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Is 2018 the Year that Virtual Reality Becomes a Valuable Commodity for the Event Industry?

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Mike Schaiman

SVP, Digital Experience

Helios Interactive

Wilson Tang

VP, Digital Experience

Freeman XP

It’s time to seriously consider this wow-worthy tech for your brand experience

A version of this article originally appeared on EventMarketer.com.

Last year, virtual reality technology got both a reboot and an upgrade from its ’80s incarnation. Incredible tech advances boosted VR’s second homecoming, including the Oculus (which actually started as a Kickstarter project before being acquired by Facebook). But this renewal was truly powered by major digital players like Apple, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and Samsung — brands that recognize that modern audiences want not just to interact with the online worlds, but to be completely immersed in them.

Statistics reveal that there will be more than 171 million VR users worldwide by next year, with revenues from VR softwarealone forecast to increase by over 3,000 percent in four years. By 2020, the overall economic impact of VR (and augmented reality) is predicted to reach $29.5 billion.

VR is trending, for sure. But can it evolve to truly transform brand experience?

The impact of VR is already changing events. In 2017 this valuable solution, paired with boundless marketing imagination, solved the issue of limited physical space — ultimately delivering unexpected and unique audience experiences.

What’s more, by following the recent trajectory and evolution of VR, we can see how game-changing this tech will be for 2018 on the show floor and in meetings.

The Functionality of VR

VR made its case for event relevance at two major conferences:

PCMA Convening Leaders: A display showcased VR’s brand experience capabilities, educating attendees on how to take simulated tours of an event site or explore how various design approaches look in a specific space. Also, the presentation revealed how the technology could promote products or show services.

InfoComm: A display covered a full range of VR solutions in many verticals — including an astronaut space simulation and optimized 3-D models of the human anatomy for health care professionals. The exhibit happened to be the most-visited one at the conference, indicating the interest and openness event professionals have toward VR.

Beyond educating and justifying its significance, VR made a splash last year by providing many engaging experiences for brands of all sizes. Here are two examples that reveal wide-reaching deployment:

  • For a U.S. Navy recruiting tour, Helios Interactive (a Freeman company) created a fully immersive VR experience that placed guests at the wheel of a U.S. Navy SWCC boat in order to perform a hot extract of Navy SEALS. The experience included RFID-integrated touchscreens for game scores and mission briefings. Throughout the tour, the U.S. Navy saw between a 48 percent to 126 percent increase in leads.
  • At a Canadian Labor Congress event, the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, a VR exhibit created a post-apocalyptic scenario in which Calgary became a disaster-relief area. During the experience, attendees became evacuees thrust into hostile environments that included dealing with homelessness and surviving in a refugee camp. Feedback showed a steep increase in awareness and empathy for refugees in war-torn parts of the world.

In addition to telling the stories of heroic soldiers and civilians on the run, VR can amplify your own brand story.

However, the old rules still apply…

Making VR Work With Sound Marketing

Before digging into VR, it’s crucial to start with strategy. Ask yourself: 

  • What are my brand’s goals? 
  • Who are my audiences, and what do I want them to take away from my booth/event/meeting? 

VR will amplify audience experience, but it’s your task to provide optimal content and storytelling that VR helps bring to life.

In addition to strategy, there must be a comprehensive operational plan before, during, and after a brand experience. This plan should enable your VR to make an impact through execution, accommodate staff training on personal engagements, and help create value and ROI for your organization. We recommend a dedicated operations team to secure the implementation of VR, ensuring that all the pieces come together before the event and that all digital activations flow smoothly during the execution.

All the above elements will assist in making a VR implementation at an event that much better. By combining strategy, creative, operation, and technology experts in one working team, any brand can create amazing encounters energized by VR (or any other breakthrough digital technology, like second screen tech, holograms, projection mapping, etc.).

If you’re interested in practical best practices for VR presentations, here are two key reminders that help maintain attendee focus and avoid burning mental attention:

  • Keep your VR experience at two minutes or less
  • Provide easy-to-understand, simple controls

Real Results From Digital Experiences

As with any marketing solution, measurement is essential. Beyond established data-collecting methods like exit surveys or social media listening, several analytics companies have recently arrived to measure VR display effectiveness. These organizations can gauge participant eye-movement on products or advertisements in a virtual environment, as well as other metrics.

As some experts suggest, a VR display should be akin to a product webpage. If marketers include “buy” or “subscribe” options during the virtual experience, measurement becomes a lot easier.

Getting Even Better in 2018

Also great news for brand experience in 2018 and beyond: VR will become more accessible and economical, while still evolving to dizzying capabilities.

To make sure you don’t get left behind, here are some “wow”-worthy ways to engage your audiences:

AI and VR will evolve together and intersect: Artificial intelligence will begin affecting individual experiences within the VR universe (and it will really start affecting all areas of event technology). Machine learning will soon have the ability to impact a user experience midstream. In other words, while a user is viewing or interacting with a VR application, data is captured, processed, and analyzed — and then his or her scenario is altered in real time based on that data.

The “virtual event” will be reincarnated: Previous attempts to create the virtual event often failed because the technology to capture and efficiently communicate an on-site experience was too primitive. With the advent of new depth cameras, VR headsets, and other hardware, virtual events will begin to gain momentum as a way for marketers to scale experiences beyond show site.

360-degree dome experiences: The big hurdle with VR has always been getting people (especially at events) to wear goggles. Look for an uptick in 360-degree dome experiences utilizing 360-degree projection that transforms an inner dome to external environments. Applications include virtual operating rooms, space or nature exploration, and much more.

When it comes to VR in brand experience, it’s apparent the sky is no longer the limit, and that includes the digital horizon. Armed with the right strategy, creativity, and knowledge, your brand can stand out during events in these competitive times, delivering valuable results and unforgettable moments to your audiences.

Ready to get started with virtual reality for events? Download our guide.

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