Brands have been engaging consumers in the physical world and charming them in the digital space for years, but linking the two has been tricky.
However, the arrival of smart mobile devices has been a game changer. It has enabled brands to embrace new technology such as QR codes, Near Field Communication (NFC), augmented reality and traceable hyperlinks to build connected relationships with consumers both online and offline. Brands are realising the potential of shopper marketing across multiple channels, with improving customer engagement and better sales opportunities.
Car brands such as Ford and Fiat have become big fans of augmented reality to showcase new models. Users can visualise cars in their driveways or experience digital rides and, hopefully, be persuaded to visit a nearby showroom.
1 Shoppable windows boost engagement and sales
Retailers are embracing these tools too, with House of Fraser trialling augmented reality technology and shoppable windows for Black Friday in November last year (See main picture, and below).
Shoppers who downloaded the retailer’s app could scan a vinyl shape within the store window to trigger a ‘Scan to Explore’ feature. They received a full list of the store’s Black Friday deals and were entered into a competition to win a £250 gift card.
Customers viewed the shoppable window as an exciting way to interact with the brand, says the retailer’s head of digital Sarah Bailie. Downloads of the app increased by 50% in the first week the smart windows were launched.
“The trial raised awareness of our app and allowed people to access product information and then make a direct sale in the physical store without having to ask a member of staff for help,” says Bailie.
Bailie says that in 2016, House of Fraser wants to be technology-agnostic. “We are purely interested in customer interaction and how that comes about,” she says. “We could use any technology to achieve our aims but I do like beacons that promote engagement with a physical environment in a digital way. They can help improve our customer service through the Buy and Collect and Collect+ services.”
House of Fraser is already bringing to life its shop windows by using beacon-enabled mannequins in some regions to engage directly with shoppers. But outside of the store environment, its print brochure and direct mail has had a digital makeover to link its digital and physical offering.
2 Augmented reality links print and online
It has digitalised its offline Home Brochure by adding an augmented reality feature to the app. Direct mail remains a crucial influencer and an important teaser medium. The offline team producing the brochure is now encouraged to think about how to make the printed content more exciting and, if possible, shoppable.
“Having a Scan and Shop feature for our brochure is driving downloads of the app with links to content such as recipes or 3D models of light fittings to bring the offline environment to life,” says Bailie. “If people enjoy the shopping experience and are more informed, they are more likely to buy online or from our physical stores. Technology has given our print brochure a new lease of life.”
Similarly, vice president of publishing and media at Net-a-Porter Tess Macleod Smith has made its print magazine shoppable. Readers can use the Net-a-Porter app to buy around 7,500 featured items in each edition of the printed title.
Chair of the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) and director of consumer revenues at Guardian Media Group Julia Porter says it makes sense to use technology to inform consumers and make it easier for them to purchase products and services.
“We are moving to a world where everything is easier to measure so why not include hyperlinks that help people to buy if it is relevant and does not interfere with the editorial product?” she says. “If there is a review of a book why not include a ‘buy now’ button?”
The Guardian is trying to make more of its content shoppable by placing special offers around travel articles in its physical paper as well as online.
Porter is surprised that more brands have not used QR codes on brochures, posters or billboards. These are effectively paper-based hyperlinks that connect the offline and online worlds but they have been much more popular among brands in the Far East and Europe than in the UK or the US.
One brand that has used a QR code on the high street is organic coffee company CRU Kafe which placed one on the window of retailer Whole Foods to encourage people to view its video on YouTube.
“The challenge is to get offline customers to engage with you online so you can have a relationship with them rather than just a one night stand,” says CRU Kafe co-founder Colin Pyle. “We’ve use QR codes, traceable links and multiple tastings to acquire customer emails to help us tell our story.”
3 RFID connects outdoor advertising to online
When it comes to outdoor advertising, technology plays a crucial role in connecting the digital and physical worlds too.
Creative agency OgilvyOne and out of home media owner Exterion Media developed RFID (Radio-frequency identification) tags for Battersea Cats and Dogs Home’s #LookingForYou campaign. The aim was to encourage people to visit its three physical centres in Battersea, Old Windsor and at Brands Hatch in Kent to get more animals adopted.
People visiting Westfield Stratford City in East London were handed leaflets containing an RFID tag. As they walked past the outdoor digital billboards around the shopping centre, the leaflet activated former Battersea dog Barley on the screen to create an emotional reaction among shoppers.
Battersea Cats and Dogs Home’s marketing manager Claire Fishersmith says the brand wanted to encourage visits to its website where donations can be made and to its centres where people would meet the pets that need a home.
“We cannot put numbers of how many people visited having seen the digital billboards or YouTube video because people are not always in a position to re-home a pet when a campaign runs,” says Fishersmith. “What it did do was use technology to strike a chord with people who might choose at some point to visit us and rescue a dog.”
In 2016, the charity will invest more in digital signage around its sites to promote its services and provide directions to its centres.
4 Social media reaches people in their homes
Linking digital to physical is not just about connecting with a brand’s bricks and mortar presence. For purely online brands it can be about doing more to get into people’s actual homes.
Only a small proportion of insurer Direct Line’s customers make a claim each year and, because it provides an intangible service, it must find new ways to reinforce its brand credentials.
Marketing director Mark Evans says Direct Line is reaching into people’s homes partly through its #directfix social media campaign which is solving customers’ travel, weather, fashion and other problems mentioned on Twitter.
The company even launched a ‘turkey-mergency’ service offering a Christmas Day replacement turkey if a customer’s bird ended up undercooked, dry, burnt or inedible. However you had to live within three miles of the insurer’s special Christmas kitchen in Camberwell.
“The campaign gives us a physical presence in homes and communities played out in a social space,” says Evans.
In a multi-channel world, consumers want to interact with brands both offline and online. The challenge for companies in 2016 and beyond will be to use technology advancements effectively to bond the two, making their brands more engaging and shoppable.