I recently went to visit a potential new supplier for my company, but I'll keep them anonymous for the purpose of this article. I did all the usual stuff -- checked out their website, read up on the executive team, reviewed their bios on LinkedIn, looked at their Twitter feeds. It all created a great first impression, and given the spectacular digital experience, I was excited to visit their office for an introductory meeting with the CEO and at the prospect of partnering with them.
But that feeling quickly went as I arrived at the office. For starters, I was greeted by a surly receptionist who seemed more concerned with texting than welcoming me to the office or offering me the customary cup of coffee. While this seemed like a clear warning sign, I gave them the benefit of the doubt and chalked up the reception experience to a bad day. Maybe the receptionist had a family emergency going on; maybe her cat died. Unfortunately, this was only the beginning.
Next, I was shown into a messy meeting room and left to my own devices for a solid 20 minutes without any explanation for the delay. In an age where time is money -- perhaps even more important than money -- this was bad. They might as well have said, “We don’t care about your time, and we don’t think this meeting with you is important enough to be on time to.” Needless to say, my enthusiasm to work with this potential supplier waned and went, well before I even met them in person.
Finally, the meeting began, and I went through the motions with the CEO. However, by this point, I was already disengaged and had decided this one was not for us. Maybe they didn’t think we’d notice, or maybe they were focused on other things. I don’t know. What I do know is that they didn't get our business. And at that moment, the entire day's experience got me thinking about the dangers of focusing too much on the digital experience rather than the total experience.
In this particular example, my digital experience was amazing, but my physical experience was awful. What a shame for all that effort to go into making a great digital impression, only to fall flat on its face when I tried to meet them in person.
On the train back, it got me thinking that the emphasis and investment that every company has made in digital over the last decade may have come at the expense of their physical experiences -- whether in a store, home delivery or the full "meet the company" B2B experience.
Regardless of the type of business we’re talking about here, we all know we are living in an age where every business must have a clearly defined purpose. And that purpose must come through not only in your business's communications but its physical experience as well. What good does a fantastic product or offering do if it’s being wrapped up in a whole bunch of “I don’t care"?
Fortunately, there are businesses out there that understand that a top-shelf physical brand experience can drive better awareness, improve preference and create more opportunities to do business. Brands that are getting it right are putting the physical experiences right smack in the center of their marketing plans and delivering on their brand promises both in the digital and physical worlds. Some call this intersection the "phygital" experience, but whatever you call it, it’s vital for your business and key to getting your message across to a receptive audience.
Brands like Virgin Airlines and JetBlue get it. They blend an effortless, digitally enabled booking and check-in process with a top-shelf physical experience aboard their airplanes. Both have spent money creating comfortable and well-designed cabin interiors and have clearly invested in well-trained, courteous staff. You can tell they have thought hard about the tone of the physical experience and trained their employees to be distinctly JetBlue or Virgin. Whilst each provides a very different physical experience, both reinforce the digital experience you get through the website and app.
Some retail brands have also nailed the phygital experience. For example, take Madewell, a clothing company that takes special care with their in-store experience. The retail brand offers free live workshops and crafting classes in their brick-and-mortar locations.
Still other brands, such as Sprite, are taking their phygital experiences to a new level by becoming part of the neighborhoods they hope to target. In conjunction with a robust social media campaign, Sprite ran The Sprite Corner pop-up, which took over a bodega in Nolita, NYC and held performances and classes covering a variety of creative endeavors such as music, art, fashion, comedy and cooking.
Sure, some of these examples are best in class or close to it. But the point is not to identify those that are doing it best, but rather to make a statement about those neglecting their physical experiences altogether. When a brand puts effort and resources into cultivating an image on social media or in other communications, it would be smart to ensure that their physical experience doesn’t detract.
A boring or unpopular tweet may be forgotten or excused by followers on social media, but a poor physical experience seems to really stick with us. When you get the feeling that a brand can’t be bothered to pay attention to their real-world experience, it makes the digital experience seem like a lie, and nobody likes being tricked.
In the age of programmatic ad buys, influencer marketing and advanced ad-tech, we should all strive to elevate our physical experiences and remember that until the day comes when we all plug into the matrix, the physical experience will always be real; it will always be important, and it will always reflect the passion, purpose and values of a brand.
Originally published on the Forbes Agency Council website.