What Marketers Need to Know about Virtual Reality in 2016

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Just a few weeks in, 2016 is already poised to be the biggest year for Virtual Reality technology ever. And like most major tech innovations, that has huge long term implications for digital marketers and technology marketing consultants alike.

Watch it: Sony says PlayStation VR will have over 100 game titles

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So, what does a momentous 2016 mean for digital marketers and marketing technology staffing talent?

In the short term, probably not much.

Some extremely innovative brands and agencies have already found some interesting, if limited, applications of Virtual and Augmented Reality.

But on a larger scale, VR devices probably won’t be adopted for broad consumer use this year. Through 2016 and perhaps the year after, use of these devices will remain almost exclusively among a relatively small segment of trend-setting early adopters.

For most consumers, accessible VR tech is still only on the horizon for several reasons:

  • Most importantly, cost. $600 for an Oculus Rift isn’t too outrageous when compared to other high-end personal entertainment tech like a television, laptop or newly released gaming console. Still, it’s quite an investment to ask from the average consumer who’s unfamiliar with the technology–and it may require an additional investment into a new PC powerful enough to run the VR device. Even the much more “affordable” Samsung Gear isn’t quite so cheap if you factor in the requisite cost of a compatible smartphone (a Galaxy Note5 or one of the S6 series) and phone plan.
  • There’s a lack of exclusive apps. No hardware will draw consumers in large numbers if there are no practical applications for it. VR platforms just haven’t existed long enough for software developers to have created a sufficient amount of tools, applications, games and experiences that effectively leverage VR capabilities. The public expects the HoloDeck from Star Treck, but for now they’re limited to roller coaster simulations and Netflix.
  • The tech can still use some refinement. The VR devices being released this year have truly incredible capabilities, but they haven’t completely solved all their problems. Some users still struggle with motion sickness and headaches. And the tech’s dependence on powerful machines to run it greatly restricts accessibility.

All these challenges can be expected to shrink dramatically in the coming months. Until then, use will be limited to early adopters. If that demographic happens to be your audience, then perhaps you should be paying more immediate attention to VR. But most brands and marketers should instead be looking toward the future when the tech is truly ready for widespread use.

What Marketers Should Do Now

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Does that mean that digital marketing staffing can afford to sleep on VR until it becomes mainstream? Not if you want to stay ahead of the game.

Innovative marketers who are among the first to find effective use of VR will likely be well-rewarded with exceptional results, whether it be from a branded app, 3D advertisements, enhanced customer experiences or something else entirely that’s never even been considered.

But the longer marketers wait to move into the VR space, the more difficult it will be. Right now VR channels are vast, open for settlement frontiers. But soon those frontiers will be crowded, and claiming valuable territory will become increasingly harder.

VR will open up a whole new world of possibilities for innovative marketers that are able to keep up, and employers will be on the lookout for both full time staff and technology marketing consultants that can handle the challenge. But as much as the technology will likely grow over the next few years, most professionals in our industry aren’t practically or technically aware of VR’s potential–and limitations. So what can you do now to get a head start?

  1. Take a page out of someone else’s book. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel–keep an eye out for success stories by other organizations pushing the envelope. Could you creatively apply a similar VR tactic towards your own work? Also keep an eye out for VR failures, and learn from the mistakes of others.
  2. Follow the major VR tech players. Though there are a lot of companies both on the hardware and development sides getting their hands dirty in VR, a few stand above the rest like the Microsoft HoloLens, Occulus Rift, HTC ViveGoogle Cardboard, SteamVR and Sony’s Project Morpheus.
  3. Keep up with major VR news sites and blogs like Gizmodo VR, VR Reviewer, and Road to VR.

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