Ever been in a store, browsing the displays, when you suddenly sensed a presence behind you? By the time the commission-driven salesperson realized you were onto him, you were already 50 feet out the door, barely escaping a high-pressure push to buy something you didn't want in the first place.
We've all been there, and so have our customers. It's just one of the many reasons you should incorporate augmented reality in your marketing.
Allow Yourself to be Human Through Technology
Alot of consumers don't understand what the term "augmented reality" means, but they're incredibly engaged with the 3D images, webcam access, and applications offered up by the technology. Humans, by nature, have always been hands-on; we avoid touching hot stoves for a reason.
Augmented reality is a great method to help consumers truly experience what your product has to offer. It delivers a "fun" factor no other method can, demonstrating your brand's understanding that people want to feel like people. It makes customers feel like they're part of the story--and everyone loves a good story.
Serving the Customer
The human aspect isn't the only draw. As noted, many shoppers loathe talking to sales associates. Large numbers of salespeople are trained or conditioned to be pushy. Consumers fear they'll end up with items they will eventually return. That usually signals their last stop in your store.
With augmented reality, you can bypass the salesperson and instantly remove the feeling of being sold to. While great sales consultants are welcome participants in the sales process, we often don't prepare salespeople to approach consumers well, making this a clear enhancement to the process.
An improved customer service experience means your brand has a much stronger opportunity to cull word-of-mouth marketing from its customer base. Word of mouth doesn't come from simply meeting customers' expectations. If you want them to talk about you, you have to wow them - and AR provides an excellent delivery vehicle for a "wow."
Telling a unique story builds a connection at the point of sale, so why not use AR for great product testimonials? Imagine using AR technology and providing your customers with a strong endorsement from users just like them, as they're standing in front of the product in the store. Unless you're going to start bringing in carloads of existing customers, you'd be hard-pressed to beat this approach.
Serving the Business
Many brands correctly want to help their customers, and augmented reality enables them do that. Yet we can't deny that there are lots of business benefits.
Augmented reality can help keep costs down, for one. If you run a virtual store, like Chinese e-commerce brand Yihaodian, you can manage some incredible real estate for free; the brand now has 1,000 stores throughout China. Virtual stores enable companies to use Buckingham Palace or the Taj Mahal as backdrops at no cost, but good luck buying a plot of land outside either. Even videos, which require DVD players and screens that are expensive and easily broken (planned obsolescence even dooms retailers) pale in comparison to AR, which asks the consumer to use his own device to access the brand's message.
While augmented reality can save you money, it can also bring money by virtue of separating you from the competition. If you adopt this technology early, a lot of companies competing in your space will be left to jump on your bandwagon. No matter how similar your products are, your marketing approach alone will make consumers consider your brand relevant and progressive.
Projecting an image, video, and message of your own making to customers allows you to control the conversation. The unique format of augmented reality adds novelty to a store's atmosphere and helps brands overcome the training and messaging obstacles erected by high turnover among retail associates.
Making the Transition
Consumers have to be educated about augmented reality to inspire their use of it. If you're asking them to download an app and then use it, you need to keep the interface as simple and multifunctional as possible. You can opt for product demonstrations, warranty explanations, or gamification, but customers won't get it (and won't even try to) if you don't make the investment look worthwhile.
For example, technical products are great candidates for instructional or educational videos. Large, bulky items can be demonstrated beyond the confines of a store via an app or a video. If you pair the right product with the right approach, augmented reality is a helpful supplement to salespeople. Sales staff can serve their true purpose--providing in-depth help --after customers engage with your AR content. It's a win-win.
A cautionary note for marketers: Don't allow your development team to run away with the project, failing to intersect the creative aspects with your business objectives. Permitting your resources to be hijacked prevents you from reaping any benefit from augmented reality.
Starbucks, Cadillac, and Virgin are all using AR to tell their story and make their store experiences unique. Korea's Tesco, the nation's second-ranked grocery store, wanted to reach number one without increasing its store count. It installed virtual stores in train stations; the only costs were found in the rent for the wall space and the price of the materials its virtual store was printed on. Within three months, Tesco had 130 percent higher online sales. Its appeal to time-strapped commuters had worked.
With tools like AR available to marketers, there's nothing to hide behind. Don't whine about poor results. If you offer a cool augmented reality experience in your store, the chances of people buying go up exponentially.
If you don't and your competition does, you get to enjoy the view from behind the leaders.
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Mark Quinn is a Segment VP of Marketing with Leggett & Platt and has more than two decades of experience. Quinn writes a bedding industry and marketing blog called Q's Views.
December 12, 2013
1:00pm ET / 10:00am PT