Virtual reality is a growing industry, and it’s expected to become a $30 billion market by 2020. Many companies, including Ikea, McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, and The New York Times have already taken advantage of the technology.
Krispy Kreme, in particular, has worked hard to integrate VR into its marketing strategy by creating a 360-degree virtual reality film called “Journey to Glazetopia,” — an interesting gamble that the company is hoping will pay off big.
There’s a good reason why so many companies are beginning to implement VR. The power of being fully immersed in an experience can create a strong emotional bond between the viewer and the brand. Remember when you used to take trips to the planetarium as a kid and felt like you were actually in space when staring up at the stars? It’s an experience that’s hard to forget.
Technology allows us to take those kinds of experiences anywhere, to use anytime. Brands that harness this power effectively can build emotional connections with customers that they will carry with them forever.
Brands need to embrace VR as a transformative way to hook their customers. Entangling the customer into a universe controlled by them but powered by a brand could change the way a customer feels about a brand.
Take the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism, for example. When I worked on its website years ago, the goal was to build an experience that would move customers to book a trip. To do that, we built an immersive full-screen web experience that allowed people to virtually tour the different islands.
Today with VR technology, we can take that experience to the next level, allowing someone to actually feel like he’s swimming with the pigs in Exuma or looking at the Glass Window Bridge. This type of engagement can take a customer from simple awareness all the way to the decision stage in an instant.
Furthermore, it’s not just companies that can benefit from VR to sell a product or service; VR content can also help nonprofit organizations raise awareness about the plight of those they’re trying to help.
For example, Ai Weiwei traveled to areas of the world experiencing a refugee crisis and documented the journey on Instagram. The photos he took were powerful and gut-wrenching, helping others see human crisis in a social space that is normally filled with beauty and fun.
If this experience had been captured using VR, viewers would feel as if they were part of a rescue mission, helping to feed, clothe, and care for refugees. The bond between the viewer and the cause would be incredible, and it would help enlighten and educate others.
VR creates universal empathy. Imagine putting on a headset and being able to see the world as a person of a different gender, race, or ethnicity. You’d be able to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes and see how that person is treated on a daily basis.
Because of these and similar opportunities, VR has the capability to change how people think about a wide variety of situations — both in business and life in general — which is an invaluable marketing strategy.
When implementing VR in the customer journey, the stages that can benefit the most from it are passive awareness, consideration, onboarding, and nurturing. At each of these stages, VR can help influence or address needs and pain points.
In the awareness stage, for example, VR can enhance your senses and begin the bond with a brand or cause. During consideration, VR gives consumers the ability to try out a product or service, whether it’s test-driving a vehicle or traveling around the world.
Onboarding also helps a person get a better understanding of how to use a new product or get the most out of a service because it feels as if someone is taking the consumer through each step. VR makes the scenario feel lifelike, creating a special bond between consumer and brand.
When considering how to take advantage of the many benefits of VR, there are a few questions you should ask yourself:
Fully immersive, 360-degree experiences can add a layer of visibility and emotion, allowing viewers to feel immersed in the action.
VR content comes in many forms, as well. If the user is interacting with a video through a smartphone, he can move the device to move the picture in the video. On a computer, the viewer can move simply by dragging the picture with the mouse. And with a VR headset, the image moves as the viewer moves his head.
Producing VR content can be expensive, so it’s important to consider whether the experience will change the way consumers think of your product or service and whether it can give them something they can’t get without purchasing it.
VR content should create an emotionally driven experience that connects with someone on a level he can’t even comprehend, meeting his needs in ways beyond physical engagement.
Many VR experiences come off as gimmicky, so the key to standing out is to make it personal. Understand where your customers are in the engagement journey, and meet them there. This is very similar to the philosophy of omnichannel customer experience, which is when, for example, a customer adds an item to her online shopping cart on her desktop computer and then sees that same item in her cart on her smartphone.
When you focus on a customer’s digital journey and relate it to your brand, you’re creating an emotional bond that sticks in the user’s mind for a long time.
The most significant benefit of VR technology is the ability to try something without jumping through major hoops. Visiting a far-off country, for example, can be expensive in real life, but it’s incredibly convenient with VR.
Many brands use games as a way to both engage customers and provide value. For example, some restaurants offer branded arcades where customers earn points to redeem for discounts. The key is to establish an end result that offers genuine, tangible value, leaving customers feeling the experience was worthwhile, rather than a waste of time.
VR is an incredibly powerful technology, and more companies are starting to take advantage of it. It allows consumers to see the world from a different perspective from the comfort of their homes, creating a lasting bond between customers and brands that viewers won’t soon forget.
Nic Climer is the executive creative director for RAPP and an accomplished creative leader with more than 20 years of traditional and digital experience.