The real deal – almost

Augmented reality is growing as a tool for small businesses, and as well as being affordable it can be controlled without the need for outside help.

Enormous expansion is taking place in the digital-reality space. The likes of Alibaba, Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft have invested billions of dollars over the past year into various incarnations of digital reality: augmented reality (AR), mixed reality (MR) and virtual reality (VR).

The proliferation of mobile phones and smart devices that can analyse and measure their environment means there will be even more powerful AR applications across all industries, says CEO Rupert Deans of Plattar, a cloud-based AR platform.

Inside Small Business spoke to Deans to explore the affordability of this cutting-edge technology for small business – and even if it is appropriate…

Is AR scalable for small businesses?

Traditionally AR has been expensive to create, with long lead times, technical hurdles and the inability to be flexible. Every time you wanted to make even a minor change you had to call the developer. These are the same difficulties you would have heard in the early 2000s with website creation and management, then in came content-management systems.

Now the door is opening for businesses of all shapes of and sizes to be able to afford and implement AR, and most importantly be able to take control of it themselves without needing to form a team or pay an agency six figures to run it.

Small business, just as it moved into creating assets for digital channels, can start to create 3D content. Once small-business owners have their 3D models, they can have various uses, such as being integrated into their website for interactive use.

Staff members can be trained on how to use the technology, which can also be included in a business’ marketing communications plan. The key point is that the ongoing cost will can be low as one sandwich a day.

“Now the door is opening for businesses of all shapes of and sizes to be able to afford and implement AR, and most importantly be able to take control of it themselves.”

Practical opportunities for businesses can include:

  • Product visualisation – letting consumers and businesses see your products before purchase, reducing the likelihood of returns
  • Training – providing effective and memorable training experiences
  • Marketing – presenting your products, services and brand through engaging and interactive experiences
  • Real estate – enabling customers to virtually walk through available properties
  • Tourism – creating digital layers for the customer to view on top of the actual experience
  • Instruction and repair – reducing mistakes and improving servicing quality with updated instructions and information.
  • Body modification – seeing how that tattoo or piercing will look
  • Print media – adding a digital layer to content.

What will AR do for small businesses?

It is an enabling technology. Depending on the business, it can do many things. Right now, it is a powerful marketing tool for business to communicate through active, engaging experiences that ultimately help customer with their purchasing decisions. It enables a business to stand out from the crowd.

Time and time again businesses are using AR to engage their customers and raise brand awareness. Just as social media has grown and has become a must-have to reach audiences, the same is happening with AR. It makes it easier for businesses to:

  • Add efficiencies in processes at all levels through delivering real-time contextual data
  • Engage and empower customers through product experiences and instructional content
  • Demonstrate the product in context, especially in e-commerce
  • Provide a way to drive physical interactions through games and geolocation
  • Increase sales with measureable and engaging experiences
  • Provide a “wow” factor for customers, engendering enthusiasm and interaction around the brand.

Why should small businesses pay attention to AR?

Small business have a huge potential to outpace larger competitors by being more nimble. While large companies are busy getting the right business units onboard  and waiting for the next budget period, an SME can roll out an AR presentation in a matter of weeks.

Why try? Well, the market is seeing corporate giants ranging from Alibaba to Apple investing a total of more than $1 billion last year alone, and the market is predicted to grow to $120 billion by 2020.

Every other week a big brand and a SME are producing an AR tool to help improve their customer experience. Amazon and Ikea have launched their own AR applications, and retailer Escape to Paradise, which sells pillows, has adopted the technology for its customers.

What can AR do for brands?

Traditionally AR has been expensive to create, with long lead times, technical difficulties and a lack of flexibility. At Plattar we saw the chance to create an accessible platform for wider use. It lets smaller businesses harness the technology to improve and enhance customer experience, from marketing campaigns through to being able to close transactions.

As the technology is still developing and growing, there are endless opportunities for businesses of all shapes and sizes to experiment within the AR/VR/MR scene. It will be exciting to see what the community produces.

When will AR become a norm for brands?

It was the tipping point for AR last year with Apple releasing its ARKit tool to the public and Google releasing a developer tool. These were major steps forward, and Plattar has already used ARKit within a client app.

There has also been a continuing explosion of content and use cases, anywhere from helping you buy furniture through to movie promotions.

This story first appeared in issue 19 of the Inside Small Business quarterly magazine.

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