VR here, VR there, VR everywhere.
When you think about Virtual Reality (VR), you probably think of people using a headset to either play games or immerse themselves in a digital world and do not think of it as a marketing tool. Yet, since its inception, the VR industry has grown and is currently estimated to be worth around $7 billion. A report by Greenlight Insights estimates that, by 2025, it could be achieving revenues of nearly $75 billion. VR is currently only used by a small few but, if these figures are correct, VR is going to spread far beyond its current audience and will have applications in many areas of life, including digital marketing.
For the less technologically savvy, VR immerses the user in a virtual environment. This is predominantly done through the use of a headset that gives the user the impression that they are in a different place or setting. The headset has a screen at the front that comprises the user’s entire field of vision. When they turn their head, for example, the image shown to them will follow their motion, giving them an immersive experience.
This is not to be confused with augmented reality or AR. This is where overlays are added to what is already there such as with the app Pokémon Go the makes the Pokémon appear as if it were there or the IKEA Place app that allows you to view what furniture might look like in your home. AR adds to the existing environment whereas VR creates a whole new reality.
VR has been heavily invested in with many large technology companies developing their own version of it. Google has Cardboard, Facebook has Oculus, Samsung has Gear, the list goes on. With all of the effort being poured into this technology, it is likely that it will expand in the future to become more of an everyday item as its cost falls.
VR means that content can be experienced in a new way, allowing a creative, dynamic, storytelling approach that causes a response in the audience far superior to that of a static image or even a video. For example, in a study by YuMe and Nielsen, it was discovered that VR content elicited a 27% higher emotional engagement than the same content in 2D and a 17% higher emotional engagements than the same content in a 3D video. This is of significance to marketing as it shows that higher engagement can be guaranteed by the format of your content or, in other words, producing VR content will result in greater emotional engagement in your brand.
The possible benefits of using VR in marketing are not just hinted at by theoretical studies. There are brands like Marriott, Destination British Columbia and Thomas Cook that have invested in VR marketing and have produced excellent results – British Columbia had an increase of 5% in visitors after releasing their Great Bear Rainforest VR experience; Marriott 51% of people saying they wished they stayed with them more often after their VR Room Service; Thomas Cook had a 40% ROI and an 190% increase in NYC excursions after offering VR flyover of the Manhattan Skyline.
VR can also be made to include more traditional aspects of marketing such as a call to action. For example, a VR experience could include, at the end, a call to action box that the viewer could look at for a set period of time to follow the link. The technology would be able to track the user’s eye movement accordingly. This would make the marketing more direct, rather than just hoping that the content will make a lasting impression. It can actually be made so that it leads somewhere. The heightened emotional response and the immediate call to action could make VR an extremely powerful marketing tool.
It is, however, not all good news. At the moment, VR remains a fairly expensive technology that requires its own content. The content made for it cannot be very effectively transposed to other mediums in the way that, say, an image could. At the moment, VR marketing is a very expensive way to reach an audience but, as the technology develops, those costs are sure to go down.
Both the study and the examples show the power to VR to transform digital marketing. It will doubtless happen but we are a few years off seeing its true power in the field of marketing. It is currently showing itself to be very promising and, with the effort that companies are putting into its development, it is likely that the technology will become more affordable leading to it becoming a standard marketing platform in the future.