It's time to talk about the impact virtual reality is going to have on marketing and how you can use it to your advantage.
Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality are two of the most exciting emerging technologies right now and while they share many similarities such as a requirement to wear an unusually large set of goggles they are in-fact two entirely different beasts.
Augmented Reality will replace the smartphone but virtual reality can replace the desktop and maybe even reality itself.
The one advantage of virtual reality that stands out almost instantly is that you can be teleported to a completely different environment rather than being limited to your physical surroundings.
While I am a big believer in the future of AR (for different reasons) in this guide we are going to focus on VR only. Expect a guide to augmented reality and the potential that has to offer in the near future.
The first thing I hear when talking about virtual reality with other marketers and growth hackers is:
"Sure it's cool and all but how does it help me as a marketer?"
This is an easy question to answer when you are able to put a headset on and show someone first hand how incredible this new technology is but describing it is another story.
There are however a few tools already available that people without a high-end VR headset can already see the benefit of.
Facebook Spaces is how Mark Zuckerberg and Co envision their behemoth of a social network in virtual reality.
You can have virtual meetings around a table with your Facebook friends and use various tools and media to enhance the discussion and experience.
The app also allows you to create your own webinars from VR and go live on Facebook while you go through one of your presentations on a screen or use the pen tool to draw right there and then.
There's also a mini-game you can play while bonding with your friends or work colleagues by all fishing around the table.
When you first fire it up you are asked to sign into your Facebook account.
After doing so you are then taken through a brief introduction and have to create your own VR avatar to represent yourself in the metaverse.
Here's mine on the right-hand side, no idea why I was opening my mouth so wide!
The tool is still in its beta stage but shows a lot of promise once there's more adoption.
Right now there are some great opportunities for content creators, influencers, and internet marketers to start using this tool to create new types of content, webinars, presentations and have meetings.
One fun feature I enjoyed in Facebook Spaces was being able to call my girlfriend from VR, so she appears on my virtual phone in real human form but on her phone, she saw me as my Facebook avatar. We laughed!
Facebook Spaces is an app designed originally designed for Oculus Rift users since Oculus is owned by Facebook that makes total sense.
Now Facebook Spaces works for HTC Vive users as well as Windows Mixed Reality or Windows MR headsets.
Check out Facebook Spaces to learn more and get started.
Facebook also has a resources section of their design website dedicated to VR here with lots of useful articles and guides.
When Amazon starts to develop enterprise tools for a new niche or industry it's time to take note.
And that's exactly what they have done with Virtual Reality by creating their latest AWS service Amazon Sumerian, a product that allows anyone without coding knowledge to create VR and AR experiences for free.
The beauty of Amazon Sumerian is that you don't even need a VR or AR headset to create experiences and 3D applications.
You can build using templates within the web browser using an intuitive GUI.
Sumerian comes with build in 3D assets like different human avatars that Amazon calls "Sumerian Hosts". You can use also select different scenes and objects all for free so no 3D design skills are required.
You can choose from Starter Spaces, Training Room, Warehouse or View Room as your starter scene to work with or you can build your own scene from the ground up.
For example, you can create a virtual shop with staff members and program the staff members to act like chatbots that audibly answer questions.
Think of Facebook chatbot tools like ManyChat, ChatFuel or MobileMonkey and then apply that logic and funnel building to virtual sales assistants.
In the future, you will be building your email list using virtual avatar sales assistants, not just with opt-in subscription forms.
The voice technology that powers Amazon Sumerian is another Amazon product called Amazon Polly that claims to be able to turn text into lifelike speech using deep learning technology.
Pretty impressive if you ask me. Step aside robotic texas instruments voice, Polly is in town.
The ultimate bonus is Amazon Sumerian uses WebVR a new web standard that is still evolving but allows for support on all devices including the lower end smartphone setups.
In the above example, you can see how you can build a virtual classroom so you can train new employees remotely around the globe. You could also build virtual representations of real environments and then personally give them a tour in VR.
The possibilities for this kind of application are truly endless and I can't wait to see what people in the community create. I am currently experimenting with a few use case scenarios for one of my own businesses.
Want to start using Amazon Sumerian today? Try it here.
360 Degree Videos
Another way marketers can start making use of virtual reality is by creating 360-degree videos with a specialist camera and while this is new technology some of the cameras are actually reasonably priced.
Not only can you create 360 videos for marketing your own business or selling them as a service to clients but you can also earn money from Google for submitting high quality 360 videos and becoming a Google Trusted Photographer.
How do you create 360 photos and videos though?
By using a 360-degree specific camera and these days there are plenty of good options on the market that will allow you to do this.
GoPro has entered the game with their GoPro Fusion, Samsung has the Gear 360 camera but arguably the best in its class and price range is the Ricoh Theta V.
On the higher end of the scale are volumetric cameras which are still very new and of course expensive.
Google is pioneering this new technology and has begun showcasing examples of what can be achieved via their Google Lightfields Technology apps available on Steam.
This approach combines high definition photography with spacial measurements that improve the realism and ability to use dynamic lighting.
Expect to see more companies and websites using 360 photos and videos over the next couple of years as a way to create a more immersive customer experience.
VR eCommerce (VRCommerce)
Shopify is continuing to innovate in the eCommerce space and not to be left behind have also ventured into the realm of virtual reality.
If you are a Shopify store owner and sell merchandise you can launch a virtual reality dressing room and T-shirt customizer using the Shopify VR app "Thread".
