How Brands Are Turning Analog Customer Experiences Into Digital Moments

Restau­rants, retail­ers and car deal­er­ships are the last fron­tier in ana­log expe­ri­ences – but that’s about to change.

Lisa Lacy By Lisa Lacy. Join the discussion » 0 comments

Even as we move clos­er to a future with smart roads, cities, and theme parks, there are some cus­tomer expe­ri­ences – like dri­ve-throughs, in-store retail and buy­ing a car – that remain pre­dom­i­nant­ly ana­log. Sev­er­al brands – includ­ing McDon­ald’s, Ford, and Adobe – recent­ly shared details on how they are dig­i­tiz­ing ana­log expe­ri­ences.

These ana­log-turned-dig­i­tal moments pro­vide a bet­ter cus­tomer expe­ri­ence by remov­ing the poten­tial for fric­tion and by per­son­al­iz­ing inter­ac­tions, and show how easy pick­ing up a cof­fee, a bike hel­met, or a lux­u­ry sedan might be in the not-so-dis­tant future.

Here’s a clos­er look at what these brands have in the works.


Generic Drive-Thru

McDonald’s is on a jour­ney of “com­plete trans­for­ma­tion,” accord­ing to Deb­o­rah Wahl, senior vice pres­i­dent and CMO of McDonald’s USA. All aspects of the brand must change, start­ing with food and the addi­tion of antibi­ot­ic-free chick­en and kale – not to men­tion all-day break­fast, which she said helped push McDonald’s to its high­est Q4 income ever.

But with 26 mil­lion dai­ly cus­tomers in the U.S. alone, dri­ving change across the orga­ni­za­tion is no easy task. Per Wahl, the brand’s core tenets are qual­i­ty, ser­vice and con­ve­nience, so McDonald’s must deliv­er on those expec­ta­tions in a con­sis­tent man­ner, while nev­er­the­less sur­pris­ing and delight­ing its con­sumers. That means focus­ing on tim­ing and bal­ance.

In dig­i­tal, there are a lot of shiny toys,” she said. “We were the first to jump into mobile pay because we saw where that went and that was good… Peo­ple look at brands and say they’re behind, but it’s what can you do first – what’s the biggest cus­tomer need? Let’s solve that and then do all the oth­er things, but at the right time and moment. That takes a lot of dis­ci­pline because there’s lots of new stuff.”

Those shiny new toys for McDonald’s include an app with more than 10 mil­lion down­loads and self-ser­vice kiosks in 1,000 loca­tions, as well as a VR exper­i­ment with Hap­py Meals in Swe­den and an inte­gra­tion with Ford­Pass in the U.S.

Ford described Ford­Pass as a plat­form that “reimag­ines the rela­tion­ship between automak­er and con­sumer.” It includes a so-called mobil­i­ty mar­ket­place – Ford­Pass Mar­ket­place – which includes vehi­cle con­trols and smart park­ing reser­va­tions, as well as “mobil­i­ty expe­ri­ence cen­ters” called Ford­Hubs, one-on-one help via FordGuides and Ford­Pass Perks, or “rewards that will make your jour­ney enjoy­able.”

The McDonald’s inte­gra­tion falls under the lat­ter. Addi­tion­al Ford­Pass Perks part­ners include 7‑Eleven. Ford says these inte­gra­tions allow the brand to “rec­og­nize mem­bers with access to mer­chan­dise and unique expe­ri­ences.”

It’s unclear how exact­ly these brands will exe­cute the afore­men­tioned access to mer­chan­dise. How­ev­er, it’s pos­si­ble this could include, say, the abil­i­ty to order food.

This isn’t wild spec­u­la­tion. If it doesn’t come from McDonald’s and/or Ford, it may very well be made real­i­ty from brands like Tes­la and/or Dunkin’ Donuts, which had a proof-of-con­cept demon­stra­tion at Adobe Sum­mit.

