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Augmented Reality is a Reality. Now What?

Augmented Reality is a Reality. Now What?

Monday, June 29, 2009

The new iPhone with video - coupled with GPS, compass and future iPhone applications - ushers in the Brave New World of augmented reality.  And mobile marketing, which until now has been a relative afterthought for brand marketers outside of Japan, is about to go gangbusters.

For the technophobes out there, here is a brief video demoing the world’s first augmented reality webcam promotion from GE:

And another fun example of a virtual pet from our neighbors at Georgia Institute of Technology:

These early applications might seem like little more than fun toys.  But consider Layar, the world’s first augmented reality browser:

The possibilities are endless.  Augmented reality means marketers can overlay consumer interactions with packaging, retail aisles, individual products, billboards, magazine ads, point of sale displays...virtually any brand touchpoint with supplemental, virtual experiences.  And marketers can obtain instantaneous feedback from consumers regarding these experiences.

For the “Trekkies” out there (or is “Trekkers” the more geek-tolerant term?) think of augmented reality like a brand holodeck.  Or if that doesn’t resonate, think of it as Terminator vision through every consumers’ iPhone or other smartphone.

Brands are now able to supplement analog experiences with an overlay of virtual reality.  Beyond the possibilities for adding entertainment value, interactive brand experiences and highly targeted, personalized messaging and promotions, augmented reality enables brands to provide utilities to consumers.

For example, a travel company could offer an application that allowed users to point their phones at attractions and instantly receive user reviews, prices, hours of operation, attendance data and peak traffic times, or other valuable information.  Coupling the ability for an application to pinpoint the user’s location with the direction in which the mobile device is pointed opens up many opportunities to provide data consumers will find useful.

In this sense, augmented reality has the power to fundamentally change the ways in which brands interact with consumers.  Rather than mere persuasion through the delivery of effective messaging or providing a value add in the form of entertainment, brands can offer something inherently useful to their customers.  Here is a practical application for online retailers:

Furthermore, augmented reality has the potential to turn traditional market research on its ear.  Rather than recruiting consumers to participate in focus groups or surveys --  which are controlled, non-contextualized data collection methods -- augmented reality means brand researchers can get a real-time data stream from consumers as “field researchers.”  Customers armed with smart phones could be incentivized to provide feedback or insights regarding virtually anything in the analog world, all prompted and collected through touchscreen response via an augmented reality application.

The future is now.  If you think social media has had a profound impact on marketing, get ready for the next big sea change.  Forward-thinking brands like GE are already seeing the potential.  Don’t get caught behind the curve.

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