Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality have reached the Slope of Enlightenment on the emerging technology curve and they’re now acknowledged as the next computing platform. The VC community invested $1.2bn in the first quarter of 2016, Digi-Capital predict the sector to be worth $150bn by 2020 and everyone from Microsoft to Samsung to Facebook are rolling out consumer products. It’s like Search in 2000, Social in 2005 and Mobile in 2010 - so how are marketers responding to the platform shift?
PepsiCo, Disney, Ford, Nestlé, Coty, Carlsberg, Audi, Specsavers, eBay, Lego, IKEA and a host of others have demonstrated the various use cases for VR, AR and Mixed Reality. It’s fair to say we’re still in a test-and-learn phase however brands like L’Oreal and Sky now have strategic programs in place. We therefore provide practical steps for marketers to develop long-term programs to succeed in an increasingly complex market.
1. Start with a clear challenge
Solutions should solve a tangible business challenge so an open conversation about “What’s your challenge?” is more progressive than “What can you do?” The industry is an evolving tool box of software, hardware and content options, so successful programs are often bespoke to a specific challenge. Productised solutions, like face tracking specialists Modiface, have a clear role in the cosmetic category however it’s one option in a spectrum of possibilities. Start with a strategic goal and an agnostic, open-mind about the options. Don’t put the proverbial cart before the horse.
2. Identify new consumer triggers
Consumer journey planning, with existing customer segmentation and user experience design, can usually identify moments in the journey where there’s friction or leakage. The option to bridge physical environments with digital experiences can expedite purchases and provide new customer value. Amazon, and more recently Pinterest, help customers find online products by pointing their mobile camera at something in the real world and hyperlinking the results to ratings, reviews and a shopping basket. Identify tangible customer benefits as an integrated part of existing marcoms. Don’t place cool technology before customer value.
3. Set tangible business metrics
Measurable KPIs which demonstrate business value are surprisingly sparse in this sector however it’s maturing and therefore merits assessment alongside other marketing channels. The opportunity, for example, to drive more interactions from FMCG packaging than brands receive from other digital media channels can transform a fizzy drink purveyor into a major media owner. Approach VR and AR as a scalable solution rather than just a campaign implementation. Don’t leave the research team and data analysts out of the conversation.
4. Build programs not campaigns
Pilots are an essential part of evaluating new channels in the marcoms mix however an ‘AR campaign’ should be considered ‘phase one’ in a broader strategy. The platform shift to natural visual interfaces creates a post-screen world where the two-dimensional confines of traditional computing becomes obsolete. Understanding how to engage consumers, to tell a story in a new medium, will be more important than a Mobile First strategy. Don’t hire a Mobile manager, hire a Computer Vision manager.
5. Assess software performance carefully
The success of a program is partly down to the robustness of the software so it’s essential to identify, select and develop the optimum solution to deliver smooth customer experiences. The reality is, most companies offer niche products within a much broader industry and the performance between suppliers varies considerably. For instance, the speed and accuracy of scanning product packaging varies from 0.3 seconds to over 6 seconds. Importantly, brands can seize the opportunity to develop their own IP and retain data ownership as an integrated IT solution. Don’t fall into the trap of the Emperor’s New Clothes.
6. Develop hardware agnostic solutions
There’s a number of VR headsets on the market, ranging from a $5 smartphone-in-a-headset Google Cardboard to a $600 tethered-to-a-computer Oculus Rift, as well as a handful of headsets which deliver see-through experiences - the next generation of Google Glass - from the $950 Meta2 to the amazing $3,000 Hololens which uses gesture and voice commands. We’re in the early stages of consumer adoption so smartphones represent the immediate opportunity to deliver VR and AR experiences. Don’t tether your strategy to one platform.
7. Create contextually relevant content
Creativity is more important than ever - with exciting ways to engage audiences - and the need to rethink standard methods of storytelling. Instagram, SnapChat, Tumblr, Musically, Pinterest and the renaissance of gifs and emojis represent a behavioural shift in how people visually communicate. AR and VR experiences are a rich territory for brands which require new skillsets. The domains of 360 video, CGI and 3D modelling need to be wrapped in strong user experience design. Don’t leave creativity in technological void.
85% of our combined senses are commanded by sight - with a third of our brain dedicated to visual processing - so technology is now catching up with the human operating system. We’re moving to a screen-less world where the human eye is enhanced by smart lenses. Apple, the King Maker of the smartphone, has quietly been acquiring computer vision start-ups and a Sir Jony Ive product can’t be too far away. Brands who view VR and AR as a strategic channel now, will have a competitive advantage when it happens.