Physical Fights Back: Why Digital Is No Longer The Key To Brand Experience

Physical Fights Back: Why Digital Is No Longer The Key To Brand Experience
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In this guest post, Fjord’s Bronwyn van der Merwe (pictured below), explains what brands should be focusing on as digital becomes an invisible experience enabler.

Bronwyn van der Merwe

As technology becomes increasingly affordable, it is being dispersed into the physical world, and the lines between what is physical and what is digital are blurring. Advances in technologies such as voice, artificial intelligence, machine learning, facial recognition, and the Internet of Things are enabling a new breed of services where the technology is everywhere but nowhere, and the customer experience has the potential to become frictionless and magical.

Until recently, customers have been accustomed to interacting with their favourite brands through a screen, either through computers or smartphones but a new dawn is on the horizon. From Airbnb to Amazon, Deliveroo and Alibaba, a growing number of digital brands are now placing greater emphasis on the physical. Amazon Go’s store in Seattle is an example of an organisation making the most of data and digital to improve the customer experience. While a visitor shops throughout the store, their items are automatically scanned to create a seamless, grab-and-go shopping experience. This brilliant move allows customers to interact with the products versus their screens, melding into a convergent technology and physical experience where the tech – while clearly present – is nearly transparent.

People are already starting to move away from intrusive digital technologies and kick against digital saturation. They’re also enjoying the simplicity and convenience of ambient technology. The rise of voice assistants is a prime example of this, as seven out of 10 Australians with digital voice assistants such as Google Home or Amazon’s Echo claim they’re using their smartphones less, according to a recent global study by Accenture.

Customers are increasingly expecting to engage with brands through consistent, connected experiences, and they are receptive to a more personal approach to services and products.  P&O Cruises Australia, for example, has developed the Medallion – a wearable device that connects customers to a cruise ship and its staff through a digitally-enabled service called the ‘Compass’. By capturing their preferences, the device allows the crew to be informed and proactive delivering each guest a unique, personalised and seamless experience.

As there is an increasing overlap between physical and digital channels, how can brands use digital as an invisible enabler of physical and sensory experiences? At Fjord, part of Accenture Interactive, we have outlined three steps for brands looking to restructure their design services:

  1. Stop viewing digital and physical as separate

Organisations need to stop viewing digital and physical as separate entities. Rather than pursuing improvements in these areas individually, organisations need to knock down the walls of silos and create experiences that fuse digital and physical. The relationship and connectivity between devices will be critical, and should be invisible.

  1. Sharpen your design skills

Creating a greater physical experience must be connected to an organisation’s overall digital strategy. The benefit of this will be more digital integrated into physical products and services from the get-go, and not being reactive.

As a result, organisations will need to ensure their staff has the right mix of skills. This could include adding new physical and digital design capabilities in-house.

  1. Let technology inspire you

Traditionally, designers think first about the end user. In this space, brand designers also need to understand and look at the technological possibilities from the outset in order to deliver a new generation of services enabled by digital that thrill and excite.

The coming together of physical and digital design opens up a wealth of new possibilities and opportunities, so organisations need to think laterally and beyond the mainstream. It’s clear that consumers still value physical touchpoints and the evolving role that they play in creating an engaging customer experience.

Now, more than ever, Australian organisations will also need to ask themselves an important question: as digital becomes ubiquitous and increasingly invisible, what future structure, brief and role should there be for digital departments or heads of digital? While some organisations are already adapting to this future, it is crucial that all Australian organisations get on board. This will no doubt have huge implications for brands and organisations, both in terms of how their teams are structured and how they develop products, services and experiences.

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