Why businesses should act faster than ever on physical engagement in this motionless world
Companies need to offer customers pandemic-sensitive ways to engage in physical space. Considering the life we’re all living lately, it may be the key to moving forward productively.
As we enter into a long haul of the Covid-19 pandemic with cities and countries around the world going through varying degrees of lockdowns, immobility has turned from a disability to a mundane lifestyle. After-work hangouts, walking in a busy street, eating out with friends and family - ordinary activities like these have disappeared from real life into a post-COVID to-do list.
The lack of physical interactivity and exposure to shared physical environments is negatively impacting our mental health, adding to anxiety about the disease, job insecurity, and exposure to other stressors. (source)
The new normal is also taking a heavy toll on companies. Especially for those whose operation relies on physical presence, the current way of life has imposed a vital threat to their revenue and thus their survival. It is already the case that in the US (as of Sep 2020), nearly 60 percent of businesses that closed nationwide during the COVID-19 pandemic are expected to never reopen again (source).
We are going through unprecedented times, presenting a vicious cycle of social unrest and economic impacts aggravating each other. Without clear paths forward such as successful vaccine production and distribution, life remains mired in misery.
This doesn’t mean industries have to surrender themselves or just wait and see until things get back to normal, which might not happen in the foreseeable future (or ever!). They can’t afford to leave their fortune in the hands of fate; they might, on the flip side, hold an all-encompassing solution for their survival and society’s well-being.
What is the all-encompassing solution? The short answer is embracing the notion of physical engagement.
Companies need to offer customers pandemic-sensitive ways to engage in a physical space. Considering the life we’re all living lately, it may be the key to moving forward productively.
The intersection between human psychology and consumer behavior
We human beings are a social species whose survival depends on interpersonal connections and communities. We are born with the innate ability to form groups with membership based on shared interests, beliefs, and values. We are learning about this nature of ourselves even more today because of the restrictions placed on our ability to express it.
No matter what kind of circumstances reshape the way we live, this hard-wired psychological trait to look out for common identities will always find a way to express itself across physical and virtual worlds, and inarguably so in consumer behavior.
Now, here’s how this becomes relevant when consumers select brands.
As consumers, we start our purchase decision-making process by recognizing our needs based on various complex factors, including social pressure, esteem, hunger, or need for reward. Then once we decide to purchase a product, we confront the next challenge, usually a time consuming one: selecting a brand.
Each brand proposes a different quality, service, and price for the same type of product. But these variables adjust according to market trends, and quite often, brands tend to lean towards the standard of the leading market player. What creates the real difference between brands beyond these factors is their identities, just like people. Best-in-class companies excel in building a strong identity of their own, while others don’t. We choose the companies to do business with, just as we do with people when we form a community. We compare our own identity to that of each company, then seek out commonality to build the association. This is what lies beneath the statement made by the shoes we wear and by the cars we drive with regard to our identity.
Then there is the feeling of trust.
When trust emerges between people sharing common ground, commitment and loyalty happen, which act as drivers to survive failure and take risks. Similarly, trust between a customer and a brand can bring the community to the next level, a long-lasting relationship named customer retention.
Building this trust within relationships takes experience, understanding of the other, authenticity, and consistency. Without trust, bonds can easily wither away.
Now let’s talk about how all of this applies to today’s context as the world writes a new version of its business playbook. How are brands building identity and trust with restricted or no physical interactions with customers? A quick answer: they’ve moved to the web and mobile world - more than ever.
The shift has been happening ever since the advent of social media and e-commerce, so it’s not new. But the focus is on the race to move the in-person customer experience entirely or significantly into virtual space.
With digital communication tools taking over physical interactions, many companies are attempting to adopt cross-channel engagement approaches offering uniform communications across all online touchpoints, providing customers no continuity for experiences in a physical setting.
While others move away from physical engagement, you should redesign and weaponize it.
Amidst the disruption, companies should ask this simple question:
Is this the way to go?
Consumers might be able to efficiently fulfill their needs for merchandise and services even with a complete absence of physical experience. But our species’ deeply ingrained desire to belong to a community and to have the sentiment of coexistence will push us out of our physical isolation. If you have felt the sting of confinement, you understand the need for breaking out of your personal shelter and how much you’d appreciate an excuse to be able to do that.
Social media, e-commerce platforms, and other online communication tools have been and will continue to be essential substitutes for the physical way of doing business. With health measures put in place for as long as the pandemic persists, it will even be necessary for companies to invest more heavily in providing a gratifying online experience.
But suppose this happens in parallel with companies offering fewer and fewer options for connecting people to physical spaces. Whenever and however that becomes possible, customers will rebel.
Offering customers the right way to engage in a physical space is the all-encompassing solution for companies’ survival and human society’s well-being. It is THE way to go, and those who act faster will have a competitive advantage, putting themselves in a dominant position as an alternative to the industry trend.
Besides, engaging with customers in a physical space can also increase the chance for trust to emerge, helping brands to build a long-lasting relationship with customers. The online space is overpopulated with noise produced by countless brands trying to connect with customers and prospects. When everything happens exclusively online, even through a seamless omnidigital approach, it poses limits on the ability to develop consistent communications that permit brands to understand their customers more intimately and customers to learn about the brand’s unique identity.
How can companies offer physical engagements while respecting the new way of life, and how can they do it well?
Redesign physical engagement by replacing and reproducing human to human interaction in the phygital (physical+digital) format. Realize this by adopting interactive digital signage solutions with personalized content. The key is in the Interactivity as opposed to providing passive digital signage displays.
With interactive digital signage solutions available today that support a host of alternative technologies for physical interactions beyond touch, businesses can offer an exclusive and thrilling environment to communicate with customers while accommodating health concerns.
Using data-based content connected to multichannel customer touchpoints, they can also provide a consistent and personalized experience while having the ability to assess their performance in scalable ways.
To read more about how successfully deliver physical engagement, head over to our previous article “Touchscreen Guidance For A (Post) Confinement World,” providing detailed guidance for the current and post-confinement world of interactive digital signage.