By Alex Maalouf
Let’s forget all of the buzz words. Instead, let me ask you this. How much do you rely on the internet? Would you rather forget your wallet or your phone? Or are they one and the same today? It may feel like we’ve lived in a digital world for years, but we’re only scratching the surface when it comes to digital possibilities. Consider all of the new applications and technologies which have been introduced over the past couple of years that have changed how you work, shop, and live. We’re only at the beginning of a digital journey that will have a profound impact on how we do everything, including marketing.
With the pivot to digital channels, we also must bear in mind that everything is not digital. The digital divide is slowly fading away. Take for example how consumers are using their mobiles when they’re shopping – today, 59% of US consumers use their devices when searching out products in retail stores. The first question I’d ask is how are you improving a physical experience with technology? Retail pioneers are experimenting with ways to integrate digital and physical, with concepts like augmented reality dressing rooms or apps for in-store use.
Our love for mobile and social media has also changed how we interact with and what we expect from our brands. Today’s consumers are entitled, and given the speed at which we communicate online, consumers want engagement, in real time. Given the proliferation of these always-on, always addressable consumers who are on multiple devices, their expectations are simple; they want to see the right message, in the right place at the right time. Two-thirds of adults who are online in the US expect to see their favorite brands engaging with them, online and offline.
We’re also witnessing more and more how digital applications have consequences for our physical selves. Take for example how data from Fitbits and other health activity trackers are affecting customer insurance pricing. Or how tech such as the digital bracelets used by the travel company Royal Caribbean are simplifying how passengers embark and disembark, whilst also allowing for payment on the ship.
Increasingly, we are finding exponential value of digital solutions in the real world. Even the world’s biggest technology players understand how the two complement each other. Take for example Amazon’s idea to open up physical stores, complete with cashless payment solutions.
For all of our talk about living both online and offline, marketers who truly understand how consumers have evolved are aware of how our lifestyles have become enriched and enabled by technology, rather than engulfed by it. They’ll take the consumer on a journey, that may begin online and result in a real-world interaction. Take for example the World Cup, one of the best events for mass audience broadcast advertising. Just look at how the World Cup has become more digital and more social at the same time. There’s more content online, and more user participation. At the same time, advertisers are actively seeking to create opportunities for real-world consumer interaction as a critical and integral part of the “experience.”
That’s what marketers must bear in mind, namely that technology shouldn’t be used for technology’s sake. There must be a link to human purpose, to a better real-life user experience. And that’s the opportunity which is there for the taking – how can we use technology that will bridge what our consumers are doing, both online and offline.
Take for example Google wallet. From your phone you can find a movie and the closest theater, cash in rewards points, and buy your tickets. All of which carries you to the physical event of sitting in a movie theater with friends, eating popcorn, drink soda and sharing the experience with others. That’s technology which is purposeful, and it improves our real-life engagements.
As a marketer, what comes next? What part are you playing to bridge the digital and real world? How do you see consumers living lives where the online and offline world is a seamless path? Are you ready for being part of that experience?
Alex Malouf is the past Chair of the International Association of Business Communicators EMENA region. He is currently based in the UAE.Opinion expressed in this piece belongs to the writer.