The first use of Augmented reality (AR) in marketing was in 2008.* Now, 15 years later, it is emerging as a highly relevant piece of a marketer’s omnichannel planning. Why now? Well, we all know that technology has advanced exponentially in those 15 years. So yes, better phones, facial and surface recognition, and a hundred other things have made a huge difference. But perhaps the biggest development is web-based AR software that removed the barrier of having to download a mobile app before you could engage in an experience. But now, technology has advanced to a place where web-AR provides a rich and immersive user experience right in your mobile browser, making it quick and easy to enter an AR experience. This has been a game changer.
Now, because of these advancements, AR presents marketing opportunities up and down the conversion funnel. Its immersive nature means it can both entertain and educate. AR is great for upper-funnel objectives like brand discovery and affinity. Moreover, it can be just as powerful for serving mid-funnel objectives like product education and even product trial in some cases.
AR can elevate an already holistic customer experience journey or fulfill an unmet need by filling service gaps in the customer’s experience.
AR can elevate an already holistic customer experience journey or fulfill an unmet need by filling service gaps in the customer’s experience. A Harvard Business Review article stated, “Our research has also shown that despite the increased use of such technologies, consumers are not yearning for the robotic digitization of their everyday lives. Rather, they want technologies that weave themselves seamlessly into their activities.”1
This makes AR perfect for in-store use. Brick-and-mortar stores have been facing increasing competition from online retailers and must find innovative ways to increase the value of in-person shopping for their customers. Integrating AR into real-world shopping provides a new experience that can draw customers into stores.
Consider this: Waiting is the biggest challenge for retailers. A customer who is waiting is a customer on the brink of leaving. A customer waiting in line to check out might be eager for entertainment, while someone waiting for help on the sales floor might welcome informative content provided by an AR generated sales rep. These are parts of the in-person shopping experience where AR can fit seamlessly into the activity.
One tactic we’ve seen successfully drive awareness and affinity for products is an in-store scavenger hunt. For instance, we were tasked with building excitement for an upcoming television series while also strengthening the association of the series with our client’s brand. We created an in-store scavenger hunt that enticed customers to scan various targets strategically placed throughout the store. The payoff was a shareable selfie photo or video with the exact CGI version of one of the series’ main creatures. Our scavenger hunt captured shoppers’ attention, resulting in 41% of customers scanning at least one target and spending an average of more than seven minutes in the experience. It was a huge win for the brand as well as the retailer, who had engaged customers walking around their store encountering additional products.
To get an idea of how an in-store scavenger hunt works, check out this video of one we created for Zack Snyder’s Justice League release. https://work.tvg.la/xr/jl_scavenger_hunt/
Another powerful use of AR would be to showcase additional features for certain products. For instance, at a car dealership, there may not be a model on the lot that has roll bars or a rear spoiler. With AR, a customer can use their phone to add and remove features right there on the spot and then decide what to order. As another example, someone shopping for an outfit could use AR to find accessories available in the store that complete the look. Essentially, AR can give a consumer options and allow them to act on those choices right there and then.
So, what makes a great web-AR experience? It should engage the user with choices so they interact with your brand and become invested in the experience. The creative should be visually rich and have a straightforward and compelling narrative (think A to B, not A to Z) that entertains and/or educates. Audio will enhance the experience, but make sure the experience works in silent mode too. Above all, don’t underestimate the importance of a solid working relationship between your tech and creative teams. (Ask us about how we made a 1-terabyte 3-D scan of a film set into a smooth, user-friendly, award-winning, web-AR experience.)
We’ve focused on retail in this post, but in-store is really another way to say in-person, and these principles readily apply to other in-person customer experiences like conferences and festivals — think Comic-Con, SXSW, CES, etc. Other OOH spots ripe for AR enrichment are places where people may be bored, like airports and public transit stations. The scavenger hunt is a perfect way to engage potential customers, directing them to locations or partners at events. Once there, it’s an opportunity to engage via direct sales, branding or data collection, all while the user participates in a fun experience.
AR is here, and it’s ready for everyday use. The barriers have come down, and it’s time to take advantage of the technology in ways that meet the needs of both brands and users.