Augmented reality (AR) is a technology that creates interactive experiences for users by overlaying computer-generated images onto the real-world through headsets, tablets, or smartphones. While AR is usually thought of as an end-product, such as a standalone game, AR is emerging as a powerful communication tool, particularly for branding professionals. A 2017 study by Netimperative found that, while only 10 percent of marketing managers currently use AR in their marketing campaigns, at least 72 percent are planning on using it in the next year. And Deloitte found that “almost 90 percent of companies with annual revenues of $100 million to $1 billion are now leveraging AR or VR technology.”
Brands already using AR have found it to be an effective branding channel. While the average banner ad click-through-rate is a paltry 0.05 percent, AR-based banner ads have experienced click-through-rates of 33 percent.
The key to making AR an effective branding channel is to make it useful and relevant. The brand must be the focus, not the technology. AR must add value to the customer, otherwise, “using augmented reality [impedes] communication because the focus [is] on the technology rather than the message.”
Jaguar Land Rover is an example of using AR to add value. When Jaguar Land Rover launched an app-free AR smartphone experience in 2017 to test drive its vehicles, it saw an average dwell time of 121 seconds and an average click-through-rate of 38 percent.
AR has come a long way since the first workable AR technology, Virtual Fixtures, was used by the US Air Force in 1992. AR apps became available on smartphones in 2008, making AR easily accessible to consumers, developers, and branding professionals. Google and Apple, makers of two of the most popular smartphone brands, are investing in AR technology and making it simpler to use on their phones. This is encouraging developers to create more AR experiences for smartphone users and opening up more opportunities for branding professionals to use the technology to enhance their brands.
Brands currently using AR include Sephora, IKEA, Jaguar, Honda, Pottery Barn, and Home Depot. These brands tend to use AR as a “try it before you buy it” experience. For example, the Sephora app allows a user to try makeup on their own virtual face. And consumers can use the IKEA app to visualize furniture in their own home.
While Sephora and IKEA use standalone apps for their AR technology, a special app is not always required. The need to download a special app in order to have the AR experience may dissuade some consumers from using it. To overcome this challenge, Blippar and Oath have developed a technology that allows AR to run through banner ads. Jaguar, Honda, Pottery Barn, and Home Depot are brands using AR banner ads. During this past holiday season, consumers were able to use the Pottery Barn and Home Depot AR banner ads to try out different decorations before buying them. And the Jaguar and Honda AR banner ads allow consumers to test drive vehicles.
Here are three ways AR can help branding professionals boost their brands.
AR can increase engagement with the brand: Using AR in branding can improve relationship-building. Rish Mitra, co-founder of Blippar, states that AR “will offer something immediately gratifying and it will become the universal call to action for a ‘yes please, I want more information or to engage further with this brand’.”
While traditional ads, including those on the Web, can make consumers feel as if branding is a one-way street, AR can enable the consumer to have a virtual dialogue with the brand. AR can “make the user feel empowered and less like they are being sold to.” In print ads and TV commercials, for example, consumers see only what we want them to see. They see only the products we’re willing to show them. If they don’t like what they see, they turn the page or change the channel. With AR, the consumer has a choice in what they see.
Similar to the Nike+Fuel app, AR is gamified branding. The consumer has a greater degree of control over the content, while the brand is still able to communicate its message. The consumer interacts with the brand in real-time, choosing what content to engage with. When a user opens the Sephora app, for example, they can follow Sephora’s suggestion to try on the new Fenty foundation, or they can navigate to their favorite Kat Von D foundations. The Sephora app makes further suggestions based on what the consumer looks at and tries on. The consumer is empowered to engage or not, encouraging the consumer to continue browsing—rather, playing.
This sense of play is essential in brand engagement while using AR. Consumers who have fun using the technology are more likely to use it longer and to use it again. Even more to the point for the brand, the more positive the AR experience, “the more likely will be consumers’ intent to purchase the displayed product.”
AR can be used to communicate meaningful information about the brand: AR enables brands to share timely and relevant information about their products and services in a more powerful way than text or images alone. Consumers pay more attention and remember more when they get to interact with information. And numerous early studies indicate that AR enhances memory and learning. As such, using AR means that branding professionals don’t have to get their brand in front of consumers as many times as they do when they use print, TV, or radio. The information that is conveyed through AR can stick faster and longer.
