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A Neuroscientist Explains the Value of Augmented Reality

New Innovations Help Brands Connect with Fans

Jul 14, 2016

New Innovations Help Brands Connect with Fans

People armed with their iPhones, scanning a world that’s invisible until it’s given form on their screens—the pop-culture obsession with Pokemon Go has made Augmented Reality the hot, must-have technology of the moment. But instead of scrambling to replicate its success in the present, marketers should already be looking ahead to the future. How can this technology be used to create connections that count—not just between people, but between brands and their fans?

Meet Traces, an AR app that allows you to leave photos and messages in a specific location in the form of a droplet of water hidden to the naked eye. When you and your friends visit that place, you can access these delicate soap bubbles of information by zeroing in on them with your cell phone. Suddenly, you’re seeing a reality layered on top of the one you already know. Much of this technology is based on neuroscience and the way our brains perceive space and stories.

Dr. Beau Lotto is a TED speaker, author, neurodesigner, and current creator-in-residence at Viacom Labs. He designed Traces to specifically give users the ability to create a more meaningful connection without the limitations presented by social media.

2015 Future of StoryTelling Summit Speaker: Beau Lotto
Neuroscientist & Founder, Lottolab

His research into perception has shown that we don’t actually see the real world—just our own version of it. It’s a version we’ve evolved to perceive, where shadows, shapes, and even how we understand time are meanings we ascribe to what we’re seeing. Our senses are telling us stories about the world—and we can control those stories to change our perceptions and ourselves. Digital technology that’s purely virtual can’t totally engage with our perceptions. When digital augments the physical reality we evolved in, that’s when we can truly occupy the space between the real world and what we want it to be.

This technology also opens up new possibilities for brands interested in creating unique and exclusive experiential events, while at the same time giving marketers the power to deliver cutting edge storytelling for fans and consumers alike.

According to Lotto, the brain hates uncertainty. After all, it evolved throughout a period when not recognizing the man-eating tiger in front of you meant that you were doomed to become tiger chow. “The brain takes meaningless information and makes it meaningful,” he explains. “It also makes meaningful relationships by physically engaging with the world and with people you care about. And what a brand wants is a relationship with their audience. If you’re going to create a relationship, you have to use the things that the brain requires to create a relationship.”

Putting effort into receiving content also increases people’s perceived sense of empathy. This is because both the marketer and the consumer now have a bond.“You’re trusting me that it’s worthwhile to go and get the content. You’re taking a risk, but you’re part of the process of giving. That’s bonding.”

One way for a brand to create a relationship is to provide experiences, rather than merely selling an object. Lotto says, “People spend more money on experiences, and the brain perceives an experience to be more valuable than an object. Experiences also last longer in your brain than a memory of an object.”

Another way to create a relationship? It may sound counterintuitive to marketers, but Lotto insists “giving, as opposed to passively receiving” will help people identify with your brand. “We call it the IKEA effect: The more effort you put into something, the more valuable it’s perceived.” But with sharing, it’s also important to get creative. Nobody was impressed with a QR code that led directly to an advertisement. The same is true for AR. The technology may be “cool,” but the experience itself needs to resonate for it to make an impact.

These experiences were proven to be effective in London, where Lotto left a  Nina Simone song in public in Bloomsbury, which people could access with Traces. Listeners rated the song 20 percent better simply because they had to go and get it.

And AR technology has legs well beyond music and entertainment. Even travel brands can benefit from this experiential marketing. Take AirBnB. Using Lotto’s Traces app, individual hosts would be able to leave traces in their homes or apartments that provide instructions for guests when they arrive.

As Lotto says, “Usually people pay to get rid of advertising, but I personally think brands have tremendous potential to add value to people’s experiences.”

To the marketers who understand this and plan to benefit from experiential marketing, you’ll have mastered a key advantage: You won’t be thinking outside the box. You’ll be thinking outside reality. 

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Published: Jul 14, 2016