Jane McConnell
Jane McConnell 15 April 2019

Now's The Time To Embrace AR & VR for Brand Activation. Why?

It's time for savvy marketers to jump aboard the AR/VR hype train before it's too late. These exciting, engaging and beautiful technologies are only now truly showing us how hugely powerful they are for marketers, and for customers.

Augmented and Virtual Reality are improving technologies, that offer endless creative possibilties for maketers who are looking for new ways to tackle traditional challenges across brand positioning and consumer relations. In this article, we explore the concepts and case studies of Brand Activation and the ideas behind the latest immersive, customer experience marketing campaigns.

Firstly: Let's Define Brand Activation

Brand Activation often gets mixed in with Marketing Activation - they are two related, yet incredibly distinct concepts, and they are not the same. Marketing Activation simply means that marketing campaigns are executed and carried out. The activation is part of the central phase in a campaign for any marketer, prior to the data and analysis stages. Like this:

Brand Activation is a relatively new idea in marketing. Brand Activation as a marketing tactic, is informed by the accessibility of interactive media experiences, 'guerilla'-style communications (like stunts and viral video creation) and the ease of brand communications thorough broadly distributed social media. Brand Activations are designed to compel a customer. To compel, here, means that word exactly: to mobilise a person physically and intellectually towards a conversion, directly into a purchase, or even directly towards the post-purchase journey, such as brand loyalty, referrals and advocacy.

Brand Activation is usually done via:

  • Sponsored sampling

  • Influencer-led road shows

  • Physical, experiential marketing campaigns - in store, or in open public spaces

  • In-store, pop-up brand 'stations' that usually combine digital media with bricks-and-mortar locations 

  • Out-Of-Home brand events

Arguably, these are the campaigns that many marketers love. It's the closest we get to planning a party for our brands! However, creating effective branded environments and experiences that achieve measurable impact and a return can be very expensive.

There are also budgetary and resource challenges posed by: the time taken to plan a Brand Activation campaign, making temporary hires for site-specific installations, training staff, securing physical space, designing and manufacturing custom built furniture - and usually much more besides.

This is where both Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) come in. These technologies are powerful because they ignore these limitations, and use digital reality as the platform, the space and medium to tell a brand story.

Virtual Reality

VR allows marketers to build worlds. Where 360 degree videos are considered VR too, marketers get the opportunity to turn a flat video from a 2D and into a physical and visual experience. For brand campaigns, this means creating a story world for customers to step into, which is purely defined by your brand's propositions, values and latest messaging. At their most advanced, a great VR brand activation campaign brings together a virtual immerse experience with the opportunity to take a further action, or even buy something within that experience.

A studio called Spatial& recently completed a wonderful campaign for How To Train Your Dragon 2, with Walmart. Spatial& specialise in what they term as "vCommerce". From the brand activation perspective, it's not vCommerce as nothing from the VR experience is actually able to be purchased online, inside the VR experience. However, it is currently one of the most successful examples of an immersive brand station, where the VR brand experience exists directly within a tilled concession inside Walmart stores. It achieves all its goals: increased footfall, and increased purchase intent that leads to a higher probability of customer purchase, after the VR experience.

If you're looking for e-commerce-styled vCommerce, you might need to wait a couple of years. Or, maybe you are the marketer who is building it! In China, true vCommerce is quickly becoming a reality.

AliBaba were first off the mark with the Buy+ concept in 2016. While this has yet to be fully realised, the idea of shopping anywhere in the world - like taking a trip to Selfirdges from the comfort of your own home in Hangzhou using VR, is real.

Augmented Reality

AR allows marketers to change and add more information into how people view the real world. AR literally allows you to augment reality; to manufacture a brand vision on top of the real world.

There are now scores of examples of productive AR campaigns - from Magic Leap's accidentally-steampunk appearance on the frow at London Fashion Week, to StubHub's genuinely useful AR mobile app which allowed people to check their stadium view first, before buying tickets to the Super Bowl. This is a fantastic example of AR for brand activation before, during and after the purchase, demonstrating how teh technology can be used to increase brand loyalty and brand consideration - key for an international brand that has sometimes struggled with its reputation outside of the USA as a ticket reseller.

Time Is Now For Immersive Marketing

VR and AR's lack of ubiquity at this moment in time at least (if you're reading in 2019), also lends marketers a unique intensity that won't be felt in the future. This means marketers still have a window in which they can invite customers immerse themselves into these innovation experiences and environments for the first time in their lives. And when these immersive experiences are designed to increase sales, nurture positive brand associations, and achieve post-experience brand loyalty - it means a campaign can have lasting impact beyond an impression, a hit or a view that we typically associate with digitally-based marketing campaigns.

To a large extent, decent marketing campaigns succeed when they change the way a customer feels and thinks about:

  • A product
  • An idea
  • A vision 

The very best marketing campaigns change a customer's frame of mind for all three, and in turn creates the highest probability possible towards a purchase, and then after that conversion - create an instinct for brand or product loyalty. This is the holy grail for most marketers.

And if this is your grail, then immersive brand activation is right now, a very open opportunity for you to ensure your marketing makes a lasting impact.

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