Augmented and virtual reality offer real value for CMOs

No longer science fiction, augmented and virtual reality hold immediate value for marketing.​

Simulated reality has been a compelling storytelling device for decades, from the literature of Philip K. Dick in the 1950s to the modern day Matrix films. But, augmented and virtual reality (AR and VR), specifically, are no longer simply science fiction. Even as the consumer market for simulated reality tools remains uncertain, enterprises are fast-tracking AR and VR plans to transform business.

VR immerses users in curated surroundings that depict either actual places or imaginary worlds. AR overlays contextual digital information onto the user’s immediate physical environment. Both are built around innate human modes of interaction—posture, gesture, gaze, even mood—enabling users to focus on the experience rather than the technology. That holds enormous disruptive value for marketers, specifically in the areas of communication and collaboration, training and simulation, field and customer service, and interactive marketing.

Communication and collaboration: AR and VR are legitimate substitutes for face-to-face interaction in a way that previous technologies, such as email or simple videoconferencing, never were. Marketing managers are using AR to view remotely retail shelf inventory and sales data. Teams can deploy VR to collaborate in real time.

Training and simulation: CMOs can employ AR and VR to replace high-cost, in-person, or risky on-the-job training. Marketing leaders can use simulated stages to rehearse presentations. Teams can walk through full-scale store or product simulations to get a feel for them before they’re built.

Field and customer service: Service may not fall under the CMO, but it has an enormous impact on customer experience. Marketing can spearhead efforts to redefine service delivery with simulated reality. AR interfaces can deliver task-specific information to field engineers in context and on demand, improving effectiveness and efficiency. Remote experts can use a wearable device to peer over their shoulder during a difficult task. Likewise, virtual solutions can immerse customer service agents in data or prompts to deal with customers.

Interactive marketing: AR and VR open up new ways for customers to interact with a brand. These technologies also offer innovative options for raising awareness, promoting features, or fueling demand. Travel and hospitality firms, for example, offer simulated time on a cruise ship or resort property, even incorporating wind machines and olfactory stimulants to replicate the complete experience.

Simulated reality technologies are nascent, but advancing rapidly. Forward-looking CMOs should begin exploring and exploiting the business advantages of these tools. Some tips for getting started:

  1. Start small and focused. It’s easier to justify AR and VR use cases (and pave the way for future investment) by focusing on single purposes with measurable impact.
  2. Expect the market to evolve. As it does, move ahead on point solutions with self-contained ROI, design for portability, and reevaluate the field with each new initiative.
  3. Open your mind. AR and VR require imagining new patterns, perspectives, and ways of working. Accept that failure will occur and look for lessons.
  4. Partner with IT. You may need to install beacons, sensors, or even QR tags around facilities and equipment, construct wireless and cellular, or implement new integration platforms.
  5. Understand the risk. Simulated reality introduces new security and privacy issues. Virtual representations of corporate assets may create vulnerabilities. AR tools could compromise personally identifiable information or payment data. Involve the information security early and often.

Read our full report on VR and AR for more implementation ideas.

Published on May 17, 2016.

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