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Thirty years after the birth of the world wide web, innovations in digital technology have fueled economic growth, created jobs, lifted millions out of poverty and provided easy access to information across the globe. And yet, there’s a major disconnect between the digital economy and the consumers it’s meant to serve.

According to The Digital Society Index 2019: Human Needs in a Digital World, a new report by Dentsu Aegis Network, a dynamic digital economy doesn’t always meet consumers’ needs. The survey, which polled more than 43,000 people across 24 countries, found that just 41 percent of U.S. consumers trust businesses to protect their personal data. As a result, 72 percent have taken steps to scale back their digital activities, which requires brands, businesses and governments to reevaluate how they foster trust and engage with consumers through digital channels.

Consumers have taken control

Today’s digitally savvy consumer manages her money with banking apps, shops online and streams music. She also understands the implications of sharing data and is prepared to respond when that trust is broken. Per the survey, three quarters of U.S. consumers say they would stop doing business with organizations that misuse their data. Forty-five percent of consumers have taken steps to reduce their online footprint, 24 percent have installed ad blockers, 20 percent now limit the amount of time they spend online or on mobile and 12 percent have deactivated a social media account.

Interestingly, those most likely to scale back from digital are also those most likely to embrace it in the first place. This creates a unique challenge for marketers, as the people who are hardest to reach are also the most valuable. To make the most of their interactions, brands must move beyond reach to build meaningful engagements with these consumers.

For starters, put an increased focus on motivation-based planning. Learn what real people want—not just proxies or demographic segments—in order to become more relevant in their lives. Rather than interrupting consumer interests with brand messages, intersect with and elevate those interests by meeting consumers where they already live. Put simply: Stop marketing, and start mattering.

A new model for the digital age

Creating a lasting relationship with consumers requires a creative, balanced approach, but it starts with basic human needs. Fifty-seven percent of U.S.-based survey respondents say that their basic needs—including digital access and trust in data use—are not being well addressed.

Forty-six percent declare that digital has not fulfilled its promise to provide skills, education and jobs, with only 28 percent believing that digital technology will create jobs and 30 percent believe their personal use of digital has a negative impact on their well-being. And nearly half of Americans worry that not enough is being done to ensure that digital technology benefits everyone, rather than just a select few.

Addressing such complex and varied issues requires more than a one-size-fits-all strategy. To reach consumers in the new digital economy, brands need to consider their audience’s digital needs and preferences. Consumers are protecting their data and limiting their time online, so it’s imperative for marketers to maximize the value of each interaction. And, because those preferences include a desire to protect their data and limit their time online, marketers’ access to consumers is changing. As a result, marketers have the opportunity to respect these boundaries while, at the same time, maximizing the value of each interaction.

Consider the recent Smirnoff Equalizer campaign, in which Smirnoff and Spotify used digital technology to help users uncover gender bias in their listening preferences. It intersected with the existing gender-equality movement and empowered interested consumers to get on board while fostering quality engagement with both companies. In this new digital model, transparency wins. In fact, brands can now compete on openness, making it a differentiator to win consumers’ trust. They also have the opportunity to promote the ways in which digital technology is bettering society as a whole.

A true value exchange

With digital optimism fading, business as usual is not an option. As the world moves toward inclusivity, transparency and access, digital can do more than follow suit—it has an opportunity to lead the charge. The more positive people feel toward the digital economy’s impact on their lives and society as a whole, the more likely they are to engage with digital products and services. This two-way street leads to what marketing should be at its core: a true value exchange. In other words, there’s not just an ethical case for delivering a digital economy that works for all—there’s a strong business case, too.

Download the report for more insights into today’s digital economy, and join the webinar on May 21 for a closer look at how marketers can leverage digital technology to empower and engage consumers.