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Remember, Pokémon Go?

The Augmented Reality app used GPS data to superimpose the pocket monsters on the user’s surroundings in real-time, thereby converting smartphones into real-life Pokémon detectors. As of 2019, the app has been downloaded more than a billion times, three years after it first entered the scene.

Now, imagine if you could capture the monsters through a wearable device over your eyes while sitting in the comfort of your living room, as opposed to seeing them through your smartphone at an arm’s length whilst outdoors?

Those monsters would still be a part of your perception of reality, but you will be fully immersed in the surroundings. That is VR for you!

Back to basics: what is VR?

Short for Virtual Reality, VR is a cutting-edge technology that has increasingly gained marketing popularity in recent times. It provides a unique experience for customers who want to experience a product in real-time.

VR uses interactive software that facilitates a three-dimensional virtual environment for the user. The technology requires a special headset that allows the user to see and hear, thereby simulating a fully immersive computer-generated environment.

While the economic impact of VR/AR is forecast to be worth $29.5 billion before the end of this year, a Statista study reports that 82 million units of VR headsets are expected to be sold in 2020 – meaning an increasing number of consumers want to experience VR.

So, how can businesses make the most of this technology?

And is VR restricted to certain kinds of industries?

Let us find out.

VR in marketing

Many people may think VR is only for gamers, as in the case of Pokémon Go. However, that is not so. In 2016, Oreo ran a fun VR marketing campaign that transported viewers into the magical land of milk rivers and Filled Cupcake-flavored Oreo biscuits, the brand’s latest creation.

It offered a 360-degree experience of the life-size Oreo biscuit portal, and viewers could use Google’s Cardboard headset to watch the video that marked Oreo’s first foray into VR.

By the end of 2017, the awareness of VR devices rose to 51%, with a mix of brands such as Facebook and Great Bear Rainforest deploying the technology in their marketing tactics to increase engagement rates.

If you are thinking of making great strides in your marketing with VR, here are some of the use cases to know about this technology:

#1. Treatment of specific illnesses

The healthcare sector has recently seen widespread use cases for VR and AR technologies. VR, specifically, is used in therapy for treating patients with phobias and anxiety.

Therapists gain a better understanding of how patients react to stressful scenarios in a simulated but safe environment by monitoring physiological reactions such as perspiration and heart rate, combined with biosensors. VR is also used in treating autism to help patients develop communication and social skills and diagnose those with visual or cognitive impairments by tracking eye movement.

Specific organizations have also created apps that use AR and VR technologies in healthcare. For instance, the VeinSeek Pro app is used to locate veins in patients while being injected.

#2. Virtual tours and real-time product demos

One of the most useful ways to convince a customer to buy a product is to allow them to use it in real-time to experience using it – see how it looks and works.

From manufacturing and packaging to interior design, businesses can use VR to give consumers a demo of the product, to understand better what goes into making it.

A great example of this is Lowe’s home improvement store, which sets up a virtual reality experience for customers who want to see how their homes would look after revamping their decor and furniture.

Using Lowe’s Holoroom, their visualization tool, customers can select home decor items, countertops, appliances, cabinetry, and room layouts to see the final result.

Similarly, IKEA also provides its customers with a VR application where they can place furniture from the store in different places in their homes to see whether it looks good or not – offering them a fully-immersive experience to envision (and realize) a room of their dreams.

Not only this – the customers can also try different fabrics, swap the wall colors, and even change the time of the day to see how their visualized home design will look in a different light!

#3. Gamified experiences

Simply put, gamification is the process of adding game-like elements to a task to encourage participation and boost engagement. Because customers today are increasingly engaging with AR and VR elements on various devices, gamification offers tremendous potential to businesses.

A classic example is McDonald’s Happy Goggles, an initiative that introduced a simplified VR experience to their kid customers. The food chain brand created a Happy Meal Box that could be folded into a VR headset.

