How businesses can respond to changing consumer perceptions

(Image credit: Getty Images)

We live in a visual world. This means that every image, video, drawing, vector or GIF has the potential to inspire and attract. Of course, visual content can have an equal and opposite effect on consumers as well. Therefore, it’s more important than ever for companies and brands to know what’s important to their customers and what drives their decision making. Because when it comes to technology, the consumer perceptions around it can be a minefield.

About the author

Dr Rebecca Swift, Global Head of Insights at Getty Images.

Until very recently, many news articles, TV stories and social media posts aimed at consumers had a tendency to portray every extreme when it came to technology. On one end of the spectrum, there were articles giving warnings around how smart phones create unhealthy body comparison and harm relationships and trust with loved ones. On the opposite side of the spectrum, technology was depicted as driving connection with loved ones and productivity in one’s personal and professional lives.

However, all this changed very recently, when the Covid-19 crisis necessitated self-isolation practices. This quick shift in how people live their daily lives has seen technology become a force that brings people together. Internet usage increased sharply as people began to work from home and connect to their friends and loved ones – who they couldn’t see in real life –- via their devices. Moreover, technologies like streaming movies and games have brought entertainment and comfort to many.

The changing attitudes toward technology

So, clearly, attitudes towards technology are shifting at this time – largely out of necessity. Of all the driving forces in people’s lives today, technology has arguably been the one that creates the greatest amount of dynamic tension. In a world where the everyday portrayal of technology in the images we see, the stories we read and the anecdotes we experience have to date been so contradictory, how are businesses meant to navigate these opposing messages and respond to consumers when it comes to delivering new technologies and tech-driven services? Especially in a time where societal change is moving at an accelerated pace.

Having previously taken a deep dive into consumer attitudes towards technology by surveying over 10,000 people globally, I’d like to offer up some recommendations for businesses and steps they can take to navigate a confusing landscape that is often at odds with itself. In order to understand people’s attitudes towards today’s technologies, we must understand the consumer segments and their varying attitudes.

Examining conflicting consumer attitudes towards technology

Technology is all around us and it’s constantly evolving, making it a tough concept to stay up to date with. It can range from the latest apps to electric vehicles. In my work, the data informs that people passionate about technology tend to be younger, namely members of the Millennial and Gen Z generations. Nevertheless, the majority of people of all ages acknowledge that technology makes them feel more connected to the world and loved ones, helps them keep track of goals, and opens doors to experiences we wouldn’t otherwise have.

Yet, as social media and mobile device use continues to grow, there’s continued to exist a growing chorus of people raising concerns about how addiction to technology is negatively impacting lives, harming relationships, and causing anxiety or depression—particularly among young people. We may start to see these attitudes shift as self-isolation around the world brings about a shift in people of all generations experiencing technology as a uniting force, rather than one which divides and alienates.

Data privacy and cyber security are two other areas related to technology that rank as top concerns among consumers. People want companies to prove they are committed to protecting privacy and data. Many government legislations have addressed this, in the form of GDPR regulations across Europe and the recent CCPA regulation in California. While regulation at the government level is important, companies still need to ensure that personal data is treated seriously, respected and not misused.

Indeed, while technology allows us to plan better, do more, choose well, record our moments and share at will, there remains the fear that privacy is at risk and concern about becoming lost in our screens at the expense of our relationships.

Positive portrayals of technology

Businesses offering products and services rooted in technology can ease these tensions and concerns by portraying technology in a way that emphasizes the positive benefits of innovation. This will resonate with consumers who are already on board with tech.

In order to win hearts and minds, it’s important that businesses don’t “take people out of the picture”, so to speak, when it comes to technology. Depicting technology benefiting and working alongside humans is the right course of action. Visual representations of common social behaviors involving technology – such as taking selfies, video conferencing with colleagues, and connecting with friends – are important to acknowledge in the images, videos, and illustrations a company selects in its portrayal of technology.

In times of great change and upheaval, technology can and should be portrayed as the force for good in its highest potential. Allowing people to connect, help one another, share ideas and express emotions are all ways in which technology helps us in times of uncertainty and even crisis.

Addressing AI and cybersecurity

There are certain areas of tech where consumers have been ‘split’. One example is Artificial Intelligence, of which is split 60% in favor of, 40% distrusting of according to recent research. But tech brands shouldn’t necessarily avoid discussing topics like this that are considered controversial. Instead, brands should integrate such usage into lifestyle, travel, healthcare, education, business content, etc. to make it more relatable. By bringing modern technology into real life, it becomes normalized and reassures those that are still nervous. 

At a time when concerns about cybersecurity and AI taking human jobs are also growing, there’s a recognized need for images and videos that show how technology benefits, or at least works alongside, humans. The visual content that companies choose can be a powerful driver of positivity and can go a long way to assuaging concerns and even fears.

Moreover, businesses also do well to create futuristic and positive visual content that depicts how consumers might live their lives or how tech might look in years to come, creating an aspirational viewpoint on the tech for those who are excited about it.   

Ultimately, the language of technology changes as quickly as tech itself. We’ve witnessed this in just this past year. And that holds true of visual expectations— particularly when you work in a cutting-edge field. Staying current is important, as is understanding technology’s benefits and drawbacks in any given moment in time, so that you can address them appropriately with the right content that will resonate positively with consumers.

Dr Rebecca Swift

Dr Rebecca Swift, Global Head of Insights at Getty Images.