Next Big Trend in Marketing Research: Virtual Reality

virtual_reality_in_marketing_researchVirtual Reality (VR) is hot. Hardly a week goes by lately without some big announcement. Facebook acquires Oculus for $2B in March 2014. Google Launches Cardboard VR in May 2014. Samsung announces Gear VR in September 2014. Oculus launches as Rift in 1Q2016. Sony Project Morpheus is launched as PlayStation VR in 1Q2016 and is already projecting shortages of the next version for launch in October of this year.

And while gaming is the low-hanging fruit of the VR world, marketers are also jumping on the VR bandwagon.

First, some definitions. There are three types of virtual reality:

  1. VR = Virtual Reality. Immersive experience in stereoscopic 360-degree video, animation, or a combination of the world. The viewer “leaves the world.”
  2. AR = Augmented Reality. Virtual elements and information are overlaid onto your normal field of vision. This can include VR experiences. The leaders in this space are Microsoft Hololens, MetaVision, and
  3. MR = Mixed Reality. A combination of the two. Magic Leap is one of the leading companies in this space, and the industry is eagerly awaiting their launch.

Generally, VR approaches are divided into Mobile experiences, which are powered by a smartphone using stereoscopic lenses. Usually lower end resolution and less expensive. Google Cardboard ($10 per device) and Samsung Gear ($99) are examples. Even at the lowest end, the experience is impressive.  The other category is Desktop experiences. Powered by a high-end PC or – more often – gaming system, these experiences are high resolution and more expensive. Oculus Rift ($600 headset, $1200 total system), HTC Vive, and PlayStation VR. These experience are usually more immersive games.

Globally this year, 6 to 7 million VR devices will be in consumers’ hands. Of these, 55% will be mobile and 45% desktop. By the end of 2017, 9 to 10 million VR devices will be in consumers’ hands, and of those 5 – 6 million will be in the US alone. (Source: Deutsche Bank Virtual Reality Report, 9/10/15) And 8% of all US smartphone users say they already regularly consume VR content. (Source: Frank N. Magid Associates, 2016.)

For marketing research, VR is a great opportunity. Some potential applications include:

  • Instead of spending billions of dollars building a cruise ship, let your respondents take a virtual tour and give you their feedback. This would also work for hotels, home or office builders, restaurants, and other situations where the “product” cannot be experienced without a significant outlay of resources.
  • Once a virtual environment is built, AB testing can be completed with fairly low-cost iterations of that environment. So which promotion will work better in your fast-food restaurant? Build a virtual restaurant experience and find out.
  • Additionally, any experience can be researched using VR. What’s it like to ride in an autonomous vehicle? Or have a package delivered by a drone? Travel to Belize?

Of course, all of the marketing applications using VR should also be researched, using VR, of course.

There are still some bugs to work out, but the development of low-cost VR production techniques and the advances that have been made in the goggles indicate that development of VR will continue rapidly. Currently, VR environments can be constructed for as little as $1,500, which is often far less than developing and shipping prototypes to consumers. At that price, it will not be long before VR is just another tool in the Marketing Research Toolbox.

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