Virtual Reality: This time it’s real. And marketers should be paying attention

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Virtual Reality: This time it’s real. And marketers should be paying attention

After years of false starts and not-quite-there technology, virtual reality has re-emerged as the next big innovation set to launch brands and marketers into another world … literally.

From its often bleak portrayal by science fiction and Hollywood movies, to public expectation being over-hyped, VR’s early efforts to revolutionise the world never quite took off. After one too many false starts, the VR industry effectively closed shop in the mid-90s, just in time for the internet to take over the digital revolution.

Then, in March last year, Facebook announced the purchase of VR tech firm Oculus for $2 billion, propelling virtual reality back to the top of the innovation race. Today, some of the world’s biggest tech giants have joined the party, making big moves into VR. Among them are the likes of Lenovo, HTC, Samsung, Google, Microsoft and Sony. All these companies have products either in the market or waiting in the wings.

Virtual reality is back. And this time, it’s serious.

But with a history beset by false-starts, cybersickness, a bad rep and some not-quite-there technology, the question that rises is, just how seriously should we be taking VR?“I think it’s going to be very serious,” says Jonathon Oliver, global head of innovation at Microsoft. “It’s the next big arms race for businesses to win.”“This is not a fad,” says Don Anderson, managing director at We Are Social Singapore. “While there are plenty of detractors out there, any noise they are hoping to create is being drowned out by the commitment currently exhibited by the world’s largest tech firms. VR is something none of us will be able to ignore.”

What separates earlier attempts at VR with the latest wave that’s poised to hit the market?

For Oliver, the key differences lie in the significant investment in the technology, that’s about to meet a tech-savvy, and tech-hungry consumer. The investment is there, and the market is now open to it and ready for it.“One thing that you can say that is very telling, is the level of investment, and the level of motivation from a number of difference companies” he says. “The reason why people are reticent is because there have been a number of false starts over the years.”“In the past, technology and consumer trends weren’t indisputable wedded together. Today they are. Consumer trends and tech trends are one and the same,” Oliver adds.

So what does this all mean for marketers?

The obvious opportunity for brands and marketers, Anderson points out, is to deliver first-hand, virtual experiences around particular products or services.

“That could involve anything from visiting a particular hotel or taking a vehicle for a test drive before purchase. Virtual reality allows marketers to deliver stories and richer content experiences that traditional forms of advertising can’t match,” he says.

Many brands have already started experimenting with VR, with the likes of Volvo, Virgin Holidays, Mountain Dew and Nissan among some of the early adopters. Most recently, BBC Global News used VR in a new interactive campaign to showcase how it delivers personal, portable and on-demand news for the digital age. Be Everywhere, premiered at Cannes Lions this week, “to illustrate the innovative digital opportunities available to advertisers.”

In another example, tequila brand Patron took users on a virtual tour of its distillery. “Virtual reality is capable of delivering unique experiences to audiences they can access at any time provided they have the technology,” says Anderson.

Greg Isbister, CEO at adtech firm Blis, highlights the opportunity for brands to actually advertise within virtual world.

“Several companies are aiming to serve brands that want to advertise on these new platforms,” he says. “Sponsored content within the VR environment is an obvious opportunity for applications like gaming, but also billboards, videos and other kinds of advertising could easily fit into computer-augmented worlds.”

With many of the big players yet to release their products to market – including Oculus Rift, Sony’s Project Morpheus and Microsoft’s HoloLens – another big question mark over VR is whether or not it will ever be adopted by a mass market.

As Oliver points out, the market will decide whether wearing a headset looks funny, and the market will decided whether the VR price point is relative to the experiences that they want to dive into.

But as the hype machine has been generating momentum over the past 12 months, one unlikely piece of virtual reality kit has already captured a massive audience, along with the imagination of consumers and developers alike. Where Google’s high-spec, high-tech Glass failed to live-up to the hype, a simple piece of cardboard that offers an authentic VR experience has found a market.

“Today, I’m proud to say that there are over one million Cardboard viewers in the world,” said Clay Bavor, VP of product management at Google at the company’s 2015 I/O event.

“Our goal with Cardboard was to make virtual reality available to everyone and so we started with a piece of cardboard, some velcro, added some lenses and a rubber band and amazingly enough that is all you needed to turn your smartphone into a VR device,” he added.

Such has been the impact of Google’s Cardboard project that it took home the Grand Prix award for the mobile category at Cannes Lions this week – an award usually handed to campaigns. Judges said that Cardboard had given mobile “new possibilities to really change behavior and have a huge impact on consumer life.”

Anderson believes that the early adopters in VR will be the ones that benefit most. “Marketers would be best advised to start researching and exploring now, in order to get in front of the coming wave of device launches, all of which will need content to justify consumer purchase.”

Isbister agrees: “What we do know is that things tend to happened a lot faster than we imagine, so it’s important that brands and marketers join early adopters and manufacturers on this fast-moving learning curve.”

But for all the talk, the hype and the growing expectations that surround the biggest innovation wave of the moment, filmmaker Chris Milk offers the best conclusion.

“Unfortunately,” he said in his recent Ted Talks. “Talking about virtual reality is like dancing about architecture.”

