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How to best strategize your company's technology adoption, according to this Houston expert

Your company shouldn't be upgrading to trendy technology without a strategic purpose, writes this local expert. Photo via Getty Images

In any industry, the use of innovative technologies is often linked to an innovative company. With immersive technologies — including augmented reality, virtual reality, and interactive — heading into the mainstream thanks to COVID-19, brands are now able to reach their audiences in ways like never before. However, instead of incorporating these new technologies into their overall strategy, brands often fall into the trap of using the technology as their only strategy.

When brands are presented with a new and exciting way to interact with consumers in a world where it is hard to maintain their audiences' attention, it's easy to see why this happens. While these brands might get audiences' attention at the beginning when the technology is still novel, the campaign itself most likely won't make a lasting impression, especially as these technologies come more into the mainstream. Additionally, the new and shiny tactic may not be what best serves a brand's ultimate goal.

Starting with strategy

While the use of immersive technologies is growing, it is important to determine whether it is the right solution for the company.

To start, businesses should evaluate their target demographics and goals before investing in new technologies such as virtual reality, augmented reality or animation. When taking all possible stakeholders into account, it will then be easier to shape the experience for maximum engagement and connection with target audiences. For example, in our work at VISION, we once worked with a client whose CEO had told their marketing team that they wanted Google Glass AR for a tradeshow.

The marketing team said they wanted to create an immersive experience and invite existing customers and potential new customers to a private experience using this innovative new technology. However, they did not have a plan for what the experience would be or why the customers were experiencing it. They just wanted to use word of mouth to talk about how cool it was.

Our team came in and listened to the event goals, gave our recommendations, and the client then realized they needed to determine who the customer was and what they wanted to say to the customer from a sales perspective.

That same client came back with a strategy behind the tradeshow experience and ultimately realized they actually did not want an AR experience, but that they wanted a complete immersive experience. From there, this client instead chose a 3D Interactive experience that they could deliver virtually online directly to their clients, and they didn't even use it for the tradeshow. It turned out to be the most successful sales tool they had ever produced.

What tech can do for strategy

Once brands have a broader idea for their strategy and marketing goals, they also need to understand what new immersive technologies are used to accomplish. Beyond creating "buzz," how does each technology actually drive the customer experience and end action desired?

Interactive media—Interactive media is a method of communication in which a program's outputs depend on the user's inputs, and the user's inputs, in turn, affect the program's outputs. Interactive media allows brands to connect with their audiences and making them active participants in the media they consume. Examples include digital graphics, interactive video or in-person touch screen activations.

There are a lot of different forms of interactive media, but at the heart, the goal of this tactic is to create something personalized to the user and establish a memorable connection.

Consider that people remember very little of what they read. They are likely to remember more if they view it in a video format – but they are most likely to remember something they have had a role in themselves. This makes it a particularly compelling technology if the ultimate goal is around education or awareness of a new topic.

Augmented reality – Augmented reality is the overlaying of digitally-created content on top of the real world. AR allows the user to interact with both the real world and digital elements or augmentations. AR can be offered to users via headsets like Microsoft's HoloLens, or through the video camera of a smartphone.

In both practical and experimental implementations, augmented reality can also replace or diminish the user's perception of reality. This altered perception could include simulation of an ocular condition for medical training purposes, or gradual obstruction of reality to introduce a game world. It is worth noting that there is a point when augmented reality and virtual reality likely merge, or overlap. See also, mixed reality.

Particularly in a post-COVID world, AR's applications can meet goals such as facilitating a try-on experience that can lead to direct sales or telling a brand story without the need for an in-person activation or event. We're also seeing AR being used to replace the exhibitor experiences at would-be in-person events, where AR allows the demonstration to come to the user. Now with social distancing mandates restricting in-person presentations, AR is proving even more valuable than ever before as more people begin to see the practical values beyond entertainment.

Virtual reality A high level of VR immersion is achieved by engaging your two most prominent senses, vision and hearing, by using a VR headset and headphones. The VR headset wraps the virtual world or experience nearly to the edge of your natural vision field of view. When you look around, you experience the environment the same as you do when you look around in real life. Headphones amplify the experience by blocking the noise around you, while allowing you to hear the sounds within the VR experience. When you move your head, the sounds within the VR environment move around you like they would in real life. The user becomes immersed within the virtual environment and whilst there, is able to manipulate objects or perform a series of actions.

Virtual Reality has some great applications for training, particularly in healthcare fields or for active shooter preparation. In marketing, companies are implementing VR to enable the consumer to interact with products without having it in their hands — this is particularly applicable for selling luxury properties or furniture that consumers like to touch and feel prior to purchase.

The caveat with virtual reality is consumers cannot typically access this reality without VR goggles, and it is not conducive for a shareable experience that the audience can relive. So, particularly with this tactic, it's crucial to make sure that the "wow-factor" isn't the only goal.

As with anything, knowing what you want to achieve paves the way to get there. Each campaign should start off with establishing the goals. Once companies know what success looks like, they can then utilize creative and effective audience engagement strategies to reach these goals with presentation technology that helps get there.

Every single project is unique and custom. It's impossible to say that one tactic is right for a specific goal. There are ways to think about technology when it comes to those tactics. While a product launch may be great for AR, a real environment visualization is great for VR, or that a multi-user experience is a great way to utilize a permanent interactive display. But the truth is that if you have great strategy and you engage with a great content provider, who truly knows how to develop any type of content, they will be able to guide you in the execution of that tactic and the right technology to support your needs.

