India's Pioneer Media on TradeFairs

How digitalization has changed the fundamentals of connection

Willy Kruh for WEF Live


Digitalization has had a profound impact not only on the way people connect to each other, but on how they connect with the world around them, including the brands and companies they do business with.

When I want to connect with my 19-year old daughter, I know my best shot is to send a text message. She doesn’t pick up phone calls. Not because she doesn’t want to talk, it’s simply not how she and others of her generation connect. Where my default is to pick up the phone to hear her voice, the reality is, human connection has undergone a massive shift, thanks in large part to digitalization.

Digitalization has had a profound impact not only on the way people connect to each other, but on how they connect with the world around them, including the brands and companies they do business with. Relationships and connectivity between people and groups are no longer limited by geography or distance. In today’s digitalized world, people can find or build communities across oceans and borders, based simply on their shared values or niche common interests.

Instant and constant communication is the new norm. Mobile and digital technology enables direct lines of communication for people whose entire personal networks are literally in the palm of their hands. The resulting expectation for both people and businesses to be ‘always on’ is rapidly replacing patience with the demand for immediate gratification.

People are sharing information, perspectives, and experiences like never before. Everyone has a platform if they want one. I love social media for the small window it gives me into the lives of my friends, family and networks. We’re able to share experiences, keep track of birthdays and anniversaries, stay up to date on news, follow our favorite influencers and mentors and all in real time, transcending time zones and other barriers.

What does this mean for the consumer and retail industry?

The evolution of connection through digitalization has forced the business world to evolve as well. Consumers expect to connect with brands and retailers in the same way they connect with their own personal networks. The most competitive brands are using digital technology and connectivity to understand their customers better and to meet them where and when they want – and on their terms. The companies that fail to accomplish this may find themselves falling behind.

In an increasingly digitally connected marketplace, competition is now global – you can get anything anywhere, at any time. Companies need to seek out and leverage new channels, like platform marketplaces, to ensure they are appealing to and reaching all their potential buyers.

Infinite options, digital technology and decreasing consumer patience mean that when shoppers can’t easily find what they are looking for, they will move on in a click. Popular technologies like online chatbots and in-home assistants can enable companies to provide personalized customer service and guidance at any time potential customers are looking for it, in a cost effective way.

The most successful companies fully recognize the role social media plays in the lives of their customers. And for better or worse, the extent to which people share brand interactions and experiences is only growing. And their posts to social media (endorsements or complaints) increasingly serve to influence the purchase decisions of others. As a result, there has been a profound shift in control over any company or brand’s reputation. The control that once used to be wholly in the hands of business, has now shifted almost completely to the public.

Digitalization has certainly added new (and numerous) levels of complexity to how people today connect and interact. But it also presents exciting opportunities for consumer and retail companies to deepen the connections they make with their customers. Most importantly, individuals and companies alike have the ability to disseminate their message, whatever it is, to a wide audience very quickly which, if done right, in itself has the power to transform.