The Uncertain Future of Virtual Reality in Marketing

Virtual reality is a new, exciting technology, but marketers are still unsure of its value to the marketing industry. Source: Google Images

With the current hype around virtual reality, it’s only natural that marketers wonder if and how they can benefit from the new technology. However, the place of virtual reality in the marketing industry seems uncertain and not as optimistic as fans of virtual reality might expect in the short term.

While companies are embracing the use of technology in their marketing efforts with continued use of social media and video (68% and 56% respectively), only 8% of marketers surveyed by Yes Lifecycle Marketing currently use virtual reality, according to a recent Advertising Age article. What’s more, 35% of the marketers surveyed said they don’t plan to use virtual reality in the future, and 57% feel the technology isn’t applicable to them.

Furthermore, consumers are not typically willing to invest large sums of money in high quality virtual reality headsets, which is a challenge for brands that want to adopt the use of virtual reality as a marketing tool. By experiencing virtual reality for the first time on a low-end virtual reality device, such as smartphones, consumers will not get the full experience intended by the marketer. However, according to the Forbes article, Forrester estimates that consumer willingness to purchase high-end virtual reality headsets will begin increasing in at least 5 years.

– The Samsung Galaxy is an example of a smartphone that can be used for virtual reality. Source: YouTube

Although the use of virtual reality is growing, its value as a marketing tool in the short-term does not seem promising. According to Deutsche Bank in the Advertising Age article, 22.5 million people around the world used mobile virtual reality in 2016 – up from 6.5 million in 2015. While those numbers are expected to continue growing to an estimated 154 million mobile virtual reality users, only 3.2% of them are expected to use the technology daily.

With this in mind, it is important for brands to carefully consider whether they could benefit from virtual reality now, especially since content creation is costly and complicated. According to a recent Forbes article, there are a couple of ways to determine if a company should use virtual reality. First, brands should determine whether its target market(s) is made up of early adopters. These are the consumers that are willing to engage with virtual reality as a still-new technology. Furthermore, a company must consider whether virtual reality is a fit with its brand. According to the article, “the more aspirational your brand, the more complex the path to purchase and the more experiential and digital your offerings, the more you should invest early.” For instance, it would make sense for companies in the gaming, entertainment, automotive, real estate, and hospitality industries to leverage virtual technology in the near future.

From a marketing management perspective, here are some questions to consider:

  • What are some of the obstacles for marketers’ early adoption of virtual reality?
  • How might a brand use virtual reality as a marketing tool?
  • Research a company that is currently leveraging virtual reality technology as a marketing tool. How, if at all, is the company benefiting from the use of virtual technology?