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How Businesses & Marketers Can Use Virtual Reality (VR Marketing)

Written by David Bryan, June 8, 2016
Tesco's Virtual Reality

How Businesses & Marketers Can Use Virtual Reality (VR Marketing)

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While it can’t be denied that the primary use for virtual reality currently is for gamers, businesses are quickly coming to realise that the use of virtual reality could play a big role in the way in which they market to their customers. This article is part of our series of articles below on “VR for business”:

  1. The History, Rise & Fall of Virtual Reality
  2. Has Oculus Lost the First Generation of Virtual Reality to HTC
  3. How Marketers Can Use Virtual Reality
  4. Virtual Reality vs. Augmented Reality & the Applications for Business
  5. Open Source Virtual Reality and What This Means for Business
  6. Virtual Reality Web Design; Why Every Business Will Need to Factor VR into Their Digital Marketing
  7. Virtual Reality eCommerce & the Future of Online Shopping (vCommerce)
  8. The Lowdown from Our VR Gurus, Rob and Adam

We would love to encourage some discussion and debate around where this interesting and game-changing technology is heading, so please feel free to leave us a comment below or on social media and we’ll get back to you.

Uses and applications of VR marketing

While it may take some time for virtual reality and VR marketing to become embedded in a mainstream marketing strategy, it will be much the same as how companies took awhile to understand the use of social media. And these days, any business that isn’t on social media is usually behind its competition. But just how can marketers use virtual reality?

Product testing and demos

Product testing will be one area where marketers will find that virtual reality comes in handy, saving immensely on both time and money. Marketers will no longer need to get a product ready for market before getting feedback on it; they can now create a visual representation of what it is they wish to sell. Consumers will be able to test and review products months ahead of current schedules, helping businesses to get much more products out to market per year, as well as scrapping any planned projects that don’t score highly with consumers.

This concept of showcasing ideas could be for simple products, or for whole room-scale simulations for planned buildings. One such example of this is when Tesco created a short video of a virtual reality experience for a new Tesco store which hadn’t yet been built:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=08S86X_5Crs

The idea of having full room-scale simulations is a desirable one to marketers, as they can showcase future sites such as with the example above, or market in other ways such as estate agents showing people around a house virtually. The Marriott took this one step further and showed what virtual reality was truly capable of by transporting soon to be newly-weds to a location that they could visit for their honeymoon:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i6yMqXLnpN4

Once products are launched to market, virtual reality may help to boost sales by giving consumers a chance to test products before they purchase them, such as by letting them see how a new piece of furniture looks in their home.

While we can go to a clothes shop and try on the clothes or test drive a car from the garage already, this still requires us physically travelling to that location to test it. Virtual reality will allow us to do this from the comfort of our homes, meaning we’ll be much more likely to try anything that we’d like and purchase it. This is something that Volvo attempted when they created a virtual reality test drive teaser of the Volvo XC90:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wuln2bJkp1k

VR eCommerce or vCommerce

The potential benefits that virtual reality could bring to the eCommerce world are huge. We have previously seen that consumers are somewhat hesitant about shopping online, despite the ease of use that current eCommerce sites provide. A survey from TimeTrade produced results that show that 85% of consumers would still rather shop in a physical store as opposed to online. Even large, established websites like Amazon weren’t able to ease people’s nerves, with 71% saying that they would rather shop at a physical Amazon store.

In the same survey, 85% of consumers said that they want to touch and feel a product before they buy it. While many of us will still shop online with items such as clothing, we do so in the knowledge that we can make use of the usual free returns policy. People don’t want to make the trip up to a physical store, and so they order online, but we all know that half the time the items look entirely different from their 2D pictures on the website.

Virtual reality would not only help to make this process a lot easier but will also make consumers feel much more at ease about ordering items online. By seeing an object visually in their homes, being able to try on clothes or just to get a better look at a product as though it were real, consumers will have all but bought a product when viewing it in virtual reality.

Retail examples of VR

While VR hasn’t become firmly established in the business world yet, some retailers have begun to look at the possibility of how they could implement a different reality when marketing their products. River Island for example has created an augmented reality experience in which you could control a Kingfisher and direct it towards a model wearing the latest River Island collection. Ikea have created an augmented reality experience on the Ikea app which allowed customers to place 3D virtual products into their homes. While these are both augmented reality experiences, and the one from River Island isn’t necessarily practical on a daily basis, it shows that both companies and consumers are thinking about the possibilities of an alternative reality when it comes to shopping online.

Marks and Spencer’s and Tommy Hilfiger are two companies which have begun looking at virtual reality, but so far have only created in-store virtual reality experiences with their respective M&S avatar “Amy” and Fifth Avenue virtual reality experience in New York. In much the same way as the previous River Island example, these, while both arguably amazing at demonstrating the power of virtual reality, are still a bit ‘gimmicky’, and also still require the consumer to physically attend the store. Therefore, virtual reality in these instances acts more like an interesting experience for 10 minutes, rather than something which changes the way marketers interact with consumers.

Companies that first adopt virtual reality into their eCommerce strategy, allowing users to connect with the products they are viewing from home, will eventually be ahead in the race against their competitors in the future. While this may not be a mainstream idea yet, it is only recently that the smartphone has become the dominant means of browsing the internet. It may take some time, but it is likely that virtual reality will have this same effect on the way that we interact with not only each other but also companies and their marketing strategies as well.

Social media marketing

It’s difficult to predict just what effect virtual reality might have on social media, but with Facebook recently establishing a virtual reality team, it’s clear that the social media kings intend to make it a driving force behind the social platform.

With 360-degree videos launching earlier in the year, it seemed that Facebook were beginning to get their users ready for experiences that differed from the usual photos and videos that were displayed on their timelines. There is a great deal of potential here for businesses and marketers; in the same way that they can display their products and services in a new way through a virtual reality eCommerce site, they could use Facebook’s new features to better market these items to their consumers.

Facebook’s first 360 degree video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f-7qq8n2iqw

A Gallop survey showed that almost all consumers (94 percent) use social media platforms as a means for connecting with family and friends, and little else. People don’t want to know that they’re being sold to, especially if they are on a platform simply to connect with family, and so features such as Facebook’s 360-degree video offer a way for companies to market their products in a new and innovative way, without actively delivering a sales pitch. The hype that the Facebook 360-degree Star Wars video brought with it stopped people scrolling down their timelines; granted, it was the first time that users had seen the 360-degree video, but companies that adopt new strategies like this early on into their marketing tactics will likely have the same effect on consumers.

Bringing customers and businesses closer together

Ultimately, marketers will be able to use virtual reality to bring customers and businesses closer together. We now live in an age where everything is instant; consumers now expect instant replies from companies on their Twitter customer support channels, to be the first to listen to a new album or piece of news the second it’s released or to have a product before anyone else. Virtual reality offers this to consumers; it will allow them to view what they want when they want and from where they want.

It will also allow businesses to showcase their products and services in a new way to consumers without having to sell actively to them. It may take some time for every home to have a virtual reality headset, but it is likely that we will see this one day, especially with some people predicting that the virtual reality market will be a ‘billion dollar niche’.

As it stands, the main focus for virtual reality companies is around gaming, but there is a huge market available to businesses as well, and it will be interesting to see not only who adopts these strategies first, but also how they do it. Watch this space.

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