Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality: The Future of Small Business Marketing?

A solid marketing plan is one of the most powerful weapons a small business owner can have at their disposal. Relying on tried-and-true techniques, like word-of-mouth, is one way to drive traffic to your restaurant or retail store; but if you really want to create buzz around your business, embracing technology is a must.

Augmented reality and virtual reality (AR and VR respectively) are the latest innovations to make headlines. Marketers believe both have serious potential to revamp the way businesses attract and keep customers. Here’s a look at how these technologies work and how small businesses can leverage them to their advantage.

Augmented and virtual reality defined

Virtual reality and augmented reality often get lumped together, but there are subtle differences between the two. With virtual reality, you’re interacting with a computer-generated 3-D environment, typically via a headset or goggles. Essentially, you’re in a completely fictional setting that’s separate from the real world.

Augmented reality, on the other hand, incorporates your physical surroundings with computer software to create a composite view. Artificial elements – viewable using a headset, glasses or a mobile device – are overlaid on the screen, incorporating them into the world around you. You can interact with this simulated environment but still be able to distinguish between it and reality.

Augmented reality and virtual reality as a marketing tool

Once you understand what augmented reality and virtual reality are, the next step is figuring out how to capitalize on these technologies to market your business. Pokémon Go relies on augmented reality tech. It is a great example of how smaller businesses have been able to do just that.

For instance, CNBC recently reported a story on Mad Hatter’s Ice Cream in Anacortes, Washington. After temporarily closing shop due to a personal health issue, the store’s owner Gary Dear was able to triple his sales thanks to foot traffic from gamers who were scouting out local Pokémon hotspots.

Other small businesses are also cashing in on the app’s popularity. They are doing so without having to blow their marketing budget. Coffee shops, pizza joints and retail stores are all getting in on the action. Because of this, businesses are reaping big returns with a minimal investment in the process.

The marketing tricks businesses use are fairly simple. CitySen Lounge, a bar and restaurant located in Grand Rapids, Michigan, draws in customers with the promise of a 10% discount for belonging to a particular Pokémon Go team. California-based coffeehouse It’s a Grind uses inexpensive Lure modules. This attracts Pokémon to a particular Pokéstop for a limited time, to hustle up business.

While Pokémon Go brought augmented reality to the forefront, it’s really just the tip of the iceberg where marketing is concerned. Larger companies are putting AR tech to work in other ways to build their brands. Think Ikea’s AR-driven catalog or Urban Decay’s Snapchat filter. Although the application is different, the idea is the same: using augmented reality to retain existing customers and embrace new ones.

Applying augmented and virtual reality on a smaller scale

Cost is undeniably one of the biggest barriers to using augmented and virtual reality as a small business owner. If you don’t have the budget to develop your own AR or VR-based smartphone app or pay a marketing agency to launch an augmented reality campaign on your behalf, you’re probably wondering how you can realistically use this technology to your advantage.

As we’ve seen with Pokémon Go, it’s really a matter of creativity and keeping an eye on trends. Paying attention to AR and VR apps that go viral can open the door to new marketing opportunities. As the technology continues to develop, small businesses should be able to cast an even wider net when looking for ways to utilize augmented reality in their marketing plans.


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