About two years ago, I tried a virtual reality (VR) headset for the first time — and experienced a technology beyond words. It instantly transported me to a different time, place and scenario. I couldn’t help thinking how it could also transform the way businesses market, train, and operate.
Testing The Reality Of VR
Soon after, my vodka company got the opportunity to test this theory with one of our sponsors, an extreme aviation company. We asked their fighter pilot to test the VR headset by practicing the routine for his upcoming air show flight. The headset also helped me prepare for a real flight with him in the fighter jet — and all of its pressures and challenges. He was amazed at how realistic the VR experiences were.
Clearly, the training concept checked out. After all, compared to training in the actual fighter jet, VR proved safer, equally accurate, more cost-effective and exciting.
During the air show season, our sponsor developed a VR experiential marketing experience to offer air show attendees and participants: VR “flights” in their aircraft, which also helped promote their company and their affiliated sponsors. These experiences proved so memorable that our brands generated hundreds of long-term customers, followers and fans who still talk about that event.
VR has allowed us to show our staff how to duplicate this experience. It also helps inspire our team members to come up with other fresh, unusual, and customized experiential campaigns for our markets.
The Value Of VR
I feel that these VR “experiments” proved quite successful and that they highlight some of the benefits of the platform.
• VR could help cut costs, especially in the long-term, by providing alternatives to expensive travel and elaborate conferences. Rather than spending a fortune to bring staff together to a certain training destination or experience, you could use VR headsets to bring the experience to the people, wherever and whenever it’s convenient for each one.
• VR could speed and enhance training practices in a safe, accurate and cost-effective manner. Just as VR helped train me for the fighter jet experience, you could use VR to simulate scenarios and customize each one to your particular staff member’s strengths, weaknesses, responsibilities and goals without the risk of making mistakes in a real-life situation.
• VR could deliver new, creative and unusual experiential marketing campaigns that consumers remember and retain. In my experience, the more unusual, memorable and positive a consumer’s experience with your brand is, the more likely it is that he or she will be loyal to it. If you create VR experiences according to occasions, themes or target markets, as we did with the VR flights, you can offer consumers something extremely memorable and possibly life-changing. In addition, you could easily and accurately replicate VR experiences that work if the VR experiences are programmable and transferable to other VR devices.
• VR lends itself to customizations for specific target markets, individual capacities and a person or group’s distinct goals or needs. One size and one experience may not fit all. As a result, I highly recommend that you assess and then fine-tune or completely change the experiences you offer in order to appeal to a particular demographic, interest or even personal preference or need. My flight-training experience was different from the seasoned pilot’s — and the VR experience we offered spectators was different, too. Never be afraid to customize the VR experience so that it resonates more with the people or person using it.
The Pitfalls Of VR
As with any potentially life-altering technology, those who use VR may face some inherent risks and challenges, some short-term and some quite long-term. These are a few challenges I anticipate.
• Many VR headsets currently on the market are still a bit bulky, pricey and impractical (as not many are cordless).
• VR threatens to replace real-life experiences and travels rather than train, prepare and excite people for the actual ones.
• VR could further isolate users by reducing real connections with other people, instead of facilitating them.
• VR has an incredible potential to distract users from pain or discomfort, but intense, extended or inappropriate distractions could lead to dangerous incidents, accidents and even VR addiction.
For business development purposes, I believe it’s vital that you choose or design VR experiences that complement your product or service, rather than replacing the need for it. Similarly, when you offer experiential marketing, I recommend making sure that your VR experiences don’t distract consumers so much that they forget or lack the attention needed to actually purchase, use and enjoy your product in real life.