Digital Education Takes Flight With Benny Arbel & Inception’s AR Learning
Benny Arbel is the Founder & CEO of Inception XR. He founded the company in 2016 together with co-founders Dana Porter and Effi Wizen, who shared his belief that XR will be the next big medium with the potential to transform the way we experience life.
Their initial focus was on VR. Partnering with some of the world’s leading talents and brands, they created one of the leading VR entertainment apps with dozens of immersive interactive experiences in the areas of music, art, lifestyle and travel. In 2018, they expanded the content platform to AR, focusing on kids’ education.
Prior to Inception XR, Benny was at the forefront of mobile content, from the original ringtones to music, ringback tones, mobile games and even interactive ads. Throughout most of his professional career, he was excited about the transformation of media and content consumption, and fascinated by how the convergence of different technologies can change our everyday lives. “I believe that AR will truly change the way we consume media,” Benny says.
There are already 3 billion AR-enabled devices, and the technology is being adopted across various markets. For example, in online shopping – IKEA released an AR feature allowing users to place furniture in their own real-life living room. In navigation – there are no more 2D maps; Google AR maps have taken navigation and the understanding of our surroundings to a whole new level. Inception XR is doing this for the education market.
Can you tell us about how you are applying AR to education?
AR can truly transform education, not only by making it more fun and engaging, but also by improving the comprehension and memorability of complex concepts. Consumers have become accustomed to ovelaying the virtual and physical worlds, from social filters to toys, maps, and ecommerce, so expanding it to education is a natural next frontier.
Studies show how AR apps are benefiting learning for all ages. AR apps allow children to actively interact both with tangible and digital tools – they relate to the information they see on the screen with the familiar physical environment and are observed to be engaged and motivated to learn using AR.
We came up with the idea to create an educational reading AR app called Bookful. Today, Bookful is the best-selling kids Augmented Reality & 3D reading and games app featuring the world’s largest AR library. We’re using the latest 3D, interactive and AR technologies to create an amazing digital version of print books and bring them to life.
The app merges the digital and the physical worlds to create an interactive reading experience that instills in children a passion for books. It has a library of hundreds of books and educational activities (such as Spelling, Pronunciation, Quiz, Memory, Paint and Dance with the book character, Parents progression report, etc.), across fiction and reference, such as Transformers, My Little Pony, Smurfs, Barbie, Thomas the Tank, Peter Rabbit and DK Children’s Encyclopedia. We will be adding hundreds of new 3D/AR books over the next 12 months from the world’s top book publishers and IP owners.
In the digital era, children are reading less, while having more unproductive screen time watching silly videos or playing games. This has become an even bigger concern over this past year, and most parents have ‘given up’ the battle for limiting their kids’ screen time. We pride ourselves on making screen time more productive, unlocking the solution to address today’s screen time and reading challenges.
Bookful has transformed reading into a 3-Dimensional, AR interactive learning experience. With Bookful, kids are finally reading more with an average of 20 books a month!
What are the main components of your marketing mix? What channels are you utilizing?
I come from performance ROI-driven advertising and am one of the pioneers of retargeting and personalized ads. Bookful is a very visual service with amazing 3D animations and characters. Therefore, we mostly use video ads, with the main channels being Facebook, Google UAC and app store search.
What have you found to be the best-performing media channels for your app marketing?
Facebook has always been our number one top-performing channel, since it is the most popular media platform of our target audience.
Most of today’s Facebook advertising runs on automated campaigns with very few filters. I am a strong believer in adding that extra segmentation to reach the right audience base. We do this by using the right messaging at the right time, especially when promoting a unique innovative product.
Advertising a children’s app does come with its challenges. When deciding on creatives, messaging and targeting, we must keep in mind that our ads are not targeting the actual app consumers, but their parents. This adds an extra step to our marketing funnel.
