VR & Marketing: Beyond The Hype

Much has been said about Virtual Reality in 2016 after a number of companies, like HTC, Sony and Facebook, promised to bring their headset to market in the course of the year. Since then, VR has been on everybody’s lips. VR content creation platforms are mushrooming, VR ad exchanges are starting to appear and agencies have been quick to pitch VR concepts to marketers eager to show their brand is innovative.

We think it’s time for marketers to take a step back and ask themselves why they are pursuing VR: What are you gaining from it, and does it make sense for you to explore VR now? And don't get me wrong - I'm a VR enthusiast. But when it comes to VR in marketing, even I have to recognize there is still way more hype than substance. 

For certain product categories, it is clear that VR will be a game changer in the future, and that experimenting now will help take advantage of the technology as it gains in maturity. But other brands may have to accept that VR has little to offer for them in the next 5 years, and resources placed in VR could be better invested elsewhere for the time being. We’ve seen countless examples of branded VR initiatives last year that left marketers - and consumers - completely underwhelmed.

Thomas Husson and I investigated what opportunities VR creates for brands from a marketing perspective: We found that for some categories – like retail – it can be disruptive to the point of transforming traditional sales channels. For others - like automotive, hospitality and real estate - it gives brands added persuasive power, proximity and convenience, beyond what traditional marketing channels can achieve. But not every vertical, and not every company, will benefit from VR.

We have identified three factors that help brands determine if they should invest in VR, and if so when and how. These factors revolve around your audience, your sales model and the nature of your service or product offerings. See our latest report, “Virtual Reality Isn’t Ready For Marketing Yet”, to deep dive into each of them.

One word of caution for marketers: we have found that consumers’ expectations for VR are high. They quickly get used to what VR has to offer and are equally quickly blasé with subpar VR experiences. The coolness factor of VR will fade quickly, and brands that want to develop VR initiatives will have to find compelling reasons to use VR as a channel. They will also have to be ready to deliver against consumers' expectations if they want to be relevant in this space. 

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