What’s the state of AR as we enter 2021? We spend lots of time tracking the dynamics of the sector, but sometimes it helps to broaden our perspective and step outside of our own bubble. We recently did just this with AR Insider partner Matt Maher for his view on AR growth drivers.

As co-founder of digital agency and innovator M7 innovations, Maher is on the front lines of AR experience creation for brand clients like Panera and Chanel. And as a tech-forward shop, his perspective goes beyond AR, with a view to how it integrates with adjacent technologies.

With that backdrop, here’s our dialogue with Maher on the biggest trends and value drivers he’s seeing in brand marketing as we close out 2020.

AR and voice will solidify their importance as a major catalyst for the new retail experience. Click To Tweet

AR Insider: Let’s start with our favorite topic, AR. What’s your high-level view on how the technology is shaping consumer experiences, and how it’s converging with other technologies to do so?

MM: AR and voice will solidify their importance as a major catalyst for the new retail experience.

Voice will solidify its worth as an incredibly important medium that brands will quickly adopt as it becomes the connective fiber between physical retail, e-commerce, and click and collect. But to get there, we’ll see a comprehensive connected voice ecosystem established across at-home devices, smartphones, auto, and hearables, which will put a spotlight on brands that are able to quickly pivot and thrive.

Despite face masks muffling our voices a bit, the adoption of hearables will accelerate the shift to digital wayfinding with functions like ‘hands-free Siri’ through AirPods, eliminating the need to take out a smartphone to acquire information or perform tasks. Being able to walk into a store and ask where the tissues are, and hear through your hands-free earbuds that they’re in aisle six, is a big deal and will become more mainstream. It’s like your in-store digital concierge that we’ll see brands adopt at-scale going into next year.

AR will complement digital wayfinding through things like smart packaging where you scan a QR code with your phone to learn more about a product–from its ingredients and application, to detailed product information and demos from brand ambassadors. Next-generation smart packaging will take off and provide a supplemental digital experience via AR that ladders up to the overall trend of shifting towards hands-free shopping.

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AR Insider: That makes sense, particularly for a post-Covid world of physical retail shopping. Given this and other trends you’re observing, what’s the takeaway for brand marketers who want to build value with AR and other emerging technologies like AI?

MM: Marketers will need to stop thinking outside the box… and start thinking inside the code.

The era of discovery is dead. We’re fully immersed in the world of recommendation engines based on advanced AI and algorithms, so instead of gathering what we believe are people’s preferences — what they click on, sites they’ve visited, items they’ve purchased — marketers will instead cater to the algorithms that ‘tell’ people what they want.

Hacking social algorithms will kill discovery and choice without us even knowing it as we’re intentionally pushed towards content that is designed to keep us completely engaged and, ultimately, become the perfect consumer of whatever good/service the AI recommends.

YouTube, TikTok, and Instagram algorithms will become the new decision-makers and a marketer’s dream, if the latter is smart enough to manipulate the algorithm to spoon feed us products and services in a natural, unnoticeable way.

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AR Insider: Speaking of TikTok and Instagram, let’s talk about distribution channels. Beyond formats for consumer experiences like AR and voice, there’s the question of how (and by whom) they’re delivered. There continues to be competition for consumer mindshare from search, social, Amazon, or a brand’s own apps and properties. How do you see this playing out?

MM: The ‘path to purchase’ will become the leading existential crisis for brands. Do they sell more products via Instagram and other platforms, or risk owning it themselves?

Streamlining the mobile, e-commerce customer experience will be crucial for brands next year. Many retail brands have been slow to allow products to be available on social platforms and Amazon, but moving forward it is more crucial than ever before to be where consumers are, not ask the consumers to come to you.

With Instagram recently announcing that every product on the platform will be shoppable — Reels, IGTV, Stories, and Posts — brands can’t afford to continue to ask consumers to come to them. Your brand must be where the consumers are or risk being passed over.

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AR Insider: Moving from consumer commerce and marketing to other areas of applicability, what about enterprise productivity and how all these technologies play a role in transforming work in 2021?

MM: The future of work will be dictated by Microsoft, while Google silently upends higher education, and IoT steps in to help us navigate these physical, communal spaces.

Microsoft will kill Slack, Asana, and Zoom to dominate the future of work. The tech giant already owns the working software rails and the best parts of those outside platforms will simply become features of Microsoft Teams. Microsoft also has deep enough pockets to make it impossible for competitors to break in and will easily outlast them all.

Education is ripe for disruption and Google is all over it with the recently launched Career Certificates program that shifts focus from traditional accreditation to competencies. The program is all online, costs a fraction of regular tuition, and only takes six months to complete making it accessible and affordable.

Whether it’s an office building or a university classroom, we’ll see the adoption of data-driven communal spaces. By redesigning and retrofitting these spaces with depth-sensing units and IoT devices, the anonymous data collected will provide insight into the flow and behavior of people so you know when the restroom is empty, which elevator to use, or what time to head down to the cafe. Adopting a tech-forward strategy will not only help navigate our current reality, it will be foundational for future efficiencies.

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