The marketing industry has seen its share of transformations, from mass marketing to marketing automation, from billboards, telemarketing, to social media marketing. These changes have also influenced businesses and their engagement with customers.
With the lines blurring between online and offline marketing, augmented reality (AR) has seen greater traction in filling the gap and creating a more interactive brand engagement with customers. According to Global Market Insights, the AR market was worth US$1 billion in 2016 and is expected to exceed US$50 billion by 2024. This exponential growth in AR is expected to continue as we see more virtual elements in product-testing, live events, and out-of-home (OOH) advertising, etc.
Furthermore, AR enables consumers to craft their own unique experience, with greater creativity and freedom in how they interact with brands. For example, Sephora’s virtual artist app with Modiface allows customers to visualise how they will look with Sephora’s line of makeup products. Customers can virtually try on makeup without having to make a trip down to the store, appealing to Sephora’s more tech-savvy customers.
Similarly, Home Depot launched its Project Color app in 2015, allowing users to visualise how the range of paint colours and furniture would look in their homes, helping them make more accurate home decisions.
More significantly, the augmented reality arena is no longer just for B2C marketers. Many in the B2B landscape have come to realise that it is no longer feasible to rely on traditional marketing strategies and have begun to dip their toes into the AR technology available. For example, companies like Microsoft, Adobe, and Cisco have incorporated the use of AR into innovating sales presentations, product demos, and brand introductions.
While AR has undoubtedly made its mark in the marketing industry, there are still uncertainties and misconceptions which has hindered its growth as an effective marketing tool.
1. AR is a fad
In our digital world, it is common for brands, products, and even people to have fleeting moments of fame before quickly falling back into a state of insignificance. Likewise, AR has fallen prey to such faddy behaviour.
The launch of Pokémon Go in 2016 saw millions of users seeking out virtual creatures everywhere and anywhere. However, the fall came as quickly as the rise, and within months, the pokemon craze was over.
Yet, in recent years, we are moving beyond the ‘toy stage’ and entering the ‘tool phase’. AR is no longer used just to enhance the brand experience for customers. Today, AR can play a bigger role in our lives through solving real-world problems, and it is this revolution that is finally getting AR the recognition it deserves.
2. AR is difficult and expensive
In the past, special headsets and programs were required to use AR, and, admittedly, such hardware is not only expensive but also bulky and cumbersome to use. Those days are long gone.
Today, an AR experience is only a click away. Imagine pointing your phone at a painting in an art gallery, and up pops detailed information about the painting. While such an idea might have seemed far-fetched in the past, such technology is becoming commonplace now as AR allows people to add digital assets to their physical environment. By simply tapping on a button or holding up your phone, AR creates a seamless and frictionless experience for its users.
In addition, while applications of AR are usually on the costly side, with prices ranging from $5,000 to $300,000 depending on the number of variables, AR applications like short-form AR ad creative that runs in networks like Snapchat, Facebook, and Google, can be created at extremely low cost and in very tight time frames. For example, Volvo used augmented reality advertising on Facebook to bring the car shopping experience to its customers during the pandemic. Customers were no longer passive consumers of advertising as the AR ad embraced user engagement with 360 walkarounds and featured deep dives.
3. AR is only a consumer tool
While AR started off largely as a consumer tool where applications largely centred around gaming and entertainment, AR has shifted to become an extremely powerful tool that companies can leverage for marketing and branding purposes. For instance, AR takes branding materials like business cards and brochures to the next level by adding a virtual component. By simply scanning a business card with a mobile device, consumers can access more information and ways to get in contact with the brand.
Because a well-designed AR experience is what gets people talking, brands also utilise AR to elevate the brand, not just to drive sales. One prime example is Pepsi’s bus stop AR campaign. An AR virtual window along the bus station’s wall entertained commuters with an augmented view of the streetscape livened up with flying space saucers, man-eating monsters, and laser-shooting robots. Although this campaign was not directly marketing Pepsi’s products, by simply turning an everyday task of waiting for a bus into an interactive experience, Pepsi was no doubt able to generate discussion and strengthen its brand image.
With all that said, AR is quickly becoming the next big thing in omnichannel marketing and companies need to start thinking about an AR strategy to differentiate themselves, support online or offline marketing efforts or strengthen brand visibility with more interactive customer touchpoints. Understandably, breaking into the AR world can seem daunting for start-ups and smaller companies, especially when giant companies dominate the AR scene. Hence, here are three simple ways to get started with marketing or brand building with AR.
1. Can you visualise it?
“If you can dream it, you can build it”, as the saying goes. The first and most important step is the visualisation stage. This means understanding the concept, figuring what how your brand can leverage this medium and what you can bring to the table for your consumers. Every company is unique, and there is no cookie-cutter formula for how a company can incorporate AR into their marketing. With AR, the sky’s the limit and the same concept can be scaled according to varying budgets. Ultimately, how successful a company is in their AR campaign boils down to creativity.
2. Pursue up-skilling in AR
While augmented reality may not as easy and intuitive as basic graphic design software, there are options that businesses could leverage to make the learning process easier.
There are various training websites and videos that are highly informative for beginners to learn about various AR software, many of them free. Some helpful websites include Coursera, Udemy, Hackermoon, and others. Self-learning is particularly helpful for businesses that might not be 100% committed to investing in AR or to learn at their own pace at their own pace.
Another option is to go for AR training which is helpful for businesses that have already explored the self-learning stage and are looking to take the idea of investing in AR to the next level. Some of these AR training providers include ScienceSoft, iTechArt, and Niantic, which offer a range of training modules.
3. Scale up AR experimentation
With possible AR concepts in mind, the trial-and-error phase is important to test out the options to make an informed decision on AR investment, weighing the cost-benefit and features. Baby steps like AR-enhanced business cards are an easy way to start. Review existing marketing collaterals and turn some elements to show-and-tell through AR. For the next marketing campaign, especially for digital out-of-home (DOOH), explore how elements of AR can be incorporated to test, experiment, and repeat.
Although many brands have been deploying AR in marketing, there’s immense potential to create more incidental and surprising AR experiences. While it is a matter of time before we see more pervasive AR activation, brands should recognise that now is the best chance to differentiate themselves and make their mark in the AR landscape.