Stuck in the middle
While virtual reality technology may finally be moving out of the shadows of the gaming world and into the mainstream marketing mix, marketers can make far bigger, speedier gains if they focus on its overlooked cousin: augmented reality. The augmented reality apps market is expected to generate revenues in excess of $3.2 billion this year; largely because augmented reality technology, unlike virtual reality, is already well-suited for mass market adoption.
Here are three reasons why brands and marketers should treat augmented reality — not virtual reality — as the next big inflection point in marketing campaigns.
It’s already mobile friendly
One of the key hurdles for virtual reality products is device adoption: even the Oculus Rift, perhaps the most recognizable of virtual reality devices, still hasn’t been made available for consumers. Almost every consumer in Asia’s developed markets, however, already owns augmented reality applications — also known as a smartphone or tablet.
Most emerging augmented reality technology also rely on behaviors — like taking a photo, or listening to a song — which users are already intuitively familiar with. For example, someone browsing a magazine for a watch can take a small, customized branded insert, place it on his or her wrist and use an in-app camera to actually show exactly what that watch will look like when worn.
The next step? Simply tapping “buy” to complete the shopping journey – all in a couple of clicks of the smartphone, from search to purchase.
The sheer pervasiveness and ubiquity of mobile devices means that augmented reality software can be far more accessible and available than virtual reality technology, at least for the time being.
The sheer pervasiveness and ubiquity of mobile devices means that augmented reality software can be far more accessible and available than virtual reality technology, at least for the time being. For marketers, this offers far greater latitude when it comes to campaign execution in terms of where, when, and how consumers can engage with their campaigns.
So billboards, point-of-sale materials or any other branded collaterals can be “augmented” through simple desktop-based processes that even the most tech-nervous marketer can painlessly execute. The platform can also be embedded directly into an existing branded augmented reality apps without the need to develop anything new.
So for the consumer, using the smartphone and the action of taking a photo is all that’s required. It couldn’t be any more intuitive.
It will fit with your current marketing efforts
So what sort of experiences does augmented reality software provide? In a word, they’re connected. While virtual reality systems rely on completely immersing — and isolating — the user within his or her environment, augmented reality technology acts as a bridge between all the other forms of media that marketers already use.
In many cases, augmented reality software makes it even easier for consumers to enhance how they view and understand the world: For example, “visual search,” a subset of augmented reality, lets individuals explore relevant information about things or products they see, by taking a photo rather than struggling to describe a product or item in text form. We see ourselves as pivotal players in the fast-emerging “visual web” that we believe is as immersive as virtual reality but critically, far more interactive, social, connected, social and mobile.
For marketers, this means that augmented reality technology can quickly and simply become a part of how they already run campaigns across all manner of channels.
For marketers, this means that augmented reality technology can quickly and simply become a part of how they already run campaigns across all manner of channels. Print advertisements or in-store banners can become “links” for audiences to access related digital content. Sponsored TV shows can direct viewers to “snap” a picture of the TV screen during a show, then the viewer immediately receives information back to their smartphone about the products or services used on-screen.
One well-known cooking show brand, for example, lets viewers receive recipes simply by taking a picture of the show at any time. By “augmenting” the existing channels used in all sorts of marketing campaigns, augmented reality offers marketers limitless permutations when it comes to increasing brand engagement — as well as better understanding how consumers behave when they’re not fully online.
It’s data is measurable and ROI is higher
Augmented reality applications offer significant ROI to marketers for two main reasons.
First of all, they can dramatically shorten and smooth out the buyer’s journey. Let’s say, for example, a potential customer snaps a photo of a product or a billboard advertisement, hoping to research it a little more when she has the time. A visual search app, however, can bring up the relevant product information, reviews, and even e-commerce options right there and then. By bringing consumers directly from point of interest to point of sale, visual search capitalizes on the moment when a consumer’s attention is fully focused on a product, shortening the buying cycle from days to minutes.
It takes a day at the mall and shortens it to a 60-second process on the smartphone. This is far harder to do in a virtual reality world, where the user has to “break” from that total immersion and switch to another platform to act on their intent.
Secondly, unlike so many forms of advertising and marketing, augmented reality is immediately and transparently measurable. From the marketer’s desktop, anytime they want. The in-app camera click, the type of device used, the gender, location and time of engagement – all this and more is captured and presented on a single dashboard, giving the marker instant, brand-owned insights.
When a user interacts with the world through augmented reality apps or a visual search app, marketers suddenly gain insight into behaviors that could never before be tracked, such as reading a newspaper or watching an ad on the side of a bus. So, marketers can boost the effectiveness of all their channels, both online and offline, with the data that augmented reality generates.
The battle between augmented reality technology and virtual reality isn’t really a battle. Virtual reality technology has the potential to transform how consumers experience products and brands. However, augmented reality’s pervasive reach and integration with marketers’ other channels – particularly those such as mobile commerce, which gives it a level of accessibility and ROI that can benefit marketers in the here and now.
This article was originally published in Campaign Asia.