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Virtual reality isn’t future tech reserved for your favorite sci-fi films anymore.

Over the past few years, VR has made enormous gains as more companies invest R&D budgets into the technology.

For years, the tech was seen as an interesting platform but ultimately a novelty among both companies and consumers.

As more accessible tech — like VR headsets that use mobile phones as the display — have become available at cheaper prices, the demand for the technology has grown.

41 percent of adults are interested in giving VR a try.

Source: Bank of America Merrill Lynch

In 2016, we saw the success of virtual reality’s sister tech, augmented reality, on full display with the success of Pokemon Go.

The game still maintains a huge active monthly player base.

VR is growing incredibly fast.

In 2017, revenues are predicted to top $7 billion, with sharp increases predicted in the years to follow.

A large reason for the upswing in interest is propelled by the wide range of different applications that the technology could be used for.

The obvious example is entertainment.

Virtual reality gaming has served as a testing ground for the technology.

Gaming applications have driven a large portion of the revenue in the industry’s infancy.

But the real potential for VR tech comes in forms that many wouldn’t initially expect.

Using VR for training purposes has huge potential. Surgeons could use VR to prepare for stressful real-world scenarios.

Delivery drivers could receive training for very specific scenarios they might encounter on the road.

Insurance claims reps could improve their ability to assess damage.

VR also presents retailers with a cost-effective way to conduct customer research.

Ultimately, we are just scratching the surface of VR’s potential applications, a big reason for the huge projections in the technology’s growth in the coming years.

But VR will also likely find a big role in marketing as well.

Creating branded VR experiences can be a great way to captivate audiences, catch the attention of large publications, and stand out from the crowd.

In the coming decade, VR will become a valuable tool in the content marketing arsenal.

A New Frontier in Content Marketing

As marketers, storytelling is at the heart of everything that we do.

We are always looking for ways to tell interesting stories. Stories connect with audiences.

The need for visual storytelling has played a big role in the rapid growth of mobile video and also a big reason why VR will be following in its footsteps.

Taking a look at the top priorities of marketers in B2C content, the appeal of VR becomes more clear:

Marketers and the consumers that they strive to connect with crave content that is both engaging and visual, two areas where VR absolutely shines.

VR provides a unique opportunity to place customers in the starring role of their own story.

Instead of hearing about the places that someone else went in their new luxury car, a VR environment can place them behind the wheel, enjoying their new ride.

For now, the competition for VR experiences is not significant.

It’s fairly easy for simple VR content to get covered by some of the largest publications in the world.

Over time, the space will become more competitive and brands will have to work harder to get their VR content noticed.

Examples of VR Marketing

Let’s take a look at how innovative, forward-thinking companies are already using VR to bring unique, immersive experiences to their audiences and reaping the rewards for doing so:

Marriott Lets Customers Test-Drive Vacations

For marketers in the travel industry, a lot of their effectiveness depends upon their ability to sell a story to their visitors.

The story of a vacation to X destination.

But there is often a disconnect.

It’s hard to explain through words alone what a vacation to Rome will feel like.

Videos can help but are still more like a window into someone else’s experience than a sneak-peek into their future vacation.

But Marriott’s new branded VR experiences are here to bridge that gap.

Marriott has created VR experiences for some of their most popular destinations, allowing participants to enter a virtual world and feel what it would be like to be there.

They can walk through their hotel, check out the pool, visit local attractions, or just sit on the beach and enjoy the virtual sunset.

Giving consumers the ability to put themselves directly into the vacation is a powerful storytelling tool.

They have complete control over where they go and what they see inside Marriott’s virtual vacation.

It isn’t selling the vacation to you through the experiences of other people.

It’s letting customers get a taste of the experience from the comfort of their own home.

Merrell Brings the Outdoors, Indoors

Over the years a lot of sports recreation companies have used extreme sports to sell their equipment, despite the fact that a vast majority of their customers won’t use their new gear for much more than an occasional hike or camping trip.

But that doesn’t make the story any less effective.

Any fan of the outdoors wishes that they could experience the thrill of flying down some gnarly rapids on a raft, base jumping off of a cliff, or walking across a rickety wooden bridge in the depths of the jungle.

But, we have families and people who love us.

For average (sane) people, those kinds of things are too dangerous.

But they do make for great stories.

So to attract new customers, Merrel sought to create those types of environments in their new “Trailscape” VR experience.

Trailscape stands out from other VR experiences by giving the user free reign of their own indoor course, designed to mimic the feel of the VR environment they see on screen.

When you walk across a rickety wooden bridge in VR, you’re actually traversing a wooden bridge in the Trailscape course.

As a landslide falls over the path in front of you, loud crashing sounds play and the floor rumbles.

These kind of unique branded experience are more than just another marketing ploy to customers.

They are experiences that they will carry with them for years.

The next time they want to buy a new pair of hiking boots, they’ll probably remember their time using Trailscape and pick them up from Merrell.

Volvo Let’s Drivers Test Drive Luxury Vehicles from Home

One of the most important parts of the car buying experience is the test drive.

It’s the definitive moment when a customer goes from considering a vehicle to actually seeing themselves driving it. Getting a customer behind the wheel for a test drive is one of the most important tasks for any auto dealer.

So when Volvo was launching their new XC90 luxury car, they looked to remove that point of friction from the equation.

They did so by launching a simple VR experience on the iOS and Android app stores.

The app allowed users to simulate a test drive in a VR environment, looking around at the spacious interior of the car, checking out the dashboard, and generally getting a feel for what driving the vehicle would be like.

The app was a low-cost investment that attracted a lot of attention for the company.

Their video advertising the app has more than 175k views on YouTube, with hundreds of reviews spread across the two app stores.

Virtual Reality Marketing and the Future

Virtual reality marketing is already making a serious dent in the world, but as of now, brands are only scraping the surface.

As time goes on, branded VR experiences will get cleaner, more detailed, and more engaging for audiences.

Branded VR marketing experiences have the ability to tell consumers stories in a whole new way — a way where they actively play the role of the central protagonist.

VR fuels engagement in a way that no other medium can replicate.

For now, creating quality VR content is an excellent way to stand out from the competition.

In the future, the space will undoubtedly become more crowded.

With a huge range of possible applications for VR, creativity will play a key role in making the most of the platform and connecting with customers in new ways.

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