Virtually There With Virtual Reality For Brands

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Virtual reality and augmented reality will be the next digital platform.

It’s kind of a buzzwordy thing to say, but it is a fact. In the past several years, I’ve been privileged to see the evolution of this platform to a consumer-ready product, and the excitement of it from the business, investment and acquisition side. At first, most of the demos and applications felt just like a parlour trick (and some of them still are), but the path of evolution is becoming clearer. We are seeing how Facebook’s 360 degree videos will evolve into Oculus, etc… With that, if you have ever experienced it, you know it. You feel it in your bones. The evolution from a flat, two-dimensional Web browser experience pales in comparison to what you can see, when you “go into” a virtual reality or augmented reality experience. It’s like moving from a black and white television experience into Star Trek’s Holodeck

Virtual reality and augmented reality are not the same thing. 

With all things tech, it’s easy to lump two very different platforms and technologies into the same pile. In terms of simplicity, this is how I think brands needs to define the difference between the two:

  • Augmented reality. This technology allows the user to have their typical view of the world. Currently devices like Google Glass or Microsoft‘s just-released Hololens act as a piece of hardware that provide a lens on top of what we typically see. This lens augments our visible reality with technology. As an example: a doctor is operating on a patient using augmented reality, and the technology is able to show them things that may not be visible to the human eye, or they’re able to access information without stopping the procedure.
  • Virtual reality. This technology is more of an isolating experience. Currently devices like Facebook’s Oculus or Google’s Cardboard act as a piece of hardware that blocks out everything we see in our real world, and immerses the user into another world. As an example: at the last Google Zeitgeist conference, I took part in a Cardboard experience that transported us on a virtual field trip to the Amazon Rain Forest. It was completely immersive, and felt as close to “real” as I have ever felt.

They are both going to battle for the consumer. They both provide unique and different experiences.

I have no doubt that this technology is where we are heading. These are the real tools of our future. Say goodbye to Web browsers and smartphones, as you have known them to date. The future is not tomorrow. The future may not be in the next five years. The future is coming. Some reports say that this will be a $150 billion market by 2020. Some say it will be larger than that, and that it will happen sooner. Either way, brands need to better understand the definitions, the technology under it and the opportunity.

What are the brand opportunities with augmented reality and virtual reality today?

  • First! Brands love to be first, and we’re already seeing this. Watch – as the next week unfolds – just how many brands will debut some kind of augmented/virtual play at the famed SXSW event. 
  • PR. Because brands can be first, there are media and public relations opportunities that will drive attention for a brand. So, regardless of what the true (and sustainable) applications can be for brands, just being aligned with something so forward-thinking like this is great for positioning and media mentions.
  • Experiential. If a brand is doing any kind of live experiential type of marketing, adding a virtual or augmented reality component, is a very cheap and effective way to make the experience that much more powerful and memorable. This is also important, because the technology is new. Have a handful of these head mounted displays with experts on-hand to manage the experience, lessens the chance of something going wrong and will make any event a “wow!”
  • Training. This technology has been around for a while. It has, mostly, been non-commercial and used in many instances as a way to improve results in training team members. Brands can look at virtual and augmented reality programs as a way to better train their people.
  • Storytelling. While the technology has evolved beyond a parlour trick, it can still be used to tell a much better story. It does allow you to transport your audience to another place (in another time, even). It does allow the user to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. You can give the user superhero powers. You can do a whole lot more. Storytelling will change dramatically because of this.
  • Labs. Every brand touts having some kind of lab or innovation center. Having a couple of these headsets lying around can spark something new and different.

Should your brand dive intro augmented or virtual reality?

It is early days. We are seeing the beginning of a new kind of technology take hold. With that comes a whole new way to tell stories, create a user experience, and do things that we could never do with flat screens. The desire to experiment and play is obvious. Will this replace your current digital marketing strategy and campaigns? It is unlikely (for the next little while). Still – as with all things new and shiny – it would be wise to pay attention to it, rather than dismiss it or ignore it.

What do you think? Have you tried it? Have you seen the future?