7 Minute Read

[July 10, 2023]

The 1980s and 90s made a lot of thrilling promises about the future of virtual reality (VR). Movies like Tron, Hackers, Lawnmower Man and even The Matrix presented the idea of a near future where complete immersion in another world, fantastically unlike our own, was not just possible but potentially preferrable.

Four decades later we’re smack dab in the middle of a real-life science fiction golden-age. Living in the epoch of self-driving fully electric cars, lab grown “no kill” meat, and dubiously sentient algorithms that can pass the Bar, a technology like VR might seem comparatively quaint.

VR has become infinitely more accessible now than in the promised past. In 2023, major players like Sony, Apple and Meta all announced or launched brand new VR hardware ranging in price from $500 to $3,500. Heck, you can typically find a used VR headset on Craigslist for under $200. All that is to say, there is a present and growing public interest in VR. It’s not going anywhere, and your customers might be using it. But VR has also grown and morphed into new forms that require a redefinition, or at least a subcategorization, of the technological hierarchy.

As VR technology has matured, so have the ways we interact with it. Today, there are many different executions of the tech that all fall under the heading of Extended Reality (XR).

Augmented Reality

Ever been searching online for a new lamp or rug and been offered the chance to “see it in your room”? That there my friend is Augmented Reality (AR). It is a space in which virtual objects are overlaid on the real world. The wildly popular smartphone game PokemonGO is another example.

Mixed Reality

Mixed Reality (MR) is more rare and specialized, but still commercially available as in the case of Microsoft’s HoloLens, which allows you to see, interact with and even manipulate virtual objects in the real world. Think, Tony Stark working with holographic models in the Iron Man movies. This application of XR is especially useful in medical and high-tech industries.

Virtual Reality

Then there’s good ol’ Virtual Reality, or simply VR. It is the flavor of XR most of us readily recognize. It typically requires goggles completely covering the eyes, fully immersing the user in a virtual world, separate from the real one. The aforementioned hardware from Silicon Valley tech giants is the best example of this type of XR. This is the place where users can roam (or fly) through virtual communities like Meta’s “Metaverse” in the form of a custom designed avatar. Or they can create and take a terrifying ride their own roller coaster that would be impossible with real world physics. Suffice it to say, the days of the PowerGlove and VirtualBoy are long gone.

Marketers, advertisers and corporations have flocked to these emerging technologies, but should you and your business? An important marketing lesson to remember is that someone else’s cool technology doesn’t necessarily make your product cool by association. It’s another version of the old ad industry “a celebrity isn’t a concept” saying, which essentially means hiring Michael Jordan to endorse your socket wrench sets might not be a great use of your budget.

Additionally, as of yet, adoption rates for full immersion VR systems are still relatively low. That means development of marketing efforts is both expensive and limited to a very niche audience. With these variables in mind, what’s the best strategy for approaching XR space for your business? 

Thankfully, despite cutting edge technologies, the answer is tried and true. Marketing efforts should support your brand’s story and goals. For example, PokemonGO’s ad-supported AR gameplay is designed around communities. The more people there are playing in your geographic area, the faster you can level up and the better Pokémon you can catch. Those communities meet up in real life for special in-game events, exchange in game currencies, show off virtual swag they’ve earned during hours of play and, most importantly, evangelize to non-players in a bid to lure them into the fold. In this scenario, AR is nothing more than a means to an end. The communities of raving fans who promote the game on their own are the desired result. AR is merely a vehicle to get them there.

Most businesses aren’t in the position, however, to have an entire XR world built and maintained for their customers. It’s even pricey to advertise in one unless you’ve got the budget clout of, let’s say, Circle K. Most businesses stepping into XR space are taking advantage of ‘AR objects,’ like we talked about earlier when you virtually audition a piece of furniture in your living room through your phone. These objects are typically either 3-D scanned to create an exact digital replica, or modeled from scratch in 3-D modeling software. For companies producing physical products, AR objects can be a powerful tool for building brand engagement by allowing potential customers to “see” the product in their home or facility before committing to the purchase.

An example of a simple execution of this technology for marketing purposes would be an art gallery capturing high resolution photos of available paintings and allowing website visitors to virtually hang them at home. Another implementation could be a local bakery, creating AR models of the various sizes and shapes of their cakes, allowing a bride-to-be to see them on her own kitchen table and fall in love with her favorite. On a larger scale, a company that makes farm equipment could create highly detailed, life-sized 3D models of a tractor that farmers can inspect in the field or shrink down to the palm of their hand.

While these examples have varying levels of requisite technical expertise and cost scoping, what they have in common is they utilize XR technology to deepen the customer relationship with the product, pre-purchase. When executed effectively, implementation of XR space into your marketing plan isn’t just super cool, it can have a significant impact on the consumer journey to becoming a customer.

While it might take a few more years for XR space to become a mainstream marketing arena, it’s absolutely worth keeping up with as the space matures and the technology becomes more and more ubiquitous. Who knows, maybe you’re using it right now.

Want to know more about how XR can help your marketing efforts? Fill out the form below and we’ll guide you through the Metaverse!