Nowadays, Augmented Reality (AR) is a concept known to most. Fiction became reality and linking digital content to the real world is no longer a problem. Although the technology was more of a gimmick in its beginnings, more and more companies and brands are now recognising the marketing potential it offers. In this article, I’ll tell you why every company should be thinking about an Augmented Reality marketing strategy – because AR is able to do so much more than just entertain!
According to recent polls, 90% of companies with a revenue between 100.000 and 1 billion USD are using either AR or VR technologies. For companies with a smaller revenue this figure lies at 10%. The polls further indicated that 72% of companies overall are planning to establish AR technologies in their day to day business activities.
Augmenting reality also gives us a new level of comfort and flexibility – it can make a whole new brand impression. Thus, Augmented Reality is not only a new added marketing channel, it can also be something that sets your brand apart from the others right now. AR provides an experience and if this experience is good enough, your customers will tell their friends about it.
But be careful! Developing an AR application only because you want to appear innovative can’t and likely won’t be of much value. Using Augmented Reality as a gimmick will get you attention for a short time at most and it won’t lead your company to the kind of success you’re shooting for.
If an AR experience needs a marketing campaign in order to generate a user base, you’re doing something wrong. If your AR application *is* your marketing campaign, you’re doing it even more wrong.
Ideally, Augmented Reality is one part of a successful marketing strategy. This technology will only unfold its full potential if you also offer a brand-related interaction and authentic communication. The application should offer a new way of engaging with your brand, Augmented Reality needs substance. It must add value, tell a story and offer an immersive experience in order to generate a lasting impression. And Augmented Reality really can offer all that – provided you’re doing it right.
I’m now going to give you three examples for successful AR applications as an inspiration for your own implementation of an AR marketing strategy.
Gamification – longer interactions with your application
If something is fun, you’ll spend more time interacting with it. The longer customers interact with your brand, the faster they’ll commit it to their long-term memory making it relevant to them.
One of the first applications which brought Augmented Reality to our collective attention was Pokémon Go. Unfortunately, this application quickly decreased in popularity, because it started out with a very limited set of functions and not much was added over the crucial period of the first few weeks. Thus, the users got bored and lost their flow, resulting in a substantially decreased time investment for casual players. In order to create a good flow within an application, you should neither demand too little or too much from the users. Agreed, it is a fine line you’re treading here, but if you get it right, your target audience will thank you by spending more time using your application.
What does that mean for marketers?
In order for AR to work in a long-term context, it must offer a little bit more than just placing a virtual character or object in real surroundings. What we learned from Pokémon Go, though, was that local marketing and cute avatars are a great combination for getting people to visit certain places.
Google, for example, announced during their I/O 2018 that the navigation function in the Google Maps mobile app will soon be spiced up with visual overlays and an animated guide which will enable its users to find their way faster. The reason for this move is that Google noticed, rightly I think, that many people find it difficult to read maps or to visualize them correctly. The little blue dot currently showing you where to go in the app isn’t always very helpful and many people just start moving in any direction in order to check where the dot is moving. Augmented Reality can help solve this problem, as pictured above.
Companies can take this idea and appropriate it for their own use cases. Shopping malls, for example, could show the optimal route through the stores based on the customers’ shopping lists. At the same time, valuable data about shopping frequencies and such can be gathered, which in turn can be used to improve the experience further. Restaurants and food delivery services could offer their customers the possibility of visualizing their menu beforehand, giving them a look at the plating, portion size, info about ingredients etc. After all, it should be a feast for the eyes, too.
Historic places could create a view of the past and show how the surroundings used to look at different points in time. Examples like this one show that Augmented Reality could be a valuable extension of our reality and provide us with relevant and interesting location-based information. Retailers could create special experiences for the customers visiting their physical stores by offering, for instance, an augmented reality treasure hunt. This would have the added benefit of increasing the average time customers spend in their stores, which can be utilized to gather data and provide valuable information to the customers. As any marketer knows, the longer people spend in a shop, the more money they spend there.
The user gets a ‘feel’ for the product
IKEA is a perfect example for a company that has done a great job of integrating Augmented Reality into their marketing strategy in order to solve an actual problem for their customers. They are now able to visualize and understand how a piece of furniture is going to look in their own home – color, size, proportions, etc. – before they buy it. They can thus virtually test it before having to make the buying decision. The fact that this massively lowers the product return rate is only one of the many benefits. IKEA is not alone in this, however – there are countless other examples of companies using AR to solve actual problems.
Seeing something and experiencing it with multiple senses is much more effective than only visualizing it with your mind. Multi-sensory experiences create a strong impulse for an “I need to have this” moment and, obviously, these moments not only help us in our decision making, but make shopping for something much more personal and enjoyable.
The biggest challenge in this case is letting the customers know that these possibilities exist. But there are many ways of doing that and its mainly a question of creativity for the marketers generating attention for such experiences. Integrating this technology into existing apps, however, is not a big obstacle at all.
The virtual “try before you buy” principle combines the features of online and offline shopping and offers the best of both worlds. You can experience products in the context of their destined surroundings and use without the need for it to be physically available to you. Thus, you can experience and test things before finally owning them.
In other marketing channels, there is often a big gap between the selection and buying process and the actual product. Moreover, most channels only offer general and limited product information. Augmented Reality is a big step towards personalizing the shopping experience – what’s marketed here is the individual customer’s unique product experience.
A new level of storytelling
Up until now, storytelling used to be very abstract. Objects were presented on a flat screen and were put through various motions and situations meant to tell a story and elicit emotions. While this way did an OK job, Augmented Reality now offers a powerful tool for deepening and intensifying the digital storytelling and experience.
At this point it has to be said that there’s, of course, also Virtual Reality, where the user delves into a wholly different world. This technology provides an equally powerful way of storytelling. The drawback, however, is that the user loses the reference or link to the real world during this experience. Further, it requires a stationary setup, provides little flexibility and is tied to specialized hardware. AR doesn’t have this obstacle, since it is tied to reality and can be experienced with just a smartphone or tablet.
AR as well as VR can make characters come to life, though. With VR, you are in their world, while AR makes the characters on the screen enter yours. Augmented Reality has the potential of being just as disruptive as television once was. It could establish itself as this entirely new and exciting medium. The reason for this hypothesis is that with Augmented Reality, the viewers are no longer just passive spectators, but an active part of the story being told. They can interact with the characters on the screen, be sent to a particular place or asked to do certain things in order to trigger individual actions or discover parts of the story.
This way of storytelling is extremely powerful, since the higher engagement and multi-sensory experience work to elicit more and stronger emotions, creating a longer-lasting impression.
In a nutshell:
I hope I could show you that AR is much more than just a nice gimmick for a short wow-effect. Augmented Reality not only expands reality, it also augments your marketing possibilities for creating a more personal and immersive experience for the customer.
By now, Augmented Reality has become accessible and affordable for any company. Creating an AR experience, however, definitely takes some careful planning beforehand – otherwise you might spend a lot of money for next to no results. Most companies understandably still lack the necessary know-how, but luckily there are people with extensive expertise who can help with that (such as CodeFlügel, for example ;)). Companies who are already starting to implement AR in their marketing strategy can still gain an important competitive advantage, gain valuable experience and know-how in using this technology.
The fact of the matter is this: AR is here to stay and things are going to change. If you don’t recognize its potential now, don’t complain later that you’ve missed your chance 😉