4 reasons to boost your marketing strategy with augmented reality

Katie Ashford, General Manager - Marketing and Communications, Ovato

Augmented reality (AR) is well and truly on the rise. The term was coined back in 1990, when a scientist at Boeing came up with the idea of a display for assembly workers that showed them where wires should go. Yet it was only recently that the tech became part of the mainstream, after Snapchat and Pokémon Go sparked an explosion of AR apps and activations.

Now, it’s quickly becoming a critical device in every marketer’s toolbelt, allowing you to craft smart, creative and shared experiences for their customers.

Here are four reasons it should be part of your strategy.

1. Elevate the user experience

With AR, you can move beyond simple, static marketing material, such as a billboard or catalogue, to create a more interactive experience. This type of experiential marketing is becoming more important as research shows consumers are increasingly looking for enjoyable experiences rather than focusing purely on price and product. Google reports that 89 per cent of people will recommend a brand after a positive experience on mobile, so a fun or unique AR experience is likely to generate significant word-of-mouth.

For example, Big W recently collaborated with Snapchat to animate its toy catalogue, using interactive AR. When shoppers scan a code on the catalogue cover, a Barbie doll leaps and spins about on the page. GM of Snapchat Australia, Kathryn Carter, said the partnership is reflective of the advancements in AR, which now allow businesses to generate sales and drive traffic straight to a microsite or app.

2. Make interactions (and transactions) easier

The defining factor of a great customer experience is its simplicity. No one wants to jump through multiple hoops to make a purchase or get the information they need. AR technology lets you create easy experiences that allow customers to go through a series of steps in a single place. You can use it to send customers straight to a webpage for more information or give them a unique experience that improves the purchase process – particularly as most devices are now ‘AR-ready’, enabled with either ARCore or ARKit, depending on the device.

Many brands have embraced AR for ‘try before you buy’ scenarios, allowing customers to check out how a product will appear before purchasing – all within the one app or web interface. Sephora’s ‘Virtual Artist’ feature scans a user’s face and lets them try on different makeup looks or participate in virtual tutorials, before buying their preferred products straight from the app. Similarly, online furniture retailer Wayfair uses AR to let customers view a piece of furniture in their homes at full scale to see if it will fit a space.

You don’t need to create a standalone app to do something similar. The same concept could be applied to print and web – such as scanning a product code in a catalogue, which triggers a web-based AR experience that lets you see what the product looks like in your living room. Web-based AR also makes things more frictionless for the audience, as they don’t have to download yet another app or have special functionality on their device.

3. Create buzz and grow your audience

By creating a unique experience for each user, AR activations are inherently shareable, both online and offline. Mobile-based AR like Snapchat and Instagram filters, or the Big W example, make it easy for people to screengrab and then share with their social media networks, extending your brand far and wide.

Similarly, outdoor or event activations encourage a communal experience. You can leverage your physical marketing material or spaces to get more value out of them, transforming a passive audience into engaged prospects.

Pepsi’s bus shelter AR activation from a few years ago is a perfect example. Through a virtual window in the bus shelter, commuters were shown a replica of the street outside, overlayed with a series of outlandish and unexpected scenes – from a tiger let loose on the streets to UFOs beaming up those walking past. It not only generated conversation from those gathered around, but enticed people to film on their mobile phones and share online, ultimately creating a huge amount of buzz and media coverage of the brand.

Augmented Reality

4. Get ahead of the competition

AR uptake is on the rise, and brands that get on board now will have a competitive advantage. In the US alone, eMarketer predicts there will be 85 million users experiencing AR content at least once a month by 2021, and it’s expected to account for $2.6 billion in ad spend by the following year. While apps like Pokémon Go thrust AR into the spotlight, the tech is now ingrained in all sorts of digital and mobile experiences and will quickly become an expectation for a new generation of consumers.

For example, Google announced AR Search earlier this year, which allows users to search for an item and then place it in a real-world scene. As Aparna Chennapragada, VP Google Lens and AR, says: “it’s one thing to read that a great white shark can be 18 feet long. It’s another to see it up close in relation to the things around you.” The tech giant is also working with partners like New Balance and Samsung to develop 3D models of products so consumers can see them in their surroundings.

Brands that find ways to get involved with AR, whether it’s via a third-party or by creating a standalone microsite or online experience, will see significant consumer engagement.

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AR has thousands of applications for brands across all industries, from gamification and education to simply bringing products to life by placing them in real-world environments. As marketers invest more heavily in technology and customer experience, it will quickly become a standard tactic for engaging consumers. Don’t miss the boat on AR – adopting it now will show your audience that you value their experience and offer something unique.