Living in the ‘phygital’ world

Language is an ever-evolving thing, they say – but has evolution gone too far? Ian McMurray looks at the latest buzzword on the street.

There are words that I hate. A current one is ‘curated’. Every bloody thing is ‘curated’ – at least over here in the UK. Upmarket butchers no longer sell meat – they’ve curated a selection of (probably hand-reared, organic, gluten-free, cruelty-free) meats. And, where those meats are encased in pastry to make pork pies (food of the gods…), that’s probably artisanal pastry. Or at least home-baked and handcrafted. Everyone else seems to be in the curation business too.

Then there’s ‘passionate’. I give a very wide berth to any company that claims it’s passionate about customer service, passionate about weedkiller, passionate about – well, being passionate. Or ‘solutions’. What happened to good, old-fashioned builders? Why are they now a ‘building solutions company’? Why are there no longer companies with fleets of trucks: have they all been replaced by ‘logistics solutions providers’?

Another, almost certainly more innocent one, is ‘very’. The next time the continuity announcer on the TV says “and now for the very latest news” or some public relations lamebrain says in a press release that “this new product is the very latest…” – well, I swear I’ll start throwing things. Yes, I know: completely irrational.

Abomination

There are, of course, plenty of others. I collect new words I hate on an almost daily basis. It’s probably an age thing… And now, I have a new one. Phygital. My (admittedly limited to the first few pages of Google) research indicates that this abomination of a word first entered the general lexicon some time in 2016. Anecdotally, however, the word is said to have been invented by one Amanda Willis, managing director of the UK’s Virgin Holidays, in 2013. She allegedly had the idea that it would be ideal for prospective customers to be able to see themselves virtually on the beach of their choice – while still in-branch.

Here’s something you might not know. ‘Phygital’ is a classic example of a portmanteau word – one that combines the sound and meaning of two words. ‘Motel’ is, for example, as you certainly know, a contraction of ‘motor’ and ‘hotel’. Then we have ‘motorcade’ and, one of my favourites – ‘mansplaining’. In our industry, we have codec and modem. So far, so acceptable. But in the world of dogs, they seem to have embraced the idea somewhat wholeheartedly. Pekapoo? Labradoodle? Showbiz isn’t much better. Brangelina? And the word of the past three years here in the UK – Brexit. There’s one I don’t care if I never hear again. Ever.

If ‘phygital’ has any redeeming characteristic at all, it’s only that it’s abundantly clear what it means: the cross-over or coming together of the physical and digital worlds.

Marriage

In our world – the AV world – phygital has, for the most part, come to be the word that describes the marriage of the online and offline environments. Nowhere is it more talked about than in the retail space, where the goal has long been a seamless ‘customer journey’ (oh, good grief…) via an ‘omnichannel’ (gulp…) strategy in which what happens on the web mirrors, amplifies and enhances what happens in store – and vice versa. In a retailer’s ideal world, so the thinking goes,  customers can – and want to – transition easily from their screens to the shopping mall and back again.

It’s also become the term applied to those apps – very like the Virgin idea – which allow you to ‘see’ products in your home before you buy them. The IKEA Place app, for example, allows you to see the world’s finest flat-pack furniture in situ in your lounge. Bang & Olufsen has its similar BeoHome Design app. (Is phygital a big deal in the Nordic countries?)

And speaking of apps… A classic example of phygital is, of course, augmented reality (of which Pokémon GO is perhaps the best known example, being a quest for digital creatures in the physical world).

Perhaps the apotheosis of phygital can be found in Amazon’s Go stores. A physical store – but an almost exclusively online experience in which there are none of the classic attributes of bricks and mortar retail, like cashiers and checkouts.

It’s not just about retail, of course. Educationalists are talking about phygital too. Even our friends at a very well known projector manufacturer are publishing articles entitled The classroom of the future: a new phygital space. (The improved punctuation is all mine…) In among the words designed to position the company as a player in the phygital space – which, I guess, is becoming something of a business imperative – there are nuggets such as this:

“However, the risk is still that of focusing on a choice between physical and digital solutions, when we really have to accept the fact that we will always be moving between these two dimensions and increasingly never leaving either realm.”

Food for thought. On the other hand:

“In the school of the future, walls will no longer have a ‘separation role’ but, on the contrary, will become the protagonists of the interaction between students and
educational contents and material – with a digital structure, of course.” Hmmm… They may be stretching it a little there.

Roubles

And while we’re talking about education: there’s now even a Phygital Park, God help us all – a (Moscow-based) franchise operation that offers theme parks for children. (See www.phygital.io if you’re interested in making lots of roubles.)

If there is any good to come from this new word, it’s perhaps this: physical is still important. You can have the best digital strategy, the best digital presence – but if it’s not matched by an equally stellar physical experience, it won’t work. For today at least, the physical reality is at least as important as the digital one. A store can have the best website on earth – but if you get there, and it doesn’t live up to the digital presence, the discrepancy will certainly be damaging. Perhaps more so by comparison.

What to conclude? Phygital is nothing new. It’s a sexy (supposedly) new marketing word to describe an already well-established phenomenon – little more than shorthand for “the confluence of offline and online to bring about enhanced experiences”. It sometimes seems as if it’s one of those words that’s enabled consultancies to create new business opportunities… (You can just imagine some CEO somewhere quizzing his beleaguered marketing director: “So – what’s our phygital strategy?”) And, in many cases, it seems as if ‘phygital’ is little more than the enhanced or augmented reality with which we’re already wholly familiar – but giving it a new name makes it sound new and exciting. As ever with these things, there’s something of a whiff of The Emperor’s New Clothes about it…

In summary: I hope you’ve enjoyed this article that I have passionately curated for you, bringing you the very latest trends and hopefully providing food for thought for your AV integration solutions business. You’re welcome.

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