Stuck in the middle
VR hardware has proliferated this year, popularized by devices ranging from the high-end Oculus Rift and HTC Vive to the super inexpensive Google Cardboard. However, creating a VR app or experience takes considerable investment of time and money, with no guarantees of reaching the right audience and attribution hard to demonstrate. So far, the majority of marketing campaigns that used VR have been pretty limited: virtual tours or vehicle test-drives seem to be as far as most agencies are currently ready to go.
How might VR deliver enough return on investment to make it worthwhile to businesses? Here are three ways in which it can do so – all of which simply apply VR to age-old “realities” of marketing:
- Generate huge buzz from influencers.
VR campaigns focusing on building awareness have typically proven a bit lackluster – largely because VR technology hasn’t gone mainstream just yet and there’s a need for more education around how it all works. This makes it nearly impossible for VR to generate leads at scale, no matter how immersive the experience. While this will change as more and more people adopt devices like the Rift and Cardboard, it’ll take a lot longer for VR to become as ubiquitous as images or videos.
Where VR really comes into its own is in deepening engagement and creating experiences amongst smaller audiences, including existing fans and brand advocates. In raw numbers, not many people will engage in a VR scenario such as a virtual 700-foot wall-climb, but those who do are the most likely to share the experience in extremely positive terms. Instead of targeting large audiences with generic scenarios, tailoring VR content to advocates and influencers can send brand loyalty levels skywards – and indirectly generate massive boosts in awareness when those influencers broadcast to their audiences.
- Overcome the tyranny of distance.
A large share of marketing tactics are still experiential ones: product launches, demonstration events, and conferences, to name a few. Yet experiential tactics always come with the risk that your target audience won’t be able to be physically present. VR gives marketers a means to digitize experiential tactics and make sure key prospects don’t miss out.
At the simplest level, marketers can simply show live events in virtual reality: one example is Dior’s foray into VR, which emphasises exclusivity and quality through its behind-the-scenes perspective. While bandwidth remains a hurdle, even basic uses like this become extremely powerful when combined with real-time streaming, allowing consumers to experience keynotes and network with in-person attendees at a conference even if they’re overseas for business.
More daring marketers will go further by adding interactivity. An experiential gambit like TNT’s dramatic button loses much of its impact when translated into video. That doesn’t have to happen with VR, which can convey much more of the sensory impact without prospects having to be physically at a specific place.
- Get to really know your audiences.
For some reason, most marketers have overlooked the potential of VR to transform data marketing. Combine a standard VR headset with off-the-shelf wearable devices, and you suddenly have the ability to really track how audiences react to your campaigns, from “positional” data (a wearer’s head movements while using VR) to heart rates.
The VR-wearables combination also creates a range of possibilities to apply that data to new campaigns. For example, VR content that involves users actually running or exerting themselves (particularly video-game scenarios) lends itself well to fitness apps or products.
Even with more basic scenarios like tours or test drives, VR can give marketers extremely precise insights into how audiences react to physical products and services. If a lot of VR users gravitate to a certain part of a building, or spend disproportionate time playing with a certain product feature, marketers can assume that these should be the foci of broader campaigns – or that they’re elements in need of fixing.
When included in the data marketing mix, VR adds the depth of insight and context that other data sources – like social and search – desperately need to complete the picture and connect the dots with the consumer.
All three of these VR applications are possible right now, with existing technology. If marketers are going to make VR worth its while, they’ll have to start adopting strategies that go beyond the technology hype. The best way to do this is to simply treat VR as another block in marketing’s basic pillars: influence, content, and data. Otherwise, VR’s return on investment will end up far more virtual than reality.
This article originally appeared on Mumbrella.com.au.