Recently, a rare bout of browser bookmark-sorting made me rediscover 'Human Life', a lovely video created by the UK telephone bank First Direct in 2009. You can still find it on Vimeo: a montage of people going about their day, their heads crowded with hopes and worries, while they absent-mindedly check accounts, pay bills and file tax returns. In the climactic frame, an old-fashioned clerk declares that 'it is my belief that we will see banking become a harmonious part of our everyday lives'.
Four years on, that ad has more resonance than ever. Social media is only the first shift in a thorough transformation of how people communicate and consume. We are already seeing the next frontier emerge in the form of wearable tech, from Google Glass to the iWatch, the world's first Twitter dress to Adidas' social media-enabled running shoe. The boundaries between on- and offline, personal and professional, fun and functionality are disappearing. We have become our own channel, and time has been called on message-based marketing.
Brands must learn to synchronise with our lives, not try to pull our attention away from our passions and toward their advertising. Not pretend to be our friend when we have plenty of real ones. Not push their content when we're busy sharing our own. What we need now are organisations that understand the complex, nomadic, multichannel way in which we live and buy.
Let's imagine a day in the life of a social consumer. How can brands fit in?
8am: commute. You're standing on a Tube platform, bleary eyed and bored. But when you stare at the billboard in front of you, instead of the usual push messages and promises, there's a massive image teasing you to spot the names of London's 75 Tube stations.
Look for Longer' was the world's first truly integrated social billboard campaign, created with CBS. One hundred London enthusiasts received a personalised pack to get conversation started, then city-wide posters prompted Londoners to join the conversation through the #lookforlonger hashtag and @lookforlonger Twitter profile, awarding a twibbon to successful participants. Cue a quarter-of-a-million site visits, with a staggering average 34 minutes spent on the site. More than 22,000 people from 176 countries managed to get all 75. All this happened because CBS knew when and where people were desperate to be entertained, with one eye on the real world and one eye on their smartphone.
11am: office. A recent study into mobile sharing from BrainJuicer found that not only do 51% of us share regularly from work, but that more content is shared on a Monday than on any other day of the week.
Banning social media in the workplace isn't just impossible – we're going to have tech on our wrist, remember? – but a waste of a brilliant opportunity. Take a leaf out of Innocent's book and create a quirky coaster printed with four tasks for a tea break: a Facebook gallery of cute photos to browse; a chance to swap live jokes on Twitter at @innocentdrinks; a competition on its website to win a smoothie; or an invitation to curl up under your desk and sleep. It's easy, it's conversational, it's eye-catching and it chimes with what we want to do at that point in our day.
1pm: lunch. My local bakery, @AlbionsOven, posts photos when a new batch of pastries has just come out of the oven. On Facebook, Chicago restaurant The Peasantry uploads a sexy snap of its seasonal special. Pictures are our contemporary social language – instantly powerful emotional triggers and super-easy to share. Putting this kind of temptation under the nose of consumers at just the right time allows brands to exploit our impulses, but only if they create social content in a fast and flexible way.
5pm: slump. After a busy day, your BlackBerry is malfunctioning. You don't want a cute viral video, you want help, so you can go and spend the evening with your mates. You call out for help on Twitter. BlackBerry isn't listening but @Nokia_Connects, a reactive stream that specifically seeks out opportunities to delight consumers while the competition is napping, jumps on the question and offers to courier you over a Lumia to trial. It's a simple social engagement – no big campaign bells and whistles here – but solving our daily problems means more than an immersive gamification experience ever will.
You get the point. The best marketers aim to give us more of what we really want – not brands, but time, fun, satisfaction, productive work and even love. They are the facilitators, not the hijackers, of our passions and our days. Which sort are you?
This article originally appeared in the July/August 2013 issue of Admap. Click here for subscription information.