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Innovation Insights
by Stephen Shapiro

Digital and Physical Workd

How to Embrace Phygital – the Blending of Physical and Digital

Combining the digital and physical worlds enhances both.

Let’s get phygital is not a song by Olivia Newton-John. It is about how your organization can leverage the blending of the physical and digital worlds.

For most of history, we were a physical society. We met in person and all interactions occurred with physical products. Then, as technology became more accessible to the masses, we moved to a digital world. People became increasingly disconnected from the real world as they spent their time on their phones, tablets, and computers.

During the pandemic, the pendulum swung even further towards digital, as meeting in person became more difficult.

But the real opportunity is in the blending of technology and the real world. As we become increasingly detached from the physical world, people are now craving in-person face-to-face human interaction – combined with digital technologies.

One simple, fun, and older example of this is the “Twizzard.” During Black Friday weekend in 2014, Mall of America, used Twitter to power a snowstorm inside the Minneapolis-area retail complex. The more people tweeted with the #twizzard hashtag that weekend, the lower the temperature got on a digital thermometer in the center of the mall. When there were enough tweets and the temperature hit freezing, the skies opened and it started to snow INSIDE the mall.

This generated massive buzz through social media and increased foot traffic 10% over the previous year. You can see a brief video about this here.

Not too long ago, I heard of another use of phygital. Normally, if a customer complains on social media, if the company is savvy, they will send a quick response back via social media. But one major airport took this a step further. If there was a complaint about something related to the airport, based on geolocation and the person’s social media picture, airport staff would seek out the individual and give them some chocolates. Very cool. However, I do wonder if this increased the number of made-up complaints by traveling chocoholics.
Pokemon Go is another great example of this, where augmented reality gaming blended digital characters that were superimposed on real-world environments. Hybrid board games blend physical boards with digital elements.

Retail stores are increasingly using phygital as a means of engaging customers and increasing sales. There are technologies that enable stores to push coupons, alert shoppers of sale items, remind people of products they might need, and provide useful product information. Some of these alerts are based on where the customer is located in the store. Phygital experiences may be what is necessary to combat the growing threat of Amazon and other online retailers.

Smart homes that sense your presence and adjust temperatures or lighting are phygital. Smart cities use digital technology to optimize physical infrastructure such as transportation and energy systems. Interactive installations blend physical and digital elements to create unique experiences such as an art installation using sensors and projection mapping to create a dynamic and interactive display.
How can you embrace this concept without investing millions in new technologies?

A possible solution is to look at existing digital experiences and see how they can be blended with the physical world. Or look for existing physical solutions and add a digital element. Anyone can do it.

For example, I developed a digital training program where every day for 30 days, people would receive a question about innovation. Based on the speed and accuracy of their responses, they would get points which would be displayed on a leaderboard. Originally, the program was designed to provide a purely digital reinforcement of my content after people left my speech.

But when I blended the digital training with in-person workshops, the results were significantly better. During my daylong workshop, we set up the system so that at the first break everyone received the first of 30 questions. During the break people are encouraged to respond because the leaderboard is displayed when people return. People love seeing their name high on the leaderboard and it creates a sense of friendly competition in the physical world enabled by the digital world. We do this several times throughout the day, with the game continuing after people leave the workshop. Originally, when the program was purely digital, participation rates were 40% to 50%. When we moved towards a phygital experience where the first few questions are delivered while everyone is in person, we’ve had over 95% of people participate every day for the remainder of the competition.

The physical world can enhance the digital world and vice versa.

Where are you seeing the blending of the physical and digital worlds? How can you bring this concept to your organization?

This article originally appears on the Inc. website.