I'm starting to think that the Augmented Reality industry is very close to developing a Jan Brady complex. If you know what a "Jan Brady complex" is, then skip to the next paragraph. For those who didn't grown up with the 1970s-era television show The Brady Bunch, a Jan Brady complex refers to the middle sister Jan Brady who constantly complained that her older sister Marcia received all the attention. Still with me? Good.
Guest author Matthew Szymczyk is the CEO and founder of Zugara, an interactive marketing agency that consults Fortune 500 brands - including Lexus, Sony PlayStation, Reebok and Toyota - on their strategic utilization of emerging media and technology. Zugara also develops its own proprietary Augmented Reality solutions and technologies. Video demos can be found here.
This idea came about through conversations with people in the AR industry, and also watching presentations and discussions from just about every high profile name in the biz. Some of the thought leadership and insight into AR and its future is just mind blowing. But therein (partially) lies the problem. People in the AR industry (ourselves included at Zugara) tend to talk more about the what ifs than the how and when.
- How can AR be monetized right now? If not now, when?
- When will AR start showcasing true utility and practicality over endless gimmicks?
- How and when will AR become integrated into our daily lives?
Most of these questions are discussed from the what-if end, which results in a lack of investment into the AR industry. Despite the hype for AR, social gaming services like Zynga, location-based-services like Foursquare, and a host of other emerging media and technologies are garnering all the VC and startup capital. So why does AR still have so little respect from the investment community while these other emerging technologies get all the monetary love? Why is Marcia getting all the attention while Jan isn't? Having met with a few VCs, here are my thoughts:
- AR overall is cool but also seems very gimmicky. This hasn't been helped by the recent onslaught of marketing-based AR initiatives that have no long term value and are really just quick PR grabs by brands. Though there is value in owning the proprietary tech - and, in turn, licensing revenue - it's not sustained revenue that will attract major investment.
- Despite AR being a hot technology for almost two years now, there's very little in regards to stats, analytics or other measures to show that AR itself is a technology that helps to increase purchase intent and decision-making, raise brand awareness and so on. Where are all the AR leaders with case studies on past campaigns and general AR stats?
- In VCs' eyes AR is still struggling to break from the academic and research realm and into bona fide businesses. As a result, you'll commonly hear this from VC's: "AR is still too early stage." Really? More early stage than Foursquare?
To break out of the Jan Brady complex, the AR industry must be able to define, from a investor point of view, what Augmented Reality is. Is it a technology that will be integrated into location-based-services platforms like Foursquare, or is it a platform that will incorporate location-based services and real-time ads? Or will it be a hybrid of the two? That is a key question since there's quite a big difference between a technology that's cool and a technology that can be monetized.
Searching for other emerging technologies and efforts to monetize them garners the following results:
- Microblogging Monetization: Twitter Plans To Monetize Search, Google Adwords-Style, 432,000 results
- Social Games Monetization: Social Gaming Execs Discuss Growth, Monetization, And The Future Of Facebook Games, 181,000 results
- Location-Based Services Monetization: Foursquare Sets Sights On Monetization, Launches Local Business Dashboard, 34,000 results
Do the same search on Google for "Augmented Reality Monetization" and you get 28,000 results - most of which direct you to general mobile marketing-based monetization efforts. The only recent article of note is around Layar and its plan to monetize its technology through a store.
I've never seen more passionate people at conferences than those who are 100% behind AR (and I've been to a lot of conferences over the years for new and emerging technologies). But what we as an industry need to do is to start connecting the dots better for not only investors, but for companies that are looking for more than a spinning 3D model off a marker. Once companies start seeing the true value and utility in AR then there will be kind of long term investment that will connect the dots for VC and jump-start investment capital.
Until the AR industry can start proving that it's an emerging technology of the future that can be monetized in the present, every time someone complains about the lack of respect all I'm going to hear is "Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!"