Today's brands bridge the digital and the physical in a complexity of ways. You interact with customers in-person or in-store, through social media, via your website and through physical assets such as packaging or marketing collateral.
Whatever type of business you run, consistency between your brand's touchpoints matters. Your brand is a promise, and if one part of your business fails to align with that promise, your brand equity is in trouble.
The Hybrid World of Modern-day Consumerism
Very few brands today can claim to be purely offline. Even a tiny artisanal store that prides itself on being completely analog lives in a digitally influenced context. Consumers increasingly do their research or browse options online before making a purchasing decision - meaning that their journey to you is digitally mediated even if you're not online.
With few exceptions, if you have an online presence to complement your offline one, you're in better shape. Consumers can either browse your online offer and make a purchase online, or be guided towards your bricks-and-mortar presence for an in-person experience. Being able to oversee this customer journey means good things for your brand.
Building Seamless Consumer Transitions
"As users transition across devices, environments, and activities, designers must diversify interaction and minimize the gaps within user experience." - Meredith Davis
The challenge for businesses is to ensure that the process of moving between online and offline worlds is simple and seamless - and that consumers aren't getting lost along the way. Ideally, your touchpoints should complement each other so that a consumer gets what they need while moving from point A to B. But that's more easily said than done. While you don't want to make a customer repeat a step, you also don't want them missing out on key information. Every "gap" between different touchpoints creates friction, and friction interrupts the customer experience.
The aim, then, is to create an integrated experience that seamlessly ties your brand's online and offline worlds together.
The Brands Making Omnichannel Work
An example of a brand getting it right is Nike's Pilot Nike by Melrose store. The store uses data about the style and purchasing habits of local LA residents to shape its product offer, along with an app to coordinate order, pick-ups, style appointments and even changing room reservations. It's a move that capitalizes on the massive success of Nike's New York flagship, itself an impressive example of omnichannel retail.
Starbucks is another brand that's brilliantly bridging online and off. That its app is the biggest mobile payments system in the US speaks to its success. Coffee aficionados can use the app to order and pay for a coffee, send coffee "gifts", rack up rewards points, and access special sales and offers. The brand is also extending its digital/analog experience with high-end roasteries that feature AR (augmented reality) capabilities.
And then there's IKEA, whose IKEA Place AR app allows customers to virtually their home with IKEA products. The app overlays the furniture and decor of your choice over an image of your home, allowing you to see what the products would look like in your home. It's an ingenious way of combining the famous IKEA catalog with a real-world experience.
How your Brand can Bridge the Divide
Your brand doesn't need to be a Nike or Starbucks to bridge the physical and digital. There are dozens of simple ways to seamlessly bring the two together. Here are just a few examples.
Bring your retail world into social media. This is easily achieved by posting store or product photos to your social feeds. If your brand serves a younger demographic, another option is to set aside a dedicated in-store social media "selfie" space where users can take photos of themselves in-store and share them with their followers.
Hashtagging and live event posting. Branded hashtags encourage users to live-tweet or post about their experience at your store or an event in progress. With event programming an increasingly invaluable way of building foot traffic (digital or physical), this can be a great way to encourage engagement with your offer.
Digital contests with physical prizes. Consider running online contests, giveaways or promotions that offer a physical prize. It might be a free product, gift certificate/discount or a free pass to an event. This approach both draws attention to your online presence while reminding consumers about your physical one.
Location-based coupons. If your business has an app, geotagging can be used to send push notifications about deals or special offers as they near your store. You can do the same in-store, alerting to users to special personalized deals as they explore your inventory.
Reconsider your physical space. Physical spaces are ideal for creating experiences and encouraging personal interactions. There's a reason many service-based businesses like banks are moving towards a hospitality-based approach in-store - think cafes, lounges, and free wifi - while delegating day-to-day admin to their apps.
Stick to your branding. Last but not least, ensure consistency of experience across your physical and digital collateral. Your website and store or office should have a similar look and feel so that there's no disconnect when customers move between one and the other. Your website experience should match your physical experience - they should feel part of the same unified brand.
Use your analytics. Understanding your customer journey is a must, particularly if you're going to be making changes to it. Use the customer data you gather to understand how customers engage with your brand, and to identify any gaps in their experience.
Need some help with a strategy to bridge the physical and digital divide? Let's have coffee!