April 10, 2018

How AR is Reinventing the Brand-Consumer Relationship

In practice, augmented reality (AR) provides the opportunity to project digital elements on top of a real-world setting, blending the digital world with the user’s actual surroundings.

AR’s purpose, though, in the context of commerce, is much more ambitious than that. It gives brands new and improved ways to attract and retain customers, and it benefits both the brand and the consumer while doing so.

That’s why it’s reinventing the brand-consumer relationship right before our eyes.

Augmented Reality Applications

AR is not hindered by hardware or cost, from the perspective of the consumer. Free apps developed by brands can reach anyone with a smartphone, making them accessible to four out of five people in the US.

In addition to its reach, AR is intuitive and impactful in its use. Yes, it delivers a simple, fun interaction with a product. But it does much more than that. The personal, interactive nature of AR is a powerful tool for building a two-way relationship between the user and the brand.

Many people’s first experience with augmented reality may be something playful, like Pokemon Go or SnapChat filters. While these applications are lighthearted, it didn’t take long for companies to see the potential and jump on the bandwagon and sponsor branded SnapChat Lenses.

From there, they’ve adapted AR to all sorts of exciting applications. To name a few:

In Automotive:

A BMW app encourages users to picture a new electric car sitting in their own driveway, then the app projects a 3D Model in which the user can walk around, seeing the car on their smartphone screen exactly as if it were parked in their real driveway. Users can open doors, change color schemes, turn on headlights, even activate the sound system. This provides the potential buyer with an incredible customer experience in a way never imagined before — literally bringing the traditional showroom on a platter, personalized for the intended user at their own control. When a buyer feels in control of a situation, their natural skepticism begins to deteriorate and allows an automotive brand to start building trust and ultimately an impactful and meaningful brand relationship with the buyer.

Nissan is partnering with LucasFilms’ Star Wars, creating an augmented reality experience in which familiar movie characters guide customers through the cars’ Intelligent Mobility features. This type of partnership underlines the way in which it is possible to combine shopping and entertainment.

In Retail:

Sephora first came out with their mesmerizing in-store AR experience three years ago. Much has changed since it was first rolled out; many other cosmetic brands now have similar technology available. Sephora now includes tips and tutorials, while L’Oreal’s patented head-tracking system allows for complete freedom of movement while trying on its products. “Get the Look,” by British cosmetic maker Rimmel, lets users snap a photo of someone in real-life and then identify cosmetic products that will give them the same look.

The trick to properly using this technology for your brand is not to create an environment most beneficial to you as the seller, but allow the potential buyer to use it as a tool in discovering the value and ultimately leaving a positive impression of your brand’s products or services in their memory. When properly executed, this technology can also help reduce pre-purchase indecision and cut the rate of product returns post-purchase.

In Beer:

If automotive and retail are old news to you, let’s dive into a less talked about market: Beer. In the Seattle area, small breweries are up against a lot of competition. Snoqualmie Falls Brewery directs shoppers to download a free app and then view their bottle through their phones. Viewed through the app, the waterfall on their label comes to life with animation and audio. Birds flock in the sky, fish jump, and the brewmaster is shown going over the falls in a barrel. The brewery master explained to GeekWire that “the novel technique is essential to entice people to try the beer.”

In Food:

A handful of NYC restaurants are tapping into the exciting potential of AR to tantalize and satiate their diners. Wine bar owner Haim Amit, who sells Middle Eastern desserts, points out that people are more willing to order an unfamiliar food when they’ve seen a 3-D representation of it, and one app delivers just that. Potentially, restaurants may also use AR to provide more detailed information about their menu, including the health benefits and origins of each item.

In News Media:

News media outlets are utilizing AR for its immense capacity to support immersive storytelling. Instead of watching an ordinary weather report, for example, viewers may soon be able to put on a headset and find themselves in the middle of the storm. AR is excellent at expressing physical scale and geographic relationships, allowing users to see an event from all sides. There’s untold potential here for conveying a deeper understanding of important news stories unfolding at a distance. Enabling people all over the world to share visceral experiences like this together in real time could have a positive impact on a global scale.

Brands are Building Augmented Reality Experiences… and Vice Versa

Consumers may enjoy the novelty or convenience, but brands enjoy the bottom-line results. The examples above show how AR helps optimize every step of the sales process:

  • Cutting through the noise to help customers hear about your product in a crowded marketplace
  • Getting your product noticed on increasingly cluttered store shelves
  • Getting customers to experience your product first hand, try it in a digital setting and contextualize it within their physical environment
  • Creating a digital, emotional, and physical connection with the product and brand to incite loyalty and retain the customer long into the future

With AR, brand engagement can start sooner and last longer, and we’ve only scratched the surface. Brands have just begun to explore the breadth of new possibilities for engaging with their customers with this emerging technology.

A 2018 news report estimates that global spending on AR and VR will grow from $11.4 billion in 2017 to over $200 billion in the next three years.

It won’t be long before these mixed reality channels are a natural part of every marketer’s go-to toolkit, or before consumers start to expect an augmented reality interaction as an option before they commit to a new brand. In that scenario, both brand and consumer come out ahead.

Photo by: Surian Soosay