Screens & Places: The rise of augmented reality

The intersection between digital, social and physical experiences.

The other day I was on a conference call with an old industry colleague. We were discussing the commercial viability of augmented reality (AR). If you don’t know what AR is, check out Wikipedia here.

When I think about the true intersection of digital and physical experiences AR is about the closest thing to it. AR has been around for years but is still considered an emerging technology. The military, entertainment and medical industries have all been using this technology for years. Back in the mid ’90s when I was producing video games we experimented with heads-up-displays to enhance real world game experiences. That was AR.

This year we have seen an explosion of brands using AR for marketing purposes. Brands have been primarily using AR applications to spice up or bring to life print and or outdoor campaigns.

This past month The Bay and Home Depot began testing audio AR by using the mobile app Shazam to augment their radio ads. Using a middle ware like Shazam allows brands to close the loop with the customer by sending them a ‘tag’ which could be coupon, more information, a link to purchase a product, or a survey etc.

The tipping point

I started thinking about the emerging technologies in general; gamification, crowdsourcing, 3D printing and Near Field Communication (NFC) to name a few. Gartner believes that many of these technologies are about ‘tip’ and become mainstream.

I often get asked to speak about emerging technologies to marketers and business leaders. I try to paint a picture of how businesses can benefit by using emerging technologies. When I speak to people after a presentation I get all kinds of reactions: excitement, bewilderment and even the odd eye roll.

By definition, emerging means new.  And, along with new comes change, and brands and businesses often don’t like change and uncertainty.  But let’s face it, the new normal is change. There are many examples of brands investing in emerging technologies and equally many examples of brands that have ‘tipped’ due to that investment.

Keep in mind

Making capital investments in technologies that may or may not be commercially viable is never an easy decision. And brands need to continue to ask tough business questions: Who is using what and why? Does this technology support our customers’ path-to-purchase?  Will this generate new sales or decrease our cost of doing business?

At the same time, brands need to be mindful of the fact that the speed at which technology is changing consumer behaviour is mind blowing.  And, with mobile at the heart of enabling many of these new technologies, this is not going to slow down anytime soon.

[Photo Credit: Flickr photo by bloglos]