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Most of us know how augmented reality (AR) is supposed to function with goggles, glasses or smartphones. Data tags and overlays pop up over virtual and real objects, providing details and action points. And one can see real and virtual things at the same time.
Many brands are interested in using AR for marketing in the metaverse. AR-based product visualizations, for example, can deliver interactive advertising experiences that connect with customers on an emotional level. Potential customers can also use the technology to check out products from practically any location.
Without the limitations of mainstream advertising models, augmented reality in the metaverse may be the incentive needed to propel AR-based marketing to the masses.
Before getting into AR-based marketing, let’s look at the concept of AR itself.
Although many people have experienced the technology through a smartphone app — a 2021 ThinkMobile report indicated over 50% of smartphone owners already use AR apps when shopping — a limited number of people have used Microsoft HaloLens 2, Oculus or another pair of AR glasses.
The type of augmented reality we’re discussing refers to the interactive (virtual) experience of a real-world environment where real objects are enhanced by digitalized perceptual information, and virtual objects can also appear within the real-world environment.
Persistent AR enables users to create content in the virtual space and share the experience with other users. For example, an artist using a virtual paint board to create digital artwork that can be seen and experienced by others in the virtual space. Or a brand creating an online store where shoppers can move around.
The concept of persistent AR means that if one were to look away from an AR object, such as a statue, it would still be in the same location the next time one looks at it. AR object persistence is a feature of mobile AR APIs, including Apple ARKit and Google ARCore. For marketers, persistent AI could mean creating a virtual, floating billboard that remains visible to all who are within the area it inhabits in the metaverse.
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When using augmented reality over virtual reality (VR), the real world becomes metaverse-enhanced and doesn’t require people to leave reality to visit. That’s a key reason why AR will likely become a part of our ordinary world, and VR will not: humans do not like to be cut off from the real world.
Additionally, aside from the hardcore gaming scene and conversational teens, few people are willing to stare for hours at screens a half-inch from their eyes.
Metaverse VR and AR worlds both include radically different elements from those in real life. Both have persistence and immersion and give one a sense of presence. The view is a first-person perspective, and, with a few differences available for personal preference, what one sees, all see.
Virtual reality is likely to be used selectively and for short periods of time to allow people to experience worlds that are only limited by the imagination, such as exploring a virtual version of the Egyptian pyramids.
VR is unlikely to be adopted by the masses because it is an uncomfortable feeling to be completely cut off from one’s surroundings. A VR headset immerses a person into a world where what they see and hear is markedly different from reality, and they cannot hear or see anything in their actual vicinity.
As such, VR requires a level of trust in one’s surroundings and those who share the location. It goes back to humans’ preference for light over darkness and why we tend to sleep when it is dark and engage with others when it’s light. Being unable to see or hear is viewed as being unnatural, dangerous, unsafe and disconcerting.
Because VR today requires the user to remain standing or sitting throughout the experience, it forces the brain to create multiple models of reality — the one from the VR world (in which motion is taking place) and the real world, in which one is still standing or sitting. Since the mind knows which one is real and which one is virtual, the feeling of being cut off from reality remains.
“As technology currently stands, virtual worlds are primarily experienced through VR headsets,” said Marcel Hollerbach, chief innovation officer at Productsup, a P2C platform provider. “In some cases, it is possible to semi-dive into a mixed reality experience using AR headsets, which also allows for several marketing applications. While these applications are used minimally now, similar experiences are likely to expand as we look to the future for marketing in the metaverse.”
AR glasses enable users to see (and remain a part of) their surroundings rather than cutting them off entirely. Sensory signals are still aligned to create a perception or mental model of their world. An AR user experiencing the metaverse can still see others in the room, for instance, and know when someone is approaching their personal space.
It goes without saying that for there to be an effective AR-based marketing campaign, there has to be an audience to market to. Currently, if one is over the age of 30, one may not know anyone that regularly spends any time in the metaverse.
Taken even further, what about someone that spends a regular amount of time in a metaverse wearing AR glasses (or using an AR app)? Aside from smartphone apps, the majority of people simply do not have experience with augmented reality…yet.
This doesn’t mean that brands should sit on the sidelines waiting for AR’s widespread adoption and use — now is the time to start preparing for emerging marketing trends in the metaverse.
“It is imperative to study the trends of the metaverse now so marketers don’t find themselves left in the dust when the technology takes on fully practical applications in day-to-day life,” said Hollerbach. “In fact, this initial interest in the metaverse reveals a major opportunity for brands to start experimenting with marketing strategies.”
The metaverse and Web3 are not the same, though they are intertwined. One thing they have in common is the buzz around both without a lot of actual applications for use. Another is that despite the challenges each present, they are both likely to be adopted in the near future.
Even tech entrepreneur and web pioneer Marc Andreessen recently stated that Web3 and its underlying blockchain technology remind him of the rise of the early internet, saying that “increasing adoption and a flurry of development in Web3 appears remarkably similar to the rush of activity that marked his early years in tech.”
Similarly, with the realization that many have long predicted the widespread use of AR and VR, once the hardware becomes technologically advanced and cheap enough, it will be rapidly adopted by the masses.
Aside from the technology itself, this widespread adoption will largely depend on whether there are enough easily identifiable use cases for said devices. Meaning, what advantages are there to using AR glasses over a computer, mouse and keyboard? Why continue to wear AR glasses when out and about in the world? What practical applications exist for AR technology?
