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  • Writer's pictureMart-Marie Ferreira

Digital Strategies in the Age of Augmented Reality

The ultimate and complete guide on digital strategies for AR

The impact of augmented reality on your business’s digital strategy is not something that is just for the future Marty McFly, but is already here and now. There are a couple of methods that you can implement now to ensure that your business steps back into the future. This will ensure that your brand delivers interactive content that your consumer wants to interact with, and make a meaningful connection with your brand. Interactive content is a trend for 2020 that will continue to grow as consumers want content that is engaging, fun, and grabs their attention. These digital strategies range from Local SEO; Image search through Google Lens and Pinterest Lens; Social Media content and advertising; to applications for eCommerce.

Augmented reality is nothing new, and for some, it still might seem more fictional and something for Hollywood movies. However, you might be surprised by how many augmented reality systems you are already using or exposed to daily. Augmented reality (AR) is a technology that alters your environment by adding 3D images, sound, objects, and video to it. According to Wikipedia, Augmented Reality is defined as:

“an interactive experience of a real-world environment where the objects that reside in the real world are enhanced by computer-generated perceptual information, sometimes across multiple sensory modalities, including visual, auditory, haptic, somatosensory and olfactory.”

A technological device creates three fundamental features for an AR interactive experience:

  1. A combination of real and virtual worlds – For example, Pokémon Go

  2. Real-time interaction – For instance, “Try on” feature of Pinterest Lens

  3. Accurate 3D registrations of virtual and real objects – For Example, Google Maps AR view

The impact of augmented reality is quite real. You need to prepare your business’s digital strategy to utilize this technology’s applications in how consumers experience digital content. Consumers’ appetite for interactive content is only going to continue to grow. We are focusing on the following on how Augmented Reality will impact your digital strategy:

  1. Brief History of Augmented Reality

  2. Local SEO

  3. Image Search Applications

  4. Social Media Applications

  5. eCommerce Applications

1. Brief History of Augmented Reality

The history of augmented reality is quite fascinating on how this technology has developed from the initial head-mounted display to today’s social media filters and eCommerce applications.

The origin of Augmented reality was in 1968 when Ivan Sutherland developed the first head-mounted AR display. However, the term was only coined in the 1990s by Boeing’s researcher Tom Caudell.

During the ’60s and ’70s, this technology was developed and used in labs to experiment with virtual graphics to enhance the user’s sensory perception of their environment. During the ’80s and ‘90s, the AR technology moved out of the lab and into real-world applications, such as the US Army fighter pilot training program, and the first overlay graphic during a live broadcast of an NFL game to indicate a team’s line advancement.

Since the start of the millennium, AR technologies have made exponential advancement from the release of an opensource software library ARToolKit to Google Glass, and other mobile and eCommerce applications. The original AR technologies were relatively unsophisticated compared to today’s inventions, due to technological advancements over the past five decades.

Augmented reality has also been used in advertising, mainly by early adopters. However, this number will increase as AR users increase, and the cost of the technology decreases. There is significant opportunity in the AR Advertising market worldwide.

The AR market size will increase from $3.48 billion in 2017 to $198.17 billion in 2025. Therefore, we, as marketers, need to prepare our digital strategies today and in the future to incorporate augmented reality.

Augmented reality technology has already had a significant impact on how we consume content in the real world. The most notable AR applications that you must at least heard of, or used, is Pokémon Go and Social Media Filters.

2. Local SEO

What 2020 has taught us with COVID-19 is that consumers are staying and shopping closer to home more than ever before. Therefore, your local SEO strategy is of high importance.

The first and most notable digital strategy to focus on is your business’s Local SEO. Why is local SEO important to AR? Augmented reality’s most distinguishable feature is using your exact location through your phone’s GPS. Your phone’s camera is another feature that brings AR to life.

Local SEO differs from your general SEO in a very distinct way that involves a strategic and targeted approach to market your local business online to your local customers. Hubspot defines local SEO as:

“Local SEO helps businesses promote their products and services to local prospects and customers. To gather information for local search, search engines rely on signals such as local content, social profile pages, links, and citations to provide the most relevant local results to the user.”

Your question might be how local SEO and augmented reality come together with your customer’s GPS location?

