One of the biggest conversations in 2020's event industry is about the use of AR and VR at events. But what are the fundamental differences between the two? And more importantly, how can you use them to evolve your events without altering your business so much that your attendees hardly recognize you?
With the advent of augmented and virtual reality, may event professionals are feeling the pressure to tap into the trend. However, a lot of event businesses also worry that this new dimension of "reality" will place the emphasis off of real time and interactive, face-to-face experiences. Understandably, they don't know yet how to make AR and AV technology their own, and use it to their advantage without going off-brand. The application of these technologies in the event world is still relatively new, and 2020 is taking them to the next level.
You can imagine how confusing it must be to have to ponder the intricacies of this: In an experiential market, the importance of real, genuine connections with others and high quality live event experiences has been hammered into event professionals' heads for the last decade. But what if you could create AR and VR experiences that enhance your brand instead of detract from it? What if you could use them to reach broader, more remote audiences and better serve the evolving needs of your existing clients? The good news is that with a little basic knowledge and an open mind, you can. Our purpose today is to explain AR and VR and how they're impact on the industry will affect your business in 2020. And most importantly, we'll give you very specific ways that you can use AR and VR to enhance your brand, not take away from it. Let's break it down.
What Exactly is Augmented Reality?
First things first: We can't have a discussion on AR and VR without distinguishing between the two. Augmented reality is technology that combines computer-generated images with reality. Let us explain. While VR is its own world unto itself, AR enhances reality. Snapchat filters are a perfect example of AR because they augment reality. When you put your camera in selfie mode, an augmented overlay appears over your features. You know those huge, googly-eyed glasses and cute puppy ears you see on people's Instagram selfies all day? Yeah, they're not real. They're an augmented version of reality.
Okay...So What is Virtual Reality?
Virtual reality is entirely artificial. It's a computer-generated, three-dimensional simulation of a real like or life-like situation. If any of you are old school enough to remember the first version of the SIMS, that was one of the first wildly successful VR games to hit the market in the 90s. (Yes, we know there now exists a more sophisticated, more realistic version Sims 4 world).
For those who've never played, what the game does is allow users to create eerily life-like, computer-generated personas that walk, talk, interact, work, get married, get divorced, avail themselves of guilty pleasures, experience conflict, seek solutions to problems, and essentially be immersed in a human experience. It became popular because people were addicted to the novelty of simulating human life on a screen, and also because that human life could be as wacky and out-of-the-box as one's repressed alter ego's wildest imaginings. We're not saying the SIMS characters were the "us" we really wanted to be- that's taking it too far, even for a virtual reality. What we are saying is that creating a nuanced, life-like semblance of real life onscreen caught on.
Now virtual recreations of live events are being used to let remote audiences- or people who just couldn't make it- still be a part of experiences they would otherwise miss. VR is used live and for remote audiences at conferences; it recreates and walks people through a situation they will encounter or a problem they will have to solve at some point in real time. This is an immersive, 3D experience that is especially beneficial for people who learn by experience or by "doing", but don't have the opportunity to participate hands-on.
Leveraging AR in Corporate Settings
While virtual reality creates a simulation of the real world, AR allows you to see the real world- just in an augmented form. To review, AR allows virtual objects to be superimposed upon it or integrated with it. Thus, AR is not a completely digital setting. Instead, it enhances reality to bring certain concepts to life. For a simple example, let's go back to Snapchat for a moment. it may sound like a silly example, but corporate agendas also use surrealistic superimposed images to illustrate a point or convey a feeling. If holiday filters can bring out emotions in people who use Snapchat, why can't animated, sometimes exaggerated superimposed images elicit feelings and understanding in a corporate setting?
Children's books have pictures to bring the story to life. Although our minds become sophisticated enough to create our own images in our head while we read or learn, augmented reality is immersive. It not only shows us the world from new perspectives, but brings ideas to vivid life by illustrating them.
So how does AR enhance corporate training? For one thing, it stimulates creativity. For example, let's say you're learning about the architecture of a famous building. While reading about it requires you to form your own visuals, AR brings it to life for you by giving it three dimensions and life-like details that make it feel real.
It's also really instrumental in telling a story. Think about how overwhelming a first day at a new job can be. You don't know where anything is, and you know very little about how things are done. Watching your working environment on a screen that guides you through a day in your new professional life can really help orientate new employees. Now imagine that this immersive experience is enhanced by images that illustrate abstract concepts and make them real to you; interactive pop-ups come up to help you absorb what you've learned. This ability to be immersed in a real life setting is invaluable for workers who perform tasks that pose safety risks to others if done wrong. It's such a powerful visual benefit that it could make or break a career for an architect, a construction worker, surgeon, or anyone else who performs hands-on tasks. AR is also extremely helpful to training artists who use techniques to create original works.
