June 2, 2016

The Future [Virtual] Reality of Marketing

“Once upon a time…” Surely you recognize these famous words, as they pull on your heartstrings and bring back memories of your childhood. Marketing similarly uses storylines to engage customers, and recent advances in technology are allowing these stories to reach the next level—by immersing customers in a virtual reality (VR).

Since virtual reality is still a relatively new construct, early adopters are being rewarded as customers flock to try out the latest gadgets. Sephora, for example, has combined the advances of augmented reality with face recognition technology in its mobile app, which now allows users to virtually try on different shades of makeup to inform their purchasing decisions. Users can even move their faces around to consider the products, and the app will adjust for the angle, lighting and texture of the face. VR not only provides an example of how users may look wearing the product, but can even show them how to apply it. Since the launch of this feature, the app has had over 45 million “try ons.” Other cosmetics lines are close on its heels, having seen Sephora’s immense success with this technology.

Photo courtesy of Luxury Daily
Photo courtesy of Luxury Daily

How brands choose to incorporate VR will likely vary by product or service. Gillette, for example, used it to create a virtual adventure at this year’s SXSW. This involved users wearing devices to track their perspiration as they “went” canyon swinging and slack-lining “in search of dryness.” At the same event, Topshop allowed its customers to “experience” being at a live fashion show. And Marriott Hotels has gone high tech as well, allowing travelers to “test out” rooms and destinations to decide where to go on their trips.

Photo Courtesy of eConsultancy
Photo Courtesy of eConsultancy

Besides the excitement that this technological novelty generates, there are many other advantages of using virtual reality as a marketing strategy. One of the main attractions is that this absorbing experience decreases distractions. Customers must pay full attention to the marketing message to directly interact with their virtual environment, which isn’t the case with social media channels or commercials. This ensures an entirely immersive experience that has already started to “blur the line between content and marketing,” according to Forbes contributor Steven Rosenbaum.

From a psychological perspective, virtual reality marketing has the potential to make a lasting impact on consumers. By manipulating features of the product or scenario that would previously have been impossible to alter, companies can now build storylines that resonate with and interest their customers more. Thus, the virtual experience will be hard to forget and should impact consumer behavior more powerfully than other tactics.

The future of VR marketing is still unknown. Some predict that virtual reality devices may eventually capture neural feedback, as well as track eye movements to provide companies with data regarding which aspects of their brands are most appealing to customers. Forbes predicts that VR tactics will become mainstream in allowing customers to virtually try on or try out products before purchasing them.

In summary, VR gives brands a new edge that should be further explored. There are infinite ways in which this technology can be integrated into marketing, so be on the lookout for how different brands experiment with and utilize it. Virtual reality may just be the beginning of a whole new way to experience “Once upon a time…”

This post was written by current Renegade intern Katalina Bock. You can follow her on Instagram @katalinabock.