Five imperatives for brands to thrive in the new world of XR and 5G

By , Sara Oberst, and Elissa Coughlin | 4 minute read | June 11, 2019

Up to now, our digital lives have been flat: forced into devices capable only of two-dimensional experiences.  A clear delineation between our digital selves and our physical selves has cut a chasm through these two worlds – a constant reminder of what is real and what is not.  All of that is about to change.

XR (i.e. Extended Reality) has emerged as the single term for a new age of the three-dimensional digital self; encompassing both augmented and virtual reality experiences.  With these new technologies our “digital world” is no longer flat, but rather a place of rich immersive experiences where people and brands can give dimension to their personas and interact beyond the confines of flat digital devices.  We are now being forced to rethink how we work, learn, shop, play, connect and share–as this new digital paradigm takes shape…literally.

According to wireless operators, by the end of 2020, 5G wireless networks will come online in all major cities around the globe.  At the same time, over 2.5B smartphones will be AR capable by the end of next year; that’s 86% of smartphones globally, and the consumer expectation of AR experiences from brands will become as ubiquitous as the expectation of product photos on shopping websites today.

A Very Near Future

Imagine a world where XR avatars and voice assistants powered by artificial intelligence (AI) or remote sales associates exist to make recommendations and eventually replace browser searches for products and services. A world where a branded avatar determines and takes on a personality or embodiment that is uniquely tailored to you as a shopper.  What will it mean when brands must create avatars in addition to their two-dimensional websites?  How will our understanding of a “brand” evolve as the very notion of it becomes more closely intertwined with and/or characterized by a “personality” of an avatar or assistant?

To paint the picture, consumers could carry a detailed three-dimensional model of their homes including furnishings with them wherever they go – a model that is persistent, open for multi-user collaboration and represents both the real and aspirational versions of the space viewable in both table top mobile AR and fully-immersive headset VR.  The concept of “pre-experiencing” every product and trying it virtually in your space before purchasing will radically change the path to purchase and places a new premium on eCommerce and marketing personalization.

Shopping and pre-experiencing in XR put a new emphasis on brands that create tools and experiences surrounding their products to generate customer confidence. Only brands that can deliver complete confidence in their products will win.  With tools like the ColorSnap Visualizer app that we built with Sherwin Williams (that paints your rooms in AR), the new Nike Fit foot-sizer app, or Sephora’s Virtual Artist make-up app we get a glimpse into this world where the fit of clothes, shoes, cosmetics, and home improvements will be determined through an XR experience.   Additionally, when a complex product such as a car or home is being considered, shoppers will begin to expect XR tools to configure, personalize and experience that product in XR before buying it.

Digital and online shopping can become truly social with shareable and collaborative XR experiences. Shoppers will engage in group shopping, inviting others to help them with significant purchases such as cars, homes, or vacations.

Formulate Your Brand’s Next Reality

As this migration from flat digital to immersive XR disrupts search, social media, online video and television consumption, brands need to create a strategy now in order to maintain relevance.  It’s time for brands to become more immersive, more experiential and more personal.

As we march into the new immersive XR world, brands must master five strategic imperatives:

  1. Define brand personality for XR avatars: A branded avatar, powered by remote human sales associates or AI, will become your brand embodiment and voice in an XR shopping experience. In addition to how these avatars look and sound, real-time data like location and weather as well as shopper profiles can be used to optimize when and how avatars interact with potential customers to create the right level of relevant, personalized and immersive experiences.
  2. Differentiate products with XR pre-experiences: Product three-dimensional models and interactive experiences, simulations or stories will empower consumers to pre-experience a product before purchasing to increase customer confidence and decrease time to purchase. Differentiating your products by surrounding them with immersive pre-experiences to inform and delight potential customers is a critical next step.
  3. Place products in XR worlds: Just like dressing up your Bitmoji in branded clothing today, this new XR world will need furnishings and personal consumer avatars need clothing, shoes and makeup, your products could be what they wear; today’s mega-influencers could start to give way to a world of “micro-influencers” where everyone can wear a brand in XR and influence their circle and create a wave that washes across the XR world with XR product placement .
  4. Create XR shopping spaces: The 2D scrolling web-page will give way to a new immersive shopping space; navigated in 3D with departments and demonstrations like you would find in a physical retail store.
  5. Establish XR creative talent: Brands need to force their own creative talent and strategic partners to imagine and build a new era of immersive user experiences, interactions and interfaces. Brands have an opportunity to own gestures and set standards – like filling and pushing a XR shopping cart, rather than clicking an add-to-bag button.

From a brand and marketing perspective, eighteen months is no time at all.  With this XR future forecasted to arrive as soon as the 2020 year-end holiday shopping season, now is the time to imagine and define the evolving role of your brand, products, and services. The much-anticipated 5G wireless rollout will accelerate across the world and unlock a next level of XR-fueled consumer experiences–whether you’re ready or not.

To read more about XR, check out our other blogs

Learn more about IBM iX

Most Popular Articles