A good way to assess AR and VR impact from a digital marketing perspective is to assess them relative to the marketing funnel, beginning with brand awareness building. Both AR and VR offer exciting prospects in terms of building consumer engagement. The relative novelty of the technologies has certainly enhanced the potential to allow brands to break through the communications clutter, and many early investments were made with an eye on the public relations and social media interest they might generate. In the hospitality sector, Marriott, as part of their ‘Travel Brilliantly’ campaign developed the #geteleported experience offering the chance to ‘virtually’ travel to two of their properties in Hawaii and London. Holiday Inn also developed an AR app at the time of the 2012 London Olympics to allow guests to take selfie photos, with ‘virtual’ competitors from the UK team in the lobby of one of their hotels.
And while AR and VR clearly offer great prospects to build engagement, they can also be used in a real way to enhance conversion rates. In direct selling, companies such as Cimagine have been using the technology to enhance sales of Coca Cola Vending machines by allowing retail customers to visualize their units in-situ; they claim sales increases of as much as 20% versus traditional methods. In a digital context, the use of AR allows companies to create digital coupons for use in retail contexts. Although we are still a while away, it will certainly be the case that AR and VR offer interesting e-commerce platforms in the future.
Developing engaging content is definitely one of the keys to success. As flashy as it is, at the end of the day, consumers will ultimately seek the content not the technology, so it’s important to focus on creating content in which brand interactions are seen as appropriate and engaging. It’s likely also that the increasingly wide availability of inexpensive 360 degree cameras will lead to an explosion of such content, with a concurrent rise in interest to experience it in a more immersive way with VR headsets. The YouTube 360º Channel created to be a home for such content is experiencing a dramatic rise in content upload and subscriber base.
As the technologies develop, it’s important to see both AR and VR as channels that need to co-exist with a cross-media set of activities. Rather than see AR and VR as stand-alone technologies, it will be important for digital strategists to explore how the technologies can be deployed as part of broader integrated marketing campaigns. In time with audiences spending a growing part of their media time immersed in virtual and augmented worlds, it’s clear that media planners will look to AR and VR as viable media channels.
And it’s worth remembering that despite the undoubted hype, only a minority of consumers have tried AR or VR technologies, so it’s crucial to use the opportunity to expose people to the concept in contexts such as retail and exhibitions, and to use clear calls-to-action in creative executions. The hospitality and tourism sector is well placed to act as an early lead market in the deployment of both AR and VR, in this way offering digital marketers exciting opportunities to create superior brand engagement and accountability. Early movers to incorporate these technologies stand to build a significant edge in their hotel marketing.