Virtual Reality is still in its infancy as a marketing technology, but it is about to mature
The demand for virtual reality experiences is growing — and not just among gamers and early adopters. Contrary to initial speculation, widespread use of VR isn’t dependent upon top-of-the-line head-mounted displays. Thanks to the ubiquity of smartphones, average consumers can now get in on the VR fun — and marketers should be paying attention.
VR will disrupt every sector, and brands that hope to reach Millennials, in particular, need to make use of this new platform. Young people prize experiences over material products, and virtual reality presents a way to fulfill that demand.
Where the Physical and Virtual Worlds Converge
By some estimates, sales of VR headsets could surpass half a billion in sales by 2025. As companies such as Google and Sony continue to promote their offerings, VR will increasingly penetrate the mainstream. And as awareness grows, digital marketers will find unique opportunities for differentiating their brands through this new technology.
Inexpensive headsets such as Google Cardboard play nicely with most smartphones, making it easy to provide a fun, novel, and inspiring brand experience through VR. Offering virtual tours of the farms where you source your coffee beans or an immersive experience of how your workers handcraft your products is far more compelling than banner ads and even videos.
Distinguishing your brand through VR provides a huge competitive advantage, particularly as the technology becomes more popular. Marketers who embrace this platform now have the room to test and innovate new tactics before VR explodes. When it does, their brands will be at the forefront of the field.
How VR Marketing Works
VR marketing enables companies to bridge the gap between experience and action. Look at Six Flags: The theme park titan offers consumers an option to virtually ride its tallest roller coaster, which inspires them to visit the nearest Six Flag park. The digital thrill isn’t quite the same as the actual experience, but it’s good enough to make them pursue the real thing.
But VR's use isn’t limited to currently existing products. Let’s say you’re developing a new marquee offering and you want to drum up excitement before it’s launched. VR enables you to take customers along on the journey, inviting them to watch the story unfold from inception to final design. Not only will they be eager to get their hands on the finished product, but they can also provide valuable feedback throughout the production process.
Most importantly, VR changes the dynamic between brands and consumers. Rather than deploy ad blockers or click out of ads as quickly as possible, people will seek out VR brand experiences. Imagine how your engagement numbers would look if you had prospects coming to you instead of you having to go to them.
Here’s how to inspire that dynamic through VR:
1. Craft product experiences
The best way to persuade someone that you have the best product is to let her try it out. But with people increasingly preferring online shopping to in-store experiences, getting them to your brick-and-mortar location can be a tough sell. VR can help.
Volvo began offering VR test drives for its XC90 SUV, allowing would-be customers to feel what it would be like to drive the luxury vehicle through scenic landscapes. That’s a far more compelling experience than hearing a salesperson drone on about the car’s list of benefits.
Once you’ve got customers through the door, VR experiences entice them back. In Sweden, McDonald’s Happy Meal boxes can be used as Google Cardboard headsets so kids can play a VR skiing game after they’re done eating. Such touches link brands with excitement, wonder, and personalization in the minds of consumers. Instead of generic experiences, people feel like they’ve had more vivid interactions with VR-savvy brands.
2. Educate your audience
People crave connection to the companies from which they buy. Foster those bonds by showing them what happens under the hood. Use VR to showcase how your products are made, who is behind them, and the care and thought that goes into each aspect.
VR is also a great way to put people in the buying mindset. When someone is skittish about an offer because she doesn’t know whether she’ll enjoy or get use from it, VR can provide her with tangible information.
Marriott ran with this concept by developing “teleportation” booths that transport potential customers to exotic locations. Upon stepping inside the booth, users feel the sensation of warm, tropical breezes and the relaxation of being on a beach. How can they resist booking a vacation after that?
3. Integrate VR into retail
Retailers have the opportunity to take customers beyond the showroom and into an entire virtual world built around their brands. Whether you’re selling clothes, cars, or eyeglasses, you can create an exciting, aspirational experience.
Merrell did just this in its Trailscape VR marketing campaign. Shoppers slipped on an Oculus VR headset and were able to explore a mountainous landscape right in the store. Now, when those consumers think of Merrell, they’re reminded of the amazing virtual adventure the brand provided them.
4. Facilitate relationships
Take advantage of customers’ smartphones by offering new VR content on a regular basis. As long as your audience members have headsets, they should be able to log in to your app and explore new products and worlds all the time.
Ongoing VR experiences make people excited to interact with your company, which makes them more inclined to buy from you. Remember, the goal is to encourage them to reach out to you instead of you having to pursue them. When you have an enthusiastic and engaged audience, you unlock incredible potential for new ways to interact with consumers.
Virtual reality is here, and its presence will only grow during the next several years. Digital marketers should adapt to the technology now so they can differentiate themselves early and create truly innovative campaigns for their customers.