Exploring the Possibilities for Augmented Reality in Life Science Marketing

What is Augmented Reality?

There is a lot of hype around virtual reality, augmented reality, and mixed reality in the technology landscape today. The first step to understanding how augmented reality (AR) functions in marketing is to understand how it is different from virtual reality (VR). Many people understand AR through the example of Pokémon Go, the most widely recognized augmented reality mobile experience to date. Using your smartphone to impose a digital image onto the image capture of a real space is a good description of AR. Another, simpler example is Snapchat’s face recognition software that gives you computer-generated dog ears or a flower crown.

Virtual reality is an immersive experience where you are completely inside a digital world. Augmented reality is an experience where digital objects are added to a real landscape.

Mixed reality is in between these two, where the experience is completely digital, but the virtual aspect is anchored in the real world. Mixed reality and AR are interesting technologies for marketers to consider because unlike VR, they interact directly with real space, and are grounded in a way that VR is not, which can come in handy when you are trying to promote a brand in the real world. With the technology available today, augmented reality can be implemented on any smartphone, while virtual reality requires a headset.

Will AR Last?

There is a lot of discussion about companies using AR as a simple gimmick to jump on the bandwagon of the new technology without considering its long-term potential. It’s true that a lot of AR technology could merely be used as a more complex version of a Snapchat filter, overlooking the deeper real-world interaction that AR can offer. However, this technology is so new, and there is so much that hasn’t been done yet, that there are lots of opportunities for marketers to do something creative, engaging, and valuable.

Science Education and AR

Since it was first used by the U.S. Military to virtually guide machinery in the 1990s, AR has had practical uses in science and education. Science is a discipline that constantly involves the tangible world around us. In addition, technology is a loyal companion to science, and many science-inclined people are more than willing to use new technology to enhance learning by visual means.

NASA Spacecraft 3D enables users to project 3D models onto their countertop at home for an intimate look at various NASA spacecraft. AR can give users 3D models that are easy to navigate, with apps such as Anatomy 4D and AR Liver Viewer (the title says it all). Apps such as Skywalk and Skyview allow you to point your iPad camera at the sky to instantly find the names of celestial bodies and constellations. Being able to track and map real-life objects using AR is one crucial aspect that makes this technology so well-suited to science. Whether the AR tool allows users to interact with science more intimately in the real-world, or help visualize scientific topics that are difficult to see in real life, it brings opportunities to enhance real world experiences with digital information in a fun way.

AR Ad Placements

One company, Blippar, creates banner ads that will take users to an interactive AR experience that places the ads in the world around them through their smartphone camera. Blippar is unique because it is liberated from the app, and the added effect of AR encourages consumers to engage with the ad, and picture it (literally) in the world around them. It is not hard to imagine that this technology could be tied to geographic location, and the technology could trigger coupons to pop up on your phone when you arrive at the store.

Visualize Your Space

Another popular application of AR in marketing is using it to impose potential products into your personal space. Ikea’s app allows you place digital versions of their furniture in any room, which is not only fun for users, but also functional. This is a tool that Ikea gives customers to enrich their experience with the company and make the buying process easier. This concept is also applied by brands like Sephora, enabling potential customers try out makeup virtually before purchasing. These applications for AR are popular because of their practical nature, and their ability to add value to brands.

AR and Holograms

One company, 8i, creates human holograms that can capture a moving, speaking person, and impose them on a real-life scene through a phone. This technology is taking off as a way to give virtual tours, or “preserve lasting impressions” of people that feel a little closer to reality than a photograph or video. One of their biggest projects is an educational piece of software that allows users to tour a virtual Mars colony with a hologram of Buzz Aldrin as their tour guide. Again, this hints at the link between educational applications for AR and marketing angles.

Are You Visualizing AR in Your Marketing Campaign?

Experts disagree about what type of augmented reality will prevail over the next few years, but they do agree that the use of augmented reality in marketing, while not widespread today, might be just around the corner. This is because most people are walking around with the only AR tool they would need to use AR—a smartphone. Other devices, such as Google Glass, also incorporate AR. The iOS and Android operating systems already have the protocols for AR built-in; creators just need to take advantage of it. Many companies are popping up that can create AR experiences through smartphone apps, even using the smartphone’s online connection to usurp the app altogether.

However, AR is far from a slam dunk; there are many important considerations that marketers need to make before AR can work for them. Before investing in an AR campaign, it is important to think about the value it adds to the customer’s experience, and therefore, what it adds to your brand.

The lesson marketers should learn from these successful AR marketing campaigns is that the technology is being used as a tool, not just a vehicle for entertainment.

How Will Your Customers Get There?

This is an important question to think about when you are planning an AR campaign. In today’s market, most AR experiences for smartphones involve downloading an app, like Zappar. To get customers to invest in the extra time and effort it takes to download an app, the reward needs to be substantial. No one is going to download a whole new app to their phone just so they can be served an ad in 3D, right?

Another important factor is how you promote your AR experience. When and where are your customers when they hear about your campaign? You want to reach the customers when they have the time and energy to set up their phone and use the software, rather than when they have just made a purchase, or are distracted. Method of promotion can make or break an AR campaign, so be sure to consider this carefully.

AR at Tradeshows

Augmented reality and virtual reality have cropped up at life science industry trade shows with increasing frequency in the past few years. It makes sense—trade shows have a limited space, and companies attend c to put their best brand foot forward and wow their industry peers. The audiences at trade shows are willing to take the time to interact with something new and engaging, and they frequently are the marketing decision-makers for their businesses who could choose AR.

Imagine, instead of bringing your heavy, expensive lab equipment to every trade show, you could show your full range of products and capabilities using mobile devices, and allow attendees to interact with them. You could even show a model of the workflow involved via interactive 3D models that captivate your audience and serve to educate potential customers. AR can do all of that, and more.

The Next Chapter for AR

No one can predict what the future holds for AR. Like so many technologies, it is constantly improving, and in 2018, it is accessible enough that it might be poised to impact marketing in a big way. This is the time for creative marketers to step up to the plate, and use AR in ways that are innovative and make full use of the technology. The next chapter for AR can be written by you.

To discuss innovative marketing strategies that fit your life science company strategy, contact us.