AR is the most tangible manifestation of how our digital and physical worlds are combining, but by no means the only example.
Our mobile devices already mean we have a constant online connection to each other, to brands, to society and limitless information — providing an informational and transactional layer on top of the physical world.
What many define as ‘AR’ is the pointed version of this, literally overlaying information in front of our eyes to make many actions more effortless.
Voice is another example of this digital and smart layer on top of the real world. Wearables. IOT. All examples of how connectivity is being fused with every aspect of life.
There is absolutely no doubt that AR is a significant opportunity for brands and marketers. The examples at Facebook’s F8 conference paint a picture of the world being interactive and shoppable — and every brand manager must be falling out of their seat to think about how they can leverage this sort of technology.
The danger is, as always, to think technology first, rather than people-first. The question must always be “How can we help our audience do what they want better”, or if inward looking, “How can we deliver on our organisational purpose better”.
AR can play a role for brands who want to provide additional functionality layered on the real world. Ikea has already demonstrated smart ‘in home experiences’ of their furniture for instance. This comes from a consumer need and a business problem — rather than ‘what can we do with AR’. Digital commerce struggles with ‘try before you buy’ and AR gives you a sense, perhaps, of what that product could look like in-situ, as just one example. Dulux have dabbled with this, allowing you to paint your front-room virtually. Fashion retailers have virtual dressing room apps to see how clothes look on you. These all come from a real-world problem and looking to how new technology can address it.
That said — it is critical to explore and test and learn with new technologies. To see what they could do, to try and fail and try again, until you discover the right shape for you, rather than copying another brand’s use case or using the first idea which leaps to mind.
Starting with ‘what can create the best experience for customers’ and then look to a toolbox of new technologies and techniques as ways of answering that question is the lifeblood of good innovation. Starting with ‘what can this technology do?’ is the lifeblood of faddish and non-strategic behaviours.
AR — or perhaps to use its full meaning ‘Augmented Reality’, is fundamentally what digital does best: an additive, augmenting, intelligent layer which improves and eases the physical world — and to this goal, AR is not new, but accelerating and accessible to people beyond high-end engineering businesses like Google or Facebook. The platforms are available for any brand to dabble, and this makes the future of AR a wonderful vision — from cynical marketing to life-saving applications, providing we ask …
…is what we are doing augmenting reality in a valuable meaningful way?