Virtual reality – and its little brother augmented reality – is a huge topic for modern marketers. After all, the exciting new technology is getting better and better, and it won’t be long until virtual reality platforms have their first huge hit – the VR equivalent of Angry Birds, Flappy Bird and Pokémon GO.
By the end of 2016, global VR revenues reached $3.5 billion, with 55 million people using the devices. That’s expected to rise to $4.6 billion in 2017 and 171 million users by 2018. By 2020, the size of the global VR market is expected to exceed $40 billion.
Of course, with any new technology, the best way to make the most of it is to jump right in and become an early adopter. The signs are pointing towards a bright future for virtual reality, and marketers have the budgets – and the creativity – to play a major part in it.
Here are five of the key trends you’ll want to look out for.
Trend #1: Travel and Music to Lead the Way
A 2016 report found evidence to suggest that VR users are most drawn to travel and music experiences, and it seems likely that the two industries will continue to lead the way when it comes to investing in VR marketing.
That’s partly because travel and music marketers traditionally have high-quality content and sizeable budgets to match. It’s easy to see how a virtual reality headset could be used to replicate a concert or a walk around a tropical paradise.
The real challenge will come from the drier industries and those that are highly regulated, such as finance and healthcare. While FMCG and entertainment brands will find a natural home with VR technology, other industries are likely to face more of a struggle if they want to get involved.
Trend #2: The Boom in Mobile VR
Our mobile phones are no longer mobile phones – they’re tiny computers that we can carry around in our pockets. They’re capable of much, much more than they were just a couple of years ago and can now be transformed into portable VR devices with the addition of a simple converter kit.
This means that virtual reality will no longer be cost-prohibitive, and it’s likely that more and more developers will switch their focus from the Oculus Rift to the latest iPhone. It’s estimated that three out of four early VR adopters will use a smartphone as their primary device.
Of course, full VR headsets will still be popular amongst hardcore gamers, and as prices drop and the technology matures, VR headsets will take pride of place in more and more collections. But we’re not quite there yet, and the battle to the top of the market will be fought and won on mobile.
Trend #3: Indies Will Lead the Way
It’s the same old story. A promising new technology has arrived, but market leaders are too afraid to commit to it. This has happened again and again in the internet age, like when Napster took on the music industry or when Netflix caught on and Blockbuster went bankrupt. Blockbuster was given the chance to purchase Netflix for $50 million back in 2000 – and they turned it down.
The same thing is happening – and will continue to happen – in the VR market. Indie studios and small developers are leading the way, at least in terms of innovation and creativity, while the larger companies are holding back and hedging their bets. Many haven’t invested in virtual reality, and those that have are mostly adapting existing intellectual property instead of creating brand new content.
This is good news for marketing departments, especially those that work in-house for bigger brands. The budget for an international marketing campaign is often higher than the budget for a VR game, which means that marketers have an opportunity to create promotional content that’s just as good as an indie release.
Trend #4: Extra Effects
While some developers are working on more powerful headsets and improving the graphics and gameplay of existing software, still others are creating brand new equipment that’s designed to make virtual reality more immersive.
Most headsets focus on audio visual experiences, but that engages just two of the five senses that we have available to us. Imagine if you could feel wind and smell cut grass, or if you could hold a physical object that changed shape depending upon what you’re carrying in-game.
These technologies may seem futuristic, but there are plenty of startups that are vying for space in this emerging industry and even companies that specialise in creating hybrid virtual reality theme parks. Marketers can use the technology to bring branded experiences to life at events, and it’s also likely to have an impact on the trends that we see in the games that are released.
Trend #5: Integrated Advertising
Advertising makes its way into everything in the end, and VR is no exception. Luckily, VR tech opens up the interesting possibility of integrated in-game advertising that taps into a player’s social networking profiles to show relevant advertisements in the virtual world.
Imagine you’re playing a racing simulator. It could be designed so that the boards at the side of the track show ads for your favorite clothing brand or promote an album that you want to listen to. The same thing could happen on the crumbling billboards in post-apocalyptic games or on the football shirts in the new FIFA.
The possibilities of integrated advertising are virtually limitless, and VR could provide a platform in which advertisements can finally suit the needs of marketers, consumers, and developers without leaving anyone frustrated with the whole experience.
Virtual reality technologies are getting better and better, and devices are moving forward in leaps and bounds. This is good news for consumers and marketers alike because it forces people to innovate and to bring new software and devices to market as quickly as possible.
It’s hard to tell exactly how VR and AR will progress in the coming years, but it’s likely that the technologies will become more commonplace and that most developers will focus on making experiences that are as immersive as possible. One thing’s for sure – it’s an exciting time to be alive.