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Understanding virtual reality: What do brands need to know?

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8th Jul 2016
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By 2020, 52 million units of virtual reality (VR) head-mounted displays will be in use in the US, spread across enterprise and consumer ownership, according to a recent Forrester forecast.

The report indicates that this adoption will break down into four distinct product  categories: high-end VR head-mounted displays and midpriced smartphone-based headsets in both the consumer and the enterprise spaces.

In a recent blog post, Forrester analyst J.P. Gownder suggests that companies and in particular their CMOs have four choices when it comes to VR: "Most should wait and see, because there’s no business imperative to invest scarce time and resources in VR this year. But there are three other choices available to digital predators – that is, CMOs at companies that want to shape trends, not follow them - they must decide to crawl, walk, or run with VR in 2016."

So what do companies need to know about virtual reality?

An introduction

The business world is always on the lookout for new and innovative ways to engage with customers and create a sense of loyalty and connection. The latest developments in areas like digital technology and Big Data are helping to drive these innovations, and have recently led to a new type of video content that could change the customer/business relationship forever - virtual reality (VR).

The emergence of VR signals the latest advancement in motion content. This exciting technology gives brands the opportunity to engage with audiences in a new way and tell their story through the use of cutting-edge visuals viewed in headsets. However, with the technology very much in its infancy, the question remains over how businesses will use VR and whether it will really change the face of customer engagement forever.

Many technologies which were previously billed to succeed - such as 3D - did not stand the test of time, rapidly declining in popularity and use when the concept lost its initial novelty and its drawbacks were pointed out. VR, however, has been a long time coming, and the interest and opportunities it is sparking look set to secure its place in not only the worlds of gaming and entertainment, but also for digital marketing

Connecting with VR

Whilst the full capabilities of VR are yet to be seen, this new medium is already making waves in the digital content sphere. However, in order to maximise its potential, brands and storytellers will need to keep a close eye on developments and ensure they understand the technology and what it can offer in order to connect with their audience on a deeper level.

Many brands are already using digital video content to attract and engage consumers on social media platforms, as these channels offer a powerful way of sharing relevant content with their audiences. VR actually has the potential to go even further, however, by making it possible to captivate consumers via immersive, interactive experiences.

McDonald’s UK released a VR video experience which allows consumers to track their food from the farmland to the store.

As recently as May 2016, McDonald’s UK released a new VR video experience which allows consumers to track their food from the farmland to the store; providing an exciting experience whilst simultaneously emphasising its commitment to sustainable farming. Another global brand, Coca-Cola, took this to a new level when it released a video demonstrating how the cardboard packaging of 12-packs of Coke products can be cut and folded to form a free equivalent of Google Cardboard lenses. This environmentally-conscious campaign built upon its VR Santa Claus experience which offered consumers a tour of rooftops and chimneys alongside the Christmas legend himself.

This technology is clearly already a huge talking point in the media and between businesses, who are fascinated with VR and the ways in which it can be used to best effect. Of course, as with any new technology, businesses will need to consider how VR can be used to help the company achieve its objectives, so that this technology isn’t adopted ‘just for the sake of it’, without any specific aims.

For example, businesses that are thinking about introducing VR will need to consider how they can use this technology to connect with customers and tell their brand story with greater impact. Businesses may also want to use VR to support their marketing or sales teams by using compelling VR material as part of a wider content strategy.

When used in this way, VR can help brands to convey their values and principles, whilst also highlighting the interests and passions they share with their users. What businesses and marketers must understand is that the key to achieving success with this technology is in ensuring that the content being created is something that an audience will not only value, but also feel excited about exploring from within a VR headset.

The future of VR

Whilst VR is still in the early stages of commercial use, the opportunities for businesses are starting to emerge. The technology is still most prevalent in the world of video gaming, where technology, storytelling and user interaction combine to create an emotive link with the gamer. However, this same triad also presents opportunities for brands in other industries to connect with consumers.

The charity sector is already pursuing opportunities in this area, with Unicef leading the way.

The charity sector is already pursuing opportunities in this area, with Unicef leading the way using Google Cardboard and Gear VR headsets. By using VR technology, the charity is enabling its supporters to experience the life of a Syrian child, creating an emotive connection for the consumer. Given the insight and perspective that this approach can offer, sectors such as technology, education, healthcare and property will also be well-placed to use this technology.

Regardless of the industry, creating a strong connection with customers will be crucial for brands and storytellers who want to get the most out of VR. By using this technology to evolve their storytelling and take users on a new interactive journey, businesses will be able to build deep customer relationships that stand the test of time – even when more advanced devices break into the market.

Organisations that want to introduce VR into their content, marketing and engagement strategy will therefore need to be both creative and original – and consider how this technology can be used to convey their core values and stories. After all, the initial originality of VR will soon wear off, so businesses must look beyond novelty alone in order to maximise the vast potential of this technology.

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