Here, author Sarah Mannone explains the popularity of Augmented Reality (AR) and how a commercial printer can add value to his or her existing print products and services using the technology. Mannone is Vice President of Client Services at Trekk, a multi-channel marketing communications agency specializing in incorporating new ideas and technologies into multi-channel marketing programs.

 Few technologies offer the opportunity to add value to the print pieces you’re already producing for your customers than Augmented Reality (AR). These media-rich experiences allow not just viewing, but interacting in ways not even conceivable with QR codes. And we all know that if we can communicate with someone through an interactive experience, we have a much higher likelihood of continuing the dialogue. AR transforms paper touchpoints into interactive experiences, bridging the gap between print, digital and mobile communications. It not only increases long-term engagement and response, but also helps keep print relevant in an increasingly mobile world.

AR here and now

AR has actually been used in practical applications since the early 1990s. What’s different today is that the development tools and standards are now in place to propel rapid growth and mass acceptance. According to Statistica, the global AR market is expected to grow to 200 million users by 2018. Using an AR browser app and a smartphone, users scan an AR marker, which could be an image, a 3D object or a location. The app connects to an AR cloud service that returns content to the device and augments the real-world environment with computer-generated sensory input such as sound, video, graphics or GPS data. Because the content is stored in the cloud, the AR experience can be changed at any time (without changing the marker), thus increasing the shelf life and value of print. As the technology continues to develop, mobile device manufacturers are adding more functionality that takes advantage of device capabilities to deepen the AR experience. New software development kits are being rolled out that challenge designers and developers to create a new generation of engaging and immersive experiences that take advantage of 3D technologies.

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It starts with print

One of the simplest ways to add AR into a printed piece is with video. However, clever marketers are pushing the limits of AR by also incorporating motion graphics, animation and 3D environments. For example, Canon Solutions America had the opportunity to place tabletop signage in a reception room where attendees at a conference had breaks and lunch. They wanted to use that opportunity to show attendees that AR could be much more than video – it could be a truly interactive experience. We helped them create three interactive AR experiences that could be accessed from the same dimensional tabletop sign. Attendees could take a pink elephant for a walk, pop balloons in a pop-up book or send a slinky down a stack of books. Each offered a fun, whimsical experience designed to show off the technology, as well as spark the audience’s imagination.

Bringing magic to event marketing

One of the areas where our clients are seeing tremendous success with AR is at tradeshows. AR has encouraged repeat visits to booths while offering booth staff more opportunities to connect with potential prospects. A great example is a program created for Darwill, an Illinois-based commercial printer specializing in direct mail. The company wanted to make a big impact at a Direct Marketing Association Annual Conference and had already hired a magician to perform in their booth. However, it also wanted to give booth visitors an interactive experience they would remember long after the event. Trekk’s interactive designers created four printed cards and corresponding AR experiences that communicated Darwill value propositions in fun and magical ways. Each time they visited the booth, attendees received a card and were directed to a large TV screen where they could witness the magic of Darwill through an AR browser. Some also found a prize message in their AR experience and walked away with rewards ranging from Starbucks Gift Cards to Apple Watches. The printed AR cards served as a reminder of Darwill’s unique value propositions and provided a sharable takeaway that reinforced the booth experience.

How will you add value with AR?

One of the biggest opportunities for integrating AR into print is in packaging and POP signage. But it’s also being used in training manuals, print advertising, direct mail and catalogues, books, statements, sales collateral and more. Consider the print pieces you’re currently producing. How many ways can you think of to add value, engage, connect and delight with augmented reality? The applications are limited only by your imagination.

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