Many marketers hope that augmented reality will help them create deep and meaningful consumer-brand relationships. But is that really true? And how would this work? In this fresh-off-the-press academic study, MKTGsquad founder Dr. Joachim Scholz gets to the bottom of AR’s relationship-building potential.
The study, published in the Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services, is entitled: “We ARe at home: How augmented reality reshapes mobile marketing and consumer-brand relationships”.
What is this research about?
The article explores how users of Sephora’s mobile AR shopping app forge intimate consumer-brand relationships. Key to building these relationships is to integrate the AR app into consumers’ intimate space (e.g., their bedrooms) and to fuse the branded content with consumers’ sense of self. Through both of these “outside-in” and “inside-out” processes, the AR app provides a personal space for consumers that is conducive for the emergence of meaningful consumer-brand relationships.
The left side of the following figure describes these processes:
The study has several important implications for marketing practitioners:
Implications for marketing practitioners
Mobile marketers often think about “shopping on the go” when it comes to mobile marketing. In contrast, this research points out that marketers should also consider at-home use as another “wider context” for mobile (AR) apps. In this new study, consumers formed deep relationships with Sephora through using its AR app at home.
Second, augmented reality apps can do so much more than deliver easy-to-understand product information. Sephora’s Virtual Artist app, for example, helps consumers test-drive new identities, relax, and socialize with their friends.
Knowing how consumers use AR is super important for launching a successful AR app. Consumers are not able – or willing – to relax when they feel they are being targeted by the brand.
As this new study shows, AR apps can forge meaningful and deep consumer-brand relationships when consumers perceived the AR app to be centered around themselves. The brand has to recede into the background and has to stay there. Whenever the sales pitch of the brand became too strong, the relationship with the brand became fractured.
Good news for managers
And finally, some good news for managers who worry about the quality of their AR app: While it is, of course, important that the app is user-friendly, the mapping of the AR content does not have to be perfect. Consumers in this study were quite forgiving when it came to smaller inaccuracies of the AR app. The authors interviewed 16 actual users of the app, each for over an hour, and often heard that smaller inaccuracies were expected for such a “little iPhone app”. One participant shared:
“… when it scanned your face to then put fake makeup on, it wasn’t exactly where my cheekbones and things are. But it’s just a little iPhone app, it’s not going to be able to do it perfectly. I’m sure an actual augmented reality giant set-up would be able to get it more accurate. But for a little app, it was pretty accurate, pretty close on.”
In other words, brands have a certain leeway when developing their mobile AR apps, especially now, that the technology is not yet mainstream. Thus, Dr. Scholz’s research encourages managers who are hesitant about the current state of AR technology to take the plunge and embrace AR for their marketing programs.
Your next steps towards deeper consumer-brand relationships
You can read the entire study, with lots of informative quotes from real consumers, over at the Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services. If you want to take your AR apps to the next level, ask yourself:
- Where do consumers use your mobile AR app? (the wider context)
- How can your AR app foreground the consumer and background the brand? (fusing the brand with the consumer; the inner context)
- What functionalities can you offer so that consumers can use your app not only to learn about products but also to relax and socialize?
Exploring these three questions will get you a good way towards better realizing AR’s potential to create intimate consumer-brand relationships.