Virtual reality is all about creating an illusion of reality or an imaginary environment around you using computer simulated graphics and sound effects.

As a concept, it was first designed by Ivan Sutherland in 1968, which is now a reality after almost four decades, the fine maker of The Sword of Damocles, widely considered to be the first virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) head-mounted display (HMD) system.

The Marketing Context

Marketing as a function has been undergoing radical changes due to advancements in digital, web, data, analytics and automation. The fundamentals, though, have always remained the same – communicate effectively to gain revenue and market share. With a dire need of differentiation in the noisy marketplace, marketers have always been looking for new technologies and solutions to position themselves better. Virtual reality is one among such innovations.

It has immense potential to transform the way we are experiencing things today, it can extend anywhere from experiencing The Himalayas through Virtual headsets while being in the office to doing meditation or yoga on a beach using VR headsets.

Marketers must adapt to VR quickly!

One of the major challenges faced by marketers today is around awareness and engagement with the brand, the promises which VR brings to the table is that it’s going to be immersive, impactful and a memorable experience.

The rise in mobility is a fact today, virtual experiences, nowadays are often, clubbed together with your mobile devices. For instance, Lenovo recently launched its flagship mobile handset “Vibe X3” for the year, they tried taking this experience to a new high by redefining virtual reality as “Theatre max” experience.

Who is taking Virtual Reality seriously?

Being early adopters of virtual reality, here are the companies which considered VR as a significant step in their brand’s journey:

  1. Google led a $542 million investment in Magic Leap in October 2014. Reportedly, the company is developing augmented reality technology that will weave “3D light sculptures” into the world around us, using a combination of proprietary hardware, software, and firmware. Very soon, Google is also coming up with a new VR headset as the successor to Google Cardboards.
  2. In March 2014, Facebook, Inc. (FB) acquired virtual reality startup Oculus VR for $3 billion. Oculus now offers RIFT, GEAR VR, and Oculus-ready PCs as well.
  3. Sony Corporation (SNE) is poised to launch PlayStation VR (originally dubbed “Project Morpheus”). The consumer version of the PlayStation VR is available now since August 2018
  4. GoPro: In April 2015, GoPro Inc. (GPRO) announced that it acquired French virtual reality startup Kolor, which enables users to produce high-resolution, 360-degree “spherical content.” It is being termed as GoPro Fusion.
  5. HBO and Discovery, in Apr 2016, made major investments in Virtual reality to “to create the universal publishing platform for TV, movies, and original holographic content”.

How are Marketers utilizing Virtual Reality today? 

Let’s explore few use cases of Virtual reality to understand this better.

New York times virtual reality

One of the earliest adopters of VR, NYT started providing NYT VR app and videos to provide an immersive experience to their readers using  Google Cardboard. In October 2015, The Times announced its plans to distribute over one million Google Cardboards to home delivery subscribers, within the same time frame, they witnessed more than 500,000 downloads of the NYT VR app.

Tesco created a Virtual Store

People could really walk around it before it was built. These were, essentially a display of products on walls of metro stations and bus stops. Commuters, especially the tech-savvy, ultra-busy lot, could scan the QR codes of the products on display with their smartphones, and place their orders even as they waited for their trains or buses. The virtual store has been a huge success with commuters and drove over 900,000 app downloads in less than a year, making the Homeplus app the most popular shopping app in South Korea.

Volvo – XC90 Test Drive

In the Automotive world, Volvo was first company to launch a virtual reality campaign on Google Cardboard, meant to experience the all-new Volvo XC90 with Volvo Reality, a full virtual reality test drive on your phone. The brand reported 238 million media impressions, now that’s a lot of immersive experience for a new car launch as such.

Unicef used VR to raise funds

UNICEF China has used virtual reality (VR) technology for documenting its best practices. On July, 25th UNICEF NZ invited the public to see inside a Syrian refugee camp. The award-winning film ‘Clouds over Sidra’ moved people deeply and doubled the rate of donations to UNICEF.

TGI Friday

TGI Fridays at London has created the world’s first virtual dog-sled ride – using cutting-edge 360-degree Oculus virtual reality technology. This was filmed 85 miles above the Arctic Circle, the experience on videos, was overwhelming, of course.

What lies in the Future of VR?

There are portable devices such as VR headsets, Oculus Rift,  HTC Vive, PlayStation VR etc.(upcoming), customers still don’t find it comfortable to wear, using it for more than an hour or so may not be practical. Headset makers don’t recommend their devices for children. Samsung, and Oculus, in fact, urge adults to take at least 10-minute breaks every half-hour, and they warn against driving, riding a bike or operating machinery if the user feels odd after a session. There lies a potential for VR developers to think through, evolve into a medium or channel which can make it more user-friendly to experience on such devices for prolonged hours. Having said that, VR is here to stay, adopting VR is the need of the hour, to sustain and be at par with competition it is important to have VR as one of your marketing tactics in current and years to come, differentiating and creating unique experience utilizing VR, however, can appeal differently to customer and prospects, thus, making your brands more memorable.. Those who do not leverage this as one of the offerings at the bare minimum would surely, lose out on the potential it has and the customer delight it can bring. It is yet to evolve into its complete form, across gaming, simulated training, probably a completely new and next medium after print, radio, and television, the potential is immense and powerful. For marketers, this means that Virtual Reality will be an integral part of their marketing and communications strategy for years to come.

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Neeraj is a Tech Marketer with 9+ years of experience in B2B Sales and Marketing. At StepToInbound, Neeraj writes about Website, Search, Social Media and Marketing Automation practices.

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