The curious benefits of augmented reality
Whilst wandering round my local branch of Evans cycles this morning, trying to figure out the best way to stay dry on the morning cycle commute this winter, I witnessed an apparently growing trend in retail consumers first hand; ‘Showrooming’.
Instead of the usual meander around between the stands looking slightly bemused until eventually being begrudgingly assisted by someone or other (actually, to be fair, the guys in Evans are usually pretty on it but you get the idea), I saw some of my fellow shoppers scanning QR codes attached to bikes and discovering things for themselves.
I immediately assumed they were shopping around for comparative prices online and was actually quite surprised that they were being so brazen about it, given that the most likely outcome was buying somewhere else. However, on closer inspection, I found that the signs attached to the bikes actually encouraged this sort of interaction.
Curious not to miss out, I had to discover it for myself. Scanning the code attached to the front of the bike, I was presented with just the type of info I’d want when looking at upgrading to a new bike; full spec, all the product information and, crucially, customer reviews.
This strikes me as a really intelligent use of this sort of technology to improve an experience in context. When shopping you want to be able to access all the information available as readily as possible, clearly a benefit of online purchasing. However, when buying something quite specific or involved, such as a bike, there’s no substitute for picking it up, sitting on it and generally seeing it in the ‘flesh’.
The way Evans ‘augmented’ the shopping experience with just the type of information I would have wanted, at just the time I wanted it simply makes sense.
This experience was at the opposite end of the spectrum from the last time I scanned such a code. On the campaign for the new Jaguar F-Type, despite being completely ‘cold’ to the buying process, reading the Sunday papers at the kitchen table, I answered the call to action and scanned the ad. Although I was hardly ‘in market’ for a new Jag at that very moment, I was both curious intrigued to see what deep, engaging, Augmented Reality experience they might provide me with…
I was simply taken to a microsite and online brochure. There wasn’t even a 3D element. Nothing moved. Nothing even ‘vroooomed’. Needless to say, I quickly went back to my paper somewhat disappointed by the whole experience.
Disappointment is a huge turn off to the curious consumer. Persuading the interaction with your communication can be a real boon, however you must at least deliver on expectations, if not surpass them. If you aren’t using AR to surprise and delight then you shouldn’t be using it at all.
AR can be an incredibly powerful bridge between on and offline, offering opportunities to create a value exchange between consumers and brands which can be more engaging and entertaining than any other form of communication I can think of.
For me, whether delivered through channel, timing, content or situation, context is the key element in the AR consideration. Brands that recognise this win. Brands that don’t will disappoint and suffer as a consequence. AR should not be used as a part of vanity marketing. Whatever the application it must literally augment the existing experience and makes it work better, harder, more efficiently. And that really is the crux of how and when brands should look to use it.
The modern smartphone has some glorious features on it and the experienced delivered should maximise this. Whilst Evans nail the context, there is still an opportunity for a deeper experience there. Perhaps demo videos for instance or a more social angle.
The Museum of London’s Streetmuseum app does this brilliantly by recognising your location and serving up a historical image from its extensive archive of what it would have looked like for your ancestors standing in exactly the same spot.
I reckon this is all a natural progression for the curious and increasingly digitally engaged consumer. Brands are, should, and will increasingly be using augmented reality (AR) to enhance real world experiences to the point where it will become the rule, not the exception. Just as ads without a URL now seem out of place consumers will come to expect a level of interaction, seeking out the scannable, rather than awaiting instruction.
Not only is this great for brands as a means to create stronger, deeper relationships but it’s great for consumers too, discovering new and exciting ways to reward their curiosity.
Who knows, maybe someday soon I’ll be riding out of Evans on a shiny new Augmented bike…
Gavin Wheeler is CEO at direct response and relationship marketing agency WDMP
Photo credit: Ravi Kumar Ramasamy