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Augmented Reality: Are You Ready To Wow Your Customers?

This article is part of CMO.com’s March/April series about emerging technology. Click here for more.

CMOs are seeing firsthand the immediate “wow” factor on customers’ faces when they experience augmented reality (AR). This exciting technology—which has captured the attention of customers, agencies, and brands alike—is about to revolutionise our smartphones.

AR has huge commercial potential, too: The market is forecast to grow at double the speed of virtual reality over the next five years.

Last year was pivotal for AR. A trio of software development kits (SDKs) made it possible for brands to create next-generation smartphone experiences. I expect ARCore (Google), ARKit (Apple), and AR Studio (Facebook) to will nudge AR up the “slope of enlightenment” on Gartner’s hype cycle this year.

In fact, manufacturers are already building smartphones to work with these kits so that most new handsets will have AR built-in. A 2017 Digiday poll found that 21% of publishers were creating AR content. There has also been recent movement in the world of advertising. Media agency Oath, for example, launched a mobile AR ad format at Mobile World Congress in February.

AR In Action
Clearly, ambitious businesses are already investing, experimenting, and innovating today for AR’s imminent arrival. What makes the tech so exciting is how it brings visceral, emotional experiences into the palms of users—such as this famous scene from horror movie “The Ring,” brought to life with AR.

Based on what we’ve seen, I firmly believe the technology has huge potential to become part of everyday experiences. The quintessential example comes from the online gaming industry: Pokemon Go, unquestionably the poster-child of smartphone AR, grabbed first-mover advantage with its use of real-time geolocated content. (Google’s mid-March announcement that it is opening up itself up to game developers could very well lead to an app that rivals Pokémon Go in popularity. Stay tuned.)

The retail industry also has been making strides. Amazon, for example, has gone beyond Apple’s iOS to make its AR shopping tool available on Android devices, piling further pressure on high street businesses around the globe. In addition, its late-November announcement of a browser-based toolkit called Sumerian, which makes AR development accessible to people without advanced coding or 3D-rendering skills, represents another encouraging sign for upcoming innovation.

A few other noteworthy retail examples: IKEA’s “Place” app allows users to visualize how an item will look in their homes before they purchase it. And traditional toy manufacturers, including Hasbro and Lego, also appear to be banking on AR’s ability to keep their products relevant well beyond 2018.

Through The Looking Glass
Seeing how furniture might look in your lounge is, in my opinion, a great use case. And pretty soon a wide range of other tasks will be enhanced through additional layers of relevant information and supporting content.

The immediate next step for marketers should be experimentation. Start playing with one of the many developments mentioned above, or explore one of the available AR creative platforms.

By 2019, augmented reality will become mainstream, with a significant day-to-day impact on digital marketing and customer experiences—mainly because all it needs is a smartphone.

In the words of Apple CEO Tim Cook, “AR will change everything.”

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