The quality of virtual events is becoming so life-like and sophisticated that many companies implement training courses entirely online. People learn how to use new technologies and other professional development skills through immersive VR experiences. These experiences are realistic representations of the physical world. People can interact with them as if they were real. Some companies use VR to allow their employees to practice customer engagement in different real-world scenarios. It provides an opportunity for employees to practice solving complex or difficult problems without facing any consequences in reality. Being free to explore options without real-life consequences makes them feel free to problem solve more creatively than they would otherwise. Research has shown that VR experiences lead to more and better engagement, which is important to professional development.
People often use headsets to tap into AR and VR events because they block out any visual and auditory stimulation that exists around you, thus distracting you from becoming immersed in the virtual reality.
The Near Future of AR
Did you know that 88% percent of event professionals say they plan to use VR this year? 87% plan to use AR in 2020. Apple recently launched a series of mobile phones that contains ARkit, which is a free iOS software that allows for the creation of augmented reality apps. Google has also recently developed a technology called ARcore that has similar capabilities. AR apps enhance events by allowing every attendee in the vicinity to see the same images at the same time. Thus, it's a valuable, shared social experience that makes experiencing and sharing events more fun. Attendees connect and interact based on the shared content, and it inspires them to get creative together.
AR-based event apps have influenced the gamification of events in exciting new ways. The possibilities add a whole new layer of experience with digital gaming, contests, scavenger hunts, and more. As we talked a lot about in our previous article on event navigation trends, AR-based apps are the perfect hosts for virtual tours.
Not only can they take attendees on virtual tours prior to the event, but they can interact with them throughout the event in ways that are revolutionizing the experiential market. For example, these apps alert attendees to information that enhances the event experience. These interactions are based on their activity at the event. For example, if they visit several vendors that sell a certain type of product, they'll be alerted when they enter close proximity to a breakout session on the industry that manufactures it. Of course, you can create event apps without AR features, but they aren't as engaging or immersive as those that do use AR.
If you're planning on using your event to leverage product sales or launch a new product, AR can showcase them digitally. This is huge because it eliminates the need for a venue with space to accommodate a large number of products. You may be worried that replacing live product demos and displays will diminish the experience by limiting it to the size of a screen. This is a legitimate concern, and if product showcases at your events have been a big draw for years- or you do them in a really unique way that has become your trademark- you may not want to replace live showcases altogether. But AR-based mobile apps can go a long way toward enhancing them by giving attendees life-sized, detailed views they couldn't usually glean from a screen.
Why Will Virtual Events in be So Big in 2020?
For a much more detailed, comprehensive summary, view our recent post about the biggest virtual event trends in 2020. But let's have a recap. Live streaming has become more popular than ever. A cursory glance at your smartphone or laptop at any given time will usually yield at least one event that is live and in progress. VR technology is becoming more mainstreamed and affordable, and live streaming shows no signs of slowing down any time soon- especially not in 2020.
In this experiential market, people are busy, but they don't like to miss out. Generally speaking, millennials in particular care more about having quality experiences than acquiring material possessions or buying from big names. And according to Market Profs, over 80% of poll respondents say they prefer viewing a high-quality live stream over reading a blog or social media post. That's impactful information about the importance of the live aspect of virtual reality to consumers. Being able to tune in digitally to events allows people to still be a part of events, even if they can't physically be there. Engaging with remote audiences is also becoming more and more vital to an event professional's career.
Besides, marketers are more invested in attendee tracking than ever before. Virtual events have the best ability to quantitatively measure event performance and generate leads. And tracking behavior kills two birds with one stone, so to speak- it also allows event creators to digitally integrate personalized experiences throughout virtual events. Conducting live polls and surveys during events gives planners valuable information that allows them to further personalize future events for attendees.
What Can You Take Away From All This?
The continuing growth of virtual events and capabilities bodes well for event planners, but going live on social media or your website isn't enough to keep your event business competitive. We recommend starting simple so that your attendees have time to adapt and use the technology needed for quality VR and AR communities. Staying in sync with your attendees is the best way to gradually develop top quality virtual events that give real value to your attendees. This isn't about chasing a trend- it's about creating more immersive, highly personalized experience that are valuable to your attendees, and expanding that technology to include remote audiences. AR and VR leave a lot more room for creativity than most people imagine, so take advantage of it!