In fact, David Nueschel­er, an Adobe fel­low and the vice pres­i­dent of enter­prise tech­nol­o­gy, said, “There’s no such thing as an ana­log expe­ri­ence any­more. Even the poster has been dig­i­tized.”

Like McDonald’s self-serve kiosks, Nueschel­er demon­strat­ed an intel­li­gent Dunkin’ Donuts kiosk that taps into Adobe’s Mar­ket­ing Cloud to allow cus­tomers to con­fig­ure their cof­fees and teas pre­cise­ly how they want them. In the­o­ry, the kiosk could rec­og­nize con­sumers by their mobile devices and fea­ture per­son­al­ized con­tent when those con­sumers enter a Dunkin’ Donuts loca­tion, and even allow these cus­tomers to eas­i­ly order their favorite drinks sim­ply by tap­ping their phones on the kiosk.

It’s the mag­ic you need to make your­self homoge­nous,” Nueschel­er said.

That mag­ic extends to the dri­ve-through.

Call­ing a car the “ulti­mate mobile device” and “the old­est mem­ber of the Inter­net of Things,” Nueschel­er said, “The dri­ve-through hasn’t evolved since the ’50s. We want to change that.”

That means a bold new future in which cus­tomers can place dri­ve-through orders via touch­screens in their cars, which, again, like the McDonald’s self-ser­vice kiosks above, con­firm order details to avoid mis­takes and enable easy mobile pay­ments.


Generic Shopping Bag While online shop­ping cer­tain­ly has many ben­e­fits attrac­tive to con­sumers, there may soon be ways for retail­ers to dig­i­tize their in-store expe­ri­ences beyond bea­cons and push noti­fi­ca­tions.

For his part, Marc Eaman, Adobe’s direc­tor of Mar­ket­ing Cloud tech­ni­cal mar­ket­ing, illus­trat­ed the exam­ple of how tech­nol­o­gy can trans­form the hereto­fore ana­log process of buy­ing a bike hel­met from a phys­i­cal store.

In anoth­er proof-of-con­cept demon­stra­tion, he used Google to search for “bike hel­met” on his phone and saw an ad from out­door retail­er REI, which took him to REI’s mobile site, which invit­ed him to install the REI app. From there, Eaman was able to access REI’s hel­met selec­tion and was then asked to log in to the app to pur­chase the hel­met he want­ed.

How­ev­er, when log­ging in, he received a push noti­fi­ca­tion that there was an REI loca­tion near­by and the app asked if he want­ed to open Maps for direc­tions. When he arrived at the store, he received not only a wel­come mes­sage from REI, but also an invi­ta­tion to try out the brand’s Smart Bag expe­ri­ence that com­bines bea­cons, Blue­tooth, and RFID tech­nol­o­gy to pro­vide a bet­ter shop­ping expe­ri­ence.

The REI app can be con­nect­ed to the Smart Bag sim­ply by tap­ping it and, from there, Eaman placed the hel­met in the bag and, once he left the store, the Smart Bag under­stood he had left the premis­es and charged his account for the item with­in.

This is re-envi­sion­ing the shop­per journey…for an immer­sive retail expe­ri­ence,” Eaman said. “And it’s an expe­ri­ence that has delight­ed me in the dig­i­tal and phys­i­cal world.”

Car Dealerships

Generic Car Dealership

Anoth­er tra­di­tion­al­ly ana­log expe­ri­ence: Buy­ing a car. Because in part cus­tomers don’t go to show­rooms as fre­quent­ly as they did 10 years ago, Mer­cedes-Benz has been work­ing to evolve not only its deal­er­ships, but also its mes­sag­ing, said Natanael Sijan­ta, direc­tor of mar­ket­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tions at Mer­cedes-Benz.

In the ‘80s, it was easy. Cus­tomers came in and you sold them a car. You did not have to do much,” Sijan­ta said. “We’ve had to change the per­cep­tion of every employ­ee and the mind­set of employ­ees to a seam­less brand expe­ri­ence.”

