How do you take a virtual brand offline?

ASOS, Ocado, Facebook. All online brands, but can you give them a physical presence?

Today, I went along to the Ocado Virtual Shop Window in the shopping centre over the road from the office, and I wrote up a review on the IncrediBull blog here. However, thinking about it on the way home, can you think of an online brand that has been successful in stepping into the physical realm?

I can’t think of any. When they try (Google Street View springs to mind), there is always a flaw – from security to engagement. My hypothesis on why this is: relationships.

The Internet provides a one on one relationship for the user and the brand. Yes, we sometimes huddle round to book holidays and tickets, but more often than not, we sit alone and interact directly with a brand, be it a clothing, furniture or a technology e-tailer. Once you bring that into the ‘real’ world, you lose that direct relationship that the computer, tablet or smartphone screen facilitates.

So how can that be overcome? In my opinion, it’s important to replicate those one-on-one relationships in any bricks-and-mortar attempt at selling. How? By making the consumer feel special. There was no feeling today that the Ocado Virtual Shop was bespoke to me, much in the way my shopping basket is. Making the consumer special isn’t easy, but clever use of technology, communications and creative concepts can work together to achieve it.

Creating a meaningful and private conversation in a shop isn’t easy, and so far I can only think of a handful of success cases (Apple, Saville Row Tailors, luxury car sellers spring to mind). But if someone like Ocado or ASOS want to bring their brand to the streets, there has to be a way of making each and every user feel special like they do when they click the ‘Buy’ button.

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