Think of a musician, an author, and a philosopher; one living in the 20th century, one in the 19th century, and one in the 18th century. What could they possibly have in common? Well, for example, they would all likely agree that imagination is more powerful than reality. But in the 21st century, we will see a dramatic shift — virtual reality is fundamentally changing how we imagine the world around us, and allowing brands to deliver more immersive experiences.
Let’s hear what these enlightened gentlemen have said, exactly: John Lennon believed that “Reality leaves a lot to the imagination”; Mark Twain pointed out that “Reality can be beaten with enough imagination”; and Jean-Jacques Rousseau found that while “The world of reality has its limits, the world of imagination is boundless.”
With new technologies such as virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) on the rise, the power to bring imagination to life becomes almost boundless—and a profound mandate for customer experience design. Imagine immersing yourself into a hotel room before booking it. Imagine test-driving all your favorite cars from the comfort of your couch. Imagine having the best seat in the house during the Super Bowl—without even physically being there.
All this is already possible—or will be very soon.
Citi estimates that 2016 is the year that VR will take off in earnest and grow to a $15.9 billion industry by 2019, and $200 billion by 2020. Even on the modest side, Goldman Sachs projects an $80 billion market for virtual and augmented reality by 2025.
VR is powerful because it opens up and democratizes a whole new world of opportunity for both people and the brands that serve them by:
• Democratizing exclusive experiences: Now anyone can stroll through a luxury boutique on Rodeo Drive.
• Giving access to distant locations: Now anyone can spend time on a remote beach in the Virgin Islands.
• Pushing convenience to the next level: Now anyone can browse through the aisles of Walmart from home.
• Enabling relationships: Now anyone can virtually meet anywhere, no matter where they are physically.
Let’s take a look at some examples from different industries (outside of the more obvious and widely discussed applications in gaming) of how VR/AR is changing the way we design customer experiences:
This week we are introducing our Samsung + Oculus Gear VR marketing program to interested clients. Message for demo. pic.twitter.com/Cst4vz1Qq9
— Matthew Hood RE (@MatthewHoodRE) January 12, 2015
Real Estate: Sotheby’s International Realty in Los Angeles is using Samsung Gear and Oculus Rift VR devices to allow affluent customers to tour their next luxury multi-million dollar homes from the comfort of their current ones. We can expect VR experiences to find their way onto other real estate sites like Zillow and Trulia, making this new type of “Open House” available to all of us.
Tourism and Hospitality: Marriott is experimenting with a variety of virtual reality experiences, from its #GetTeleported immersive 4-D campaign in 2014 to last year’s tandem “VR Postcards” and “Vroom Service” launch: headsets that allow hotel guests in New York and London to order a VR toolkit to their rooms, which will then “transport” them to remote destinations such as Rwanda, Chile, and Beijing and take them on a virtual trip via a full 360° 3D experience.
And wooing winter-weary souls to book a cruise, in February Carnival “sailed” the streets of Chicago with a glass-bodied truck featuring a traveling cruise ship deck, with AT&T on-board as a partner for the promotion.
Non-Profit: VR storytelling is helping spur charitable giving. Pencils of Promise highlighted VR during its gala fundraiser in October with a 90-second film showing how it transformed a school in Toklokpo, Ghana.
At its year-end 10th annual black tie gala in New York, Charity: Water sent 400 donors on an emotional trip to the Third World via a virtual reality documentary to show how their dollars were being put to good use.
And across the Atlantic, Amnesty International brought VR to street fundraising in a first last year, inviting Londoners to don Google Goggles and tour a “virtual reality Aleppo” in Syria, prompting a 16 percent increase in donations.
Automotive: In just one example of the many tests of VR technology by automakers, from production to showrooms and driver safety, Volvo sold out its new XC90 online last fall after it invited potential customers to take a virtual reality test drive by downloading the Volvo Reality mobile app, using a Google Cardboard headset – and “buckle up”!
