubs to bring human connection and cultural experiences, we’re going to see people’s behaviours on social media start to shift. We’ll be stuck behind a screen less than we have been over the last year. And we’re increasingly going to be out, living life and enjoying good times with others. 

This all sounds very 2019. But to simply revert back to social strategies of the past would be a waste of what we’ve learned so far. Life is built on community and culture, it always has been. After the ‘lost year’, brands have the opportunity to make the most of the digital acceleration and immersion and the way consumers have adapted, and use this to build stronger, more personal relationships.

What’s changed? We've seen communities mobilising in greater numbers across the internet - this isn’t going away. People have realised the benefit that can come with building a sense of belonging both at a local level and with those who have shared interests. Likewise, fandoms have started welding even more significant power, resulting in pressure that leads to real change (see the short-lived European Super League).

Brands now need to lean into these groups, build them up and support them. Brands also have the opportunity to tap into their customer and fan bases to genuinely listen and bring about change in line with their values and the actions they take in the real world. This could lead to a real much needed shift in purpose-led marketing. 

Streaming platforms like Twitch, games like Fortnite and Animal Crossing, have played a significant role in connecting people as well facilitating all manner of cultural experiences, from fashion to comedy shows. It was a time full of innovation from a personal and a brand point of view - watching Hamilton's entire first act recreated in Animal Crossing or a Burberry show on Twitch. 

Burberry teams up with Twitch to livestream its S/S'21 show | Buro 24/7

While there are very few people who would argue that streamed entertainment is superior to live experiences, online entertainment really has democratised experiences during the pandemic. It’s made them more accessible globally for those who aren’t able to attend or appreciate IRL. 

Brands should look to maintain momentum when it comes to digital experiences but instead of streaming an activation in full, look for how to innovate and build on what’s been happening over the last year. How can we smash these worlds together in new and exciting ways? This could be by using digital content to complement live physical events or adding a layer of exclusive access via digital channels. 

Over the last 12 months we’ve also seen the emergence of talent with talent - people who have a genuine skill that others want to hear from. TikTok became a place not just of entertainment but of education. New dance routines were interspersed with learning new languages or recipes. The comeback of social audio has made people feel closer than ever to influencers as well as their famous heroes. Brands can help people maintain this sense of learning and connection; digital channels like Lives, audio chats or podcasts help build a relationship between an ambassador and a community.

Do You Know That You Can Learn a New Language on TikTok? | Iconic MNL

While the last year has been challenging, it’s also forced us to tear up the rulebook as marketers and think differently. We can’t just lazily lean into nostalgia - our work needs to be about the future, a new world and a surprising new consumer journey, so we progress. This is our opportunity to make the world better, not just play endless reruns. This is our time to lead the evolution of marketing.