There is a clear trend of B2C brands that once existed only online opening physical locations: Everlane, Glossier, Bonobos, and of course Amazon are just a few examples.

Being online-first allowed those brands to tap into the convenience that digital offers, gradually building a strong audience of loyal customers. Now, the same brands are revitalizing brick-and-mortar retail.

It seems we have gone from physical experiences to digital, and now the pendulum is swinging back to physical. Why is this happening?

Digital transformation is all about moving from the physical world into the digital world. It's about re-establishing processes and modernizing legacy systems to enable engagement with customers in an entirely new way. However, last time I checked, we still live in the physical world, where experiences can connect with all five senses. Yet, many brands have gone all in on digital, overcrowding customers and relying on two senses: sight and sound. Some 44% of companies have already moved to a digital-first approach for the customer experience, according to IDG.

Thinking of a customer experience in digital-only terms is limiting. I would argue that for brands to stand out and truly capture (and keep) customer attention, they must incorporate physical elements and appeal to all of a customer's senses.

Like those digital-native brands that are opening storefronts, it's about striking a balance.

An Unexpected Mailer Breaks Through the Noise

I recently experienced another example of this digital-to-physical trend some months back from a B2B brand. I received a mailer from a brand that I had previously engaged with on digital channels. I opened it, expecting some branded tchotchke, and perhaps a Starbucks gift card.

I was wrong. The box inside opened to reveal a TV screen with a looping video talking about how the solution was going to revolutionize my experience. It was further connected with a high-end chocolate taste experience, with detailed instructions on how to enjoy it. What's more? It included tickets to attend an upcoming event the brand was holding.

Wow, I was immediately sold on the brand and what it had to offer. It had found a unique way to break through the noise and reach me as an individual.

Three Tactics to Help Brands Stand Out in a Digital World

So, how can brands—B2B or B2C—take cues from the retail pop-up shops or tech companies sending engaging mailers? Here's how to break through the digital noise.

1. Physical Touchpoints

Undoubtedly, physical touchpoints are one of the best ways to differentiate yourself from other brands, enabling you to appeal to all five senses. In-store experiences that activate customers' senses lead them to have stronger emotional connections to a brand and its product or service.

Direct mail may be considered antiquated, but now that most brands are focused on optimizing consumer engagement digitally, it's the physical, real-world experiences that will keep a brand at the forefront of a consumer's mind.

2. Incentivize Action

Including event tickets within the mailer I received served as an incentive for me to continue the conversation and form a deeper connection with the brand. Other brands should learn from that: If you can provide incentive to customers (through special offers or promotions) to break the fourth wall, so to speak, and visit you in a physical location, you will instantly form a stronger relationship than you had before.

3. Keep It Interesting

Consumers look for novel and exciting ways to connect with brands. Whether it's donating a piece of revenue to a charitable cause, hosting an event, or employing user-generated content in marketing strategies, brands must continuously find new ways to engage with their audiences.

Another part of keeping things interesting is to introduce new shopping models that serve different customer needs and inspire shoppers to keep coming back. For example, retailers could test out "immersive experiential centers" that engage with customers beyond simply selling them products. Immersive experiences are highly curated and allow retailers to give consumers a deeper look into their brand and culture, showcasing what makes them unique.

Similarly, retailers could open a "brand store" that focuses solely on promoting the brand itself. The purpose of the store would be to communicate the brand's values and social and community involvement, and convey customer stories in a way that invites the consumer to come "inside" the brand and from a stronger relationship. Though both store examples might not result in sales in the moment, they'll go a long way toward fulfilling customer needs and developing brand advocates over time.

Finding Your Balance

Many businesses are still on their digital transformation journeys, but consider this article a reminder not to oversteer. Smart marketers know they need to have the right mix of digital and physical touchpoints.

The key lies in having a cohesive strategy, thinking of the total experience, and translating that into a consistent approach for your brand—meeting customers on the channels they prefer in new and surprising ways.

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From Physical to Digital and Back Again: Three Ways for Brands (B2C or B2B) to Stand Out

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image of Jason Rose

Jason Rose is CMO of SAP Customer Experience, where he is responsible for all aspects of marketing strategy and execution.

LinkedIn: Jason Rose

Twitter: @rosejason