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By MARTINA ORI
Virtual reality is the use of computer technology to create a three-dimensional, simulated environment.
To experience virtual reality, people no longer look at a flat screen in front of them, but they are immersed in 3D worlds that they can access via a dedicated virtual reality device, such as a VR-compatible smartphone and a headset.
Virtual reality places people inside an immersive experience, simulating their physical presence in an environment. People feel they really are in the place and they can interact with the environment as if they were in a physical space.
The first and main application of virtual reality so far has been games. Non-gaming use of virtual reality is still considered an experimental technology, and it is mainly limited to certain sectors such as the military, health care and education.
Virtual reality will however soon enter the business world, changing in particular the way companies do sales and marketing and engage with their customers.
Brands are increasingly looking for new, immersive ways to engage their customers. Virtual reality can be a great tool for that. VR can help companies communicate with customers and partners as in real life, with the flexibility and accessibility of online communication. VR provides for more direct interaction between businesses and customers.
According to marketing company, GreenlightVR, 71 percent of all the interviewees define a brand that uses VR as “forward-thinking and modern,” and more than 50 percent say they are more likely to purchase from a brand that uses VR.
The vast majority of the people using VR for the first time express positive feelings about it, describing their experience as “amazing,” “exciting” and “surprising.” People also said they felt “happy” and “energetic.”
Some companies have recently started using VR for their marketing. Last December, Coca-Cola created a Christmas advertising campaign in VR. Marriott now provides in-room virtual reality experiences as a way to showcase suites to potential customers. Volvo has created a virtual reality driving experience, and Audi gives potential customers the ability to design in VR their dream car by choosing colors, interiors and more.
However, currently virtual reality has some limitations in terms of accessibility. Not everyone has a VR-compatible smartphone or a VR headset yet. Virtual reality devices are still expensive and not so easy to use.
For these reasons, some companies have started offering VR experiences for the people visiting their retail stores so they can directly provide clients with the VR headsets required for the immersive experience. Tommy Hilfiger, Ikea, Lowe’s, Toms and North Face, just to name a few, are examples of companies that have introduced virtual reality in their stores.
In the business world, VR has mainly been used in experimental mode as a way for companies to be featured in the news, raise brand awareness and be ahead of competitors in this race to VR.
However, as virtual reality becomes more accessible, it will soon start to be an important differentiator for companies as an effective marketing channel. Virtual reality has one feature that no other medium has: the ability to create the feeling of presence.
Marketing is the ability to deliver a message and properly convey the corporate voice through a variety of channels, such as television, printed magazines, online advertising, websites and social media presence.
Every means of communication, every medium, has its own “grammar” that allows brands to consistently convey a given message through the different channels. This helps companies create a well-rounded brand experience.
Because of the uniqueness of virtual reality, a new “language” of VR communication will also be created. Marshall McLuhan’s theory that “the medium is the message” is very important for content development in virtual reality. The way content is delivered changes how the content is received. This is what we have experienced with every new technology innovation and social media so far, from printed media to television and social media.
The ability to create “presence” for the first time through virtual reality has effects on cognition, and will change people’s way of thinking, including their emotional involvement with a content or brand.
It makes people feel certain emotions that lead them to take certain actions. VR is a compelling way to create empathy between a brand and the people.
A new “grammar” of communication, however, also means that professionals will need to learn how to make the most of the power of virtual reality and create compelling stories in VR. This is going to be an important part of the process as virtual reality is set to change completely the way businesses interact with their customers.
Martina Ori is vice president of marketing for Hyperfair, a virtual reality company based in San Francisco. She can be reached at [email protected]