What’s the first thing you do in the morning? Chime a chirpy "good morning" to whomever you share a home with, or log on to Facebook?
It’s a growing trend in these ever connected times that huge numbers of us have had more contact with our 'friends’ online than with our flatmates and families by the time the kettle has boiled.
And as our lives become increasingly consumed by the online world, verbs such as poke and post that previously evoked very physical sensations have taken on a digital definition all of their own.
This drift in default definitions raises an intriguing question of course: have we come to value the digital execution more than its physical counterpart? Moreover, where are we choosing to spend our time and energy? The real world - the one we can touch, smell and taste - or the digital world that allows us instant connections to whatever we desire?
Seeing the hordes of commuters committed to tapping and prodding at their screens of a morning you’d be forgiven for thinking that nothing else mattered, but that would be to miss something key: it’s the real world that acts as the main crucible for the emotions, stories and images that make up all that online noise.
When it comes to the way brands engage with people, this is an important distinction. The digital world is the greatest amplifier man has ever created. A place where messages, ideas and content can explode into the laps and pockets of everyone, no matter where they are and what they’re doing.
But it’s the real world that employs our physical senses in a way that will always make more impact than 1s and 0s can on their own.
Done badly, digital engagement leads to the myriad ‘win this’, ‘like that’ messages that bombard the average user throughout their day but do little to go beyond the page that’s loading in front you.
This chase for friends and followers is a novelty that’s wearing very thin giving brands who can link their digital communications to the real world a much more authentic voice as they converse with their consumers.
It’s an authenticity that breathes life into the relationship. As individuals, there’s more at stake when we’re physically present. We can't hide our body language or pre-prepare responses in conversation, so physical encounters are more risky, more exciting, more genuine. Brands can benefit from these feelings too.
As word of mouth is still triggered by emotion - we share what we feel strongly about - the physical world still dominates in prompting us to talk about brands. Social tools help that happen faster and fly further, but adding an element of real engagement at the genesis of the engagement becomes ultimately more rewarding for brands.
Keeping real things at the heart of a campaign and using digital to amplify that conversation creates a perfect storm of genuine advocacy.
With so many brands chasing digital voices, you can stand out from the crowd by making the effort to capture physical hearts and minds - be that an experiential event, sending them something real through the post or simply meeting them face to face.
Placing the digital and the physical in two separate camps no longer makes any sense. Our smartphones go with us everywhere and the exchange of conversation, content and experience on and offline is entirely fluid and co-reliant. We need to learn to work with them simultaneously, feeding off and building upon each other.
For the recent launch of MarketReach from Royal Mail, this understanding was at the heart of the business. They recognised that they needed to give people a forum to explore and express their passion for physical things in an increasingly digital world.
To do this they created Real, the world’s first physical social network, designed to remind brands of the power of physical things. The network was established in a central London gallery that played host to 100 physical plots (small metal cages) for six weeks. Into these plots members were invited to post (with a stamp and an envelope) examples of real things that delight, move or inspire them. All of this content was curated, photographed and displayed online at www.welcometoreal.com and the word then spread through a Twitter account (@welovereal). The network now lives at the home of MarketReach, inspiring staff and customers alike.
It was a perfect marriage of the online and offline worlds. With no online support, the campaign wouldn’t have reached nearly as far as it did (it reached 2.4million eyeballs online alone). And with no real life execution the power of real objects, with their inherent stories, textures and value, wouldn’t have had the chance to make their full impact.
Either/or is over. If deep engagement and brand advocacy is your aim, you need to start seeing digital-physical as a constant, complimentary process however much that might challenge departments, budgets and convenient beliefs.