When I was studying virtual reality back in 2010 I never thought that this technology would be accessible like it is today, that every user is able to use and create their own versions of reality this easily. Today, we're seeing similar technologies that are able to extend human realities in different ways and create a more immersive environment for maximum impact on digital. These technologies that merge the real and digital world are referred to as Extended Reality; Extended Reality or XR is the umbrella term used for any technology that is immersive.
It has been forecasted that Extended reality technology will reach a market size of $209 billion by 2022. In the same report, it has been suggested that XR will become a mainstream technology in 5 years. The use of XR is growing rapidly, we all might have used the XR technologies at one point in our interaction with the internet, from face filters to metaverse environments. Face filters, Metaverse, VR Gamings are all different outputs that XR has brought to our life.
We can categorize the technologies under XR into 3 main components; Virtual, Augmented, and Mixed Reality.
Virtual Reality (VR) refers to technologies that put the user in fully immersive, digitally simulated worlds. VR has been popularized and used mostly in gaming and simulations for education, healthcare, construction, and many more industries that could benefit from a fully digital environment. To run a VR technology, users usually need an HMD (head-mounted display) at the least. Digital gloves, interactive joysticks are add-ons that can make the experience even more immersive.
Augmented Reality (AR) are the technologies that overlay the virtual information on the real world, the famous example of it is the face filters that are available on Instagram or Snapchat, it is widely used for entertainment but industries such as engineering, architecture, and education benefits from this technology as well.
Mixed Reality (MR) is somewhere in the middle, it is immersive as VR and it merges the real world into the virtual world just like AR. You can also interact with what you see in MR Environment. This technology however needs much more powerful processing machines but it is more impactful in terms of being immersive. Microsoft Holo Lens 2 is putting the brand out there as the ultimate MR device. “It allows users to gain an increased field of view, read text, and see the intricate details using 3D imagery. If you are in a room, you can move objects around and interact with them in ways that are not possible with standalone VR or AR products.”
As an example, with the use of Holo Lens 2, experts won’t be needed to do a full trip to see a construction site, they can check the progress of constructions, join meeting more efficiently, and would be able to deep dive into what is required to run a simulated construction experience from another part of the world. This would save companies costs and will bring us a greener environment with less travel, pollution, and other inefficiencies than traditional business approaches had.
Extended reality offers a wide range of benefits for brands around the world that want to create a more immersive impact, although it is still maturing, brands that experiment with the technology find great benefits and reduce lots of inefficiencies. Some may point to the challenges of an XR technology such as data and privacy as these devices record users’ biometric data, but there is a solution to it, where companies now are finding ways to encrypt every data right at the source with the device that is being used before it's shared on the Internet. Another challenge might be the cost of it, but every day different brands (such as Microsoft) are coming up with new products that are cheaper and proves a higher ROI (around 177% of ROI with the use of Microsoft Holo Lens).
Brands are creating more impactful digital campaigns with the use of XR, they are more effective simply because they put the users at the centre of the experience and create a more immersive environment. For instance, TOMS has created this virtual trip where you travel with donations and experience the journey of giving in a more immersive way. They turned every donor into a hero, by showing them exactly how their donations are making an impact in the world. It is the old approach of seeing is believing but in a more immersive way. And that’s exactly what users want to see, they want to be the hero figure which will lead to more attention to a social cause.
Another great example was the use of AR in a blood donation campaign by the National Health Service (NHS) in the United Kingdom. “They gave the general public stickers to place on their arms. By hovering a smartphone over the sticker, users could see an AR needle, plaster, and tube. On a billboard in front of them, they could see an empty blood bag with a sick patient. As the bag becomes filled with blood, the patient gradually gets better.” This brought the users closer to the cause. With this campaign, users could directly see their impact on another person’s life and that changed the whole campaign and gathered more blood donations.
Every one of us is aware of the importance of donating blood, but since we are far from the issue, we cannot see the devastating impacts of it on people. With this campaign, NHS bridges the gap between the cause and impact and showed users how impactful every little donation is. This campaign was successful in achieving the 200,000 blood donors goal at the end of the day and on top of it, it created conversations around the benefit of being able to donate.
All in all future of XR technology is very bright, using this technology as an ultimate marketing tool for good can create action and can bridge the gap between cause and impact. Users are getting numb to the ads showing sad faces and poor children, they need to be closer to the cause and really feel the momentum of their impact and XR is the best right tool for that.
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