The term augmented reality (AR) has been bandied around for a couple of decades, but it’s only in the last 12 months or so that the concept has really started to seep into our daily lives.

In the simplest of terms, AR technology allows digital content – be it video, text or images – to be superimposed over a view of the real world. In years gone by, anyone wanting to experience AR would have required a bespoke piece of equipment, which, generally speaking, would be specially designed glasses, but that’s no longer the case. With smartphones becoming increasingly powerful, and as app developers grow more adventurous, AR is becoming a feature of the everyday.

AR is far more than just a gaming gimmick

When Pokémon GO took over the world for a brief spell last summer, people that had never previously showed an interest in, or had no prior knowledge of AR found themselves exposed to its capabilities. And they went crazy for it.

AR is far more than just a gaming gimmick, however. It’s something that can give brands an edge over their competition by providing information in a unique and engaging way. It’s a technology with huge potential, and one that could completely transform the way some organisations choose to deliver their content.

Redefining content

The idea of incorporating something like AR into a content strategy is likely to bewilder some, and might be easily dismissed. To many minds, the word ‘content’ is still very much associated primarily with the written word, despite the fact that as technology advances, more and more companies are attempting to target and engage audiences in a variety of progressive ways.

Podcasts, videos, images and infographics are all equally valid forms of content; each has its own strengths and weaknesses, but they are all powerful tools when used in the correct manner. The methods used to produce and push out content are constantly evolving to match customer needs and expectations, and AR is just the latest in a long line of innovative approaches

With all forms of content production, quality over quantity is, of course, paramount. You need to provide information your audience will find useful via channels that suit their consumption habits.

Podcasts, videos, images and infographics are all equally valid forms of content

The key is not necessarily attaching multiple strings to your bow; it’s about choosing those specific strings that ensure your content ends up where it’ll be most beneficial.

When and where can a brand apply AR?

Every brand is different. There’s no one single marketing campaign, message or channel that will bring instant success each and every time it’s used. Each organisation must think about how they want to represent themselves, what they want to achieve and to whom they want to appeal before committing to any particular approach

While it’s undoubtedly true that AR is not a cog that everyone should be inserting into their marketing machine, there are certainly many organisations that could significantly enhance their content offering, as well as their customer experience, by augmenting reality.

Imagine, for example, the benefits of AR when attempting to decorate a house. By simply pointing your phone at the place where you’d like to position a wardrobe or bed, you could get a firm understanding of whether said item will fit, and whether it’ll match the other pieces of furniture in the room.

AR is not a cog that everyone should be inserting into their marketing machine

Or imagine you’re at a conference and have only limited time to network. If everyone at the event was using the same AR technology, you’d be able to use your phone to scan the room, see everyone’s job title and company, and uncover who you really should be talking to.

There are so many possibilities when it comes to AR; it is a versatile and malleable technology, ready to be employed by companies that constantly seek new ways to reach customers.

And, perhaps what is most exciting, we’re only just scratching the surface in terms of discovering what AR is capable of.

With a little Yelp from my friends

A terrific example of a company currently harnessing AR to give consumers added value is Yelp. Yelp, which is incredibly popular in the US, collects and collates user reviews and recommendations for restaurants, shopping, nightlife and entertainment.

Within Yelp’s app there’s a feature called Monocle. Clicking on this loads up the phone’s camera screen, and then, with the use of GPS, displays reviews of a restaurant once the camera is pointed directly at said establishment. It then becomes possible to make an informed decision about the restaurant’s suitability quickly.

Not only is this something that makes Yelp stand out, but it’s a concept that could inspire other apps.

Just imagine how it could revolutionise the dating world. An app harnessing AR could conceivably allow users to scan a room and reveal the relationship status, age, interests and sexual orientation of those people around them that are also using the same app.

Just imagine how it could revolutionise the dating world

It could incorporate the digital benefits provided by apps like Tinder by providing a brief bio and summary, but would also encourage real-life interactions.

While some critics will no doubt regard this as just another way to undermine the art of organic human interaction, there’s no doubting that such a feature would be of great benefit when attempting to forge real-world relationships.

The Detroit Institute of Arts

On 25 January, the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) introduced Lumin, a mobile AR tour that gives the museum’s visitors an opportunity to engage with displays in a unique way.

By using a mobile device – provided by the museum – guests can blend the real world with a virtual one, enhancing the overall experience by bringing exhibits to life. It gives them a completely new way to learn. Visitors will be able to see how items looked when they were new, and will gain a better understanding of how past civilisations lived and worked.

The museum has come under fire from some people who claim such an initiative will result in more people staring at pieces via phone rather than interacting in the traditional way. However, Salvador Salort-Pons, the DIA’s director, is adamant that the introduction of AR will only serve to enhance each guest’s ability to enjoy their visit.

“Augmented reality allows the user to see the unseen, imagine art in its original setting and understand how objects were used and experienced in people’s everyday lives,” she says. “Technology should not be a substitute to replace the work of art itself. It should be the bridge, the springboard, to understand the works of art.”

Augmented reality allows the user to see the unseen

Salort-Pons has also stated that the Lumin technology will only eventually expand to around 15 percent of the museum’s art exhibits to prevent viewers from becoming too engrossed by the AR aspect, while also giving them ample opportunity to experience a completely new way of interacting with art.

Though Salort-Pons’ response specifically refers to the Lumin experience, it is certainly not a point that is bespoke to the viewing of art. The point of AR is not to detract from the immediate, but to enrich it.

The power of imagination

AR is a technology that is still yet to firmly establish itself as a marketing essential, but that’s largely because it is still quite expensive to create something bespoke, and because many organisations are yet to even contemplate the idea that AR has the capacity to enhance their brand’s content.

AR is not intended to replace existing content marketing activities, but is instead designed to be a feature that will give consumers additional value. It can provide them with information in a format that is at once accessible and distinctive. And, while AR is deemed by many to still be in the early stages of its technological development, there’s no doubting that it will become more prominent in coming years.

AR is a technology that is still yet to firmly establish itself as a marketing essential

By considering now what other companies are doing with AR, and by carefully thinking about what would appeal to your own particular audience, you’ll be well equipped to incorporate AR into your content strategy as soon as it becomes appropriate to do so.

The power of AR technology is pretty much only limited by creativity and resourcefulness, and brands with the ability to think outside of the box while also remaining faithful to their core content goals stand to benefit greatly.