How to make VR worth your marketing budget

Karen Coleman looks at three ways VR can deliver a solid return on investment and looks at why many marketers have overlooked its potential to transform data marketing.

Any campaign with a virtual reality element immediately receives huge hype in marketing circles. But does VR really warrant a share of your marketing budget?

The hardware’s certainly cheap, popularised by devices ranging from the relatively affordable Oculus Rift to the super cheap Google Cardboard (which we just tried out at our own offices using the VRSE app – which is worth the download if you haven’t already seen it).

However, creating a VR app or experience takes considerable investment of time and money, with no guarantees of reaching the right audience and attribution hard to demonstrate.

And so far, the majority of marketing campaigns using VR have been pretty limited: virtual tours or vehicle test-drives seem to be as far as most agencies are currently ready to go.

How might VR deliver enough return on investment to make it worthwhile to businesses?

Here are three ways in which it can do so – all of which simply apply VR to age-old ‘realities’ of marketing:

  1. OculusRift1Generate huge buzz from influencers

VR campaigns focusing on building awareness have typically proven a bit lacklustre, largely because VR technology hasn’t gone mainstream just yet and there’s a need for more education around how it all works.

This makes it nearly impossible for VR to generate leads at scale, no matter how immersive the experience. While this will change as more people adopt devices like the Rift and Cardboard, it’ll take a lot longer for VR to become as ubiquitous as images or videos.

Where VR really comes into its own is in deepening engagement and creating experiences amongst smaller audiences – including existing fans and brand advocates.

game of thrones ice wall VR Acend The Wall

The Game of Thrones Oculus Rift 700 foot wall climb

In raw numbers, not many people will take up a VR scenario like a virtual 700-foot wall-climb, but those who do are also the most likely to share the experience in extremely positive terms.

Instead of targeting large audiences with generic scenarios, tailoring VR content to advocates and influencers can send brand loyalty levels skywards – and indirectly generate massive boosts in awareness when those influencers broadcast to their audiences.

  1. Overcome the tyranny of distance

A large share of marketing tactics are still experiential – product launches, demonstration events, and conferences, to name a few. Yet experiential tactics always come with the risk that your target audience won’t be able to be physically present. VR gives marketers a means to digitise experiential tactics and make sure key prospects don’t miss out.

christian dior VR headsetAt the simplest level, marketers can simply show live events in virtual reality: take for example Dior’s foray into VR, which emphasises exclusivity and quality through its behind-the-scenes perspective.

While bandwidth remains a hurdle, even basic uses such as this become extremely powerful when combined with real-time streaming – allowing customers to experience keynotes and network with in-person attendees at a conference even if they’re overseas for business, for example.

big+red+button+marketing+dublin+TNTMore daring marketers will go further by adding interactivity. An experiential gambit like TNT’s dramatic button loses much of its impact when translated into video.

That doesn’t have to happen with VR, which can convey much more of the sensory impact without prospects having to be physically at a specific place.

  1. Get to really know your audiences

For some reason, most marketers have overlooked the potential of VR to transform data marketing.

Combine a standard VR headset with off-the-shelf wearable devices and you suddenly have the ability to really track how audiences react to your campaigns, from ‘positional’ data (a wearer’s head movements while using VR) to heart rates.

The VR-wearables combination also creates a range of possibilities to apply that data to new campaigns. For example, VR content which involves the user actually running or exerting themselves (particularly video-game scenarios) lends itself well to fitness apps or products.

Even with more basic scenarios like tours or test-drives, VR can give marketers extremely precise insight into how audiences react to physical products and services.

If a lot of VR users gravitate to a certain part of a building or spend disproportionate time playing with a certain product feature, marketers can assume that these should be the foci of broader campaigns – or that they’re elements in need of fixing.

When included in the data marketing mix, VR adds the depth of insight and context that other data sources – like social and search – desperately need to complete the picture and connect the dots with the customer.

All three of these VR applications are possible right now, with existing technology.

If marketers are going to make VR worth their while, they’ll have to start adopting strategies that go beyond the technology hype.

The best way to do this is to simply treat VR as another block in marketing’s basic pillars: influence, content, and data. Otherwise, VR’s return on investment will end up far more virtual than reality.

Karen Coleman is vice president of Integrated Marketing, ANZ, at Text100


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