Ready for an alternate reality, right in front of your eyes? Whether or not you are, it’s a-comin’.
While some people may still regard virtual reality as a recurring joke from Futurama (see here and here), research projects that virtual reality device sales will reach 14 million worldwide in 2016, and according to the tech industry, 2016 is the year that the virtual reality craze will come to a head.
Lots of major companies (such as Sony, Samsung, HTC, and the Facebook-owned Oculus) have been on board with VR for awhile now, partnering up or exploring options on their own, and the possibilities are beginning to seem endless.
Virtual reality gear is going to be big. Teslasuits are wireless suits which use integrated electro muscular stimulation to allow users to feel sensations in a virtual world. And eventually, you’ll be able to get an Oculus Rift, one of the most exciting and groundbreaking VR systems created to date. Or how about an HTC Vive, which allows the user complete freedom to roam around while wearing it? And Samsung Gear, anyone? This headset was one of the pioneers of VR devices.
Virtual reality will have—and already has had—a huge effect on the Internet. In fact, Facebook has already acquired Oculus for $2 billion. People are able to virtually interact, shop, message, and play games online, whether it’s on their smartphones, tablets, laptops, or TVs.
Typically, virtual reality has mainly been utilized for the gaming industry. Virtual reality devices—which consist mostly of headsets—use optics and head tracking to put users directly inside three-dimensional environments in which they’re surrounded by the imaginary world and are able to look in all directions and feel as though they’re really in this new place.
This technology has been around for a while but is just now really coming into bloom.
The Olympics this year in Rio will be partially filmed in virtual reality, and in November 2015, Google announced that every video on YouTube can now be viewed in virtual reality. Nokia has introduced a 360-degree virtual reality camera, and Samsung has teamed up with Six Flags to create virtual reality roller coasters. Sony will be releasing a WR headset, and Google introduced Google Cardboard. Dozens of virtual reality devices are scheduled to launch in the next couple years, and Deloitte Global predicts that virtual reality will have its first billion dollar year in 2016.
With 2016—the Year of Virtual Reality—here in full swing, many eyes are opening to other avenues that can benefit from virtual reality.
“It has to go beyond gaming,” says HTC marketing chief, Jeff Gattis.
He is 100% right.
Doctors can use virtual reality to help them assess diagnosis and treatment for patients—or practice procedures before the event. Virtual reality can help students learn in ways educators had never dreamed, and no doubt VR movies are just around the corner. People are able to shop for homes in a whole new way, virtual sports stadiums and music concerts are on the horizon, and VR space exploration already exists. It’s being incorporated into legal trials, with juries now being able to “live” the crime scene in order to help them evaluate cases. Virtual reality can even go as far as to help change and save lives.
Obviously, along with all this, a world of possibilities opens up for the world of digital marketing. A veil has been lifted off of an entirely new way of advertising messages and brand awareness for companies.
Brochures can only go so far. Commercials are limited. Catalogues are flat. And even the most sophisticated of websites can’t compare to the world of virtual reality.
With VR, consumers can experience a product without actually being physically near it, whether it’s a virtual tour around a restaurant, a test drive from Volvo, a vacation destination, or a well-marketed product campaign, such as this one from Patrón or this one from Merrell for a hiking shoe. And who knew travelling through your refrigerator could be so entertaining? Thanks, Boursin and Oculus!
Experts believe that this concept of a glorified “try it before you buy” will not only work, but will become a revolution in the world of marketing.
“Visualizing products using immersion is going to give people a different way of thinking about them,” says Brian Blau, Gartner Group analyst. “It’s going to allow for different brand experiences.”
The truth is, virtual reality just does something to your brain, whether you’re blasé about the whole experience or not. My bet is, whatever you go through with virtual reality will stick with you. You’ll remember that hotel tour, that crime scene, that test drive, that roller coaster.
Perhaps it’s because virtual reality is such an all-encompassing experience altogether. Most of the time, you’re putting on a helmet or a headset, covering your eyes and ears, and submerging yourself inside a whole new world. You’re completely enveloped, meaning you’re giving yourself over to it totally, no matter if it’s even for just a few seconds. With virtual reality, it’s a step further than just looking at a screen. You’re basically inside the screen. Even simply surfing the Internet is a whole new experience with virtual reality.
Your senses are all wrapped up in whatever the virtual reality is selling you in that moment.
The beauty for companies is that with virtual reality, they can totally control the consumer experience. This is an absolute dream for branding. When designing the virtual world that reflects your business, toss in your colors, your mascot, your aesthetic. Virtual reality allows for complete branding and message control—and that is valuable. Very, very valuable.
Just look at what the Internet did for the world and consumerism. Virtual reality is quickly becoming a heavy addition to that.
Potential customers can be instantly hooked by the lure of a remote, private destination, a seat in a luxury auto, or an intriguing journey through a product’s history. These alternate worlds have the ability to pull consumers right into the face of a product and keep them there. Virtual reality can perform a mental trick on consumers, creating an environment that delights them.
Instead of reading about those gorgeous huts in Bora Bora or simply checking out a few photos online of them, you’ll soon be able to almost touch them. While virtual reality will never replace actual vacations or that feeling of truly driving in an expensive vehicle, the VR thing is no joke. It may sound like the stuff sci-fi is made of, but it’s very real, very profitable, and very much happening now. It’s becoming less and less The Matrix and more and more everyday life. It’s introducing everyone to a new perspective on the world, and in the process people are looking at brands and products in a new way, with fresh eyes and an open mind.
So, is virtual reality marketing already here? Definitely. It’s just a matter of time before it’s as common to us as smart phones and laptops.
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