Catch the Fever

November 28, 2016

Six tips for using augmented reality to build your brand

By Erik Sherman

The mobile game Pokémon Go, from Nintendo and Niantic, was the first to rake in $500 million in just over 60 days, according to the app analytics firm App Annie. And the revenue coattails were long. Stores bought into the fever, purchased virtual game locations, and attracted heavy foot traffic. Now, several brands are taking a second look at augmented reality (AR), the fusing of the real and digital worlds. 

Lowe’s and IKEA, for example, have tools that let customers see what products would look like in their homes. LEGO’s in-store kiosk scans a product code and projects a 3D image of the final assembly. Hyundai’s “Virtual Guide” is an AR owner’s manual with 3D projections and explanatory videos.

A survey conducted by the experience marketing consultancy Interactions showed that 71 percent of shoppers would visit a retailer more frequently if it had AR tools, and 61 percent prefer stores that offer AR over those that don’t. But a brand has to use it correctly to get the potential value. Here are six tips from experts who have made AR work for consumer brands.

1. LEARN THE ROPES. Plan on a learning curve just as you had with the web, mobile, QR codes, SMS texts, and other technologies. “People get excited about AR but they don’t know the ins and outs of it,” says Lindsay Boyajian, CMO of Augment, which makes enterprise AR systems. Also, learn the terminology so you can communicate with creatives and technologists who implement the applications.

2. PROVIDE HELP TO CONSUMERS. Because AR technology is also new to consumers, they have a learning curve, including downloading the proper apps and taking additional steps to experience AR content. Tell people step by step what they need to do to get the virtual reality content. Maybe it’s downloading a separate AR app and then using the app to scan some code on a brochure. Perhaps it’s going to a website. “[Often] the call to action isn’t big enough,” Boyajian says.  “It will say, ‘Scan this,’ but there is no context. Scan with what?”

3. REMEMBER WHO THE APP IS FOR. AR can be intoxicating, but something flashy may do nothing for consumers. “There needs to be that fun element or social connectivity element,” says Ari Popper, CEO of the innovation and prototyping company SciFutures.

4. SOLVE TECHNICAL ISSUES. AR technology still presents potential problems. The background can often show through projected content because transparent pixels don’t obscure what should be behind them. Anchoring virtual objects in a real-world backdrop so they aren’t detached from the background is a challenge. Few mobile devices have the software and hardware capabilities to sense room depth and spatial orientation. As a result, a lot of AR applications may not be possible.

5. CHECK YOUR CONTENT. AR applications need content that you may not have. A company needs to create and manage 3D content, including wireframe models, polygon surfaces, textures, and complicated lighting considerations. Brands also need the ability, whether in-house or through an agency, to compress and simplify content so it isn’t too large and resource-demanding to run on a mobile device. Also, particularly if you’re a retailer, you need the processes, technology, and staffing to ensure the content representing SKUs remains accurate and current.

6. UNDERSTAND THE PLATFORM CHOICES. AR requires a platform. The choice affects what you can do now and in the future. For example, Pokémon Go works off a geolocation platform while others, like the LEGO kiosk, use image or object recognition, says Joanan Hernandez, founder of the mobile app developer Mollejuo. The design and use of these platforms can be completely different. Apple, Google, Microsoft, and other companies either have or are developing their own AR programs and apps. Asking consumers to download additional apps to use AR may turn them away, so brands will have to watch which platforms become popular and then choose what to support.

AR will be a powerful tool for selling products, educating customers, and building relationships. Now is the time to start understanding the technologies. However, realize that making AR work for your brand will take time, patience, and a lot of work. 


This article first appeared in the Fall 2016 issue of Activate magazine.

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