Despite being a “Brit,” I too am reminded at this time of the year to be thankful for so much. However, I do bemoan the absence of one particular experience that so far has eluded me. You see, my bucket list includes experiencing a traditional Thanksgiving with an American family. And since I’ve worked for an American company for 20 years, you’d have thought I’d have nailed this one by now. But, alas, no.

The allure probably comes from idyllic representations on TV and in film, perhaps my favourite being Del and Neal’s unshakeable quest to make it home for Thanksgiving by fair means or, foul. I was going to say fowl but resisted the urge. However, ironically, the joy of Thanksgivings and all kinds of gatherings of friends and families the world over are at risk, owing to the digital technology we’re so thankful to have.

“Can you just put it down for five minutes?” is a phrase I use far too often and almost always with my kids. Whether it’s over meals, watching TV together, or almost any other activity, I can’t help but feel that I need to stage an “intervention” and ration their access to their ever-present smart phones; before I lose them forever, forever … forever?

It’s a serious issue not limited to the youth as we see tables of friends out for dinner, communicating more like “the borg” than real people! In fact, there’s a growing trend among the tech-savvy to admit and announce they need a #DigitalDetox, like they are some kind of celebrity who has over-indulged, sparking debate across the industry and homes alike – more likely on Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat to be honest.

This new trend is derived from an increasingly frequent feeling of internet overload, and thankfully it is increasingly self-imposed and needs no serious counselling. However, it is a genuine phenomenon sending millions (15 million to be precise) of people across the UK on the hunt for a short break from all things digital, according to research from regulator Ofcom.

Whilst this ironic hashtag might be helping lower people’s stress levels and reconnecting families, this leaves pressing questions on many marketers’ lips: How serious a trend is this? Will it spread like the juice diet or just be a fad before people realise they need it more than some kind of spiritual fulfillment? And what will this rise in digital blackouts mean for brands, who may now have to determine whether a consumer’s lack of engagement online is disinterest or simply a timeout?

From the launch of YouTube’s video ads to Twitter’s character count changes and Burberry launching the first ever see-and-shop fashion show through Facebook Live, the recent 9th Social Media Week London has been swamped with talk of personalisation and greater online experiences – all of which require data to be truly effective. So if digital users and loyal fans are suddenly dropping off the radar for a regular #DigitalDetox, brands and marketers automatically begin missing out on their regular fill of up-to-date data. What to do next makes for interesting thinking.

We, as an industry, have spent the better part of the last decade learning how to piece together the lives of our target consumers (both online and off) to develop a personalised experience. Whether through surveys, ad-hoc questions or understanding buying and search habits, the data brands have been able to collect in recent years has been the essential fuel that has enabled personalisation and helped digital grow to the force it is today. So, should we be concerned that this pool of insight could start to become patchy again?

The first thing to do is to not overreact, as this is just another phase in a customer lifecycle or journey like someone being less responsive to retail offers in August and highly responsive in December leading up to Christmas. That’s a really simple example, but brands need to think cleverly about how to communicate with customers who “go dark”; after all, it’s only human to take a time out.

One solution is data on-boarding – the process of connecting offline data to the digital world, to produce a more holistic view of the customer and a much smarter next best action. What this means for brands is that, as consumers drop off the digital map in the pursuit of serenity, it is still possible to factor in their offline and in-store activity.

Through deterministic data matching – which uses identity resolution technologies to match de-identified customers in privacy-safe ways and which is far more accurate than probabilistic matching – it is possible to generate a more complete understanding of customers than would be possible if they do stop using digital devices and online platforms, by at least taking into account real-world activities.

In turn, when consumers come back online; records are up-to-date; marketing activity is current and spend is not wasted on irrelevant, perhaps out-of-date offers and content. For the benefit of consumers, they don’t return to an inbox full of outdated offers or a social feed of irrelevant ads.

Given that our offline and digital worlds co-exist in reality and that as marketers our vision has to be to combine them as one, there can be no doubt this is a solution that is only going to become increasingly important – especially if the regular digital cleanse catches on.

In signing off, let me make a plea to you, my American cousins from across “the pond”. While our digital tools can help us stay connected with friends and loved ones between now and early January, if there ever is a time to try a digital detox, if even for a few precious hours on the big days especially, this is it. Switching off might well help us all switch on to what matters most and those who matter most to us. Happy Thanksgiving.


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