Phygital: adj. an object or experience that combines the physical world with the digital world. ex. “We really ought to make this print ad more phygital.”
“You got your physical world in my digital!” “You got your digital stuff in my real world!”
Like the old Reese’s peanut butter cup ads, today’s digital and physical worlds are two great tastes that taste great together. In fact, if you’re not planning them together, then you’re not thinking like a consumer.
The first screen we turn to (mobile) plusses many of our activities these days. We click to watch movie trailers and buy tickets on the way to the theater. Dinner reservations? Made with our thumbs of course. But that’s all happening now; it’s going to expand. So what’s next for Phygital? Three things: NFC, AR, and a digital layer in physical product design.
NFC (near field communication) is magic tech just waiting for savvy brands to plug in. Imagine, you walk through a conference and business card info leaps into your phone, untouched. You pay your bus fare by waving your phone over a sensor, again, touchless. They’re already doing it in China. Imagine keyless entry into your office, not with a separate access card, but with your phone. Imagine capturing a hi-res, authorized, digital work of art as a souvenir, while you stand in front of the real thing. The big buzz these days is with Google wallet. But we’ll see other innovative brands using NFC in crazy ways in the future. Like logging and rewarding customer behaviors in gamified campaigns, passively – automatically. Look out Shopkick, with your proprietary in-store scanners (a big investment for retailers); NFC has the potential to eat your lunch. Best of all – NFC means automated Social spread for mass promotion of a simple action. Whenever your customer gets close to your brand (in-store, at an event), it could trigger a check-in that lets the world know, with content and sentiment attached. Touchless. For example, our client Baskin Robbins could let fans “like” a flavor in store by waving their phone by the ice cream case, and that branded action gets spread to their friends. The ideas we see in 2012 will be much better, of course.
Have we seen the end of augmented reality? Not likely. Because it’s Phygital; adding digital awesomeness to your walk through the mall or car lot. One example that shows us AR’s potential was the walk through Central Park. A crude QR code triggered awesome content from park events over the years. Early examples of AR tools will gain adoption as they get easier to use, and more rewarding. It’s easy to imagine an alternate reality game with views into a secret layer of existence, finding clues through your phone in a ghost world, for example. Too weird? How about simple x-ray simulators, virtual try-ons for clothes, or virtual test drives with pop-up car specs? Today, we check prices with RedLaser – but tomorrow we’ll trigger entire experiences, entertainment, heck, even a personal message from world leaders (see Esquire’s 2/12 cover). Or Cobie Smulders. Again, all of this will automatically trigger social spread, turning the physical world into a digital action-cast. Big brother is watching you, and the customer service is impeccable. (For more great AR inspiration, check out T-Immersion’s reel – , or watch AR beat flash-mobs here, or turn your browser into a drone soldier.)
On the flip side, our physical stuff will keep getting more digital. Look at Nike. Their new FuelBand and SportWatch turn your runs into branded social media impressions. As Fortune reports (2/14/12), Nike “can follow them (users), build an online community for them, and forge a tighter relationship with them than ever before.” These are products of Nike’s “Digital Sport” division. A mad laboratory of Phygital ideas. Maybe one day your spatula will speak recipes and post to Facebook how your souffle’ turned out. In all physical products there’s an opportunity to add digital content, utility, and sharing. If you’re a supply-chain innovator, there’s a massive gap here for a standardized “digital add-on.” (It could be the next billion-dollar idea that digitizes the world – not just your house, but your dog’s collar, your car tires, your deodorant, your tennis racket. Here’s an example of adding digital audio to anything … now, imagine the gadget that could add content and social spread to anything.) Yes, things are going to get weird. Done right, consumers will be captivated. These ideas will come from client product labs, vendors, agencies, and start-ups. If you’re in the idea business, add this to your scope. The digitization of the physical world will try to assist us, befriend us, and tell the world what we’re up to … i.e. automate “word of mouth.” These ideas are exponential not only because they are things we’ve never seen before, but each one is bespoke, micro-targeted, and infinitely shareable.
If you need more convincing of the power of “Phygital,” I have two words for you: Xbox Kinect.
I leave you with this, a branded experience for T-Mobile. (Not totally new, but the second viewing is just as fun.)
(Thanks to our Social team, @ChrisTuff and @hellojustinoh for their thoughts on this post. Word.)