Not the year ahead: Building strong connections

Marsha Tunkel, Senior Strategist at VMLY&R offers her tips for building strong connections, strengthening brand interactions with consumers as we move into the year ahead.

Marsha Tunkel, VMLY&R

Senior Strategist


Lockdown has been make-or-break for couples. Whether you’ve been together two months or 25 years, being stuck together is enough to make you really ‘see’ the person you’re with and question if they are right for you.

From the relationship we have with our partner to our relationship with brands, 2020 has put a magnifying glass on everything. It’s hardly a surprise that this year has impacted consumer behaviour, with our new lifestyles and habits influencing our attitudes towards brands.

In short: a year of social distancing has led to us seeing less and less calls for social interaction. Digital channels are seeing significantly more footfall and the need for authenticity and trust is going through the roof.

It has never been more important to build strong connections, so, with 2020 nearing close, I’ll be giving you some relationship advice on how to strengthen your interactions with your consumers, and maybe your partner as well, as we move into the year ahead. 

For your brand to be the best in its category, your competition needs to survive to drive you forward.

Marsha Tunkel

Consumers see brands as extensions of themselves

According to Foresite Factory, consumers view their purchases and brand loyalties as an extension of themselves, so for brands to stay connected with their audience they need to cater for their changing needs. Consumers see brands as having a pivotal role to play, with 72% of consumers liking seeing brands help those in need and 62% of consumers thinking brands are just as responsible as the government when it comes to helping people.

Right now, brands need to adapt at pace. Long term plans need to be replaced by agility and flexibility. We’ve witnessed brands pivoting and unifying in their efforts to help governments and businesses, using a digital first approach to get their message out there quickly. One commendable example is Burger King releasing their ‘Order from McDonalds’ ad on Twitter in a bid to help restaurants survive the second surge of the pandemic.

My relationship advice: It’s not all about you and what you’re doing. It’s about who you can support. For your brand to be the best in its category, your competition needs to survive to drive you forward. So, instead of rolling your eyes at your partner’s mood, ask them if their mother is driving them up the wall with the COVID-19 numbers in London today. 

The age of authenticity

Consumers are craving trust and authenticity, not just from their friends and family but also from brands; 43% of consumers prefer functional marketing at this time, with only 17% preferring emotional. The remaining 40% don’t mind.

However, over the last nine months we are seeing a shift in attitudes away from lone emotion. Empathy is still needed, with 77% of consumers wanting brands to show they’re aware of the crisis and the impact. But all words, no actions would be seen by consumers as a fail. 

Making claims isn’t enough anymore. Brands have to show they’re capable of driving change to build trust. We’re seeing consumers be quick to do their research, challenge claims, and vote with their wallet by seeking alternatives. 

My relationship advice: the future is an uncertain place. Many brands have had their core business seriously disrupted. You can’t seem out of touch. It’s not just about saying the right thing anymore. Which leads me to my final point.

If you step up and stick to the outward promises you are making, you’ll be the one to remain loyal to.

Marsha Tunkel

Actions are greater than words

My friend has been in what we call a ‘situationship’ with a new guy. It’s a relationship before it is quite a relationship. Throughout lockdown, communication seemed to have broken down. His promises were empty. He said he'd call her but never did.

Brands can't behave like this guy. They need to follow through; 54% of Gen Z activity want to hear what brands have done during this difficult time. Traditionally, brands would have done this through activations and experiential, but now we’re seeing more digital experiences needed. This means that not only do brands need a solid emotional story, they must also demonstrate meaningful follow-through actions, amplified in the digital world to build this trust. 

My relationship advice: Be direct. If you step up and stick to the outward promises you are making, you’ll be the one to remain loyal to. And for those who are wondering, the guy my friend is dating did step up, she’s realised he’s the one she wants to stick with, for now at least.

We can take a couple of key learnings from the radical changes happening this year that will remain key to a successful 2021, all of which are valid to build a successful relationship, with your consumer and at home.

Guest Author

Marsha Tunkel, VMLY&R

Senior Strategist,


Marsha Tunkel is a Senior Strategist at VMLY&R and the winner of the WACL Future Leaders Award 2020. She has experience in integrated, digital and activation led brands, with a specialism in creative, emotional-led brand storytelling rooted in insights into changing audience behaviour. She has worked across FMCG, Telecomms, Retail and New Categories. Marsha is from North London, she’s an idealistic Libra and is especially compatible with down-to-earth Taurus signs, which is why her and her Taurus partner have managed to survive lockdown together.