Elevate Brand Experiences with Augmented, Virtual and Mixed Reality

March 27, 2018

Corporate events are all about brand experiences. However, it isn’t always easy to design a memorable, immersive experience that connects your attendees with your brand.

Helios Interactive, a Freeman Company, is an experience design studio that specializes in building engaging, interactive experiences for consumers in the events and retail channels. One of the ways they deliver these experiences is through augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) and mixed reality (MR).

I attended a session at MPINCC ACE last month in which Demetrius Wren, digital creative director at Helios, explained each type of reality and talked about some examples of how each are being used in the world of events.  

Education and brand identity are two of the most common uses for VR, AR, and MR. The key, said Wren, is to utilize technology that aligns with your organization’s goals and amplifies your story. This alignment, and attention to detail, will help create more interactive attendee brand engagement.

“We aim to create experiences that make an audience feel ‘without this technology to tell the story, I wouldn’t have had the same impact,’” Wren explained.

What are the differences between VR, AR, and MR?

Virtual Reality is completely immersive and requires a full headset with sound and some form of visual interaction (via goggles or some form of screen) that provides sensory input to the exclusion of all else. With VR, you can also typically interact with what you are seeing – so it feels like you are really there.

A drawback of VR is that it can detract from face-to-face interactions, as it is typically experienced by one person at a time. Providing explanations during the experience requires breaking the illusion. People may also feel uncomfortable leaving their belongings “unattended” - that worry about security means they don’t fully commit to the alternate reality. However, VR has a powerful impact.

Augmented Reality provides an overlay of information. You are still seeing the real world, but also have access to additional information. This technology can be used for real-world applications such as delivering supplemental medical data to a class learning about the human body: they can be looking at a body, but also seeing detailed data about each muscle or bone. Google Translate is another example, where users can see both the original signs and the translations.

Some applications for events are the use of QR codes, where when you scan the code, an object appears. More destinations and venues, such as Visit Houston and the Colorado Convention Center are developing wayfinding apps that utilize this technology. Another popular use is for scavenger hunts (in the consumer gaming world, Pokemon Go would be the ultimate scavenger hunt).

Mixed Reality is the newest technology. In theory, it delivers the best of both worlds. MR gives you the feeling of immersion, with the ability to see the world around you. For example, in addition to seeing those medical details, the students would be able to interact with them, zooming in, expanding, and calling up more data as needed. The key here is the interaction, which differentiates it from AR, where you can just view the augmentation.

Freeman and Helios Interactive have designed and delivered a number of AR, VR, and MR event experiences for clients including IBM, the U.S. Navy, and InfoComm.

EFI is one such client. EFI is a world leader in customer-focused digital printing innovation, offering printing technologies for the manufacturing of signage, packaging, textiles, ceramic tiles, and personalized documents. Due to the large physical footprint of the printers, plus materials costs, it was difficult for the company to showcase these technologies outside of its offices.

Originally, EFI worked with Freeman to explore the option for an innovative display solution to use as a sales tool. The result was a virtual reality experience that allowed customers to interact with the printers through a product explorer tool – and it was a big success.  

In Oct. 2017, EFI was to exhibit at the Specialty Graphic Imaging Association (SGIA) Expo. With more than 19,000 attendees, SGIA Expo is the largest printing trade show in North America. The team decided to use the product explorer tool to exhibit one of its popular printers. Attendees spent an average of eight to ten minutes interacting with the virtual reality tool.

One SGIA Expo attendee who spent time in the EFI booth commented, “It’s a great way to show the printer. It was amazing being able to see the machine inside and out. That’s the best part; really diving into the machine to understand it.”

One potential barrier to entry for VR/AR/MR is budget: to do it right, the entry level cost is going to be in the vicinity of $50,000. However, depending on your business, it is possible that you could realize a significant overall cost savings: EFI was accustomed to spending a minimum of $50,000 per event on transporting and setting up a single printer for display.

Another blocker is advance planning: these activations can’t be designed overnight. To deliver a custom brand experience, you need to put in the time and thought to ensure everything is done correctly and to realize a return on your investment and objectives.

Wren stressed that it’s vital to not lose the idea of face-to-face marketing while using VR/AR/MR. To that end, Helios has worked with Freeman partners to build video domes that medium-sized groups can use for VR experiences. These domes allow a brand ambassador to guide a group of viewers through an immersive story together.  

When it comes to VR/AR/MR brand activations at events, said Wren, “Make the main thing the main thing.” Focus on the brand story you are trying to tell.

He concluded, “It’s important to make sure when deciding to make a VR/AR/MR experience that you are doing it for the right reason.  Ask yourself, “Can this new technology give a better understanding of my brand, product or association than any other medium?”


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