August 1 will mark the launch of the USPS Emerging Technology Promotion (registration began June 15 and goes through September 30)– and another chance for the Postal Service to encourage the integration of direct and digital.
So first off, what is augmented reality (AR)? In a nutshell, it uses a smartphone or other capable device to recognize its surroundings and provide a catered experience on the device to complement a mailpiece, magazine, storefront, etc. This technology is set to take off, and it really can be a great tool when paired properly with mail or other print mediums in general.

1. Interacting with surroundings – A great example I saw of AR came from Lowes in their “Innovation Lab,” where they allow customers to create virtual replicas of their home improvement projects. Watch the video here:

Think about projects like “Innovation Labs” and Augmented Reality in this context – if you sell a product that exists in space, say dishware, decor, refrigerator magnets, you get the idea – sending an augmented reality ready mailpiece that your customer can place where they would display the item allows you to bring your store to the customer. Questions like “Would this plate match the colors in my kitchen?” or “How would these pillows look on my couch?” can now be answered, and with a thoughtful path to purchase, direct mail conversions take on a whole new meaning.

2. Cataloging and virtual coupons – One of the most exciting opportunities I see for AR is with catalogs. Say you sell tools. Augmented reality could allow your customer to see the circular saw in action and offer helpful “how-to” videos that jump off the page, lending credibility to your brand and rendering your catalog as a home improvement resource, rather than a disposable asset. Once again, offer a path to purchase through this tool, and your catalog leads to real, trackable conversions. The same logic applies to virtual coupons. Provide an augmented reality experience with a coupon that saves to the “Passbook” on your customer’s smartphone, and you can track catalog or flyer activity to in-store sales.

3. Give a virtual look at your product – Several higher end auto manufacturers have already taken the leap into AR, with certainly more to follow. Jaguar’s AR campaign gives an inside look at their car’s interior, and Acura has followed suit.  Lowes and IKEA are giving an inside glimpse of how their product looks in your home, and the possibilities are endless. Imagine a high-end real estate company offering a glimpse of the view from their Paris loft or the waves splashing on their beachfront property, all from the comfort of your own home – mailpiece propped in your window. Take your recipient on a trip without leaving their house, whether through a redecorating effort or a walk on the Great Wall of China.

There is still time to prepare and register for the USPS Emerging Technology Program to save a little money on your mailing and take your marketing to the next level of mobile and technology synergy. I guarantee you’ll be remembered.

Have you seen augmented reality in your mailbox yet? Share your comments below.