6 Ways Marketers Can Get Augmented Reality Right

New iPhones and platforms are ushering in an era rich in possibilities

Apple global marketing svp Philip Schiller introduces the iPhone 8's AR features at WWDC 2017.

Around this time last year, Pokémon Go was all the rage. The prospect of finding and capturing virtual monsters roaming around in the real world by simply looking into your phone was more than a fun fad; it was a glimpse into the future of human-computer interaction and a world where the physical and digital come together as one.

Now, with Apple’s release of three new phones—the iPhone 8, 8 Plus and X—purpose-built to better support augmented reality, plus the launch of ARKit for iOS and Google’s ARCore for Android, AR is about to move into the mass market.

What’s great about AR is that—done correctly—it just works: Simply point your phone’s camera at a real-world environment and discover something digital inside it. No new hardware. No user effort. As a result, AR promises an explosive return to the app wars that dominated marketer attention in the early 2010s.

While Pokémon Go highlighted AR’s tremendous potential in gaming and entertainment, for most marketers, the core opportunity is to layer digital information and calls to action on top of physical objects. Remember all those times you’ve had to Google a product you discovered in a store to learn more about it? AR promises to make these moments frictionless; the information is simply waiting for you to unlock it.

For example:

• Hunting for product details, instructions or reviews in a store? Just look at the product through your phone’s camera and have the information you need appear immediately.

• Looking for a new house or apartment? See real-time availability, pricing, floor plans and interior photos in an instant.

• Wandering around a new city on vacation? Unlock the stories behind your current location by simply casting a glance in the right direction.

• Bump into someone who happens to be wearing an outfit you love? Eventually, AR will make it easy to buy just by pointing your phone at it.

• And let’s not forget the potential to change the way we communicate: AR can bring people together in the same location virtually, even when they’re physically thousands of miles away. Say hello to grandma—or a customer service rep or brand—in a whole new way.

"Make sure you're first to market. The second Pokémon Go is much less interesting than the first. The third is a waste of time and money."
Aaron Shapiro, CEO, Huge

These are just several potential avenues for success in AR. In determining what to pursue, marketers must also be mindful of the hard lessons learned during the first mobile arms race, in which brands struggled to determine what to invest in and many executive careers were ruined by chasing the wrong things. Here are six lessons to help marketers make the right bets:

1. Sometimes first beats best

If you’re going to be gimmicky, make sure you’re fast. Whenever new technology becomes available, it’s tempting to release something that generates buzz and positions your brand as innovative. The problem is that only one product will grab headlines for being the first of its kind, and the buzz from even novel apps fades quickly. If you choose to take the novelty route, make sure you’re first to market. The second Pokémon Go is much less interesting than the first (unless it’s radically better). The third is a waste of time and money.

2. Add value

AR is a great tool to solve user problems, but it’s just that—a tool. In the same way that a fork is a really bad utensil for eating soup, your AR app will be rejected if it’s a bad solution for the problem it’s supposed to solve. Focus on dissolving your users frustrations in a way that is easier than anything else out there. If that solution utilizes AR, then great. But using AR for AR’s sake when something else will work better will result in your product failing, no matter how cool it is.

3. Be entertaining

AR can be a great vehicle for games and storytelling entertainment, but remember to focus your energy on creating the best possible game or piece of content, not simply leaning on AR. No amount of AR— even stunning AR—will ever make up for bad game design or boring content.

4. Marketing is as vital as making

If you build it, they won’t just come. One of the biggest mistakes marketers made in the first mobile-app era was assuming that simply launching an app would solve all their business problems. Wrong. In order to be successful, all apps have to be properly promoted; users have to discover and learn how and why to use your product. The same goes with an AR experience.

5. Don’t forget about data

The best AR experiences are highly dependent on the data that powers the experience, whether it is data owned by the brand or data available from third parties. If you’re not ready to implement a sophisticated data strategy to create highly personalized experiences for your users, you’re not ready for breakthrough AR.

6. Hack your way to success

If you want to get a head start on the competition, the best way is to just start. In a recent AR hackathon at Huge, we conceptualized and prototyped experiences that delivered information in new ways, from using D&D trading card APIs to give players real-time valuations of their collections to quickly identifying the pills in the possession of overdose victims, and even helping people find routes to safety during public protests. You’d be surprised how much can get done when a small group of people have the freedom to try something new and have pressure to launch quickly.

So marketers everywhere: Get ready to use AR to forever change how customers interact with your brand. One day, our phones will shrink to the size of contact lenses and AR experiences will be prevalent in every waking moment of our lives. When that happens, you can say you were there at the beginning, with ARKit, ARCore and Pikachu.

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