The start of a new year always comes with its fair share of forecasts and predictions—blockchain is going mainstream, robots are becoming our friends, and there might be a reboot of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. 2018 is also shaping up to be a big year for augmented reality and virtual reality (AR/VR).

By now, you’ve probably heard the buzz about different applications of AR/VR, whether you’re leading the charge in your industry or just a closeted Pokémon GO addict (don’t worry, we’re right there with you). After testing the AR/VR waters for the last few years, we’re now approaching the mainstream tipping point. Augmented reality and virtual reality are seeing year over year revenue growth, and total spending on AR/VR applications is expected to reach nearly $215 billion in 2021.

Accordingly, AR/VR is showing up in just about every industry, making it easier than ever for brands to see the value of getting in on the action. Basically, AR/VR technology is about to go mainstream and it’s time to get up to speed on how industry trends will impact your organization.

So, where is AR/VR headed in 2018? Here are the top trends you need to know about for the year ahead.

1. Interactive Videos

Remember when a 360-degree video was enough to surprise and delight your audience? Ah, the good ol’ days. The introduction of AR/VR means that the travel, real estate, and auto industries are leveraging interactive videos to take consumer engagement to the next level. No matter the story you’re telling, immersive visuals are a powerful tool for engaging your audience and compelling them to take action. Interactive content helps get consumers to book that vacation, bid on the dream house, and purchase the luxury car.

In 2018, we’ll see brands bridging the gap between 360-degree video and virtual reality. There’s a huge opportunity for brands to immerse their customers in brand-new experiences—travelers can explore a destination before booking and buyers can tour a property located halfway around the world. Take Marriott’s “VRoom Service” program—guests were able to request VR experiences delivered straight to their rooms, including “VR Postcards” that shared inspiring travel stories from around the world.

2. AR Mobile Apps

If you’ve ever walked out of an IKEA wishing that you could take the whole place with you, there’s an app for that. The IKEA Place app allows users to virtually place IKEA furniture in their home, 3D and true to scale. The app is making waves as the new gold standard in AR integration for retail, serving as a prime example for how augmented reality can help accelerate the consumer experience and revolutionize how we shop.

Mobile AR is having a moment, and retailers are paying attention. Mobile AR allows for brands to create practical, interactive experiences that capture consumer attention and increase conversions. With new developer platforms from both Apple and Google (ARkit and ARCore), it’s easier than ever to create high-quality, innovative AR apps. Other retailers are already starting to follow suit—Target and Amazon launched furniture-placing apps and Anthropologie is updating its home design app with AR technology.

3. More Opportunities for AR/VR in eLearning and Training

For companies with existing training material, AR/VR offers the opportunity for an eLearning makeover. In fact, it’s only a matter of time before AR/VR integration becomes a business imperative. In 2018, we’re seeing companies turn to AR/VR technology as a relatively inexpensive way to enhance education, learning, and training. Some brands are even investing in a brand-new suite of materials that exist entirely in the virtual sphere.

AR/VR has exciting training and educational potential in the fields of medicine, STEM, design, and general enterprise training. Immersive training through AR/VR allows for learning by doing while dramatically reducing risk and cost. Thanks to the safety of a virtual environment, learners can use AR/VR to improve efficiency and recall through repetition and trial and error. Touch Surgery’s announcement at CES 2017 is a great example—they’re transitioning their surgical simulation training to a mobile augmented reality platform.

4. Marketing and Advertising Integration

Not only does AR/VR help us learn, it also helps us sell. In 2018, brands are looking at their print and digital campaigns through a new lens—and that new lens is stereoscopic. Marketers already know that when people touch and interact with a product, they develop a connection to it that much faster. Already, we’re seeing brands experiment with that concept in innovative ways.

Brands are using AR/VR to create immersive, interactive consumer-brand experiences. Fox Sports created a virtual suite for fans to watch the 2017 Super Bowl (Animal Planet even created a VR version of the Puppy Bowl). MAC Cosmetics has a new in-store app that lets customers virtually try on different shades of MAC makeup. Audi launched a VR experience that is a full-fledged virtual showroom; allowing consumers to build an individualized car and explore the model down to the smallest details. With the recent release of Apple and Google’s AR/VR software development tools, expect even more brands to launch AR/VR marketing campaigns in 2018.

5. Connected Packaging

Until now, the recipe for a successful “always on” brand was a mix of online ads, social media, and the occasional creative QR campaign. In the age of AR/VR, connected packaging will steal the spotlight from those traditional methods. Connected packaging allows brands to develop a communication channel with consumers through their owned content. That means whenever you send a product out into the world, you can stay in contact with the customer through the product itself. Beyond the extended communication channel with consumers, connected packaging also rakes in new data to help reimagine how you understand and target consumers.

The tequila company Jose Cuervo jumped on the trend with their “History in a Bottle” campaign—after buying a bottle of Cuervo, customers could download an app, scan the bottle, and a branded, 3D short film began to play right on the bottle of tequila. AR/VR is a new way for brands to be creative with product packaging and get a leg up on the competition. In 2018, watch for companies that are using interactive packaging to build a more lovable brand, launch mini-games, and create new, buzzworthy experiences.

In every industry, augmented and virtual reality are helping brands level up and tell a more connected, immersive story to customers. As AR/VR becomes more accessible and mainstream, we’re closing the gap between the digital and physical customer experience. We’ll be keeping a close eye on the AR/VR glow up in 2018, so sign up to receive the latest updates from the Maestro blog.

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