Marketers: Here's How to Use Virtual Reality to Your Advantage

How to experiment with VR in your marketing

Published on in Advice / Tips & Tricks

For many, virtual reality (VR) may seem as if it’s only just been invented. However, the history of VR dates back a lot further than you might have imagined.

While not yet advanced enough to have us living parallel lives in a computer simulation, VR is no longer the sole domain of training pilots and astronauts either. It’s now a viable tool for communication, storytelling and above all, experience.

With inexpensive, smartphone-based solutions such as Google Cardboard jockeying for position alongside the likes of Sulon Q or Oculus Rift, it’s easy to see why VR is the new kid everyone wants to hang out with.

What Exactly is Virtual Reality?

It’s actually not nearly as scary as Hollywood would have us believe. Movies like The Matrix and Neuromancer offer a predictably dark view of virtual reality, but they’re just that. Movies.

The reality is almost underwhelming in comparison. Simply put, VR is a means for you to experience three-dimensional images. This is sometimes done with a headset, but not always.

Using a visual feed that can come from a smartphone, a computer, or from within the device itself, the headsets employ special lenses to create an interactive 3D experience from a varying number of 2D images.

It’s a little more in-depth than that, but rather than unpack the science behind it, let’s delve into VR’s benefits and uses from a marketer’s standpoint.

The Numbers Speak for Themselves

For starters, it’s an obvious win in the word of mouth department. A 2015 study found that 81% of consumers would tell their friends about their VR experience, while 79% said they would seek out additional experiences.

It’s also particularly appealing to younger demographics and this enthusiasm is starting to show in the numbers too. The HTC Vive sold around 25,000-35,000 units in its first month on sale, while worldwide VR hardware sales are expected to exceed 9.6 million devices – and $2 billion in profits by the end of this year.

What Does This Mean for Marketers?

One is tempted to say the possibilities are endless. They’re not, obviously, but VR can certainly be put to a wide range of uses. It can never be entirely natural, but done right, it can come eerily close.

As a marketer, this is what you’re aiming for - something that feels real, even though it isn’t. It’s also got to be an experience that’s worth having. A tour of your office space isn’t going to cut it (unless the space in question is Google’s HQ), but offering customers the opportunity to stroll around your showroom floor definitely will.

A great example of VR marketing done right is Charity Water’s recent fundraising campaign. Using headsets to simulate the experience of an Ethiopian girl struggling to secure basic necessities for her family, the company raised over $2.4 million at one benefit alone.

Other examples include visiting college campuses, visualising a home or building before it’s actually built, house hunting, and going skydiving.

From a marketing perspective, it’s easy to see the potential. Your audience is suddenly that much bigger and location is no longer the sticking point it once was either. Gone are the days of scheduling appointments, driving long distances (or driving at all, for that matter) and entertaining ‘lookie loos’ who clearly aren’t serious about anything other than rifling through other people’s underwear drawers.

There will always be a place for the usual video suspects (live-action, animation, event filming, explainers, TV ads, etc.), however the advent of 360 video and VR has changed the playing field considerably.

That being said, a VR project is a lot more time-consuming and expensive than a standard video project, so before barging ahead you need to be absolutely certain that your efforts will pay off.

If the answer is yes, then the only limits are your imagination, your ambition and your budget.

About Jamie Field 

Jamie Field is Head of Production at TopLine Comms, a UK-based video and integrated communications consultancy. After a decade producing animated and live-action content, Jamie has now disappeared into the world of virtual reality and 360 video. We’re not sure when (or if) we’ll see him again.

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