The most notable apps that use AR with local search is Yelp and Google Maps. Yelp has had the AR function as an Easter egg in its app since 2009.

The local business listings enable Yelp users to identify restaurants and other service providers close to their proximate location. The app utilizes the phone’s camera and the user’s GPS location to provide the information and display it on the screen. The user can then view the business profile to see their services, prices, and reviews. This app is available in several countries around the world, but unfortunately not in South Africa. This AR feature will be a great addition to an app like Zomato for South African users.

The video below shows Yelp's AR Monocle in action.

The most notable app that does have an impact on South African businesses is Google Maps. This feature is only available for walking around navigation. It was announced at Google’s I/O Conference in 2018, and was first launched on Google’s Pixel Phones and later disseminated through to the Google Maps App on Android and iPhones. The solution was developed by Google to help navigation for users who live in or just visiting big cities, where getting turned around is relatively easy if you struggle to navigate with the compass in the maps. This AR technology helps the user point the way that they need to walk.

This feature even allows users to navigate and see nearby places. They are even playing with the idea to add a helpful navigator Fox as seen in the video. It is a beneficial tool, especially for users who struggle with a sense of direction and is very user-friendly. I have even tested it here in South Africa:

There is even the possibility that the same application can be used with self-driving cars' AR display on the windscreen. This feature may become available for the driving navigation on Google Maps at a later stage, as several AR developers are exploring this technology for drivers. Therefore, developing your local SEO strategy is of high importance. The following six steps are essential for your Local SEO strategy:

  • Add your business to Google My Business.

  • Ensure you enter your business location, name, and phone number correctly.

  • Engage with your users by posting on your account.

  • Ask your customers’ to review your business on your profile. It is crucial to manange your customers’ reviews to make meaningful connections and minimize the impact of negative reviews.

  • Connect your website to the listing.

  • Enable messaging within your Google My Business.

  • Post photos of your store, products/services, logo to increase your online authority and legitimize your business.

2. Optimize your website.

a) Improve your internal linking structure:

  • Ensure that website navigation is user-friendly.

  • It assists with information architecture and website hierarchy for the Google crawler.

  • Determine page authority and ranking power.

b) Improve your site’s URL, title tags, headers, meta description, and content.

  • Content Strategy comes into play here.

  • A new blog post presents a unique opportunity to be found in the search engine results pages.

  • You need to optimize the content through the right keywords in the URL, title, header, meta description, and page content.

c) Add location pages.

  • Add your business location to a page on your site with a bonus point for adding a Google Map.

  • For example, if your business has one location, then be locally descriptive on your About Us page.

  • If you have multiple locations, then create one location page that indicates all the information regarding each location’s address, phone number, operating hours, parking, and any additional information.

d) A mobile-friendly website is vital as more users access the internet through their phones.

3. Create local content.

  • Focus on creating local and industry-related content to attract your local customers.

  • Google is getting smarter, and you can write for the user instead of just for the search engine.

  • The focus is to become a local authority.

4. Consistency is key!

  • Ensure that your business’s name, address, and phone number is consistent online.

  • Google may not list your website if it can’t determine what information is correct.

5. Get inbound links with relevance and authority.

a) Optimize online directories and citations.

  • Get listed at your local Chamber of Commerce or Industry Board.

  • Once again, consistency is vital regarding your business information.

b) Improve your local SEO with Inbound links that creates domain authority and legitimize your company in the eyes of the Google crawler.

6. Engage on Social Media.

  • Engaging with your audience on social media is key to building relationships with them.

  • It is another form of building inbound links.

  • Google recognizes content that is shared on social media.

  • Share your Google My Business Page will count in your favor as you are aligning your social and search.

3. Image Search Applications

Most notable Image Search applications are Google Lens and Pinterest Lens. How are these image search engines utilizing augmented reality?

Google Lens

Google Lens is a visual search engine that allows the user to either upload a photo or point the camera at an object with the following options:

  • use to translate

  • search text on a building, image, or paper

  • search an object in the image

  • shop an item

  • or determine what you want to eat at a restaurant

Google Lens is accessible through the native camera app on an Android phone or iPhone within the Google Search App.

