Is Now the Right Time for Brands to Be Jumping into VR and AR?

Matthew Karasick,
Co-Founder, Glassnetic, Inc.

If you walk into a room full of your friends and family and ask who’s tried Virtual Reality (VR), you’ll likely see between zero and very few hands go up. If you work in the technology industry and ask your colleagues how many of them interact with VR regularly, you’ll likely see a similar few (to no) hands go up - unless you are asking people specifically working on VR in their job. Thus, it is safe to say, VR is not quite HERE yet. But it is most certainly coming….

According to IDC, in 2016, a little over 10 million VR headsets and almost zero Augmented Reality (AR) headsets were sold. In 2020, 76 million headsets are projected to be sold with about 20% of them being AR headsets. Goldman Sachs projects that headset sales could be as high as 300 million by 2025.

So while widespread adoption is still a few years off, should brands be getting involved now or waiting till the technology is more mainstream? And for those who are thinking of jumping in now, what use cases are really worth pursuing? To help answer these questions and more, we sat down with Amy LaMeyer who has spent the last year immersing herself in the industry. She is knowledgeable about nearly all of the companies, innovators and pundits in the VR & AR space and has a background that bridges the worlds of technology and enterprises.

Q: What’s the case for brands jumping into VR & AR now versus waiting till it becomes more mainstream?

Amy LaMeyer, Creator,
EnteringVR

A: Well, first let me preface my answer with a fundamental belief that I (and the majority of people following VR) have which is that VR and AR’s prevalence is a question of *when,* not *if.* Therefore, I don’t believe that jumping in now carries the risk of having invested in a medium that may phase out the same way, say, IPTV did back in the day.

With that premise in mind, I would advocate that brands absolutely put energy into continuously evaluating how they could employ VR or AR immediately, even if their first project doesn’t come to fruition for a year or two. I think they should be engaging with and learning enough from this community in order to be able to imagine the different executions they might consider until they find the one that fits and is worth investing in.

To accomplish this successfully means going beyond assigning VR to a single person’s desk who has the word “innovation” or “futurist” in their title, but rather beginning to expose and ramp a variety of teams in your organization now - even if that ramp is slow.

Q: It's no secret that most companies are already resource-constrained relative to all of the things that they’d like to do. What’s the case to be made for why they should do this now?

A: I believe that there are three main benefits to jumping in early. First, as I said, VR and AR are coming and will undoubtedly become a major aspect of our world. Starting to incorporate the medium into your roadmap now is similar to running regularly in preparation for a marathon. The more your team does this, the better they will become at imaging how to utilize these technologies for your key objectives.

Just ask yourself: If your team had a time machine, would you have started ramping for mobile in 2000? Or 2010? Many brands are still playing catch up now in mobile while the leading brands and disruptors have had a mobile-first approach for years. My perspective is that VR and AR are going to follow a curve not unlike mobile - with one big exception. Playing catch up won’t be nearly as easy with VR and AR. The sky's the limit here, and it will remain as such for decades to come, if not forever. Brands won’t be able to just catch up with the standard handful of use cases that other brands are doing. Doing VR well means that the creative medium will change over time - part game, part cinematic experience, part social interaction. It takes time to build that in layers so that it progressively enhances the user experience.

Second, the sooner enterprises invest, the faster the industry can focus time and attention on innovating for brands’ objectives. It’s the classic: “follow the money” scenario. Gaming is where the money is now, so that’s the number one focus for innovation. The medical field is jumping in in a big way and, as such, the VR/AR industry is coming up with amazing things there as well. As soon as brands start calling the companies in these categories, they will be rewarded with the mindshare of some of the most creative, innovative teams armed with a technology that is, often times, beyond imagination.

Third, while actually investing in a project now is almost certainly something that will be considered an investment without direct, short-term revenue and ROI, the earned media that will come with it is significant. As it is still so rare for brands to execute VR and AR projects, those that do are getting covered in the press in a major way. Just look at Redbull. While there is no way they sold enough incremental shoes to warrant the investment, they are (deservedly so) increasingly going to be viewed as a cool, innovative brand - a sentiment which will help them acquire and retain customers, employees and partners for years to come.

Q: What are some brand categories that you think have the most viable opportunities to employ VR and AR today?

A: An obvious use case within nearly all consumer brands is advertising and product placement. There are a ton of companies working on producing rich, immersive content for both VR and AR, including large content publishers such as NYTimes and National Geographic. Evaluating if, when and how a brand could place advertisements or integrate placement of products into the content is something that should be happening now. I’ve personally ‘virtually’ attended several live concerts and am waiting until the day I see something like Live Nation’s name on the backdrop of the venue.

And for the brands that do start to evaluate how to integrate VR and AR experiences into their marketing mix, they’re going to need to unlearn the limitations of traditional TV, desktop and mobile ad formats. It'll be about far more interactive and engaging treatments.

In my previous 'live concert' example, there’s no reason why, during intermission, I couldn’t have gone up to the Live Nation sign, walked through it to find a ticket booth and purchased my tickets to the next show.

Aside from promotional and advertising-related marketing executions, companies are already beginning to utilize VR to give people a view into how things are made. This helps people form more of a connection with a brand by being able to merge the customer and product journeys. For example, being able to help customers experience and appreciate what great lengths a brand has taken to ensure that their product is made in a sustainable way (like Toms does with their shoes), can go a very long way to forming a far deeper emotional connection to the product. 

Another incredible opportunity that is very real and possible now is try-before-you-buy in retail. Looking at a 2, or even 3-dimensional picture of an outfit still provides a very low fidelity signal for a shopper as to whether it's going to fit them well and appeal to their tastes. Taking the measurements of your living room to the furniture store to evaluate sofas simply does not give you an understanding of how it would truly look and feel in your home. The gap between looking at a car online and going for a test drive is still massive. VR offers the ability to experience products in an incredibly realistic way. If a trip to your physical store is a requirement to convert sales and thus, a major source of conversion drop-off, VR has the ability to move the needle in a very real and significant way.

Try-before-you-buy also extends from tangible products to destinations and physical spaces. VR can allow someone to tour a vacation destination, a resort, an Airbnb, etc. This is being applied in real estate today as prospective buyers are able to tour houses for sale from the comfort of their home or their real estate agent’s office.

Q: Let’s say a marketer wants to take your advice and jump in - where to start?

A: Your introduction pointed out what we see with the ‘how many people in the room have tried VR’ exercise. If your marketing, product, customer service, IT and/or executive teams don’t raise their hands when asked if they are continuously trying out the latest and greatest in VR and AR, change that first. Go buy headsets, consoles, etc… and distribute them in your office. The creative and intellectually curious people on your teams will naturally find their way to them and start exploring. This alone can ignite the fire to start the: “Wouldn’t it be cool if we could do X, Y or Z with VR or AR?

Once any of these ideas start to reach some consensus in your organization, take the next step and commit to jumping in. I’d recommend starting with calling up companies like X, Y & Z. Ultimately, how you proceed will come down to how much you want to take on in-house versus outsource to partners.

 

Amy LaMeyer has over 15 years experience in high tech Corporate Development, Finance and Engineering leadership roles. She is currently a writer for Virtual Reality Pop, an adviser for start-ups in the VR/AR space for strategy development, fundraising and network connections and is the creator of EnteringVR.net, enabling others to learn about VR/AR applications.