Every major technological breakthrough has changed marketing. Consider how marketing campaigns were conducted prior to the invention of radio and television: display ads in newspapers and magazines, printed brochures left on doorsteps, signs in store windows, door-to-door salesmen, ads in local phone books and similar low-tech methods. The Internet, mobile devices and the Internet of Things have all been innovations that have altered the way that marketers deliver their messages, interact with consumers and built long-term relationships.
New, potentially disruptive technologies have been appearing more frequently in recent years, and while not every innovative technology can be successfully applied to marketing efforts, two — virtual reality and drones — are poised to have a dramatic impact on the marketing world.
The concept of virtual reality was already familiar to devoted science-fiction fans before it began to be used for gaming applications. Virtual reality creates a three-dimensional, immersive environment that allows users to experience realistic simulations that they can see, hear and feel. The environment, however, does not need to replicate the "real world;" simulated environments can be imaginary worlds of fantasy or depict other planets in a somewhat realistic manner. Virtual reality should not be confused with augmented reality, which layers the real and digital worlds to create an enhanced experience for the user.
How Marketers Are Using Virtual Reality
In recent years, several noteworthy marketing campaigns have incorporated virtual reality in a variety of ways.
- Volvo created an app that put users behind the wheel for a virtual test drive of the XCgo SUV.
- Merrell, a leading manufacturer of footwear for outdoor enthusiasts, set up a stage set that allowed participants to experience a mountain hike, complete with shaking wooden planks and rope walkways. The experience was created for the launch of the company's newest hiking boot.
- Coca-Cola produced a "sleigh ride" for consumers in Poland that used virtual reality to give them a chance to experience what it would be like to be Santa Claus and fly over the country.
- Marriott used virtual reality to give people the opportunity to "visit" London or Hawaii. Users entered a structure resembling a telephone booth, and wind jets, heaters and Oculus Rifts provided the experience.
- Disney promoted its latest Star Wars film by releasing a virtual reality fly-through that made participants feel as if they were in one of the speeders taking part in a battle.
These are just a few of the creative ways that marketers are embracing virtual reality to engage customers. Although early adopters of virtual reality have benefited from the media exposure and public interest generated partially through the novelty of the approach, marketers have found that there are other benefits.
- The human brain tends to better remember events that are linked to specific locations. Thus, participants retain the memory of the virtual reality experience longer than experiences delivered in a different manner.
- The virtual reality experience is immersive. Headsets result in fewer distractions, so the user can pay more attention to the message.
- The virtual reality experience surpasses traditional media for generating emotions in the participants. These emotions can be quite strong and intense, and they can result in a change in the user's behavior.
Drone technology has only been available to marketing professionals for a few years, but it is already incorporated in many companies' marketing strategies. In some areas, there are issues that must be resolved before drones become ubiquitous, but drone technology holds tremendous potential.
Drones are unmanned aircraft that are controlled remotely by an operator who is normally on the ground. Amazon made headlines in 2013 when the company announced plans to use drones to deliver orders. However, there are still a few hurdles that must be cleared before drones will be dropping packages on American doorsteps. In the United States, the Federal Aviation Administration has jurisdiction over drones, and the FAA regulations require that the drone and its cargo cannot weigh more than 55 pounds, the drone must always be within the operator's line of sight and it cannot fly over people who are not part of the transaction. Furthermore, each operator can handle only one drone at a time.
Although package deliveries have not yet been approved in the United States, other countries have policies that are more lenient. Even in the more restrictive environments, however, marketers are finding innovative uses for drone technology.
How Marketers Are Using Drone Technology
- Drones can be used for videography, offering unusual perspectives, reduced costs compared to traditional aerial cinematography and innovative angles that capture the attention of viewers. With video capturing a large share of the marketing content budget, more marketers are producing them, but this can make it difficult for a video to make an impact. With the ability to capture unusual shots without breaking the budget, drones can help marketers produce an engaging video.
- Auto manufacturers were some of the first to embrace drone videography for their car commercials. Hyundai, Peugeot and KIA have all made good use of drone technology, but perhaps the most well known example is the astronaut commercial for the BMW 6 Series.
- In 2015, General Electric based a digital marketing campaign on drones, Twitter and Periscope. Over five days, the drone streamed real-time footage as it flew over five of the company's facilities. The campaign, #DroneWeek, was intended to tell an engaging story about the technologies that the company worked on and about General Electric's innovations.
- GE’s #DroneWeek – The Tech Behind The Rio 2016 Olympics Games added an edgy angle to the games capturing.
- The real estate industry has embraced drone technology in a major way. Drones can be used to provide potential buyers with a 360-degree tour of the home's exterior as well as the neighborhood. For undeveloped property, combining drone technology with augmented reality allows overlaying new homes and amenities to show how the area will look after construction is completed.
- Drone technology can also be integrated with other technologies to create innovative content. Patron, a brand of tequila produced in Mexico, enhanced its drone video footage with virtual reality. The video gives viewers a 360-degree perspective as it takes them from the fields where the agave is grown through the steps involved in producing the tequila.
Many different companies have experimented with ways to use drones to serve food in restaurants, serve as flying billboards, drop promotional items or even deliver flowers. In the United States, FAA regulations would not allow some of these marketing strategies to be used. For example, in 2014, Coca-Cola filmed drones delivering messages and Coke cans to migrant workers in Singapore. The commercial could not have been filmed in America.
Although there are hurdles that must be cleared, drone technology — alone or in conjunction with other technologies — is expected to play a significant role in the future of marketing. Creative marketers are still discovering innovative ways to use drones to astonish and delight their audiences.