Augmented Reality: The implications for b2b marketing

Interest in Augmented Reality (AR) technology is rapidly gathering pace. A Google Search on “Augmented Reality” will now deliver over 3.5 million search results. Gartner is hailing it as one of the top 10 disruptive technologies (2008-2012). Juniper Research goes as far as estimating that the AR market will be worth $732 million by 2014.

AR is hot stuff. So what’s all the fuss about and what does it mean to b2b marketers?

Augmented Reality today

Broadly speaking, AR is about overlaying digital content, such as information or graphics, over objects, people and locations, in the real-world – as viewed through a mobile phone camera or webcam.

To whet your whistle here are a few of the best known examples of AR in practice to date:

  • Mini Cabrio campaign: Mini was one of the first brands to put AR to the test in its advertising way back in 2008. Take the 2D print ad, hold it up to your webcam and a 3D image of the new Cabrio will be projected onto your screen. Simple yet effective. 
  • Wikitude: A mobile travel guide, developed for the Google Android phone and acclaimed as the best augmented reality web browser in 2009. View a landscape through your Google phone and see a whole host of annotations appear, with data pulled from Wikipedia.
  • Nearest Tube: One of the first AR apps developed for the iPhone 3GS. It says what it does on the tin. View any street in London through your iPhone video function and on the display up will pop graphics highlighting the nearest tube lines and stations – to get you from A to B faster.
  • Layar: There are some interesting apps to come out of Layar and a mobile augmented browser. Many of the apps work on a similar principle to Wikitude, but seek to annotate the real world with things like ATMs, shops and bars. Interestingly though, it also has a social networking dimension with the potential to highlight where nearby friends are – sharing status info and Tweets
  • TAT Augmented ID: Finally, a slightly lesser known one, TAT Augmented ID is still in concept stage but seeks to use facial recognition software to identify people, allowing information to then be overlayed and shared from social networks.

Yep all pretty, pretty cool so far, but what does all this mean for b2b marketers?

Time to take AR for a spin?

In the hype cycle, AR is probably sitting at the peak of inflated expectations – and there are certainly obstacles to implementation.

But with an estimated 197 million AR-friendly smartphones due to be in the market by 2012, we’re firmly of the mind that b2b marketers should be seeking to better understand AR and how it could potentially augment (sorry) their marketing strategies.

So what could AR do for you? Here are a few starters for 10:

  • Brand reinforcement: IBM has been quick off the blocks with its Seer App, developed for Google Android, which was previewed at last year’s Wimbledon tournament – and this year at the Australian Open. Point your phone in the direction of one of the courts and it’ll show you the scores in real-time. Point it towards the food area and it’ll tell you how long you’re going to have to wait for those strawberries. Chances are the number of actual Google phones knocking around these tournaments has been few and far between. However, it’s proven a great way of reinforcing IBM’s position as innovators. If you’re looking to demonstrate your leadership in the IT software and services space, what better way than showing you know how to apply cutting edge technology to deliver new value to Joe Public.
  • Targeted campaign activity: Mini is just one example and here are a few more consumer examples to get your creative juices flowing. Clearly there needs to be real consideration given to your audience in terms of whether they’ll have the right kit in the first place to interact with your AR app and whether they’ll have the time and inclination, especially in a business environment. If it ticks all the boxes though and the potential ROI case stacks up, it could prove a great way to improve the impact of your advertising or direct marketing activity. Act fast though as the novelty value could soon wear off.
  • Maximising your presence at events: It’s just a matter of time before exhibition and event companies are all over AR like a rash. Imagine delegates being able to pinpoint your stand simply by holding up their phone, find out about special offers or schedule a demo in a matter of clicks. Or perhaps AR could be used to aid good old fashioned face-to-face networking? So at a conference, you look through your phone display and all the attendees who have opted in are annotated with their name and a short profile. Scary but useful. Again, the TAT Augmented ID video is a good example of how this could potentially work.
  • Bringing your product demo to life: AR could prove the ideal way for engineers, architects, commercial property developers and technologists (amongst others) to create truly engaging and interactive demos. Take a look at how AR was used to show a 3D projection of the new Market Hall in Rotterdam while it was still in development. The beauty is, in a controlled environment at an event, you can provide the enabling technology to manage the AR experience. Museums are already using this to good effect. Couldn’t the same principles be applied to demo-ing your products?
  • Employee engagement: How do you reignite the interest of your sales force who think they’ve seen it all? AR could add that extra element of surprise and interest for internal campaigns, events and launches – and for the purposes of sales education. What’s more, how about creating AR enabled environments in your offices so staff can walk the floor – using their phone displays to identify colleagues and their profiles, along with Presence information on their status (ie. Busy or Available for conversation)? Welcome to the Brave New World.
  • Improving the post-purchase service experience: So they’ve bought your complicated bit of kit and now need to deploy it. How about making their life far easier with AR instructions? BMW has showcased the potential in a futuristic video. It could also serve as a highly effective way to get technical staff up to speed with new products – marrying virtual graphics with a hands-on experience.

What’s clear is AR has huge potential. However, like any new technology it’s worth approaching with caution. Before investing valuable marketing budget, fully consider whether a) AR will really help you meet your objectives b) Deliver the best return on your investment, and c) Enhance the way you engage with your audience. It’s just a matter of time before the b2b applications of AR will be making the headlines – let’s hope it’s for all the right reasons. And if you’ve made it this far, we think you deserve to see a truly awe inspiring application of AR.

By earnestagency 22 January 2010
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