I'll never forget the day I put on a virtual reality (VR) headset for the first time. Fearing that the goggles would mess up my hair (which they did), I placed the headpiece up to my eyes and, quite suddenly, found myself in a wholly other world.

I was on Mars! Well, not actually Mars but a life-like, computer-generated rendition of the Red Planet. I immediately began looking all over—up, down, and sideways—like how I imagine I would if I was taking in the galaxy from a new angle. Though only just a few moments in an otherwise ordinary day, that first VR experience is tattooed in my memory as if I'd really taken a trip to another world.

In a sense, I did experience two distinct spheres: the physical world and the virtual world.

Moreover, the applications for VR are endless. It's already being applied to training, healthcare, gaming, and entertainment. However, VR also is getting attention from brands.

VR wows and immerses attendees. As a producer and an experiential marketer, I care about constructing stories and experiences that wow and stay in the minds of the people who experience them; I aim to build brand memories.

Now, with VR, we marketers have a veritable memory-making machine at our fingertips. So, it's time to begin experimenting with VR technology and use its powers of persuasion at our upcoming shows and events.

Here's why the time is right.

1. The virtual trade show booth is limitless

As marketers, we know that an average-size, well-executed trade show booth can run anywhere from $2M to $10M. We spend it because we want to create an experience that will stay in the minds of show attendees.

But how often do we achieve that lasting "wow"?

Consider the last trade show you attended. Now, think of the booths and interactions you remember... More likely than not, you can count on one hand the number of experiences you remember. Even more likely, what you recall are probably the booths set up by the huge brands that spent way beyond the $2M threshold.

Until recently, we've all been tethered to the physical limitations of the exhibit space itself. Enter VR.

VR provides an entirely distinct virtual world for your booth attendees to explore, expanding your brand experience beyond the confines of your booth. Imagine organizing a branded booth execution that will deliver one of (if not the) most memorable brand experiences ever through awe-inducing VR content. That brand experience is now entirely attainable with the application of VR.

2. VR headsets are (finally) ready to woo

If you've experienced a quality in-booth trade show experience already, such as the Ford Edge Virtual Reality Journey, then you're aware of the potential that technology has to charm.

If you have not yet done VR, then you're likely going to have your first VR interaction at a trade show before the year's end.

Some 21% of meeting planners already are reporting that they would use (or at least will "most likely" use) VR, according to Meeting Professionals International's 2016 survey. Once you have that first VR encounter (if you haven't already), you'll recognize the massive potential and wonder, "Why haven't we been using this before now?" The answer is simple… The gear just wasn't ready.

Until now, VR hardware lacked the quality and accessibility we see today. Now, products like the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive headsets give wearers a more intense visual experience than ever. Plus, the headsets are a lot lighter and more comfortable to wear. The potential swirling around this new technology already has TrendForce estimating $14Min headset sales this year and a projected $38M by the end of 2020.

Corporate giants like McDonald's are employing VR hardware, the HTC Vive headset specifically, to provide visitors awe-inducing brand experiences, such as the installation it deployed at SXSW 2016. The "McDigital" experience invited guests to don the headset and grip a laser paintball shooter that allowed them to shoot digital paint onto massive 3D canvases to create their own VR masterpieces. The installation was so popular that the appointments for the experience booked out before noon each day.

Expect to see more companies using both tethered (HTC Vive and Oculus Rift) and untethered (Samsung Gear VR and Google Cardboard and Google Daydream) headsets before the end of 2016.

3. Schwag gets its swagger back sparking memories post-show

The secret to a successful in-booth interaction is to inspire action outside the booth. Here, too, VR introduces enticing new opportunities for brands in the form of giveaways. After you take attendees through an awe-inspiring VR experience, you want them to have a next step to take when they get home.

Enter Google Cardboard. Pricing for custom cardboards range from $15 to $30 per headset, depending on design and quantity. Cardboard giveaways, at present, are a unique item in attendees' tote bags and a reminder of one's brand.

Seizing the moment and making memories

VR is primed to revolutionize experiential marketing options now and in the future.

Though mainstream adoption of VR is as much as five years out, high-quality VR interactions are available today and have the potential to make lasting impressions.

If you haven't started the process of exploring possible VR applications to achieve your brand's marketing objectives, now is the time.

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Virtual Reality Is Ready to Be the Ultimate Memory Maker

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image of Laura Rea

Laura Rea is executive producer at TRICK 3D, an immersive media studio specializing in the creation of virtual worlds through 3D animation and virtual reality.

LinkedIn: Laura Rea