The Marketing Promise Of Virtual And Mixed Reality Is Now Here

Virtual reality – the long-anticipated technology promising to offer user experiences within entirely novel realms – is, at long last, arriving for the masses. With headset-based VR solutions like the Oculus Rift, HTC’s Vive, and PlayStation VR, virtual reality is beginning to meaningfully hit the mainstream and capture the public’s imagination in a big way.

At the same time, mixed reality (MR) – already the technology behind a host of innovative and successful experiential marketing efforts – is reaching new levels of immersion with Microsoft HoloLens. While the implications of these tools are wide-ranging, they are perhaps especially so in the marketing world, where they’ll introduce new methods for demonstrating the value that products and services can have in customers’ lives. Because of this, it’s important that marketers ready themselves for how best to incorporate these technologies into their arsenals of customer engagement tools, and to develop an understanding of how to realize all that they offer.

VR Can Take Customers Anywhere

The fully immersive nature of virtual reality headsets lend the devices to helping customers genuinely experience locales they could not otherwise reach, including places that do not even exist yet. With VR, a customer can walk around an environment and go anywhere they want, observing new surroundings at will with a turn of the head and as naturally as in real life.

The marketing applications for this are innumerable. Imagine going into a realtor’s office to discuss a new home purchase and being able to experience a photo-real walkthrough of a yet to be constructed home – complete with outside views. Imagine home remodelers letting customers virtually experience alterations or new additions to their homes, building trust by showing that they can deliver exactly what their customers expect. In the travel agency, airline, hotel and hospitality industries, it would be impossibly expensive to bring a customer to worldwide destinations just to sample them. But VR can bring all those places to the customer – just put on a headset and you’re on a hotel balcony in Paris, or a luau in Hawaii. In the same way, marketers can think about how to preview events for customers; imagine getting fans excited about a concert tour by letting them experience what it’s like to be on stage with their favorite artist.

Marketers will also come up with clever ways of enabling customers to experience products in action. Imagine testing out a new surfboard and riding it through the eye of a wave from inside the surf shop. Using VR, marketers can facilitate partaking in virtual experiences, helping customers preview them and select the actual experiences they are looking to buy.

Mixed Reality Enhances The World Customers Already Know

While mixed reality technology doesn’t conjure new worlds like VR, it instead adds another virtual layer to the world already in front of us. The technology uses glasses or head-mounted displays to provide full stereoscopic 3D experiences including both physical and digital objects. Existing applications include the ability to view dynamic 3D information displayed on top of real-life posters, brochures, business cards and more, often viewable through an app that augments the image seen through a smartphone’s camera.

The deeper level of this technology – which is now arriving with equipment like the headset-based Microsoft HoloLens – will make these experiences much more commonplace, and has the potential to transform the way customers experience commercial environments. The result will be customers that are much more informed. MR initial applications most likely will be in the enterprise. Employees would be able to see 3D diagrams and training information overlaid on top of real world objects. Sales teams would be better equipped in complex product demonstrations, especially those that involve physical products.

On the consumer side, MR can also boost customers’ imaginations, enabling them to experience how a new product would look inside their own house by actually making it appear in place before their eyes. Customers will be able to quickly visualize and try out different home décor, or furniture, or clothing as it appears in the mirror. The promise is that never again should a customer buy a sofa that isn’t quite right for a room (or get a sore back from rearranging the furniture yet again), because they will have already experienced the look of it all virtually before making each purchase.

For brands and marketers, the time to plan, strategize, and implement MR and VR experiences is now here. These virtual technologies are introducing new realities that make customers and marketers more capable, and will make both shopping and selling more interesting. The power and effectiveness of the experiences delivered by these tools will depend on the talent, creativity and inventiveness of the marketers who use them. But it’s important for today’s marketers to fully prepare for the industry changes these technologies will bring about, and to start dreaming up (and creating) those worlds where they would like to take customers for a visit.