Just how realistic a goal is augmented reality marketing?

Marketers are always looking for new and innovative practices to attract new customers and business. And in the tech world, there are few concepts more innovative than virtual and augmented reality. This blog will detail the differences between virtual reality and augmented reality, and how the latter can be used in marketing. We’ll then look at whether augmented reality is yet mature enough to be used on a broad scale by B2B marketers.

The difference between virtual and augmented reality

Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are two technological advances that take a more literal approach to the phrase ‘changing the way you look at the world’. There is a subtle but very important difference between the two:

Virtual reality: VR is an artificial, computer-generated simulation or recreation of an environment, with the means of tricking the brain into thinking it is experiencing this as reality. 

Augmented reality: AR technology layers computer-generated enhancements on top of an existing reality that the subject can interact with.

You only need to go back five or ten years to a time when VR and AR remained the subjects of science-fiction novels. But the pace of technology change has taken us to a point where both AR and VR can be experienced today. While the more sophisticated experiences require dedicated headsets like the Oculus Rift or Microsoft HoloLens, anyone with a smartphone can download a VR or AR app to experience themselves.

The AR app Pokémon Go harnessed smartphone cameras and geolocation features to guide players around the real to find and catch Pokémon on their phones. Social media platform Snapchat introduced ‘filters and lenses’ back in 2015, which overlay animated effects and features onto a camera subject. Both Snapchat and Pokémon Go have served as great examples of how apps grounded in augmented reality can, by combining the physical and virtual worlds, take the consumer world by storm. Within five months of the app’s release, Pokémon Go users had walked 8.7 billion kilometres and caught 88 billion Pokémon.

Effective marketing in AR must take a similar approach in blurring the line between the physical and the virtual when it comes to the customer experience. Marketers will want to merge the immersive and personal aspects of the physical experience with the fast and convenient nature of the virtual experience.

Given the success of apps like Pokémon Go, it’s hard not to be excited at the potential of augmented reality marketing. But, at present, it remains just that - potential. It’s unlikely that you will have come across many instances of AR marketing, as a consumer or an employee. But there are some examples out there that we can learn from. Let’s take a look:

Real-life examples of a new reality

IKEA

The Swedish store is renowned for its simple, easy-to-assemble and affordable furniture range. And the company is trying to push that ease-of-use to the next level with the introduction of augmented reality. IKEA Place is an app that allows the user to virtually scale and place furniture in their home, through their phone screen.

Perfect Corp

Perfect Corp provide a suite of AR beauty apps, the most popular of which being YouCam Makeup. The app users facial mapping technology for a ‘true-to-life virtual makeover’ in real-time or to saved photos.

Both these examples, however, are clearly business-to-consumer initiatives, rather than business-to-business. But, with a bit of imagination, it’s possible to see how these initiatives could be adapted to the B2B space.

Sales demos & trade shows

Moving beyond the traditional PowerPoint presentation or flyer handouts, a salesperson with a mobile AR app or software has a real advantage. They would be able to bring virtual products straight to the boardroom, factory floor or to use it to wow visitors at trade shows.

Virtual meetings

Virtual meetings currently mean setting up an online conference with people who can be based on the other side of the world. But AR can take this a step further, so you can not only hear them but see them (watch Microsoft’s first steps into this field in their Microsoft Inspire corenote [57:10 mark]). When so much of communication is based on body language, and online meetings have a higher ratio of people not paying attention, the introduction of AR could be a boon and a great medium to providing more compelling sales pitches.

Don’t augment expectations

While augmented reality marketing is a fascinating and exciting concept, there is still some way to go before we can expect it to hit the mainstream, particularly in the B2B space. While marketers would be commended for leading the way, and put themselves at a considerable advantage, the risk will remain high until the market is more mature. For now, though, marketers will do well to keep an eye on the evolution of augmented reality to see where it goes in the future.

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