Many of us are probably already using augmented reality (AR) on a regular basis, perhaps without realizing it. Apps like Snapchat that let you apply masks that appear to stick to your face as you move your head around are using AR technology to entertain you. And let’s not forget the genesis of Face Swap Live, which birthed a frenzy of hilarious/terrifying videos and memes.
But AR is more than a fad in the world of digital marketing, and some companies are realizing that they can use the technology to boost business in ways that are undoubtedly super fun, but also lucrative.
What’s the Difference Between Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality?
Augmented reality and virtual reality may sound similar, but they’re actually quite different. Whereas virtual reality is a fully simulated environment, augmented reality superimposes a computer-generated layer to your existing environment. Because VR requires a greater amount of expensive hardware and more complex immersive software, it’s still a little early for mass adoption in the marketing world. Not many customers have the gear to be able to experience VR, and custom virtual worlds are an expensive route for any brand. This makes AR a much more feasible first step for brands and businesses looking to explore the marketing applications of these new digital realms.
Companies Winning the AR Game
IKEA jumped on AR early with considerable success. Users could download an app on their devices, and together with the print catalog they could view IKEA’s furniture in 3-D in their own homes. Customers just needed to place the catalog on the floor or wherever they wanted to test out a new piece of furniture, and the app would use the device’s camera to locate the catalog and generate a 3-D rendering of the desired piece of furniture overlaid on the real-time feed from the camera. This gave customers a better idea of what that couch would actually look like in the living room, or whether that colorful table would work with the design of the kitchen. In addition to being a lot of fun to play with, IKEA’s AR app brought their customers closer to a purchase decision from their own homes.
KabaQ is a tech company creating AR solutions for restaurant menus. Wouldn’t it be great to see a dish before ordering? The app lets you do just that: providing diners with a full 360-degree view of the dish, the portion size, and even a list of the ingredients. Restaurants can also use the app to upsell by showing visuals of dishes paired with side orders and drinks. The smartest thing about KabaQ is the versatility of the technology. It can be used in restaurants while perusing a menu, at home while making dinner reservations or ordering delivery, and even as value-added content in cookbooks or on store product packaging that lets buyers see examples of the type of food they can make with a particular set of recipes or an appliance.
LEGO, Converse, and Uniqlo are getting it right too by understanding how AR can be used to enhance the customer experience and expedite purchasing decisions.
How to Be Smart—Not Gimmicky—with AR in Digital Marketing
Smart uses of augmented reality need to provide added value for your customer, not just an entertaining distraction.
- * Ask what your customers’ pain points are. First, ask yourself what your customers’ main pain points are right now and think about how AR could help alleviate or solve some of them. For instance, does a customer need to travel all the way to your store to make a purchase decision? Can AR help them make that decision from home? This will help you narrow down what kind of AR application to invest in and where it will live—whether it’s an in-store experience or an app that can be downloaded and used at home. Brands should always be looking at how new technologies like AR will fit into their sales and marketing funnel. If there’s no clear business benefit, don’t jump on the AR bandwagon just because it’s trendy.
- * Communicate the value proposition. Your customer needs to understand right away how your AR experience adds value for them. What are they getting that they didn’t get before, and how does the experience create a more beneficial connection to your brand? Customers aren’t very patient when it comes to technology. If they don’t see immediately how this new application provides value, it could easily crash and burn. You don’t want to become the butt of a social media joke.
- * Keep it simple. One of the most important things is to keep it simple, at least at the beginning. If customers encounter slowness or something not working, they will move on immediately. Don’t get in over your head with the technology. Start small and you can grow your offering from there. The most important part is that your experience is thoroughly tested in a number of different scenarios and you’re delivering something that’s smooth and impressive from the get-go.
A research study on the efficacy of augmented reality found that consumers preferred an augmented reality ad to a traditional print ad for its informativeness, novelty, and effectiveness. Though we may see the novelty factor wear off when AR becomes more mainstream, these early findings suggest that there is value in the use of AR technology in marketing that goes beyond the entertainment factor.