Augmented reality is becoming a larger and larger part of the brand landscape now. Before we get too deep down the augmented reality (AR) rabbit hole, let’s do a quick vocabulary lesson — because there are other, somewhat-similar terms that often get confused.

First, let’s distinguish between AR and virtual reality, or VR. AR is the blending of virtual reality with real life; developers create images and applications that blend in with the world around the user. The most commonly known version of augmented reality in 2016 was Pokemon Go, which broke almost all Apple download records and likely created a rush for more brands to interact with AR. Virtual reality, by contrast, is the creation of a virtual world that users can interact with — by definition, it’s going to be different than augmented reality and not contain many elements from the existing world we see every day. Virtual reality is probably a little farther off in terms of driving business and brand behavior, but Oculus Rift (a well-known VR platform) being purchased by Facebook was a step in that direction.

The final component is artificial intelligence or AI. This refers to machines who learn from experience and repetition. Presently, you’re seeing this mostly with chatbots — but in the future, AI will shape much of how business is done.

Back to augmented reality. While the market is small now, it might grow to $90 billion by 2020. Brands are rushing into the space — in part because of the huge success of Pokemon Go, and in part because it’s a next logical step in our continued digital evolution. How exactly are brands working with augmented reality? Here are a few examples.

It may soon be in your iPhone camera: Apple is working on this with teams from several startups it recently acquired. This would allow, for example, a view of a city street to be overlaid with directions, price points for nearby restaurants, coupons, or — wait for it — some type of animated creature to make you giggle.

Smart glasses: At the same time Apple is working on integrating augmented reality into their phone cameras, they’re supposedly also working on “smart glasses.” This isn’t necessarily a surprise, as the biggest tech companies out there are working on the same. Facebook has one in the pipeline, as does Snapchat. (In a nice hipster throwback move, Snapchat will make their glasses available in vending machines.)

The smart glasses concept for brands will be the next tier of “making sure you’re on Google Maps” from 5-10 years ago. Now you’ll want users to be able to engage with you through augmented reality. That could be information about your store/product, coupons, offers, or random fun characters you sprinkle near your brick and mortar to encourage people to come in.

How brands are experienced: Think about live sports for a second. The advent of HDTV has driven down incentives for people to drive to a stadium, park, buy food/drink, etc. when the views are so stellar at home. (This is mostly true for football, but applies to other sports equally as well.) But what if augmented reality comes to stadiums, and fans can overlay the field with characters, images, and real-time stats? It might be coming soon to Gillette Stadium, home of the Patriots. It was possible at Gillette because of a Wi-Fi upgrade, which would be a necessary condition at other venues.

Sports is a specific type of branding, but this idea can be extrapolated out to any number of other concepts. Trade shows could be made more informative and entertaining. Lifestyle brands could offer real-time makeup tutorials. B2B salespeople could walk prospects through a demo (and pricing) more effectively. Much research in the last few years has shown that customer experience is more valuable than traditional branding now, and augmented reality is a great chance for brands to increase the CX.

Training: This is more an internal (focused on employees) idea rather than an external (focused on customers) one, but it’s nonetheless valuable. Microsoft’s augmented reality offering, HoloLens, has partnered with an elevator company to help train 24,000 technicians. They can see problems ahead of arriving at a client site, and less experienced techs can be guided by more-veteran ones. The techs can also pull up tons of information about the elevators in question via HoloLens.

From $0 to $90 billion is a giant market jump, and augmented reality is here to stay for a while. Understanding how it could help you deliver on your brand promise is crucial to the next 5-10 years of business.

What other applications of augmented reality have you seen and liked?

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