Last Tuesday, a Mintel colleague mentioned she was going to drop off her dog, Lucy, a couple of neighborhoods away as she left for vacation.

When I asked whether the pup would be staying at a boarder or with friends, I learned that the answer was neither: Lucy would be bunking with a stranger for the week. The arrangements were made through DogVacay, which connects dog owners with canine-friendly hosts.

I was intrigued by the setup, but it should be no surprise that such a platform exists given the sharing economy in which we live.

As explored in the Mintel Trend Click and Connect, digital devices and platforms are being used to connect people based on personal supply and demand, as well as shared interests. In today’s world of digital anonymity and fading concern for interpersonal interactions, many find it refreshing and fulfilling to make one-on-one bonds with another person. It made more sense—both personally and financially—to leave Lucy in a ‘loving home,’ as the site says.

In today’s world of digital anonymity, many find it refreshing to make one-on-one bonds with another person

The popular ride sharing service Lyft acknowledges that forging human connections with others is a big benefit of using the service. As a result, the company recently announced it would make updates to its profile features in order to allow drivers and passengers get to know one another better. Users now have the option to display hometowns, favorite music, and an open-ended miniature biography. According to Lyft in a statement to VentureBeat, “Profiles makes unearthing these small-world connections even easier, and is a big step toward our vision of reconnecting people and communities through better transportation.”

Other brands and organizations are providing innovative digital methods for making in-person, humanized connections:

  • The Umbrella Here project in Hong Kong creates umbrellas that light up to let strangers know you’re willing to share some cover from the rain. Users place a Bluetooth-connected device lit up with color LEDs on top of their umbrella and use their phone to turn it on and off, much like a taxi signal. When the light is on, users are signaling that someone else can join them under the umbrella. If both people have the mobile app, they can continue their conversation online.
  • Dutch start-up Withlocals connects tourists and visitors to local residents for authentic local dining experiences. Using the platform, people can either create an event or attend one being hosted by someone else. Events range from small, intimate meals to large group gatherings and parties. It gives travelers the opportunity to engage in truly authentic local experiences and make meaningful connections with locals.
  • In Mexico, Google has developed Juega +1, a freely available platform using Google Maps and Google+’s ‘circles’ functionality to bring people together for sport-related activities. Users only have to enter the kind of activity they would be most interested in; Juega +1 will automatically highlight related activities happening in their surrounding area and match them to other willing participants.

Even the interaction from a connection that is strictly digital can be useful for consumers:

  • Sephora has launched Beauty Board, an online platform for shoppers to share their favorite looks with each other. Shoppers can upload photos and tag the beauty products that they used for others’ benefit. They can then ‘search across the site for inspiration from other users,’ filtering based on interest, like finding a certain smoky eye look.
  • Cissé Trading Co. has created packaging that allows people to connect with the farmers who harvested the products’ ingredients. On packages of the brand’s baked goods and hot drinks, consumers can scan QR codes that take them to the company Facebook page, where they can send messages to those farmers.
  • GrantMe is a French social network built entirely around shopping preferences and style advice. Users are presented with clothing choices and swipe left or right to say whether they like or dislike them; the app then builds an understanding of the user’s preferences and style.

In a similar vein, brands can also help consumers enhance existing interpersonal connections:

  • On Valentine’s Day in Argentina, chocolate brand Milka gave senior couples who have been married for many years a lesson on how to take their first selfie.
  • Swedish retailer IKEA has launched the Brollop digital wedding platform, which allows betrothed couples to invite wedding guests from anywhere in the world to a virtual ceremony. Those arranging the wedding can choose from a number of scenic backdrops, such as woodland, the beach, or a city rooftop. The service can be legally binding, as long as the bride, groom, officiator and two witnesses are in the same physical space.

As one-on-one interactions become rarer by the day, brands across virtually all spaces can find untapped digital opportunities to facilitate and enhance personal relationships– and thereby leave consumers with a positive perception of the brand.

To find out more about Mintel’s Trends and how they impact your market click here.

Mintel’s Consumer Trends Consultant, Stacy joined Mintel in 2013 bringing with her an exciting blend of CPG, agency, and marketing experience. Her time is spent traveling the US engaging clients across global CPG, Beauty, and Financial Services in meaningful discussions around the consumer trends that will propel their businesses forward.

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