Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR)—you’ve probably heard these phrases a lot recently. In between technology making great strides and ease of accessibility, more brands are using VR and AR in their marketing campaigns.

What’s the difference between VR and AR? We get asked this question a lot:

  • Virtual reality is the term for placing a user “in” the experience, whether that’s another world or dimension.
  • Augmented reality is where content is “placed into” the real world using a device, such as the camera on your smartphone. An example of this would be the global-hit game, Pokémon Go.

VR—along with AR—is gaining popularity, with the economic impact of them both predicted to reach $29.5 billion by 2020.

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What are the benefits of using VR in my marketing strategy?

When it comes to putting together your social marketing strategy, VR offers a few unexpected benefits:

  • Unique experiences: by using VR as a way to reach your customers, you’re offering them an entirely unique experience from your brand, forming a deeper connection between you both. They’re not interacting with your brand in the usual channels, such as social platforms, print ads, or tv ads. It’s new and exciting for audiences, and an experience entirely of your brand’s creation. You can decide what they see and do, without interference from anyone or anything else.
  • Avoiding ad blockers: the use of ad blockers rose by 30% between 2015 and 2016 alone—more and more people are using blockers when they’re browsing the internet. VR offers a way around this by creating an entire environment and experience for your target audience to immerse themselves in. Although the whole VR experience could be an ad, it’s not positioned in the traditional way, making your audience more receptive to its content.

There are also early signs that ads “within” a VR experience (e.g., product placement such as a bottle of Coke) produce better ad recall. 70% of users also found these types of ads less intrusive.

  • Social platforms are on board: as part of their F8 announcements, Facebook revealed the Oculus Go. This is a signal that Facebook is investing in the VR space. There are even Oculus Rooms where you can hang out with your best buds in virtual reality. With this kind of weight behind the technology, the general population is far more likely to adopt it into their everyday lives. Plus, it gives a platform where brands can showcase their VR experiences.

It’s no wonder that companies everywhere are jumping on board to ride the great VR wave. But how can you use VR as a brand?

“The first step is finding out how VR fits into your marketing strategy, the second is convincing your audience to put a headset on.” —Henry Cowling, Creative Director of UNIT9

VR marketing in tourism

Virtual reality fits like the proverbial glove when it comes to use within the tourism industry. From taking users on flights, to letting them tour hotel rooms, there are a lot of fun ways to give audiences an experience they’ll never forget.

One use of VR in tourism we love is by The Wildlife Trust of South & West Wales. From flying with the kingfisher, to diving with dolphins, they’ve used VR to capture the essence of what it’s like to visit their locations around Wales (and we definitely want to visit). Their experience is two-fold—you can use a headset like Oculus Rift to be fully immersed, or you can visit their website to view 3D videos of the same content as well, just in case you don’t have a spare VR headset hanging around at home. Also, since late 2017, they have VR headsets available in their locations for visitors to try out for themselves.

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VR marketing in real estate

Imagine not having to run from viewing to viewing only to be disappointed when you walk through the front door. Well, that’s quickly becoming a reality with realtors using technology to map entire homes for you to view from the comfort of your own sofa.

Both Giraffe360 in the UK, and Matterport in the States, are taking the hassle out of the house-buying experience. Matterport in particular have taken on VR with enthusiasm, scanning more than 1 million spaces since 2011.

Their 3D reality capture technology and platform not only creates 3D, but VR as well which can be experienced on the GearVR, Oculus Go, and Google Cardboard. They continue to be at the forefront of real estate tech, giving audiences a VR experience that adds delight to a stressful situation—and value.

VR marketing in home improvement

Trying to imagine what your dream kitchen or bathroom would feel like to walk around in? Want to check if you have space to buy that 12-seater table you have your eye on? VR comes into its own for the home-improvement sector, with big brands like IKEA and UK-based John Lewis getting in on the action.

Lowe’s Home Improvement have been especially adept at integrating VR into their marketing strategy. Aimed at customers who aren’t confident in undertaking their own home renovation projects, their in-store Holoroom allows users to try out their projects in a virtual space, and “see” their creations come to life.

The Holorooms are a permanent fixture across 19 Lowe’s locations, so you should give it a go. However if you’re not lucky enough to live close by, you can also use their 3D technology to test out an AR version in your own home.

VR marketing in retail

Retail stores have already struggled with internet-only companies undercutting them on price, so could VR entice customers back into stores? Or could it even be a way for internet-only companies to offer more of a retail-esque shopping experience?

Either way, there’s ample opportunity for retail brands to connect with their audience via VR. Walmart, although coy about where their VR strategy is going to lead, has been tentatively dipping their toes in the pool. Not only have they acquired VR shop, Spatialand, but their Store no. 8 incubator project is also helping startups that will shape retail through VR technology.

Another retailer embracing VR is Barneys New York. In March of this year they launched their Spring campaign, blending dancers, technology, and fashion together using powerful storytelling. Filming a performance of the dancers using 360 degree cameras, they showcased their latest fashion collections. Barneys then gave their audience different opportunities to interact and “walk” about the stage with the dancers to view the collections via VR. The user could either view with their own headsets, or go into store and try the experience out there.

What’s the future of VR?

Simply put, VR’s future entirely depends on its embrace by the masses—which in turn will depend on how easily available the technology is. Today the point of access for the technology remains a high barrier for most.

But, there are promising signs. With Apple’s release of animojis, and the fact that major brands and social platforms are investing in the emerging market of VR, there certainly appears to be an appetite.

However, there are limitations—especially when it comes to seeing a return on your investment. At the moment, there’s no clear cut way of understanding the ROI for VR (and by extension AR), which puts off a lot of potential brands from playing in the space.

More often than not, these kind of early adoption campaigns are done purely for that reason—to be seen as an early adopter. But the shift of mass adoption is coming; by the end of 2017, sales of VR hardware from Sony, Oculus, HTC and others hit over 3.5 million units. That number is predicted to reach 82 million by 2020, which means a lot more of your customers will have access to VR technology. So watch this space.

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