For years, reality was simply what was real.

Today, it can still be that – but it can also be augmented (AR), virtual (VR) or mixed (MR), all very exciting forms of a different reality that is shaping our lives and transforming businesses around the globe.

By Shaune Jordaan, CEO of Hoorah Digital

Take note too that these realities don’t belong to some distant future that won’t affect your brand or business. The time is now to think and to prepare accordingly, or risk being left behind in a world that is increasingly embracing AR, VR and MR.

The application frontiers have already found a foothold in fields such as gaming and events, with healthcare, insurance, retail, education and live entertainment steadily joining the ranks of sectors set to be transformed by these capabilities going forward.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution, understood as the ongoing automaton of manufacturing and industrial practices using smart technology, is with us and clearly here to stay. Consequently, experts predict that AR/VR/MR will have one of the most profound effects on all facets of human existence, and for good reason.

Research conducted by Zappar found that AR delivers a 45% higher level of visual attention than TV, while research by Oracle suggests that 61% of companies using virtual or augmented reality have boosted customer satisfaction metrics as a result.

What’s more, 84% of companies agreed that the virtual and augmented reality experiences they offer over the next five years will have a bigger impact on CX metrics than experiences in the physical world.

So while it’s clear AR/VR/MR is here to stay, how can businesses go about navigating this new normal?

Firstly, it’s important for businesses to understand that AR/VR/MR is not a goal in itself. So forget about a utopian (or dystopian, depending on your disposition) world, and rather focus on what it realistically means for different types and sizes of organisations.

Because today AR/VR/MRI is less about sci-fi, and more about solutions. So whether your business objective is to delight customers or improve operational efficiencies, the point is to always apply it as a solution to optimise and improve aspects of your operations.

Examples of augmented reality experiences include Snapchat lenses and the game Pokemon Go, while virtual reality implies a complete immersion experience that shuts out the physical world.

Using VR devices such as HTC Vive, Oculus Rift or Google Cardboard, users can be transported into a number of real-world and imagined environments, from the midst of a squawking penguin colony to riding on the back of a dragon.

In a mixed reality (MR) experience, which combines elements of both AR and VR, real-world and digital objects interact. Mixed reality technology is just now starting to take off, with Microsoft’s HoloLens one of the most notable early mixed reality apparatuses.

History was made recently when Formula 1 launched their first-ever full VR race complete with real F1 drivers and commentary. This is not the future, it’s the right now.

Similarly, the world’s leading brands are using AR and VR in increasingly innovative ways, like with this virtual sneaker try-on:

Other fun examples include Oreo’s Facebook augmented reality game:

But before you dive in …

As with any other new or unfamiliar process, tool or system, it’s important to get fully acquainted with the details of AR/VR/MR.

No-one is expecting you to be an expert, but definitely ensure your functional understanding is sufficient to ensure you can ask the right questions.

It’s an evolving capability, so staying informed and maintaining an interest in these technologies and applications, and how they pertain to your business, is key.

Similarly, ensure that you’re clear on the value of AR/VR/MR, and how these relate to your overarching business goals. Much like big data, which doesn’t have a value in and of itself unless it’s analysed, interpreted and applied, AR/VR/MR must have a clear purpose in order to be useful.

AR/VR/MR is a specialist field. And while the IT team might know more about it than the finance team, it remains a sub-specialisation that, if you’re serious about it, requires the knowledge, experience and expertise of those who have chosen to study it. Skip the shortcuts, because they’re always more expensive and time-consuming in the long run.

Just this year, partly thanks to the global COVID-19 pandemic, the embracing and adoption of this new tech has been exponentially accelerated through the absolute need to continue to function. And that is a good and very exciting thing for brands and businesses, but especially for people.