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AR and VR add clout to visual marketing for SA brands

Augmented and virtual realities are ready to make their mark in South Africa and could be a game changer in visual marketing for the retail and tourism sectors in particular said C2C Labs head, Johan Walters.

While much has been written about augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) and the more futuristic artificial intelligence (AI), for the mass market in South Africa, these technologies are still the stuff of stories.

And this is no surprise. Some of the recent advances in visual search and visual marketing using AR and VR have taken even the global markets by surprise.

Blippar, best known for its AR marketing prowess, has launched an upgrade to its app which allows users access to a visual search engine through the camera on their mobile device.

If you aren’t entirely sure what you’re looking at, it may be difficult to find the right words to describe, and ultimately search for, that object using traditional search engines. Blippar’s visual search tool can recognise hundreds of millions of items. While some may remain general and only at a category level to begin with, items like flora and animals can be deeply specific.

So, for instance, if you focus your phone on an orange, the Blippar app will not only tell you what fruit you are looking at, it will give you locations of nearby stores which sell them, nutritional information and even suggest some top-rated recipes.

With more than 65 million users in over 170 countries, the machine learning technology used by the company will constantly add to the library of images and information, allowing for exponential growth in the app’s usefulness.

Another significant leap forward in the commercial use of mixed realities has come from online auction site, e-Bay.

In May, the Australian division released its first VR department store. It allows users to virtually explore products using free iOS and Android apps along with head-mounted device (HMD) hardware. By holding your gaze on a product, it will supply you with a 3D rendering of the product, allowing you to explore the item and move ahead to purchase.

Where does SA fit in?
A few well thought out campaigns have made it to the local market, but one of the biggest challenges is to ensure that agencies are not simply using the tech for the sake of it.

We believe the retail and travel sectors could be the early adopters in South Africa and could have the most to gain in the short-term.

Experiential marketing using AR and VR is the perfect way to allow potential tourists to experience destinations ahead of time and convert customers who may be hesitant to take the plunge. This is fairly common internationally and some local companies are already taking the first steps in using the tech.

Retail is also a no-brainer. While the e-Bay VR store may be some way off locally, smart use of AR could be the real game changer.

Using AR, online-only retailers can create virtual stores in the traditional bricks and mortar environment, as done by . By renting a vacant storefront in a high-traffic area and using wallpaper or posters with AR tech, they can bring their offering to life in the environment where potential customers are already in the shopping mode.

Not only does this allow the e-tailers to breach the digital divide, but it can also be used by traditional stores looking to extend their reach into other regions, without the initial outlay of finding physical stores. These virtual pop-up stores could both transform how retail brands are perceived and drive new traffic to their e-commerce offering.

Integrating AR and VR into campaigns
Technology should be a means to an end. Spending money for the sake of technology coolness, rather than focusing on delivering real experiential marketing value helps no-one.

The three Cs – Call to action, Context and Content – of a campaign making use of VR and AR cannot be ignored. Brands need to ensure they deliver the right message, at the right time, over the right medium – exactly as it was in traditional marketing.

Awareness should still be done through your normal tactics and media platforms. AR and VR generally form part of the engagement and consideration phase – leading to soft conversions. However, they should always be linked to an e-commerce platform if there is one available.

You don’t need to break the bank to deliver
Possibly because of the futuristic nature of AR and VR technology, many organisations feel that their budgets may not stretch to include this in their campaigns. This misconception should be put to rest immediately.

AR doesn’t need to be expensive, the tech is now within reach and platform costs have dropped considerably over the last two years. To deliver a great retail pop up shop doesn’t require wearables or even a VR-enabled phone. The 360-degree picture and video technology currently available is more than adequate to allow customers to experience your product and to proceed to checkout.

However, where the budget should not be sacrificed, is when it comes to creating content. Creating a fantastic visual experience for your customer results in a far better chance of them taking the next step in the conversion process and brands would do well to place emphasis and forethought into this step in production.

But even this won’t break the bank, since the content can easily be re-purposed for other marketing campaigns and mediums. Great video content will always pay for itself and can be aggregated across the marketing budget.

The fundamentals should not be sacrificed for the sake of tech. Rather, focus on creating engaging, high-value content that delivers something meaningful to the customer in a context which is valuable, and with a call to action which results in opportunities to further engage.

The rapid advances in technology can be daunting, but with a solid strategy, experiential marketing is a valuable addition to the traditional mix. More particularly, AR and VR allow for high-impact additions to your brand narrative.

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