Digitize The Physical To Win At Business

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Should we even call anything “digital” anymore?

Senior marketing professionals love writing op-ed pieces calling for the death of using the word “digital” in front of anything. “Let’s not call it Digital Marketing anymore.” The sentiment is a pragmatic one: “everything is digital!” The sentiment is a romantic one: “we’re not doing it, but if we kill that saying, we can claim that we do it all.” It’s a smart play. Brands do believe that a strong marketing agency should have strong digital marketing chops. As much as specialized shops continue to grow and be acquired, clients would much prefer one centralized agency (full-service much?). And, the battle rages on between specialized shops and full-service agencies. It’s clear where my heart lies: I believe in digital. I believe that full-service is a hard promise to deliver on. The battle rages on.

But what about brands? How should brands think about their physical products and services as digital channels persist?

For years (and this ideology was a cornerstone of the thinking in my second business book, CTRL ALT Delete, from 2013), I have been saying that one of the biggest missed opportunity for brands today is the shift away from an advertising-driven marketing mindset to a digital product/service-driven marketing mindset. Instead of advertising to consumers, create digital products, services, applications and tools that can add value to your consumer’s experiences. An app that is so valuable that a consumer would download it, use it (with frequency), have it on their smartphone homescreen and tell others about it. It’s a tall order. It’s not obvious. It’s an opportunity. This thinking can be extended. Let’s say that you’re a retail brand. Why just sell physical goods online? Why not create digital assets that you can sell as well? Why would a major department store not sell digital goods and digital subscription services online as well?

Every move Amazon makes.

There is no doubt that Amazon does a lot of this right. They are digital, but will launch physical stores. They are digital, but will launch a POS system to bridge that and remove friction at the retail level. With that, have you seen their Dash buttons? When launched, everyone thought it was some kind of April Fool’s joke. Amazon Dash Buttons are physical buttons (hardware) that consumers can place all over their home/office. Dash buttons allow customers to reorder an individual product that they are running out of (Laundry detergent woes? Place a Tide button next to your machine. No more condoms? Place a Trojan button in the top drawer of your night-table. Need more snacks? Place a Slim Jim button in the kitchen pantry). Since launching in 2015, over 200 brands are available, and consumer are using it.

Digitize the physical. 

While it may seem obvious, Amazon is now testing a digital version of the Dash button. The buttons are customizable. They can be re-arranged. They can appear in both the Web and mobile versions of Amazon. They can be created automatically by Amazon, based on what the consumer orders on a more frequent basis, and added to the customization view. These virtual Dash buttons could be created for millions of products on the fly. Dash buttons could even be created as an option during the check-out phase. Think about a dedicated Amazon Dash button dashboard – as a homescreen default. In theory, these could prove to be so successful that it might force them to stop developing the physical Dash button program. Amazon is thinking – deeply – about how to digitize physical products and services to increase their business, loyalty and service to their customers.  

What this does?

  • They make it easier to buy from Amazon. 
  • They make it easier for repurchases. 
  • They remove all friction. 
  • They remove the need for shopping lists or stressing over the day-to-day items to run our households and offices. 
  • They encourage impulse buys. 
  • They make it work through customization and merging both consumer behavior with their own knowledge of purchases. 
  • They will use this to encourage more usage of their Subscribe & Save model. 
  • They grab a consumer’s attention. 
  • They are an engine of branding for the brands that are taking part (they look like little action-oriented banner ads). 

It’s not just for Amazon. It’s for your brand too. Digitize your physical goods to win more at marketing.