Extended Reality Аs Marketing Technology

Technology is continuously changing everyday life, along with consumer habits. Yesterday we could click on targeted Facebook ads which led to a mobile app or a website. Today Snapchat offers the ability to shop directly on Amazon simply by taking photos of products you’d like to purchase.

Modern immersive experiences are so manifold that the industry coined a special term to cover everything – Extended Reality (XR). XR encompasses Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR), Mixed Reality (MR), Augmented Virtuality (AV) and all other similar technologies yet to come.

VR is a simulation from the first-person point of view and is currently experienced through standalone or mobile phone headsets (typically with hand controllers). AR/MR blends real environments with digital enhancements like 3D UI, object/face/gesture recognition and interactive holograms. Typically, AR gear is packed in glasses form factor, like HoloLens or Magic Leap, however, modern smartphones already have a growing selection of AR apps.

Up to now such specialized tech was not widely adopted, as pricey consumer hardware has kept XR in a niche position ($5000 for a HoloLens commercial suite and $1200 for HTC Vive business edition). However, more recently, headsets are improving and prices continue to drop. Today the market is filled with devices like Oculus Go for $200, Samsung Gear VR for under $100 and budget Google Cardboard devices for $10-$15.

Innovations like WebVR API and Reality VR browser by Mozilla Firefox made VR even more consumer-friendly. But with the arrival of ARKit (Apple) and ARCore (Google), AR can be now accessed with recent smartphones (Android 7.0/iOS 11) and is about to hit the mainstream and be available to 1 billion users. As reported by Digi-Capital AR is going to bring 4 times larger revenue than VR by 2020. And according to P&S Market Research, the combined global XR market is expected to reach $94.4 billion by 2023!

Both AR and VR products continue to emerge, so the early adopters market phase is now peaked as. XR is already being applied to a wide range of industries:

  • Real Estate – VR property tours and AR staging/furnishing
  • Healthcare – simulated and virtual diagnostics/surgeries
  • Education and Training – virtual classrooms and simulated environments
  • Fashion – AR showrooms and VR fashion shows
  • Military – flight, battlefield, vehicle and boot camp simulations
  • Manufacturing – AR design/collaboration tools
  • Retail – 360° view of a product and AR fitting into user’s environment
  • Entertainment – various PC/mobile games, like Pokemon GO or SuperHot to name a few

One of the most prominent XR use cases that is seeing growing demand is the marketing and advertising industry. For example, some early campaigns by companies such as Honda, Coca-Cola, ABC, and Virgin were based around 360° videos:

This was followed by some larger brands who then started to include XR into their MarTech stack:

  • BMW – VR/AR apps
  • Volvo – virtual car drive
  • Gap – virtual changing rooms
  • IKEA – virtual store and showroom
  • Lego – AR sandbox app
  • BBC – FIFA World Cup in VR
  • Snapchat – face and world lenses
  • General Electric, Boeing, Walmart – training customer service employees
  • McDonald’s – VR Happy Goggles

Today, AR ads and VR events are almost common. You can point your phone camera at a special marking, called ZapCode, to view AR content instantly. There is even a platform for native XR ads. And viewability of such ads is close to 100%, due to the easily achievable “wow” effect and currently non-existent ad blockers.

Aside from ads, XR can be applied naturally to any retail business as a presentation device. According to Medium, 71% of consumers would shop more at a place with AR content and 40% are willing to pay more for the AR experience. Who wouldn’t like to ‘try on’ something from the comfort and ease of their home before buying it? Check out this wall socket placing demo by Lohika Labs:

Such a tool could be further improved by the integration of analytics, a checkout process, recommended items, social interactions, etc., but you get the idea. It can be either a standalone app or an extension for an existing one. The usual Web experience can also be improved:

As for content, the options are unlimited and can range from using social games for brand recognition to incorporating custom Emojis, which utilize eye tracking by Magic Leap glasses. Including VR arcades, built around devices like Teslasuit (full-body sensors and feedback), in shopping malls, businesses, conferences or other populated places would create a lot of hype, even with a short-time demo experience. Another example is streaming 360° video with live actors and the ability to switch POV into VR, using motion capture.

Mass technology adoption is not required for every case. For example, while Walmart has purchased 17000 headsets for employee training purposes, individuals will need only one device to organize an office meeting with a counterpart wearing AR glasses and interacting with a digital twin of your latest design or a prototype, all pulled from the cloud. Also, a counterpart’s associate can put on a VR headset or take an AR-enabled phone and join the meeting online to interact with the same content.

At Lohika, we have already started working with such scenarios within a PlanarScope project. Our main goal with this initiative is to remove the pain points of cross-platform XR with abstraction from the actual hardware. We’re mixing it with a traditional web app, so it will make the most of the current XR user base and potentially attract new consumers.

Looking ahead, future immersive presentations can be combined with XR authoring, training and audit tools to create a seamless content pipeline. Then we can throw in BigData and Machine Learning to serve content by channels, adjust environments on the fly and analyze heat maps. XR is a whole new dimension for interactions with a customer and employees. So we’ve barely scratched the surface here.

Of course, it might take several more years for a full technological shift to Extended Reality. And it’s hard to predict when exactly all of us will start wearing computers built into contact lenses. However, right now XR has carved out a tangible place in MarTech and is growing exponentially in multiple forms. It seems like the right time to hop on the XR train and start replacing QR codes with ZapCodes.