On today's episode, Stewart interviews Ashley Crowder, the co-founder and CEO of VNTANA. VNTANA is an industry leading augmented reality platform that allows brands to easily create interactive hologram experiences to engage consumers and generate leads. Listen in to learn how you can use AR to enhance your online and offline marketing strategies.
Episode Transcript — Integrating AR Into Your Marketing Strategy w/ Ashley Crowder from VNTANA
00:01 Announcer: You're listening to The Spend $10K a Day podcast. Brought to you by the performance marketing experts at MuteSix. This is your source for cutting edge insight into the world of online advertising. From the team with more Facebook case studies than any other agency on the planet. Here are your hosts, Steve Weiss and Stewart Anderson.
00:25 Stewart Anderson: Welcome back to the Spend $10k a Day podcast I'm Stewart Anderson, chief marketing officer here at MuteSix. Steve Weiss will be returning soon for a future episode. Today we are joined by Ashley Crowder, the CEO and co founder of VNTANA, an amazing company that is just doing really, really cool things in the augmented reality space. Ashley, welcome to the show.
00:46 Ashley Crowder: Thank you so much. It's great to be here.
00:48 SA: So Ashley, the stuff that you guys do really just blows me away. It's the definition of cutting edge. You guys are connecting what is really hot right now in the augmented reality space. With marketing lead generation, a lot of the business focused, conversion focused stuff that we focus on. So we wanted to have you on and talk about something, that's little bit different than what we normally do, things like Facebook ads, and learn about what's available to advertisers out there in new technology. So I'd love to get just an overview of what you think is available right now in the augmented reality space, if you're trying to get out there and market your brand using it, and then maybe we can start with an overview of just what augmented reality is so we make sure our audience has a good idea.
01:41 AC: Yeah, yeah definitely. So Augmented Reality or AR is putting the digital into the real world. And today we have a lot of different ways of doing that. Cellphones were an easy first use case as people have one on their phone or have one in their hand, 24/7. And Pokemon Go took over the world last year. So you create all types of apps to show off your product, create treasure hunts to get consumers engaged on your platform. And then you have the major players who release their headsets like HoloLens for Microsoft, Magic Leap, ODG, and you can wear that headset and will overlay the digital into your world. Both those are still somewhat individual experiences. Only that person holding the phone or only that person wearing the headset, is gonna see that digital. So the third type are holograms or holographic projection. And so at VNTANA we do holographic projection and our software also works on the other types of AR mediums as well. They all kind of have their best-use case.
02:51 SA: Great. Give me an example of maybe some augmented reality project that you've done for a brand. I think I saw something with Roger Federer?
03:02 AC: Yeah. So we always start by asking, "What's the goal?" AR is is a buzz word now, which is really exciting. It's been great to see the market grow, but sometimes we have calls and it's like, "Well, my boss wants AR." It's like, "Okay, why?" One use case is leveraging endorsement deals. It's a great way to do that. Brands pay millions of dollars for these endorsement deals and they get one commercial and that's it. With holograms or AR, you can let thousands of fans interact with that endorsement deal and get a selfie to share on social media to help perpetuate that brand message. So something we did for Mercedes Benz at the US Open was we allowed fans to actually to serve a tennis ball to Roger. And he would hit it, and you got a picture or video to share. So we had almost 8,000 fans go through the experience and then they're sharing and posting. So it's way more engaging than anything Roger had time to do. [chuckle]
04:05 SA: Yeah. And one thing that you guys do that I noticed that really is important to us... You know, we're performance marketers. Everything is conversion focused, everything is data focused. When I see a lot of this AR tech and lot of these cool things that people do especially with event based stuff, it's really hard to tie down the specific metrics. It's really engaging and fun, but it's ultimately, how do you measure value of that? But it sounds like you guys actually... Through these,shareable links... 'Cause you're giving, as you just mentioned, everybody gets a video that they can share of them hitting a ball to Roger or something like that, for example. It sounds like you guys are actually tracking data based on how people are using those links, if they're sharing on it Facebook or Twitter, how many people are clicking them. Is that correct?
