Over the course of our eight years in the industry, we’ve seen AR go from one-off surprise and delight activations on press ads, t-shirts and the like, to the “glue” that holds a brand’s wider strategy in place.
It’s this usage and focus on AR as a strategic tool to open up new moments of discovery for your client’s brands to build engagement, relevance and drive growth for their business that agencies need to be doubling down on.
In this blog post, I sat down with Luca Bonzi, CEO of Viewtoo, an AR agency in Milan to discuss how they’ve built a successful agency model around AR and ZapWorks, and the team they’ve put in place to deliver against this.
MD: When was Viewtoo founded? Where are you based? How many employees do you have?
Viewtoo was founded in Milan in October 2015. We’d previously met Zappar at a spring exhibition in Berlin, where we’d been fascinated by a doormat that came to life! Shortly after we started working with ZapWorks to create augmented reality experiences ourselves.
We are now an eight-person team and have a strong list of clients across a myriad of different verticals that trust us to deliver bespoke AR activations specific to their industry and business problem.
MD: Why augmented reality? What value did you see in creating an agency model around AR?
We see AR as the perfect bridge between the physical and digital worlds. It represents the glue that binds together other, more disparate communication methods.
MD: Tell us about the background of the team?
The majority of us share a common background in marketing and communications as graphic designers and copywriters. Some of us also come from a corporate communication background, providing clients with different ways to tell their story and engage their audience.
As with most smaller agencies we all wear different hats and cover more positions regardless of our specific backgrounds - not only because of the workload, but we also enjoy learning new skills and committing to new challenges.
The Viewtoo creative team hard at work.
MD: In what order did you add specific roles to the team and why?
At the very beginning, Viewtoo acted predominantly as a reseller of Zappar’s in-house AR solutions, relying on a very strong sales team made up of three people. We soon added an art director and a graphic designer to produce our own AR experiences using ZapWorks Designer. The more we grew the more we needed a team who could liaise with our clients and understand their overall goals for the project, then translate these to the design team to start thinking about the storyboard and UI/UX.
We then hired a content manager and soon after a visual designer. In less than two years from our very first step into AR, we were ready to hire a 3D designer to go deeper into the ZapWorks platform and its functionalities.
MD: Interesting. Why did you choose to hire an art director and graphic designer first? What role did they play in improving the overall quality of the AR experiences you were creating?
Designing a great UI/UX that complies with a client’s brand identity is crucial to the success of any AR project. Hiring an art director and graphic designer enabled us to improve on these two factors and deliver AR experiences that increase awareness for the brand while engaging their audience. Besides, focusing on the visual design allowed us to provide cost-effective yet appealing content that could be easily implemented in ZapWorks.
MD: On a typical ZapWorks project, which staff do you have working?
The workflow of a typical project starts with the business development manager and the project/content manager (producer) talking with the client, setting the objectives, expectations and the overall positioning of the project with the client’s budget in mind. An internal talk follows to define touchpoint, features, UX, feasibility, costs.
At this stage, our visual designer and our art director are also involved. When the project gets the approval from the client, the graphic designer realizes the UI and creates the assets according to the brief (if we are not provided with them). Eventually, the project enters the development stage, led by our art director and development manager. The visual designer and/or the content manager follow the project along at all stages, keeping the thread with the client.
Viewtoo - Neymar hologram experience for Red Bull.
MD: What was Viewtoo’s experience with augmented reality before ZapWorks? Were you using any AR tools previously?
We had seen a few, but they were not convincing to us since they were not based on markers as activation points and required building a new app for every single AR experience - both these points made them unscalable.
MD: When did you start using ZapWorks? How long did the evaluation period take before you decided to commit to ZapWorks? What were the key reasons you chose to use it?
When we stumbled upon Zappar in Berlin it was no coincidence. We were looking for a developer-friendly AR solution that allowed us to build AR content without the need for a team of developers. From the very start, we appreciated access to a more stable and practical marker (zapcode) instead of the tracking image. The ability to customize the marker, the easy call-to-action, and the fact the content is hosted in the cloud, as well as the multiple functionalities of the platform, were perfect for our needs.
MD: What was the learning curve like for ZapWorks Studio?
The platform is very developer friendly. It can be effectively used even by staff that has little knowledge of coding. That is even more true with the recent release of ZapWorks Studio 5.
It’s also worth mentioning that the more you understand the mechanics and the coding behind the platform, the easier it becomes to develop AR experiences with new functionalities. We’re always trying to go one step further with the various functionalities that ZapWorks Studio affords. This, in turn, helps us to create more impressive and varied AR experiences for clients.
Viewtoo - ENI Imagine Energy experience.
MD: How long did it take for Viewtoo to see a return on investment (ROI) on their ZapWorks subscription? Can you estimate the current ROI on your ZapWorks partnership?
