AR and VR could be a game changer for the Exhibition Industry

As the Indian Exhibition industry grapples with the various infrastructure issues that continue to plague it, would adoption of technology, in the form of Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality help it overcome issues like financial constraints, to stay relevant?

I strapped myself to my seat in the spaceship at Star Tours ride at Disneyland, California. I put on my 3D glasses and before long we hurled through an asteroid field, ducking and dodging various space obstacles, abruptly changing direction and altitude every few seconds. I gripped my armrests tightly, various emotions of excitement, thrill, fear and euphoria rushing through me. Then the ride was over and we came back to the real world. But that experience lingered in my mind long afterwards. Now, what if that same experience could be replicated in solid brick and mortar exhibitions? No this is not a script for a sci-fi movie, but the present and emerging reality made possible through Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR). Marketing is moving to unprecedented levels of customer engagement with power in the hands of consumers like never before. The huge success of AR apps such as Ikea Place and Amazon’s AR View indicates that customers would like to supplement their brick and mortar experience with the latest technology. Take the case of a sporting goods exhibition focusing on adventure sports gear such as rafting and kayaking gear. At the exhibition, the customer can don a VR headset and can be immersed into a thrilling whitewater-rafting experience.

Their affinity for the brand and inclination to purchase increases exponentially after this rollercoaster experience. Marketing can leverage the emotional state change to enhance their brand image and create loyal customers. The brand and experience that marketers can provide to customers through AR and VR is limited only by the creativity of content strategists.

Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality and Mixed Reality

The below definitions have been given by Mark Mueller-Eberstein, of Rutgers the State University of New Jersey: Augmented reality allows you to interact with media placed within the real world. Within augmented reality, you have a view of the physical realworld environment, whose elements are then augmented by computergenerated items such as data, graphics, videos, or sounds. This creates an interactive and enhanced real-world experience. Today smartphones and tablets can support AR applications. AR was highly popularized by the game Pokemon Go which allows users to catch virtual Pokémon that are hidden throughout the map of the real world.

Virtual reality allows you to interact with media in a 360-degree immersive environment usually using a headset. Virtual reality replicates an environment, real or imagined, and simulates a user’s physical presence and environment to allow for user interaction and a sensory experience. The real world is completely blocked out, the user can only see the virtual world and the virtual objects. The Disney experience described above is a great example of VR. Some prominent VR devices are Samsung Gear, Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. The Google Cardboard is the most costeffective VR device.

Mixed Reality or hybrid reality is the merging of real and virtual worlds to produce new environments and visualizations, where physical and digital objects coexist and interact in real time. Mixed reality is a type of hybrid system that involves both physical and virtual elements. See how Skype is used on Microsoft HoloLens to get an idea of mixed reality. The HoloLens allows you to engage with your digital content and interact with holograms in the world around you.

AR and VR in the Exhibition Industry

In India, there are, currently, 700 trade shows annually with participants pumping in around INR 900-1100 crore for booth rentals, construction and an equal amount INR 1000 crore for collaterals, travel and hotels.

However, it does not have enough venues to hold big international exhibitions as they facilitate a destination’s growth in myriad ways, apart from the mere economics involved with exhibitions. Venues are the most important obstacle facing the Indian exhibition; convention and trade-show industry business. We need world-class infrastructure to host our big exhibitions and there is an urgent need existing venues like that of Pragati Maidan, where space could be better utilized while offering higher returns to all stakeholders and a level playing field to the industry.

Enhancing the current physical infrastructure is a highly capital intensive activity. While that is required, the effectiveness and brand image of an exhibition can be increased by several notches through the use of IT, especially with AR and VR, with relatively less capital investment. It is also possible to eliminate infrastructure costs completely through virtual exhibitions!

The use of AR and VR significantly also enhances the marketing and promotion of exhibitions, which is another major challenge plaguing the exhibitions industry. Currently, the digital investments in the Indian Exhibition Industry are limited to filling online forms, automatic seat reservation and badge printing and multimedia presentations. This is just scraping the surface of the iceberg.

There is a lot that IT can do to literally disrupt the way exhibitions are being conducted in India.

