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Why virtual reality will change communications in 2016

Why virtual reality will change communications in 2016

VR is the new must-have communications tool, says Sawsan Ghanem

The way businesses approach their customers has changed dramatically over the past decade.

Technology has evolved and the concepts that we took for granted in the past, like the sales funnel, have now become the mantra to survive and be competitive.

This realisation has crept in over time, and it is crucial to not only understand these things but also take a step forward to stay ahead of the competition.

Hotwire PR, a global PR and communications agency, recently released its seventh annual Communications Trend report. The report gives an in-depth insight into the way the communications industry is evolving and the drivers behind these changes.

Virtual real-life experiences, the primacy of third-party channels, and campaigns that deliver usefulness, are all set to be the major trends for marketers in the coming year.

Virtual reality will continue to play a bigger role in communication and advertising, and marketers must begin to understand its impact, especially as the Hotwire reports stresses that VR is here to stay.

Giving customers an ‘experience’ is what will convince them to believe in the brand, and it is here that VR plays a very important role in influencing their decisions.

Try before you buy

Companies are increasingly leaving their comfort zone and moving to where their audience is in order to give them this experience. It’s a change that’s come about due to the rise of the Internet of Things – which will be significantly more demanding in 2016 – and one that is being embraced by the communications world.

For example, on the content side of things, Facebook co-founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg is positively buzzing at the thought that soon we’ll not only be able to ignore Facebook posts online, but have the distinct pleasure of physically turning our back on some of our irritating ‘friends’ in a VR equivalent of the Facebook wall.

On the other hand, we are seeing consumers making purchasing decisions based on more data than ever before. We’re barely able to get dressed in the morning without first checking a review site as to which style is trending. Equally, we crave those experiences. We want to be able to get a sense of a brand or a product through a non-committal experience before we part with our cash.

VR can satisfy both the desire for data as well as brand experiences, and it’s going to be the travel industry that leads the way on this. Travel agent Thomas Cook has opened pop-up VR experiences of its holiday destinations and we expect over the next 12 months to see a reinvigoration of high-street travel agents that can now offer bespoke experiences.

Expect other industries that rely on selling long-distance products to consumers to also adopt VR as an effective marketing tool. Real estate will undoubtedly be next.

Living a cause

Another important area VR will play a key role in is charitable causes.

To feel connected to something will make a person more comfortable and believe in it. Imagine a pop-up stall that offers the public an opportunity to experience 10 minutes of life as a Syrian refugee. This became a reality with Amnesty International recently, where VR was used to give people a very real experience of the crisis situation.

The result was not only an immediate impact in the form of donations, but also enough online chatter to ensure a simple use of technology translated into an extraordinary use of social media channels.

As customers demand more experiences and less linear communication, VR will become a key trend for 2016. The hardware will become pervasive as a result of the gaming and entertainment community, but it will be the content creators and communicators who ensure the platform bleeds into all walks of life, not just among gamers.

It’s crucial that as communications and marketing professionals, we understand the impact the technology can make on our strategy.

We don’t all have to be experts with the hardware, but we do have to be adept at knowing when it can be used and who to call upon to make it work.

VR is here to stay. Get used to it.

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