Will Virtual Reality Revolutionise Online Marketing?

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In continually reaching and surpassing daring frontiers – such as incredible developments in augmented and virtual reality – mankind continues to innovatively unlock astounding and seemingly boundless possibilities!  Consumers, experts and industries alike are asking, “Will virtual reality revolutionise online marketing?”  …Well, consider the mind-blowing fact that today a user can very affordably utilise a Smartphone in a VR headset, for a host of related functions – this is utterly transformational.  Until recently this was regarded by many as being unreachable in the foreseeable future.  For many analysts today, the question has changed to, “How will virtual reality revolutionise online marketing?” Greg Baleson, CEO – Ignition Marketing

Not going to Markex this year?

Indeed, Virtual Reality, is now making its presence felt like never before and this informative read has been compiled to specifically address this important subject.

Source: http://3dphotographers.com/virtual-reality-south-africa/
Source: http://3dphotographers.com/virtual-reality-south-africa/

VR refers to the convincing and immersive presentation of an emulated, simulated or artificial environment to users, as a form of reality.  The user is made to believe that this “virtual” setting is in fact real and such technology has found its usefulness traditionally in places such as the gaming world.

Many Analysts are convinced that current groundbreaking developments in this field speak to the next wave of technological revolution that will significantly impact Online Marketing – indefinitely.  Some critics view VR, nonetheless, with caution, as a passing fad that will shortly give way to the next technological breakthrough.

As mentioned, this review unpacks this topical area, letting you know what to expect as a business and how to prepare.

The Progression of Virtual Reality

To truly understand the relevance of VR and its impact on digital marketing, one must first understand its origination and progression.

To quickly dispel any misconception, the essence of VR is not new, but has somewhat ‘prehistoric’ roots dating back to the 1800’s – believe it or not.  The term however was more popularised or conceptualised in the 1980’s.  Of-course the technology has unprecedentedly advanced such that we would scarcely recognise or credit some of the earlier attempts.  Many of these were unfortunately dismal attempts:  Sega’a VR glasses in 1993 and Nitendo’s Virtual Boy in 1995 were among the failed projects, that weren’t able to harness the power of VR effectively due to various limitations.  Still as modern endeavour would have it, every so-called failure has somehow increased our curiosity and spurned on more and more research, development – and success!

Fastforward to the 21st Century, we understand why analysts are predicting that VR is now ready for mainstream application.  Computer technology has rapidly advanced over the first 15 years of the new millennium, increasing in sophistication with costs steadily declining.  VR devices have become smaller with the emergence of the Smartphone and its HD displays, 3D graphics capabilities and much more.  Consumer VR is still driven forward in the gaming industry nevertheless.

Companies such as Google have released interim VR products like Google Cardboard, an easy-to-use headset that’s facilitated by a Smartphone.  Products such as Samsung’s Galaxy Gear take this further, and the mass produced item includes intelligent features such as gesture control.  Developer versions of consumer items have also been on the shelves for several years, so there has been a somewhat consistent flow of software projects, creating a platform for the market entry of modern virtual reality.

It is clear that this is a key year for the VR industry among other anticipated 2016 trends.  Consumer devices such as the revolutionary Oculus Rift are starting to finally answer the failed promises of VR in 1990s.  This was purchased by Facebook in 2014 for an astounding $2Billion which in itself virtually (pun intended) shows the increasing confidence in VR technology and its future potential.

Megabrands such as HTC, Sony and Microsoft are among those competing with VR products, and this is paving the way for so many other enterprises.

Core Impact of Virtual Reality on Marketing

VR as a mainstream force could soon transform the marketing world in significant ways for all stakeholders including marketing companies, end-users and global industries.  Below is a snapshot of 25 noteworthy commercial VR use cases:

virtual reality use cases and their innovators
Source: http://www.eonreality.com/news/25-virtual-reality-use-cases-and-their-leading-innovators/

Next we then look at the primary influences worth paying close attention to regarding VR’s impact on marketing:

VR and Everyday Activities

By going mainstream we imply that VR products and technology have truly taken off as a global phenomenon.  Much like the mobile phone today, which is in the hands of all kinds of users and demographics – and in many cases multiple devices are owned plus there is widespread understanding of the technology, devices, software, applications and foreseeable concepts.  As an immersive experience, VR will modify our working and personal lives.  It will influence how we learn, work and entertain ourselves.

Online games will take to a new dimension, learning will become more practical, not only academically but also when it comes to learning activities like sports.  Training simulators will not be exclusive to pilots and astronauts, but will open up to other industries and professions where individuals can ‘cut their teeth’ using virtual resources.  For example, also consider the industry and consumer benefits of something like “virtual travel”.  Power-brands like Marriot Hotel are already using VR postcards to enable guests to visit far and wide destinations from their hotel rooms using Samsung Gear technology.

Take a look at the infographic below, showing survey results looking into how people expect VR to influence their buying decisions.  Basically a dominant 57% see VR as being a strong force.

