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How to build Augmented Reality into your digital strategy

How to build Augmented Reality into your digital strategy

By Stephen Beasley, Head of Digital Strategy for KLP.

Digital is a relentlessly evolving arena, and now more than ever before we are constantly bombarded with the latest technique or technology that could potentially add real value to a brand, be it through its uniqueness, ROI prospect, or usefulness.

Augmented Reality is one of those interesting developments that, although still in its early stages of development and limited exploitation, has already seen a buzz of excitement surrounding its impending uses and vision of creating an exciting and immersive future.

Understand what it is, how it works, and what it can do

The first step in building AR into a strategy is to understand what it actually is. Simply put, AR mixes real and virtual worlds together in real time. It does this by integrating, or “augmenting” 3D objects into live video.

Typically, all that is required is a video camera, a display, and a computer hosting AR software. Through the camera (often a webcam) the software recognises a specific ‘target’, ‘symbol’ or ‘marker’, which it then brings to life on screen in the form of a 3 dimensional entity or environment.

A marker can be any type of collateral, from a simple black and white icon, to a physical object - virtually anything that is distinctly recognisable. Explaining how AR works is essential in creating, developing, and selling in an AR idea, and more importantly, it helps you recognise opportunities, creative executions, applications, and ultimately its potential for a brand.

Experience it for yourself

If you are going to create effective AR applications you really need to experience it. You cannot create valuable creative ideas based on something that you’ve only read about or seen demos of. Experiencing AR will hopefully help you overcome the scepticism and questions around its concept.

Understand the audience

One of the great things about AR is that there isn’t really a learning curve for the user.

Although generally seen as a media for a young, technology savvy target audience, AR is in fact an intuitive method of interaction, so the main obstacle to overcome is the perception of technology. AR applications are a perfect way to connect consumers with a brand, with the technology just providing users with the ability to control their experience.

Currently online AR applications rely on the user having a webcam, and that they able to download and run the software. AR isn’t right for every brand, nor is it the right answer to every brief. The fundamentals of targeting the right audience hold firmer more than ever.

While digital marketing's current obsession with AR runs the risk of over-saturation, and the likelihood that this could exhaust consumers, the benefit of today's applications, however useless they may seem, are acclimatising the general public to the technology and a future of 3D interaction.

If you look at how we have been developing user interfaces combined with virtual world theory, whether it’s for everyday actions or the process-intensive activities, it becomes obvious that 3D is the future of interaction.

Appreciate the opportunities within the marketplace

You must think broadly about how technology can be used in different markets. This can be anything from a simple consumer product, to an event or exhibition, through to a retail environment, you must recognise that any market has the potential to utilise AR in some fashion.

Clever thinking will always lead to the development of an effective idea so it’s important to think about how AR can work on a personal level as there’s an element of play involved. AR can help you showcase a product, or highlight specific details, in a very original and interactive way.

Bringing interactivity into the retail space is a massive opportunity. AR applications installed in public places, or behind a shop window, can help create traffic. Within this space AR can then bring a product to life having the customer pick it up a product and show it to a screen where they can see themselves holding a virtual 3D moving entity on its surface.

AR can also help create an engaging experience at live events by bringing life, dimension, entertainment, and interactivity to a presentation by enriching it with 3D content to a group audience.

Never forget the brand experience

Whether an experiential marketing campaign is an online application, an event or a promotion, AR can help to connect consumers to a brand. It’s a revolutionary visual communication tool that can enhance brand awareness by delivering eye catching information and let customers experience a stronger connection with the brand.

Understand the difference between ‘buzz’ and being ‘useful’ is crucial. Like most advancements within the digital sphere, AR currently holds a ‘wow’ factor, so there are immediate opportunities to be first to market with an engaging idea.

But to become a game changer you have to think about initiatives that will turn it into a useful medium. In order to create a truly impressive and interactive experience that adds value and engages the user, AR should be about making the world around us more accessible and practical using the medium of technology.

Understand that it’s not about technology

Using AR successfully is just a question of creating compelling applications and services that meet real life requirements. The balance to be struck is that these requirements drive the technology, not the other way around. Technology supports and enables creativity: it is not its master.

There is a danger that the technology delivering the message has become more important than the message itself. Creating some of the more sophisticated experiences are frequently seen as a technical challenge rather than a creative one, with technology often viewed as this intimidating, complex beast - think how it is portrayed in Sci-Fi movies.

But digital is not just about technology. Previously there has been a strain between the constraints of the technology and the creative aspirations, so in order for an AR idea to flourish we have to demystify and debunk the mystique of the digital world that presents a barrier to understanding for others.

You have to know what technology can do, but you also have to understand customer behaviour and society. Technologies such as AR allow us to take the experience to the consumer, rather than relying on them coming to us, and whilst AR has the technical capabilities to pull us in one direction, economic and social forces will always pull back in the opposite direction, thus, although social changes will occur they will be evolutionary, not revolutionary.

Think differently and look towards the future

It is important to think of the benefits that AR could bring to enhance and expand a users experience, and how AR can be used in different channels. New smart phones like the iPhone 3GS combine functionalities of a video camera, GPS, and compass, which all add up to a powerful mobile device that can support AR. With AR applications on phones users can potentially interact with content, 3D or otherwise, in the real world.

Technologies such as Layar - which identifies your location through GPS and knows which direction you’re facing using the compass - can overlay information on objects and places in a physical space. With location-tagged information, a mobile could become a portal to meta-information and content physically linked to places or objects by simply viewing them through a phone's camera.

Users will then be able being to tag their own information to objects or places, leaving comments on the world, and potentially transforming environments into 3D social networks. Getting from A to B will become much more interesting.

In the gaming spectrum, advances like Xbox’s Project Natal (a console add-on that uses video cameras as input devices and that allows players to interact by simply moving their bodies and speaking) could soon mean we have an entirely new generation of AR to play with.

Return on innovation

The physical and digital worlds are colliding, and you need to be inspired by how they are coming together, changing communication and creating new opportunities for brands and customers to interact. And that’s where AR becomes a really interesting concept.

AR offers a completely sublime, entertaining and immersive experience that can deliver high impact dynamic content and interactivity on demand. Content that responds to the physical movements of the audience and engages them in true brand interaction means that a brand can become the subject of brand play, giving unprecedented brand name recall, enormous purchase intent, and message delivery recall.

Knowing how great ideas can connect these opportunities and engage with customers in interactive experiences that integrate with traditional techniques will deliver effective results. AR offers new creative and technological ways of appealing to the attention, curiosity and the emotions of consumers, and by observing and learning how people interact with brands will help define new behaviours.

These experiences are more flexible, dynamic, effective, measurable, and potentially cost-efficient, than many traditional methods, and increasingly they are what the brands of today are looking for. Today more than ever brands are looking to define themselves in the digital space, searching for something that makes them more memorable than their competitors.

Inevitably the novelty of the initial types of AR will fade, but there lies the challenge to develop this medium a step further and create new types of engagement.

Incorporating AR into a strategy is about creating exciting new ways to engage with consumers, and because it has its foundation in digital, it brings together the interactivity and accountability that we are used to.

The focus of using AR shouldn’t be just about because it is cool, but because it provides engaging new experiences entrenched in accountability.

Every interaction can be tracked and analysed, and the resulting insights can be further used to optimise the experience for better performance. This is how a strategy can turn return on investment into return on innovation.

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