VR content will be key to future engagement — can SMEs afford to have it in their marketing mix?

Virtual reality is shaping as the next big thing in entertainment, with content makers gearing up to take advantage of the demand for tailored VR content.

Both VR and its cousin, augmented reality (AR), have emerged from a long period of gestation and reiterations to become key technologies that will help shape the future of industries such as entertainment, and even education and training, tourism, and retail.

Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and PlayStation VR have all hit the shop shelves and many more VR hardware sets are now in stores too.

The big focus in the mainstream media has been on how VR will play out as a consumer entertainment medium. The hardware is now available, but the next step is for the provision of content to catch up and start enticing a mainstream audience that is broader than just gamers, who have really been the first-adopters in this area.

Beyond the obvious areas of gaming, films and TV, and other entertainment type options, we’ll also start to see a much bigger push for companies and brands to incorporate VR experiences into their marketing mix. Of course, plenty of big brands have already done that, but it’s worthwhile thinking about whether most SMEs will need to commission or create VR content.

At this stage, it’s very hard to see how a finance company will get much out of VR as a marketing tool, whereas the potential for tourism operators, for example, seems far more obvious. That’s not to say that, with the right creative approach, VR marketing can’t be made to work even in non-entertainment scenarios.

At this stage in the VR cycle, making marketing type content is going to cost a lot more than regular video. According to VR and media producer Sarah Hill, in an interview with the Content Marketing Institute, such content will cost about three times as much.

This estimate is a good ballpark for the types of figures I’ve seen bandied about as well. It’s also a very specialised area of content creation, so it’s not the type of thing (at least right now) you can DIY like you could a regular video for YouTube.

This will put it beyond the reach of many SMEs. Any SME that wants to go down the VR content path will have to conduct a prudent cost-benefit analysis when it comes to the return on investment of such an endeavour.

However, Hill does warn businesses that VR will change the nature of the internet and how they interact with customers: “The world is no longer flat. The internet is fast-becoming a place you step inside. Just as you had to make your site responsive for mobile, so too will you have to make it responsive for VR,” she said.

As with so many tech-related innovations, small business owners are going to have to decide for themselves how vital VR or AR tech will be for them, whether as part of their consumer-facing marketing mix or for in-house use for things like training and collaboration.

The thing to keep in mind, especially if you think what your business offers will work with VR, is that being an early VR adopter could give you the first-mover advantage in a fast-growth area. If, for example, you have a construction company that has VR-enabled tours of potential projects available for your clients to view, you could have a significant advantage over rivals who don’t.

Look at your VR options (even budget variations like basic 360 videos) and assess whether what it brings will connect with your customers. If so, it might be time to allocate some resources to getting VR into your strategic marketing mix.

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