04:50 AC: Yeah. And we track a lot more too. So we actually have facial recognition built in to all of our experiences. So we know who you are. So we get age and gender, so we understand demographics. And we even track sentiment. So we can do happy, unhappy, neutral. Hopefully with the Roger experience you're just happy, but we also do virtual shopping. So you can swipe your hand just like Minority Report and go through different products or for Lexus, we have hologram car configurations. So with the swipe of your hand, you pick the color, the brands, the interior, and I know you're happier looking at a blue LC than a red RX, for example. So that's how we can understand product preference. And then of course, we know if you open the email you got, if you shared that video or gift how many times people watched it. All of that digital data you mentioned as well. And all of that syncs through our Cloud platform to CRM Systems so it's actionable data. So for Lexus, we've have actually more than doubled their qualified leads at all the venues that we done. And that's the real value. The hologram, the AR, it's kind of that shiny object that get's the consumer engaged and having fun, and it's the back end data that really is the value add for the brand.
06:13 SA: Wow, double. [chuckle] That's not bad, I'm also gonna be more cognizant in what is going on the next time I'm at a conference and I see something really cool and I start engaging with it, they're gonna know who I am and what I like. I was just CES and there was a lot of stuff that I think would be, I think now they know who I am and I was at their booth. [laughter]
06:34 AC: Yeah, it's been interesting, 'cause some people... Obviously people are very concerned about data and what data's out there on them, but then on the flip side they love to have a very personalized brand experience. So it's been really interesting as a company to walk that line of what people are willing to share to have that personal experience.
07:02 SA: I completely agree. So I think the thing that's going through my head is, what is... How is AR gonna grow? Is this something that is going to be... I'm trying to think of the right word 'cause there's so many questions I have. Right now obviously, I think you're doing a lot of events and conferences. Do you see this becoming more common potentially in a retail environments or other just, physical locations that might not just be one-off specific?
07:30 AC: Definitely, and we're doing that now as a company. I see other AR companies as well. Something that retail has loved so far is the integration with AI or artificial intelligence. A lot of companies are starting to utilize this technology for consumer experience. So you have the chatbot on your website or you could text a question it will respond. We can take that same chatbot and that can be the brain of the hologram. So you can actually have a hologram in store that you can ask, "Do you have this sweater in a size small?" And she or he can be integrated with your inventory system and say, "No, I'm sorry. But let me order that from the e-commerce site if you'd like." So whether it's a hologram or an AR app on your phone, it's a really great way to really connect the online to offline retail experience, which is what every brick and mortar's really trying to figure out right now.
08:30 SA: It's a challenge for Facebook and Google as well. They've been trying to iron out attribution and figure out the best way to drive people in store if that's what retailers want. It's a big challenge.
08:44 AC: Exactly, and what's great about, when you think about the consumer experience in using this type of technology... The hologram's not gonna go off script. [laughter] So if you get angry, she's gonna get happier and then maybe call a human to help you. [chuckle] So from a consumer experience standpoint and risk compliance... We're working with a financial institution actually, who's looking at this to augment giving financial advice in banking. There's real value there. So I think brands in marketing are usually at the forefront of this in experimenting with new tech, but I think we'll start to see it in our everyday lives within those different consumer experience touch points.
09:29 SA: So where do you see the technology growing as far as capabilities? And what's the next frontier for AR in the context of what you do? If I'm a business, or I'm a brand that wants to build an email list or increase engagement on social for my brand. Hopefully drive people towards conversions, drive brand awareness. What are the things I can look to AR for over the next, let's say, three or four years. What is the direction for what you are doing over the next handful of years?
10:01 AC: Yeah. It's a great question. We really see this future, AR, VR, or MR, Mixed Reality world kind of like when the internet first started. There was no digital advertising. There was no easy way to track data and reach people. That's what we find so exciting about this new 3D world, and we're trying to build out our platform to make that easy. We're actually planning to release our platform later this year so agencies and brand marketing teams can create their own interactive 3D content with that underlying data collection. Because that's what's so important. It's really exciting 'cause it's a new form of advertising. I don't think the pop-up ad will work in VR. That would be abrasive, right? You got this ad flying towards you. So I think it's gonna go back to almost that live commercial in the 1950s where it seems a little more product placement based and more authentic experiences that have that underlying brand message.
