The Rise of Virtual Reality and What It Means for B2B Marketers

It wasn’t long ago that virtual reality felt like pure fiction. Members of Star Trek’s USS Enterprise used virtual reality to explore simulated environments — anything from traveling to lush forests to solving complicated mysteries. Bringing this technology to reality, however, felt “highly illogical,” as Spock would say. But today, not only has VR arrived, but experts say it’s the next big thing for marketing.

VR provides viewers with complete immersion into a 360-degree experience, often using headsets that isolate them from the outside environment. For marketers, this is the holy grail. Viewers are completely engrossed, engaged and attentive to your messaging – and isolated in your world, by choice. In fact, Gartner predicts that virtual reality marketing is positioned at a vital transition point, at the beginning of the growth cycle. Yet brands that decide to leverage this technology must do so correctly to drive optimal engagement. Here are six examples to inspire your efforts.

1. Red Bull — Creating Adventures for Viewers

Red Bull created a 360-degree video that invites viewers on an expedition to an active volcano, while integrating brand elements throughout the VR experience. This short clip gives viewers a detailed experience that approximates what it would feel like to be immersed in the actual experience. This video, which was released just a few months ago, captured 311,607 views.

Whether its creating adventures as in this Red Bull video screenshot, virtual reality offers marketers a new tool for communicating with their audiences. Here are four tips for using VR for B2B marketing.

Key takeaway. Create exciting experiences for your B2B customers that promote engagement through VR. Subtly integrate brand elements throughout the video.

2. Oreo – Using Creativity and Imagination

Engage readers through integrating imagination and fiction into your VR experience. For example, Oreo created a 360-degree video that welcomes viewers inside the “Oreo Wonder Vault.” Once inside the vault, the video explains the magical origins of the company’s cupcake-flavored Oreo cookies. In the B2B marketplace, you may not be able to welcome viewers into “imaginary vaults,” but you can use some fictional elements (and even humorous themes) to keep viewers engaged and entertained by your brand.

Oreo is an excellent example of using creativity and imagination in their virtual reality experience.

Key takeaway. Don’t be too serious with VR. Create videos that are fun and engage viewers on many different levels.

3. Volvo – XC90 Test Drive – Simulating an Experience

Volvo recently created a VR video that allowed viewers to test drive the company’s XC90 luxury SUV, taking viewers on a virtual ride throughout the country. For this campaign, the company used Google Cardboard, which transforms smartphones into functional VR headsets with cardboard, two lenses and a magnet.

Virtual reality is a great way to simulate an experience as we see in this example from Volvo.

Key takeaway: Leverage VR to let prospects feel like they’re actually experiencing your products – without visiting a physical location. This is a great opportunity for B2B companies that frequently give product demos. Put your buyer right in that drivers’ seat!

4. Merrell Shoes — Launching a New Product

When launching a new product, whether it’s shoes or new software, spreading awareness and getting the word out is key. Potential customers must know not only that your offering exists, but also how it solves their largest problems. Merrell Shoes leveraged VR when launching its new hiking boot, the Capra.

The company’s agency designed a VR experience called “Trailscape,” that took viewers on a challenging, dangerous hike in the Dolomites, in Italy, complete with an avalanche. The audience (virtually) travels to a set that is specifically mapped to the virtual experience. The campaign was successful in spreading awareness, capturing 12,396 YouTube views.

You can also use virtual reality when launching a new product like Merrell Shoes has in this video.

Key takeaway. If you determine that VR is good for your target audience, use it to assist with product launches. It helps generate excitement and buzz around your products, and the cooler it is, the more it will get shared.

5. Tesco Pele — Conducting Marketing Research

B2B marketers know that capturing market research is one part science and one part art. Tesco, a British supermarket chain, used VR to help the company better understand how the company can merchandise shelves faster, and redesign and improve store layout. For example, they created a virtual store so people could walk around in it before they built it (to make sure the design was successful). Tesco’s been far forward for a long time; in 2011 it opened a virtual supermarket in a Korean subway station: a wall-length billboard designed to look like a series of supermarket shelves. It displayed images and prices, and people could buy products with their smart phones.

Now the company is promoting Tesco Pele, a video that shows customers putting on virtual reality goggles and cruising the aisles of a virtual Tesco supermarket (and then stepping onto a soccer pitch, justifying the Pele connection). Do you think they see this as a way to introduce people to online grocery shopping, or make it a more satisfying experience?

Tesco uses virtual reality to help the company better understand how they can merchandise shelves.

Key takeaway. Look for new and exciting uses of virtual technology to create a stronger brand and better experiences for customers. And dropping a famous, beloved name never hurts.

6. New York University — Delivering Education

New York University is actively using VR for its recruitment efforts. Students accepted into the engineering program are sent a cardboard VR device and download instructions for an app to take a virtual tour of Mars. They are communicating to prospective students, who are making the decision of which university to attend, that if they select NYU, they will be cutting edge.

NYU is using VR to educate and communicate a distinct message to its target audience. B2B marketers also need resources to create awareness and education around the products they promote. VR can assist with accomplishing this in a new and innovative way.

Key takeaway. Identify potential opportunities for VR to help educate and inform your target audience, while keeping the content fun and entertaining.

4 Tips for Success

Are you thinking about using VR for an upcoming marketing campaign? If so, here are four tips to consider before launching your efforts.

  1. Consider your audience. VR isn’t for every audience, so evaluate your audience first before making the leap. Are they currently using VR? Would they be open to using this technology?
  2. Create a “try before you buy” experience. For example, IKEA released an interactive VR kitchen experience in which customers could virtually remodel their kitchen. Using VR, they got a 360-degree view while switching around kitchen colors and styles to truly understand what the finished outcome would look like.
  3. Engage your customers in a story. For example, the popular television series “Game of Thrones” created an experience that allows viewers to fully immerse themselves in a VR experience related to the show. Within three hours, the VR video captured over 1.7 million views. So if your brand’s story is highly visual and can include movement, tell it through VR.
  4. Create really amazing content. VR offers brands an opportunity to capture attention and engage with their audiences. But to reap the full benefits, you must create amazing content. For example, Tom’s Shoes used VR to highlight the company’s mission. The company created a short, inspirational VR clip that connects customers with a Colombian child who benefited from the purchase of shoes.

Virtual Reality also allows you to create amazing content that will engage your audience. TOMS used it as a way to highlight their company mission.

Moving Forward With Success

Virtual technology has come a long way since the Star Trek days, but now that it’s here, marketers are uncovering new and interesting ways to use this technology to connect with customers. They are communicating the value proposition of their products in much greater, immersive detail.

But the key to success is knowing whether VR is right for your audience. And, when trying it, making frequent course adjustments and not being afraid of missteps. Albert Einstein famously said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

Building on your successes (and failures) through VR will provide amazing experiences for customers, high levels of engagement and brand loyalty that produces excellent long-term results.

Have you used VR in your marketing efforts? Please share your experience below.