Augmented Reality has a lot of possibilities in the exhibitions industry especially in the customer’s in-house experience and the way in which products are presented and demonstrated. Imagine the disruption and exhilaration in the customer experience as he comes across holorooms and smart mirrors instead of the archaic brick and mortar booths!

For starters, exhibitors can upgrade to face-recognition software from the traditional ticketing system. The simplest use of AR is, of course, getting more information about an item or exhibit. The use of smartphones provides an interactive, interesting experience leading to more positive feelings and image in the visitor’s mind. In the automobile sector, AR apps help customers to view the insides and features of the car from 10 feet away. Customers can even change colours and specifications of the car! This feature drives huge cost savings in products that take up lots of space such as vehicles.

Marketers can broadcast all possible features and options to the maximum audience without taking up more space! A furniture exhibition can invest in Holorooms on its premises. Holorooms was pioneered by American Home Improvement giant Lowe’s. The holoroom can recreate the customer’s actual space and apply the customer’s specifications to the virtual room. The customers can try out different styles, colours, appliances and cabinets. They get a clear visual of how their end project would look like ensuring their purchases are right the first time, minimizing returns and hence enhancing their delight.

Smart mirrors are disrupting the perception of drab changing rooms at apparel companies. A high-end apparel exhibition can invest in smart mirrors at its premises. High-end retailers such as Nordstorm and Bloomingdale’s are trying out smart mirrors that enable customers to see how they look in an outfit without trying it on. That would make it very convenient to shop for apparel at exhibitions. The smart mirrors also make suggestions based on the item chosen for e.g., what jeans, accessories and jewellery would go with a red shirt. That gives scope for massive cross-sell and up-sell opportunities besides the wow factor.

Holograms are an AR technology that can be used to get 3D nearlive presentations from eminent personalities around the world or focus on subjects adding to the theme of the exhibition. Holograms can also be used to reach out to a much wider audience giving more ‘bang for the buck’. Narendra Modi’s use of holographic technology in the 2014 parliamentary election campaign allowed him to speak live to people in remote towns and villages in the world’s largest electorate as if he was there in the flesh!

Currently, the reach for exhibitions and trade shows is being enabled through virtual exhibitions. Most virtual exhibitions however still use regular online technologies. Industryuk.online comes close to giving a 3D immersive experience. Customers can walk around the exhibition with the help of an interactive floorplan, search for products and brands that interest them using the intuitive search interface, transfer promotional items collected to a virtual goodie bag all at a click of a mouse or a touch of a mobile screen!

Virtual Reality has tremendous potential in the exhibitions industry. Give an immersive experience like the whitewater rafting experience described above to your visitors. Imagine the WoW factor that would generate!

VR can especially benefit the automobile industry whose products are of huge size. Customers can get a live thrilling ride using VR headsets. This enhances the brand image of the car besides reaching a wide audience without taking up more space. The National Museum of Singapore currently offers a 3 dimensional VR experience that users can interact with called ‘Story of the Forest’. The experience works much like the game of Pokemon Go with visitors fully immersed in their hunt and exploration of paintings. Gamification using VR creates a different level of customer engagement besides enhancing product demonstrations by several notches. Providing a mind-blowing, in-house experience generates more footfalls, which is especially important for B2C exhibitions.

Dubai mall provides attractions such as the Aquarium, Ice-rink and other events to maintain and increase footfall. AR and VR give the same effect with much lesser capital investment. 3D immersive experience, such as that provided by industryuk. online, expands the reach and quality of experience of the exhibition.

The capital intensive Indian exhibition industry would do well to invest in high-tech AR and VR to get the most from their assets. It is the answer to infrastructure issues and marketing promotions.

As Steven Arthur Pinker, CanadianAmerican cognitive psychologist, linguist, and popular science author put it, “Photography is a kind of virtual reality, and it helps if you can create the illusion of being in an interesting world”!

{-The writer is a Global MBA graduate in IT Management from S.P Jain School of Global Management and is a Business-Technology Consultant with Tech Mahindra. She can be reached at zarinesg@gmail.com.}


Zarine  Susan George,
Designation: Business Consultant, Kochi

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