Report: VR won’t be ready for marketers until 2020

New research from Forrester finds truly immersive VR experiences at scale are years away

Marketers may be ramping up for virtual reality, but a new study warns consumers aren’t quite ready for it.

The study released by Forrester, Virtual Reality Isn’t Ready For Marketing Yet, revealed critical-mass consumer adoption of truly immersive, high-end VR is still at least five years away.

While brands, media, agencies, and marketers have all been raving about VR in the past year, fuelled by the expectations that it will transform how consumers interact with media, the report claimed beyond some free PR fervour around any VR experiments, marketers will not get much out of VR as it exists today.

It highlighted that today's consumers just don’t get it and still struggle to fathom what a VR experience is, or even why they need it. In fact, 42 per cent of US online adults in 2016 said they had never heard about virtual reality headsets and 46 per cent said they don’t see a use for VR in their lives. The report further revealed that currently, only 360 degree video content will flourish on low-to-mid-end VR devices, offering limited value to brand and consumers alike.

The report also evaluated the current VR market, identifying key factors that marketers should consider before diving into VR.

It found that in order to determine if launching a VR initiative makes sense for their business, marketers must embrace a post-digital mindset and ask themselves the extent to which VR aligns with their consumers’ behaviours and expectations and their brand’s promise and experience. Importantly, the report also warned marketers to steer clear of using VR as an ad pushing channel, but rather, focus on a more immersive, social and shareable experience.

The study suggested marketers need to consider three key factors before determining whether to invest in VR technology.

Firstly, it suggested marketers assess the current and future customer propensity to embrace VR and pace the VR strategy to align with current and future customers’ interests.

Marketers need to determine if VR is a natural fit for your brand, examining who you are, what you sell and how you sell to customers, the report stated. For instance, certain brands that stand for a certain aspirational lifestyle may benefit from VR to craft virtual experiences that elevate brand ethos in a manner more immersive than TV ads and more scaled than events, Such brands can use VR to radically transform storytelling for a deeper emotional connection and higher affinity, the report highlighted. Finally, the study suggested marketers determine the approach to VR marketing, in the context of the wider marketing objective.

As an example, the report recalled how Topshop piloted this type of use case by letting customers virtually sit in the front row of fashion shows during London Fashion Week in 2015. Ford also virtually invited brand and racing enthusiasts into the command centre during the 24 hours of Le Mans in 2016.

Despite the lack of uptake in the short-term, the report predicted VR will eventually offer exciting new opportunities to B2C marketers.

According to Forrester, VR is unlike any channel to date: Highly immersive and intimate, with a future integrated with social and the internet of things (IoT). This unique combination will create not just new storytelling capabilities, but also opportunities to craft whole new experiences as part of the brand offering.

Eventually, the report forecast in the net 5-10 years VR will transform marketing experiences and will evolve significantly, integrating into marketers’ post-digital marketing approaches. And given its unique characteristics, VR will be unlike any marketing channel that has come before, the report claimed. It predicted new technologies, like body haptics feedback, and wearables, such as connected gloves, will ultimately immerse consumers in a new and immersive sensory experience and unleash new and exciting forms of storytelling.

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