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Dan Pratt is the creative director at Houston-based Vision Production Group.

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Auburn University's SwiftSku took first place in this year's virtually held Rice Business Plan Competition, but it was the second place company that went home with over half a million in cash and investment prizes. Photo via rice.edu

In its 21st year, the Rice Business Plan Competition hosted 54 student-founded startups from all over the world — its largest batch of companies to date — and doled out over $1.4 million in cash and investment prizes at the week-long virtual competition.

RBPC, which is put on by the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship, took place Tuesday, April 6, to Friday, April 9 this year. Just like 2020, RBPC was virtually held. The competition announced the 54 participating startups last month, and coordinated the annual elevator pitches, a semi-finals round, wildcard round and live final pitches. The contestants also received virtual networking and mentoring.

Earlier this week, Rice Alliance announced the seven student-led startups that then competed in the finals. From this pack, the judges awarded the top prizes. Here's how the finalists placed and what won:

  • SwiftSku from Auburn University, point of sales technology for convenience stores that allows for real time analytics, won first place and claimed the $350,000 grand prize from Goose Capital. The company also won the $50,000 Business Angel Minority Association Prize, the $500 Best Digital Elevator Pitch Prize from Mercury Fund, and the $500 Third Place Anbarci Family People's Choice prize, bringing the company's grand total in cash and investment prizes to $401,000. The company also won the CFO Consulting Prize, a $25,000 in-kind award.
  • AgZen from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a pesticide alternative spray and formulation technology company, won the second place $100,000 investment prize (awarded by Finger Interests, Anderson Family Fund, Greg Novak, and Tracy Druce). The startup also won a $300,000 Owl Investment Prize, the $100,000 Houston Angel Network Prize, the $500 Best Energy Elevator Pitch Prize from Mercury Fund, and the $1,500 Third Place Anbarci Family People's Choice prize, bringing the company's grand total in cash and investment prizes to $502,000. The company also won the $30,000 in-kind Polsinelli Energy Prize.
  • FibreCoat GmbH from RWTH Aachen University, a startup with patented spinning technology for the production of inexpensive high-performance composite fibers, won the third place $50,000 investment prize (also awarded by Finger Interests, Anderson Family Fund, Greg Novak, and Tracy Druce). The company also won the $100,000 TiE Houston Angels Prize and the $500 Best Hard Tech Elevator Pitch Prize from Mercury Fund, bringing the company's grand total in cash and investment prizes to $150,500.
  • Candelytics from Harvard University, a startup building the digital infrastructure for 3-D data, won the fourth place $5,000 prize.
  • OYA FEMTECH Apparel from UCLA, an athletic wear company that designs feminine health-focused clothing, won the fifth place $5,000 prize. The company also won the $5,000 Eagle Investors Prize, the $25,000 Urban Capital Network Prize, and the $1,000 Second Place Anbarci Family People's Choice prize, bringing the company's grand total in cash and investment prizes to $36,000.
  • LFAnt Medical from McGill University , an innovative and tech-backed STI testing company, won the sixth place $5,000 prize and the $20,000 Johnson and Johnson Innovation Prize, bringing the company's grand total in cash and investment prizes to $25,000.
  • SimpL from the University of Pittsburgh, an AI-backed fitness software company, won the seventh place $5,000 prize. The company also won the $25,000 Spirit of Entrepreneurship Prize from the Pearland Economic Development Corp., bringing the company's grand total in cash and investment prizes to $30,000.

Some of the competition's participating startups outside of the seven finalists won monetary and in-kind prizes. Here's a list of those.

  • Mercury Fund's Elevator Pitch Prizes also included:
    • Best Life Science $500 Prize to Blue Comet Medical Solutions from Northwestern University
    • Best Consumer $500 Prize to EasyFlo from the University of New Mexico
    • Best Overall $1,000 prize to Anthro Energy from Stanford University
  • The Palo Alto Software Outstanding LivePlan Pitch $3,000 Prize went to LiRA Inc. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • The OFW Law FDA Regulatory Strategy Prize, a $20,000 in-kind award went to Paldara Inc. from Oklahoma State University.
  • The Silver Fox Mentoring Prize, which included $20,000 in kind prizes to three winners selected Ai-Ris from Texas A&M University, BruxAway from the University of Texas, and Karkinex from Rice University as recipients.
  • The first, second, and third place winners also each received the legal service prize from Baker Botts for a total of $20,000 in-kind award.
  • The Courageous Women Entrepreneurship Prize from nCourage — a $50,000 investment prize — went to Shelly Xu Design from Harvard University.
  • The SWPDC Pediatric Device Prize — usually a $50,000 investment divided its prize to two winners to receive $25,000 each
    • Blue Comet Medical Solutions from Northwestern University
    • Neurava from Purdue University
  • TMC Innovation Healthcare Prize awarded a $100,000 investment prize and admission into its accelerator to ArchGuard from Duke University
  • The Artemis Fund awarded its $100,000 investment prize to Kit Switch from Stanford University
The awards program concluded with a plan to host the 22nd annual awards in 2022 in person.

If you missed the virtual programming, each event was hosted live on YouTube and the videos are now available on the Rice Alliance's page.

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