Editor's Note: The following is a guest post from George Guildford, executive creative director at the full-service social agency Punch Communications.
Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR), once a vision of science fiction, are now widely accepted as "the future" — with established VR devices including Google's Daydream View, Facebook's Oculus Rift and HTC's Vive.
Consumer adoption of VR and AR is becoming more mainstream, leading marketers to think more about incorporating the technologies into their strategy. However, brands must also consider that, unlike content creation for the majority of digital marketing platforms, AR and VR require an environment that incorporates a real-world component. A VR experience must live in a VR environment — so there must be a mechanism to physically hand the experience to a user. This will be the main challenge for agencies looking to adopt VR and AR in their strategies.
Business Insider UK Intelligence forecasts a spike in shipments of VR headsets of 1047% year-on-year, driven by the introduction of new content. It also predicts that the space is poised for the "first killer VR app" to hit the market this year — providing the catalyst for consumer adoption of hardware.
So what does this mean for digital marketing campaigns and other opportunities for brands? In a world where social platforms are crowded with brands all vying for the limited attention of consumers, being prepared to embrace new technologies will contribute significantly in efforts to get ahead of the curve.
The reality of virtual reality
Many brands are already using VR and AR successfully, with gaming being an obvious arena. However, while gaming uses the technology to provide a standalone experience, AR and VR will quickly shift to become a brand marketing opportunity.
In leisure and entertainment, the British Museum held a VR weekend for its Bronze Age collection. Visitors could navigate a Bronze Age roundhouse and virtually interact with the objects, offering a more enhanced historical experience. In the broader entertainment arena, it may not be long before we see VR TV shows and interactive movies.
The potential of VR and AR in social
As VR devices become more commonplace, VR/AR will become a valuable tool in engaging with audiences across numerous sectors. Travel companies would no longer be selling their product just with pictures but with tours of their resorts delivered virtually.
In a world where mobile screens are winning the battle over brick and mortar, retailers offering a virtual store experience could have a competitive edge. It would be a particularly attractive prospect for today's online-savvy shoppers who want their shopping experience to be as convenient as possible.
It's easy to get excited about VR and AR — and excited we are — but the delivery mechanism of the content to the consumer is an integral consideration, especially in the early stages of mainstream adoption. Not everyone has the disposable income to invest in a VR headset they may not even truly understand the benefits of — however, brands can still own the experience and invite potential customers in to participate.
Inevitably, the landscape should change as the technology becomes affordable and therefore more accessible to a wider audience. Just as tablets became an essential piece of tech having first been viewed as a luxury, VR-enabling devices will almost certainly follow suit.
The potential is huge for VR and AR to make making headway in social media marketing. And while consumer adoption of VR headsets to access social networks is currently low, social networks like Facebook that offer 360-degree content are likely to evolve to deliver and support more VR experiences — just as they previously had to evolve to accommodate mobile devices.
Could smart headsets that run apps like Facebook VR be the next stage for the technology? It's an exciting possibility.