11:11 SA: Yeah, I agree. Talk to me a little bit about... Let's hypothetically try and tie it into something that we do focus on here. If I'm a high volume media buyer on Facebook, if I'm buying a lot of advertising on Facebook and Google, driving people to stores both physical and online. What are the best ways for me to partner up with you and make sure that the campaigns that I'm running could maybe sync well with what you're doing? Are you seeing that some of these Mixed Reality or Augmented Reality experiences you guys are creating aren't just things that are gonna grab people's attentions at an event? Could they be destinations in and of themselves? Could we advertise, "Hey come play tennis with Roger Federer or a Roger Federer hologram at our experience at CES," or something like that. Is there some other way that maybe I'm not thinking about where our campaigns on Facebook and Instagram could somehow connect to what you guys are doing?
12:11 AC: Definitely. So one, it can for sure be that destination, almost like that treasure hunt where, "Oh, you're gonna get this special experience because you followed and liked us, and you got the secret code to go... You got to throw the ball to Roger Federer," versus someone else gets a virtual shopping app, 'cause they aren't an Instagram follower. We've also looked at integrating with loyalty programs. So loyalty programs, and malls, and retail, same thing. You get some type of special AR experience that the non-loyalty members don't get. We've also... It's all about the cohesive campaign which everyone here knows it's not just the event, it's before, during, and after which is so important.
12:55 AC: And I think... When we worked with Rob Thomas's team this was really great. So we did hologram karaoke for his concert tour which was so fun. So fans actually paid a hundred dollars to go to the VIP and sing with this hologram and get a video to share. And this worked so well because leading up to the tour, he mentioned it in all his radio interviews, and it was shared on the social medias, as people knew it was available. Then, they got to do the video and we had a contest to say, "Whoever gets the most likes is gonna be featured on Rob's Facebook page and on his website." So you got people sharing and liking and reposting. And I think that entire plan is what makes things successful. It can't just be the AR app or just be the event.
13:44 SA: Yeah. I think some of this content too, depending on who has the rights to it after or if somebody records him assuming obviously. The brand's gonna retain something. They could re-purpose some of this content, similar to the way that we repurpose a lot of UGC in our ads. We can use some of this recorded content from these mixed reality experiences and create some cool engaging ads that don't really feel like ads, which is the goal of what we do. So I think there's a lot of cool opportunities. I can't stop saying the word "cool" in this interview. What you do is just... It's, as I said before, it's not even cutting edge, it's bleeding edge. I didn't even know it was possible I could do karaoke with Rob Thomas... Or I would last probably a very, very short time in a tennis match with Roger Federer, but it would be cool to play a point or two.
14:35 AC: Yeah it's fun. And that's what's exciting about this new medium in general. We're all just figuring out how to create amazing content for it. It's all new rules, which is so exciting, and it can be anything. It can be a fire-breathing dragon that turns into you. Or we've done for MTV, you morphed into a werewolf, or a teen wolf. So, the possibilities are really endless and we love hearing ideas from everybody of what types of experiences they want.
15:09 SA: Definitely, definitely. Well I wanna give you a chance... We've talked, obviously a lot about what you do. I wanna give you a chance to talk a little about your company, give a little elevator pitch, tell us about VNTANA and if somebody wants to work with VNTANA and experience this cool technology, how do they get in touch with you guys.
15:27 AC: Yeah, so our website is a great way to find us, it's just VNTANA.com V-N-T-A-N-A and then all of our social media is VNTANA Live. So we're on Facebook, Instagram. You can find some fun hologram videos, and we do everything from helping you engage consumers at events, and retail, and stadiums, to now helping augment that consumer experience with the AI holograms, whether thats at a front desk or anywhere else.
16:00 SA: Very cool. Well, Ashley, thank you so much for being on the show today. This has been a fascinating experience for me. I mean again, love what you guys are doing, it's super, super, interesting. We're glad that you could stop by. And again, everybody check out VNTANA's website and all the cool things that they're doing in the Augmented Reality and Mixed Reality space. We will be back again soon with more great Facebook ads and ecommerce content, if you have any questions for us ahead of time, just email us it's firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. We will see you again very soon.