Enhancing the consumer experience: augmented & virtual reality

In coming weeks we’ll be taking a look at key tactics for enhancing consumer experience in the year ahead. Up first: virtual and augmented reality.

“Science fiction is really sociological studies of the future” Ray Bradbury

Possibility is what separates science fiction from fantasy. From credit cards to Skype, many inventions we now take for granted appeared first in far-sighted literature dramatically predating the requisite technology. Hover boards notwithstanding, sci-fi often predicts the future with startling accuracy: but we’ve been waiting for convincing virtual reality since long before the first computer. Since 1935, in fact. What’s the holdup?

Actually, anyone who’s passed a driving theory test in the last 14 years has experienced virtual reality. Remember the dreaded hazard awareness module? It’s not a bad example of deeply underwhelming, early VR. The fact is that reality’s a tall order, and until now we just haven’t had the tech to do it justice. All that’s about to change, however: 2016 is hotly tipped as the year virtual reality will take flight. With the launch of Oculus Rift marking significant evolution in virtual technology – coming close to attaining all-important ‘presence’ – a new field lies wide open.

Naturally, the world of gaming sets the pace on this one. But the implications for experiential marketing are as broad as your imagination. Immersive brand experience is the Holy Grail in this sector. What would you do if you could transplant your consumer into a 360° world of your own making? It’s time to start deciding.

Not convinced? Ask the money. Citi predicts that the VR market will reach $200 billion by 2020.

The slightly less exacting field of augmented reality has already dramatically altered the landscape of consumer experience. With fashion and cosmetics leading the charge, AR has graduated from gimmick status to a pillar of smart shopping. Technology that allows us to place a digital overlay on our immediate environment allows retailers to piggyback on app technology, getting very clever indeed with the way information is presented to consumers.

The sneaky bit? Apps facilitate mobile-based AR; capitalising on technology already owned by the consumer. They’ll bring their tech to you – meaning integrated digital can easily become part of a bricks-and-mortar experience. 

Used cleverly, App-based AR generates shareable content for consumers – creating a sweet-spot where AR and social media campaigns are one and the same. When Maybelline brought AR and social together, the outcome was an average 4+ minutes of engagement per user, with 10% sharing the brand experience on social media.

Architects of experience take note: we’re not talking about another shiny game to capture the attention of an increasingly over-stimulated target audience. The clue’s in the title: to augment something you must genuinely enhance it. AR reveals to a consumer the extent to which they’ve been ‘buying blind’ until now; supplying vital, personalised information (without cluttering the retail space).  Savvy shoppers will shortly come to expect AR as standard, preferring offerings that allow them to envision a product in their personal context. Our money says this is one trend that’s here to stay.