Marketers are always looking for new, fun and innovative ways to reach an audience and get their messages out there.
Marketing is often an early adopter of technology that could end up changing how people interact with brands. Not every marketer is willing to make bets on cutting edge tech, but there will always be some who are ready to test out the latest and greatest.
Take the Pokémon Go phenomenon, arguably the first successful mainstream application of augmented reality to date. After quickly becoming the most-downloaded app in the Apple App Store since its release last week, retailers started finding ways to jump on the craze by offering special deals to Pokemon Go players. Now, Pokemon Go developer Niantic Labs says it plans to allow businesses to sponsor locations for certain in-game activities. The mainstream success of Pokemon Go shows how quickly—and powerfully—augmented and virtual reality applications could become marketing tools.
Virtual reality and augmented reality are among the most bleeding edge technologies that marketers can leverage. (For those wondering, the difference between the two can be stated simply like this: Augmented reality adds virtual elements to our existing reality, while virtual reality immerses the user in a virtual world.) While neither have fully taken off quite yet, marketers need to understand where each of these innovations stand, as well as how they can be used in marketing campaigns, to stay ahead of the curve.
Augmented reality marketing is here
Augmented reality is a technology that has come into the mainstream just in the last week through Pokemon Go, but AR marketing is already happening in a number of different ways.
Google Glass is an example of a hardware device that isn’t immersive, but does add another layer of information and interaction between the user and the physical world. There are also applications such as in-store mirrors and smartphone apps that allow users to demo how a pair of glasses or a particular shade of lipstick looks on their face before making a purchase.
Experts offer the caveat that AR marketing does require a special approach, according to the Harvard Business Review: “In order for the potential of AR to be realized ... companies have to resist the urge to hastily create AR apps (that risk appearing gimmicky), and instead focus on better understanding how consumers will interact with the technology."
After four years of research on the technology, Ana Javornik, a research associate at University College London Interaction Centre and Holition, found that creating valuable AR apps requires a number of prerequisites: “... a better idea of how consumers would use such technology; more collaboration among computer scientists, designers, and marketers; and a strategy for integrating the applications into the existing consumer journey.”
One recent example of branding potential is the immediate recognition Nintendo has garnered for its augmented reality mobile app, Pokémon Go. The recently released game has already topped Apple’s “most downloaded charts," showcasing the potential for AR applications.
The author reports that major software companies have already jumped on the potential of augmented reality. Pokemon Go Niantic has been developing marketing tie-ins with different stores and banks for its AR game, Ingress, and has stated that it plans to allow businesses to sponsor locations for certain in-game activities. Marketers could tap into the game’s geophysical qualities by making certain rare characters available at particular stores, for example.
“It’s a great tool for brands, as it allows them to track user preferences and habits, allowing them to deliver a more personal experience,” Grant Owens, chief strategy officer at Critical Mass, told Digiday. “And like Snapchat, there’s the potential for sponsorship opportunities — which is huge."
Is virtual reality about to arrive?
Virtual reality is one of those technologies that has been long on promise for twenty-plus years. And finally, it may no longer be short on delivery.
Major tech companies are throwing their weight behind the technology, with both Google and Facebook making serious investments in VR tech.
Google brought a low-cost VR headset to the marketplace in over a year ago with its Google Cardboard software and hardware. The company announced in January that in the first 19 months after release, it had already sold over 5 million of the specs, an outcome that points toward virtual reality’s potential to quickly become mainstream. Even though the device never really caught on with the general public, Google put a lot of R&D dollars into the space when creating its augmented reality (AR) device, Google Glass.
Facebook bought VR hardware firm Oculus Rift in March 2014 for $2 billion, and it began shipping out the technology this year. In February, the social media giant also announced plans to bring virtual reality to the Facebook social experience.
While the VR space is still in its early days, both companies are bullish on its potential.
“We are betting that virtual reality is going to be an important technology. I am pretty confident about this," CEO Mark Zuckerberg told Business Insider. “I honestly don’t know is how long it will take to build this (VR) ecosystem. It could be 5 years, it could be 10 years, it could be 15 or 20. My guess is that it will be at least 10. It took 10 years to go from building the initial Smartphone to reaching the mass market."
And Google and Facebook aren’t alone. Samsung has its Samsung Gear VR headset while HTC has teamed up with French 3D software firm Dassault Systèmes to offer enterprise-class virtual reality (VR) hardware and software tools for a range of industries and applications, including VR marketing. In fact, VR and AR funding has already hit $1 billion for the year—back in March.
Last December, Facebook even began pitching marketers on the idea of VR campaigns, looking to make a business case for its Oculus headsets. At the time, an agency exec who spoke with Facebook about VR told Digiday that “they’re finally getting around to getting to what Oculus means in the grand scheme. It’s come up in pitch situations where they say they want us to use it for big brand launches.”
It might come as a surprise to some, but one major marketing implementation for VR tech is in the complex B2B sale. The reasoning is VR offers an immersive “try before you buy” product demo for high-end products that surpass video demos and white papers.
"Virtual reality is another part of the puzzle for us in terms of opening up the world of GE and doing it through visual storytelling," Katrina Craigwell, director of global content and programming at GE, told Ad Age. "The more we can show rather than tell, the better we do."
Bolstered by VC funding and initiatives from major tech companies, marketers should expect VR to take off in the coming decade. Research from the Gartner Group projects 25 million VR or limited augmented reality headsets will be in consumer hands by 2018.