April 22, 2021

5 min read

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For decades, telecommunications providers have enabled us to connect remotely with one another. Now, with society’s increasing awareness of mental health, and the role communication plays in maintaining it, we’re proposing a concept that would see telcos support their existing digital connection points with new physical ones—live, permanent activations encouraging people to interact with one another in more meaningful ways, while driving new opportunities for brand engagement.

With our widespread adoption of devices and immediate access to anytime-anywhere information, our society has never been more dialed in than it is now. Thanks to a robust telecommunications industry, and infrastructure connecting Canadians from coast to coast to coast, we are one of the most connected countries in the world: As of 2019, Canada had more than 34 million internet users, with service reaching almost 96 percent of the population.[1]

Yet despite this connectivity, we crave one-on-one interaction. Research points to the increasing loneliness of our population—senior citizens and teens alike—and the tremendous impact this has on mental health. In any given year, one in five people in Canada will personally experience a mental health problem or illness, and all Canadians will at some time experience it indirectly through a family member, friend, or colleague.[2]

While there are various factors that affect our mental wellness, from how our brains function to how we were raised, there is no doubt that we are mentally healthier when we can connect with others—both physically and emotionally. Simply sharing the weight of our problems with another person can make our challenges more manageable.

Connecting is ultimately what telecom providers do. So what if they took that connectivity to the next level, expanding it from our devices into the physical world? The globally recognized Bell Let’s Talk platform presents a perfect opportunity to put our hypothesis to the test.  

[1] Statista

[2] Canadian Mental Health Association

Mental wellness: From social connection to state-of-the-art community centre

Since 2010, Bell’s annual Let’s Talk campaign has committed over $120 million to supporting mental health initiatives. Perhaps even more importantly, it has helped drive open, comfortable conversations around this once-taboo topic.

Open dialogue is a fundamental building block of mental health. But research has shown that the communicating we do remotely is not as effective as it is when we connect in-person. Part of that may be due to the fact that studies have shown up to 93 percent of communication effectiveness is determined by non-verbal cues that are visible only in face-to-face communications.

With that in mind, imagine Bell Let’s Talk Centres: a physical network of locations where members connect in-person. Assigned to designated groups, they talk, share opinions, hear one anothers’ perspectives, and engage in activities of mutual interest. Fitness. Fashion. Film. Beauty. Sports. Cooking. The Let’s Talk Centres offer something for everyone, and the reassurance that there’s always someone to share it with. 

Getting brands involved: Building loyalty & earning rewards

A growing number of brands today are focusing on mental wellness, both internally to support their employees and externally as part of their CSR efforts. Imagine a company like Hollister—recognized for its efforts around mental health awareness—sponsoring Let’s Talk Self-Care, or Let’s Talk WTMED (World Teen Mental Health Day). Hollister would brand the event and host it, bringing in a mental-health subject matter expert to lead the discussion.

Meanwhile, a company like Sephora, also known for its mental-health campaigns, might sponsor a session more specific to its brand expertise—Let’s Talk Natural Beauty, for instance—emphasizing the need for self-care as part of a holistic approach to wellness. Similarly, Lululemon might sponsor Let’s Talk Fitness, a session where participants delve into the relationship between physical activity and wellness.

The brands don’t necessarily need to be mental-health experts—their primary role is to provide a common point of connection: a forum where people can get together and discuss topics of interest. The Let’s Talk Sessions are a more hands-on way for these companies to demonstrate social leadership by directly supporting a place that engages people and brings them together for the benefit of their health.

At the same time, this engagement provides consumers with the opportunity to earn rewards through a loyalty program called Talking Points. It works like this: Members register to join a local Let’s Talk Centre, then head to the Centre to connect with other members and take part in the brand-led activities based on the preferences indicated when they signed up. Members can bank all time in the Let’s Talk Sessions, then “spend” it with the brands that are part of the program by receiving exclusive offers such as early access to new products and special members-only pricing. They can also donate their banked time (which Bell converts into funds) to support mental health initiatives.

For consumers, the Let’s Talk Centres provide the opportunity to not only help themselves and others, but be rewarded while doing it through exclusive access to new products, discounts, and gift cards redeemable across the Let’s Talk partner network.

The benefits for brands include in-depth access to and feedback from consumers that help guide product development, packaging, and communications.

And for Bell, the involvement of third-party brands offsets the costs of establishing and running the Let’s Talk Centres.

Taking it online: Enabling the conversation

The Let’s Talk Centre website is the starting point for anyone wanting to connect with other members, any time, either on- or offline. The process is quick and simple: Log on, answer a couple of brief questions that determine how you’re feeling, then receive recommendations for either activities to attend in person at the Centre, or an array of virtual meetups with members, from book-club meetings and viewing parties to virtual bands and cooking classes.

With more companies bringing the issue of mental health to the forefront of public consciousness, there is a real opportunity for these brands to take their messages into the community in a more grass-roots way. That’s especially the case now, as people push through the pandemic seeking to re-establish connections and rebuild vital social networks. As companies are demonstrating, it’s possible to drive this kind of awareness in ways that are good for customers, and bode well for brands too.