Phygital. Not heard of it? The OED hasn’t yet acknowledged it, but we bet our bottom dollar it will be under “P” very soon. It’s a portmanteau of “physical” and “digital” to describe the blending of both worlds.
Since the two become ever more connected, many brands are busy building ecosystems that allow consumers to gracefully step from reality to the digital realms of infinite possibilities, usually via a smart phone or wearable tech.
It’s exciting stuff. But what have they been up to?
Location-based mobile marketing
Wink wink, nudge nudge
Nearly all of us carry smart phones and happily share our location data with our downloaded apps. This gives brands an awesome opportunity to ‘push’ personalised content in real-time to promote, excite and connect people on the move.
Imagine passing a café on your way to work and your phone buzzes with “free latte with a croissant”. Tempting, isn’t it? Or stepping into your favourite shop and an alert tells you that the lovely jacket you looked at last week has 25% off. It would be foolish to pass that up, wouldn’t it?
The possibilities for digital coupons, product information and proximity-based offers are endless. People are even being pushed to our phones. Dating apps like Tinder and Happn encourage us to strike virtual conversations with people we might have brushed shoulders with.
This kind of location-based marketing influences consumers in the real-world moments that matter – when they’re hungry, primed to buy or even looking for love. It’s a fantastic tool to drive sales and increase loyalty.
Indoor location tracking
Help, I’m lost!
Indoor tracking technology – in the form of Bluetooth beacons (tiny, low-energy devices) – means you can find your precise location in any mall and your way to any shop.
Technology is helping you to save time in-store too. Walmart’s Store Assistant app, for example, not only gives you a map of each store, it also tells you which aisle the item you’re looking for is in.
Some apps even allow you to summon a store assistant. It’s a bit like being a child again. If you’re lost or need help, stay exactly where you are and a grown-up will find you.
Keys, drivers, locks… who needs them?
Zipcar, the world’s largest car club, gives you access to a car, without the expense of ownership. But, most interestingly for us, it’s all managed in an app.
Once you’ve booked the car online, the app turns into a virtual keyfob so you can find it, honk the horn if it’s lost – and unlock it with a tap. The technology used is similar to sending and receiving text messages. App-controlled dockless bikes, like ofo, are now a thing too.
Volkswagen has joined in the car-sharing fun, partnering with Zipcar to create Zipwagen, giving you access to Golf GTE hybrid cars.
Soon enough you might even be able to sit back, read, watch films – maybe even have a glass of wine – and let a driverless car take you to your destination.
A sign of the times
American estate agent, Compass, wants to connect front-lawn “for sale” signage to the digital world. Not only does this stylish sign look fit to grace the front garden of a high-end property; it also has ambitious plans for the future.
Its embedded technology gives passers-by access to a rich set of information via an app or QR code. Mobile development teams are creating an augmented reality in which you could tour houses, paint rooms and locate nearby attractions.
The new phygital world encourages us to reimagine everyday items. But at roughly $1,000 a pop, you won’t see this all-singing all-dancing sign outside many homes – the traditional house-shaped one is set to stay, for now.
Why leave the house?
Augmented reality (AR), technology to enhance the real world, is starting to gain traction. Only last year did Apple release an AR kit, ARKit, to encourage developers to create more AR experiences.
In the world of big brands, Argos has teamed up with Lego to show AR versions of Lego models through its app. The IKEA Place and Amazon AR view place true-to-scale furniture and items in your home. And Dulux Visualizer tests out colours on your walls without going near a lick of paint.
Many brands are making looking good a breeze too. Dressing Room by Gapdresses a mannequin of your body shape, Specsavers Virtual Try On app tests 100s of frames on your face to help you find the perfect pair – and Amazon is planning to launch a smart mirror to virtually dress your reflection.
AR is great way to create immersive experiences, especially since the possibilities for fun and creativity are endless.
Sleeping, stepping and staying well
You don’t even need to think about whether you’ve had a good night’s sleep anymore, as an app like FitBit will tell you. Heart rate, steps trodden, miles walked, calories burnt, water drunk, eggs ovulated… your every input and output is increasingly available for scrutiny.
But beyond step counters, digital workout coaches and heart-rate trackers, the health and medical industries are making big rumbles in consumer tech.
Nima peanut sensor will say if there are traces of peanuts in your food, Moodheadbands use “neurofeedback” to manage stress, and sensors planted into the arm can measure blood glucose levels via an app. You can now even get a diagnosis from a real doctor over web cam.
There’s are an exciting and ever-evolving amount of digital tech out there to enhance our lives – and track and even improve our health. Phygital tech isn’t just blurring the boundaries between physical and digital worlds; it’s also beginning to give us humans near super-human abilities.