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Much Has Changed, But the Power of Real Human Connection Remains

Advertising Agency
Toronto, Canada
To have value, brands need to provide consumers with something that goes well beyond the transactional, says The Hive’s Rick Shaver

When Kruger, Canada’s number one producer of tissue products, creates content that exalts the messiness of everyday life - the weeping, the sniffling, the messy mishaps, the bloody scrapes, and sloppy kisses - and then turns it into a celebration of our humanity, it forges an unspoken bond between its products and anyone who has ever wept, slobbered, spilled a drink, skinned a knee or nuzzled a dog.

When The Toronto Hospital For Sick Children (SickKids) lets people be part of the chaotic and heart-wrenching intensity that staff, parents and kids experience in the hospital’s intensive care units, it creates an experience that emphatically communicates the urgent need for funding that goes well beyond words.

When Brown-Forman sends ambassadors into the field to activate the folklore behind its beloved Jack Daniel’s whiskey in bars, restaurants, at tailgate parties and at any other place where people get together, the distiller is reaching into a rich, story-filled heritage to make its whiskey so much more than just a whiskey.

By doing so, Kruger, SickKids and Brown-Forman bring value and meaning to their brands.

So much has changed in the digital age. The change has been radical and in many cases catastrophic. Entire industries have been either dramatically disrupted or in some cases wiped out entirely. Think music. Think photography. Think retail shopping. Now add COVID-19 to the equation, bringing even more unimaginable changes.

And yet, while we are justifiably obsessed with these changes—and they keep coming at a dizzying speed—we should also be mindful of what has not changed.

After all, we are still human. Our instincts are unchanged. We love. We yearn for the closeness of others. Our spirits are uplifted by sport and entertainment. We are still moved and inspired by acts of courage and of kindness.

It’s unlikely that any consumer who has been touched by the commercial gestures described above would ever think of using the phrase 'valuable encounters'.

But I think those two words are a reminder of something that remains extremely important to all of us in marketing - because this expression conveys a bedrock principle that remains an enduring pillar of our industry. No matter how much the world has already changed, and is changing because of the pandemic, it is still all about connection and value exchange.

To have value, brands need to have, at some point, provided consumers with something that goes well beyond the transactional. There must be a connection between brand and customer, some type of value exchange. The value can be in the form of pure entertainment, an ad that reaches in and moves something inside of us, that strikes a nerve. It can come from an experience that excites or informs. Or it can simply be a message that rings true and makes our lives better.

Valuable encounters happen when a brand and a person fall for each other. And it is real.

It’s about the connection that is made through content, experience, or activated storytelling. We spend our lives encountering brands, but the encounters only become meaningful when we receive something of value in exchange for our attention. The result is a powerful and lasting human exchange between people and brand.

Valuable encounters are what result when consumers give brands permission to enter into their life by giving them something of value, relevance and meaning in return. A lot has changed in the digital age, and it felt like a lot more changed over the course of this terrible pandemic. But nothing has changed, or will change, in terms of the importance of valuable encounters.

Rick Shaver is president and CEO of The Hive Strategic Marketing Inc.

This article was previously published on Strategy Online.