'Phygital' Disruption in a COVID era

The bridging of physical and digital engagement has never been so important. COVID has changed the world we live in and changed the landscape for marketing, immersion and brand engagement. So, is ‘phygital’ disruption still relevant?

In 2018, we explored the power of ‘phygital’ marketing. The changing landscape for brand engagement, for immersion marketing, and the popularity of this new way of capturing audience attention: ‘‘phygital’ refers to the blending of brand encounters across physical and digital planes, bridging the gap between on and off-line experiences.’ (Pufferfish)

In this new COVID world, so much has changed about how we live and work. We interact online with Zoom meetings, Microsoft Teams and Google Hangouts being the new boardroom catch up, we shop online – whether it be groceries, garden furniture, clothing, you name it; and we can now only interact in person with a limited amount of people at once. So, it begs the question, is ‘phygital’ still a powerful marketing tool in our ‘new normal’? Or are audiences simply wanting digital encounters?

“Phygital is a term coined to describe omnichannel marketing, an approach where all marketing channels work together to give shoppers a completely seamless experience.The intent behind combining the physical and digital experience is to draw from the best of both worlds, and the ultimate goal is to give customers unique, highly-personalized experiences that leave a lasting impression.” (konstructdigital)

Largely incorporated by the retail and consumer goods markets, this combination of physical and digital experiences was ultimately combined to put CX at the heart of all customer interactions. To personalise experiences, to curate memorable experiences, and not to just encourage revenue generation; but to encourage brand ambassadorship and returned business through enjoyable, positive touch points.

This modern age is fast paced, consumers are distracted by their digital lives, even when physically in a store – hello, smart phones. Their attention is moving from one thing to the next, so marketing is about hooking their interest, and even if its fleeting at first, it’s about gaining as many personalised touch points as possible, to end in a purchase. This is why Google created non-click searches, also known as snippets – a way to get your Google answer without even having to click into a search result. Attention is fleeting, so we need to adapt to those behaviours.

This is where the potency of ‘phygital’ experiences then really comes in to play, when those online experiences are personalised based on a consumer’s physical experiences.

For example, have you ever spoken about a store or product, and then your phone advertises it while you’re scrolling through Instagram? Or have you ever walked into a store to browse, and seen a QR code to give you access to a discount? These are common examples of ‘phygital’ marketing - using digital profiles of customers, based on data gained from online activities, to then connect with their physical shopping experiences; and pair marketing with your previous behaviours.

The result? A seamless (if done right!), and therefore enjoyable (CX is key!), blending of online and offline worlds.

“As brands learn more about their customers, they can provide even better and unique ways to engage with the customers. This development is great for businesses that are looking to identify customer pain points and map out more specific customer journeys.” (konstructdigital)

According to Deloitte Digital and Salesforce, customers since the COVID-19 pandemic started are using a mixture of digital touchpoints along their buying journey: “In the buying part of the journey, there are new types of purchase points emerge. Mobile wallets are behind e-mail as a place to make purchases. And 14% of shoppers are making purchases through social media.” (Deloitte) With measurable insights like these, we can clearly see how the consumer market is adapting, how behaviours are evolving, and therefore be one step ahead.


A big brand who have used ‘phygital’ strategies to their advantage is Nike. “Since the summer of 2018, Nike has been experimenting with a new type of pop-up style, neighbourhood-centric store. The Nike by Melrose store in Los Angeles is designed around local data analysis of their LA NikePlus members. Those insights have then informed what products are offered in-store, and the development of store-specific product lines. With the Nike app, members can redeem rewards in the store, book a product testing session, reserve products for pick-up, and access curbside returns by texting the store.

The Nike Live concept has proven so successful, that the sports retailer expanded with two additional stores in Long Beach and Tokyo in the fall of 2019.” (konstructdigital)

But without a vaccine, COVID is still a very real threat to our modern world, and therefore our modern consumer. People aren’t necessarily ready to have a physical engagement with brands at all right now. One-way systems in shops act as a constant reminder of the risks associated with being in public, and not being able to try on clothes can make shopping a less satisfying experience too. So, is digital the most important way to engage right now? It gives us more insights on dwell time, behaviours throughout the buying journey, it allows targeted marketing to come into play, you can gain more traction from Google and SEO fields… but without that physical, emotional experience – will it be as powerful?

The global popularity of immersive experiences, of sensory storytelling, and of marketing that makes people genuinely feel something, is no surprise - this desire to be transported to new worlds, new realities, new realms - because it’s a human desire. We are social creatures after all; we want to connect, we want to engage with one another, and with the world around us. With the creation of VR, AR, MR environments this digital connection has never been so close, but can digital experiences ever really encompass a physical, human, natural reaction?

One thing is for sure – our ‘new normal’ has to involve digital engagement of some kind. With group events cancelled for the foreseeable, with indoor events and indoor environments either not open still, or people uncertain of attending; digital experiences and digital exploration is a necessary tool for all industries worldwide. But for longevity, and to stay aligned with global innovation, both online and offline engagement simply have to be as powerful as one another.

Physical engagement needs to be quick, comfortable and enjoyable, and digital engagement needs to be an extension of that – whether it be for a distracted user, or a short dwell time; it needs to also feed necessary insights to your business. Whether that be an education app for continued learning post science centre visit, or QR codes to merchandise or branded games post museum visit, or even online surveys for corporate clients; the ‘new normal’ needs insights. We need to learn from our customers, learn from their behaviours, and understand what they really want, and how they want to engage with it. This new world is still changing at a rapid rate after all, and with a well-crafted ‘phygital’ world around us, we can learn and adapt like never before.

Overall, the ‘Phygital’ approach is still very relevant and very necessary in a post-COVID world. “Phygital information and access, give brands the opportunity to laser-focus in on when customers need what information.” (konstructdigital) And we all know, in a time of uncertainty, information and insights are key!

So, while ‘phygital’ was the word of 2018, perhaps the word of 2020 is ‘phyginsights’?

Food for thought…

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