Marketing has come a long way since the days of print ads and direct mail campaigns. Customers crave real interactions with brands, and this driving force has given rise to big data, omnichannel content and interconnected shopping experiences. Now virtual reality (VR) is entering the picture and transforming the way brands bring their marketing messages to consumers.
The Growing Impact of VR
Virtual experiences appear in fiction stories dating back to the 1800s, but VR headsets didn’t start hitting consumer markets until the 1990s. Used mostly for gaming, these early devices allowed users to immerse themselves in worlds they couldn’t visit in real life, effectively transporting them into the very games they loved to play.
VR use has since taken off, and there are now over 43 million people around the world engaging with virtual environments. The Google Cardboard app alone has enjoyed 10 million downloads, bringing VR to the average consumer for around $15. Around 98 percent of all VR headsets have mobile capabilities, meaning users aren’t locked to a console or tethered to their homes. Because of this growing accessibility, estimates suggest there could be 171 million users of VR by 2018.
Sixty-six percent of consumers are interested in virtual shopping experiences, and 73 percent of the upcoming generation of shoppers, known as “Gen Z,” shows a general interest in VR. With these numbers and the prediction of Goldman Sachs showing the industry could be worth as much as $35 billion by 2025, the time is ripe for brands to get on board with VR marketing.
Business and VR Tech: Meet the New Face of Marketing
The implications of VR for marketing are staggering. In the past, brands had little direct interaction with consumers, and customer engagement took place solely in physical stores. Tracking shopping habits was almost impossible, and follow-up consisted mainly of direct mail campaigns offering coupons, discounts or store credit cards.
Mobile and internet marketing took shopping to a new level with the opportunity for brands to retarget customers who left items in their carts without checking out or use location-based services to send personalized offers. The growing popularity of connected “smart” devices and the internet of things (IoT) is expanding marketing opportunities by providing more robust consumer data, but nothing compares to VR when it comes to truly capturing a customer’s attention.
According to Tech Digi-Capital, VR may generate as much as $30 billion in spending by 2020. Retail brands are already starting to utilize this growing technology to create new brand experiences through which they can connect with customers. Brands looking to adopt VR for marketing can take a cue from what forward-thinking companies are doing with virtual platforms.
Immersive Virtual Shopping
Lowe’s home improvement stores introduced the Holoroom in 2014, a VR experience in which customers can design a dream kitchen or bathroom using the company’s products and “tour” the finished project in a virtual environment. Available in 19 stores, this marketing tool operates on the assumption that people are more likely to buy products when they can visualize how the items will look in their homes. Holoroom also allows customers to make changes to paint color, wallpaper and other elements as they view the virtual room so that the finished design exactly matches what they imagined.
Chinese company Alibaba is bringing VR shopping to consumers with virtual “trips” to popular stores, including giants like Macy’s. Strapping on a virtual headset, shoppers are transported to complete virtual store environments and given the option to shop as if they were really there. Integration with Alipay allows for real-time purchases using only eye contact and a few nods.
Virtual shopping is also helping big brands, including P&G, to learn more about shoppers’ behavior and how to position their products in real stores. Test shoppers interact with virtual stores just as they would when shopping in real life, and their reactions give brands valuable information about how to improve their marketing efforts.[http://www.adweek.com/brand-marketing/virtual-shopping-real-results-105633/]
The Next Level of Product Testing
Brands can allow consumers to experience products before they’re commercially available, and few make better use of this than car manufacturers. Volvo tapped into the accessibility of Google Cardboard to provide a virtual test drive of the XC90. Using a branded black headset and a custom app, the company invites customers to experience the car and become familiar with all its features so that driving it in real life feels like second nature.
Honda created a similar experience at a launch event in 2016. Audience members were provided with a Google Cardboard headset branded with a QR code. Scanning the code granted access to an app allowing them to “race” the brand-new Civic model in a virtual landscape. This 360-degree virtual test drive demonstrated the power of VR to put consumers into unique worlds where advertising is transformed into an immersive experience in which a brand’s products play a central role.
Law firm’s like Lamber Goodnow, a Phoenix firm, is using VR in a fascinating way. They have developed a new virtual reality system, that allows members of the jury to simulate how the injury happened. It immerses the members of the jury in a manner which has never before seen – and arms personal injury attorneys with stronger forms of evidence.
On a smaller scale, the Happy Family company, makers of organic baby food, used virtual shopping to test the effects of product positioning, packaging and choices on consumer behaviors. Their tests revealed important metrics about how labeling and accessibility of products, particularly in the organic category, can influence which brands shoppers choose.
Virtual reality offers unprecedented opportunities for brands to connect with consumers. Far from the clunky video games of the past, today’s VR is becoming more streamlined, immersive and accessible. Although virtual marketing hasn’t quite hit the mainstream, getting a foot in the door now positions companies to take advantage of new developments in the coming years.
Watching how innovative brands leverage VR to reach customers provides a blueprint for creating unique marketing plans designed for specific audiences looking for immersive experiences. Consumers want more opportunities to interact in the virtual world and seek out connectivity with brands through realistic experiences. Turning these experiences into marketing opportunities increases visibility, improves brand recognition and expands the reach of companies beyond the limitations of traditional advertising.