The age of virtual reality is upon us, which means it’s time for marketers to start figuring out how to sell with VR. Just as commercial breaks eventually dominated TVs, banner ads crawled onto computer screens, and sponsored content snuck into social media, advertisements will inevitably find their way into VR.
Marketers aren’t asking whether they should start selling in VR, they’re asking how they should start selling. Social media marketing has taught us that context is important, and the only way to learn the context of a growing medium like VR is to pay attention.
Why VR deserves attention
Marketers have to pay attention in order to earn attention. For marketing to work, a brand first has to have the attention of potential customers. While the number of VR consumers is still small, the huge amount of investment that has gone into VR devices suggests that the potential for growth is massive. After Oculus VR raised $2.4 million dollars through Kickstarter to fund the Oculus Rift VR headset, Facebook bought the company for an additional $2 billion dollars. That’s just one of many stories of how much money is currently going into VR technology.
On the flip side, VR is relatively cheap for marketers. Brands, big and small, are already making VR content using 360° cameras. Marketers just have to do a more impressive version of what’s already being done. Marketing agency SapientNitro reported that they were able to create a VR e-commerce demo in six weeks for “low six figures”.
As an emerging technology, VR itself is just plain exciting for both consumers and marketers. Video content and live streaming is already growing in popularity, and VR takes that trend to a more immersive level. Fully immersive, 360° experiences will likely become a new standard in media consumption; it would be silly for marketers to ignore it.
Possibly the most attractive factor about VR for marketers is that it introduces new ways to gather information about people. Head-mounted VR devices might be able to monitor telltale brain and facial activity. That means advertisements can hit specific targets using content that the person hopefully will react to positively. VR marketing could be the most targeted, context-sensitive form of marketing to reach consumer eyes.
What we’ve noticed so far
While there is only a trivial amount of VR user data available to analyze, marketers can start learning from what pioneering brands are doing with VR. Some media networks have been playing with 360° degree videos for shows and events, but other brands have gotten much more creative.
The aforementioned SapientNitro demo, for instance, allows users to take a virtual walk through an apartment in Soho, New York. A user interface pops into view as needed. It’s like a website that you can browse by stepping into photos and immersing yourself in a brand’s products.
The New York Times has created an impressive VR channel, which promises to put users “at the center of [their] stories”. Most people probably don’t think of journalism when they think of VR, but the NYT is staying ahead of the game and showing what it means to pay attention. It would be wise to keep an eye on their VR channel and see how they develop it in the future.
Lastly, some retailers are considering virtually recreating their stores and products. It doesn’t sound as exciting as stepping into a website or newspaper, but it could be a thrill for loyal customers who enjoy visiting brick and mortar locations. Regardless of medium, it’s important for brands to remember their audience; approaches to VR should vary heavily depending on who they’re targeting.
Start paying attention
It’s still too early to make any real judgements on how to sell a product through virtual reality. VR probably isn’t ready to support the weight of a world full of brands, and it certainly doesn’t have enough users to guarantee useful data. That won’t be the case for long, though. VR is going to be a game-changer for marketing. The brands that pay the most attention to how it develops over the coming months and years will be in position to start grabbing user attention and dominating their respective market.