Augment Your Direct Marketing Success With Augmented Reality

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Kenny Eicher, The CSI Group
Kenny Eicher, The CSI Group

For years we've been hearing about augmented reality (AR), but here we are still waiting for it to become a reality. Now, thanks in part to the ever-increasing popularity of smartphones and tablets, AR's time has finally come. With its user-friendly interface, instant gratification, and “wow!” factor, AR has officially begun taking consumer engagement to new levels. In the direct marketing space, augmented reality has the potential to jumpstart—and extend the life of—direct mail (DM) campaigns. It also enables DM campaigns to produce more measurable and trackable results than ever before.

AR allows anyone with a smartphone or tablet to transform a printed advertisement, postcard, or still image into a live 3D video experience simply by pointing their webcam at it. AR draws consumers into a personalized retail experience by overlaying a new digital world onto the physical world. It turns 2D into 3D, giving consumers a reason to engage with and hold onto a promotional piece.

Augmented reality's coming of age is directly tied to consumers' addiction to smartphones and tablets. According to IDC, about half of Americans using mobile phones use smartphones. The number of users is expected to reach 181.4 million this year and climb to 222.4 million by 2017. Earlier this year a comScore study found that smartphone users have outpaced people using other phones, with a split of 55 percent to 45 percent.

Another phenomenon driving augmented reality's rise is America's love affair with video and the marriage of video and smart mobile devices. Passive is passé and achieving a personal connection with customers in a digital space is now a requirement. Millions of Americans regularly watch videos on their smartphones and tablets and have come to expect the heightened level of engagement their mobile devices afford them.

AR brings this heightened level of interaction to direct mail and helps overcome its stigma of being out of date or too un-engaging to produce strong results. AR can instantly transform a static direct mail piece into anything from a virtual shopping trip, vacation experience, swing of the bat, or the personification of the product simply by scanning an image, photo, or code.

Another positive impact of AR on direct marketing is that it can make it easy to measure the impact of a DM campaign. You can't tell if someone actually read your direct mail piece, but with AR, you can see exactly who accessed the AR content, when, from what device, and how long they interacted with it. Augmented reality opens a new window to engage the prospect at a deeper level, offering more profound experiences and more enticing and compelling calls to action.

As with all new technology, it's prudent to move cautiously to avoid making costly mistakes. Here are some guidelines for using AR to make your DM success a reality:  

  • Start—and stick with—a sound strategy. Consider all the elements of your campaign, including DM, and calibrate how AR will apply to and complement each component.

  • Be discerning. Don't do it if it doesn't deliver an amazing, not-available-anywhere-else experience for your audience. Resist the urge to latch onto AR if you cannot deliver a truly unique and memorable customer experience.

  • Make your call to action worth responding to. Entertain customers. Educate them. If you offer a coupon, deal, or discount, personalize it just for them. Give them access and exclusivity.

  • Make first impressions count. If you don't engage consumers with your AR-enhanced direct mail piece the first time out, they won't give you a second chance.

  • Watch, listen, and learn from others. AR is becoming a game changer, but we're still writing the rules and there's much to be learned from the brave who go first.

AR gives you the ability to energize your DM campaigns and other marketing initiatives by digitally manipulating the environment and modifying reality to deliver an interactive, personal, and memorable message to your audience.

Kenny Eicher is vice president of creative and strategic development at The CSI Group.

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