Lord points to last year's Ikea catalog as a good example. The furniture company released an augmented reality app that, when held over the pages of its print catalog, projected 3D images of its products that could be moved around. That meant customers could view Ikea furniture in their living rooms before making a purchasing decision, and could even see products from other angles to see how they were structured. Customers flocked to it. Despite being released in July, it was the most-downloaded branded promotional app in 2012, according to Distimo.
But Ikea customers are famously loyal, and it's easy to say they may have gotten caught up in the sensation of a new gimmick. Besides, QR codes have long offered the ability to scan print materials for a link to additional information. Individual success stories of QR codes have emerged in the past, and the technology has still failed to make a significant impact.
To this, Lord says augmented reality has greater potential because, while it serves a similar need among mobile users, it does so in a more engaging way. Computer users have grown accustomed to the perks of Web content, going beyond the first page and clicking through links and images to access more information. Lord says this impulse will occur with those reading print content, such as a product catalog, and will prompt them to use an AR app to go beyond the information available immediately in front of them. The businesses that provide the additional information will reap the benefits.
"A majority of people are going to look at that catalog, see something they like, and then they're going to go to the physical store to buy it," Lord says. "What if we can somehow skip that second step? Not to say that people are never going to go to Ikea stores or department stores or anything like that, but what if something was so compelling that you can see it directly in your home and you can purchase it right there?"
While QR codes offer a similar capability, AR enables marketers to create more compelling campaigns, which will be more likely to engage customers, Lord says.
"What's amazing about QR codes is it's actually remarkable technology. But it's used very poorly and not creatively at all," he says. "Mobile users are still really intimidated by this kind of faceless information that is often without context, this collection of black and white squares. Yeah, it can take them to a website, but from the experiential side there really isn't much there."
Beyond marketing, augmented reality is also a proven tool for businesses looking to improve internal processes and customer service. Mitsubishi Electric offers augmented reality for visualizing its heating and cooling products, which was particularly useful for walking customers through installation and maintenance processes. Similarly, NGRAIN 3D built an AR app for training on industrial parts and equipment, so students wouldn't need to look at manuals while assembling or repairing an object.
A few considerations need to be made before diving into an AR project, for both external and internal purposes. Legal and regulatory compatibility will need to be addressed if the technology is to reach its full potential, Lord says.