By Jeff Ridgeway

Operating a small business is among the most satisfying ventures one can pursue, but has always come with a host of serious challenges. In 2018, those challenges are only amplified by increased competition, distraction, and a consumer attitude that demands more meaningful marketing experiences. In such a fast-paced, tech-driven market space, how do you keep up with the big players while still delivering the kind of personalized experience that only a small business can?

Augmented reality, or AR, is probably not the first solution a small business owner might turn to for a number of reasons. Its applications are not always clear and there may be a perceived learning curve or lack of programming skill set. All of that being said, the truth is that AR has become more accessible than ever before in ways that the same SMB owner might not be aware of. Companies are developing AR applications that have been streamlined and tailored to suit the needs of those who might not necessarily be technically inclined or have the funds to spend on expensive software. If you’re that owner of a small business, here’s a breakdown of why and how you should consider incorporating AR into your marketing strategy.

Delivering A Truly Unique Customer Experience

What sets a small business apart from the big players is its capacity for personalizing a customer’s experience in a meaningful way. Personalized experiences are at the heart of AR technology – it has the ability to make a customer’s interaction with a business or product delightful, educational, or simply memorable. Take, for example, Charley’s Appliance located in Kansas. They have incorporated AR into their process in a simple but effective way – allowing employees on the shop floor to access additional product information to better assist a customer’s needs, as well as price comparisons so they knew they were getting the best deal.

Your Potential Audience Has Never Been Bigger

Thanks to the increase in accessibility of mobile devices, just about anyone can engage in an AR experience. Considering the average US consumer spends five hours a day using their mobile phones, reaching an audience through that phone should be a consideration of businesses both small and big. Infusing your packaging, labels, or the product itself with a layer of AR pays off in that nearly anyone will be able to interact with it. In other words, AR is a way of reaching virtually anyone, and the possibilities of how it can be used are near-limitless.

Understanding the 3 C’s of AR

Before you get to implementing a system that is right for your small business, it helps to have a brief understanding of a few important principles of using AR. We at Zappar call them the 3 C’s. They are: context, call to action, and content. Context refers to the context in which the customer is interacting with the AR. What is the scenario in which they will be encountering the AR? Scanning an item for more info is very different from scanning the code on a banana. Call to action functions similarly to other advertising, however it works a little differently here. It is specifically referring to how the customer is encouraged to interact with the AR. It can range from “Scan here to learn more about this product” to “Download this app to interact with this product.” You should be keeping the first two Cs in mind, because they will ultimately determine what kind of content will be featured. Do you want your content to educate, entertain, or tell a full-on story? You will need to think carefully about how your customer is interacting with the AR to best discern the content itself.

You Can Keep It Simple

This might seem like a lot of information, and the open nature of AR can be overwhelming at first. As a small business, implementing AR need not be a large-scale, complicated project. In fact, it is often best to first take a look at one simple way that AR can enhance the process of the business. For example, some businesses start by implementing AR for training employees. Once the whole team has an idea for how AR can improve the processes of their company, it can then extend toward the customer experience. Something as simple as adding a layer of content to packaging, price tags, or the product itself, goes a long way in terms of customer experience.

No Coding? No Problem

This is perhaps the biggest concern that a small business owner might consider as a barrier to entry. “Augmented reality” on its face can turn off people who don’t have programming or coding experience. A lot of business owners abandon the idea simply because it seems too complex. The great news is that AR companies are working to democratize the use of AR – making software that features an intuitive interface designed specifically for people who don’t necessarily have coding skills. In other words, AR software nowadays is becoming easier to use for people who may not be expert coders, but do have a creative vision for how to apply AR to their business.

There you have it! With the advent of smartphones becoming widely owned by most consumers and the accessibility of AR development tools being designed for people other than programmers, augmented reality has never been a more promising addition to the small business as it is today. With a little creativity and understanding of how AR can function for your business’ needs, you can enhance that wonderfully personalized experience to your customers that they already love you for!

Jeff Ridgeway (@jridgewaysf) is ‎SVP of Business Development – North America at Zappar, the market leader in AR-enabled product and infotainment experiences on mobile.

Small business stock photo by S_L/Shutterstock