Virtual and augmented reality, along with smart technology and the Internet of Things, are two of the biggest marketing trends to keep an eye on. It’s no surprise then that they were mentioned in several sessions in this year’s Social Media Week.
Two of the sessions that grabbed our attention were “Beating the Hype Machine: A Useful Guide to Mixed Reality”, which looked at the future of AR and VR marketing, with examples from pioneering brands; and “Alexa, What Does the Future of Marketing Look Like?”: How Brands Can Leverage Audio to Reach Consumers”, which examined the possibilities of using smart home hubs like Amazon Echo to market to consumers.
So how are companies at the cutting edge using AR, VR and smart hubs to connect with consumers in new ways?
Focus on simplicity – help brands understand new technology
According to David Blanar, Brand Partnership Specialist at Google UK, there is a challenge in helping brands understand new technology. Every brand comes from a different path of the journey, so it’s important to help them gain the right understanding before they start implementing VR and AR in marketing.
The first step he suggests is to “focus on simple things” when developing engaging and immersive experiences. This way it’s easier to explain a concept, before moving towards more advanced ideas.
As an example, he mentioned their collaboration with World of Tanks and their focus on bringing technology to life. The use of AR  in their case offers an additional experience to visitors, without replacing the original experience for an alternative reality.
On the other hand, brands can also offer a window to a different world for their fans, as in the case of Fantastic Beasts for Warner Bros. The goal was to promote the movie by creating a new world, “using technology as a seamless way to go from our real world to a branded world of virtualized areas.”
Telling a different story through VR
Amit Sharma, Associate Vice President – Formula One & Media Business Marketing at Tata Communications, helped Formula One reach a wider audience with the use of VR.
It is estimated that there are 450 million F1 fans worldwide, so when they decided to offer an on-track experience, the opportunity was limited to a select number of fans. This was until they decided to use VR technology  to expand their engagement to fans all over the world.
They created an app, involved a famous F1 driver and told a story from a unique angle. According to Amit Sharma, it’s about “telling a story that’s not visible to the customer”. Thus, virtual reality is not an additional medium, but simply a new way to unravel a hidden story.
The future of AR and VR in marketing
David Blanar mentioned that “the future is here, but it’s not evenly dispersed.” What’s missing is a complete end-to-end consumer experience that helps you see seamlessly across all your devices and connect you with other people in the world.
Amit Sharma added at this point that it’s also important to add an improved context to these new experiences. Experiences currently exist in an isolated way, which raises an interesting issue for brands when trying to embrace new technologies just for the sake of trying out new trends without the right context.
James Holland, Managing Consultant, Creative Technology at Text100, offered his own predictions for “mixed reality” over the next several years, and what we can expect from it.
It is predicted that the quality of graphics is going to significantly increase in new technologies over the next 2-3 years, bringing a cinema quality on devices that can even focus their attention where your attention is
We should expect a more transparent experience in AR over the next 4-5 years, one which transcends current devices and exploring it in a novel way that makes it more accessible.
We already see examples of everyday use of AR from brands, with IKEA, for example, offering it as a creative way to design your own space with new furniture.
There should be more examples over the next couple of years, as more brands will realize that the best way to take advantage of new technologies is to incorporate them in a way that adds value to consumers’ everyday lives.
The rise of voice-first platforms and smart hub marketing
Patrick Givens, VP, Head of VaynerSmart at VaynerMedia, talked about “voice platforms” such as the Amazon Echo smart hub, and how they allow brands to form a two-way broadcast , speaking back to consumers’ requests, offering them additional control and value.
The first question when brands are considering whether to use voice platforms for marketing is: “What’s the right conversation for my brand?”
This is a helpful way to understand how each brand can add value. Johnnie Walker, for example, created voice content to offer guided tasting, or a “whiskey 101” for consumers. This allowed the brand to reach a new medium, increase engagement and establish authority over the product and the knowledge around it.
Moreover, VaynerMedia created GaryVee 365 , a free-to-enable Alexa skill to help inspire people during their morning routines. This “flash briefing” – a type of skill designed to give listeners news, weather reports and other updates – offered daily motivational quotes, phrases and sayings from Gary Vaynerchuk, CEO and co-founder of VaynerMedia.
This served as an additional content delivery channel that involved a great amount of testing to understand what the audience would respond well to.
According to Patrick Givens, these are the insights that they drew after testing GaryVee 365:
- People are interested in a Flash Briefing, seeking succinct content that brings value, without becoming an overwhelming experience
- It’s important to focus on the model when creating content. A brand that wants to have a voice has to be purposeful. In that case, advertising doesn’t always fit, at least not in the traditional way
- People expect from the platforms to give what they are asking back. That’s why brands should be focused on building a destination experience with a user-intent
- The first step is to build the first version of an experience. Then cross-promotion and communication can bring your brand from inspiration to facilitation.
There seems to be a growing interest among marketers to understand how VR and AR can be part of a branded digital strategy. What’s critical is to keep in mind that every experience should add value to the consumers.
Moreover, the rise of smart hubs brings out another opportunity for awareness and engagement, this time focusing on the voice, rather than a visual medium. This concept has its own challenges, but also its own unique creative ideas.
It’s not too early for brands to try out how new technologies can be part of an innovative experience for their consumers. The challenge is to involve new technologies into everyday value. This can be the key to a growing trend that is expected to become vital as part of a marketing strategy over the next years.
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