Opportunities for virtual reality in B2B marketing

The developments in virtual reality (VR) really hit the headlines this year. It has been a steady build up to this point, but the technology has finally entered the mainstream, clearing the way for marketers to use it to their advantage.

Starting with Mobile World Congress in February, Samsung announced their S7 and S7 Edge smartphones, but their real focus was on the VR that the phones supported. Samsung supplied the audience with headsets so the media and attendees could experience it during the announcement. The ultimate endorsement came from Mark Zuckerberg during the demo as he declared: “It’s going to change the way we live and work and communicate.”

This partnership between Samsung and Zuckerberg formed back in 2014 when Facebook acquired Oculus for $2bn. This was around the same time that Google invested $540, in MagicLeap. There have been attempts to develop VR in the past that have been unsuccessful, but thanks to investment and backing from big name brands, and development in the technology, people and marketers are now able to use the technology to their advantage.

Harte Hanks’ webinar, ‘Using Virtual Reality to engage big-ticket B2B buyers’ highlighted how VR is starting to raise the experience that customers are expecting and all brands now need to look to be prepared for it as the hype is only set to continue.

As David Chandler highlighted in ‘Using Virtual Reality to Engage big-ticket B2B buyers’, “Whilst virtual reality content will compete in the space as traditional linear video, the content experience isn’t directly comparable. Playing a video through a headset isn’t the same as what VR gives you. Both VR and 360 video go beyond this to give you more immersive experiences that lend themselves to the complex and visual stories that we need to tell in B2B.”

Here are four key ways that marketers can use VR in their marketing:

Try before you buy

Virtual Reality allows you to experience high value propositions. As marketers, the principles of transporting potential customers to virtual worlds can be applied to large scale experiences and large products, particularly in the likes of engineering or aviation where large products are difficult to communicate or have a costly infrastructure to set up. Top of the funnel marketing is about generating awareness and cultivating a buzz with perspective buyers and VR is a great way to do this and then progress through to leads and opportunity management much more effectively.

A great example of this is General Electric using Oculus Rift headsets to offer a VR tour of their new sub-sea factory, part of its Deep Sea Research Centre in Brazil, which will process oil and gas from the ocean floor.  

“The Oculus Rift experience provided an opportunity for us to take viewers into otherworldly territory that we wouldn’t normally be able to visit,” said Katrina Craigwell, GE’s Head of Global Digital Programming. “Traveling a mile down to the bottom of the ocean off the coast of Brazil, the experience highlights the extreme environment that subsea technology must withstand, and a vision for how a subsea factory will work in the future.”

Market research 

According to a recent study from Oglivy Action, 39% of consumers still make their brand purchase decision in-store.  There’s not any traditional market research that can replicate the impulsive decision making conditions, so when it comes to market research the more realistic it can be, the more accurate it can be.

Virtual reality offers the ability to be mimicked live reality situations. A recent report from GFK showed that a quarter of consumers felt that virtual reactions were as good as being in the real situation.

EG Lieberman Research Worldwide recently used VR to help restaurants trial new menus and take part in new product testing campaigns. Results found that the immersive nature increases authenticity of responses.

Customer service

Every interaction marketers have with buyers is an opportunity to create a valuable and potentially sustainable connection, so the immersive experience that companies can create using virtual reality is a great opportunity. Help experiences are fast becoming a way to add value to customer service as buyers. This can be used to measure emotions to gauge buyers’ satisfaction and loyalty towards brands. Being able to measure these touch points in a VR experience will unlock new data sets to find out what makes consumers tick.

Harte Hanks have been trailing this technology. Simon Lodge, Senior Creative Strategist said: “It provides greater insight on how consumers feel about brands and trigger positive brand reactions. VR comes into its element here because it is an immersive experience so the consumer is 100% engaged with the content infront of them they can’t look away from what’s in front of them.”

Events

Conferences and events continue to be a reliable form of marketing, with 67% of B2B marketers considering event marketing to be their most effective strategy. But getting to events in person can prove problematic. But with the magic of VR, people can access the inaccessible. It’s the next step on from streaming events live online.

The NBA are currently working with Samsung to be able to deliver their basketball games to a worldwide audience through streaming on Samsung mobile devices and connecting to Gear VR headsets.

As well using VR to stream events, VR experiences can be built into events to provide demos. Unite Europe 2016 was a prime example of this as exhibitors including Microsoft, Sony Playstation and Zerolights brought along VR headsets to demonstrate their latest technology and transport attendees outside the walls of the event venue to experience their products on another level.

Now is the time for marketers to start to think outside the box and step into the 3D world of VR utilise the technology to help inform their business strategy as well as using it to showcase their products and services.