If we just consider the ROI of the ZapWorks subscription, it didn’t take very long at all (in fact, just the first paid project). To continue growing we needed to hire additional talent, and that accounts for the biggest share of the investment. We also invested time and resources to make the market aware of AR and what solutions we can provide using ZapWorks.
MD: Roughly what percentage of your business revenue is built around AR and ZapWorks projects? Is this a growing part of the business?
It is currently around 60% and we aim to get it to 80%. It’s a huge part of the business.
MD: What are some of the biggest projects that you have delivered? Can you tell us about some large brands that you have worked with?
We’ve been lucky enough to work with some incredible brands. Red Bull, Carrefour, Thun, Salini Impregilo and Angelini are among the biggest names we’ve worked with so far.
For example, we invited Red Bull customers and Neymar’s fans to take a selfie with the PSG star and enter into a contest. For Carrefour, we created an engaging experience for their own-label products over the holidays and we are about to deliver a new campaign augmenting their flyers. Thun asked us to provide an AR “path” to enrich the customer journey in their shops and lead their customers to discover new products and receive rewards.
For the construction company Salini Impregilo we developed an enriching AR experience for their corporate communication and events. We also work with pharma company Angelini, who use AR to add a new layer of digital information to the instructions of their medical devices.
Viewtoo - mixed reality experience for construction company, Salini Impregilo.
MD: Have you ever delivered an app embed/custom app for a client through Zappar? What was that project like? Has it led to ongoing work with the client?
We always suggest an app embed to clients when one of their key objectives is to drive app downloads and develop a longer-term AR strategy through multiple activations. We delivered an app embed for several big companies, including Carrefour, MediaMarkt, Angelini, Salini Impregilo and Coop.
MD: How do you see the relationship between delivering one-off campaigns for clients and more strategic longer-term campaigns?
One-off campaigns are perfect for those clients who don’t have a brand app and want to engage users through a contest, giveaway or loyalty campaign for a short period.
We believe that asking the user to download an app should be compensated by a longer campaign or payoff that enables them to interact with the AR experience on multiple occasions.
That’s why we usually suggest to clients to think more broadly than one-off campaigns. We encourage them to create a long-term strategy, including the involvement of more departments within the same company - making AR a communication tool for their entire ecosystem and providing users with different content for different contexts and campaigns.
Viewtoo - 'Teddy on the road' experience for Thun.
MD: Have you ever delivered an AR project through the Shazam app? What was that process like? Who was the client? What were the benefits?
Yes, we took part in a big campaign for one of Perfetti Van Melle’s brand – Vigorsol. Shazam is installed in hundreds of millions of devices all over the world and that’s a huge opportunity for brands that want to reach a large audience with engaging AR content.
MD: Have you been able to offer clients more complex projects as time goes on?
Definitely. As we’ve developed relationships with clients, we’ve grown more confident in proposing more complex projects. Our “R&D department” always surprises us with new, engaging mechanics.
MD: Where do you see AR unlocking true value for your clients?
Increasing revenue is the one and only value for clients. Improving a brand’s image and garnering attention for its products to facilitate sales, is one key example. Thankfully the ROI of an AR campaign can be measured through the detailed analytics ZapWorks provides!
Viewtoo experiment with ENI Imagine Energy experience.
MD: What are the most important factors involved in producing successful AR experiences?
We’re all in on the three C’s: ideal context, strong call-to-action, bite-sized content – plus an engaging UX and an intuitive UI. It’s that simple!
MD: Would you recommend ZapWorks over other AR tools? Why?
Evangelizing AR and Zappar is our mission, and we’re committed to this because we believe ZapWorks is the best AR solution out there. It’s democratic, offers a complete toolkit for a myriad of different use cases, and is developer friendly. Moreover, it’s easy to update and it’s affordable! What else would you wish for?
MD: Finally, what advice would you give to other ZapWorks users/aspiring AR entrepreneurs looking to set up their own AR agency?
At Viewtoo we believe in team building within our agency as well as networking with other agencies. We do not see other agencies as competitors, we see them as an opportunity to integrate everybody’s skills to reach a broader audience.
As Viewtoo has clearly shown, AR can and should be used to deliver more value to clients. Likewise, developing the infrastructure, resource, and team around AR delivery is no longer a barrier to entry.
Whether you’re a small creative agency looking to add AR to your service offering, or a much larger full-service creative shop, AR is now a necessity in delivering more engaging, interactive and memorable marketing communications that reflect how consumers, businesses and indeed humans interact in today’s world.
When asked why you should be using AR to deliver more value to your clients, the answer is simple: AR provides the most affordable, engaging and measurable way to reach people in a human way - with little risk, cost or resource.
Feel free to reach out to Viewtoo if you have more questions about starting your own AR agency or want to discuss an idea for an AR project.