AR’s Revival of Brand in the Hand Marketing

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Years ago, when mobile smartphones became ubiquitous, it ushered in a new era of “brand in the hand” marketing, leveraging these new devices that people carried everywhere to serve brand experiences that were both personal and gave brands massive amounts of data. But things have already changed so much — this format is evolving rapidly, to the point of being unrecognizable from even five years ago.

Now, we can move way beyond text messaging campaigns or even QR codes, and directly into animated storytelling that directly jumps off the product. With augmented reality, “brand in the hand” has reached a new level of engagement and personalization.

Better still, the barrier to entry is less than it’s ever been. Most mobile devices are loaded with features that can integrate into these experiences: GPS for location-based AR games, cloud-enabled CMS services for updating content, and graphics engines for real-time gaming and visualization. Any and all of these can create endless opportunities for innovative storytelling — a type of experience that wasn’t even feasible a decade ago as compared to what is possible with mobile AR/XR today.

This is a new paradigm, enabled by the convergence of consumer behaviors, along with the power of mobile software and hardware. Before digital and mobile, consumers had to rely on out-of-home advertising or broadcast spots to hear a brand story or convey information about a product. Back then, users often encountered a product at the point of the purchase decision. Only recently has there been enough ubiquity of powerful mobile, connected devices that people are able to use a “camera-first” engagement method with their environment. By enabling users to easily scan products for brand-specific stories and information, they’re able to retrieve immediate AR experiences within the context of their shopping environment. This has evolved from text messaging campaigns and listed websites just a few years ago, into fully integrated holographic experiences that integrate with the packaging.

Building a modern “brand in the hand” experience

While these experiences are now easier to create, it’s still important to deliver “brand in the hand” AR that lives up to the promise of the technology and earns engagement from its audience. Each project’s approach must combine several principles, ones that we’ve successfully rolled out to our brand partners across countless AR experiences.

  1. These experiences must be brief, ideally no more than around 30-60 seconds since attention spans tend to be lower for mobile users on the go
  2. Make experiences evergreen, with content updated over time so as to invite repeated engagement
  3. Add interactivity or gamified mechanics to encourage user investment. After all, it’s more fun to play rather than just sit and watch
  4. Make your designs visually polished. This is no time to hold back on creativity
  5. Create experiences that are seamless with reality, including how it enters and exits the AR mode
  6. Always tell a good story with relatable characters and/or narratives that excite, inform and entertain
  7. Make every aspect of the experience easy to trigger, with a low barrier of entry

The future of brand in the hand

AR-driven “brand in the hand” experiences can provide results in ways that more traditional media, like print, broadcast or the web, are no longer able to provide. It’s always proven difficult to serve brand messages to the consumer as they are making the decision to purchase. With AR comes a rare opportunity to do just that, delivering messages and stories right at the store shelves, allowing experiences to jump right from the products themselves. These kinds of packaging or product-activated AR apps have been used by literally millions and millions of people, and the resulting effects on sales are undisputed. For example, our “Living Wine Labels” app increased sales for “19 Crimes” wines by more than 200%.

And AR is only getting bigger, with tech companies pouring billions of dollars into AR/XR/MR technology, trying to be the first hardware platforms for a “mixed reality” future. Facebook’s Oculus division is targeting a 2023 AR wearable, Apple is releasing a wearable “glasses” AR device that same year that they say will entirely replace their iPhone, Google has devoted billions to their Google Play Services for AR, and Microsoft has a robust mixed reality presence with their HoloLens 2 device. Brands need to quickly adopt a strategy that allows them to participate in this increasing consumer wave of AR. So, why not start by experimenting with “brand in the hand”?

Pete Oberdorfer
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