What is Virtual Reality?
In the context of marketing, virtual reality (VR) is a tool that provides an immersive experience for the customer. It can be hands-on, with a user wearing goggles and/or gloves to step into a software experience, such as virtual mountain climbing from the safety of an indoor venue.
More commonly, customers are provided an augmented reality (AR) experience, a type of VR that enhances a real-world experience. For example, many painting companies allow visitors to upload images of their homes to their websites. They then overlay paint samples so that users can see what their walls might look like in a new color.
These tools provide customers with a more immersive experience than traditional marketing. Carefully implemented, businesses can use VR marketing to stay ahead of their competition.
Virtual Reality and Marketing: Industry Examples
VR has made its way into marketing across different industries, such as real estate. Realtors can show potential buyers the design of a new house by combining photographs, videos, floor plans, and options, providing a virtual walk-through tour of their home before it’s even built.
Today, VR can help industries that have been hit hard by coronavirus regulations and lockdown measures. For example, hospitality-focused virtual reality can help struggling vacation properties get back on track with applications such as:
- Virtual tours or interactive maps of hotel facilities.
- Interactive updates on health and safety features.
- Demonstrations of hotel features, perks, or awards programs.
Hotel chains can even provide business partners and select clientele with wearable devices loaded with up-to-date information on post-pandemic renovations and upgrades. This may sound like a stretch but both McDonald’s and the New York Times have successfully created successful VR campaigns by providing customers with Google cardboard glasses — McDonald’s folded theirs into their Happy Meal box design.
From reaching a discerning audience with thought-provoking immersive experiences to making fun and engaging content for kids, the marketing possibilities that VR and AR provide across these and many more industries are limitless.
Choosing and Creating the Right VR Experience
How can a business design a virtual experience that will help attract and retain clients? The first step is to understand how clients use products or services and engage with the company. The best way to get a handle on this is by story mapping the customer’s experience.
The User Story and Customer Experience
Story mapping is a way to organize and lay out your customer’s user story by following his or her journey with a product or service from beginning to end. For example, if the user were choosing a paint sample, the story map would start from when they opened the application and loaded an image of their room through and end with seeing the paint displayed or selecting a follow-up option, such as “buy paint” or “visit a showroom.”
Software like Lucidspark can help custom design client-directed VR or AR experiences. Businesses can map out priorities, requirements, and dependencies that clients may experience along their product journey. Some questions to ask when designing a story map include:
- What problems do potential clients need to solve?
- What activities do they do when choosing a solution?
- In what ways do they interact with products or services?
- What do users expect from a solution?
Here’s an example from the hospitality industry:
Problem: A client is seeking to book a COVID-safe hotel for a one-week vacation.
Activities: They are looking to book a spacious room near a beach, with on-site and off-site summer activities. They want multiple dining options available and have a limited budget.
Interaction: Prospective guests want to view the facility before they travel. They need to know the distance from local attractions and the airport, as well as services provided by the hotel. Guests will be competent using interactive videos or photo galleries.
Expectations: Clear hotel chain branding. Simple and easy functionality.
It’s critical to be detailed and specific when answering these questions so as not to skip any steps in planning the story map. Keep in mind that too many options will be overwhelming and off-putting for users. The user story can help the marketing staff refine these issues.
Adding Competitor Analysis to Your Story Map
The next step is to perform a thorough competitor analysis that includes building customer personas and a timeline of the buyer’s journey including awareness, consideration, purchase, and retention. This is a must-do for any business but particularly important if competitors have already implemented VR marketing.
Businesses need to know their strengths and weaknesses to gauge how VR can be deployed to attract and retain customers. These elements should complement the existing product user story to provide a stronger experience than other companies in the industry. The final step is testing any VR application thoroughly, both internally and with a handful of customers to ensure a smooth experience.
Virtual reality is an excellent tool that helps companies stay both relevant and safe while providing solutions to a tech-savvy post-pandemic world. These technologies can boost a business as well as an industry. VR is an important marketing device for any enterprise that wants to stay competitive.