Augmented Reality Beyond Filters: How AR Technology Can Tell Your Story

January 25, 2017 Charles Poladian

AR technology is more than a fun filter.

The Pokémon Go craze ended months ago—an eternity in tech years. And yet, for some reason, your boss can’t stop raving about “that virtual reality technology that puts a new layer on top of everything.” He’s dying for you to implement it into your brand’s next campaign and constantly sending you links to VR tech providers. Yesterday, he asked where you were in getting a project plan together. But you’ve been reaching out to all the providers he’s recommending and they all seem to say the same thing: “Oh, you don’t want VR. You want AR technology. Augmented reality.”

You figured as much, but pushing back on your CMO didn’t quite make your 90-day goal sheet. So now you need to find a way to research the technology he wants, and explain that your brand is really hoping to pursue AR as eloquently as possible. The problem? You’re not completely sure what the difference is.

According to Augment, a leading augmented reality platform, “Virtual reality technology facilitates the creation of real-life simulations, and creates an immersive experience for any user that makes them feel as if they are actually interacting with their digital environment. Augmented reality, on the other hand, layers digital enhancements geared to enrich an existing real life setting by appealing to the senses.” Where VR strives to create an immersive experience, AR combines information with reality to reimagine the world around you.

Imagine you’re standing on the street outside your office, on your way to a nearby department store to shop on your lunch break. VR could place you inside the store without taking another step; AR could provide information on the stores, restaurants, and historic sites you pass on your way into the store. It could perhaps even provide more detailed information on the items the store sold once you entered.

In that way, augmented reality apps could be the more exciting of the two emergent technology platforms in terms of marketing transformation. For all its magic, VR requires a dedicated headset, a platform, and heavy development to create an experience. Therefore, it’s more limited in some ways. AR is less obtrusive but just as informative.

The other great thing about AR is that it can synthesize data from familiar, widely available technology. Take, for example, the head-up display (HUD). As you drive, a semi-transparent HUD appears displaying the MPH, fuel level, and directions sourced from Google Maps.

User playing

The Pokémon Go Effect

The potential of augmented reality apps was revealed first by Snapchat and became inescapable over the summer with the success of the Pokémon Go app. Due to its success, many are looking to AR as a platform for success and creativity. Of course, the initial numbers from Pokémon Go were staggering—with approximately 80 million active users at its peak. Those numbers are down to an estimated 23 million, but its success had everyone wondering if AR technology was the next big thing.

It’s easy to see why. Augmented reality apps only require a smartphone and a camera. AR can easily find a home indoors (think households or museums), outdoors (a local arboretum, for example), or in a specific geographical region. It can even be applied to the universe with apps such as Star Chart, which convenient points out stars, planets, constellations, and other interesting celestial objects. Just by opening an app, a user’s entire world can be enhanced.

Beyond Flower Crowns

Okay, so your experience with AR may be limited to the flower crown filter on Snapchat, but there’s more to it than funny faces. In fact, several companies have already benefited from using AR in key products.

Ikea saw the value of an augmented reality app that would take full advantage of the incredible popularity of its annual catalog. While everyone loves looking at the pictures and daydreaming about their dream kitchens, the transition from page to reality can be a difficult one for furniture. That’s why Ikea has taken advantage of smartphones and tablets to bring its offerings into your home with no assembly required.

Every Ikea annual catalog has an augmented reality app that uses a device’s camera to place different items within their home. Using AR, you can see just how that desk or chair fits into your home decor.

To promote Hidden Figures, a new movie highlighting the three women behind the successful launch of NASA astronaut John Glenn into orbit, IBM teamed up with The New York Times to reveal the untold history of women and importance of diversity in STEM. With Outthink Hidden, users can scan AR markers in copies of The New York Times or go to select locations to unlock a surprising story.

Looking at these two examples, it’s easy to see the versatility of AR. Ikea has a more active approach that requires the user to already have the app open. The Hidden Figures experience is more passive in that a user can find an AR marker while they read an article, but they can go back to it on their own time.

Even something as simple as Ray-Ban’s Virtual Mirror highlights an effective use of AR. Instead of going to a showroom to try on several pairs of sunglasses, a consumer can get a pretty good sense of how those aviators look on their face without ever leaving their home.

Augmented Reality

Customers Want to Feel Wanted

Pokémon Go sparked an interest in AR technology, but don’t fall into the trap of trying to catch the next trendy wave. A hastily created experience will do more long-term harm than good. Be patient and put the effort into making your augmented reality app something that users will actually use.

Utility over gimmickry is a key lesson that marketers should heed, according to the Harvard Business Review. Creating an app just to capitalize on AR will lead to an inferior product missing key features to really add value to the life of a user. As a marketer, find a situation where the only solution to the problem is an augmented reality app. With that mind-set, you’ll be ahead of the curve instead of following a trend.

Taking it a step further, AR is a great way to capitalize on mobile. Digital agency Wunderman released a new study detailing the concept of Wantedness. Customers want to feel wanted by companies and brands. Considering that 90 percent of those surveyed said mobile positively impacts their purchasing decisions, that means marketers have to pay attention to the mobile experience. Customers also want brands and companies to be pioneers. Combine those findings and you can see how AR can be a valuable part of any campaign.

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