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Augmented Reality: a marketing primer

“When you think of any aspect of life or work, augmented reality is completely going to change how we do it.” – Ori Inbar

Augmented Reality (AR) is a technology platform wherein real life objects or “triggers” are scanned by a digital device in order to return information, a website or other digital media. The technology can also superimpose a computer-generated image on a user’s view of the real world, thus providing a composite view.

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The technology is hardly new, although you might not have heard about it yet because technologists, marketers and CTOs are still trying to figure out use cases for it. Professor Tom Caudell invented AR in 1990 as a way for Boeing to find new ways of engineering their planes, as it’s a great way of virtually seeing what effect the changes to a structure will have.

There are some incredibly innovative ways in which Augmented Reality, and its more renowned big brother, Virtual Reality, are being used both in the world right now. A little caveat: some of them are a little “half-baked” like Google’s Glass product but some of them have been around long enough to create some compelling use cases:

In my opinion there are three companies leading the way when it comes to augmented reality:

Aurasma claims to be the world’s leading augmented reality platform with 80 000+ customers and with a client list consisting of being brands like Mercedes Benz, Universal, Marvel, Lexus, Disney and Argos they’re not far off. Users can go onto the platform and create “auras” which are custom pieces of content that incur high click-through rates (high rates of people seeing the auras and interacting with them) and thus high levels of engagement.

Layar was possibly the first of the mainstream augmented reality platforms to emerge in 2009 hailing from Amsterdam. Where I feel they differentiated themselves was in the travel industry where Layar showed how custom information about tourist attractions could be triggered by the attractions themselves – giving the user an interactive guide to the place they were visiting. The technology has now been taken a lot further with uses cases on business cards, magazines, treasure hunts and promotional leaflets.

Wikitude has gone done the route of being more of a developer framework for Augmented Reality than a third party platform that can be manipulated like Aurasma and Layar. Admittedly, this SDK platform is one for your heavy developer that is going to wrap it in Cordova, or use their cloud-based services. Still, it has been used for numerous incredible projects like 1 Direction’s augmented story and quiz as well as Night at the Museum’s “Secret of the Tomb.”

It gets much more exciting when we step up a gear, don the goggles, and step into the world of virtual reality. It’s clear there’s a massive opportunity in this space as some of the big players in tech like Microsoft, Google and Facebook have either come out with, or acquired technology in order to entice the end customer:

Magic Leap is Google’s answer to Facebook’s acquisition of Oculus Rift. Here’s an insane video of what Google says can be done in the future it. This is a great example of real-life objects triggering digital assets and the interaction between them – especially the guns and gaming.

Speaking of gaming, the key piece of hardware on everyone’s minds is Oculus Rift and its ability to take the user into a truly immersive virtual world. When Mark Zuckerburg acquired it in 2014, many people questioned the decision, primarily because Virtual Reality had been primarily used for gaming – but Facebook’s CEO sees a far wider use case for the technology and envisions “it being the next computing platform after mobile.”

Microsoft certainly isn’t far off either: it recently released an incredible video highlighting what could be done with its latest invention “Hololense.” Many tech pundits, yours truly included, see this is what could have been done with Google Glass, had it been marketed and designed better.

In terms of the benefits for business: it’s almost more about the downside of not acknowledging and interacting with this technology than the upside. Millenials and the young workforce are increasingly aware of a prospective employer’s attitude toward digital technology. The best staff want to work with companies that not only get the mobile economy, but are looking, like Facebook, to the future of computing and that largely looks like Augmented and Virtual Reality.

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