Human connection is evolving, is marketing keeping up?

Introducing Connection
– a major study exploring how people connect to brands.

Brands want to connect with people, but are they? TRA carried out quantitative and qualitative research with more than 2000 people across New Zealand and Australia to find out.

The research confirmed that we are in a new age of connection. Humans have adapted. We have developed a new set of skills to connect with people with the same interests and world views as us.

Traditional marketing however, grew a different skill set for making connections – and it shows.

What creates connection to companies?
Affordability and price
Communication and updates
Customer experience
In 10th place? Personalisation.
Our data shows that some traditional marketing methods are table stakes – they are the minimum requirement. Price and customer experience rank the highest, so ‘give me the right price’ and ‘tell me what I need to know about’ are important hygiene factors that brands need to get right before they can build emotional connection.

The stats also tell us that personalisation is not top of mind as something that speaks to our connection needs – only 2% think of it when asked what creates connection to a company. In other words, personalisation is a useful performance marketing tool, but it’s not what comes to mind when people think about connection.

Shared interests are a shortcut to connection

Human beings are super adaptable. We have learnt a new set of skills to connect with others. Now, we gravitate toward people who share the same interest and world views as us – regardless of where or who they are.

When prompted, the importance of shared interest surfaces.
46% – A loyalty programme

Loyalty programmes can create a sense of belonging, a by-product of connection. Our qualitative work found that loyalty programmes solely focused on ‘points’ don’t make people feel as connected as programmes that feel more like a community.
39% – Supporting causes I care about
27% – Have partnerships with groups or interests I feel connected to
What does this mean for marketers?

Speak to people as connected humans, not as categories of individuals.

The connections that drive us closer to people (or away from) are the same connections that drive us towards brands.

It’s not demographics, it’s not life stage, it’s not even platforms that connect us. It’s interests.

Think about what happens when you meet a stranger. How do you build connect with them? Often, it’s through shared interests. That’s how we find common ground.
Person in green beanie and overalls holding straps against a dark background.Person in white jacket adorned with a gold necklace, against a beige backdrop.An elderly man in yellow beanie and beige jacket against a purple background.Portrait of a person in blue against a solid orange background.An elderly woman with white hair and blue top holding sunglasses, against a blue background.A man with short pink hair and a colorful outfit against an orange backdrop.Person in green beanie and overalls holding straps against a dark background.
It's the same for brands. The same interests that drive us closer to people (or away from them) are the same connections that ultimately drive us towards brands.

Instead of speaking to everyone through common denominators or demographics, brands need to get in the crosshairs of their audience’s interesting interests. Then explore the why behind them.

It’s an approach that can be done at a scale that works for brands – whether by looking at macro or micro interests – to help meet people’s emotional connection needs.
Download full report →

Introducing echo-systems

A map of shared interests
So, how can we uncover these connections so that brands can join?

By building a richer understanding of audience interests and where they connect. We call this an echo-system.

An echo-system map illustrates individual shared interests and the why behind the connections. Using this, we can identify unique and interesting points where audience tastes, interests and values overlap.

To create the maps, we start with a person. We ask about their spheres of influence and the why behind these influences to collect rich data. The result is an interactive diagram of connections and a world of possibility.

Explore the connection echo-system

Disclaimer: Best explored on desktop. This diagram is for illustrative purposes. The information presented is hypothetical and intended to demonstrate possible scenarios.
See opportunities
Echo-system maps can be used to gain inspiration on how you can drive connection with your audience.

Try exploring our illustrative map to:
  • Identify clusters of interest that can spark ideas for comms, products or collaborations.

    What are the strong points of connection? Where are the gaps?
  • See connections between individual values, taste and beliefs.

    Where could you lean into? What could be taken advantage of?

For brands, these smaller shared spaces of connection can bridge the gap between mass and personalised marketing

  • Mass comms to everyone or targeted segments
  • Reach that builds fame and trust through social proof
  • Echo-spheres of the like minded create connections
  • Communities with shared meaning build connection
  • Personalised comms
  • Customer experience is a personal experience
Graphic of twelve grey circles arranged in three rows within a large black circle.Graphic of a black circle with four clusters of overlapping grey circles on a white background.Grey circle centered within a larger black circle against a white background, creating a stark contrast.

Go deeper into connection

For more detailed guidance on how to apply learnings from the connection study to your work, download the report.
Download full report →


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For more detailed guidance on how to apply learnings from the connection study to your work, download the report.
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