‘Phygital’ is making online-offline experiences seamless


By Tom Roy, chief innovations officer at MCN

There’s that joke about non-stop flights. How can you get off, ever, if the flight actually doesn’t stop? When I hear about ‘digital’ I am equally confused. How can you experience anything that’s digital without being in the physical realm? You see what’s on screen, you listen to podcasts, you touch that smartphone, don’t you? So, actually, it’s really an online-offline world at any given time.

Augmented reality and virtual reality are both manifestations of this. The unprecedented success of Pokémon Go is the first example that comes to mind. The mobile app uses GPS and AR technology to lead users on a hunt for the digital pets – who are scattered around the physical world. In restaurants, bars, offices, shops, parks, stadiums, and mall parking lots. The point of Pokémon Go is to travel around – in the physical world – with a data-connected mobile, exploring different geographic areas to find Pokémon.

The most compelling digitally delivered content is still created in the physical. The magic of Snapchat is the capture of the instant in physical. As is Instagram. And, on the flipside, QR codes on ads, on concert tickets, and on boarding passes enable the physical to lead to the digital. And often back to physical. The QR code on a boarding pass takes the physical-to-digital-to-physical route to enable a physical experience – flying somewhere.

Google’s ‘micro-moments’ is all about mobile-powered solution of intent with information that is of course accessed via digital for action that is often in the physical. The “I want to go” to a dim sum place now is guided by information from search via mobile, but it does end up with a lunch. Real dim sum, served at a physical place in those real steamer baskets.

Google says: “Of leisure travelers who are smartphone users, 69 per cent search for travel ideas during spare moments, like when they’re standing in line or waiting for the subway.” That’s not for virtual travel. It’s for the real go.

Then there’s So-Lo-Mo. Social media activated and conversations activated on mobile but in physical, local context. It’s essentially location-based marketing, on social, using a device. “Your friend Bob just dropped into your local Starbucks for a latte; would you like to meet up now? And, here’s a map on your mobile.”

Google also provides some neat stats on smartphones and physical action: “Of smartphone users, 91 per cent look up information on their smartphones while in the middle of a task – a real task. And 82 per cent consult their phones while they’re standing in a store deciding which product to buy.” That’s a brick and mortar store. And people also view merchandise or comparison shop in a physical store before buying products later online. Showrooming.

Honestly, the big word this year is going to be ‘experience’ – and we’re no longer thinking online or offline for experience. The internet shapes and delivers physical experiences – and the virtual is increasingly showing up in physical form. The better experiences, which every brand wants to deliver, happen when online and offline work in symbiosis to provide multidimensional engagement. The truth lies bare in the term ‘augmented reality’ itself. It’s about using digital to augment – to add value, to dynamically build on – reality.

Nike (using Weiden) unleashed something of a backlash at online, showing how online foils us from living the fuller life. The “Are we Running Today?” campaign tells us that while online can be great, it draws us away from what we really ought to be doing. Ironically, these digital-delivered ads urged viewers not to get caught in the online-only way of life. To go out and run. And experience the real world. The YouTube “Time is Precious” campaign is stark, true and scary.

Adidas have also upped their online-offline game. The Glitch app (invitation only) delivers an interchangeable boot concept, allowing players to change their game whenever they want. It targets serious players, the hardcore customers, and yes it is a sales pitch, but it uses the power of an app to deliver customisable cleats, and scores.

The power of mobility and the accessibility of social is what’s encouraging today’s hyper-connected consumers to wipe out the on-off boundaries. First of all, almost always it’s always-on. Then there’s empowerment of voice. Whether they buy from them or not, consumers are quick to let businesses know just what they want and need. Even when the products or services and the last mile of engagement are physical. Like, say, in home appliances, or organic food products. Business channels and customer relationships are being recontextualised because people today have a digital say on everything.

There are numerous examples of digital meeting physical. We know about offline media monitoring using mobile. About digital out-of-home. Robots. Interactive airport directionals. Smart homes. Personal assistants (digital, of course, not human). Cross-continental remote surgery. Remote 3D printing. Amazon (or any online retail). AR- and VR-assisted experiences at resorts and even sporting events. And there’s always data lurking behind it all.

Data, digitally, is helping transform physical retail experiences – predicting emotions and need states when people are ready to buy. They’re calling it ‘mood retail’ – a mindboggling mix of data, physical shopping, retail therapy and psychology.

The online-offline experience. It’s not even two things coming together anymore. It’s intuitive, immersive, and intensive. It’s phygital.