Virtual reality (VR) is a $14.84 billion dollar market, and it's getting bigger.
Meta recently released VR headset prototypes for its long-proclaimed virtual "Metaverse." Apple is recruiting Hollywood directors to create video content for its VR headset with an anticipated release in 2023. TikTok's ByteDance is ramping up for VR investment. And debate has already begun about Meta's decision to charge for VR apps.
It's hard to miss the tide of technology moving closer and closer to virtual reality. Soon, most big tech companies and even smaller players will want their own stake in the game. As with the dot-com bubble burst, the explosion of social media, and the advent of OTT streaming, brands will need to adapt their advertising to virtual reality.
Advertising and marketing build brands primarily by generating "mental availability," or the likelihood that your target customer will be able to remember your brand and product at the point of sale or decision.
Mental availability is all about reach, frequency, and salience.
Brands must consider how broad their audience reach is, because being seen by more people has been shown to be more effective than precise targeting. Virtual reality and virtual worlds broaden a brand's audience. Added touches in virtual reality and virtual worlds mean added frequency of interactions, and more exposures per audience member mean higher mental availability.
For those reasons, salience as it applies to advertising in virtual reality can be thought of as relevance plus attention-grabbing. If a tree falls on you and you don't notice that it did, are you still flat? If you are in a place, real or virtual, and there's an ad, but it doesn't get your attention, did it have an effect?
In three dimensions—movement, interaction-rules, and the novelty of virtual spaces—salience is likely to be very high, and it's time for marketers to start taking advantage of it.
Virtual Reality and Customer Behavior
Life is a three-dimensional (or four-dimensional, if you include time) interactive, immersive experience. Target audiences have evolved to learn experientially in this environment. Most advertising to date has had to rely on media that telescopes experience down to one or two senses and dimensions.
Although the imagination can build a full reality from limited sensory information (think of families sitting around a radio at night before the age of television), more immersive is more emotional, and more "real" is more persuasive. Thus, advertising in virtual worlds and through virtual reality ought to be the most powerful advertising to be invented.
Advertising and marketing campaigns in a virtual world can go from conventional to completely unconventional. Brands could opt for virtual reality billboards in video games or instant virtual clothes fittings and furniture trials.
Or, companies could go even further, creating advertising or marketing campaigns that are a whole 360 experience. Imagine: Instead of a Geico commercial, the Geico Gecko performs a live performance right in front of you and shakes your hand. The possibilities are endless.
Such changes in advertising lead to a brand's customers' adopting new behaviors, including brand loyalties, which—as advertising often is, or should be—is a behavior-change process. Behavior change then drives personal motivation to achieve, and drives momentum to do something in the moments that matter most to our individual selves.
Virtual reality has the potential to ramp up both motivation and momentum for brands by increasing the emotional impact of advertising and marketing experiences and by making interactions easy and intuitive for those being served.
Virtual Reality and Sales
Virtual reality doesn't stop at an impressive advertising or marketing campaign. All of those make virtual reality and virtual worlds endemic to B2B sales, much like real-life events, but with potential of enormous reach and scale.
Consider, for instance, a 360 expo floor or a virtual meeting with sales representatives who take you through a buying process. Imagine being able to test-drive a car without needing to leave your couch, or playing a new guitar without having to buy it.
Advertising and marketing often go hand in hand with sales. For virtual reality, that is no different. Virtual reality and virtual worlds open up a whole new box of ideas and may just change the way we think about sales as a service.
Virtual Reality and Training
Virtual reality is already being used for experiential training in life-and-death situations: for airline pilots and police officers, for example.
Training with virtual reality can take us a step further, and it has the potential to also revolutionize client training.
Imagine a world where customer support is better partly because advertising and marketing is intertwined through virtual worlds—having branded offices for customer support in a virtual reality space that customers can enter, for instance. Brands would also be able to expand customer support training to virtual reality, taking a more hands-on approach to ensure representatives always know what they're doing and always have the tools to succeed.
All that would not only improve the lives of those who work in customer support but also increase the overall value consumers see in a brand's customer service offering.
Brands and Virtual Reality in the Future
Virtual reality is the future. To find brand success, companies will need to know how to uniquely tap into virtual reality and virtual worlds. In 10 years, we could be ditching commercials for virtual high-fives, making billboards all digital, and taking meetings to the 360 Web conference room.
As with the rise of digital marketing, brands will need to keep the pace and hop onto the next big move. In some ways, that might just be VR. So, brands and agencies: it's about time to start revving those virtual engines and tap into the limitless market that is virtual reality and virtual worlds.
More Resources on Branding and Marketing in Virtual Reality
How Brands Benefit by Using Virtual Reality to Engage Customers [Infographic]
Why Most Marketers Should Care About Virtual and Augmented Reality
How Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality Are Changing Things for Marketers
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