Virtual Reality is Transforming Marketing Best Practices

December 17, 2015

3:00 pm

Inventors and engineers have made a lot of progress with virtual reality (VR) in recent years, thanks to user interest and, more practically, venture-backed VR and augmented reality (AR) startups. Savvy businesses, who don’t want to be left in the simulated dust, need to use tried and tested techniques for incorporating VR and AR into their marketing strategy.

Display and demonstration

Adding virtual reality is a great way to improve an exhibit, but only through clear and controlled execution will it be beneficial to your brand. Products like the Oculus Rift and Google Cardboard have put VR in the hands of the average consumer, and therefore ground level marketers.

The Oculus Rift is fast becoming a trade show staple, but as the technology is still in development, it is a limited release. If you don’t already own the sold out system then trying to include them in your display will be difficult. Second hand options are available but they are likely to have invalid warranties and so aren’t a safe investment. Thankfully, there are more accessible AR options, such as Google Cardboard which uses open-source DIY headsets

Customisation is key to impactful use of VR technology. Brands who are best making use of the tech are the ones who select certain events or products and customise their augmented reality.

For example, he latest RideLondon Cycling Show used a virtual reality cycling race to encourage attendees to take up the real thing. And HBO used the Oculus Rift to create allow viewers to virtually experience the world of Westeros at SXSW, thus encouraging them to watch the next series of the show.

Virtual reality has also changed the very fabric of marketing models for manufacturers of large or dangerous products. In the past, displaying industrial products at a trade show was impossible. Now, with the power of virtual reality, industrial manufacturers can transport attendees to a virtual warehouse, and display their products in immaculate detail.

It’s not just industrial companies that are using VR to display their products. Car manufacturers now supplement their traditional showrooms with virtual reality vehicle displays. This offers ease of access to the consumer, allowing for people to examine a wide range of cars without having to leave their living room.

‘Try Before You Fly’

The travel industry is one of the biggest adopters of VR. Traditional travel marketing involves displaying glossy images of smiling families in distant locations. With VR, travel companies can transport potential customers to simulated versions of the locations to allow them to have their own experience of holiday destinations so they can try before they fly.

The Marriott Hotel chain has developed a virtual ‘Teleporter’ that transports people to a beach in Hawaii or a balcony atop Tower 42 in London. The experience is designed to create the most direct demonstration of a Marriott holiday possible, hopefully encouraging the viewer to try the virtual reality experience in actual reality.

The Teleporter is only available at specific locations, but some travel companies are beginning to target consumers by sending virtual reality devices straight to their homes. Peter Frankenhauser, CEO of Thomas Cook, announced at a recent shareholder meeting that he expects VR to take off on a mainstream scale. To get ahead of the curve, the company is set to mail out 5,000 cardboard headsets to customers with their next round of brochures, and to upload a variety of virtual reality experiences to their website for customers to access from homes.

Guided tours without leaving your doors

Real estate tours are a staple of property marketing, but they take up a lot of time and require stringent arrangements. Because of this, estate agents are now turning to VR. On the estate agent’s side, virtual property tours allow an infinite number of potential buyers to view a house at once, increasing the likelihood of making a sale. On the buyer’s side, VR tours allow hassle-free viewing of multiple properties anywhere in the world at any time.

Virtual tours even have advantages over physical tours in unexpected ways. They allow viewers to see angles of a property that would not be reachable by foot. This is particularly important for buyers of luxury properties who want to ensure every inch of their house is pristine. This reasoning led Savills to create virtual tours of their properties.

It isn’t just estate agents that are using virtual reality tours as a form of digital marketing. Many universities and colleges are now available to tour virtually, allowing institutions to better market their campuses to international students.

The future is now

VR and AR is informing current marketing campaigns, transcending the newsworthy headlines and the expectation that only high paying brands can use this new technology. In order to keep ahead, or at least keep up with, marketing best practices, brands need to engage now.

Image Credit: Flickr / cropped, resized

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Simon Davies is a London based freelance writer with an interest in startup culture, issues and solutions.

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