In case-heavy hot spots, quarantines are persisting for yet another quarter. The corporate world has made peace with the reality of a recession, and every single operation, across every industry, understands change and innovation as necessary expenses in their new corporate year; under these conditions, we’ve entered 2021.
Nearing one full trip around the sun since the inception of the virus, the winning pandemic-era strategies can now be picked out of a crowd of attempts. Among them, augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are at the top of the list. Both AR and VR have empowered massive pivots across multiple industries, allowing retailers to sell, event attendees to connect, and companies to enhance their COVID-era connections.
Often referred to as a pair, a few key differences between AR and VR are worth mentioning. Augmented reality refers to technology that can alter consumer’s experience of reality at scale; brands can embed an AR experience on their website, letting every buyer try on lipstick shades or see a certain pair of glasses rendered on their face. VR technology relies on hardware, and offers a more individualized experience. A user can wear a headset and be transported into a new world, or look through a lens and interact with a wholly different reality.
Differences aside, both AR and VR are taking the place of traditional marketing. The pandemic and its limitations created a new problem to solve: consumer isolation. To bridge the COVID-gap, brands have replaced old marketing tactics and sale touchpoint with personalized, immersive experiences. It would be hard to imagine a reason they would ever turn back.
Adaptation, The Birthplace of Innovation
AR and VR technologies have been around for a long time, and their popularity has increased proportionate to their affordability over the last few years. Still, it was the success of AR and VR in early COVID-adaptation strategies that cemented their importance moving forward. One of the most tangible examples was the adoption of VR by the real estate industry. Without in-person showings, VR helped agents and landlords offer property tours to prospective buyers. All it took was an investment in VR technologies—an expense that would no doubt be earned back in excess—and business could proceed without breaking quarantine orders.
Next to adapt was the world of conferences and trade shows. Overnight, the multi-billion dollar trade show industry was in need of new solutions. Switching to AR and VR-based gatherings, the massive events on the 2020 calendar were quickly rescued, and, at times, enhanced. Participants could join from the safety of their homes, appearing as virtual heads in a crowd. They could have a 360-degree view of the event, often landing a more intimate experience. Suddenly, a speaker’s performance reached more people than it ever could in the crowd of a trade-show, cementing AR and VR as an accessibility hack in addition to a COVID-era strategy. Moving forward, the AR/VR strategy can allow more experts and audience members to gather without the costs of travel, meals, and lodging.
The Future of Marketing: An Immersive Point of Sale
As early as five years ago, , as appointed by Forbes, had VR projects in the works. Offering an immersive experience, the goal of every marketing team, was clearly supported by the steps forward in VR tech; COVID-19 has only been an accelerating force for the future we knew was coming.
AR has seen a quicker pandemic-era adoption, as the experience that best lends itself to a larger scale of consumers. Multiple brands have implemented AR in their e-commerce strategies. Companies that have replaced 2-dimensional product displays with 3D demonstrations are benefiting from a 40% higher conversion rate. Still hesitant to hazard an in-person store visit, customers are enjoying the ability to better envision their purchase options.
Companies are picking up steam in the AR world, taking a more personalized, interactive approach to marketing. A great example is the fast proliferation of branded social media filters on platforms like Snapchat and Instagram. Effectively, these are like personalized flyers—consumers see their face embedded in the ad. According to , 70% of consumers expect to be more loyal to brands that are employing AR strategies, and company spend toward AR is expected to climb.
While AR lends itself well to a scalable e-commerce experience, VR has promising applications to bring consumers back into stories—when it’s safe to do so, of course. VR technologies can make a point of sale contact incredibly immersive, stimulating, and interactive. Car companies, for example, could offer a customer a VR test drive. High-end brands could offer shoppers a front-row-seat to see new pieces modeled on a virtual runway.
These kind of stand-out experiences are made possible using the proper hardware, making VR a more individualized offering. As hardware continues to become less cost-intensive, and as the technology continues to improve, it’s more than likely that every consumer will own a headset and can have access to these kinds of experiences from home in a few short years. But for now, in-person VR offerings can be an important part of what re-invigorates the in-store experience in the early post-COVID world.
What began as a ‘contactless’ strategy is quickly revealing itself as a permanent pillar of successful marketing. AR and VR, operating on different scales, can provide tangible, personalized experience that cut through the noise of traditional social media ads and TV marketing. As consumer habits change and standards continue to rise, AR and VR technologies will soon be a must-have for meaningful post-COVID marketing.
(The author Zain Jaffer is the Founder and CEO of Zain Ventures, an investment firm in the US that provides funding globally for tech startups, real estate and private equity.)