Bar graph of VR's impact on buying decisions
Source: http://www.socialmediatoday.com/technology-data/adhutchinson/2015-06-13/how-virtual-reality-set-transform-shopping-experience
Visual Experience

Visual marketing has depicted an unmistakable upswing in recent years.  More than high definition graphic displays, however, VR takes visual transmission to a whole new level.  This includes popularity, quality, features and interactivity of live-streaming functionality.  This is exacerbated by confidence shown by social platforms, including Facebook’s launch of Facebook Live.  This means consumers will anticipate visual experiences in all the media they interact with, and this could see a decline in purely non-visual content.

Immersion

The immersive allure of VR lies at its heart and this intrinsic attribute is not surprisingly one of the main, if not the main drawcard of the technology.  When it comes to VR, naturally we expect 360 degree surroundings – which revolutionises the production, delivery and consumption of various content such as interviews, tutorials, training, presentations, tours etc.  Think of it this way rather than staging an experience such as a movie, you need to frame it for the user in the experience.  This opens up to an incredibly immersive, personalised experience with higher forms of engagement or interactivity.

Social Integration

As we know, the pioneering Oculus Rift is owned by social giant Facebook.  It is therefore expected that the social network would be taking appropriate measures to provide more forms of relevant content for VR users.  Undoubtedly, other social apps will seek to capitalise on VR trends, which will influence how people interact socially in general.  Direct live-streaming videos will be on the rise, as will engagement with media from friends and enterprises in interesting and immersive ways.

Interactivity

Enhancement in levels of interactivity will no doubt be a major distinguishing factor for VR technology for years to come.  This will determine its relevance on an increasing number of applications and in a host of industries and sectors.  The VR trend itself, by almost brining science-fiction to life, will encourage users to demand higher and higher levels of interactivity and convenience too.  This means more than a simple stroll-through the layout of a three dimensional setting and will incorporate the likes of simulated interactions.

Feedback Data

As the complexity and capabilities of VR increase, so too will the ability to seamlessly gather more relevant and informative user feedback.  It’s not farfetched that the industry may give way to devices that detect neural activity and involuntary facial reactions in the not too distant future.

Find out how VR can help your business

Main Obstacles to VR

As with anything, even VR – with all its world-transforming potential – has barriers that threaten its progress.
Next we explore some of these obstacles.

Sophistication

Despite the excitement and thrill that accompany VR, modern-day VR as we understand it is nonetheless in its early stages.  There is remarkably little data on user processes, existing user experiences, and an understanding on what constitutes the best or ideal experience.  Furthermore, the physical setup, graphics capabilities and immersion elements are very much in their infancy level.  It is not at all that they are unimpressive, but the current level does not guarantee that VR is ready to launch a complete new generation of marketing tactics and solutions.

User adoption

History has generally shown that despite usefulness, impressiveness or core relevance of a new technology – the rate of user adoption will always be slow or cautious.  Consider the fact that the entire market of consumers isn’t all rushing out at once to buy the latest VR devices.  People are expressing interest, yes; dabbling perhaps, and in all likelihood after a few generations of devices (post bug-fixes and adequate initial user-reviews) may then consider investing in VR devices.  This restricts the prospective audience of VR-directed marketing approaches, meaning that fewer companies will be keen on developing VR-ready marketing material right now.  This also impacts on the ultimate pace of VR development as a whole.

Data management

At this stage of the ‘game’ there isn’t plenty of academic and research related data to fully predict user responses to specific advertising campaigns and VR marketing strategies.  While the anticipation is always a highly optimistic one, we have to consider:

  • What happens if the market doesn’t like the concept or individual campaign?
  • Could such as shortfall be cataclysmic to a brand in the hugely immersive VR world?

Should Businesses Start Preparing?

While there are a handful of obstacles than can impede the growth and entrance of VR into mainstream, our view (like most industry experts) is that VR will no doubt take off and make a marked impact on the way we live, interact, engage.  It will transform online marketing as users will have growing expectations of increasing immersion, engagement and so on – when it comes to entertainment, industry and essentially personal and commercial transmission of content.

However, while we are buckling down and getting ready for VR takeoff, it may be a slightly slower start as the world in the proverbial sense “looks before it touches”, “tastes before it eats”.  But ultimately we believe it is only a matter of time and like any good steward as the CEO or driving force of your business or its marketing operations, being ready for transformation is imperative.

Furthermore, while you may not embark on full-scale VR ready marketing campaigns and totally shelve traditional online and offline strategies – it may be in your interest to have a ready-to-execute VR strategy formulated or conceptualised ready for tweaking and rollout when needed (maybe shortly, but likely in the not too distant future).  Indeed very soon VR online marketing may be the way most embraced by the masses.

Final word – be edified, be prepared, be adaptable and be well-advised.  Keep a close eye on VR developments and upcoming trends over the next year and next few years, then embark on necessary steps according to how your audience is expected to react.

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