Bookful, for example, targets what we like to call ‘helicopter parents’, parents who pay extremely close attention to their child’s education. For this audience, we create education-focused creatives that highlight Bookful’s learning benefits, which help us acquire the right audiences.
We also use a number of methods to segment our audiences, such as exporting user cohorts based on their in-app behavior from the product analytics platform we use, Mixpanel, or using custom audiences of paying users who are interested in education and children’s apps.
What have you seen work best for you within your marketing campaigns?
What works best for us is always keeping up-to-date with our creatives and trying out new ideas constantly. For example, in early 2020 with the eruption of COVID-19 globally and schools shutting down, we tested a variety of creatives focusing on parent-child interaction during lockdown, and promoting Bookful as a remote educational solution for kids around the world. We got great attraction from the campaign and saw a massive growth in subscribers as a result.
Bookful is a creative app that offers you to be as creative as the story will let you. With that in mind, what kind of approach do you typically take when building and testing your creatives?
With Bookful being all about stories and focusing on stunning immersive visuals, we have a true advantage when it comes to thinking of new creatives. All of our creatives include footage from within the app and focus on our great 3D animations from top brands.
We think the main secret sauce is matching the right messages with the right text. We find that often just changing the message on the video makes all the difference in conversion.
Bookful has an extensive library with books ranging across a variety of verticals. What steps does your team take in order to deliver such high-quality AR for your clients?
Our high-quality content begins with our IP partners. Bookful holds the rights for a massive library of IP from leading studios and publishers such as Hasbro, Mattel, eOne, Penguin Random House, Hacchette, Smurfs and more. To keep the kids excited, we introduce on a monthly basis the most popular kids’ brands such as Sesame Street, My Little Pony, Thomas & Friends and The Smurfs.
All of these favorite books get ‘transformed’ by our studios into 3D animations that come to life in every kids’ environment using top AR technology. To be able to scale content creation, we created a network of studios, mainly in Columbia and Ukraine, who can create massive volumes of content utilizing our proprietary platform and engines.
With the current global situation, how do you feel that COVID-19 has affected the AR industry? What kind of challenges and/or opportunities do you think it has presented?
With the world in lockdown, AR has played a key role in making immersive experiences accessible to all. From understanding a complex structure by viewing it in 360 in your own living room, to bringing to life an art exhibition in your own surrounding, COVID-19 really shed light on the potential of AR.
COVID-19 created a step change in demand for high-quality digital education, but most of it is still dated, flat and does not take advantage of the latest technologies. Moreover, kids find it boring and uninspiring. Digital education today does not match the experience that students get in their consumer lives. They expect the level of sophistication and engagement they get on games, videos and apps to also expand to digital education. Introducing AR truly revolutionizes the learning experience as it speaks the language of the ‘tech-savvy’ generation.
The past year has been a major stepping stone for AR education, which has become the new educational language.
What’s something about yourself that doesn’t tend to come up in professional circles?
My hobbies have evolved from flying planes, to flying drones that take pictures, to my latest one which is being a proud owner of a Hydroponic Plant Pipe that I groom on a daily basis. This has become a great passion of mine, especially during the past year while spending a large amount of time at home.
Where do you see the VR/AR industry headed over the next 5 years? Do you have any predictions?
Looking forward, I know today that XR is going to be 100% fully integrated in our lives and will be used in ways we never could have imagined.
Working with the largest global tech companies, I understand how invested they are in making XR the next best thing. For example, Facebook just shared that 20% of their employees today are working on XR projects. Apple has suggested that 10 years from now they will no longer be selling mobile phones, but only XR glasses.
So to me, it’s just a question of “when and how” and not “if” XR will take over our daily lives.
What is your golden tip?
Things are usually not as bad or as good as you think they are at any given moment.
As an entrepreneur, it is important to develop a balanced attitude and remember that not every idea works on the first try. We must continue finding plan B, C or D. The cliche is true – it’s not a race, it’s a marathon, and with the right endurance and innovation, you achieve great things.