Sunil Kumar Singh, Managing Editor at Mediaquest Corp touches on the use of Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality in the Middle East’s marketing industry…
“There’s a lot of noise on whether the disruptive digital technologies, namely Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) are just another buzzword bandwagon or are they something marketers should actually be paying attention to.”
Before I go deeper into it, let’s get a quick overview of what exactly AR and VR are. In plain terms, VR is an immersive multimedia or computer-simulated reality that offers consumers a 360-degree digital environment in a 3D world. This is most commonly experienced through specialised glasses or head-mounted displays.
AR, on the other hand, refers to the integration of the real-world environment that is augmented (or supplemented) by computer-generated images or sensory input such as sound, video or graphics. While VR offers a more immersive experience, AR lets users experience the world around them and adds additional digital elements. A widely known example of this technology is the Pokémon GO application.
Improving customer journey
Many of the most valuable brands globally have created some form of virtual or augmented reality experience for their customers or employees. The AR/VR ecosystem is being used by brands to deploy new experiences and thus to improve the customer journey.
IKEA, for instance, has deployed AR technology in its marketing strategy by developing a table as part of its concept kitchen that suggests recipes based on the ingredients on the table.
Beauty specialist Sephora, leverages AR allowing customers to see what they might look like with different shades of lipsticks or types of eyelashes before they actually buy the product.
Some time back, Mercedes had deployed 360-degree VR in its marketing strategy by showing off its latest SL model with a virtual drive on the Pacific Coast Highway in California. Many other automobile brands, such as Ford, Volvo, Volkswagen, BMW, Audi, Porsche, KIA, Lexus, Chevrolet and Honda too have been using these technologies not only in designing their cars, through these technologies, potential buyers can check out the latest models or test drive the cars.
Travel and tour operators to are applying VR to immerse potential travellers into destinations. Expedia for instance, is bringing the VR technology into the booking experience that will enable travellers to use VR to choose the right hotel room for them.
Enriching brand experience
Immersive technologies such as AR and VR can be the new gold standard for brand experiences. While the focus of VR is on experiences and emotional engagement, AR is more commonly used for product trial and utility. In both cases, they can create fully immersive environments as well as deeper brand associations in the minds of consumers.
In case of the retail sector for instance, AR and VR offer a number of solutions for customers. For one, they allow customers to make more informed buying decisions as they visit stores, which can increase the buyer conversion rate. AR/VR offer retailers many solutions such as pre-plan shopping trips, brand differentiation, information delivery, in-store engagement, product customisation, experiential product activation, group entertainment experiences, live streamed VR lectures and events, virtual stores and at-home try-on and training workshops, among others.
So far so good, It’s safer to conclude that both VR and AR have the potential to offer viable ways for brands to engage emotionally with consumers as well as to help brands increase ROI. While brands in many industries are gradually waking up to new opportunities, a full-scale mass adaptation of these technologies is still far away.
However, as consumer expectations are evolving, in order for brands to leverage such technologies for the fullest advantage, these technologies must be implemented strategically with pre-defined marketing objectives. The application of AR/VR must establish an emotional connection with consumers not only to enhance a consumer’s brand experience, but also strengthen brand loyalty and drive social media engagement. Or else, AR/VR risk ending up as a mere entertainment tool.
After all, staying relevant has always been harder for technologies!