Virtual reality (VR) is currently in its "wild west" phase as brands try to find engaging ways to use it for marketing purposes. Right now, it's easy to use the novelty of VR to engage with customers, but soon VR experiences will need to deliver more tangible benefits. The road to success isn't clearly defined, but many unique uses for VR and 360-video are beginning to emerge.

360-video refers to footage that was captured or created with a 360 degree field of view.  360-video typically has limited interaction and is usually a passive experience. The amount of interaction is usually limited to looking around the environment and  simple button presses to navigate through videos. Similar to 360-video, VR puts you into an experience with a 360 degree field of view. The differentiator is the level of interaction you can achieve in VR. VR experiences typically use specialized controllers that allow you to manipulate and interact with the space around you. You can pick up objects, throw objects, even create new objects. You are also able to actively walk around the experience and your movement is translated into the virtual world.

YouTube, Vimeo, and Facebook all have native 360-video viewer options that allow people to easily view 360-video content without a viewer. VR has been made accessible through Google cardboard and other similar inexpensive 360-video viewers, which has also helped greatly boost the reputation and viability of VR and 360 content as a useful medium. The New York Times sent out over a million Google cardboard viewers to their subscribers. McDonald’s made their Happy Meals boxes transform into Happy Goggles in a promotion in Sweden.

Visualize the intangible

Today, most VR experiences used in marketing campaigns immerse viewers in new and unique places but not many have used the technology to visualize things that are intangible. I think this is a huge opportunity for technology companies—to be able to interact with potential customers to better educate them about their products. A virtual interface, if designed well, can make experiencing new and unique things fluid and more manageable.

Lowes has created an interesting VR experience they call the Holoroom How To. It's an experience that uses VR to teach users how to do various do-it-yourself (DIY)  projects. By engaging and educating customers in this way, Lowes brings value to its brand. Also, customers will feel more empowered to actually do those DIY projects that seemed daunting before. That can easily be translated into higher sales as those customers are now going to go out and buy the products they are familiar with from the VR experience. Lowes’ Holoroom How To experience shows that an empowered customer base is a very powerful marketing tool.

Virtual customer engagement

For brand marketing departments, building customer engagement is a top priority. Success comes from providing customers with a chance to interact with the brand—and have a unique and positive experience.

As companies continue to look for interactive ways to engage their customers, expect to see more VR experiences in marketing. The potential of VR is still being discovered, but the technology is ubiquitous and it will become a marketing mainstay.

Brainstorming our VR future at Red Hat

At Red Hat, we are exploring our possibilities with VR experiences and 360-degree video storytelling. Our marketing team has brainstormed a number of ideas that we’ve captured on a digital whiteboard. The ideas are organized by experiences that would do well in 3 categories: inside event, outside event, and internal use. We found it helpful to  also label the ideas by experience type: simulation, game, education, and content viewer.  We found that many ideas fall into more than one category.

At an internal event (an event that Red Hat is hosting), our customers are already familiar with our company and our brand, so we want to reinforce a positive brand association, which allows a lot of freedom in VR experiences. We have found that the game and content viewer categories are effective for this kind of event.

For an outside event (an event where Red Hat has a booth), we typically want to increase brand awareness so our VR experiences would need to focus on expanding brand knowledge and educating people on what Red Hat does and what we are about. Content viewer, simulation, and education categories are effective at this type of event.

Internal use is exactly what it sounds like. For this area, we’re exploring VR for employee training and visualizing event booths. Simulation and education categories are a good fit for this area.

Moving forward, we hope to incorporate more VR experiences into Red Hat events and workflow. While we still have a lot of research, development, and testing ahead of us, we have a solid roadmap for expanding our VR experiences and making them a major feature in our marketing toolkit.

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