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The happy marriage of online and offline

Charles Wiedenhoft //June 27, 2012//

The happy marriage of online and offline

Charles Wiedenhoft //June 27, 2012//

In the midst of the paradigm shift toward tech and change, people crave the familiar – Sharpie markers, record players and cooking with friends. More and more brands are following suit by making what’s old new again to create real, lasting and personal connections. Many times, the deeper we venture online, the more our minds and bodies desire offline interaction.

Here are some effective ways companies are combining pre-digital habits with our new life in the cloud:

Pop-up retail – Consumers don’t necessarily have to go to their favorite store or the restaurant anymore, sometimes the location comes to them and the reason why might surprise you. In San Diego, Walmart opened a pop-up location just before the holidays. At first glance, it looked like a typical storefront with TV’s on the wall and toys on shelves. However, the idea isn’t to sell electronics and gifts inside the store, but to invite customers to shop online. At the temporary retail manifestation, consumers were directed to computers to make purchases and choose from a variety of shipment options. This impacts the brand because it exposes a new set of customers to the website and the store itself. At major retailers like Walmart shoppers might not ever think about its dot com version and the chain itself is usually associated with the suburbs, not an urban location.

EBay had a successful pop-up retail run in London and rumor has it that will soon be launching its own brick and mortar store in Seattle. According to analysts, the idea is to let consumers test its gadgets and see if a physical retail presence can accelerate sales, similar to Apple’s success.

Throwback Tech – A catalog is a traditional offline steward of a brand’s offering, but how does one get over the banality? Direct mail is usually met with a frosty reception. The new “smart” media is built on persons’ interests from online/offline interactions and analytics mashing it together. Content is more relevant and timely. Media that is channel agnostic and invites further exploration across devices is key to engaging consumers over time. It reflects how people expect to communicate with brands. Gone are the days of a singular approach.

Crowdsourcing the Web – The practice of crowdsourcing means an open call to those who can perform a specific task that then gets turned over to a community. It’s a great way to curate a fan group online to then turn the seemingly intangible into something tangible. For example, Quiksilver requested its Facebook community share their summer memories on the social media platform. Then fans voted for their favorites to be assembled into a print book called “Summer Stories” to be sold in selected Quiksilver stores; essentially evolving from Facebook to foot traffic.

Another good example of design by democracy is the “Sketchbook Project,” a crowd sourced community design art show.  First, interested creatives pick a theme, are sent a sketchbook to fill up and send back for a small fee. The art books then travel to four countries as part of a mobile exhibit and eventually live at the Brooklyn Art Library in New York for complete strangers to admire. You can also find a digital library with several complete scanned contributions to the Sketchbook Project on the site; a beautiful marriage of Web and real-life components. They are still accepting 2013 submissions!

The Bridge between offline and online – You might have noticed Chipotle’s first foray into TV advertising. The two-minute animated spot features Willie Nelson singing a country version of Coldplay’s “The Scientist” to raise awareness about the benefits of sustainable farming. The short film was first leaked online in late August as part of the restaurant’s “Chipotle Cultivate Foundation” which has donated more than $2 Million to this cause. Taking the message of “conscientious eating”  offline, Chipotle launched a festival called “Cultivate” in Chicago last fall – bringing together food, farmers, chefs, thought leaders and musicians, according to its website. Ad Age reports 17,000 attended the educational event. Another festival is coming soon to Denver on October 6, in addition to a “Cultivate” slated for September 15 in Chicago.   

You can grow a community online, but gathering the group away from a computer or TV screen gives the brand a better shot at nurturing its audience. I love the idea of chefs, farmers and music fans toe tapping while waxing poetic about responsibly grown ingredients from local land. This feels like the recipe for a lasting, trusting and more meaningful connection.

While the changing digital landscape remains publicly magnificent – we can still facilitate impactful real-life strategies such as high-fives and handshakes between audiences who desire something more tangible.