Virtual, mixed, augmented, or extended. The ambit of immersive tech today has expanded. Predecessors like the PC and smartphone marked information processing and mobile communication eras. But with immersive technology, we are on the cusp of what once seemed like a pipedream—the era of experiential computing.
The dawn of desktops fundamentally shook up the way brands approached marketing. It is easy to forget that terms like email marketing and digital advertising did not exist forever. Similarly, the age of smartphones took us from a website economy to an app-based one; suddenly, instant communication was accessible. Over the years, brands have leveraged emerging technologies to optimise marketing strategies for maximum impact. So why would this change with mixed reality (MR)— one of the best candidates for achieving experiential marketing the world has ever seen?
It all started with the Sensorama, 1956, an immersive device with a mobilised chair and odour emitters. Today, the sector has seen investments of over $20 billion and has become a mainstay in various verticals, including MarTech [marketing tech]. While far from perfect, it has allowed brands to tell emotionally compelling stories like never before. And Apple's recent announcement of the Vision Pro holds the potential to unlock this next frontier of immersive MarTech innovation.
When Facebook acquired Oculus in 2014, the industry collectively raised a brow. MR's immense potential had caught the eye of 'big tech'. It was the first domino, following which industry stalwarts like Google, Sony, Microsoft, and Valve, decided they too wanted a piece of the pie.
Due to simultaneous localisation and mapping (SLAM) limitations, early applications were restricted to basic AR overlays. This did not stop brand marketers, though. With the increasing ubiquity of story-style content, marketers were soon experimenting with it—giving rise to the era of branded social media AR filters. And Apple's recent foray into the virtual realm is a sign that mixed reality is moving out of its infancy into a more mature place.
Apple's vision is clear. As opposed to competitors that want you to think of their VR/AR headset as a means to an end, Apple wants theirs to be just another tech-ccessory. At $3,500, Apple must know that it won't move volumes right away. But like the first wave of PCs, the user base will initially consist of big brands looking to push boundaries, setting the stage for those that intend to stay at the bleeding edge of immersive marketing.
Brands know that emotions are one of the biggest determinants of consumer behaviour. It's the key reason that breakthroughs in MR like Apple's Vision Pro drive the buzz they do. This is accompanied by a large body of literature suggesting that multisensory marketing strengthens the brand-customer relationship and, by extension, customer retention.
Contrast the following scenarios. One where a travel app gives you one of the most beautifully written descriptions of a travel destination along with professionally shot multimedia. And one where it simply offers you a VR tour of the destination. The question here is not necessarily, 'Which one will increase the likelihood of a transaction?'; rather, 'Which one is more emotionally compelling?' Bingo! The latter. Repetitive exposure to experiences that move customers is key to creating a superfan. While consumers buy, superfans sell.
Advancements in eye tracking will help brands understand where users are looking and for how long. A metric such as 'average gaze-time' may be minted—measuring how long users look at certain regions of displays. Brands can then identify the sections that attract the most attention and adjust content placement or design. With the help of hyper-personalised data, brands will be able to ensure that their users are seeing relevant content in these prime locations. This also opens up a rabbit hole around the pricing of virtual-advertising real estate. It is an open secret that 'big tech' has been suffering due to declining ad revenues. Breakthroughs in MR could provide just the inflection point needed to turn that revenue graph around. Moreover, the granularity of the generated data will improve marketing campaigns' effectiveness and ultimately provide a more fulfilling end-user experience.
As the melding of MR and MarTech progresses, the boundaries between virtual and actual get blurrier. For immersive technology to become ubiquitous, several factors must align. The cost must decrease, social acceptance must rise, and the form factor must evolve, becoming smaller and more inconspicuous.
Technological advancements are moving in the right direction. GPU die sizes are shrinking, improving efficiency, while camera and display technologies are becoming more compact. It paves the way for seamless mixed reality experiences that can be as unobtrusive as wearing spectacles. If the rate of investment and innovation continues, we could soon enter a future where VR contact lenses blend seamlessly into everyday lives.
For marketers, integrating VR/AR and MarTech opens up new possibilities for brands. Instead of relying on traditional methods of persuasion through text or multimedia, marketers can now immerse users in virtual environments, allowing them to participate and choose their own adventures actively. Brands will carefully construct these virtual scapes to maximise emotional impact, aiming to drive user engagement, all hoping to increase retention and transactions.
The writer is co-founder and chief product officer at CleverTap.
The thoughts and opinions shared here are of the author.
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