As people increasingly expect personalization, marketers must be able to reach consumers and deliver on these expectations. This can be achieved by implementing augmented reality technology to customize preferences and on-demand services for each individual customer.
It’s no coincidence that the most familiar and widespread instance of augmented reality (AR) — the app that put AR into people’s hands all over the world — was a game: Pokemon Go. Augmented reality appeals to the playful side of people’s natures and offers an intrinsic delight that can be harnessed for marketing almost any visible object. Unlike other digital advancements, which allow our devices to perform functions faster and more intelligently, AR actually gives us a new way to perceive the real world around us. It’s real life, only with extra information added onto it — and it still feels just a bit like magic. This charm, combined with the new information that AR offers people before they make a purchase commitment, presents an extraordinary opportunity for marketers. Here’s a look at some of the new marketing horizons that AR opens up:
What Does AR Do?
AR augments — or adds information to — people’s perception of the physical world in real time. When the user looks through a device’s camera, they see the real world that the camera sees, together with a digital overlay. Pokemon Go charmed people by letting them view the world (and their friends) in real-time, interacting with animated characters that were added to the real-world camera view.
In the commercial realm, this overlay function allows potential customers to “try on” new makeup, glasses, hairstyles and so on — or to see how a particular piece of furniture they’re considering would look if it were placed into the customer’s real-world house. AR allows the customer to have a personal experience with a product before they buy, letting them establish a relationship with it remotely. Furthermore, even when AR is deployed in a brick-and-mortar shopping environment, it offers unprecedented convenience: A shopper can virtually try on many different shades of lipstick and eyeshadow, for instance, with no need to clean off physical makeup or worry about possible contamination.
Expressing Quality Through Technology
Customer experience lies at the core of AR adoption, and it’s worth remembering that AR apps can be produced at every quality level. Rather than rushing to deploy a poorly thought-out or gimmicky app, organizations should have a well-defined strategy behind their AR offerings. Successful AR implementation demands a basic investment level, and working backward from the customer journey to the underlying capabilities allows organizations to make thoughtful analyses of AR’s value added benefit.
Using AR to Meet Customer Expectations
Consumer preferences are shifting as digital technology becomes more sophisticated, and people increasingly expect personalization, customizable preferences, and on-demand services. For marketers to reach consumers and deliver on these expectations, each phase of the customer acquisition funnel must be enhanced.
Retailers have been struggling to adapt to these changing consumer preferences and compete with Amazon, while Amazon itself has been making some forays into the brick-and-mortar space. The fact is that even as shoppers’ appetite for information grows, people still enjoy the traditional in-store experience. Brick-and-mortar retailers can use AR to enrich their customers’ experience, providing additional information, wardrobe suggestions, live dressing-room technology, coupons and more. By taking the digital route in their physical stores, retailers are staying afloat amid the Amazon tidal wave.
A Few Setbacks Along the AR Road
Not every instance of AR has shown itself to be sustainable in the long term, and even the splashiest rollout is no guarantee of long-term success. Google Glass, for instance, was a breakthrough concept, but it gave rise to dozens of major consumer concerns. These ranged from safety issues to privacy concerns to just simply a reluctance to look silly. Niantic’s Pokemon Go, which saw a giant surge in popularity due to its playful magic and familiar brand, ultimately fizzled out. The reasons for its precipitous decline mostly center on Niantic’s resistance to what its fans really wanted, as it shut down third-party “trackers” that added significant value to the gameplay while delaying its own rollout of those same functions.
AR Customer Experience Successes
For every public failure of AR, however, there are a growing number of marketing successes, and the AR industry is currently valued at over $600 billion. Retail giants Lego and Ikea have boosted sales figures by integrating AR into their marketing.
Lego is building kiosks that allow customers to scan the actual kit they’re holding in their hands, creating a 3D version of what the finished item will look like. Ikea’s well-received AR catalog app lets online customers superimpose a piece of furniture onto an image of their own home so they can check dimensions and see how well the item will fit. L’Oreal Professional offers salons a similar experience in which salon owners can see how a 3D model of a merchandise display will fit into their space. This video shows how that customer experience works. SEFT, a Turkish ship designer, uses AR technology from Augment to provide potential buyers with brochures that offer a 3D viewing experience of different vessel models.
AR Goes Personal and Social
In addition to the ability to move potential purchases around in space and view them in 3D, AR offers customers the compelling experience of sharing images of themselves with various overlays. Snapchat has made outstanding use of this function with its “lenses,” a form of pure play in which users can superimpose different masks, hats and other additions on top of their own images. Turning itself into an “AR social platform,” in the words of Suntrust analyst Robert Peck, will distinguish Snapchat from other social media sites.
Retailers have been quick to recognize the value of such superimposed images.
Converse offers a mobile experience in which the customer can point their device camera at their own foot and see how it will look wearing one of the company’s shoes. If customers like what they see, they can go ahead and make the purchase without ever leaving the app.
Sephora has positioned itself as a “leader in digital beauty retail“: Its “Visual Artist” app lets customers try out different types of makeup in a live video that digitally applies the makeup even as the user moves around. For Sephora, AR is only one aspect of their entire embrace of omnichannel customer experience; the chain also uses in-store beacons and other mobile upgrades to continually stay on the digital leading edge.
Ray-Ban lets you turn your PC into a “Virtual Mirror,” using AR technology to put different models of glasses on your real-time face.
All of these “try-on” videos or images can then be shared via social media, offering a chance for networked friends to “shop” together virtually and comment on one another’s potential purchases.
Another immediate application for AR is in various types of tours. Whether a user is on a walking tour through a city or in a museum or exploring offerings in the real estate market, they want to know more about what they’re seeing. AR’s ability to respond with real-time overlaid information about whatever the mobile device’s camera looks at provides fresh new value several industries.
Once the basic tour functions gained supporters, Conde Nast Traveler was quick to point out the potentially expanded utility that AR can have for many aspects of travel. Yelp Monocle is one example, an app that turns your phone into a visual directory of businesses, restaurants, bars and friends in your vicinity. Disney has seized upon the potential offered by AR to create an interactive reality adventure at its Disney World resort hotels.
Real Estate Magic
Matterport is one producer of the 3D immersive tours that have transformed the real estate industry. The app raised $30 million in startup funds to move forward with its VR and AR tour platform. This type of technology is already enlivening the New York City real estate market. For the construction industry, AR lets potential buyers view a 3D digital architectural drawing, trying out different paint colors and virtual configurations before making their purchase decision.
AR is still part of healthcare’s future, but it already appears poised to have a revolutionary impact on connecting people with care and information. From handheld scanners to find veins in a patient’s arm to guides for surgeons to practice complex procedures, AR will increase the accuracy and safety of procedures. Meanwhile, by allowing doctors to share medical data over video conferencing apps, enhancing medication instructions or providing a map of defibrillator locations, AR will offer patients new access to information.
As new uses for AR continue to spring up across industries, apps such as Wikitude are being developed to respond to the growing flood of interest. Wikitude is an “augmented reality creation tool,” putting AR tools in the hands of almost any size business at a minimum cost. As with any marketing tool, the most important consideration is customer experience, first and foremost. AR technology offers a genuinely new way to perceive the world, and it’s here to stay. A continuous awareness of what the customer actually wants is key to using the AR magic wand to materialize marketing gold.