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Bridging the digital and the physical

To optimize campaign strategy, these retail and e-tail brands use innovative tactics that blur the line between online and offline realms, thus enhancing the user experience.

As digital marketers, we’re obligated to keep our virtual properties in great shape for users accessing them on a multitude of different devices and use contexts. We’re also obliged to serve out meaningful, relevant content to keep them interested and engaged, provide active social platforms, and resolve to address customer queries, issues, comments, and problems thoroughly and satisfactorily – all in an hour or less.

Even the most digitally literate, nimble organization will be challenged by all of the requirements listed above, especially when you add in the fact that the algorithms – both paid and organic – governing many important digital marketing processes are constantly being tuned, necessitating that we throw out our tactical roadmaps and effectively rebuild them from scratch every few months.

I’m not complaining here – the rate of change in this industry is what makes digital marketing exciting and always new. But because the complexities and dynamism within digital marketing are so riveting, it seems to me that we sometimes neglect the importance of carrying through the same passion to the old-fashioned real world – the world of atoms, not bits – to create a truly effective hybrid of digital and physical experiences.

This is a mistake, because consumers don’t care about any of the issues that consume us. They don’t care that “mobile is hard” or “HTML5 coders are expensive” – they just want their experience of our brands to be first-rate.

So here’s a brief round-up of what I see happening in the marketing interface between digital and physical – also known as the realm of experiential marketing.

Physical mail

Several months back, I too noted that many otherwise forward-thinking marketers are ignoring the cross-channel marketing opportunities provided by physical postal mail. I continue to hear from marketers who’ve “never tried it but just don’t like it,” believing that this response is irrational.

The more we learn about how customers currently experience direct mail – and the evidence comes directly from numerous neuromarketing studies – the more respect this channel deserves to enjoy.

Put simply, the experience of opening, handling, and processing a direct mail piece activates parts of the brain associated with long-term memory storage as well as parts of the brain that digital just doesn’t touch.

If there’s a bright side to the fact that so many marketers dismiss direct mail without even doing a simple test it’s this: it leaves additional opportunity on the table for more experimentally-minded marketers to claim.

Retail as high-tech happening

This month, Amazon opened its first actual brick-and-mortar store in Seattle. While early reviews suggest that Amazon has a lot to learn about creating friendly physical places, it echoes the moves made by other digital-centric companies – including Microsoft and Verizon – to make their retail spaces immersive, digitally rich environments where consumers can develop long-term experiential memories and affinities likely to stand out from the ignorable clutter of their digital screens.

Interestingly enough, arch Amazon competitor Barnes and Noble, which still has lots of retail spaces, isn’t sitting still either. This past week, it hosted a Mini Maker Faire, where the public was able to get first-hand experience with 3D printers, robots, and drones. It’s encouraging to see so much innovation occurring in this area.

Cross-channel emotion

U.K. retailer John Lewis’ Man on the Moon campaign is an excellent example of a campaign that aptly bridges the online world with the tangible, offline world, while also delivering a powerful emotional punch. The core of the story – which thematically focuses on the loneliness of the elderly – is delivered online via YouTube in a video that’s already racked up more than 11 million views since launching earlier this month.

The retailer’s official website includes plenty of digital extensions including:

  • An augmented realty (AR) app.
  • Activity cards for kids.
  • An opportunity to download the video soundtrack via iTunes and Google Play.
  • A way to donate directly to Age U.K. – an organization that provides direct assistance to isolated older people.

Furthermore, John Lewis is launching “Moon Pop-ups” in 11 of its stores, where shoppers of all ages can photograph themselves against a lunar backdrop and share the images via social media.

Even if you find the campaign a bit heavy handed, there’s no doubt that it makes great use of the possibilities of integrated, experiential marketing both online and off. It’s also authentic – a value that’s held in particularly high regard by today’s millennial generation. Early evidence of this is best exemplified via the millennial reaction to the Man on the Moon campaign; there has been a flood of volunteers pouring into elder related charity organizations in the U.K. since the campaign’s launch.

In conclusion

The next time the team brings up a user experience (UX) issue, broaden their horizons and make an attempt to break the internal silos of the corporation or the silos between agencies. Assure that your prospects and customers have a great UX across as many touchpoints as you can conquer.

by Kevin Lee