A recent global study reveals that COVID-19 has led to a more positive relationship with technology. Here are some key insights from the Digital Society Index study
Dentsu Aegis Network (DAN) surveyed 32,000 people across 22 markets between March and April 2020, as the pandemic took hold across the world, to determine the relationship people have with technology and the resulting effect on their wellbeing, as well as their connection with friends and family.
Research revealed that consumers are more positive about their interaction with technology than in previously conducted surveys. In addition, the Digital Society Index (DSI) highlights how the pandemic appears to have ushered in a period of ‘techlove’ in which people are interacting with technology in a more positive way.
Upskilling emerges as a trend
The study reveals that people in emerging markets are learning new skills and improving their knowledge, fuelled by the rise in digital solutions and online courses. With more time at home to learn and self-improve, almost half of people surveyed in South Africa (46%), Mexico (44%) and Brazil (43%) have been using tech in this way. In comparison, a fifth (18%) of the respondents in the UK and a quarter (24%) in the US have also been using technology to upskill, using educational apps and webinars, for example.
Technology and wellbeing
People in South Africa appear to be using technology to monitor their physical and mental health more than any other country, with almost a third (29%) of survey respondents saying they check health apps or use wearable devices. This is followed by a fifth (22%) of all Polish, Singaporeans and Brazilians. Close to a fifth (17%) of all Americans say they do the same.
Reflecting positive engagement with technology during the pandemic, people are increasingly optimistic about the role of tech in society. A growing share of people globally believe in tech’s ability to solve societal challenges such as healthcare issues like COVID-19 – 42% in 2018 vs 45% in 2019, and now 54% in 2020.
% agreeing they are optimistic that digital technology will help solve the world’s most pressing challenges (e.g. health issues, poverty, environmental degradation)
New brand expectations
This optimism translates into increased brand expectations. The pandemic has forced businesses to reconsider their interactions with consumers. When it comes to providing new services to help people mentally and physically, a massive 66% of people globally say they would not just ‘want’, but also expect organisations to use tech in a way that has a wider positive societal impact in the next five to 10 years. Over half in the US (60%) and UK (59%) feel this way, with people in China (84%) and South Africa (82%) needing it most.
Furthermore, in the future, every brand is a health brand. Two-thirds of consumers will expect brands to develop products and services that enhance their health and wellbeing. This is definitely the case in emerging markets – for example, eight out of 10 people in China, Brazil and South Africa have this expectation.
In response to the results of the study, Masaya Nakamura, CEO, Global Solutions, DAN, said, ‘The pandemic has forced us to become more conscious of the role technology can play in meeting our fundamental human needs. There has been a period of ‘techlove’ during the COVID-19 crisis, with brands using technology to pivot their relationship with consumers to support and empower their wellbeing. If this is to endure into the recovery, the challenge for brands is to humanise technology and ensure it is being deployed in service of people’s needs. That also means ensuring that increased investment in functional capabilities like e-commerce is matched by equal focus on building a truly empathetic brand.’
Beware the ‘techlash’
Despite the shorter-term benefits of technology during the pandemic, the Digital Society Index report shows that there is a longer-term trend of a ‘techlash’ – a negativity felt towards technology that has been felt across the globe in some countries more than others.
Across the globe, 57% of people today believe the pace of tech change is too fast (a level that has been consistent since 2018). Nearly half of the people surveyed also believe that digital technologies are increasing the inequality gap between rich and poor, a sentiment seen most in South Africa (61%), China (61%) and France (57%).
And even though social media is helping people stay connected, almost a fifth of people in the UK (17%) and US (14%) have found technology has caused them to feel more mentally stressed and made it harder to switch off. This is higher than the global average of one in every 10 people (13%).
Nakamura continues: ‘As we look to the recovery, brands need to put more focus on creating bespoke solutions that aim to help people lead better lives, rather than pushing a product or service on them. Brands need to think about the full lifetime value they can provide to consumers, integrating all elements of marketing, sales and service. Providing helpful experiences is at the forefront of every businesses’ mind during the current pandemic and should be for the next decade and beyond.’
Koo Govender, CEO of DAN South Africa, said, ‘I am ecstatic that the South African market has been included in the 2020 Digital Society Index. The COVID-19 pandemic has created a time for opportunity. As an agency, we have been forced to halt, refocus and reflect on what is important, which has resulted in forced new beginnings.
‘As an industry, technology has given us the unique opportunity and position to gain insights into consumer habits and behaviours, which results in the opportunity to identify the optimal approach.
‘Consumer behaviour has changed overnight and, as an agency, we need to embrace the importance of technology during this time. Our clients are our heartbeat to the SA economy. Brands should show up, be nimble, pivot and be true to their purpose. We are seeing now, more than ever, [that] consumer shopping habits are constantly evolving online, which results in agencies needing to be more agile and to come up with different, creative and interesting ways to engage with their audience.’
For more information on the DAN Digital Society Index survey, download Techlash or Techlove? Connecting Beyond the Crisis