For over a decade omni-channel has been a term used to describe digital and physical marketing. While many have strived to achieve an omni-channel strategy, unifying the digital and physical customer experiences have been an ongoing challenge for marketers. However, that may be changing. Advances in augmented reality (AR) can help to bring these two worlds together.
Over the next few years, we will see significant adoption of AR technology by brands and retailers as a way to engage consumers and deliver a more compelling brand experience. We will see AR bridge the gap between the online and offline worlds. In many ways, AR can serve as the cornerstone for tying the digital and physical brand experiences together.
Here are a few of the AR trends that can make this happen.
ARKit and ARCore
For a long time, developing AR applications was expensive and required specialty companies or developers with unique skill sets. That all changed in June when Apple released ARKit, a set of software development tools that opened up AR to anyone with an iOS11 operating system. Google followed suit and announced ARCore – an AR platform for Android devices. But Google and Apple aren’t the only ones investing in AR; Microsoft and Snapchat are also adopting the technology. What does this mean for brands? AR applications just got a whole lot easier to develop. It also works on smartphones and doesn’t require special headsets, making it more scalable than virtual reality.
Print and Packaging Campaigns Will Drive Digital Experiences
We will see brands leverage packaging and other printed touchpoints as a way to promote AR-branded experiences with customers. Today, traditional QR codes and bar codes are already used in print and packaging promotions. For example, Wegman’s Magazine extends its brand experience to digital allowing app users to see recipes, ingredients and videos on how to prepare the food.
Taking interactive print a step further, 19 Crimes, an Australian wine, is using AR to bring its labels to life to tell the story of Australia’s history. One can also imagine AR working in conjunction with product packaging instead of (or to compliment) printed product directions.
European packaging company DS Smith developed an augmented-reality app that helps its automotive customers assemble packaging with animated instructions.
In addition, AR technology could be used with beauty or baby products to provide directions or other helpful information on using products. I expect we will see more examples of branding campaigns that tie printed materials, labels and packaging to AR apps to provide customers new ways to interact with products and brands.
AR and eCommerce
Imagine choosing a new rug or chair and wondering how it will look in your living room. No worries, AR can help with that. In fact, the IKEA Place app uses AR technology and the ARKit to let users look through their phone to see a virtual chair placed in the room. You can rotate it, zoom in, and determine if it “works” in the space.
Wayfair.com has similar features in its mobile app. Cosmetics companies have done branded campaigns that let users virtually try on shades of lipstick and nail polish and purchase them directly from a smartphone. Apparel companies such as Neiman Marcus are also looking at AR. Over the next 12-18 months, more brands, like William Sonoma and others will include AR functionality in their mobile apps as another way to help link the physical and digital worlds and offer a richer mobile shopping experience for customers.
Merging AR and Market Intelligence
In today’s digital world, brands have access to a wealth of data about their customers and behaviors. Blending market intelligence with AR makes sense as a way to enhance the customer experience. Imagine ordering a pair of shoes on Zappos, and included with the package is an interactive recommendation for products you can virtually try on. In this way, consumer data could enable a number of cross-selling opportunities and help build customer loyalty.
As brands look to engage and have deeper conversations with customers, advances in AR technology make it an ideal platform to deliver new branded experiences to customers. The proliferation of smartphones combined with AR developer kits makes it easier than ever for companies to bridge the gap between digital and physical customer experiences. Brands have the opportunity to tell a more connected story to customers, combining packaging, print advertising and promotions, ecommerce, and now augmented reality and artificial intelligence for a robust and holistic physical + digital experience.