Will Virtual Reality Change Online Marketing?

Author

Jayson DeMers

April 26, 2016

To some, virtual reality may seem like a revolutionary game-changer in the realm of technology, about to radically alter how we interact with the world. To others, it’s just a fad that will dry up in a few years to make way for something else. Most analysts claim that VR is about to go “mainstream,” thanks to current levels of consumer interest, the state of the technology, and the overall timing, but of course, most analysts tend to be optimistic when it comes to the pace of technological adoption.

As a marketer, the question is whether VR is going to change the online marketing world, and if it is, when it’s going to happen. Let’s take a deeper look at how, if, and when VR will change the online marketing industry.

Key Influences

VR could change the marketing world in some strong ways, ultimately through one or more of these paths:

  • Visual transmission. Visual marketing has seen a massive boost in the past few years, and VR is going to take that boost even further. Live-streamed video will start to become more popular, especially as other social apps jump on the bandwagon, such as Facebook’s recent rollout of Facebook Live, and users will come to expect visual experiences in all the media they consume. Written content and other non-visual forms could take a nosedive, accordingly.
  • Immersion. The immersive factor of VR is one of its biggest selling points, so it’s only natural that it would be one of its biggest influences in the marketing world. The whole idea behind VR is 360 degree surroundings, and that’s what users will come to expect. Forms of content like interviews, tutorials, and demonstrations will need to evolve accordingly; rather than staging an experience like a play or a film, you’ll need to frame them for a user “in” the experience. This will also lead to higher forms of user engagement.
  • Social integration. Oculus Rift is owned by Facebook, and Facebook is already taking measures to provide more forms of content for VR users. In the near future, more social apps will try to capitalize on the rising VR trend, and eventually, VR will change how we interact socially. Live-streaming first-person videos will become more popular, yes, but we’ll also see and engage with updates from friends (and companies) in new, unpredictably different ways.
  • Interactivity. VR offers more opportunities for users to interact with their content, and accordingly, users will demand higher levels of interactivity in the content they consume. This ranges from simple interactions, like exploring the visual layout of a 3-D environment, to more complex ones like simulated physical interactions (in future generations).
  • Feedback and user data. More sophisticated forms of VR could easily gather more sophisticated forms of user feedback and data; at the risk of sounding too futuristic, these devices could even monitor neural activity and involuntary facial responses. This could open the door to a whole new world of user feedback and data.

Key Obstacles

Of course, there are a handful of obstacles slowing down the rise and influence of these would-be “game-changing” shifts:

  • Sophistication. Despite coming a long way from the “virtual reality” devices of generations past, VR is still an early-stage technology. There’s relatively little data on how people use it, how they like it, and what makes for the “best” overall experience—not to mention the graphics, physical setup, and immersion factors are still in their infancy. It’s impressive, to be sure, but is it really ready to bring in an entire new generation of marketing strategies on its own shoulders?
  • User adoption. No matter how impressive, how useful, or how relevant a new technology is, there will always be a slow rate of user adoption. Only a fraction of us are rushing to get new VR devices as they come out, and the majority of us won’t even consider buying one for at least a couple generations of devices. This radically limits the potential audience of VR-oriented marketing campaigns, which means fewer companies are interested in developing material for VR, which in turn slows down the rate of development in VR altogether.
  • Data management. At this early stage, not enough data is available to fully predict how VR users would react best to advertising campaigns. Some of the ideas and angles I listed above sound useful in theory, but what if users react negatively to some of these? We’ll need a lot more data before we can start marketing effectively.

Should You Start Preparing?

Looking at the many ways VR could change our current marketing dynamics and the relatively minimal number of obstacles standing in its way, it might look like we’re on a crash-course for a serious pivot in user experience. The reality, though, is that VR is just now starting to enter the scene. Despite millions of people already enjoying the Oculus Rift, a forerunner in the VR world, the trend is far from mainstream, and will probably take years before most modern consumers are using it (assuming it catches on).

If you want to get ahead of the competition in a big way, you can start preparing your strategies for the shift now, but at this point you run the risk of coming to the party too early. It would be like optimizing your site for mobile devices back in 2007—useful to the cutting-edge technology crowd, but largely irrelevant to your other demographics. Keep a close eye on how VR develops over the next few years, and take steps according to how you believe your audience would react.

This article was written by Jayson DeMers from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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