Why technological determinism has its flaws

by: on 26 November 2014

Hermione Wright from 1000heads finds digital-facing brands are wising up to the benefits of the real-world

From Amazon's physical store to Birds Eye's photo-sharing currency, more brands are realising the value of incorporating the real-world into their digital work.

"There is an increasing shift to take the consumer outside of the comfort of their touch screen, and drag them back into the real world." 

Hermione Wright, 1000heads

Technology can get pretty stressful sometimes. Digital has infiltrated most parts of our existence and it can sometimes be difficult to know where, and when, to stop.

Our smart phone is often the first thing we reach for in the morning (to turn off that chirpy alarm while we sneakily check our social notifications) and like a trusty steed, it stays by our side for most (okay, all) of the day. Even as I write it’s plonked a few centimetres away from the keyboard, ready to flash at the first whiff of intrusive junk email flooding my inbox. At the end of the day (after staring at a screen or two for most of it) we then go home to ‘join the conversation’ on our second screen, while staring at our television.

Online, the world seems at our fingertips. It’s incredible and exciting - you can learn so much, so quickly, about anything. However, I’m not the first one to say that amongst all the noise online, it can be extremely easy to get lost. Marketers know better than anyone that with so much ‘stuff’ out there online, it is essential for their messages to stand out from the crowd.

Digital is huge - it probably always will be. But there is an increasing shift to take the consumer outside of the comfort of their touch screen, and drag them back into the real world. The clever bit is when we’re able to use the power of digital and combine it with the real; that tangible place where people communicate face-to-face, rather than via the comfort of the screen.

We’ve all seen the conscious move towards the real with Moleskin’s Evernote (where you can digitalise your notes after physically writing them in your notebook). This tool allows a consumer to search through their notes, tag them accordingly, and archive them digitally. There’s something brilliant about using advances in technology to improve and aid our real life, rather than the digital and real world living alongside each other like cantankerous old neighbours that don’t get on and ultimately, refuse to meet.

Rumour has it that the king of e-commerce, Amazon, will open its first brick and mortar store in Manhattan later this year. Perhaps even Amazon is relearning that face-to-face customer service is the best customer service. It seems that amidst the ‘tweeting’, ‘hashtagging’ and ‘checking in’, consumers are wanting to reach out from behind the screen, and engage with the real.  

Amazon isn’t the only brand getting involved. Think about Dulux launching their Visualizer app, allowing their customers to use digital to visualise, through augmented reality, how paint colours would actually look on their walls.  Fashion brands such as American Apparel are also giving consumers the power to mix the real with digital. Just aim your smartphone at a product in-store and you can change the colour, to see how it would look before you purchase.

A final nod to real-world digital, Birds Eye introduced their social currency earlier this year, encouraging customers to pay for their food by taking – and sharing – a photo. The frozen food brand created an experiential pop-up in the heart of Soho, recognising that consumers should go beyond the tweet, by tasting their range. The tweet post-taste was vital, but it was the powerful mix between the real and the digital that made the campaign all the more exciting.

What is the lesson here? Technological determinism has its flaws.  Everyone knows the power of the smartphone on a consumer level, but there are drawbacks too. Online retailers are opening offline stores, and brands are relearning that face-to-face customer service is not to be underestimated. In short, it seems it’s beginning to dawn on everyone that, in a lot of scenarios, digital works best in combination with the real world.  

By Hermione Wright, Senior Community Executive, 1000heads