Marketers and advertisers today might either be relieved or dismayed to find out that there are two relatively new terms they should get friendly with – visual search and augmented reality.

Visual search refers to image recognition technology that allows the user to find out more about a certain photographed item, among other things.

Augmented reality (AR) is “a technology that superimposes a computer-generated image on a user’s view of the real world, thus providing a composite view” as defined by the Oxford Dictionary.

The two often go hand in hand.

Niamh Byrne, Chief Operating Officer of iQNECT

Niamh Byrne, COO, iQNECT

“In today’s gadget-cluttered world, one key aspect in ensuring the success of new consumer-facing technologies is the seamless integration of such functions into their digital lives,” says Niamh Byrne, COO, iQNECT.

The technology company uses visual search and augmented reality to help brands interact with their fans.

She explains that visual search has seen a quicker adoption rate amongst marketing campaigns in Asia, and that both publishers and advertisers have shown great interest in visual search’s ability to connect the offline and online content of brands as well as m-commerce capabilities.

For example, with iQNECT’s ‘point-snap-pay’ feature, consumers can be brought instantly from the advertisements of products they are interested in to virtual checkout counters to buy said items.

These publishers include Malaysia-based organisation Blu Inc., which owns magazines such as Cosmopolitan, Harper’s Bazaar, Marie Claire and others in the country.

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There are also many other campaigns, including one organised by Singapore Post, the country’s national postal carrier, where stamps with augmented reality features were launched, and an augmented reality bus shelter campaign for HSBC in Hong Kong. There is also an international park dedicated to augmented reality and the companies that use the technology in Xi’an China.

“However, when it comes to the advertising industry in Asia, augmented reality is a surprisingly nascent technology, with the advertising campaigns that have taken advantage of AR so far being fairly experimental in nature,” says Byrne.

What’s stopping them?

Augmented reality and visual search are both fresh concepts to many advertisers and publishers who might not be up-to-date with current technologies.

“Many advertisers and publishers are wary of innovating with these technologies, preferring to stick with more familiar forms of marketing,” she says.

“This creates a chicken-and-egg situation,” adds Byrne.

One of the solutions can come in the form of education. Tech companies should work closely with advertisers and publishers to make sure that they know about how augmented reality and visual search can help the latter stand out or bridge offline and online campaigns.

Gotta catch ’em all

Picture this: The consumer sees the advertisement on their way home. The copy is snappy. The graphics are stunning. “Buy me,” it calls out. It costs US14.99 at the neighbourhood mall. Also available online. There is a URL. But “how many consumers who see an ad on a billboard are going to remember to visit the URL later on that day?” asks Byrne.

By enhancing the experience when consumers see the advertisement, brands increase the probability of consumers actually checking out the product on their mobile devices, which they carry with them everywhere they go.

Companies that offer augmented reality and visual search solutions, such as iQNECT, can allow consumers to see additional content on their phones by taking a photo of the advertisement, working like a QR code without the need to open a special app and scan a small square box.

Also Read: Korean in-car navigation startup launches augmented reality driving system

However, there are downsides to bringing the consumer to the product – and the virtual checkout counter – directly through their mobile devices.

According to Byrne, consumers might not always expect or want to buy products in such a manner. Some shoppers prefer to conduct research online before purchasing, especially for those who are not familiar with the brand.

“It becomes especially important that brands also offer additional information to the consumers looking for such [information],” she explains.

Additional information can come in the form of alternatives: for example, if the consumer took a photograph of a pastel pink cutout dress, the brand should be able to provide him or her with other options: pastel pink skater dress, navy blue cutout dress, pastel pink floral tube dress, and so on and so forth.

What about virtual reality?

With virtual reality being the talk of the town, one can only wonder how marketers and advertisers should think about this new headset-wielding world.

Byrne acknowledges virtual reality’s ability to create immersive environments, as seen with games supported on Facebook-owned Oculus Rift and other devices. “However, this very immersion would be disrupted by the presence of traditional advertisements,” she adds.

Also Read: EA plans to venture into the virtual reality world

Instead, advertisers might be inclined to use product placements, similar to those in movies and television shows, to reach out to users in those ‘immersive environments’.