The AR experience comes in when Google Lens overlays the translated text on the image. The Dining option allows the user to view pictures and reviews overlaid on the restaurant’s menu. Even in Museums, the user can point their camera at the painting and learn more information regarding the artwork from the pop-up webpages. Google has also introduced 3D rendering, of animals and Mars Curiosity Rover, into their AR offering, where you can view a 3D rendering of an animal and place it into your environment through your phone’s camera lens.

According to writer, Lauren Goode, that

“Google’s object recognition technology is so advanced, the thing you’re scanning doesn’t need a tag or QR code – it is the QR code. Your camera simply ingests the image, and Google scans its own database to identify it.”

The best example of creating a 360-degree marketing message across online and offline channels incorporating AR is Stranger Things Season 3, in 2019. The campaign manager placed three nostalgic ‘80s print ads in the New York Times that alluded to the Hawkins town with a Google Lens CTA to discover more. Watch this video on how effective this online-offline digital strategy was:

Keep the following in mind for your digital strategies:

1. URL, title tags, headers, meta description, and content.

  • Ensure your product’s page has the right keywords in the URL, title tags, headers, meta description, and content. This will allow Google to match your content as a user searches a product in an image, and delivers it as a pop-up search result.

2. Google My Business, Reviews, and Images.

  • If you are a restaurant, then you need to ensure your menu is on your Google My Business Listing.

  • Ensure the reviews on the different items on your menu are top-notch on your Google Business Listing and other review services such as Yelp, Zomato, and EatOut.

  • Upload images of each item on your menu.

  • Ensure your images are correctly labeled with keywords and remember the image’s alternative text.

3. Enable Google Shopping.

  • Setup your Google Merchant Account.

  • Optimise your products’ images.

  • Create your product feed with regards to the SKU, product title, page link, image link, stock availability, price, google product category, and brand.

  • Link your Google AdWords Account and create a Shopping Campaign to start your Google Shopping, and thus be discoverable in the Google Lens Shopping feature.

4. Advertising

  • Google Lens is your oyster for developing unique and engaging advertisements that bring your online and offline campaigns to life.

Pinterest Lens

Social Media and augmented reality have become fast friends in the last couple of years, and Pinterest is no different with the development of Pinterest Lens, which has been available since 2017. Pinterest Lens allows the user to point their phone’s camera at an object and to discover new ideas. For example, snap a photo of a pineapple and it will deliver different recipes for you to make, or someone’s outfit and discover where you can purchase the items or similar ones.

The newest update, in January 2020, allows the user to try on lipstick shades and then offers the products to shop. This feature is a similar application that is used by Beauty Retail Giant Sephora to increase online shopping to test different shades on yourself via AR.

This new “Try On” feature is powered through Lens and enhanced by Augmented Reality, which allows the user to test different shades, and then swipe up to shop from different brands; or from searching related terms like “matte lipstick” or “red lips”. Pinterest even focuses on inclusivity by showing users similar shades on similar skin tones that match their own. The AR technology does not alter the user’s appearance, like other social media AR functions, as the focus is for the user to make an informed decision that is as close to trying a shade in-store. Thus, this will decrease customer’s returns and save your business money and increase online purchases as users are more comfortable with their purchase after the digital test.

Pinterest is successfully leading the pack by combining social media and eCommerce through this “Try On” feature. It surpasses other social media apps by allowing both the consumer and retailer to make use of their AR technology, without the retailer incurring cost to develop the AR technology. It is an ideal platform for retail and brand marketers because consumers are a step further in the sales funnel than in other social media apps, as they are already searching for new ideas. However, Pinterest has a smaller audience compared to other social media apps.

Our recommendation is to include Pinterest in your Social Media and eCommerce strategy if your target market and products align with this platform.

  • Create your business Pinterest profile.

  • Upload the products with prices.

  • Engage with your audience by providing pin-able inspirations for your customers.

  • Develop advertising campaigns that effectively target your customers on this platform.

If you are a beauty retailer, then grab this opportunity to increase your online sales, decrease customer returns, and increase overall profit and customer satisfaction through Pinterest Lens.

4. Social Media Applications

The first thing that pops up in your mind if you think of AR and Social Media is most likely Snapchat Filters.

Snapchat is the first social media app that utilized augmented reality to impose 3D elements in users’ photos. Snapchat enabled AR editing ability in their app after acquiring Looksery in 2015. Facebook later followed suit with Instagram Stories in 2016, and Facebook Stories a year later.

