Easy ways to make Virtual Reality a practical marketing tool in 2018 [Sales]

This article was published by www.martechadvisor.com and curated by Closer Spot. Be sure to check out other Closer Spot news and advice to help you win more business.

MarTalk Connect is our Interview Series with marketing technology companies that are making a difference. Join us as we talk to them about their product journeys, insight on the categories they serve and some bonus protips!

Tyler Calder, CMO at Yulio Technologies speaks about the trends and opportunities with Virtual Reality. VR is a medium which completely replaces the real world with a fully immersive computer-simulated alternative reality. Tyler’s sees it quickly becoming a democratized medium with the emergence of VR tools that are easy to use and can turn data into something actionable. Tyler has worked with some of Canada's largest brands and most exciting startups including Scotiabank, Harry Rosen, Purolator, Cineplex, Shred-it, WagJag, and many more. In 2012, Tyler was named to Marketing Magazine's list of Canada's Top 30 Under 30 Marketers. 

For the benefit of our readers, how would you define VR (Virtual Reality)? How’s it different from AR (Augmented Reality)?

AR, or Augmented Reality is simply an overlay of digital content onto the real world. Traditionally the digital content only interacts with the real world in a superficial way, if at all. For example, Pokemon Go is a well known AR app, where the content (the Pokemon characters) only react to the phone’s GPS location and direction. Whether you’re standing in front of a bush or in an open field, the character’s appearance remains the same.

MR or Mixed Reality is really just another term for Augmented Reality except that instead of being mostly independent of each other, in MR the digital content and the physical world can interact realistically. Back to our example, if Pokemon Go were to be upgraded to Mixed Reality, the characters could do things like hiding behind bushes instead of just being painted on top of them.
It’s still early for MR with most solutions being too imprecise, costly or complex to use at commercial scale. But stay tuned, over the next few years initiatives like Google’s Project Tango, Apple’s AR Kit, and Microsoft’s Hololens are going to continue to push MR towards the mainstream.
VR differs from AR and MR in that it doesn’t attempt to blend the virtual and the real. Instead, it  completely replaces the real world with a fully immersive computer-simulated alternative reality.
So you’re not overlaying Pokemon in this world, you’re being transported to a completely different world.

Where should a marketer be in their lifecycle – how mature should their digital marketing be before they could invest in VR?

This is such a good question and to answer it, we should first have a way of benchmarking the digital maturity of an organization. I often times refer to a simple 2x2 matrix that the consulting firm Capgemini developed for evaluating where an organization falls in their digital maturity. Readers can find it here: https://www.capgemini.com/consulting/2014/10/the-dive-into-digital-sink-or-swim/
An organization can be looked at as a Beginner, a Fashionista, Conservative or a Digirati.
When it comes to VR, it’s easy to fall into the trap of being a ‘Fashionista’, which means taking the latest and greatest, the shiny new thing in digital and trying to force it into your marketing efforts.
Fashionista organizations are heavily involved in all things digital but lack any sort of guiding vision or cross-channel integration. The saying “jack of all trades, master of none” would apply here. I see a lot of companies trying to us VR because it’s the shiny new thing.

Marketers should aim to be in the Digirati quadrant. These are organizations that have a unified vision for digital and strong governance/management in place. They leverage digital technologies in strategic ways and execute on programs almost flawlessly.

Marketers should be able to answer these simple questions when thinking about investing in anything, whether it be VR or other emergent technologies:
  • Why are we doing this? Is there a BETTER option to achieve the same goal? Sometimes going old school is better than leaping on a tech bandwagon.
  • Who are we doing it for? What audience segment are we trying to engage with this?
  • How will we measure it? Do we have a mechanism in place to measure the impact of the activity? Can we integrate that data into our existing systems?
  • What business priority does this align with? If you can’t align the use of VR to a strategic objective, you may want to revisit the idea. 
Whether you’re a digitally mature organization or one that is relatively new to digital, if you can answer those questions adequately, then give VR a try. I’d never suggest waiting for a well thought out marketing experiment simply because you’re early on in your adoption of digital. Think about it, formulate a test and then dive in and have some fun.

According to you, how can B2Bs today leverage Virtual Reality? How can B2Bs use VR (Virtual Reality) for fulfilling their marketing objectives?

