In the face of digital fatigue, let’s get phygital.

Meredith O’Shaughnessy, Creative Strategist & Founder of Meredith Collective

As a fan of sci-fi I had always wondered what might happen if the world became fully digital. The past few months might have taken us closer to that non-physical future. Except it hasn’t.

What we’ve seen is a web awash with people sharing tips on housebound hobbies to try, creative talents to explore and ways to come together – digital book clubs, 9am million-viewer workouts, cook-alongs, quizzes. With our lives currently confined to spaces we can only access through a screen, it’s clear that people are not only missing friends and family but also physical, sensuous experiences. Being forced to be online has only left us craving connection.

What’s been really interesting is despite the enforced isolation we are seeing on the horizon a rapid acceleration of the long-predicted ‘experience economy’. What everyone is craving right now is meaningful engagement and shared experience, not ‘stuff’. This is exactly what Pine and Gilmore (the original exponents of the experience economy) predicted – a marketplace where brands would succeed by helping consumers towards a better self – healthier, happier, more fulfilled.

One sector that’s responded quickly to lockdown is luxury travel. My favourite example is the online “turn down service” lesson from Four Seasons. Self care with a touch of luxury.

So, what does this mean for digital marketers? Quite a lot actually, but it’s not all about flashy content. There’s only so much digital noise lockdowners can take. Meaningful content must meet physicality and connection to create value for consumers (and much-needed revenue for brands themselves).

Consider ‘phygital’ – the marrying of offline (physical) and online (digital) to create complete experiences. This is hardly a new concept and in light of lockdown the idea of ‘phygital’ strategy is being turned on its head. It’s no longer about splicing a digital element into physical experiences. More challenging perhaps, it’s now about bringing real physical connection to digital experiences.

This is a strategy that creates meaning, connection and emotion that lasts beyond the limited runtime of digital content. When even the most loyal of consumers are pulling back on buying, creating communal, engaging experiences around a product provides incentive to purchase from home.

For example, in China, ecommerce platform JD.com has joined forces with alcohol brands including Budweiser, Rémy Martin, Carlsberg and Pernod Ricard to bring shut-in, would-be clubbers an at-home nightclub experience. With JD streaming DJ sets, alcohol deliveries will help fuel the party. According to LS:N the partnerships have seen associated alcohol sales jump up to 70% during shows.

In the UK, Secret Cinema has paired up with Haagen Daaz to morph itself into ‘Secret Sofa’. Film fans get access to weekly online screenings alongside a special code that allows them to order Häagen-Dazs’ flavour of the week via a collaboration with Amazon Prime Now. A perfect partnership of complementary brands that can bring this evolved phygital strategy to life. 

JD.com has plans to extend this as a long-term strategy beyond the current lock-down. I can see why. Getting your message into people’s homes is incredibly difficult. This strategy offers the perfect opportunity to create a sense of occasion and, importantly community around your brand.

I see so much opportunity for brands to create occasion by combining digital, communal experiences with physical products.

This brings us to another important piece of this phygital puzzle; taking the opportunity to partner with like-minded, non-competing brands who can deliver on the elements you can’t. Take the hotel turn-down masterclass. Wouldn’t that be so much more powerful if Four Seasons had teamed up with a luxury bedding brand such as Yves Delorme to deliver complete gift sets?

I saw a marketing commentator I respect very much express concern this week that “anyone who says that the coronavirus will “change everything” is making an argument based on zero evidence”.

I agree. Anyone who says they can predict the future is lying.

But, speculating on what the future might hold and how we react to it is a valuable exercise. Coronavirus won’t “change everything” but it might nudge some things that were already in motion along. The phygital mix is just one of a number of trends that will accelerate due to the current crisis.

Forward-thinking marketers already know that experiential strategies are powerful, in many ways they lead the space. But, our creative boundaries must be pushed by where we find ourselves; longing for experience and connection – the lockdown luxuries we miss most.

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