Don’t throw the app out with the bathwater
Updated: Sep 6
We created our first augmented reality (AR) experience over 10 years ago and haven't stopped. In that time, the majority of our work has been developing custom augmented reality apps.
I.E. this custom augmented reality app that we built for Under Armour that they used in their brick and mortar locations in 2016.
More recently, we’ve been excited to see the rise of web-based AR and its ability to solve one of the biggest challenges that AR campaigns face - getting users into the actual experience with as little fuss as possible. While the possibilities of augmented reality experiences are nearly endless, the actual realities of people’s attention spans and willingness to install new apps are extremely limited.
Over the last two years, most of our work has shifted to the web for this reason, but does this mean that apps have no place in the modem AR world? Absolutely not!
We’ve seen a number of campaigns where WebAR can work hand-in-hand with an existing client app to drastically increase the overall reach and effectiveness.
While we can’t talk about some of the specifics of these campaigns, we’re excited to share the broad strokes of several of our recent WebAR projects, ranging from two fortune 300 beverage brands to an NFL team.
Ready, set, go!
Before we start any project we like to get a clear picture of what our clients’ business goals are, in short: aside from creating something really cool and exciting together, what does success look like?
For these campaigns, we identified three major goals:
Enhance the brand’s relationship with its most loyal fans through its mobile app and social media channels.
Reach out to new customers via their website and PR.
Minimize impact on the client’s internal app development team, and avoid lengthy QA cycles typically associated with updates for apps with huge user bases.
Easy stuff, right?
From a high level, these were extremely successful campaigns delivered on time and on budget with our clients working in lock-step with us along the way.
One campaign saw millions of plays in the span of a month.
We also saw extended interaction with the experiences, lasting up to a few minutes, with fans returning to the experiences again and again. In one case we saw an average of 30 repeat plays!
We were also excited by the media buzz generated by these campaigns, including mentions from the outlets like the Today Show. These generated millions of impressions on social media.
From a production standpoint, the ability to quickly publish changes and have clients review in near-real-time was a big win for everyone.
Ok, so that’s all well and good, but what are some actionable insights here?
If you have an open line of communication with your fans, use it to share a great experience with them. Most of these campaigns were shared across email, social media, paid and organic web, and app push notifications. Push notifications were a big winner here because they reduced the dreaded “activation energy” to essentially zero: a push notification pops up, asks if you want to try an experience, and you’re one click away. An email was a close second. If you have a group of loyal fans who have opted in to hear what you have to say through email, they’ll be pumped to hear about a fun experience featuring your brand. Other channels were still worthwhile, although people have been a bit conditioned on social media to tap like and keep scrolling without stopping to engage more deeply.
Not only does WebAR benefit from an existing app user-base, but it’s also technically very easy to integrate with an app. We’ve worked on projects where we’ve integrated native AR capabilities into existing apps, using platforms like “Unity as a library”. While these experiences admittedly have a few extra bells and whistles compared to WebAR, at the end of the day, the juice isn’t worth the squeeze. Most existing apps with millions of users have lengthy development roadmaps, planned releases, and somewhat bureaucratic systems for adding new content. These are totally understandable because not even Facebook wants to move fast and break things anymore. That said, this is at odds with providing users timely interesting content, and so WebAR provides a great solution here. Just open a web view, and away you go. You can even pass in URL arguments to further customize the experience (what’s the person’s favorite team or beverage flavor?).
Prizing and AR games are like chocolate and peanut butter (assuming you’re not allergic to either). There’s a sort of multiplicative effect of interest with an eye-catching and engaging experience where you can win real stuff. We’ve seen this approach succeed across a dozen campaigns and can’t recommend it highly enough. There are a few legal wrinkles to work through with a prizing campaign, like all of the fine print after “no purchase necessary”, so make sure you’re working with an experienced partner here.
When possible, find active sub-communities to target with campaign marketing. Whether it’s a subgroup of football fans, or die-hard sweepstakes players (we learned about the community known affectionately as “Sweepers”), a targeted message to an active audience can have a much larger impact than more widely targeted PR.
Hopefully, we’ve shown that even in a web-first AR world, successful apps can play an important role in driving attention and engagement. Just as importantly, webAR can often be the best way to integrate AR features into an existing native app, creating a unified and seamless user experience without adding unnecessary stress to the app developers. If you have a successful app with engaged users and are looking for a way to “level up” their experience, we’d love to hear from you!