Some problems are nice to have. For example, how many friends is too many?
That’s probably an uncomfortably familiar question for anyone who gets struck by anxiety over unresponded WhatsApp messages, or fears waking up to the overwhelming sight of an unending ‘unread’ section in their email inbox.
Fortunately, in the 1990s an anthropologist named Robin Dunbar figured out an answer. His groundbreaking research proved that, give or take, the average human being can sustain 150 ‘stable relationships’ at any one point in their lives. Good to have that settled, then.
But what about for brands? In an era where technology has made connection easier than ever before, more brands are taking the opportunity to connect with us via tools such as social media and newsletters. In many ways, brands’ potential audiences have never been larger.
And yet, one has to wonder how many of these connections are truly meaningful, genuine, or valuable. Technology might have made connecting with people easier, but it’s also made people more savvy, and more sceptical. And, harking back to Dunbar’s pioneering research, there’s surely a limit to how many valuable relationships a brand can be expected to perpetually maintain.
So there’s a paradox here – it’s easier than ever to connect, but harder than ever to forge a connection which really means something. But it’s not impossible.
Just as with our own circles of friends, brands should be aiming for quality over quantity when it comes to their connections. The good news is that, through design, they can make it happen.
Design to Connect
It’s hard to overstate just how discerning we’ve become in the world of digital connections. I’m sure I’m not alone in having disregarded an email because it looked like sophisticated spam (for any collaborators reading this, I can only apologise).
But I know I’m not the only one. Many of us have developed something of a sixth sense for screening messages from brands before even having to open or engage with them. For brands, then, it’s worth asking how they can do better. Because they undoubtedly can.
Consider, for example, one of the more famous pieces of innovative brand communications: Spotify Wrapped. There’s a lot to be learned from the success of Wrapped, not least its focus on value, coherence, and context.
Many have tried to imitate the ‘Wrapped formula’, and with varying degrees of success. But none have hit quite the same heights, and that’s because Wrapped is the perfect kind of connection for Spotify.
It imparts information which only that brand can know, and its information which is genuinely meaningful to its audience. By reflecting back on our most-listened music we not only get the chance to relive that experience, we also get the chance to learn something about ourselves and understand who we are more deeply – or at least more accurately (as we hear referred to as ‘the Quantified Self’).
In a different context, Wrapped might have come across as invasive or creepy thanks to its dependence on machine learning and privacy rules. But it doesn’t, because it’s offering something of real value within the perfect context (it’s all in-app, and happens at the end of a calendar year when our appetite for retrospection is at a high). As a result, hardly anyone is annoyed when they hear about their Spotify Wrapped – in fact, we’re grateful for it.
This circles back to overcoming the scepticism barrier we’ve all developed for brand communications. Ideas like Spotify Wrapped don’t need to get past that filter, because people actively seek them out. That’s the value of designing connections based on value, coherence, and context.
At Re, this is what we mean when we talk about ‘design to connect’. It’s about ensuring there’s a direct lineage between every point of connection a person might have with a brand. And by ensuring those connections are designed around value, coherence, and context, you provide an experience which will keep those people coming back for more.
Perhaps that, ultimately, is the reward brands get for prioritising quality over quantity in their relationships. Perhaps 150 brilliant impressions formed with valued customers – which are in turn shared to their own friend diaspora – has greater value than 150,000 poor ones.
After all – if you can master quality, quantity will soon follow.