Technology is driving a new era in the way we build and nurture the relationships that give meaning to our lives. As digital marketers, we try to drive meaningful connections through the stories we tell between companies and consumers. The more meaning in the connection, the better the relationship – especially when it comes to advertising. This article address the Why, How and What of relationship building in a connected age, empowered by the digital revolution.

From the beginning, business has been about relationships. One person has a need (demand), and another person choses to fulfil that need (supply). A relationship is formed and business is conducted within an enabling framework (organisation). Think of the very first village general stores, where everybody knew one another personally and storeowners worked to fulfil the needs of their customers. The store simply stocked the things people needed and maintained intimate relationships to drive business. It was personal.

When we translate this to the digital era in which we live, a relationship is a connection facilitated by technology, and the by-product is “data”. And through this data, we can understand the love, hate, trust or myriad of other characteristics that define a relationship.

The Internet is a connection machine … it connects things.

Whether it’s device to device, person to device (or vice versa) or, of course, person to person
– it’s always the Internet that drives these connections, and there are always people sitting behind them. Think of a Skype call, messenger chat or social media application. Two or more people interact with each other through technology, constantly generating and exchanging data. This data is a proxy into human behaviour. It allows us to understand the nature of the relationship between these people, and whether there is love or hate within it.

Businesses born into this digital era (like Google, Facebook, Amazon, Uber, Airbnb, Tesla) are harnessing the power of data to understand digital relationships and extract meaning. Why? To drive happier customers and better business through technology. They are constantly analysing data and human behaviour to give people what they need and want.

Give people what they want, and they will keep coming back for more.

So how are these companies harnessing the power of relationships in a digital age? Simply, the same way those general store owners did: by getting personal. They build personalised platforms providing unique experiences and empowering people to be productive, which, in turn, drives greater value and ultimately helps people live happier lives. This last part completes the cycle and makes a digital-first business sustainable, as it is focusing on human happiness. Think of Zappos, an Amazon company, with a carefully crafted mission and vision of “Delivering Happiness” with their WOW Philosophy.

In doing all of this, these digital-first companies are disrupting traditional ways of doing business – or at least taking it to a new level. As the consumer increasingly adopts digital channel consumption, these disruptors are successfully building better relationships through technology at scale. They hijack the traditional relationship we use to have, let’s say with a book store, and give us a sweeter deal. They build highly personalised platforms, generate unforgettable experiences, empower us with technology, drive greater value, and make us happier. (NB If they fail on this last point of making people happier, they will ultimately perish to give way for new disruptors who do it better.)

So, how can brands survive and thrive in this newly emerging digital (first) world where consumers, especially the newer generations, are consuming increasingly via digital channels?

Brands need to own – or at least participate in – digital relationships with customers. They need to use technology to build relationships through digital channels and connect online with offline. They need to use websites, apps, bots, algorithms and devices to build stronger relationships with customers. And – most importantly – they need to harness the data these digital relationships produce, to make them even stronger. (After all, it is in the data that brands will find the answers on how to make their customers happy.) Then, they must personalise those relationships, empower people with technology, drive greater value, and make every interaction an experience – ultimately make their customers so happy that they start advocating and evangelizing what they stand for.

For more insights into building meaningful connections in a connected age, we invite you to watch a recent keynote at an IAB Mixx Awards ceremony: