‘Tech angst’ opens the door to more human-led brand connections: study

A prolonged lockdown period, combined with growing anxiety about technology overload, could lead to increased consumer demand for more human-led brand experiences, according to new research from GlobalWebIndex and independent agency network Worldwide Partners.

The report, From CX to HX: Unleashing the energy of human-first experiences to empower marketing of the future, does not advocate stepping back from technology so much as stepping beyond it, imagining ways brands can reach consumers who have grown tired of being connected or in front of a screen around the clock.

“Coming out of a global pandemic, marketers cannot simply prepare for a new normal,” said WorldWide CEO John Harris. “They must embrace a new marketing model that empowers humans rather than targeting customers.”

If customer experience, or CX, was about identifying consumers to deliver personalized communications, human experience, or HX, is about demonstrating an understanding of who the consumer is and delivering more meaningful experiences.

“The companies that differentiate themselves will be those who use technology to facilitate, rather than replace, the human touch,” said Carrie Seifer, general manager for GlobalWebIndex, North America.

The study focuses on four marketing categories—health care, CPG, travel and tourism and B2B—and explains how the key consumer trends identified by the research will have significantly different adoption in mature versus emerging markets.

The report is based on GlobalWebIndex’s online research, which includes ongoing interviews with more than 575,000 internet users 16 to 64 in 46 markets around the world, along with a special survey of 3,600 internet users conducted for Worldwide Partners in March.

The report argues that the shift toward HX is driven in large part by “tech angst.” Technology has become so omnipresent, it states, that it has become a “barrier between the consumer and the brand.”

While high technology was considered a sign of a premium brand experience not so long ago, the continued overload have . But an overload of technology has inverted that paradigm. Human connection, not digital connection, will increasingly define premium brand experiences.

Some of the data used to illustrate that rising tech angst trend include:

  • In 2012, 29% of people said “I am constantly connected online.” That number jumped up to 57% just one year later, rising to 63% by 2019;
  • In 2013, 56% of people said “I am concerned about the internet eroding my personal privacy.” By 2019, that had risen to 61%;
  • In 2013, just 24% of respondents said they prefer to be anonymous while online, rising to 35% by 2019.

“Forcing users to download yet another app or plug-in, opt in to yet another newsletter, or be continuously encouraged to ‘like and share’ on social media, exaggerates ‘tech angst’ and makes those brands part of the problem,” the authors say. “Technology is already making life more complicated for people, but engaging with your brand doesn’t have to.”

The researchers also concluded that the shift towards more human-led experiences will accelerate coming out of the pandemic. “Lockdown life has tied consumers to their devices, exacerbating their tech fatigue,” they write.

The research showed that while many people increased their connected media in the early stages of the pandemic, their screen time has gone back down again. Conversely, non-screen time activities, such as spending more time cooking, reading magazines and newspapers, have all increased and remained higher than before.

“This data offers a glimpse into our radically different future post crisis. For brands and the marketing professionals that work for them, reorienting to human-first experiences and messaging will be more important than ever,” the study says.

David Brown