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How Digital Virtual Experiences Reinforce the Physical Environment

How Digital Virtual Experiences Reinforce the Physical Environment

Posted by: SGK | Date added: Fri 12 Oct 2018

Connecting with consumers on a deeper, more personal level through physical storytelling reinforced by digital experiences can help brands to differentiate themselves.

Industry observers continue to sound the death knell for retail, citing increasing growth in online sales, the shuttering of many a brick-and-mortar chain, and changing consumer shopping behaviors. They've got it all wrong, though: Retail and online operations are not at all at odds with each other. In fact, the digital and physical spaces can and should augment each other.

There is an opportunity in retail today that is largely unrealized: that of telling powerful stories through the retail environment and reinforcing them in the virtual one. Smart companies are recognizing this opportunity to elevate how consumers experience the brand. These organizations are leveraging meaningful experiences to make authentic connections with customers - ones that spark an awakening, memory or desire.

They're doing so with rich interactions that start in the physical environment and are amplified in the virtual one. Social media has allowed for everyday influencers to broadcast their own reality shows, and powerful brand experiences in the physical world provide a great set and backdrop for storytelling in the virtual world.

Storytelling in the physical world is about bringing your brand to life. For a performance brand, that might mean leveraging a story behind the technology used, such as the fibers in a jacket. An eco-conscious lifestyle brand could furnish a brick and mortar location with sustainably made furniture, interspersed with areas throughout the store that bring stories of the people, places and components to life.

The best storytellers bring the digital into the physical in a meaningful way that reinforces the story and adds value to a customer's experience. Marketers are increasingly using virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) to accomplish this. VR and AR are no longer novelties, and brands are innovating by integrating these technologies in new, more usable ways.

At South by Southwest 2018, Sony mixed the real world with the virtual across its weeklong SXSW interaction. Visitors took shots, using a real-world soccer ball, on a virtual goalie in Sony's WOW Studio. Guests at its "Lost in Music" SXSW event put on PlayStation VR headsets and were guided through an immersive sound experience that included 576 speakers and a light installation. Visitors then shared the experience they had via their social channels, fueling a campaign that went far beyond the experience itself.

This tactic taps into basic consumer behavior. When something is special, people tend to want to share it. Millennials, for example, are a socially driven generation who have grown up with and expect high-quality experiences. Shopping for this group, which has surpassed the baby boomers as the largest living generation, is more socially connected than ever.

The desire for connection is why 82 percent of millennials and 80 percent of Gen Zers say it's important for brands to have a physical location, rather than solely selling online. That's compared to 65 percent of baby boomers, who for their own part are looking to share more experiences with family and friends. Some brands are creating connections across all generations by extending the in-store experience into community events that bring the whole family together.

Brands that tell stories, invite interaction and encourage sharing can attract and convert consumers into purchasers. The physical world offers a powerful storytelling experience because it appeals to each of the five senses. Consumers physically feel the brand story - feeling the softness of a sweater or inhaling the new-leather smell of a jacket.

The best of the best take it a step further, connecting the story by hitting on different emotions. Nike's #RISEABOVE tour did that by targeting inner-city communities that were rarely the focus of large brand marketing efforts.

The tour consisted of a custom truck that allowed youths - many of whom were of a generation that had never seen Michael Jordan play - to test out new Jordan performance footwear. The truck featured a digital vertical leap test (a tie-in to Jordan's legendary four-foot vertical leap), with players sharing their results through a nationwide competition tracked on social media. The event prompted impromptu block parties as families rallied around the truck to try on shoes and talk to Nike's brand ambassadors.

There is, however, a major challenge to storytelling through merged physical and digital experiences: It requires a shift in thinking.

A handful of brands do it really well - Kith, Burberry, Warby Parker, Nike and Under Armour are a few. A company solely focused on direct ROI, however, will find it hard to embrace spending its entire budget for a campaign on a single store in New York City, or a handful of stores in key markets. The campaign isn't likely to drive a lot of sales at those locations, although the impact that real-world events have on purchasing is trending up.

Rather, the opportunity for realizing massive returns comes when influencers who experience the brand tell others about it. The real opportunity is borne through social connection.
Experience is everything. Connecting with consumers on a deeper, more personal level through physical storytelling reinforced by digital experiences can help brands differentiate themselves from the increasingly commoditized shopping experience offered by Amazon and other digital marketplaces - and bring their brands to life.

Bryan Laing, VP Client Services at IDL Worldwide, brings 15 years of comprehensive operations and retail activation in driving significant initiatives with Nike, Jordan, Converse, Foot Locker and many other global brands. Bryan works closely with our key clients to help organize an optimized IDL team to ensure an exceptional client experience from development through execution.


[1]“New Retail Study by iModerate Reveals Secrets to Mastering the In-Store Experience,” PRWeb, March 30, 2016.


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