Bridging the gap between physical and digital products is the ultimate Brand experience in the Digital Age.
Today’s consumers want to switch seamlessly between devices and feel a consistent experience. However, the experience gets disrupted when moving from electronic devices to non-digital or connected products, creating an undesired experience gap.
Luckily, everything is becoming smart, connected and available. There is an extensive list of physical products that through the use of sensors and new technologies are all of the sudden, participating within the digital space. That has opened the possibility of collecting data, save time, work more efficiently and in some cases, save money. For every brand not addressing this reality, is time to mind the gap.
Who’s job is it anyway?
Those in the marketing department who have the ear closer to the ground and the hand at the pulse of consumers? Is it R&D coming up with the next revolutionary technology? Is it the job of Management, driving the next economic force of the company? Is it the job of the consulting agency to spearhead the way?
The answer is actually very simple: Is everybody’s job.
Working together with a small group of stakeholders brings different perspectives to the table and the chances of coming up with better ideas than any particular department within the company. So, to tackle this type of projects; usually, the best solution is to create a small coalition of internal and external go-getters, roll up the sleeves and get to work.
So, how to go about it? Here are some ideas
Make it brand relevant and keep the brand promise
To start bridging the gap between physical and digital, you need to make sure whatever it is that you are creating is aligned with the brand promise, messaging and positioning. The last thing any brand needs is an unnecessary dissonance in the mind of consumers.
NIKE has one of the best examples of how a brand can bridge the physical-digital gap with the combination of NIKE PLUS and APPLE. They created a digital service for sports and active people that speak to customers directly from the core of the brand promise. Not only to their professional audience, but also to those who want to take their workout, fitness and sports training to the next level.
Make your products smart when possible
Adding sensor technology to your physical products is another good way to bridge the gap. Sensor technology is now widely available and making ordinary objects or even complicated machinery smart, is less difficult than it used to be. You can see it across the board, from B2C to B2B companies.
Atlas Copco compressor technique decided to add a device called Smartlink on top of their regular compressed air equipment to monitor their machines. By using this service, customers can get real-time reports on how the machine is working and performing. All data can be displayed and accessed conveniently via a mobile app.
Relying on the technology is important, but equally important is to understand the “Why” and how it relates to your customers. Do they need it? But most importantly, are the willing to pay for it?
Create an ecosystem and facilitate buying
Become a utilitarian brand by creating digital services and keeping your customers engaged. Re-think your business model in a way that includes a digital component, giving access to more people and subsequently producing another source for revenue generation.
Porsche created “Share a Porsche.” A service where more than one person can own a Porsche together. Several people can co-own the car and arrange when and how to use it and maintain it. They manage the schedule using an app that becomes not only a service but way for the company to keep the customers engaged with the brand.
Starbucks has another good example. They created an app that lets their clients conveniently order and pay for coffee with using an in-app payment. After ordering, they just need to pick it up at a physical location. The app gives the opportunity to stay in contact with their audience and collect anonymous data about consumer habits. It also includes a loyalty card, discount coupons and more. The company hinted at investing as much as $300 million globally on “partner and digital” in 2016 and 2017.
By far the best experiences are delivered by both Google Home and Amazon Echo. They are physical objects purposely designed to interact with the digital world. They respond to your voice commands, play music, provide information, scheduling assistance, and even control your smart home. This is a smart device that is always connected and always listening to you.
These types of digital services are becoming so ubiquitous that we don’t even notice when we start using them. Without realizing we become part of an ecosystem that includes physical and digital products. Through these experiences, the perception we form about the brand becomes more pleasant, memorable and engaging.
Cooperate with already existing digital services that can relate to your brand.
Perhaps your company doesn’t have the time or the means to develop its digital ecosystem, let alone make the products smart. Then, another way to join the game, with a relatively fast and less expensive solution, is to cooperate with existing digital services or products related to the brand.
There are plenty of digital startups operating in all kind of industries. For most of them, associating themselves with bigger and more established brands, helps them solidify their position in the market. Cooperation can be a blessing that goes both ways; a win-win situation. In some cases, some of them are secretly wishing to sell to a bigger brand, opening yet another possibility to having a digital service available in no time.
While it is a good idea to bridge the gap between the physical and digital world, it should not be confused with digital transformation. The latter is a much more complicated exercise that involves changing the very fabric of the company.
Instead, a systematic and iterative approach is needed, using the same methodologies you will find in a modern startup. Faster, cost-effective and sustainable. After all, innovation should be an investment and not a cost. It’s time to treat it with a clear business objective and not as an experiment “to see what happens.”
About the Author(s)
Juan Tejeda is the Managing Director of digital business design agency Brains & Hearts (www.brainsandhearts.de). A forward-thinking designer and strategist, he specializes in innovation and business development.