Education: The classroom applications for using VR as a teaching tool to bring subjects to life are expanding. Google launched its Expeditions Pioneer program in September 2015, giving thousands of schools around the world a kit for teachers to take their class on a virtual trip, as TechCrunch notes: “Asus smartphones, a tablet for the teacher to direct the tour, a router that allows Expeditions to run without an Internet connection, a library of 100+ virtual trips (from the Great Wall of China to Mars) and Google Cardboard viewers or Mattel ViewMasters that turn smartphones into VR headsets.”
Military: After laying the groundwork for developing modern-day virtual reality with flight simulators, the US Military has adopted VR technology across the Army, Navy, and Air Force to train soldiers without risking actual injury. Head mounted displays (HMD) simulate flight training, combat scenarios, or medical training – in a much safer (and less costly) environment.
Retail: Stopping shoppers in their tracks makes VR a natural digital engagement tool for retail brands. Ever wanted to BASE jump – without actually having to jump off a cliff? The North Face has made that a “reality” in a handful of US stores including Chicago, New York and San Francisco, transporting customers to a pulse-racing adventure in Yosemite National Park and Moab, Utah alongside the brand’s global athletes Cedar Wright and Sam Elias. Using Google Cardboard, Oculus and Jaunt technology, viewers can experience prepping rope and climbing—and the thrill of the great outdoors and breathtaking views.
And it’s not only in the US that The North Face is testing VR as a way to re-imagine its brick-and-mortar stores for a generation that is addicted to new gadgets and craving new experiences—witness the VR surprises (including a “disappearing” floor) that have shaken up its Seoul flagship.
Consumer Packaged Goods: Patrón last year turned Tequila lovers into flying bees—taking them on the “Art of Patrón Virtual Reality Experience” tour to Patrón’s Hacienda Headquarter in Mexico and through an idyllic agave field—all shot with a 360heros camera rig, installed on a custom-made flying drone for a final VR film that paired live action footage with cinematic CGI animation and took six months to produce the bee’s-eye view.
Patrón Spirits’ Global Chief Marketing Officer Lee Applebaum explained why virtual reality is the ideal medium to share the brand’s rich tradition: “While many brands are utilizing virtual reality largely for entertainment, Patrón is leveraging this incredible interactive technology as a unique educational tool, to give an immersive, behind-the-scenes look into the artisanal process of making our handcrafted tequila.”
Gatorade opened up a new perspective for baseball fans in September with a 360-degree video featuring Washington Nationals star Bryce Harper that virtually put fans in his shoes, allowing them to experience the feeling of being a Major League Baseball player at-bat. The pitch: “To see what it’s like to be Bryce Harper, use a (Google) Cardboard headset on your Android device, open the video in the YouTube app, then tap the Cardboard headset icon in the bottom right to switch into virtual reality viewing mode. Place your phone horizontally in the headset and boom, you’re Bryce.”
These are just a few of the industries and companies that are pioneering VR and AR technology – and they are by no means the only ones. From beauty to sports, from business services to financial services and beyond, there are many examples of how VR/AR experiences shape the way we can interact with brands and their products these days—and if we take that as a humble sign for what’s to come, the future of marketing richer. Marketing and Brand Managers will find themselves in a place that allows them to tell stories more effectively, to connect emotionally, and to build more engaging and immersive relationships.
So let’s go back to John Lennon for a second. It seems like the last verse of his song “Imagine” paints a picture of a more connected world—and who says it shouldn’t be enabled by virtual reality?
You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will live as one.
Dominik Prinz is Interbrand’s Head of Strategy in New York and San Francisco and a recognized thought leader and practitioner on how to connect an organization’s business, brand and purpose. Follow him on Twitter at @DomPrinz.
Randy Rayess is the co-founder of VenturePact, a digital enablement platform for companies to hire and manage web, mobile, Internet of Things and virtual reality teams. He is passionate about enterprise digital transformation. Follow him on Twitter at @RandyRayess.