From Virtual to (Augmented) Reality: Technology Brings the Customer Experience to Life

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Engagement and experience have always walked hand-in-hand. But, as technology continues to progress, this symbiotic relationship holds more importance than ever before. Thus, big brands have jumped at the opportunity to incorporate augmented reality (AR) applications in an effort to engage consumers in new ways at every stage of the customer journey. Such technologies allow companies to expand upon the traditional experience, bringing added value and convenience to the average consumer.
Technology

Engagement and experience have always walked hand-in-hand. But, as technology progresses, this symbiotic relationship holds more importance than ever before. Thus, big brands have jumped at the opportunity to incorporate augmented reality (AR) applications to engage consumers in new ways at every stage of the customer journey. Such technologies allow companies to expand upon the traditional experience, bringing added value to the average consumer.Here, we speak with David DeWolf, founder and CEO of 3Pillar Global, to explore what augmented reality applications can do and how leaders in the space are setting the tone for future innovation:

1to1 Media: What are augmented reality applications? Why are such tools becoming increasingly popular in today's market?

David DeWolf: Augmented reality applications involve the use of electronic devices where they directly or indirectly relay the real-world environment through computer-generated sensory inputs such as audio, video, graphics, or data. Many independent research reports, such as one published by Juniper Research, give credence to the widespread adoption of augmented reality applications. According to the report, annual revenues from mobile AR services and applications will reach $1.2 billion by 2015.

The growing popularity of augmented reality applications is a result of today's consumer being connected to their devices nearly at all times and looking for new ways to engage virtually. Additionally, more and more enterprises have entered what we call the "digital economy." They are looking to build out their digital brand and are finding new ways to do so. The latest technologies available, coupled with more robust mobile devices in the hands of about one in every five people on the planet, makes the concept of AR applications more of a reality than ever before.

1to1: How did IKEA's 2015 catalog take augmented reality one step further? How are Haagen Dazs and Sharp also breaking into the space?

DD: When IKEA used AR to bring its 2015 Product Catalog to life, it shouldn't have come as a surprise for many closely following the success of this retail giant. With 775 million store visits in the year 2013, the success of IKEA often hinges on innovative forays, and the adoption of the latest technology is one such area where they need to be agile in terms of adoption. IKEA's 2015 product catalog puts the power to shop in the hands of their consumers. Customers can download the IKEA app on their smartphone, flash the app marker to select a product from the catalog, and superimpose it on any corner of their living space to see how the product would actually look in their home. (See IKEA Gets 'Book' to Basics for more information on this innovative technology strategy.)

Haagen Dazs, one of the leading ice cream brands in the world, has launched the Concerto Timer app. By using this application, ice cream lovers can point the camera of their smartphone at the lid of any Haagen Dazs carton to listen to a two-minute violin concerto. The innovative idea behind keeping it at two minutes duration is the fact that any ice cream, when it comes out of the freezer, would take that much time to attain the perfect consistency.

Sharp is another good example of a top brand making the most of augmented reality technology. Their AR app, Sharp ARIUS, provides potential TV buyers with the opportunity to experience the look and feel of LED TVs that are typically large--between 50 and 90 inches--on their own walls. The app also allows users to take photos of the overlay and share it with friends and family for feedback.

How do these examples compare to prior usage of augmented reality technology?

DD: In the past, people have mainly used augmented reality in the wayfaring, or navigation, space. One classic example that we have seen used since augmented reality started becoming mainstream is a person walking through a big city with a visual display of information about their surroundings displayed in front of them. Think subway schedules, directions, and information on nearby landmarks. While I think that navigation and location-based applications are promising areas, none of these examples relies specifically on the user's location. What they all have in common is that they alter the space around someone, and that is something that we will increasingly see as the Oculus Rift is released and these digitally altered environments start to be seen.

What are some best practices companies must adhere to when integrating such technologies?

DD: Think of how you can build a product that either makes the consumer's life easier or shows how your product could impact their life. You don't see that with the Haagen Dazs example, but you do with both Sharp and IKEA. If you can get it right, the idea of showing people what your product would look like in their life can be a very powerful branding tool. Generally speaking, it's safe to say that most people don't want another device in their life, so think of how you can play within ecosystems that already exist and focus on the biggest and most relevant ones. At this point, tablets are less likely to be toted around by consumers than smartphones, so if your AR app is a navigation tool, you might just focus on iPhone and Android. If you want people to see how you could change their physical environment, you may want to focus on tablets over smartphones.

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