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AR and VR: How These Emerging Technologies Are Impacting Marketing and The User Experience

Marketing professionals are continuously looking for new ways to enhance their strategies, always looking to incorporate the newest technologies and trends. But so often, we get distracted with the novelty, that we fail to ask ourselves the critical questions of what value this will bring, and what marketing challenge are we trying to resolve. On the flip side, there are marketers who bury their heads in the sand when faced with a new technology. They think, “This has nothing to do with my business, and I don’t have the budget to include this anyway.”  

As marketers, we need to educate ourselves about the latest trends to truly understand the possibilities for enhancing your marketing strategy. Augmented Reality (AR) is one of these trends. AR, and similar emerging technologies like Virtual Reality (VR) and Mixed Reality (MR), are making their way into mainstream use. If you’ve ever taken a 360-degree virtual tour of a home or rental property or used an Instagram sticker, you have already been exposed. What exactly are these technologies? What are some examples? And more importantly, how can marketers effectively use them to reach their goals?

Types of “Reality”

The team from Alexander + Tom, a digital innovation company located in Baltimore, MD, helps not only provide a definition, but also use-cases and best practices for incorporating these technologies.  

  • Augmented Reality – AR is typically looking through the camera view on your smartphone; and seeing some additional layer of information or 3-D objects implanted into your view of the real world. A great example is being able to see a new IKEA chair placed in a real view of your living room with the ability to move or customize the chair before purchasing. People now have the ability to “try on” a tattoo before committing to a design by seeing how it looks on their own arm, leg, etc. with an AR app such as Ink Hunter.
  • Virtual Reality – VR is a fully immersive experience that puts a user in a totally virtual world and enables interaction with that virtual space. With a VR headset like the Oculus Rift, the user can visit the bridge of the Starship Enterprise in a virtual Star Trek world.
  • Mixed Reality – Mixed Reality (MR) is a combination of AR and VR. MR takes them each to a new level, allowing interaction with both virtual objects and the real world at the same time. Microsoft’s Hololens is a totally self-contained headset that enables interaction with holograms that appear to be present in the real-world environment around you. 

Alexander + Tom’s President, Billy Twigg says that the primary benefit of these new technologies is their ability to “cut through the clutter” to get noticed in an increasingly crowded marketing world. They can deliver Impact. They can also be used as a tactical tool to help customers make a buying decision because the products displayed become more tangible. Customers perceive the company using AR as being “advanced” and as a provider of higher quality products and services.

He explains that it can add measurable value to that customer who is considering the furniture purchase to be able to see what the furniture actually looks like in their own apartment. It helps a customer better “see” the effect and impact of a different paint color and interior options on a new car in a dealer’s showroom. This enables a “try before you buy” experience, which reduces the risk in any consumer’s buying decision.

AR + UX

While some AR marketing uses can be considered a bit gimmicky (see the award-winning 19 Crimes Wine label), others serve a true benefit to customers. Some companies are using AR to educate customers. In fact, education is one application where the Alexander + Tom team sees both AR and VR having a significant role. Northrop Grumman implemented a VR educational experience which helps teach Navy servicemen/system engineers how to work on the drive system and engines of an aircraft carrier before they ever set foot on the real ship. An aircraft carrier is truly mission critical, and its daily operations cannot be impeded by slowing down to train inexperienced engineers. This life-like virtual training enhances the effectiveness of the engineer’s training and creates tremendous efficiencies and benefit by solving virtual mechanical problems on critical systems before they ever exist.  

AR-based apps and programs not only work well for B-to-C interactions, but B-to-B as well. Commercial construction companies are using VR to virtually and remotely show their customers’ progress on large building projects via a VR headset. This allows the client to see and experience the space, the structures and textures, and the view as if they were standing right in the middle of it. This enables a busy senior corporate executive to effectively see the building project progress from anywhere in the world.

The Alexander & Tom team also pointed to an example of an impressive, practical and non-glamorous use of AR and MR in Tom’s River County, NJ. The municipal utility company of Tom’s River uses a form of AR and MR to view the location and form of the underground utility systems. They can view the sewer lines and underground electric conduits using an augmented reality app on their smartphones before they start digging. This enables them to pinpoint areas where workers are able to access and repair those underground systems and preview any underground system issues that need to be worked around or avoided altogether. These types of applications can result in significant savings of time and money, while improving safety and efficiency.  

What Marketers Need to Know

Twigg thinks that one of the first applications of AR for a small business might be through “an augmented reality business card.” This can provide additional information about the business via a virtual layer of information, such as a marketing video, images of past projects, or video testimonials from current clients. He thinks that AR and VR have established their places in the marketing world. They will become more widespread in the next year, as every smartphone’s web browser begins to support AR, and it becomes easier to access those AR capabilities via your smartphone’s camera.  

As with incorporating any new technology, there are some challenges. Twigg states, “Complexity can be an obstacle. These are totally new marketing avenues, and most marketing people don’t yet understand the range of what is possible.” Cost is another hurdle. He continues, “Once you start adding AR and VR to the marketing mix, you need to have skilled AR/VR resources and experts available to execute that vision. VR, in particular, requires a complex and rare skill set of 3-D modeling and animation, programming, and 3-D architecture. It’s really complex, and because its complex, it’s expensive to build that team in-house.”

He also notes that a key challenge for all marketers at the start is understanding their end goal and how they will measure success. Marketers can measure that success through increased web traffic, additional product trials, membership sign-ups, increased traffic to a trade show booth, or even a customer service goal. He feels measurable goals will help marketers justify budgets and manage scope. This rings true for any marketing campaign element, from the simplest to the most complex. Beyond innovation and the “wow” factor, AR and VR can be a benefit in your marketing strategy as long as you understand the challenges, know your goals, and include ways to measure and evaluate those AR and VR campaign components.  

For more information visit Alexander + Tom’s VR page.

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