What’s important is that the information being shared is meaningful—not only timely and relevant, but also entertaining. Glaxo GSK is using AR to share information about their Flonase™ spray. Their MoodMe app uses AR “to show the causes and symptoms of allergies on the patient’s face in video selfies.” The usual pharmaceutical print ad is two to three pages long, including a full page of medical disclaimers of adverse effects and “ask your doctor about….” A recent study shows that a lack of accurate information on pharmaceutical efficacy combined with too much information on adverse effects has resulted in consumers being turned off many pharmaceutical brands. The MoodMe app is a good workaround in that it shares meaningful information in an entertaining way without overwhelming the consumer with too much information.
Lacoste is giving consumers very personalized information through their app. In Lacoste retail stores, consumers visualize their foot in specific areas of the store through their smartphones. “The app will customize the size of the shoe to show how it might look on the consumer, as well as display additional useful product details.”
Pottery Barn and Home Depot can use their apps to share new products every time a consumer opens the app. The app can promote new products, sale products, and products based on consumers’ past purchases or “try it before you buy it” explorations.
AR can enhance the emotional connection with the brand: A brand is most effective when a consumer has an emotional connection to it. In fact, a brand, by definition, is what the consumer feels about the brand. AR can enhance an emotional connection that already exists between the consumer and the brand or create a connection that does not yet exist. One way to enhance or create this connection is through storytelling.
Nike has consistently used storytelling through its use of superstar athletes and the inner athlete in everyday people. Toms Shoes connects emotionally with consumers through their story of donating a pair of shoes with a child in need for every pair of shoes sold. These stories resonate with consumers, enhance the emotional connection, and increase brand loyalty. A novelty of AR in storytelling is that the consumer doesn’t just hear the story, the consumer can step into the story.
In this year’s Winter Olympics in Seoul, South Korea, the New York Times offered an AR app that allowed users to feel as if they were watching some of the sports in-person. In some cases, such as figure skating, an athlete would appear in the app “to explain how he or she executes certain skating maneuvers to the viewer as they’re watching the event live.” The Olympics are already a very emotional event for many Americans. Putting viewers this close to the action and to the athletes makes their emotional connection that much stronger.
Patron Tequila is another brand using AR for storytelling. Through their app, consumers can “visit” the Patron distillery in Jalisco, Mexico. “Patron’s AR distillery tour helps satisfy the needs of the younger, yet discriminating, consumer who strives to connect with brands based on their history and origins.”
In the case of a consumer who already has a relationship with a brand, these AR experiences will help strengthen the emotional connection with the brand. In the case of a consumer who does not yet have a relationship with a brand, learning about the brand’s AR technology may entice the consumer to try it out. This gives the brand the opportunity to develop a relationship through storytelling and create an emotional connection. The storytelling can be built on the back of engagement and the sharing of information. But, ultimately, it is the emotional connection that determines the strength and the longevity of the relationship.
Now that you know how AR can help you boost you brand, here are a few tips to keep in mind when developing your AR branding strategy.
1. Make it meaningful. Your AR experience must offer genuine and authentic value to the consumer. Remember that consumers can sense a lack of authenticity and will reject your AR if it offers no value. Make the experience relevant and timely. Give them real and accurate information. Give them options and empower them to make their own choices.
2. Make it entertaining. A unique aspect of AR is that it is entertaining. Take advantage of this—though not at the expense of value for the consumer. Keeping the consumer entertained will keep them in the experience longer. It will keep them happy and engaged. It will make it easier for you to share your brand’s message.
3. Make it stand on its own. Your AR technology should not need its own branding campaign. It is a channel of communication for your brand. You can share information about it on social media, but you shouldn’t need to take out an ad to promote your AR app. That defeats the purpose of the app. The app is promoting your brand. You shouldn’t have to promote the app.
4. Tell a story. The most effective way to use AR is telling a story. You’ll build a strong emotional connection with the consumer if you tell a powerful story. Share your history and your origin. Share a spokesperson’s story. Create a story around a character. Share a story around a social or environmental cause you contribute to. Make the consumer the story. Use storytelling to make your brand come alive.