How to use Virtual + Augmented Reality for Marketing, a tiered approach

Alan Smithson The Blog, Thought Leadership

2016 was the year virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR) hit the world stage in a big way. With the commercial launch of Facebook’s Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, Sony Playstation and Microsoft Hololens, brands began dipping their toes in the waters testing to see how best to use this revolutionary new medium. From the invention of the printing press through radio, television, internet and mobile, brand managers and CMO’s have always entered new technology slowly sometimes taking years to adopt, but it feels like now the world of technology is moving at such a pace that if you blink you might miss out on some incredible opportunities that your competition is certainly thinking about.

So the question is simple, ‘how can I use VR/AR right now without compromising my budget while proving that it is an effective communication medium’?

After working with over 50 different brands and organizations using only VR/AR, we have noticed a pattern of acceptance and experimentation that will both mitigate the risk while keeping your organization ahead of the technology curve to be seen as an industry leader. The natural progression thus far has unfolded like this.

Showcasing Virtual Reality at an internal meeting or event

By using off the shelf content, brands can get their employees excited about VR/AR without breaking the bank and without investing in custom content which is still pretty expensive. This also gives brand managers the opportunity to get buy-in from senior management and this goes a long way when developing a new VR/AR concept for external use. (ex. PwC Partners Conference, Telus Sales meeting)

Using VR at a trade show or event

VR is so new that brands still have the ability to wow consumers and customers simply by having the technology available for people to try. Finding content that is engaging and relevant is an interesting challenge since most brands at this stage are not ready to spend $100K on a custom experience yet. Knowing what games and experiences are available and then knowing how to use the technology to maximize throughput is the key here. (ex. Art of Marketing conference). VR was the number one on the 10 top industry trends to implement in 2017. Here is a brief interview about how VR/AR will be used in events.

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Producing a 360° video

One of the easiest ways for brands to start using this new immersive technology is to create some simple 360° videos for use on social platforms. Facebook, YouTube and now Twitter (Periscope) support the format. There are even companies that offer pre-recorded footage for purchase (Blend.Media). Using 360° video to promote your brand is a really great way to prove to the C-suite that VR can generate measurable results. One example of a computer generated 360° video/VR experience that is completely on brand is the Boursin Sensorium VR experience.

Filming lion cubs with the Samsung Gear 360 camera
Samsung Gear 360 camera with 7 week old lion cub, Samira at Jungle Cat World.

Using AR for packaging

A simple way for brands to begin embracing augmented reality is to use their existing packaging in a more digital way. Without having to change the packaging, this becomes an elegant, low-cost solution that can have a big impact on consumer engagement. Something that we are working on now is an AR scavenger hunt that allows users to collect points simply by scanning their favourite products and interacting with them. This is a marketers dream as the data collected by these interactions can give great insight into the people who buy your products. One downside is that you still have to download an app to do this. There are three main platforms for AR marketing; Blippar, Vuforia, Augment and Marxent Labs.

Virtual Office Tour

One of the best ways brands can begin to use VR technology is to do a 360°, VR, Google Tour of their space. This has the added value of making their office searchable from Google Maps and eventually Google Earth VR will allow you to enter spaces. The best available system for doing these types of tours is called Matterport, a combination of hardware (camera) and software platform that allows users to visit inside your building and also create hotspots where people can learn more about your office, company and team. We did one of these tours for a very forward thinking digital marketing agency in Toronto, Symbility Intersect just did this with great results. A company that has done an excellent job at creating virtual tours for Colleges and Universities is YouVisit.

Matterport “dollhouse” view of Symbility Intersect 360° office tour.
Matterport “dollhouse” view of Symbility Intersect 360° office tour.

Fully Immersive VR experience

The pinnacle of virtual reality at this point is a fully immersive game or activation. Brands have a unique opportunity to give attendees at trade shows a look into the matrix or down the rabbit hole where the laws of physics and reality no longer apply. Car companies like Volvo, Audi and Lexus have all jumped on the ability to put people into a fully rendered car and drive it anywhere (even on the moon!). Another great use of fully immersive VR for brand marketing is the Merrell Trailscape VR in-store experience where consumers were given the task of walking across a rope bridge while rocks are falling all around them. This is perfectly on brand and well executed.

As you can guess, the possibilities of VR and AR for marketing are literally endless, but taking a pragmatic and tiered approach is how brands will keep pace with technology while staying within budget and also see the best ROI. My recommendation is to take a slow, tiered and sustainable approach or go feet first, all in and make something world shattering. Whatever you decide to do, understand that it is no longer a matter of whether you will do VR/AR, it’s simply when.