For brands who rely on the face-to-face impact of their product, appealing to customers who do their shopping online presents a challenge. Products which need to be experienced first-hand used to be able to speak for themselves, but now the customer is only ever a few clicks away from message boards, online forums, reddit threads and a reason to change their mind. For Audi, the challenge is: how do you get the online customer back in the showroom where they can best experience the product?
Their response was to look to Virtual Reality for answers. Marcus Kuhne, their Strategy Lead for Immersive Technologies, said “Our goal is to have them leave and say, ‘Wow, that was a great two hours!’ and with VR tech that’s possible”, and he’s right. Experiential marketing can still be effective, but for a brand like Audi it has to evolve to attract a customer who’s forever plugged into the internet. VR could be that evolution. It’s a method of providing unforgettable experiences — a highly effective marketing technique — in a way that benefits from digitisation rather than suffers from it.
Here’s why Audi’s move to bring VR into the showroom is the right one.
Show and not tell
Does VR really work? According to a recent Nifty Reads survey, yes. It reported just ‘9% of respondents said it was very unlikely that they would lose themselves in virtual worlds’ – you’d be hard-pressed to find another marketing technique that’s effective on nine out of every ten people it’s rolled out to. Any media that crosses the threshold into the three-dimensional world is always going to have more impact, no matter the industry. Travel, one of the industries most at the mercy of often spurious online opinion, is benefiting hugely from the immersive faculties of VR, with 13% of people who experience a holiday using the technology taking the next step in booking the trip. For a service that customers have the option, in theory, of bypassing with their pick of message forums and online blogs, that’s a very high turnover rate.
And it’s no surprise, as experiencing a digital representation of your holiday destination will provide a pretty accurate indication of whether you want to go there. That’s the real strength of VR: it has ability to effectively communicate things that words just can’t. Since its inception, it’s had a virtually-imagined hand in everything from Michelle Obama’s PR campaign to the hit fantasy TV series, Game Of Thrones. No matter what you’re trying to say, VR can probably explain it best because it shows rather than tells.
Getting in on the ground floor
VR isn’t new, but it’s only recently become truly viable as part of a marketing strategy. In fact, it’s now expected to generate over £23 billion in revenue by 2020. The big brands who use the technology in these early stages are placing themselves in pole position to get the lion’s share of that revenue. And Audi aren’t the only ones to have staked a claim – last year Thomas Cook experimented with VR in their ‘try before you fly’ online campaign, allowing holidaymakers to experience their trip in a virtual world first.
By the end of this year, 171 million consumers will own a VR headset, and the way it’s going, soon everyone will have one. As we get closer to that time, many brands might realise the value the technology can bring to their marketing, and will be scrambling to pull together strategies aimed at exploiting it. Audi, on the other hand, will be reaping the benefits of already being an established VR name.
An evolution of experience
This forward-thinking will net them more than a higher market share, too. By implementing VR into their marketing this early, these brands are embedding themselves with a technology that might just be the future of experiential marketing. For the moment, VR is providing companies with another factor to entice people to come to them, but as it becomes increasingly commoditised brands will be able to take the experience to the customer. By using the technology in their showroom, Audi have taken an important step in a journey that may soon see the customer feel the value of experiential marketing, in the comfort of their own home. This is a concept with groundbreaking potential. At JPC, we know the impact an unforgettable experience can have in a marketing context and we’re committed to constantly pushing the boundaries of what a B2B experience looks and feels like. If it’s done right, experiential marketing can shift customer perceptions, help companies tread new ground and provide value that other techniques aren’t able to. VR, and its potential to ‘evolve the experience’ by bringing it to the customer, is exactly the sort of advancement that gets us excited.