Why B2B needs Augmented Reality

All articles | AI
Published Nov 21, 2018 | Written by Keith Errington

There has been a lot of content in the past year focusing on the potential impact of Artificial Intelligence (AI) on marketing. Here at Equinet, we’ve covered the topic discussing the nature of AI and how it has changed B2B marketing.

But a recent report by the Economist Intelligence Unit and Osborne Clarke has unearthed the fact that UK businesses believe that over the next five years AR and VR will have a greater impact on their business than AI. Based on a survey of 550 senior execs from 11 countries, the research found that 88% of UK organisations believe AR and VR will have a significant business impact by 2022 – compared to 70% of those that said AI.

AR & VR – What are they? What’s the difference?

Virtual Reality is probably the most well-known term of the two. Many people have had VR experiences with headsets at arcades, or visitor attractions, or are familiar with the consumer versions from Oculus Rift, or HTC Vive or perhaps they have a Sony PlayStation with a headset and VR games. If you have a smartphone, you can experience budget virtual reality using Google Cardboard or similar for just a few pounds.

Virtual Reality is generally an immersive experience that takes you out of the real world by using a headset to supply visuals and sound that make you believe you are in a virtual world.

Augmented reality takes a different approach – it uses real-world input from a camera say and augments it by overlaying information or graphics.

There are many smartphone applications you may have come across in the real world, from interactive city guides that overlay information as you look around, to museum guides that add additional information to exhibits. Possibly the two most popular uses of AR are Snapchat filters and the Pokemon Go game – whose popularity is now under threat from a relative newcomer; Ghostbusters World.

Augmented Reality keeps you grounded in the real world and adds extra layers of information.

So why now?

There are two factors that have facilitated the rise of AR and VR. Firstly the adoption of smartphone technology by a significant proportion of the population. And secondly, the smartphone companies commitment to VR and AR technologies in their software, both Apple with their ARKit and Google with ARCore investing heavily. Apple is rumoured to be working on a number of secret AR and VR projects that may include a revolutionary headset/device.

That’s great, but how can all this be used for business?

Both can have significant implications for a business – depending on your products and services. They probably have more relevance to businesses with a physical product, but as more innovative solutions and technology are developed, they are likely to transform not only the selling and support of products AND services but will impact heavily on the very products and services themselves. There are already a number of examples of companies using these technologies in the manufacturing process, or in the delivery of a service.

If all this sounds a little like science fiction, it isn’t, companies like Boeing are using AR technologies in production. According to Boeing, “Traditionally technicians had to look at and interpret a two-dimensional twenty-foot-long drawing and construct that image in their mind and attempt to wire based on this mental model. By using augmented reality technology, technicians can easily see where the electrical wiring goes in the aircraft fuselage. They can roam around the airplane and see the wiring renderings in full depth within their surroundings and access instructions hands-free.”

AR & VR in Marketing

If you have a physical product – especially one that is substantial and therefore difficult to transport around, then both VR and AR are a godsend.

Using VR you could take your prospect into a virtual showroom and give them a guide to the product – show it working – highlight the features and so on, all from the comfort of the prospect’s (or your) office. Similarly, you could demonstrate and sell your product at a trade show or exhibition without having to have the necessary floor space for the physical product.

Using AR you could show the prospect what the product might look like in situ. The prospect could see how it fitted onto their building – how it related to their existing equipment – again without transporting a physical product. Even small products can benefit from being able to view them from all angles using AR – without having to have the physical product present.

Both of these are ideal if your competitive difference is your product’s footprint, design aesthetic, ease of use or access to parts for maintenance.

For an example, although a B2C application, it’s not hard to see how IKEA’s Place app could have relevance to any business with a physical product.

What if the product is bespoke and doesn’t exist yet? How do you give the buyer a true idea of what it will look like? Here again, VR and AR are perfect solutions, replacing the previous and certainly less sexy alternatives of a 3D sketch or model.

I’ve recently written about how important managing expectations is to the sales and support process, well both VR and AR can help by providing a tangible preview of the product, how it works, and how it fits into the prospect’s business early on in the sales process.

You could also use both types of application to show your factory, manufacturing equipment, plant, and processes to prospects or customers.

AR & VR in Customer Service

Both AR and VR have tremendous potential in training and support. Using VR a customer could learn how to set up, configure, use, maintain and repair products or equipment without needing to have the product present. Using VR would avoid any safety issues with working on products, plant or equipment whilst undergoing training and would also avoid the costs of damaged products if any mistakes are made.

Using AR would allow a customer to have an interactive manual overlaid on the product – again providing for easy setup, configuration, use and troubleshooting.

How do I use these technologies?

Like any new technological breakthrough, it is easy to be seduced by its novelty, creating applications that initially wow your audience but have no real, lasting benefit in the long run. Think of both of these technologies like any other content – they have to be relevant, useful and timely. They have to add to the user’s experience and deliver a benefit to them.

Studies have shown that just using these technologies as a marketing gimmick can actually result in lower message retention rates as the user’s fascination with the technology stops them from responding to the marketing message. If the VR or AR deployment is sympathetic to the product, brings a new dimension to the customer’s experience and enriches their involvement – then it will be successful.

Used for marketing or customer service, both Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality technologies are powerful new tools that no business can afford to ignore.

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Published by Keith Errington November 21, 2018
Keith Errington