These technologies might sound like gimmicks, but they represent tremendous opportunities.
Most new technologies, at first glance, look more like a gimmick or a gaudy status symbol than something with which business leaders need to concern themselves as a tool to reach more customers. But even recent history tells a different story.
Gordon Gekko looked appropriately ridiculous walking the shoreline with his brick phone in the 1987 movie Wall Street. Today, however, 95 percent of Americans own a cellphone of some kind, according to Pew Research Center, while smartphone ownership has grown from 35 percent in 2011 to 77 percent in 2018. Americans are also relying more heavily on their phones: Pew found that “one in five American adults are ‘smartphone-only’ internet users—meaning they own a smartphone, but do not have traditional home broadband service.”
What seems obvious today wasn’t so obvious a few years ago: smartphones aren’t a gimmick. Companies that dragged their feet in adopting a mobile marketing strategy now find themselves struggling to catch up to their competition.
Like the smartphone before them, virtual reality, augmented reality, mobile games and live chat are too often dropped into the “gimmick” bucket before they’ve been adequately explored. But these technologies have great potential in marketing for any size of company. They also share something critical: each tool resonates with a younger audience of digital natives. For business leaders, it may sound cutting-edge. To their current and future customers, these technological capabilities are a base expectation. Why should you take a closer look at these technologies?
Virtual & Augmented Reality
The go-to example for mainstream adoption of augmented reality is Pokémon GO. While the hysteria has died down after its initial release in the summer of 2016, the AR game captured the hearts, minds and fickle attention spans of millions, seemingly overnight. It was living proof that, with the right idea, AR was a viable means of captivating an audience.
This past holiday season, Oculus Go put considerable marketing heft behind TV commercials showing the VR headset device “in action.” One spot has two friends, in different locations, watching a movie together in a virtual theater. Priced at just under $200, the Oculus Go was positioned as a logical holiday gift, signaling that VR continues to break through into more and more homes.
While some may see AR and VR as out-there platforms best suited to pull teens further away from the real world and into their video games, they offer valuable business applications that companies can put in place today.
For companies with cumbersome physical products that require costly shipping for marketing and sales needs (like a trade show appearance), augmented reality can be used to replicate that product to scale virtually. Instead of losing sleep over the cost of freight and the logistics of bringing a physical product to potential customers, business leaders can equip their sales and marketing teams with smartphones or tablets instead. With a mobile device, potential customers can explore a product anywhere, pull up more information as needed, and get an up-close look at the features they care about most.
A more immersive version of this concept can be built in VR, with trade show attendees or other interested parties entering a “virtual showroom” via headset. In this scenario, a company can display the product itself, as well as promotional videos and more. VR, in contrast to AR, is fully immersive, offering the benefit of a potential customer’s undivided attention.
Another popular option for leveraging VR is virtual tours. Younger generations in particular have become accustomed to convenience, expecting things to come to them. For venues that are far away, meeting their expectation of convenience can present a challenge.
How can a business premised on a physical location get around that? Bring the location to the potential customer. With affordable cardboard VR viewers, businesses such as universities, resorts and concert venues can ship a virtual tour to those they’re trying to attract. Using just the viewer and a smartphone, a potential customer can take a self-guided virtual tour of the location, giving the business the opportunity to secure a physical visit by showing off the location’s best features.
It’s always a best practice in marketing for a business to be wherever their target customer is. It’s safe to say that every company’s target customer spends at least some of their day looking at their smartphone. So how can a business get in front of their ideal buyers on their smartphones without interrupting them?
The growing popularity of ad blockers and ad-free premium service options on platforms like Spotify and YouTube make it clear: younger generations don’t like being forced to sit through marketing or advertising content. Businesses that consistently interrupt their potential customers run the risk of turning them away, rather than bringing them closer to a buying decision. The best way around that is to offer potential customers something with which they’ll choose to engage. This can be as simple as a helpful blog post or as complex as a branded mobile game.
Today, even the “complex” option is accessible to most businesses. While a completely custom-developed game may be impossible to fit within a standard marketing budget, there are off-the-shelf alternatives that can be fully branded and meet the same objectives.
Mobile games are an effective way to capture leads. Being accosted for an email address at a trade-show booth is one thing. Being asked for an email address so you can be contacted for prize redemption should you achieve a high score in a game is another. Mobile games should be simple, fun and “sticky”—users should feel compelled to return to play again and again. Businesses can incentivize gameplay with prizes that promote the company’s products and services and delight potential customers.
With mobile games, potential customers are actively choosing to engage with a brand and a business repeatedly. That dynamic creates goodwill and great word of mouth. It’s easier than ever for businesses to get involved with mobile games. Their customers are already playing. It’s time to meet them there.
The internet has upended the way businesses operate. Every business is expected to have an online presence, and the internet never “closes.” Unfortunately, that means business hours are not strictly adhered to as they once were. While a business may still feel it’s best to only communicate with customers when its doors are open, customers don’t necessarily feel the same way. If a competitor is easier to reach and more responsive to questions, that’s a distinct advantage in today’s world.
While no one’s advocating that a customer service representative work every hour of every day, there should be something in place to let a customer know they’ve been heard, their issue is being addressed, and they’ll get a resolution quickly. That’s where live chat features and chatbot functionality comes in.
With a live chat pop-up on the company’s homepage, customers can always reach someone when they have a question or concern. It removes friction from the customer experience, giving them the information they need as quickly as possible. For more complicated issues, the conversation can at least get started and then be routed to the appropriate party for resolution. For really simple questions, artificial intelligence can take over, delivering answers on hours of operation, basic pricing and more.
AI will play a larger role in the coming years as conversational marketing continues to grow and the technology continues to improve. For businesses today, it’s crucial to have some way to answer questions and connect with leads 24 hours a day. Live chat and chatbots ensure that a person or a bot is in that seat, ready to interact.
Opportunities on the Horizon
Virtual showrooms, mobile games and chat robots might sound like gimmicks. But just as the smartphone is now a ubiquitous marketing tool, these emerging technologies represent a similar opportunity. Businesses that understand the expectations of younger customers will clearly see the need to explore, adopt and deploy these technologies before their competition does.
Younger people want experiences over product pitches, and see AR and VR as a means to that end. They enjoy mobile games and appreciate marketing that attracts instead of interrupts. They expect responsiveness and gravitate toward businesses with a low-friction customer experience.
For business leaders contemplating what’s next for their marketing strategy, it’s time to pay attention to the vital role technology can play. These newer technologies can save businesses money, increase efficiency, and most importantly, generate new leads and new customers, today and in the future. iBi