Not only have Shopify been hard at work developing a VR store solution for shop owners but they have a dedicated department working on VR applications that also includes their own prototyping tool "Expo" which looks a little bit like Facebook Spaces but seems to offer more practical use cases at the moment.
In the below video you can see two designers working on and discussing a UI for a watch. What is interesting here is how one of the participants has shrunk himself down to the size of the others wrist so he can actually draw onto the watch.
The next clip shows how several designers can all work in VR to prototype an idea in stages.
You can learn more about what Shopify are working on in this space by going to their dedicated blog on Medium ShopifyVR.
Storytelling & Experiences
Virtual Reality is so immersive that it is an incredible tool for storytelling.
The video below shows 10 different use cases for virtual reality as a marketing tool and the majority of them involve either storytelling or some form of immersive experience.
From a Volvo test drive to watching a Michelle Obama speech in 360, then taking a tour of various Marriot hotels and a step and over to Merrel's hiking experience.
All of these examples engage the audience and target customer in a completely new way that leaves a lasting impression.
The Big G
What about Google? Well as I mentioned they are pushing volumetric camera technology and acquired the Lightfields company to continue pioneering this tech but they are involved in many other aspects of VR also.
Google has launched its own headsets, championed the Google Cardboard standard and invested in several VR and AR companies to date.
They currently have several apps available to creators that include Google Blocks an app that allows 3D modeling in virtual reality, Google Lightfields for 360 photography experiences and the artistic innovation that is TiltBrush (video below).
If any artistic folk are reading this and they haven't tried virtual reality and TiltBrush yet then prepare to be blown away by one of the most satisfying experiences since you first fell in love with pencils and crayons.
Google also has a service called Poly that houses a massive library of 3D objects you can import to use in your work for free.
Google is also one of many companies pushing the WebVR standard which allows for VR and Google Cardboard experiences to happen directly in the web browser environment with no software downloads necessary.
This is what many are seeing as the next big iteration of the web in terms of design and UI.
You can check out Google's experiments using WebVR at Google Experiments.
If you still need convincing that VR Marketing is a thing, check out this article from HubSpot.
Virtual Reality Hardware
So how can you get started with VR? Currently, there are a few categories of VR hardware to choose from.
High End - Computer Powered
The higher end headsets offer 6 degrees of freedom which means you can benefit from room scale experiences.
The most common high-end VR headsets are the HTC Vive and the Oculus Rift.
Recently Windows has begun to release their own headset s with the help of 3rd party manufacturers under the brand "Windows Mixed Reality".
There are several Windows MR headsets or HMDs (Head Mounted Displays) available from different manufacturers at the moment.
These include the Samsung Odyssey HMD, Lenovo Explorer, Dell Visor and headsets from HP, Asus, and Acer.
All of the above headsets require a fairly powerful computer with a high-end graphics card to run the software.
This is currently a small category with three headsets worth mentioning, none of which are globally available yet.
The HTC Focus is a 6-degrees of freedom mobile VR headset with everything included. This means a computer isn't required however the performance is lower than the high-end alternatives. It also only comes with one controller.
The Oculus Go is Oculus' first attempt at a standalone headset and while it offers great video performance it is only a 3-degrees of freedom headset so room scale experiences aren't available. Like it's competitor the Focus it also only includes one controller and is coming out soon.
The Oculus Santa Cruz, quick off the back of the Oculus Go, they plan to be releasing another headset later this year that does feature 6 degrees of freedom and more importantly two touch like controllers similar to those of its big brother the Rift.
Smartphone Enabled VR Headsets
You have probably tried one of these or at least seen them in use. These are the headsets where you have to slip your iPhone or Android into the front.
Unfortunately, this form of VR is the reason most people are skeptical of the potential it has to offer.
Smartphone VR only offers a glimpse of the possibilities and really doesn't immerse you like the higher end options do.
There's also a lack of good quality content.
This category includes:
Google Daydream - A nicely designed VR headset for housing your smartphone.
Samsung Gear VR - A Samsung phone specific VR headset.
Google Cardboard - Any cardboard headset that you can fold up and then slide a phone into. Likely the lowest quality experience but still a novel idea to help people try the most basic version of VR for the first time. Especially in third world countries.
Then there are a plethora of cheap third-party plastic VR headsets inspired by Google Cardboard, some of these devices aren't bad to get a taste but really can't compare to the higher end options with a full 6 degrees of freedom.
I personally have a Windows Mixed Reality headset, I chose the Samsung Odyssey for its superior specs over the other MR headsets and easy setup compared with the Rift and Vive which require lighthouses to be setup as sensors.
VR and AR are going to be the biggest technological shifts in the way we consume content since the first Apple Mac was released.
Both of these technologies are about to give birth to thousands of new opportunities and careers.
For marketers, VR is bringing amazing possibilities for content creators and increasing emotive engagement with your audience.
According to a report by Greenlight Insights, global VR revenues will hit 75 billion annually by 2021 (see below).
Interested in experimenting with VR and want help getting setup and started then feel free to contact me and I will do my best to guide you through.
If you are a developer or have some programming chops and you are looking for a fresh challenge then start studying the wide-reaching applications of virtual reality and you will be on a path to a very interesting and profitable career.
Want to create the next big iPhone App?
Instead create the next big VR or AR app instead.
For a comprehensive list of development tools, applications, and software to help in the design and development of VR experiences check this fantastic list post on Medium.
If you are interested in more use cases and how Virtual Reality can be used in both a business and an education setting, check this report from Deloitte Insights.
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Web Designer, Digital Marketer & Entrepreneur with over a decades worth of experience helping small and medium sized businesses evolve and adapt to the modern digital marketplace.