Whether you’re an online or brick and mortar brand, augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) technologies offer a number of enticing tactics to inspire brand activation, preference, and loyalty. However, building a plan and identifying the desired outcomes as a result of implementing emerging technologies may not seem so straight-forward.
Here are four steps that can help ensure positive, scalable brand results from using AR/VR:
Every retailer knows that it’s cheaper to retain customers than to get new ones. Repeat customers spend 60 percent more than new ones. As you think about increasing your brand’s “stickiness”, it’s essential to set specific goals. These will vary according to your industry, but a few broad customer retention/KPI goals include:
New customer activation rate. When someone signs up on your mailing list or signs up for a free trial, they’re only at the beginning of their customer journey. The first significant metric is how many of them convert (make a purchase).
Returning customer purchase rate. How many new customers return within 30 to 90 days for a second purchase.
Repeat customer order rate. This shows how successful you’ve been at shifting your customers into a “gold” value status. How many of your customers prove their brand loyalty through regular purchases.
These goals are common for retailers, but KPIs within other industries can look very different. For instance, you may want to increase requests for quotes for your insurance company or grow the number of subscribers who invest in premium add-ons within your SaaS platform.
It’s important to keep in mind the less tangible realizations of brand building, such as enhanced brand perception. This can be partially measured through increased social sharing, mentions, and even trending topics, but sometimes a shift in momentum isn’t obvious right away.
Augmented and virtual reality have the ability to reinforce brands with meaningful, customizable experiences. With defined goals, you can shift focus to delivering these experiences. AR/VR offers an enhanced brand experience because it delights consumers in ways they don’t anticipate.
A VR experience, regardless of industry, can introduce your brand with a fully immersive experience. Expedia’s 360-degree video, for example, takes viewers on a scenic railroad journey through Norway–encouraging both flight and train ticket purchases.
AR/VR strategy for customer retention has traditionally included steps such as honing your brand message and target audience, or updating your product/service offering and design. When it comes to including AR/VR (yes, there is a difference between the two) in your brand strategy, choosing the “right reality” for your brand and goals is crucial.
With VR, the experience involves either a headset or 360 video. One way companies feature their brand using VR is at trade shows, conventions, and larger events like SXSW. These VR experiences create a proof of innovation for businesses and change consumer perception of your brand.
Offering customers a VR experience within a brick and mortar environment also can serve to provide fresh, new perspective. The customer enjoys the drama of walking into a traditional brand environment and then being transported to a virtual brand world. By raising the bar and tapping into multiple senses, they’ll never view your brand the same way.
Augmented reality overlays information or images (referred to as CG content) on top of the customer’s real-world view, as seen on a screen. The popularity of AR strategy for brand activation is exploding. The most frequent descriptor for its effect in the retail sector, for instance, is “transformative.” Here is how building AR into your brand strategy inspires customer participation:
Affordability. Even small business brands are finding creative ways to reach out to their customers using AR content overlays.
Active participation. The ability to “try on” shoes or visualize cars in garages without any real legwork is not only convenient–it’s also a lot of fun. Remote shoppers can develop a relationship with a product before they make their purchase decision.
Customization. With AR, customers can pick and choose their level of commitment, service, and interactivity. The ability to see and do as they please, is an ideal customer experience.
You’ve chosen your vehicle, now you need to figure out how and where you’re driving it. Tactics involve careful market analysis and audience research. Because AR/VR are still, in the grand scheme, new and ever-evolving, understanding trends for new target audiences, or existing audiences you want to grow is essential.
Practical applications that enhance the customer journey are not a dime a dozen. Tactics need to address your company’s KPIs while creating value for customers. Here are a few examples of successful AR/VR tactics in retail:
Lowe’s strategy involves taking VR training to the masses. The Lowe’s Innovation Labs are unveiling a DIY world of what could be. What began as a virtual reality “holoroom,” in which customers could provide the measurements of their kitchens and try out different cabinet configurations, has turned into an entire virtual tutorial area.
Inexperienced homeowners can put on an HTC Vive headset and receive an immersive 20-minute tiling tutorial in a dedicated virtual reality room–without touching mortar and grout. “Customers [are] fascinated by the VR exhibits,” states Innovation Labs Executive Director, Kyle Nel. Providing a best-in-class tutorial experience is one great way to reinforce your brand.
“Shoppers who use fitting rooms are almost seven times more likely to make a purchase than those who simply browse the sales floor,” according to Bloomberg News. At Rebecca Minkoff, when a shopper walks in with a top and a pair of jeans from the racks, the fitting room mirror automatically suggests accessories to match the outfit. The fitting room lighting can also be changed by touching the mirror.
One Rebecca Minkoff sales associate revealed that shoppers are so enthusiastic about the fitting rooms that they’ll hold Snapchat parties in them. Additionally, more reserved customers are delighted by the additional purchase suggestions without any intrusion by store staff.
Another version of smart fitting rooms can be found at the San Francisco branch of Uniqlo, which features a “memory mirror”. Customers try on a garment in one color and then can see themselves in the mirror wearing the same style in other colors.
AR allows e-shoppers to try on different kinds of makeup, but where L’Oréal’s AR strategy really promotes brand activation is in their dual use of the technology. They’re constantly-improving beauty apps by making use of all the data it generates.
Lubomira Rochet, L’Oréal’s chief digital officer, concludes, “For our marketing and labs, it’s a great source of insight in terms of trends, and it helps us deliver makeup collections.” AR insight reveals likes and dislikes of current customers. This lays the foundation for creating a highly customized loyalty program, as well as informing future product development decisions.
Look beyond novelty and intrigue of emerging technologies, and get down to business. It’s important, before executing AR/VR tactics, to identify their solid utility in building brand. In the words of Brendan Witcher, a Forrester retail strategist, “If you just deliver tech for tech’s stake, people will test the novelty of it, but it won’t stick.” What this tech needs to make good on is driving business goals that bolster brand efficacy and loyalty.
When you measure the impact of your AR or VR application on customer loyalty, you can intuitively revisit the goals you identified originally. If those goals are quantitative, you’ll have some “before” and “after” figures to compare. Equally as important, however, can be the consideration of the nature of your relationship with your customers. AR and VR experiences deliver a richer, deeper experience at every touch point, strengthening the bond between your customers and your brand.
Be seen as an innovator. If brand loyalty is your endgame, your strategy must offer impactful, informed customer experiences, new conveniences, and emotional connection. AR and VR can approach and hit these targets in ways traditional advertising, social, direct marketing (among many others) cannot.