The age of the ‘digital awe’ is coming to an end, and users are starting to aspire for deep and meaningful engagement with brands and services. Influencer marketing and social media viral tactics just don’t cut it anymore. For marketers, the pursuit of meaningful engagement is essential if they want to cut through the content ocean and digital noise. In this sense, that means connecting with an audience through content and narratives that garner an authentic emotional response or add value to existing or ongoing conversations and behaviours.

Some of the greatest brand campaigns of the last year used this approach. Take, for example, Patagonia’s boldly pro-environment TV debut in the US, Ben & Jerry’s socially-focused campaigns, or Berkeley Museum’s ‘Free The Love’ App enabling people in the San Francisco Bay Area to share love messages through the use of Augmented Reality (AR). These campaigns had made a real impact on the consumer because they struck an emotional chord and offered something that represented authentic values through the smart application of a relevant medium.

Meaningful experiences as the ultimate engagement tool

Whether they are selling a product, services, or co-working spaces – marketing professionals need to evolve with technology. Digital and physical environments will merge, and it will become more important than ever before to build brand strategies and narratives by utilising these new technologies. Immersive tools - and Augmented Reality in particular - are set to elevate the consumer experience in new ways, namely, by bridging digital interactions with physical spaces.

It is still unclear which device will serve as the catalyst to ring in the new age of mainstream AR adoption, but, given their prevalence, smartphones are currently the most likely route. What is clear, however, is how marketers should start using AR now to be ready for the expectations of the consumer of the future. To do this, brands need to think big. Rather than merely layering logos and adding pop-up content, brands should develop useful tools that create new experiences and showcase their value or narratives in the real world.

Imagine eco-friendly companies harnessing AR to present the outcome of using their product by highlighting the power of consumer choice. Such companies could, for example, embed a tool that compares a smog-free vs smog-heavy view of their city. A travel company could become a spatially-embedded travel guide; or a toy manufacturer could help kids explore new ways they can interact with the products - the applications are endless. Marketers can harness this potential to form new narratives within our culture in a rich, relatable and useful way to get their messages across.

For training, sales and marketing purposes AR can also be a particularly powerful tool. Used, for example, to create a more interactive presentation, AR can complement existing brand content while creating flexibility in how content is delivered and engaged with. Companies like Prezi and Microsoft have already developed AR capabilities that enrich familiar presentation tools for this very reason.

All that virtual jazz…

Augmented Reality is not the only technology that may appeal to brands attempting to engage their audiences. Virtual Reality (VR) platforms have been a popular alternative so far, yet VR needs to overcome several hurdles first, including inaccurate physiological reactions due to latency issues or high content development costs. But ultimately, VR falls short in providing a convincing social platform, which is a crucial element of making these technologies relatable to the modern consumer.

Technology might have increased our demand for quick gratification and alternative experiences, but humans are inherently social creatures that look for a deep, genuine bond with platforms, people, spaces and ideas. Putting on a VR headset, which is essentially designed to block out the outside world, limits such a bond, no matter how immersive the experience might be. Our physical world provides quite an immersive and accessible HD experience already (and even comes with a built-in social platform). Weaving digital experiences straight into it seems like an easier and much more efficient first step. Building blended experiences through AR rather than VR technology will become a part of the future of marketing for this reason.

AR can slot seamlessly into the world around us, and can offer more than just an extra digital ‘fad’ to our lives. Rather than pursuing an alternative digital reality, AR technologies will offer brands new pathways to blend both physical and digital experiences to reach a meaningful outcome. If marketers want to become better at connecting with their audiences in the coming years, they need to harness the potential of AR technology as a strategy, rather than simply as a novel tactic, that converts brand messages and customer engagement into a truly human experience.


By Galit Ariel, author of Augmenting Alice

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