Virtual reality is coming. In fact, it’s coming this year. The Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and Microsoft HoloLens have dominated tech news throughout 2016, and though they may be primarily targeted towards games and entertainment, they also represent some interesting opportunities for the digital marketing arena.

Virtual Reality and the Digital Marketer

virtual-reality-1389032_1920Consumers have been interested in virtual reality for some time, but it’s only recently that the technology itself has been feasible. Virtual reality headsets are currently being used to play games in immersive environments and watch movies in expansive, private theaters. Some virtual reality applications are even being developed to create entirely digital work spaces, where employees can potentially collaborate with peers who are in an entirely different location. But as with all entertainment, the virtual reality platform will eventually become open to marketers, just as mobile platforms before it. This opens up some incredible doorways, such as tying advertisements into 3D environments and creating fully immersive marketing experiences.

Being “There” With Virtual Reality

Virtual reality makes it possible for customers to review products in a 3D space before purchasing them. Theoretically, customers can visit an entire virtual reality mall, making purchases as they go. Real estate agents can conduct a 3D walkthrough of a property halfway across the world, and customers can take a look at hotels and restaurants before they make a reservation. When used properly, virtual reality will give unique opportunities for marketers to engage directly with their clientele, providing all the benefits of brick-and-mortar sales.

Data Mining and Analysis in a Virtual World

virtual-reality-1237523_1920Incredibly, though, providing a full 3D experience isn’t the most valuable aspect of VR technology. Most digital marketing will probably still be in the form of content, videos, and images– purely from a budgetary point of view. No, the most significant value for marketers is probably going to deal with big data. Marketers will theoretically be able to use VR technology to track what customers look at and interact with. They’ll be able to tell how long customers spend looking at specific objects to gain their interest. This goes far beyond the traditional statistics that digital marketers use for web-based interactions. By tying this into existing marketing campaigns, businesses will be able to target their ads even more effectively.

But That’s Not All — Augmented Reality Is Still Coming

Fast on the heels of the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive is Microsoft’s own HoloLens. Microsoft’s HoloLens appeals to a significantly different demographic: it’s essentially a B2B product. More costly than either the Rift or the Vive, this headset can be provided by businesses to their professionals for the purposes of productivity, especially in the areas of design and engineering. HoloLens isn’t a virtual reality product, it’s an augmented reality product. It’s essentially everything that Google Glass wanted to be and more.

Augmented reality is even more important than virtual reality because it has the capacity to become ubiquitous. It’s also not unlikely that HoloLens will be marketed towards business consumers and professionals and then filter down to the consumer market, once the price point can be addressed — at $3,000 it’s a little too expensive for the average household. With augmented reality, advertisements can actually be displayed in real time over reality. You could be walking down the street and receive a banner ad and coupon for the restaurant that you’re passing.

Virtual reality and augmented reality represent the potential for a paradigm shift as disruptive as the one from print to the Internet. It allows for targeted advertising within the consumer’s living space, driven by in-depth behavioral analysis. And while this may be exciting for marketers, it should also be a little worrying for consumers.

Jenna Inouye
Jenna I. is a freelance writer, programmer and web developer, focusing on the areas of digital marketing, technology, gaming and finance. Hire Jenna through WriterAccess or contact her directly.

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