These AR filters with flower crowns, animal faces, beauty mode, funky sunglasses are a hit amongst social media users. What do flower crowns and animal faces mean for your business’s social media strategy?

Well, both Snapchat and Facebook have an AR Studio application for developers and marketers that enables them to develop branded filters for their brands’ audiences. These tools allow Marketers to create unique and interactive campaigns where users can generate content with the Brand’s Filter, or virtually try on a product.

Rayban did a “Try On” campaign on Instagram to create an interactive experience for their followers and increase their eCommerce sales.

Here is an example of how Dior did a Holiday Makeup campaign, in December 2019, with an Instagram filter.

Other features that have become synonymous with Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook Stories are stickers and GIFs. Giphy allows marketers to develop brand-related stickers and GIFs that can be used by social media users. These tools provide brands the opportunity to build deep, meaningful connections with their audience and create content that is conversational and enjoyable.

AR technology can be used within Facebook Messenger chatbot as Facebook integrated AR into Messenger in 2018. The chatbot allows the user to access interactive content from Messenger. The video below shows how a customer at White Toque uses AR to view the food on the table before they order it, by selecting the menu item in Facebook Messenger and virtually placing it on the table through the phone’s camera.

Another Social Media app that effectively uses AR technology is TikTok. This app has become extremely popular with Gen Z’s and Millennials. The same principle of Stories is applied to TikTok videos where users have the option to make quick videos with various AR effects. These AR effects allow users to create highly engaging, fun, and interactive videos with music. There are a variety of ways that Marketers can advertise within TikTok.

This platform is still in its early days for advertising compared to its more established competition. As a Marketer, you need to find fun and exciting ways to develop video and AR campaigns that will engage with the TikTok audience that will make your campaign go viral. A brand that is bold and not afraid to make their food go viral is Taco Bell. Check out their stats and profile on TikTok. Below is a video showing a combination of online and offline advertising by incorporating TikTok in a TV ad by using various AR filters.

As mentioned above, Pinterest Lens is effectively using AR in their “Try On” feature. Similar technology was used within Messenger, in 2016, through ModiFace’s Messenger chatbot that allowed users to send a photo that was altered by the Bot and sent back to the user. Note that this AR technology is owned by ModiFace, and not Facebook, who was acquired by L’Oréal in 2019.

Consumers' appetite for interactive content will continue to grow, and social media content will have to adapt to the times. Augmented Reality makes social media more interactive, 3D-oriented, and exceptionally shareable. The future is here, where social media users can create AR experiences that exponentially increase the possibilities for user-generated content.

Businesses who fail to adapt and effectively engage with their audience through AR experiences will lose the interest of their audience. AR in Social Media means three things for your digital strategy:

  • Find ways to include an AR rendering of your product in the customer’s social media world through unique campaigns.

  • Develop AR Branded Filters to ensure that your followers can create user-generated Branded AR experiences.

  • Tailor your AR campaigns to the audience, and Social Media platform as TikTok AR campaigns will be different from Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat campaigns.

AR experiences will ensure that social media continues to be the preferred platform for marketers, notable brands, and engaged consumers.

Grab your followers' attention by being daring and bold, as you don’t need to be a big brand like Mercedes-Benz, Nike, and L’Oréal to launch a successful AR marketing campaign. Brands of all sizes can benefit from AR social ads and filter campaigns if you have an appetite for innovation and interest in emerging technologies to make you stand out from your competition. Augmented reality uses in Social Media, presents an opportunity to diversify your product offerings and increase engagement with your target audience.

5. eCommerce Applications

The world of AR provides eCommerce stores with endless opportunities to bring features that are usually reserved for brick-and-mortar stores to consumers’ smartphone devices.

Augmented reality provides eCommerce the ability to personalize online shopping, making it interactive while increasing sales conversions and customer satisfaction.

According to Hootsuite We Are Social Digital 2020 report, there are 4.18 billion mobile internet users worldwide. The report further states that 91% of internet users are accessing the internet from a smartphone, and 52% of internet users made a purchase on their mobile phones. The total Global eCommerce market is valued at $3.43 trillion and has increased by 18% from the previous year, and with only 50% of sales through mobile phones. There is still room for growth as eCommerce is only 16% of total Global Retail spending. This is important for AR technology as it is mostly accessed via mobile devices, and mobile eCommerce will increase, thus the more conversion-oriented tools like AR you have, the better.

