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Virtual Reality: is it for our industry?

11 October 2017

Garry Lewis, Marketing & Communications Manager, Mitsubishi Electric asks is VR technology right for our industry, or is it just a fad?

I recently attended an industry exhibition and could not help but notice the number of exhibitors using Virtual Reality. Was it to entice visitors onto their stand, or did it really engage the audience? It made me start to question, is this technology right for our industry, or is it just a fad? 

In recent years new technology, which has included Augmented Reality, Artificial Intelligence, Virtual Reality and Holograms have all come onto the scene with various degrees of success. Now it seems, especially from my own experiences and discussions with others, Virtual Reality (VR) is the one that is leading the way and starting to make an impact.

Back to basics

So what is Virtual Reality (VR,) recently described as “one of the most intruging tools to enter the landscape in the past few years*”? 

VR refers to “an artificial, computer-generated environment that uses high-end graphics, as well as audio and aural sensations, to make users feel as if they are in a real world where they can interact with – and sometimes manipulate – what’s around them.*” 

Most VR experiences are generated through the use of specialised headsets that fully immerse a person in the virtual world.

Not that long ago, VR was seen to be out-of-reach technology and was more for the gaming community. Fast forward to now and VR is becoming an out-of-the-box technology - accessible by consumers and brands alike, thanks to technological advances and the move from traditional to smartphone-powered headsets. 

One of the biggest benefits of VR marketing is that it allows people to fully immerse themselves in an experience that may be funny, emotional or intriguing. 

The possible reason given for the success of VR, is that our brains are wired to be influenced by VR experiences, which appeal to the three parts responsible for such perceptions and reaction, namely: 

1. Neocortex (higher-level thinking)
2. Limbic system (emotion, behaviour, motivation) 
3. Reptilian brain (primitive instincts) 

By giving the audience an engaging virtual experience, it can leverage these core functions to nudge them to take the next desired action. Instead of just hearing the potential, customers can see and feel the opportunities presented in a realistic, albeit virtual environment.       

VR in marketing

In this digital environment, technology like VR can help brands connect with people in a way that brings them closer together because of a shared experience.

Although the use of VR in digital marketing has not yet gone mainstream, some brands are experimenting with this technology to create a more personalised and engaging experiences for their customers.

According to Greenlight Insights, 62 percent of consumers say they would feel more engaged with a brand that sponsors a VR experience and 71 percent of consumers think a brand is forward-thinking if it uses VR.

By example, a study by ad tech firm YuMe and research firm Nielsen using neuroscience techniques found that VR elicited 27 percent higher emotional engagement than in a 2D environment and 17 percent higher than a 360° video on a flat screen. Additionally, VR viewers were more emotionally involved 34 percent longer than when they viewed the same content in 2D and 16 percent longer than when they watched it in 360° video on a flat screen.

The best part about this new technology is that it is coming at a crucial time for marketers. Marketers have found it increasingly difficult to stand out in an online environment overloaded by content. VR allows the total capture of the customer attention to show them what makes your product exceptional. In a world of distractions, VR essentially lets you reclaim a captive audience.

In our industry, VR is very much still in its early days but it is already an incredibly effective tool for marketing certain types of products.

We already have the technology available to us to simulate products/production process and predict various outcomes. VR has the potential to take that to the next level by submersing the customer into a virtual factory. Customers can experience large or complicated manufacturing process and equipment, stimulating areas of the brain traditional methods of communication cannot achieve. 

Traditionally, sales of these products have required site visits and trade shows to demonstrate how a product works but without the customer experiencing it before they buy. All of this can now potentially be accomplished with VR.

So ultimately, in an age of authentic marketing, VR offers to help people visualise how products and services will work after purchase and allow users into an exclusive environment that communicates company’s values with emotion and honesty.

Issues with VR

While VR shows an immense amount of marketing promise, before we get carried away and decide to live in a virtual world, VR currently has a number of issues. 

One significant cause for concern are the apps and content that need to be created, specifically with VR in mind. This creates a limited content tool that, whilst can be displayed on a VR headset, does not take full advantage of the capabilities that VR offers – yet. 

There is also the issue of cost – true VR headsets are still expensive and also require additional hardware to run such as a PC or game console. 

Even with cheaper alternatives to create a VR experience (such as Google Cardboard) the high expectations of a fully-capable VR headset with the price point that meets the average consumer’s desires is still not there. 

However, remember that this is only the beginning for VR as a marketing medium. With fast growth predicted in the number of VR headsets over the next few years, marketers will need to move quickly to take advantage of this new technology. 

If we look back in every previous marketing technology revolution from television to social media, the companies that established themselves early earned massive gains. The most savvy and cutting-edge marketers, who take the plunge and create the engaging VR experience, now, will have the leading edge.

So, is VR for our industry? I think at this stage it is too early to tell, it clearly has its advantages as a method to take simulation to the next level and to develop some truly impressive content to better the customer engagement experience. 

At this moment in time, how this technology is used and how accessible it is from a cost perspective to first develop the VR environment and then the supporting equipment required for customers to be able to access it, is still something that would be a capability for the few, rather than the masses.   

*From post written in Forbes by Jon Clark, Founder & CEO of Fuze SEO, a New York  New York-based digital marketing agency:

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