Steven Spielberg’s sci-fi movie “Ready Player One,” based on the bestselling book by Ernest Kline, tells the story of a dystopian future where nearly everything is done in a virtual reality world called the “Oasis.” This includes schooling, banking, and even shopping.
In other words, virtual reality is the true reality for most people.
How about our real-world reality? Truth be told, brands have been playing with virtual worlds for years. In 2003, Phillip Rosedale launched a virtual world called Second Life. In this Sims-like environment, people could re-create themselves as a digital avatar that could interact with brands such as Toyota, Coca-Cola, and Adidas. Avatars, for instance, could purchase virtual shoes from Adidas that allowed them to fly.
Fast-forward to today. It has been almost two years since Oculus Rift launched its VR headset, the first device that enabled users to enter virtual reality. To date, almost 7 million virtual reality headsets have been sold worldwide. IDC Research predicts that 50 million headsets will be sold by 2021. This means that wide-scale adoption of VR is less about if it will happen and more about when.
This is why brands must ask themselves about VR’s business implications and how they can use it to further their corporate objectives. (A host of brands already are.)
Here are three use cases for when brands might want to take advantage of virtual reality.
1. A better brand representation: We’ve all struggled with how to project our brand vision into the real world. With most aspirational brands, making a literal interpretation of this vision is difficult. Well, with virtual reality, the impossible becomes possible. Imagine a Skechers site that looks like a giant skate park. Or a Long John Silver’s restaurant that is entirely underwater.
What if Coca-Cola could give you a tour through a perfect re-creation of its bottling plant? Or Mondavi could walk you through its acres of wine-ripe grapes? Whatever brand experience you want, you can create in virtual reality.
National Geographic does this well today. Fans of the network can enter an immersive nature experience that is iconic to the brand. Last month it even created this VR video from space:
2. A better shopping experience: Maintaining brick-and-mortar stores is not only expensive, but is physically limiting in terms of the inventory it can offer. E-commerce has the reverse problem. It’s cheaper to maintain a website with unlimited inventory, but has no elegant way to allow people to browse through a massive amount of merchandise and shop in the familiar tactile fashion.
A store in virtual reality can provide the same visual and tactile experiences of a brick-and-mortar store, but offer a broader browsing capability.
Walmart, for example, could offer 1,000 aisles of merchandise instead of 20, allowing avatars to teleport to the right aisle to browse merchandise they might be interested in. Need a doggy bed? Enjoy an entire aisle of doggy beds, bring your virtual dog to test them out, and then purchase the best one without ever getting out of your pajamas and leaving home.
Companies including IKEA are already ahead of the game. As one of the first companies to invest in virtual reality, anyone can don a VR headset and walk through a virtual store.
3. A better way to listen to your customers: Brands succeed when they listen to the their customers and deliver on their needs. But how do you cost-effectively reach them for feedback? Focus groups are expensive to conduct and difficult to administer. Surveys are largely ignored.
Virtual reality can change all of this. Imagine joining your customers in a virtual chat room where they can speak freely and even anonymously about your brand. Customers can come from anywhere in the world to be a part of this group and share their opinions, and it doesn’t cost you a dime. And after the event, a full transcript of each conversation can be captured and studied for the future.
Best Western Hotels does this today by offering hotel guests a chance to view and comment on the room before they book.
It will be years before a VR headset exists in every home. In fact, the technology has a really long way to go. But when it gets there—and it will get there—brands should be ready to stake their claim and reap the benefits of a connected virtual world.