Techlash or Techlove? Connecting beyond the Crisis - Global study shows China’s continued optimism about the positive power of digital transformation

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  • Survey of 32,000 people across 22 markets by Dentsu Aegis Network reveals more positive interaction with technology than ever before
  • China is leading the world with an optimistic view that digital technology can solve the world’s most pressing challenges; 24% higher than the global average
  • Beyond the crisis, 84% of Chinese respondents expect brands to ensure their use of technology benefits society as a whole—a similar proportion believe all brands must develop products and services that support well-being – well ahead of the global average of 63%
  • There are still concerns over longer term negative impacts of tech: over half (57%) of people worldwide believe the pace of tech change is too fast and 65% of people in China are now taking periods of rest from using technology
  • 69% of people in China believe that emerging digital technologies, such as artificial Intelligence and robotics will create career opportunities vs. just 37% in the US
  • Ahead of the global average by 22% when asked if your ‘Digital skills are fully put to use your job’, 70% of respondents in China agreed, in sharp comparison to just 29% in Japan.

The latest edition of the Digital Society Index (DSI) survey by global marketing agency Dentsu Aegis Network has launched today. The study highlights how, during the COVID-19 pandemic, we have entered a new period of “tech-love”, interacting with technology in a more positive way than ever before.

Life Online

China shows a continued optimism towards digital technology and its positive power.  58% agreed that advertising had helped them to live a healthier lifestyle vs. a global average of 26%. Reflecting the impact of COVID-19 and the surge in ‘infotainment’ the study revealed that people are learning new skills and improving their knowledge, fuelled by the rise in digital solutions and online courses. With more time at home to learn and self-improve 30% of people in China have been using tech in this way. That compares to one fifth of people in the UK (18%) and a quarter in the US (24%).

Building on the positive engagement with technology during the pandemic, people are increasingly optimistic about the role of tech in society. A growing share of people globally believe in tech’s ability to solve societal challenges, such as healthcare issues like COVID-19 – 42% in 2018 vs 45% in 2019 and now 54% in 2020.   China is the most optimistic, with more than two thirds (78%) agreeing that tech will help solve the world’s most pressing challenge;  24% higher than the global average.  A further 61% of Chinese people believe tech has enabled them to connect with new communities based on shared interest and values.  

New brand expectations

This optimism translates into increased brand expectations. The pandemic has forced businesses to re-consider their interactions with consumers. When it comes to providing new services to help people mentally and physically, a massive 66% of people globally say they would not just ‘want’ but expect organisations to use tech in a way that has a wider positive societal impact in the next five to ten years. Over half in the US (60%) and UK (59%) feel this way, with people in China (84%) having the highest expectations.

Furthermore, in the future, every brand is a health brand. Two-thirds of consumers will expect brands to develop products and services that enhance their health and well-being. This is particularly the case in China where eight out of ten people have this expectation. 

Michelle Lau, CEO of Dentsu Aegis Network China said: “This is the third year that Dentsu Aegis Network have conducted the Digital Society Index survey and again we can see how China is at the forefront of change.  People in China are embracing the power of digital technology as a positive force for change, and as an enabler of a healthier and more connected life. The challenge for brands is to deliver on that optimism.  COVID-19 has accelerated the pace and need for digital transformation.  To succeed in China’s fast changing landscape it’s critical for brands to humanize technology and ensure it is being deployed in service of people’s needs. That also means ensuring that increased investment in functional capabilities like ecommerce is matched by equal focus on building a truly empathetic brand.”

Beware the techlash

Despite the shorter-term benefits of technology during the pandemic, Dentsu Aegis Network’s report shows that there is a longer-term trend of a ‘techlash’ - a negativity felt towards technology that has been felt across the globe in some countries more than others.

Across the globe, 57% of people today believe the pace of tech change is too fast (a level that has been consistent since 2018). Nearly half of the people surveyed also believe that digital technologies are increasing the inequality gap between rich and poor, a sentiment in China where 61% agreed.

While China has embraced technology during lockdown, the study also finds some elements of concern. For example, 64% (vs 55% in 2019) of people in China believe technology has had a negative impact on their health and well-being, followed by Singapore (47%) and Hong Kong (41%)

Even though social media is helping people stay connected, almost half of people in China (47%) felt more insecure about their body and appearance and 16% felt their use of technology was negatively impacting their relationships with other people; double the global average of 8%.

Tech for good, for all

Satisfaction with digital infrastructure supports China’s positive outlook with 82% of people rating their mobile and internet service coverage as excellent, the most optimistic globally and well ahead of global benchmarks (65%) and developed markets such as Germany (53%) and Japan (47%).  Reflecting the sentiment seen across the multi-year research study, 2020 again saw China as the most optimistic market about the positive potential of technology and work. 69% of people in China believe that emerging digital technologies, such as artificial Intelligence and robotics will create career opportunities, an increase of 3% from 2019 and vs. just 37% in the US.  China was ahead of the global average by 22% when asked if your ‘Digital skills are fully put to use your job’, 70% of China respondents agreed, in sharp comparison to just 29% in Japan.

Summarizing the findings, Michelle Lau, CEO Dentsu Aegis Network China concludes: “As China moves further into recovery, brands need to put more focus on creating bespoke solutions that aim to help people lead better lives, rather than pushing a product or service on them. Brands need to think about the full lifetime value they can provide to consumers, integrating all elements of marketing, sales and service. Providing helpful experiences is at the forefront of every businesses’ mind, both as we move out from navigating the impact of COVID-19 and looking ahead at long term plans.”