Most B2B organizations have a funnel that looks something like this: Top of Funnel (Build Awareness. Drive Traffic.) → Middle of Funnel (Build Credibility. Influence.) → Bottom of Funnel (Sell. Grow Existing Client Base). Of course, that’s a very simplified version of what a sophisticated B2B marketers approach might look like, but the
fundamentals are the same for everyone: Get in front of the right audience, at the right time and with the right message. Then engage them in a meaningful business conversion. Identify their challenges. Provide a tailored solution.
So where can Virtual Reality fit?
We’re seeing the most success in the middle of the funnel to bottom of funnel phases.
When we look at bottom of funnel, it would be a high touch sales experience where a salesperson can put a prospect directly into an environment where they can experience the product. Examples would be:
  • If you’re designing a new office space. Putting prospective clients into the middle of a concept, to get a sense of how the space will flow and how employees will interact with each other is a great way to communicate your vision. At Yulio, we work with interior designers, office furniture companies, and architects to help do exactly this.
  • If you’re selling Enterprise IT solutions, such as physical servers, co-location services, disaster recovery services etc….. put your prospective client in the middle of what that hardware stack might look like and point out all of the security measures that have been put in place.
  • If you’re selling large equipment, such as heavy construction equipment. The CAT 360 VR App would be a good example: https://www.cat.com/en_GB/articles/solutions/gci/cat-360-vr-app.html
  • Outside of marketing, VR opens up the opportunity for virtual workspaces, training to reduce error rates in manufacturing, product prototyping and even big data manipulation (https://www.virtualitics.com/)
Is VR a better fit for Enterprise B2Bs vs. SMBs? Is it out of an SMBs league- either in terms of the cost or skills required to create, execute and manage VR strategies?
Here’s the great thing with VR…. it’s very quickly becoming a democratized medium.
When we think of ‘Enterprise’ vs ‘SMB’, our minds quickly go to budget. Enterprise organizations typically have more resources (budget and people) and SMBs have less. That means Enterprise companies get to have all of the fun while SMBs are left out.

Capturing VR ready video content has become easier and more cost-effective. The software to edit VR content has become easier to use. More and more people have VR headsets (Oculus, Vive, Cardboard, Daydream etc…) and can consume VR content.

As an SMB, it’s not about trying to outspend larger companies. It’s about trying to outsmart. If you have a really compelling idea and use case for VR that you think will have an impact on your business, you’ll be able to find agencies and freelancers that can help you execute on that vision.

Tell us more about the unique heat mapping technology that’s able to give marketers precise insights into where people are looking when they experience virtual environments – is that something Yulio has developed? What impact could it have for a sophisticated B2B marketer?
We’ve built our analytics engine, with Heatmaps at the core, to be extremely simple to use, turning data into something that is actionable.
And it’s pretty cool.
Suppose you’re working on a large scale office design. Picture an office like Google or Facebook, where the entire floor plan is designed for maximum productivity while encouraging creativity. As a designer, you can share your vision with your client through Yulio and we’ll track who’s viewed the design, what they’re looking at and how long they’ve been looking at it. As a designer, that information becomes intelligence you can use to ask better questions and probe into what your client is thinking. Asking “I saw that you were really focused on the collaboration area by the cafeteria. What were your thoughts there?” is a much stronger question than “How did you like the design?”.
Better data means better questions. Better questions mean better answers. Better answers mean a smoother project and a happier client.

How do you see Virtual Reality evolving - in the marketing context- in future? What are the top 3 trends you foresee for VR in the B2B marketing space?