How­ev­er, he also not­ed that even in a dig­i­tal world, there still has to be some kind of phys­i­cal han­dover of the car at some point and cars will return when they need ser­vice, so he thinks deal­er­ships will not dis­ap­pear com­plete­ly – but their per­cep­tion will change. This deal­er­ship evo­lu­tion includes rethink­ing cus­tomer touch­points.

We have to go where our cus­tomers are, like with pop-up stores or rad­i­cal­ly rethink­ing what we do in terms of spon­sor­ship or any oth­er activ­i­ty,” Sijan­ta said.

Those activ­i­ties include fash­ion shows, like its spon­sor­ship of Fash­ion Week in New York, Berlin, Aus­tralia, Istan­bul, and Mia­mi, and relat­ed con­tent, like its Obses­sion with an Icon video, which Sijan­ta said tries to approach fash­ion com­mu­ni­ca­tion in a way the com­mu­ni­ty likes, but that also includes Mer­cedes’ val­ues and insights.

The prod­uct is our ecosys­tem,” Sijan­ta said. “We have to become a con­stant ele­ment in [our] cus­tomers’ [lives]. It’s not just dri­ving to work and home or to the gym. We have to become part of our cus­tomers’ lifestyle.” Mer­cedes taps into that lifestyle through rel­e­vance,

The prod­uct is our ecosys­tem,” Sijan­ta said. “We have to become a con­stant ele­ment in [our] cus­tomers’ [lives]. It’s not just dri­ving to work and home or to the gym. We have to become part of our cus­tomers’ lifestyle.”

Mer­cedes taps into that lifestyle through rel­e­vance, emo­tion, and exclu­siv­i­ty, deliv­er­ing con­tent like behind-the-scenes livestreams from auto shows.

Peo­ple feel respect­ed because they get to see behind the scenes,” Sijan­ta said. “You have to find intel­li­gent ways to talk to cus­tomers.”

In addi­tion to mes­sag­ing, Mer­cedes has rev­o­lu­tion­ized its over­all brand expe­ri­ence with the addi­tion of fea­tures like its Mer­cedes me por­tal, which gives own­ers access to ser­vices, prod­ucts and “lifestyle offers” from Mer­cedes, its par­ent Daim­ler and their part­ners in what Sijan­ta described as “a per­son­al­ized ecosys­tem.” Along with the por­tal has come a

Along with the por­tal has come a Mer­cedes me store in Ham­burg, which the brand says “revolves around just one thing: you.”

Each month, Mer­cedes says its Mer­cedes me store will focus on “a new, inter­est­ing theme,” as well as “unique events, thrilling sto­ries and very spe­cial peo­ple” because “everything’s pos­si­ble at the Mer­cedes me store: fash­ion show, art exhi­bi­tion or music event, a lat­te mac­chi­a­to with a view over the Inner Alster Lake or an oppor­tu­ni­ty to con­fig­ure your Mer­cedes.”

Along with Mer­cedes me has come a sec­ond screen real-time rac­ing expe­ri­ence, My Race Hub.

This is only avail­able to our dri­vers with our cars,” Sijan­ta said. “It’s one-of-a-kind con­tent rel­e­vant to them, exclu­sive and emo­tion­al.”

These efforts have helped con­nect Mer­cedes to con­sumers out­side of deal­er­ships, but fur­ther change is afoot.

Young cus­tomers don’t think about own­ing a car,” Sijan­ta said. “They just want to get from A to B.”

As a result, Mer­cedes is also rethink­ing its busi­ness mod­el to adjust to the lifestyles of these future cus­tomers. And that means Mer­cedes is look­ing into short-term rentals and pay-per-use options and has acquired some star­tups as a result, Sijan­ta added.

What dig­i­tized ana­log expe­ri­ence are you most eager to see in real-life exe­cu­tions? Why?

Lisa Lacy

Written by Lisa Lacy

Lisa is a senior features writer for Inked. She also previously covered digital marketing for Incisive Media. Her background includes editorial positions at Dow Jones, the Financial Times, the Huffington Post, AOL, Amazon, Hearst, Martha Stewart Living and the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund.

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