The marketing focus du jour may be on all things mobile, but the future may well be virtual. While once consigned to hardcore geeks and cheesy films like The Lawnmower Man, virtual reality has now become a legitimate hot topic. In addition to giant leaps of technological power, major companies are making significant investments in the platform. Facebook spent two-billion on the pioneering VR maker Oculus Rift. Samsung is devoting a major portion of their technology might to advancing their own VR platform for smartphones.
While these hardware developments lay the groundwork for VR, content will ultimately propel VR to the mainstream. 3D failed to take off for this very reason—the hardware worked just fine, but the dearth of content meant no one actually wanted to watch, causing the platform to flounder. With Oculus Rift now planning to bundle with Xbox games and accessories, sports leagues creating virtual experiences, and myriad other enthusiast communities creating virtual content, lack of content will not be an issue.
Assuming VR does become the next major entertainment and communication frontier that Facebook and Samsung assume it will be, how should marketers leverage virtual reality to sell more stuff? Here at BrandCulture, we’ve been thinking about the best ways companies can monetize virtual reality, extend their brands, and reach existing and new customers. Within the next two years, the most successful forays into the world of virtual will take increasingly take advantage of these three opportunities:
- Virtual brand experiences. Immersion in brand experiences in physical spaces has been a mainstay of branding for many years. By creating virtual brand experiences, companies exponentially expand their reach.
- Sneak peeks and virtual visits. Companies will begin producing previews of their products or services. What traveler needs Yelp when a virtual visit provides a more visceral experience of what a destination is actually like?
- Virtual community engagement. Companies have invested in scaling online platforms to keep customers interested and engaged. Virtual platforms will heighten and advance these tools for even more effective engagement. We look forward to the day where a customer rep will be able to demonstrate fixing an issue in virtual 3D space.
As virtual technology acquires greater verisimilitude, the question of what’s real and what’s virtual will start to converge. Smart brands will find that investing real dollars in virtual reality will leave competitors scrambling to catch up.