Katy HendricksKaty Hendricks

Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality have been surrounded by significant hype, particularly at January’s Consumer Electronic Show and with Apple’s recent updates to ARKit

Once largely relegated to the gaming industries, these two technologies are now being more widely implemented by brands and, simultaneously, adopted by consumers. The savviest companies are starting to take notice – and are deploying AR and VR to dramatically enhance the consumer experience

Given that this new “reality” is only likely to expand from here, what should PR professionals know about AR and VR to stay ahead of the curve? 

Let’s start from the beginning.

Difference between AR, VR

AR vs. VR. It may seem a bit complicated to grasp the difference, much less how it applies to you and your clients. However, it’s quite simple when you break it down.

“VR allows you to experience a reality that is elsewhere, whereas AR augments the current reality you are in,” said Jody Haneke of Haneke Design, the Tampa-based design firm credited with developing the AR application at the One World Trade Center Observation Deck in New York City.

A third acronym to know is XR, otherwise known as Extended Reality. This serves as an umbrella term over any experience that brings digital objects into the physical world or vice versa, including AR and VR. 

What Consumers Want 

Until recently, AR and VR were most often used for entertainment. However, a 2018 survey by Accenture of 21,000 consumers in 19 countries, found that consumers are interested in practical, daily-life applications for these emerging technologies.

  • 67 percent want to learn more about a place they are visiting
  • 67 percent want to learn new skills or techniques
  • 61 percent want to visualize how clothes might fit
  • 58 percent want to view 3D product manuals 
  • 54 percent want to shop for household items and furniture
  • 47 percent want to play games

These insights open a vast array of opportunities for brands, particularly in the travel, tourism, training and retail industries. And it makes sense. With so much of our world now digitally-driven, consumers are starting to expect the immersive, “touch and feel” kinds of experiences via their phones or VR devices that they could get in the store. Or while on a road trip, they’re expecting the kind of rich “digital overlay” of insights they can source on their web browser. This will soon become the new norm.

What It Means for PR   

So what do AR and VR have to do with PR and marketing? (No pun intended). The answer is, quite a lot. 

We all remember the not-so-distant past when social media channels and influencer marketing first emerged as vital conduits for audience engagement. All marcomm disciplines – from PR to digital to advertising – have adapted and adopted social and influencer channels as core to our capabilities.

XR will be no different. This is not about rushing out to hire gaming developers. This is about watching, learning and starting to experiment. It’s also about exploring smart partnerships to better understand how and where XR can be put into practice in your organization – or in service of key client objectives.

The good news is that leveraging AR and VR applications is not as costly as one might fear. Like any aspect of the marketing mix, these technologies can be scaled up or down. As with any new tool or tech, it’s all about how the investment will improve ROI. And if you don’t start to jump in now, you’ll never know the answer to that question.

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Katy Hendricks is Director of Client Services at CooperKatz & Company