In the last two years we have witnessed exponential change in how the marketing industry has begun to engage with Immersive Technology — moving at a rapid pace from simple gimmicks to recognising its potential for delivering a depth of engagement previously unseen within any marketing channels. Initially seen as a gaming technology the opportunities VR offered were clear, and quickly exploited with a raft of games being launched. What is now becoming clear, is the potential for both VR and AR to have a major impact on businesses, from marketing right through to production.
With the above observation in mind, I feel it pertinent to begin with an important lesson learned from working in VR for a number of years. However you choose to use it, use it thoughtfully. When used in a considered fashion it has the potential to reimagine business processes, change perceptions, drive empathy, increase brand preference, improve learning and even relieve pain. Used it for the wrong reasons and it can quickly degenerate into gimmickry and frivolous tech for tech’s sake. It won’t remain the shiny new technology that people are desperate to try for long, optimism can soon turn to scepticism.
Before we go further into this article it is important that I raise a salient point regarding the use of the term VR. It tends to be used as a catch-all for all things Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR) and Mixed / Merged Reality (MR). In the short term (1–2 years) the different streams will start to merge, whereby AR naturally morphs into MR (yes, we now have XR, Cross Reality) and VR will have elements of MR woven in. So in the context of this article I’m talking about the potential impact any one of these can have on business sectors.
Much time is wasted debating what comprises VR vs MR vs 360, I believe it is smarter to focus on the opportunities and then the technology will follow. So from here on in I’ll refer to all these interrelated technologies as Immersive Technology. This works on two levels; 1) the technology enables you to have an immersive experience (VR focused), and 2) the technology is immersed in the world around you (AR and MR focused).
The first question any marketer should ask — What are we trying to achieve?
In order to avoid falling into the dangerous trap of “VR is the answer, now what’s the question?” we have designed an experience spectrum. This helps brands and businesses define their business objectives and then guides them through the role Immersive Technology can play to address those objectives.
Brands need to remember that just because Immersive Technology is a new and evolving area, it doesn’t mean the way they approach it should be markedly different from other channels. Brands and businesses still need to consider: WHO they are targeting, WHAT business challenge is being addressed, WHERE will it be used and WHY are they doing it.
The Experience Spectrum above helps to frame what a brand might be looking to achieve based on 1) level of interaction (Passive to Active axis) and 2) is this meant to entertain or have a specific use (Entertainment vs Utility axis).
In practice this means that if you are looking to tell a story in a more linear way (such as the Henry film from Oculus Story Studio), it will likely be a more a passive, entertaining experience (top left quadrant). If however you are looking to highlight a new product (such as the Jaguar I-PACE launch), you will be require a more interactive experience (bottom right quadrant). Finally, consideration must also be given to your desired reach (which will impact choice of hardware), interactivity level, messaging and UX.
So what can Immersive Technology actually do for marketers?
Immersive Technology enables you to see things that don’t exist yet (think prototype), to be transported instantly to another location (imagine a yet to be built factory), and take you to an environment where access would normally be prevented (think major disaster training).
It is important to note that Immersive Technology isn’t a substitute for current communications channels, if it is used for this it’s not being used to its maximum potential. There may be times when it sits somewhere between the two, morphing into an enhancement or amplification for channels, which can work provided it complements the existing communications plans and methods of execution. To realise the true potential of Immersive Technology think of the things which can only be achieved through the use of VR or AR.
Where will it really have an impact?
Imagination recently took part in a BT hosted a workshop for their key clients to explore potential applications of VR from an enterprise perspective. Whilst the use of VR by brands is arguably attracting most attention at the moment, it is the impact VR will have across industry sectors that will, we believe, make the biggest impression long term.
There are 7 key VR horizontals which we see having profound impact on how businesses operate, these are:
1) Training; 2) Product demos; 3) Prototyping; 4) Virtual visits; 5) Data visualisation; 6) Gamification; and 7) Collaboration.
There isn’t a business sector which wouldn’t benefit from adopting VR into their training mix. From doctors to oil rig workers, VR could offer opportunities where previously factors ranging from cost to health & safety have inhibited large scale roll out or rapid implementation. Think along the lines of recreating a physical scenario vs a virtual scenario. Low cost and no risk with high ROI.
One of the biggest challenges for brands can be how they are able to get products into people’s hands before they become a reality, a challenge which is particularly relevant in the automotive industry and tech device industry.
The ability to create a prototype quickly and cheaply, and one which can be worked on collaboratively, is a development that will revolutionise product development. The key attributes here are quick and easy, this opens up huge potential to try new approaches which would have previously been discounted due to either cost, time or both.
VR enables you to be able to explore environments which were previously inaccessible, to tour factories which don’t yet exist and even shrink down to the size of a molecule on a journey through the human body. Whether you are trying to sell-in a business case for creating a new factory, attempting to bring to life your vision of the future or looking for a new medical cure, this technology has a key role to play.
Experiencing data in a fully immersive environment can be slightly challenging to get your head around, as it is an area which really takes VR and AR solutions to the limits of where our understanding has currently got us to. It will take us to a place where we can experience data, being able to walk through and around a data transfer network showing data packages as they move through the system
Bringing a level gamification into the virtual world can work in a number of different ways, ultimately adding to the level of immersion. Whist stopping short of full blown gaming, this is where elements of gamification can be factored in to experiences such as training or education
An area that is going to rapidly elevate the impact of VR and AR is the opportunity for collaboration, which will also align with the development of social VR applications. HoloLens currently integrates with Skype, giving you the ability to share your screen and add virtual annotations. But this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to collaboration opportunities using this technology
The potential for Immersive Technology to have a huge impact on multiple business sectors, brands, and indeed on our everyday lives, is clear and increasing at a remarkable speed. If you look back at the changes in this field over the past 2 years it is already a quite stunning evolution. Since the first Oculus DK1 really gave VR credibility, the development of mobile VR, AR headsets and room scale VR has taken Immersive Technology to a level even beyond dreams of the most ardent proponents.
Immersive Technology will not go the same was of 3D TV, and some of the other victims littering the graveyard of overhyped technology, but it needs to be pointed towards the right challenges and used in the right way. But as more and more businesses and brands look to Immersive Technology as a potential solution, the need for robust measurement and tangible ROI will become key factors in determining its long term success.