Eagles swoop in to aid the digitally disengaged

KeyboardFor most of us, going online is such an everyday activity that we barely even notice it. Online and offline worlds are fused such that it’s impossible to tell where one ends and the other begins. While it’s easy to assume that such connectivity is universal, this is far from the case. 86% of British adults have access to the internet [Q2 Tech Tracker Data 2014] but this leaves a significant minority who do not.

Furthermore, there are many that have access but are reluctant to go online. As we suggested in our report The Forgotten Digital Generation, fostering the capability and confidence of less digitally literate consumers could give brands that do so an invaluable competitive edge.

One year on, a brand making a bold move in this direction is Barclays, with their recently launched ‘Digital Eagles’ campaign. For those unfamiliar with the species: ‘Digital Eagles are Barclays employees who have a passion for the internet – and they’re happy to share their expertise with anyone who needs it, free of charge.’

The Eagles are based in-branch, and Barclays has done well to base the initiative around a face-to-face approach. Many who lack online skills find technology overwhelming and prefer to learn in person, from a patient teacher who will ‘show and tell’ (and not judge). This personal touch is emphasised by a marketing campaign that puts the focus firmly on the human face of technology: emotive stories featuring elderly people that illustrate the value of being connected online. While the campaign is compelling, perhaps a slight misstep is the focus on the elderly: through our research, we know that the less digitally literate are in fact surprisingly diverse. It seems a shame that a move towards inclusiveness should fall short of the mark in this respect.

The real strength of the Barclays initiative, however, may lie in its apparent generosity of spirit. Not only is it not restricted to customers of the bank, it is not even restricted to banking. Your local Eagle could ostensibly help you with any of your online woes, from sending emails to shopping (how willing they’d be to help you unlock the next level on Candy Crush remains to be seen). This generosity even extends to community outreach, with free ‘tea and teach’ sessions across the UK. Keeping the focus on empowerment and off banking, of course, means the initiative is less likely to be seen as a cynical attempt to get customers online and out of branches. Those lacking skills in this area often have a fear of being forced online, which Barclays is keen to dispel:

We want customers to do it because they want to do it. We want to give them the choice.”

Naturally, it’s not an entirely selfless act. A consultation with an Eagle is a great opportunity to promote Barclays’ digital services, as well as reassure the new and nervous about any trust and security fears they may have. An uptake in use of online services equals streamlining and subsequent savings, so it’s a canny investment.

If interpreted by consumers as the helping hand it purports to be, the campaign looks set to be a win-win for Barclays. With trust in the UK banking sector still at a low, this is a timely and credible show of generosity that lends palpable strength to the brand. Other brands in other sectors will inevitably see the benefit of this spirit of co-operation. How quick they will be to act and how effectively they will engage the digitally disengaged will be interesting to see.

Jay Jennings is  a research manager at Ipsos MediaCT