Virtual Reality: A Very Real Opportunity for Marketers.

By Jim Lansbury and Kurt Roberts

It’s already here.

Once relegated to geeky sci-fi fantasy, or worse yet Second Life, Virtual Reality is becoming a reality for more and more marketers every day. Brands like Marriott, Audi and GE have recently embraced it and launched impressive experiences. And while still in its infancy, widespread adoption is expected in as little as three years. In fact, data from CCS Insight reveals that the market for mobile augmented and virtual reality devices will reach $4 billion by 2018. That’s a huge opportunity for brands to connect with consumers in meaningful and unexpected ways. So if you haven’t already, the time is now to begin developing and implementing your VR strategy, and here are some words to the wise.

It doesn’t have to be expensive.

True 4D experiences like Marriott’s Teleporter Station involve expensive custom technology — which includes releasing scents to mimic the smell of salty beach air and ground-shaking rumbles to simulate traveling through a wormhole — still require big production budgets and are best suited for special installations. However, off-the-shelf VR hardware is suddenly cheap and portable. For example,Samsung’s Gear VR headset that works with a Galaxy 6 or Galaxy Note 4 smartphone running Oculus software is just $199.

What’s more, you can create a scalable branded experience for much less if you focus on mobile-enabled VR. Nearly every smartphone manufactured today is VR-enabled by virtue of its screen resolution and processing power, so every smartphone user already has a set of virtual worlds at their fingertips. Pair it with an inexpensive Google Glass Cardboard headset, for about $24 a pop, and you can reach a targeted audience of customers using their own smartphones to power a custom-branded VR experience. More than one million of these cardboard devices are already in circulation, according to Google reps.

It’s not right for every category, but perfect for some.

The danger of adapting any new technology is that it can come off as a gimmick if it’s not true to your brand and your audience. So think carefully about whether an immersive experience really makes sense, and then deliver something that truly adds value. For example, walking the virtual aisles of a virtual supermarket wouldn’t be a big thrill, unless it shows me how to cut 15 minutes off my shopping trip, gives tips on cooking the ingredients on my list and unlocks some exclusive deals.

Here are the categories where we feel VR offers the greatest opportunity.

Retail

Retail is such a sensory, personalized experience that the possibilities for VR are endless. Fashion brands can allow users to assemble virtual looks, and try things on using avatars. At the Sundance Film Festival this year, outdoor apparel brand Merrell set up an experience where users could go trekking up and across treacherous mountainsides while wearing their hiking shoes. Imagine the opportunities for home improvement companies or furniture manufacturers to allow users to view items within the context of their own home. Or for sports, entertainment and other lifestyle brands to create experiences that drive purchase intent and reward loyalty.

Travel and Hospitality

At a time when more and more travelers are craving unique experiences, especially those much sought-after millennials, VR is a game changer. The closer you can get someone to experiencing a destination, the more excited they get about going there. Companies like Qantas Airways, DestinationBC in Canada and Thomas Cook Group, a U.K.-based tour operator, have begun using 360-degree “excursion” videos that allow travelers to fly over the pyramids or take a boat ride in a national park before ever arriving.

Automotive

Checking out cars at the dealership is often frustrating: you’re at the mercy of the inventory on the lot. But Audi makes it possible to peruse every possible variant of the car you’re interested in, with its newvirtual dealership experience getting the consumer one step closer to signing on the dotted line.

Toyota used virtual reality as part of its TeenDrive365 campaign to educate teenagers and parents about distracted driving. The distracted driving simulator included sensors that translated what the user was doing with the pedals or steering wheel into the simulation, and included built-in distractions like chatty friends in the backseat, showing that VR can build positive awareness as well as drive sales.

After market automotive retailers are getting in on the action, too.

TRW Automotive Aftermarket joined the game Car Mechanic Simulator 2015 by placing its brand and products within the virtual environment. In the game, players manage their own car workshop, replicating what usually happens in the real world. Car repairs and workshop expansion are the main goals to achieve. This move has allowed TRW to promote both its brake pads, making them visible in the game, and also overall brand awareness, thanks to gamers who post their own clips on YouTube.

Clearly, VR has arrived and forward-thinking brands should jump on board before it jumps the proverbial shark. (Now that would be a great VR experience). Are you ready? Let us know in the comments.

(Originally posted on RP3 Agency blog.)

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