The children could tear the box apart, punch out the eyeholes, reconfigure the shape, and slide in the lenses that came inside the Happy Meal. McDonald’s also released a skiing game designed to work with the headset.

Besides, the concept of gamification can be implemented to engage both customers and employees for inspiration, collaboration, and interaction.

For instance, it can be used in personal banking to provide loyal customers with some benefits or rewards. Milan-based bank Widiba has created a virtual banking system that enables its customers to go around the bank using VR glasses. They can not only interact with agents or monitors but also check their balances and transactions.

On the other hand, a fashion company can deploy a combination of VR and gamification to help customers view attires from a new collection from different angles, without actually trying clothes physically or coming to the brick-and-mortar store.

#4. Raising awareness

Every business operates with a mission in mind when creating products or delivering services to its customer base. Using VR technology, they can make customers a part of that mission to promote their brand or raise awareness.

A couple of years ago, Toms Shoes ran a buy one, “gift one free marketing” campaign – but with a twist. They created a VR tool where their customers who visited the store could experience a trip to Columbia, where they could see a pair of shoes being gifted to a child that benefited directly from your purchase.

The campaign was met with applause for not only creating an immersive experience for the Toms shoe customers but also because of the impact the shoe brand made to an emerging country like Columbia, where purchasing shoes is seen as more of a “luxury.”

Such a VR marketing strategy helped customers understand the product better and gave them a message of what the business stands for.

#5. Product experience

Perhaps the most innovative VR uses is the up-and-close experience of a particular product that it can offer to customers. It allows you to highlight its most unique features while also giving them the chance to completely experience using it.

Volvo used deployed VR technology to help customers that did not have easy access to their dealerships test drive their cars. This experience was provided by using the Google Cardboard VR headset.

In a similar initiative, hiking shoe brand Merrell created a highly immersive and unique experience for customers as a part of their marketing campaign for launching their hiking shoes.

The company used TrailScape, a 4D multi-sensory hiking experience, and a VR technology called Oculus Rift to create an experience for customers who involved walking on different surfaces and overcoming obstacles such as climbing a steep slope.

#6. Result demonstrations and brand

Another way businesses can use VR in marketing is by showing their potential customers the after-effects of using a product or service.

For example, Limbic Life, manufacturers of the Limbic Chair, a hands-free navigation device for VR, launched a partnership with VITALICS research.

Pairing the special chair with a Gear VR headset, the user could move their bodies intuitively, combining the chair’s ergonomic and neuroscience-based design, while virtually experiencing daily experiences with the use of their legs and hands.

The campaign aimed to make the user feel the results of using the chair, i.e., they felt happier and more active. VR technology enabled them to do that.

Similarly, in 2016, The New York Times and Google organized a large-scale giveaway of the “Google Cardboard,” a VR headset with the new NYT VR app. The headsets containing intellectual films such as “Displaced” and “Seeking Pluto’s Frigid Heart” were offered only to the NY Times’ most loyal subscribers as an incentive.

This VR marketing strategy helped establish brand loyalty for The New York Times, Google Cardboard, and the two films simultaneously and ensured an appreciated subscriber base.

Wrapping it up: present and future of VR

One of the major challenges that VR has faced in the past is the size of the headsets. This limits the user experience somehow, which is why businesses have started to move towards a more mobile and untethered device range.

Further, VR devices are being advanced with more powerful processors such as Facebook’s Oculus Quest and the much anticipated Apple’s 8K VR/AR headset. It is safe to conclude VR has come a long way in the past couple of years. Thanks to its increased ease of usability and cross-platform capabilities, consumers expect businesses to leverage this technology to create an intuitive experience.

If you are a developer interested in learning about creating VR apps, check out this Coursera course.

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  • Asavari Sharma
    Asavari is a B2B content strategist and web journalist. She is known for her strategic and authentic marketing initiatives that help SMBs across the globe drive sales and make profits. She is also an advocate of a healthy work-life balance.

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