AR has the potential to enable marketers to position their products in the best light possible. Esteban Kolsky, CX evangelist at SAP, told CMSWire that for years, marketing’s role involved painting a picture of how the brand wanted to be seen. Although the marketing spin offered a clean-cut presentation, it was not a true representation of the product or service the brand was offering.
Augmented reality, on the other hand, enables marketers to provide a narrative of their products in real-life and allows customers to craft their experience — and their reality — around the products they are interested in, explained Kolsky.
“By taking advantage of the technologies enabling the reality to be controlled, as opposed to the perception, it enables marketers to position their products in the best light possible,” explained Kolsky. “It opens myriad possibilities not only on how but where the product can be used — and changes the reality of the brand promise at the same time.”
Kolsky believes that AR is the best tool marketers could have hoped for in this new world of conversations. “It is, if used properly, the marketer’s best friend in an era where customers have the freedom of how to engage brands.”
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Where does that leave brands when it comes to AR marketing in the metaverse? Although mass adoption of the metaverse has yet to occur, there are still enough regular users that brands have plenty of opportunities to take advantage of.
In late 2021, according to a Statista survey of 2,200 people, 26% of respondents had heard some about the metaverse, while 11% said they've heard "a lot."
Gartner predicted that the metaverse will extend “computing ability by an order of magnitude beyond what is available today” and completely alter how people and organizations interact.
Meta is heavily invested in the metaverse, and the announcement of its upcoming AR Glasses will likely entice users to explore its emerging immersive social media landscape at Horizon Worlds (which, at this time, supports VR but not AR).
Currently, many brands are finding the metaverse known as Decentraland to be more popular and useful for events, marketing and advertising. But thus far, it’s not an AR or VR experience and is restricted to Windows PC or macOS devices.
“What we know for sure is that consumers have high expectations for brand experiences in the metaverse — research shows that receiving more dynamic, enriching product information is one of the top consumer expectations for the metaverse,” said Hollerbach. “While there are still a lot of question marks surrounding the future of the metaverse, the brands that will win out are those that are willing to try out the technology now, so they can deliver positive experiences when consumers start rushing to join."
Marketers need to understand that the concept of the metaverse includes more than just virtual worlds, gaming and PR events. The larger opportunity for brands in the metaverse exists in the world at large rather than within metaverse worlds such as Horizon Worlds, Decentraland, Roblox or the Sandbox.
The biggest advantage of using AR is that it opens up a world of possibilities that don’t exist in real life. Emerging technologies such as MojoLens, a contact lens with built-in AR functionality, Apple’s AR glasses and Argo’s Reality X glasses, are bringing the idea of stylish wearable AR to the masses.
In one’s home, for example, one could create virtual artwork that floats on the ceiling, is animated, continually changes and is persistently available for all with AR glasses to see and interact with.
Consider virtual tattoos that are animated. For those who use makeup, think about virtually applying different colors and styles to see what looks best. When one walks down a store aisle, one could simply look at a product to see an AR info-bubble with a description, price, available accessories, similar products and more.
In one’s home, instead of sitting in a particular room with a wall-mounted TV, one could sit anywhere, including the patio, to watch a movie on a wall-sized screen. When working on one’s car, one could look at the area being worked on to see a schematic overlay. For almost any item a person can purchase, they can use VR to view it in their home, in particular settings or, as applicable, on their body.
This metaverse vision is what Argodesign’s founder, Mark Rolston, had in mind when he was interviewed in a recent Fast Company article. Rolston said that his company’s goal is to untangle some of the misinformed visions of the metaverse and show that it’s actually about being in real places where mixed reality glasses can reveal otherwise invisible digital layers.
For marketers and advertisers, these types of scenarios present opportunities to interact with prospects and customers. Currently, many brands use augmented reality to enhance their marketing efforts. Most often, this is being accomplished through the use of AR-enhanced mobile apps, such as Amazon’s ModiFace Virtual Makeover, which allows potential customers to try out makeup and hairstyles on their own faces. Another popular use of AR is IKEA, whose IKEA Place enables customers to see a piece of furniture in their own homes.
"AR will play an essential role in marketing in the metaverse in a variety of ways, and there are lots of ways that it already is being used today,” said Lyron Bentovim, president and CEO of The Glimpse Group, a VR & AR platform provider.
He continued, “Consumers have made it clear they prefer shopping online over in person, but there is one key element missing from online shopping. Online shoppers miss out on the 'experience' stage of a purchase, i.e., trying on, and interacting with a product before they buy it. In the Metaverse, AR will allow consumers to experience and interact with a product before purchasing it, creating a strong bond between the buyer and the product."
Through metaverse retail spaces, online shoppers can use virtual try-on filters to simulate how they might look wearing hats, shoes, watches and clothing without visiting a store, said Bentovim. “This allows users to purchase with confidence, leading to greater customer satisfaction and far fewer returns and exchanges. The same principles can also be applied to furniture, testing to see if it will fit in your living room, and many other types of products.”
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Augmented reality can radically change how we view the world around us. The full potential of AR is staggering and, when combined with the metaverse, offers unlimited opportunities for marketers to take advantage of its unique properties.
The larger metaverse — that is, the connected world at large — has the highest potential to impact the world of marketing because it is not limited to specific metaverses, big tech, gaming or proximity to a computer. It includes every connected place, person, device and space.