While some companies are active in Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality in the enterprise, many large businesses have been hesitant to leap into VR. This is true because the focus has been all about the technology and not as much about the potential value of these kinds of applications.
Simply creating a VR application for the sake of the VR experience has no inherent value to the customer, nor does it have any value to the marketer, other than the hype it generates. After the hype wears off, however, one is left with nothing sustainable, in terms of brand association, recall or customer loyalty.
VR has been around for a long time. The first public experience of this kind was the Sensorama, unveiled in 1962 as a multi-sensory 3D stereoscopic movie experience that included stereo sound and even aromas to complete the “real life” simulation.
Since then, the technology has evolved substantially and is most commonly delivered in the form of a head-mounted display, which has become more popular for computer games than any other application. When one looks at virtual reality in the enterprise, we are really early in the Technology Adoption Lifecycle – in fact, we are just emerging from the “Innovation” stage and are beginning the “Early Adopter” phase.
What this means is that the underlying technology is still advancing rapidly, but leading companies are willing to begin to solve important problems in this innovative way because of the significant benefits that would accrue were these early projects proven to be successful.
What is the real value of VR for marketing and sales? Well, the answer revolves around the notion of immersive experiences. When one dons a headset, all visual connection to the real world is suspended, and the user is immersed in the virtual 3D scene. (This is different from augmented reality, in which a combination of real-time views of the real world and digital objects are blended).
What this means for sales
For marketers, immersive applications are useful when complex products and solutions are difficult to understand in conventional experiences (such as presentations, or even touch-screen modes). Communicating a business outcome for complex products and solutions is extremely difficult to demonstrate “live” in the real-world with physical products or less tangible solutions (such as cloud computing, software data flows, electric grid re-routing, or molecular reactions). Demonstrating these complex solutions within a “virtual” immersive environment – such as a hospital, laboratory, data center, manufacturing plant, or oil refinery – that is contextually relevant to the user can be a highly effective way to help customers relate to what the product or solution is, how it works and why it will benefit them.
As VR hardware continues to evolve and become simpler for the mainstream, these experiences will become more useful in sales engagements. For example, Lenovo is the first to announce the availability of an all-in-one VR headset based on Google’s Daydream platform, which will deliver high-quality VR experiences with very little setup required. Another dimension of technology evolution that will dramatically impact B2B marketing is WebVR, the ability to deliver VR experiences on websites. Because of the recent launch of the Microsoft Mixed Reality platform, WebVR is now a reality and will become a pervasive VR environment for both B2C and B2B applications.
Immersive VR applications have the potential to transform the connection with between buyers and customers because they offer the ability to help them understand differentiated value by delivering the most engaging, personalized and truly useful experiences.