With virtual technology making Black Mirror look more like a documentary every day, it’s no surprise forward-thinking companies have already started to experiment with immersive technology in their brand marketing.

The Global Virtual Reality Market was valued at 3.13 billion USD in 2017. Many expect it to climb to 49.7 billion by just 2023. The fact that we’re already seeing VR and AR immersive technologies appear in brand marketing is evidence of that.

Traditional marketing methods are being transformed by this wave of new tech and it’s likely to continue. Here are 5 reasons why:

1. Immersive technology elevates live experiences

The days of uninspiring fold-up desks and branded pens are becoming a distant memory. Now, brands are using immersive technology to give visitors a fully developed live experience with their brand.

At the 2016 San Diego Comic-Con, FX offered visitors a VR immersive experience. They were strapped to hospital beds and had HTC Vive headsets placed on their heads.

VR Scientific test stock image in a big white room

The guests were then taken on a 5-minute virtual horror adventure to get people excited about the new season of American Horror Story. The experience was so popular it was fully booked throughout the entire convention.

Rekorderlig took a similar path when they launched “Rekorderland” in London this summer. Rekorderland was a mixed reality experience allowing visitors to wear AR headsets that added holographic images and waves of light to the venue. They could also use Snapchat to interact with their drinks.

These live digital experiences are incredibly effective in evoking some sort of emotional response from the audience. Instead of replacing the physical experience, the technology amplifies it, offering an extremely well-rounded interaction with the brand.

2. It digitalizes try-before-you-buy

You’re much more likely to convince someone to part with their hard-earned cash if they can see exactly what they’ll receive in return. Before, in order to do this, you would have to get those people into your store to physically try it out. But now thanks to AR technology, people can try things out from anywhere (as long as they’ve got their phones).

Snapchat started introducing increasingly sophisticated AR shopping lenses from April 2018. These AR lenses allow Snapchat users to interact with the branding and products of affiliated companies. Wish.com reported seeing 17 times the engagement with the immersive ads, as opposed to their static product ads on Snapchat.

YouTube has also collaborated with various beauty brands to create their “AR Beauty Try On” feature. This allows users to watch makeup tutorials on one part of their screen while virtually trying on the affiliated makeup in another.

YouTube reported that their collaboration with MAC was particularly successful. They found that 30% of viewers activated the virtual feature and spent an average of 80 seconds trying on lipstick.

Before this technology was available, you would never expect someone to interact with an ad for that long. This immersive technology is so successful at brand marketing because it hugely extends the amount of time consumers want to interact with branded materials, including advertisements.

3. It maximizes social media

Social media has played a large role in brand marketing in recent years but this is completely maximized with the use of immersive technologies. As AR is usually visible through a smartphone, social media platforms are perfectly positioned as the delivery tool.

Just take a look at the success of Footlocker’s AR experience with Snapchat. When users used Snapchat’s AR filter on this Nike poster in a Footlocker store, Lebron James leaped out of the 2D poster and slam dunked a virtual hoop.

A video of the ad has received 2.2 million views, more than 12,000 retweets, and 50,000 likes.

These huge social media successes are likely one of the major driving forces behind more and more brands elevating their brand marketing with immersive technology. And can you blame them? Those numbers are pretty irresistible.

4. It’s better for the environment

Traditional brand marketing relied a lot on events and giveaways. I don’t think I need to tell you why giving away mountains of merchandise (probably plastic) to people who probably didn’t even want or need it in the first place is a bad thing.

Throwaway plastic has had catastrophic effects on the planet. By 2016, 8.3bn metric tonnes of plastic had been produced and two-thirds of that plastic has been released into the environment and is still there today.

By creating partially (AR) or fully (VR) digital experiences for consumers to engage with brands, this hugely reduces brand marketing waste. With this technology, if someone isn’t interested in the brand and doesn’t want to engage with the experience, that’s it. They just move on with their lives. More importantly, they’re not going to politely take your lovely merch and toss it out as soon as they’re home.

McDonald’s is a great example of a company integrating technology with their brand giveaways to reduce waste. They started “Happy Goggles” in Sweden where the Happy Meal Box can be turned into VR goggles with a slot for a smartphone. Take a look:

5. It optimizes touchpoints

5.13 billion people have some sort of mobile device. Innovative technology is allowing brands to scale their operations to a level previously impossible. AR technology allows anyone with a smartphone to engage with brands. VR technology, while still less accessible, will likely increase in popularity in the coming years.

In 2019, tech market research firm IDC predicts that VR and AR headset makers will sell 7.6 million headsets, the vast majority of which are expected to be VR. That’s up from just 5.9 million in 2018. While it’s not incredibly fast, and a large number of enterprises buy it rather than individual consumers, they are increasing.

Once consumers have engaged with a brand through this immersive technology, some industry experts believe they’re more likely to come back for more than with traditional marketing.

Nick Riggall, VP of emerging technologies at the George P. Johnson Experience Marketing agency, who works with tech giants CISCO, IBM, and Google, raises some interesting points on this. He argues that these immersive technological approaches might deliver softer but more meaningful results in the long term. This approach moves away from chasing leads and sign-ups as a numerical value. Instead, we work towards creating an emotional connection with consumers, which should ultimately drive more authentic and long-lasting brand loyalty.

The future of brand marketing?

There is rapid improvement in the quality and accessibility of immersive technology, and increasing pressure on companies to create as little waste as possible. Subsequently, it’s likely the shift towards tech-focused brand marketing will only increase in the future.

These immersive technologies transcend the confines of digital and physical brand marketing and create an experience that merges the two. Whether it’s at an event, in a store, or in someone’s home, these digital experiences encourage physical participation, which maximizes brand engagement.

You might not be ready to fully buy into the VR/AR world, but more and more big brands are testing the waters. As a result, they are seeing some pretty exciting outcomes. So don’t be late to the (virtual) party …

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