Now, what does this mean for South African eCommerce retailers?

There are more mobile phones in South Africa than people. South Africa has 36.54 million internet users, with 94% using a smartphone and 60% using shopping apps. The revenue for the South African eCommerce market is expected to be $3,804million in 2020, with an expected growth rate of 6.7% until 2024.

South African eCommerce retailers are lagging behind their international counterparts. However, there is an opportunity for growth. Thus, it is essential to implement emerging technologies like AR to increase sales conversions and customer satisfaction.

AR technology has the following types of usages for eCommerce retailers:

  • Try On Feature

  • Body Measurement App

  • At Home Preview

  • Virtual Store

Try On Feature

Pinterest Lens is already incorporating AR with eCommerce. Sephora has also developed an AR within its Shopping App, as mentioned above.

Sephora has expanded the AR “Try On” feature by offering makeup tutorials together with product shopping lists. This experience allows customers to try products before purchasing it and increases their satisfaction with their purchases and decreases customer returns. Customer returns are costly and a big headache for eCommerce retailers who often offer free shipping and returns to attract customers.

This technology is not limited to Beauty Brands, from car dealers to Jewelry stores also have the opportunity to utilize this technology.

Adding a Try On feature to your eCommerce store will create an interactive experience for your customer and increase the chance that the customer follows through with the purchase as they are more content with their decision. Thus, it decreases the problem with cart abandonment.

Body Measurement App

The Try On feature is more readily applicable to Beauty, Jewelry, and Sunglass brands than to clothing brands. The customer wants to see how the jewelry item will look, the color and can visualize the fit of the item. Whereas, with clothing and footwear, customers want to feel the fit of the garment or shoe, the fabrication, the movement, and this is harder to translate through AR. However, Nike has developed a Nike Fit app that is an AR scanning app to tackle this issue for their footwear.

Another option for clothing brands is to use AR Body Measurement Apps to help bridge the gap for eCommerce stores. The Try On feature mentioned above is expanded to include body measurements of the user to determine body metrics to render a virtual fitting of a garment accurately.

Wearfits developed an application where a user can input their measurements and select a garment to try. It generates a fit rendering on the computer in which the user can choose the AR option to receive a QR code and render the AR fit model on your phone.

Once again, providing the necessary fit information through visualization can increase sales conversions, customer satisfaction, and decrease cart abandonment and returns.

At Home Preview

Another form of AR is viewing items placed in your home. For example, this can range from furniture, home appliances, cars to bicycles.

The best example of this AR technology is IKEA. IKEA Place app allows users to test true-to-scale 3D products in real-time in their environment before making a purchase.

At Home Preview is especially suitable for furniture and interior decorating as it gives customers an experience that brick-and-mortars can’t replace, by trying the product in their environment before purchasing it. The app allows the user to test the size and the color with their existing furniture, wall paint, and other decorative pieces. Customers can determine whether a home appliance will fit in its designated space without the hassle of measuring the area and the items at a store, then purchase it and maybe realize the measurements where off.

AR renderings of cars can allow users to see how it will look in their driveway, garage or on the road. They can view the interior of a car without leaving their comfortable position on the couch.

The possibilities are endless with At Home Preview augmented reality applications.

Virtual Store

Convenience is the main factor for a virtual store, as physical stores display their products in neatly organized shelves and aisles.

This is especially true for visual and navigational shoppers who don’t necessarily always shop from a list. eCommerce Grocery stores can bridge this gap by creating an AR Virtual store that renders the feeling of an aisle with the option to select products, view prices and discounts, and add to the chart. The virtual aisle can be created through the camera lens and displayed on the user's wall.

6. Conclusion

Augmented reality is transforming the way we interact with our environment. The impact of augmented reality is here to stay and will only continue to grow as consumers’ appetite for interactive content is growing. Now is the time to start preparing your business’s digital strategies, if you have not already, for the applications of this technology. Contact us to help you develop and implement digital strategies that will prepare your business for Augmented Reality and its digital applications across different digital channels.


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