Virtual reality (VR) has been a buzzword in the digital marketing world since the release of Oculus Rift. But while everyone is talking about the innovation, no one has actually monetized it at scale. So the question is, how can marketers leverage virtual reality to further their business?
The concept of VR is not new for brands, as many have used it to improve consumer experience. For example, soft drink company Mountain Dew tapped the technology for its recent campaign, allowing consumers to virtually snowboard alongside professional snowboarders and Olympians.
But as the technology matures, brands are looking for ways to use VR that go beyond just enhancing the consumer experience.
“Brands like Mountain Dew and movies like Wild are trying to introduce a virtual reality experience to consumers, which is a great thing. But one piece is missing: the monetization process. It’s not only about creating an experience, but also about how to take consumers down the road to make a purchase decision. That is missing among all our partners,” says Amir Rubin, chief executive (CEO) of Sixense, a VR technology provider.
To help make the connection, Sixense has formed a partnership with digital agency SapientNitro to envision a way VR could work for e-commerce. They are currently in talks with about 30 brands for possible opportunities, though they declined to disclose which brands are working with them, as the partnership is still in the early stages.
For example, a consumer could buy a pair of shoes by wearing a VR headset and holding two joysticks (which will act as their hands). In a virtual showroom filled with shoes, the consumer can swipe shelves to pick up a shoe, choose a color, and put the shoe on a manikin nearby. If the consumer likes the design and color, they can take the shoe back from the manikin, drop it into a shopping cart, and check out.
Of course, this is an ideal situation for monetizing VR, as Rubin admits there are bound to be some challenges when his team develops different prototypes for different products.
“Toys are easy, because manufacturers usually have animated product models available beforehand. But clothes are difficult to make,” he explains. “In order to make clothes in the virtual environment exactly the same as those hanging on the rack in the physical store, we need to apply physics to make the clothes move naturally.”
But Valerie Carlson, executive creative director at SapientNitro, doesn’t see these as barriers in the monetization process.
“The limitations of a technology in the beginning are like a creative process: When you are limited, you come up with solutions that can tell stories using the technology in the best way that you possibly can,” Carlson says. “Rather than focusing on the challenges and barriers we have in terms of recreating objects in computer-generated fashion, we are going to focus on subjects that can address business needs and consumer desires.”
To explain, Carlson gives an example of a high-end shoe brand. Instead of focusing on the actual product, the brand can take a back-end story approach: Tell the story of the craftsperson, the process of making a pair of shoes, or what materials they use.
“VR can put you in the room with the craftsperson. When you think about fashion, editorial approaches are trying to get us there, and blogs are fantastic. But that you can actually be part of it and experience it physically is really the next level,” she says.
Similarly, toy brands like American Girl, for example, could utilize VR to help consumers host a tea party. “A tea party is legendary. You want to have a party in the store, but it might be an immense hurdle for your parents to get there, and it’s expensive. The idea of being able to put [VR] gear on and being in a tea party with a friend in another country is appealing,” Carlson continues.
As it stands, VR can help deliver real-life experiences to consumers, but perhaps only time will tell if it can really drive sales for businesses.
Image via Shutterstock.
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