The hidden marketing value of virtual reality

May 2016

Does it make sense to invest in a virtual reality project which has very limited reach, isn’t it technologically immature and has exceptionally high production costs? The answer is yes. However this article outlines why you should invest in branded VR experiences right now.

Google Daydream just launch their VR gear at the end of 2016. Microsoft announced that they will launch  a 300 USD HMD early 2017. When players like these enter the VR scene with reasonable priced VR, it is time to acknowledge that consumers will follow fast.

Now is the time to test how virtual reality can reach your target group because any virtual reality experience is fuelled with attention from marketers, consumers and businesses.

In the end, marketing activities are measured in terms of cost and exposure. Even though the experience is limited to the few people you attract to your VR stand, or the few people that have VR equipment at home, the reach is far beyond your VR installation.

Storytelling in VR

In virtual reality, individuals are living the story. You are not telling a story like you do in traditional marketing but you invite individuals to have an experience connected to your brand and business.

It is highly unlikely that you will share your experience with others after seeing a TV ad or a magazine ad because you were just viewing these stories as a third person.  You were not present at the shooting when the adventurer slid down the Alps in his new skiing gear, and you were not standing in the field next to the plane when Bono and Ali Hewson had their Louis Vuitton moment. Traditional marketing gives you a sneak peek into someone else’s lifestyle and story.  Best case you can picture yourself being there, but sadly you are not living it. VR on the other hand, takes you to any world or desired place the brand owners want to create for you – you are no longer a passive receiver of a story, but living it as you were there.

In VR you are that handsome guy in the yacht, in the car, on the mountain, in the club and so on. And the experience will hopefully engage you enough to share the story with others. Even if you don’t share it with anyone, you have lived something great and you will remember it for a very long time. Maybe forever. No surprise marketers will embrace VR technology.

Use your digital channels to spread the word

A great VR experience has the same effect on people as any great real life experience; We want to tell our friends about it! We want to share. It’s a very human thing to do when you experience something amazing. The immediate raw reactions can be captured, and shared through your digital channels. But the real chatter from real people, promoting your brand experience to others in their network – that’s every marketers wet dream.

Filming people, as they step out of VR with wide eyes, you will be in the possession of the perfect viral clip. Introverted VR experiences can easily be translated into a mass market campaigns if you plan carefully. It would be a big mistake to underestimate the “wow factor” people feel when they experience great VR.

Doing this exercise, you will be in the possession of perfect material for content marketing that has the potential of high viral penetration. Introverted VR experiences can easily be translated into a mass market campaigns if you plan carefully. It would be a big mistake to underestimate the “wow factor” people feel when they experience great VR.

If you create a great experience for your target group, planning a production around the VR experience might be the boost you need to make your VR investment go viral.

Play your VR content on web

360 video or photo spheres can easily be optimised to play in web browsers. Everyone does not need to experience your content in a VR device. More and more browsers and distribution channels like YouTube and Facebook, support VR content to be displayed in a web interface. With hand held devices like smartphones and tablets, the viewer can enjoy the content that originally was created for VR without VR googles.

Did anyone have success with this approach?

Several brands have seen the potential of capitalising on the VR experience in other channels maximising the effect of their initial investments in VR. McDonalds created a Happy Google campaign distributed from only 14 restaurants in Stockholm, they reached almost 800 000 people with their web content. Play Stage Gateshead attracted more than 5 000 web sessions, and more than 2 500 for their 10-year anniversary using VR together with web.

The added value

A VR experience has additional value if you look at the production as a part of your content marketing efforts, or simply to attract PR and attention on the context of social media and other channels. The audience that have tried your VR experience may become your brands best ambassadors that share the story they experienced with others.

Take away

To use VR as part of a viral campaign might increase the cost of the total production. Marketers need to measure all their activities in reach and exposure for their target group and VR has the potential of reaching beyond what regular advertising can offer in terms of cost and exposure.