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Marketing your destination with virtual reality

Virtual Reality
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Written by: Matt Rogers
Whenever a new consumer technology becomes widely available, the chatter in the marketing space reaches an all-time high. The question on everyone’s lips, inevitably, is one of how we can leverage the new tech to create compelling marketing experiences, get people excited about products, and make more money. When VR dropped onto the scene, the same old question was asked and then rather unceremoniously shelved for the near future. None of us could quite figure out how this thing fits into our world.

As the virtual and augmented reality scene has matured, however, innovative marketers are discovering more and more ways that VR tech can make an impact. There are a few genres that really lend themselves well to the VR experience, and one, in particular, seems to garner a lot of traction – destination marketing.

VR is all about taking the user out of their day-to-day lives and putting them in a new place. And destination marketing is about, essentially, the same thing. Even when the audience can’t touch or interact with their virtual world, VR’s immersive experience has that much more power than a photograph and a few lines of copy. It has the power to transport users to a new place.

Several destinations have already used virtual reality to great effect in their marketing campaigns. The challenge for destination marketing has always been that of making the intangible tangible – making audiences feel the destination before they go. Travel Australia uses VR successfully as a way to bridge that gap, giving users an immersive experience to help them ‘try’ before they buy. Their videos capture the beauty of the Great Ocean Road or the Barrier Reef with a panoramic quality that images simply don’t have.

Here at Hex, we’ve already used augmented reality in one of our destination-focussed projects. Working with England’s Heritage Cities, we used a variety of rich media paired with augmented reality that allowed users to hunt down fascinating historical stories in real life. As consumers become increasingly resistant to the usual format of ad communications, these immersive technologies seem like the next logical step in the evolution of our channels. Marketing works best when users feel like they already own the product, and VR enables destination marketers to give audiences that experience.

But what are the drawbacks? Well, it’s quite clearly expensive, both for you and the consumer. The adoption of VR has sped up dramatically in recent years, but it will take a long time for VR to become a go-to engagement method – if it happens at all. VR headsets are unwieldy, odd-looking, and a long way from replacing magazines as the world’s favourite coffee-table media format.

Moreover, it seems to me that VR invites another of those most dangerous of marketing blunders – channel obsession. For now, the novelty of VR makes it a compelling experience for users. But, as we all know, novelty eventually wears thin, and users will increasingly see engagement with VR as a chore rather than an exciting new prospect. Whenever marketers focus on the medium rather than the message, money gets wasted.

VR may soon stop being known as a technical innovation and start being seen as a very expensive toy. When this happens, the only VR marketers left standing will be the ones that have worked out how to use it to tell compelling, human stories. Afterall, VR may be immersive, but it will never be as powerful as our most visceral, emotional asset – the human imagination.