How marketers can enable social connection in an era of physical distancing

There is opportunity and tremendous humanity that comes from abiding by physical distancing, while embracing social connection.

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A few weeks ago I heard a medical expert use the language of ‘physical distancing’ in-lieu of social distancing. A simple difference of a word, but with immense positive potential in how we continue to interact, engage and connect with one another.

Physical distancing has most definitely impacted how brands and businesses are moving forward. Well-laid plans have essentially been tossed in the air with marketers picking up the pieces and looking to pivot strategy with no clear vision on what’s to come. But, there is some level of opportunity and tremendous humanity that comes from abiding by physical distancing, while embracing social connection.

So how can we start to bridge this gap?


What we are experiencing is not limited to one demographic, industry or region. It is truly, all-encompassing and reflecting that in how we communicate, deliver products or services and engage with our community is acceptable. Consumers aren’t expecting a perfectly polished brand experience, but they are expecting an honest one. Brands that are bringing their community into their journey and continuing to put people first are forging bonds that will endure.


Not a novel concept but more important than ever, help your audience. It may mean a major overhaul of your user experience, an optimized content strategy or just a re-prioritization of tactics and spend. But pausing to consider how and what your consumer needs now (not one month ago) may have more benefit than just stopping all activity entirely.


Your audience has likely become more complex and fragmented than it was a few weeks ago. Employment status, household income, daily behaviours, food consumption patterns, etc. are all in flux. Recognizing that some are still going to work, others may no longer be working, some are now teaching their kids in-addition to working full-time and others are completely isolated from their families and friends, can all impact how, when and why they engage and relate to your brand. Finding ways to make your content and actions more inclusive of this diversity and providing low-barrier ways for your existing (and potentially new) audience to participate and engage, may help keep connections longer term.


Gone (at least in the near future) are the days of large gatherings, events and even humble dinner parties. And those are just a few of the ‘new normals’. But with that comes an opportunity for brands to help foster social engagement in new ways. Enabling entertaining through virtual potlucks, creating FaceTime playdates where kids continue to build and share together, helping with on-demand personal grooming consultations and more. Moving away from trying to force-fit the previous way of doing business may open new ways to bring people together even while they are apart.

Appetite for Change

Change is perhaps the only thing that will stay the same. While there are many businesses that may not have the luxury (and financial ability) to change, those that can should embrace a model of test and learn. Staying true to your brand beliefs and who you serve every day, should continue to be what grounds your strategy. Everything else can and should be reimagined. The sooner we accept that we need to be nimble, responsive and hyper-aware of the ripple effects of changing daily norms, the sooner we can add value.

We are treading unfamiliar waters, but at the core it come down to human behaviour and needs. While traditional journeys and physical habits may be altered (and rightfully so), social connection transcends and finding a way to enable that connection is a great role to fill.

Harbinger is a Toronto-based North American marketing agency with expertise in product launches. We help brands get noticed and purchased.


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