Why Virtual Reality Matters in Event Marketing

2016 was touted as the year virtual reality (VR) would take off, and by many measures, it has. The technology was a hit at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) last January and has since trickled into almost every industry and marketing facet, including event marketing.

What is Virtual Reality?

Virtual reality is a large step up from the 3D glasses people wear at the movies. VR software renders a 3D, computer-generated environment that seems so close to the real world that people can interact with it. Through a headset or other device, a person walks around the VR environment, manipulates digital objects, or performs other actions.

Are Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality the Same Thing?

Virtual reality’s cousin, augmented reality, came to popular consciousness this summer with the explosion of the mobile game Pokemon Go.  As you may recall from any experiences in the Pokemon Go ‘world,’ true virtual reality and augmented reality differ from each other.

Virtual reality creates an entirely new world within the existing one. The users strap on a helmet and immerse themselves in an experience or a meeting. Some companies, Microsoft among them, are exploring the role of VR as a part of videoconferencing.

Augmented reality, on the other hand, overlays the existing world. An architect or engineer could superimpose a digital file on a real-world structure and compare one to the other. As such, it supplements, rather than immerses, the end user.

How Can Virtual Reality Be Used In Event Marketing?

If virtual reality builds worlds within worlds, then event marketers can use the technology to reshape events. Some ideas, such as a virtual event venue, seem like science fiction, but it could very well be the next step. Numerous organizations, including the American Marketing Association, already produce digital events. They could easily turn them into virtual ones with Google’s cardboard headsets.

Other ideas on the horizon include:

  1. Virtual attendance. On-site conference goers could visit with remote attendees via VR headsets.
  2. Keynotes. With VR, all attendees could feel as though they were up close and personal with the keynote speaker.
  3. Demonstrations. Demonstrating products, services, campuses, and giving needs via VR cuts event costs and charms attendees.
  4. Training. VR helps event attendees learn and remember new skills.
  5. Games/Gamification. Event marketers can use VR games to drive attendee engagement and increase email leads.

Why is Virtual Reality Effective?

Virtual reality proves effective because it builds upon a main staple of marketing: the experience. People want to see, hear, touch and, in some instances, taste the world. It’s why photos of food perform so well on Instagram and many how-to videos take off after being posted to YouTube.

The experience itself is one reason virtual reality is effective, but others exist.

  1. Excitement. VR’s buzz-worthy. People want to try out the new, innovative headsets.
  2. Communication. VR gives event marketers a new and memorable way to communicate with audiences.
  3. “Me, too,” effect. With VR, people see how they fit onto a campus or how a product relates to them. They leave the VR world ready to take part in the offline one.
  4. Knowledge. VR users feel more informed and ready to take action, from filling out an application and donating to a cause to asking for more information.
  5. Empathy. When people see a world in need, they want to help. Photos prompt some action, but VR increases it through the interactive experience.

Real-World Examples

Many big brands like HBO, Discovery and TOMS are experimenting with virtual reality, but so are nonprofits, corporations, and higher education institutions.

  1. UNICEF uses virtual reality at events to “bring the field to donors.” The technology allows them to reach more people and to increase the number of volunteers and donations.
  2. Anchor Associates, a property brokerage firm, turns to virtual reality to bring potential buyers into the properties. The VR improves clients’ knowledge and understanding, leading to better relationships and increased sales.
  3. Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University creates interactive campus tours with VR. Admissions officers bring VR headsets to recruitment events, which grow interest in the university and prompt more one-on-one conversations.

Virtual reality could become the event marketer’s newest favorite tactic. With it, they can attract potential customers and donors, engage with greater numbers of people, and drive bottom-line results.

How might you use VR in your event marketing?  Are you already? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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