While Virtual Reality (VR) technology may finally be moving out of the shadows of the gaming world and into the mainstream marketing mix, (“Virtual Reality: This time it’s real”), marketers can make far bigger, speedier gains if they focus on its overlooked cousin: Augmented Reality (AR).
The AR app market is expected to generate revenues in excess of $3.2bn this year; largely because AR technology, unlike VR, is already well-suited for mass market adoption. Here are three reasons why brands and marketers should treat AR – not VR – as the next big inflexion point in marketing campaigns.
- Anyone with a smartphone can experience it
One of the key hurdles for VR is device adoption: even the Oculus Rift, perhaps the most recognisable of VR devices, still hasn’t been made available for consumers. Almost every consumer in Asia’s developed markets, however, already owns an AR device – also known as a smartphone or tablet.
Most emerging AR platforms also rely on behaviours – 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, customised branded insert, place it on his or her wrist and use the iQNECT 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 can be far more accessible and available than VR will, 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, POS materials or any other branded collaterals can be “augmented” through simple desktop-based processes that even the most tech-nervous marketer can painlessly execute. In iQNECT’s case, the platform can also be embedded directly into an existing branded app 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.
Devices such as Google Cardboard have helped make VR more mainstream
- It’s part of the marketing ecosystem
So what sort of experiences do AR platforms provide? In a word, they’re connected. While VR relies on completely immersing – and isolating – the user within his or her environment, AR acts as a bridge between all the other forms of media which marketers already use. In many cases, AR makes it even easier for consumers to enhance how they view and understand the world: “visual search”, a subset of AR, 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” which we believe is as immersive as VR but critically, far more interactive, social, connected, social and mobile.
For marketers, this means that AR 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, at which the viewer immediately receives information back to their smartphone about the products or services used on-screen. One well-known cooking show brand that we’ve run a pilot with, for example, has used our platform to let 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.
- The ROI is higher, the impact and data is measurable
AR offers significant ROI to marketers for two main reasons. First of all, it can dramatically shorten and smooth out the buying journey for consumers. 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 like iQNECT, however, can bring up the relevant product information, reviews, and even e-commerce options right there and then. By bringing consumer directly from point of interest to point of sale, visual search capitalises 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 VR environment, 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, AR is immediately and transparently measureable. 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 an AR or visual search app, marketers suddenly gain insight into behaviours which could never before be tracked, such as reading a newspaper or watching an ad on the side of a bus. The data which augmented reality generates can be used by marketers to boost the effectiveness of all their channels, both online and offline.
The battle between AR and VR isn’t really a battle. VR’s capabilities have the potential to transform how consumers experience products and brands. However, AR’s pervasive reach and integration with marketers’ other channels – particularly those like m-commerce which already live on mobile – give it a level of accessibility and ROI which can benefit marketers in the here and now.
Niamh Byrne is chief operating officer at iQNECT based in Singapore
This article is part of the Campaign Innovate series, a collection of articles that examine the way innovation, startups and technology are affecting the advertising and marketing industry.
Campaign Asia-Pacific has also launched the Campaign Innovate competition, an event that aims to provide a platform for Asia-Pacific's startups to pitch to some of the world's biggest brands.