What is Phygital?

As technologies develop and the world increases its quest for more interactive and immersive experiences, new marketing strategies have arisen. These strategies aim at creating the possibility for more than one field to disrupt its way of connecting with the public and solve some of the inefficiencies of obsolete methods.

The new development here presented is that of Phygital, a new marketing strategy which creates the possibility for people to access a physical space and at the same time take advantage of the benefits of the digital experience. Even though this strategy has been explored mostly in the retail business, some experiments on the application of phygital on cultural heritage sites have been run. 

Introduction to ‘Phygital’

The term Phygital is a neologism which has been used for the first time by an Australian Marketing Agency in 2013. The late adoption of the term explains the multiplicity of meanings that have been given in the following years and which have brought to some misunderstandings. The easiest way to define it is that of a merging between the physical and the digital world. However, as the retail companies that have adopted this technique have underlined, the ‘real’ application of a phygital structure is that of enhancing the engagement of the consumers thanks to the introduction of digital technologies inside traditional physical spaces

Through the use of phygital the virtual dimension becomes increasingly involved in the purchasing process, from the pre-engagement with the old standing web marketing, to the integration of digital technologies in physical stores. This practice has shown to be extremely important for the businesses of the future, people have started to become accustomed to the comforts of digitalization, according to Retail Dive’s 2017 Consumer Survey, 65% of consumers perform online research before deciding to enter into a shop and continue their research also inside, preferring the e-commerce information help than that of a sales assistant. 

Amazon Go and the ‘Just Walk Out’ technology

One of the first businesses to mix the opportunities offered by both the physical and the digital realm has been Amazon. The e-commerce giant has created the first physical stores unequipped of sales assistants: Amazon Go. The store uses what is called the ‘’Just Walk Out’’ approach. The physical spaces are equipped with cameras to scan customers logging the items they pick up and bag. When leaving the store with their shopping, the buyers receive a receipt via app, no checkout queues necessary. 

More fields for exploration

The collision of the two worlds has not only increased the possibility for retail stores to better satisfy the needs of consumers in terms of responsiveness and comfort. The use of AI, VR and mixed realities created an even greater help for those products and services of which it is impossible to know the value before consuming them: experience goods.

The quality  of information that a phygital experience can produce is much more meaningful than that of a simple website. For example, the mix of physical and digital gives the possibility to tourism agencies to let customers ‘experience’ the place they’re willing to travel to through the use of VR immersion technologies. These technologies make it easier for potential  consumers to imagine themselves at the location, decreasing  the  overall level of uncertainty felt towards travelling. 

Phygital and Cultural Institutions

Moving to a completely different field, phygital marketing can be applied also to businesses which are not interested in maximising sales, but in a higher level of attendance and participation: Cultural Institution. Shifting the focus from retail to cultural products, the application of phygital into this field can be easily understood. 

In Italy, where the digitization and further digitalization of culture is still behind with respect to other western countries, the use of phygital started to be experimented during EXPO 2015. The partnership of Samsung, Imecon with the now biggest player in the creation of phygital projects in Italy, FabbricaDigitale, gave birth to a series of digital devices which created the opportunity for the fair visitors to interact with the organization, creating an experience beyond the physical visit. The technology used is that of Xuniplay, the brand of Fabbricadigitale dedicated to digital media. Expo 2015 has been just the first successful project. In the following years other entities worked together with XuniPlay technologies to enhance visitors’ experience all over Italy. 

BeGo the app of Benozzo Gozzoli Museum 

Benozzo Gozzoli is a museum nearby Florence which thanks to the cooperation between CR Florence, the Italian Union of Blind people, and Fabbricadigitale created and made active a wonderful project. The partnership of these institutions made it possible to: mix the need of increasing visitors engagement, that of entertaining while educating, and to enlarge the public enabling also blind people to be part of the phygital experience. The result of the collaboration has been the release of BeGo App, a new accessible and inclusive tool that citizens and tourists can use to discover the museum and the most beautiful and important places around Castelfiorentino. The app is user friendly and has plenty of possibilities for interactions, it is not a mere archive where to look for information, it is the app itself that when the user is in the proximity of the most important places sends pop-up notifications thanks to geofence activated by XuniPlay.  In addition there are audio, video, and guides in the Italian Signs Language. The app is also social, thanks to the section dedicated to gamification and the game ‘’Caccia Ai Tesori’’, visitors can solve riddles and follow the path for an even more participative discovery of the site. 

Europe and Digitization 

The race to digitization in Europe in the past decades was slow. As the NEMO survey on digitization and intellectual property rights shows, 43.6% of European collection is digitized. However, only 20% of it is available online. The reasons behind these numbers have been for the most part reconducted to insufficient resources, not only in economic terms but also with regards to a lack of equipment and employers’ professional formation to allow a proper digitization to take place. Don’t get scared by the data, they must be springboards for industry operators and lovers to move faster in the digitalization of culture and the application of such technologies in the already existing spaces.  

Digital technologies are part of people’s everyday life. The effect of this influence has already been experimented in retail shops without cashiers, with VR travel tests, and in festivals where digital totems advise visitors on what to see first. The interest of cultural institutions on phygitalization has just started to discover the potential that a combination of the physical and digital worlds could have for a higher enjoyment and participation of the public in discovering the beauty of cultural objects. Nevertheless, cultural institutions can’t change their products, or can they? 

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