You walk down the street and pass a poster on a wall advertising a new music album. In reality, all you see is a piece of paper with a color image. But there might be a whole interactive world on that poster that is completely invisible to the naked eye.

That interactivity is possible due to a new marketing tool called augmented reality (AR), which is dramatically transforming the way that companies and consumers are interacting with each other. But what is AR? And how are companies using it to further brand awareness and create meaningful interactions with customers? Let's dive a bit deeper…

The Hidden World of Augmented Reality

Through AR, just about any object that you see in the physical environment around you—from the T-shirt on someone passing by to a statue in the park—could be concealing a hidden AR layer laden with supplemental information. AR is experienced through the use of a tool such as a lens (like Google Glass) or mobile interface. By looking through a lens or screen, a user is given an alternate view of the surrounding environment that would be impossible to experience without the aid of a digital device.

AR primarily works by combining an internal GPS platform with a compass to pinpoint the exact location of a user. A company then can tailor information to a user in real time for the purpose of providing an enhanced view of the surrounding area. By looking at an object or pointing a device at a particular area, the person can gain access to charts, graphics, statistics, video, and audio. For instance, if you had an AR app on your smartphone, you could point your device at a row of buildings and get presented with a row of floating hamburgers above every restaurant that offers them.

AR Is Marketing Gold

From a marketing standpoint, AR is a goldmine that every company should be using to win the attention of consumers. The technology creates an interactive experience, builds brand loyalty, and is fun to use.

Moreover, AR has found a home in just about every industry, such as music, entertainment, and education. For instance, Pepsi recently made headlines when it announced its AR marketing push on soda cans leading up to the 2015 Super Bowl. By scanning the side of certain Pepsi cans with a mobile device, fans can gain access to special footage and get a chance to win tickets to the Super Bowl.

Also, museums and schools around the world are using AR to enhance learning for students.

The Possibilities of AR

Years ago, marketers could differentiate their products with a touching, hilarious, or ingenious television commercial. Families gathered in front of the tube without the ability to fast-forward through commercials or burying themselves in their digital devices for the entire commercial break. As that is no longer the case, the marketing industry moved to the online world and is now turning to a new and engaging technology to get people excited about their products.

Let's say, for example, your company will be launching a new series of animal-themed pop-up books next month. You know publishing is a tough industry, and you really need this product to stand out. Rather than—or in addition to—the typical magazine and newspaper advertisements, you decide to give AR a try. You encode each book, so when readers hold their smartphones over the pages, they don't just see what anyone can with the naked eye. Instead, readers using their smartphones also see elephants lumbering around, gorillas pounding their chests, and giant storks spreading their feathers.

In a B2B setting, AR can be used to enhance direct-mail packages. For instance, companies can send out a brochure on a product or service spotlight that comes to life when scanned by a mobile device. Prospective clients or customers can learn more about your company without even having to log onto a computer.

AR is especially popular in the entertainment industry, too.

For instance, 20th Century Fox teamed up with the BCC to promote "Walking with Dinosaurs: The Movie" with AR technology. The media moguls created an app that allowed people visiting the Isle of Wight to see dinosaurs walking the land. Visitors could hold their mobile devices up against a hillside, for example, and suddenly see a dinosaur standing in front of them—through their screen only, of course.

In addition to promoting the BBC and 20th Century Fox, that AR experience gave the Isle of Wight a permanent visitor attraction that requires no costly maintenance whatsoever.

AR Stirs the Imagination of Customers

When analyzing the impact AR can have on your business, you have a lot to get excited about. After all, the technology is instrumental in creating a bond between customers and the brands they interact with, something that marketers strive to achieve with each sales push.

One of the most exciting aspects of AR is that it stirs the imagination of customers. It puts a child-like spin on the world and helps customers interact with every AR-enabled poster, website, and more. AR creates a situation in which customers will keep looking for your product and logo wherever they go in order to receive hidden messages, deals, and offerings.

As customers interact with brands via AR, location-based associations are created, and they fuel memories and build brand loyalty. Customers will associate brands with the time and date in which they had an augmented experience. Just think of a child walking down the street wearing Google Glass. At any point, he or she could look up and see Spider-Man swinging from an AR-enabled building. That sort of interaction doesn't just build a customer... It builds a fan for life.

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The possibilities of AR for B2Bs and B2Cs are endless. Close your eyes, and let your imagination wander. What do you see?

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Are Marketers Seeing the Whole Picture? The Rise of Augmented Reality

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Eric Vidal is the director of product marketing for the event services business segment at InterCall, a conferencing and collaboration services provider. Reach him via

LinkedIn: Eric Vidal