Back in March, eMarketer estimated that in 2019, as many as 68.7 million US customers will use augmented reality (AR) at least once a month. And this year, many brands seized the opportunity to enhance their user experiences with the advanced tech.
The world saw a myriad of innovative augmented reality campaigns: from Net-A-Porter’s AR pop-up window shop to the recent Disney and YouTube AR make-up experience for the roll-out of Maleficent: Mistress of Evil and the latest Panera Bread AR ad unit for mobile that allows customers to rotate a menu item and share on social media. Another big plus—the tech is maturing quickly, and all the major tech giants–Apple, Facebook and Google– invested heavily in AR in 2019.
Despite all this, there are still a lot of uncertainties around AR and its future in marketing. To help marketers understand the ways in which audiences consume immersive experiences, Rene Amador, CEO at AR tech company ARwall, breaks these experiences down into three modes.
The first mode, he explains, is “futurist,” where “AR is a novel illusion” and the target audience is those who seek futurist types of experiences. Avid consumers of media and technology are most interested in how well the experience explores or displays its futuristic and entertainment potential. Snapchat filters and Spark AR are a perfect example of futurist modes of AR.
The second mode is “realist,” which is likely how the majority of AR content is currently consumed for education or training. Here the goal is to provide informative content. Success, in this case, is typically defined by information recall, which is appropriate in the enterprise, industrial or educational setting.
The third mode is “escapist,” which is similar to what we expect from cinema. You lose yourself in the action on the screen and begin to identify with the story and its characters as if they were your reality. In these experiences, the content itself becomes far more vital, and a successful escapist campaign requires executing a technical and artistic experience that delivers story, fidelity and performance.
According to Amador, “futurist” mode is the safest choice in marketing right now.
He also predicts that AR tech will soon become flexible enough to be “objective-agnostic.”
“[This] means it [will be] able to lift the overall awareness of a campaign and support the full spectrum of business goals a marketer might have: whether that’s a product launch, recruitment drive or customer service. AR has been a tough nut to crack for marketers because it can feel disconnected from the rest of the campaign, but if you consider that it’s flexible enough to fit nearly any need, you can see that it’s just an immersive and interactive way to build experiences of any kind,” he said.
Other analysts agree that AR marketing will keep rapidly expanding into consumer retail experiences. Earlier this year, Hanna Karki, principal research analyst at Gartner, said: “Retailers are under increasing pressure to explain the purpose of physical stores, and take control of the fulfillment and return process for cross-channel execution. At the same time, consumers are progressively defining the value provided by the experiences they receive from retailers. As a result of these pressures, retailers are turning to AR and VR to offer customers a unified retail experience inside and outside retail stores.”
The main appeal of AR lies in increasingly convenient applications that customers can access on their mobile devices, which gives companies the advantage of creating immersive experiences that are highly visual. In addition, brands can put a fresh spin on products or services through gamification and other engaging tactics to increase familiarity and drive loyalty.
If the predictions are right, by the end of 2022, the number of mobile AR users will reach 3.5 billion globally, which will give brands access to an extremely broad audience and will help them generate a high volume of qualified leads.
“For the brand, the richness of the experience opens up opportunities for opt-in capture of email, phone numbers and social media profiles. Those are solid meat-and-potatoes marketing milestones, and I think more and more marketers will realize AR can drive those traditional goals more effectively,” Amador said.