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Question 1: How long have you been at RSi and what is your role?
For the past three years, I have been responsible for creating and scaling Ansa, a web-based solution from RSi – Retail Solutions, Inc., that has enabled over 75 of the world’s largest CPG companies and their agencies to build, measure and maximize the performance of their shopper marketing campaigns running in support of the nation’s leading retailers. I am responsible for all aspects of business development, partner and agency relationships and the overall revenue growth of Ansa.

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Question 3: What benefits does the partnership with Blis bring to buyers as well as the adtech ecosystem?
With RSi’s Ansa solution, building, dynamically optimizing, and reviewing attribution measures for every digital ad campaign has never been so simple. Here is how it works:
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If you are a shopper marketer, maximizing your budgets, understanding performance of your marketing tactics and generating key learnings from those marketing tactics are tasks that are essential to your business.

Running a digital marketing campaign with Blis, and Ansa’s daily, store-level sales intelligence helps make that extremely for the CPG community and shopper marketers specifically.

For existing products, Blis campaigns using Ansa targeting can reach a targeting efficiency of 2:1 vs. campaigns that do not use Ansa store-level targeting thereby ensuring that every dollar is spent driving sales to your most important retailer locations.

Blis campaigns optimized with Ansa typically identify and heavy up investment around 16% of stores that are trending significantly ahead of the average store during a campaign and identify and decrease investment around 14% of stores that are trending significantly behind the average store, therefore ensuring that your budget is being optimized surrounding stores that are over-performing during a given campaign.

After each Blis campaign, Ansa automatically generates measurement of Featured Item Lift and Halo Item Lift at both the total event and week levels. Results are completed 5 business days after the end of each campaign and allow you to learn quickly and improve continuously, all at an amazingly affordable price.

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Question 6: If there was one piece of content you think every marketer should read, what is it?
(Other than this blog post of course!)

Think with Google and Facebook IQ are two fantastic sources of resources. Articles, trends, case studies, POVs, insights, etc… pretty much everything you need to read to keep you up-to-speed in this very fast-paced environment.

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Our mobile devices give us more than just a way to call or text friends and family: Today, they are our maps, books, radios, and miniature shopping malls. We turn to them for news, entertainment and answers. And from dawn till dusk, we keep them at our sides like our most faithful companions.

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Mobile devices provide the answer. By revealing where consumers go, mobile location data can tell brands which consumers spend their time browsing similar products at a competitor’s store. Let’s say Target wants to reach out to consumers who usually shop at Walmart. They can use location data to identify—then target—those who frequently visit the competitor yet still live near a Target store.

But brands need to be careful before jumping to conclusions about consumers. Real-time location data provides important insights, but they can be strengthened when paired with historical location data.

For example, just because someone visits a high-end boutique like Chanel, it doesn’t mean that person has the budget to shop there—they could just be browsing. How can an upscale fashion brand find out which of those Chanel visitors are actually potential shoppers? Here, historical location data can help. It can reveal, for instance, which of those visitors go to private airports a few times a month or regularly visit Giorgio Armani or Versace stores. Chances are, these consumers will be a better bet for the fashion brand seeking to acquire new customers.

Keep Them Interested

What’s the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning? For most of us, it’s look at our phones to turn off our alarms before checking the weather and scrolling through our Twitter feeds. And throughout the day, we continue to stare down into the faces of our mobile devices: checking the news on the train, sending an email between meetings, or watching videos from our living room sofas.

In order to engage consumers on the devices we use day in and day out, advertisers will need to serve ads that make sense for the consumer depending on where they are during the day. To do this, advertisers must first ask the question: What do consumers want to see on their mobile devices and when? Consumers spend a third of their time online watching videos, for instance, but they aren’t going to watch a 30-second video ad while walking down the street.

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Inspire Loyalty

How can brands make sure they retain the new and existing customers they’ve worked so hard to gain? They must first recognize and show appreciation for their most loyal customers.

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Interested in understanding how to connect mobile experiences to physical stores? Or how mobile can be the extension of a retailer’s store? Maybe you’ve wondered about the new Cost-Per-Visit metric? Look no further. Blis’ location data experts will be answering these questions on a weekly basis over the next few months in our ‘Retail Series’ which aims to equip retail marketers with the right insights and top tips to stay ahead of the game.

Following its decision to buy e-commerce company last year, Walmart recently agreed to acquire Bonobos, a retailer with a strong online presence and generous shipping policies. If these moves weren’t sign enough that the physical and digital retail worlds are merging, Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods is the ultimate wake-up call.

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Sometimes, targeting consumers when they are walking by a store may be a little too late. A QSR wanting to boost its 10 am breakfast crowd, for instance, may want to target consumers when they wake up around 7a and begin planning their day. Otherwise, the consumer has most likely already made their breakfast choice.

While there is no one-size-fits-all solution for retailers looking to connect with consumers and drive in-store sales, a strong mobile strategy is key. As the digital and physical worlds continue to blend, retailers must harness the insights and capabilities of mobile to reach their unique brand objectives.

Tune in next week to read all about how mobile is fast becoming the extension of a retailer’s store.

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