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AR and VR: the powerful new tools that are connecting brands with customers

As discovery commerce becomes more sophisticated, immersive experiences represent the next frontier for cutting-edge companies looking to stay ahead

AR and VR: the powerful new tools that are connecting brands with customers

When Chiwei Lee joined Meta—then called Facebook—11 years ago, he had a front-row seat to the emerging power of social media. Lee saw the rush of people connecting with old friends and family members in a new way, but he also noted a massive opportunity for companies. Just like the first wave of social media helped people discover long-lost friends and new acquaintances alike, Lee envisioned social media making it easier for brands to connect with their customers, and for people to discover new products and brands that spark joy and delight. “It was clear that social media technology was going to fundamentally transform industries and businesses,” says Lee, who heads up tech, telco, and entertainment at Meta’s Creative Shop. “It was going to change the ways marketers and creators think about communicating with their customers.”

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Today, Lee believes we’re on the cusp of a similar inflection point. Technologies such as augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are supercharging innovation and sparking efforts among companies to take advantage of new digital opportunities. Meanwhile, the metaverse—still in its infancy—represents a new marketing frontier that brands are eagerly exploring. “We’re seeing the proliferation of new and immersive tools that are allowing brands to connect to their customers in incredibly new ways,” Lee says.

These new ways of connecting are also becoming increasingly important amid people’s evolving habits and expectations. One noticeable shift is that most consumers are embracing today’s more digital shopping experience. In Meta’s recent “Customer Experience 3.0” report, two out of three consumers surveyed said their mobile device is quickly becoming their most important shopping tool, and 71% of consumers surveyed who follow creators and influencers on social media have bought products recommended by them. At the same time, people also want more from brands, from AR tools that let them virtually try on clothes to a metaverse experience that lets them race virtual Mini cars around (and under and through) a gravity-warping 3D track.

MAKING THE BUSINESS CASE

How can brands deliver a more immersive experience to consumers? The first step, Lee says, isn’t revolutionary, but it is crucial: Make an airtight business case for this new marketing strategy. For instance, if Brand X is considering rolling out a killer new AR tool, it should be well-armed with a plan for what it hopes to accomplish with it. For instance, the goal may be to drive new customers or to break through to a new niche of consumers that the brand hasn’t been able to reach through traditional marketing methods. “You need to make sure what you’re doing is going to be valuable for your business,” Lee says. “Force yourself to articulate what you’re trying to achieve and what this technology brings to the table for the customer.”

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Take AT&T, which recently partnered with Meta to create several immersive campaigns, including Warp Speed Worm. The interactive video game, driven by Meta’s Group Effects AR tool, is a high-tech update of the classic “snake” game that early cell phone users played on Nokia handsets. Yes, the game was designed to entertain users, but the company also had another goal in mind by showcasing what’s possible on AT&T’s fast 5G network: to spur players to sign up for an optimized mobile phone plan. “It’s been really interesting to see how 5G can really increase the depth of immersion and what’s possible with AR and to see that customers love it,” says Igor Glubochansky, assistant vice president, Devices and Partner Solutions Product Management, Innovation, at AT&T.

Indeed, customers are the most important part of this marketing equation. When it comes to making use of immersive tools such as AR and VR, companies need to focus on what shoppers actually want. In fact, according to Janelle Estes, chief insights officer of UserTesting, a firm that provides companies with insights and feedback from customers, savvy brands can even enlist their customers to help build these tools. She notes that a well-known eyeglass retailer relied heavily on customer feedback when it created an AR tool in its mobile app that lets users virtually try on eyeglass frames. “It truly comes down to understanding what’s going to resonate with your customers,” she says.

HELP ALONG THE WAY

Once companies have figured how immersive solutions will benefit both their brand and their customers, they need to build and roll out the campaigns. That’s where collaborations with partners like Meta can help. After all, not all companies have teams of dedicated digital architects on their payrolls. Such experts can help companies not only build the tools they need but also consider how to use them most effectively. “I believe the most successful brands in this space are the ones that have those trusted, deep partnerships in place,” Lee says.

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With Meta, companies can tap into a deep bench of creative experts who can help conceive, build, and execute an immersive marketing plan. Meta Business Partners offers a roster of vetted experts that can step in to help brands with a range of marketing needs, from creating engaging mobile videos to building interactive and immersive creative content. 

Diving into uncharted waters always carries risks. But Lee emphasized that companies shouldn’t shy away from these risks and should, in fact, embrace the opportunity to experiment. After all, tools such as AR, VR, and the metaverse present big opportunities for companies to expand their marketing reach and tap into customers’ needs and aspirations in new ways. “These tools aren’t only to drive discovery but also to drive meaningful discovery,” he says. “It’s not just seeing the ad, but having the ad pull you in and allow you to have this deeper experience. That’s how brands and marketers should be thinking about these kinds of tools.”

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