The Next Big Thing in Marketing
In the words of the iconic British rock band Queen, “Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?” These days, with virtual reality (VR) experiences taking center stage, it can be hard to tell the difference.
VR is a computer-generated environment that allows you to experience a different reality. With a headset around your head and over your eyes, you’re transported to another place. You can hike the Grand Canyon, visit the Eiffel Tower, or embark on a secret mission as a video game hero—all while sitting comfortably on your sofa.
Virtual reality is taking the world by storm—not just in the gaming realm, but in nearly every industry, including architecture and design, education, tourism, real estate, retail, entertainment, and more. Deloitte Global expects the industry to break the $1 billion mark in 2016, and Goldman Sachs predicts the market will be worth $80 billion by 2025.
From a marketing perspective, VR is one of the newest customer engagement tools. It enables you to give your audience a first-hand experience with your product, service, location, and more—to virtually experience your brand. Companies are using VR to connect with their audiences in person by offering immersive, memorable experiences at conferences, events, retail environments, and beyond. And everybody seems to be using it—including Coca-Cola, Samsung, Volvo, Marriott, Taco Bell, The New York Times, Maybelline, Patron, and McDonald’s.
The Value of VR
So why all the fuss? VR allows companies to reach consumers one-on-one and provide them with a unique experience, tailored to their brand. Our clients are using VR at trade shows and leveraging new technologies to create branded VR experiences, with two main types emerging: set/established and reactive.
- Set experiences, such as 360-degree panoramic photos and videos, create an immersive experience inside a headset. Users can look around and feel like they are actually there. Set experiences can cost less to develop while still providing an exciting experience.
- Reactive experiences are even more customized—they’re based on the user’s movements and decisions. The user navigates through an environment using various signals, such as blinking twice or waving a hand, to perform actions.
Gamification—or applying typical elements of game playing to an experience (e.g., point scoring, competition with others)—adds excitement and interaction. Introducing these game-playing elements takes reactive experiences to the next level, actively engaging users and enabling them to compete.
At ITB Berlin, the world’s leading travel trade show, we spotted an expert incorporation of VR. To promote the Winter Olympics, South Korea’s booth featured a simulated ski jump with a leaderboard. The booth attracted visitors with its eye-catching platform, skiing equipment, and a TV screen showing what the VR users were seeing inside their goggles—giving passersby a sneak preview and generating interest. Not only did South Korea’s booth engage participants, but it also attracted more visitors to the booth.
More Than Cool Factor: Give Your VR Purpose
But here’s the thing: you can’t just set up an exciting VR experience and expect it to achieve the results you’re looking for. Sure, if you set up a pop-up VR booth near your store or at an event, you’ll likely attract attention from curious passersby who want to try it out—but how do you convert these to sales or ensure these people remember your brand when they need your services or products? To truly be effective, you must implement VR like other marketing tools—with a strategic plan in place. So the question is: how can you use VR as a tool to engage your customers, enhance your brand, and achieve results?
The key to using VR effectively is taking a holistic approach, looking at how it will fit into—and improve—the entire user experience and ultimately, support your overall brand and value proposition. VR should be one component that supports your overall customer relationship management (CRM) strategy—it shouldn’t be a stand-alone tactic. And while it’s important for the technology to work effortlessly in order for customers to be engaged and to trust your brand, it’s also critical for the surrounding area to complement and draw attention to the VR through visuals and messaging. By seamlessly incorporating VR with your other marketing components, you’ll provide an engaging, memorable user experience.
It’s All About the Data
So once you’ve decided to incorporate VR into your overall CRM approach, how do you generate leads with it? More than an attention-grabbing tactic, VR can be leveraged for big ROI, as it can help you collect information about your visitors and find out what they are interested in, which can enable you to follow up with them post-event and inform your future marketing strategy.
After your event or VR effort is over, take a good, hard look at your data—that is, examine the choices VR users made during their experiences. You should be able to gain some insights on who your audiences are and what they’re interested in based on these choices (e.g., the locations they visited or the activities they chose). You can use this aggregate information to create audience personas that help guide your next campaign or event. For example, if you’re a travel/tourism agency and 40 percent of your VR users chose New York City out of 10 destinations to virtually visit, you might consider featuring New York City in your next advertising campaign.
Plus, if you’ve captured users’ names and email addresses (which you should), you can follow up with them post-event—for instance, via emails that are tailored to the subjects, products, or services that interest them. If they visited your booth, they’re already a warm lead—and if you’ve collected information on their interests, you can craft content that speaks to those interests to engage them and, eventually, convert them to a customer.
Not Just a Game: VR Can Be a Game Changer
The bottom line is this: If you’re considering VR, take the time to thoughtfully integrate it into your overall CRM approach and ensure that it’s supporting your overall goals (not just a shiny, new technology to throw at potential customers).
- Create an immersive experience that users can customize. By giving them a unique, engaging experience, they’ll remember your brand and return when they need your products/services.
- Capture users’ contact information and follow up with leads using tailored communications based on the choices they made during their VR experience.
- Take a look at your user data as a whole and develop user personas to help determine your primary target audiences and guide your overall marketing strategy.