 We see 3 big trends over the next 24 months:
  1. Further Democratization of VR. Content creation has always been the bottleneck with VR. We’ve been seeing the cost of VR headsets come down, while they also become more powerful, but the cost to create VR content has always been prohibitive for many companies. We’re now seeing 360o cameras come down in price and become more accessible. We’ll also start to see software like Yulio making it easier to convert 3D models into VR experience more widely adopted and we’ll also start to see the creation of those 3D models themselves become more accessible.
  2. Stronger Business Integration. Today, as organizations explore VR, there is very little integration back into the business. A perfect example of this is data.  At Yulio, our Heatmaps functionality is just one step. In the near future, we’ll be able to integrate that data with a business system such as Salesforce.  If we use the new office design example again, imagine taking the data around what people looked at, having that information push into Salesforce, which then triggers automated marketing action, such as an email about a product someone appeared to be really interested in. We’re not too far away from that type of integration becoming the norm.
  3. VR ACTUALLY Goes Mainstream. While there’s been a ton of hype around VR, it hasn’t actually hit the mainstream. Hardware sales of headsets have been far below expectations, leading to less penetration than was expected a few years ago. We see that changing. With Oculus coming out with a more cost-effective, standalone headset and with Playstation VR entering more and more homes, along with the likes of Google and Apple releasing VR/AR enabled phones that are powerful enough to meet the expectations of users, we see 2018 being the year that VR/AR start to enter our everyday lives.
There’s no escaping customer experience as a hot topic today. Where should marketers focus their use of VR to make the biggest positive impact on CX?
At Yulio, we look at VR as being the ultimate trust builder. Within a B2B context, research shows that the only way to provide a truly remarkable customer experience is to build trust with your customers and clients. In the absence of trust, we can never become the business partners we all desire to be. We can never have transparent and strategic conversations with our customers and clients. If we can’t have those conversations with clients, we’re only ever providing a superficial experience.
As a marketer, VR allows me to immediately build a shared understanding with my customers.
If I’m trying to convey that vision for a new office space, putting my client in the center of it builds that shared understanding. That shared understanding is evidence that I listened to the client and delivered on their needs. That builds trust and it builds it faster than the current options available, such as PowerPoint presentations, videos, brochures, static images etc…

Think of AirBnB. As consumers, we’ve become skeptical of photographs because many of us have booked an AirBnB (or a hotel room) based on the quality of photography, only to be let down because those photographs were overly staged. In VR, you can still stage a room, but you can’t hide anything. You can’t hide the fact that only one corner of the room is beautifully decorated. You can’t hide the scale of the room. Putting someone in it, that removes skepticism and that builds trust.
This is how we see clients using Yulio today. Not just as a VR tool, but as a client experience and management platform.

What according to you are the most important skills marketers should have today to succeed? What advice would you give to people aspiring for a career in VR?  

If someone asked me for that advice, I’d suggest they take a step back for a second and ask why.
Why VR? Dig a little bit deeper into your career goals. Most people don’t want a career in VR. What they want is to be able to tell stories and move people with those stories. Or they want to be involved in building things and they’re attracted to emergent technologies. Or maybe they want to get into marketing because they love the intersection of creativity, analytics and using that to help grow a business.

If we go back 3 years, tons of people said “I want a career in Facebook marketing”. Then Facebook changed their algorithm. If you built your expertise around knowing what Facebook buttons to push and when to push them, you were left in the dark when the button moved.
Now, if you built your expertise around how to write compelling copy, how to leverage data to inform your creativity and how to engage customers, you could easily adapt.
The same is true for VR. Everything about VR will change and it will change quickly.
So my advice is to reflect on what you want from your career because it’s usually going to be more than ‘I want to get into VR’.
Once you realize what that is, then look at how VR is aligned with that goal. Is it storytelling? Then start to talk to people who are shooting VR films or marketers that are telling brand stories through VR. People LOVE talking about what they’re working on, so don’t be afraid to do some research and just talk to people.

What are some of the great learning resources about VR today that you personally read? Bloggers or influencers of note?

Here are a few individuals that I follow:

Here are some Medium accounts I follow:

I then keep my eye out for research coming from firms such as Deloitte, PWC, Goldman Sachs and others.

Let’s wrap with a look forward. What’s coming up that you’re excited about in two areas: in the market in general—perhaps a trend or tool; and within Yulio—any new features or upcoming upgrades?

In terms of Yulio, I’m most looking forward to our Heatmaps feature and all of the ways we foresee clients using that data to then inform their marketing and sales efforts.
Within the industry, I’m really excited about this idea of ‘inside-out tracking’ which refers to standalone VR headsets that are aware of the surround environment.
To get full immersion today, you need a high powered computer and cameras to track your movement. Inside-out tracking, such as the Oculus Santa Cruz prototype will change that. Once the need for computer, wires, and cameras is removed, the possibilities for virtual reality will only be capped by our own imaginations.