Insight June 22, 2017

The New Reality – Finding Opportunities in VR and AR

 

By Brandon Davis, Senior Copywriter

For decades, pop culture has dreamed about the possibility of virtual reality – and now, it’s here. We may not be hopping into virtual worlds to fight sentient programs like in Tron, but we can get a detailed look at a landmark thousands of miles away. We can strap on a headset and immerse ourselves in a world that looks and feels real. And that’s just in 2017. Over the next decade, the technology is only going to get more refined and usable.

But as fun as virtual reality (and its sibling, augmented reality) can be, what practical use does it have for marketers? Clearly there are opportunities out there, but are they worth it? And how can a brand naturally insert itself into this new form of entertainment?

Before we look at that, let’s establish some quick definitions:

Virtual reality is using technology to simulate a three-dimensional image or environment that users can experience and interact with. Put simply, it’s total immersion – virtual reality is supposed to make you feel like you’re really in a different setting.

Augmented reality is using technology to overlay our actual environment. So if you’re looking at your bedroom, you still see your bedroom – the AR just adds new details, such as words or images, that appear in the room.

Why should you care about either format?

At this point, it’s hard to imagine the tech world abandoning either technology. Virtual reality has been a major goal for the video game industry for years, and now that real applications are out there, everyone wants a piece of the action.

As for augmented reality, the rapid, widespread success of Pokémon GO last summer speaks to its potential. The game saw a pretty steep decline in use over the course of the first few months, but that speaks more to the nature of the game itself than the technology. It was the first major AR success, but it won’t be the last.

Living the story
People love stories. That’s probably one of the single greatest thoughts a marketer can latch onto. And we’re in an age where there are countless ways to hear stories. That’s the big challenge for marketers and social media – with so many stories being told, how do you make sure that YOURS is the one the audience listens to?

That’s the beauty of virtual reality. If a brand can use the technology well, their audience is no longer listening to the story. They’re living it.

One of the best examples of this is the VR experience from TOMS. Since the company’s inception, their story has always been an altruistic one. For every pair of shoes they sell, they donate a pair to someone in a third-world country. And that’s a great story to hear. But it’s an INCREDIBLE story to live.

In the VR experience, viewers travel to Peru to watch actual people receiving the shoes. They get to explore the environments, see the relief and joy on people’s faces when they try on their new shoes. And because you’re in the environment, it feels real. It feels authentic. You’re not watching TOMS deliver shoes. You’re experiencing the difference it’s making in people’s lives.

Enhancing the experience
When you’re out shopping, how often do you pull out your phone to check online prices? Or to research reviews for a product? There’s no doubt that having that information at your fingertips is a major advantage as a consumer – but what if marketers could have more control over that process?

Augmented reality has great potential for simplifying consumer buying and helping direct their decision-making. If you could allow a customer to point their phone at an item and instantly pull up information, you’re making their lives easier – but you’re also curating that information and helping inform their decisions.

At an even simpler level, you can help customers have more fun. Branded Snapchat filters are a great way to integrate your business into a fun experience and develop some goodwill for your brand.

augmented reality

The reality of your budget
Ok, so the new technology is great…but who can afford it? Is this technology only open to the top brands?

Nope.

Even if you can’t produce your own VR video, which is becoming more commonplace every day, there are ways to help your brand become a part of the process. Google Cardboard set the standard for home virtual reality devices. It took a technology that seemed advanced, overpriced, and out of reach, and it placed it right into the hands of the everyday consumer.

And you can offer that same technology, wrapped in your branding, to your customers for a relatively low cost. Google, and third-party companies who’ve re-purposed the cardboard design, allow you to create your own VR headset for customers.

Augmented reality is as simple as creating an app. The opportunities with AR are huge ­­– you just need to identify what kind of information your audience wants, and what kind of environments they may want to interact with your company.

So what are the downsides?
As much potential as VR and AR have, they still face some limitations. At this point, the major hurdle is physical convenience. Exploring a new world is amazing. Strapping a visor on your head isn’t. Technology developers are constantly working to find a way to create the immersive experiences customers love without the frustration of putting something uncomfortable on your body. It’s been the major point of conflict for Google Glass since the technology was first announced, and the debate isn’t going anywhere.

The reality is, you still have your work cut out for you
Even with the dilemma of conquering the physical aspects of VR and AR, the technology is worth pursuing. If you’re able to create an experience that’s worth it, people will wear a headset. If you’re able to provide easily accessible information, they’ll pull out their phone.

The biggest question for marketers is: Can we create those experiences? Can we give people a reality worth visiting?

VR and AR are exciting, not just because they’re new technology. They’re exciting, because they’re giving us, as marketers, the potential to take what we love and multiply it by 1,000,000.

People love stories. And marketers have always strived to tell the best stories. But now, we aren’t just story-tellers. We’re world-builders. And with this new technology, we have the opportunity to make consumers a part of our stories like never before.