AR and VR 101: What marketers need to know today

In addition to mastering an ever-evolving landscape of social media and digital marketing tools, today’s marketers are required to have a much more in-depth understanding of existing and emerging technology than their predecessors. The rise in experiential marketing has posed a challenge in that brands are now looking to their marketing and advertising executives to integrate never-before-seen technology into in-person marketing experiences.

This strategy comes as a response to consumers, the Millennial generation in particular, placing less value on material items and more on memorable experiences they can share on social media. According to the Event Marketing Institute’s 2017 Experiential Marketing Spending Forecast, nearly 60 percent of marketers plan to increase spending on these types of marketing experiences, proving that many in the industry view the strategy as essential to a well-rounded marketing plan.

As marketers turn to technology studios and agencies to help them integrate immersive technology into their brand experiences, it is critical that they have a basic working knowledge of the technology available to them. Not only will this type of vocabulary help marketers communicate the brand vision to technology partners and vendors, it is also critical to marketers’ ability to get buy-in for their experiential marketing strategies within their organization. Additionally, a basic understanding of emerging technology will help marketers evaluate which technologies feel most authentic to their brand’s voice and, most importantly, their target audience.

Two types of technology, augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR), are at the forefront of today’s experiential marketing landscape. If implemented strategically, these technologies can help brands increase ROI for their experiential marketing efforts by strengthening brand loyalty among consumers and increasing visibility by driving engagement on social media. However, both AR and VR have pros and cons that marketers should consider before integrating them into in-person brand experiences and events.

Virtual reality

Unlike traditional user interfaces, VR uses computer technology to place the user in a simulated environment via specialized glasses, headset or helmet. Instead of looking at a screen in front of them, the technology creates an experience that allows users to be completely immersed and interact in a 3D world.

Pros

Brands have unlimited room for creativity when it comes to VR because it can transport the viewer anywhere the brand wants to take them—whether that be traveling across the world on a private jet or on the sidelines of a professional sporting event. The technology can be an excellent tool for brands that are struggling to appear relevant and modern compared to their competitors. Additionally, VR can be an invaluable asset for integrating an immersive education component into brand experiences. What’s more, VR offers the ability to take the experience one step further by adding environmental and control elements such as motion seats or effects that simulate wind, water, vibration, etc. These next-level touches help brands “sell” an experience to their audience.

Cons

VR is trending among brands, but, in general, when users put on a VR headset, it isolates them in the experience. While this does pose a challenge for brands, technology partners become invaluable because they can create ways to make VR more of a group activity. This could include allowing others to view the user (and even possibly interact with them) in VR by networking several headsets together to have a multi-player experience. Marketers can also turn to their technology partners to overcome the challenge of properly using 360 degrees of space to create a narrative flow that manages to capture users’ attention. This is critical considering that VR gives users the ability to look anywhere they want.

Augmented reality

Augmented reality is a type of technology that provides a composite view by superimposing computer-generated images on a user’s view of the real world. While VR is a more immersive experience, AR incorporates the world around the user and adds additional digital elements. A familiar example of this technology is the Pokémon GO app, which uses a player’s smart phone functionality to superimpose Pokémon inside their office, kitchen or even their car.

Pros

AR gives marketers the opportunity to create innovative campaigns that integrate the digital world into the real world. AR, unlike VR, is better suited for group experiences and allows everyone in the room to see and interact with a digital object in front of them. This meets one of the main goals for an event planner—to create an event experience that feels authentic to consumers and customers. Additionally, since AR can be used on an individual’s mobile device, it lends itself well to various data tracking methods.

Cons

Right now, there are still quite a few technological limitations to what can be done with AR. Mobile apps are an easy first use case, but they place a burden on the user to download an additional app. Headsets, the next level of AR, can result in similar challenges to VR—a limited amount of participants, isolation, etc. The last option, holograms, are an excellent way to increase user-generated-content on social media, but large-scale implementation across thousands of people at an event can be cost prohibitive. As brands and their technology partners think out-of-the-box when it comes to the implementation of AR in marketing events, these challenges can be overcome with innovation and creative thinking.

Like any new tool, implementing VR or AR into experiential marketing events requires marketers to think about content differently. A report from Markets and Markets forecasts that the global AR market is expected to reach $117.40 Billion by 2022, and the global VR market is expected to reach $33.90 Billion by the same year. Avoiding this shift could be detrimental to marketers and the brands they represent, as their competitors embrace AR and VR as great ways to engage consumers in captivating ways.

With a basic understanding of the current value and challenges of technologies like AR and VR, as well as an experienced technology partner to help them understand how to best use these technologies, marketers are better equipped to lead their brands through successful experiential activations. They are also empowered to look beyond what’s being done now and experiment with innovative ideas, such as the disruptive combination of AR and VR for events. 

Experiential marketing events are the ideal first step for brands to explore these new technologies, as they provide a targeted group to engage with in a fixed period, as well as the ability to be measured for value after the event. As marketers lead their brands in these experiential efforts, they should remember to dream big, while always ensuring the technology they utilize is effectively communicating a brand’s message and delivering an authentic experience. 

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