Virtual Reality: Taking an Emerging Technology Mainstream

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Virtual reality (VR) has arrived. Augmented reality (AR) is not far behind. And now is the time for brands to experiment with these emerging mediums. 

VR and AR: What’s the difference?

VR: A three-dimensional, computer-generated digital world that can be
explored through the use of headsets, sensors, and other special equipment.

AR: An
enhanced environment that seamlessly blends the digital and physical world
through advanced technology. While AR is used extensively by the military and
in business-to-business applications, consumer-focused programs are less common.

As companies look for a way to differentiate their brands and set themselves apart from the competition, more and more businesses – particularly those in entertainment, retail, and travel – are seeing VR and AR as ways to build brand affinity, deepen customer relationships, and transform strategies and experiences. However, while these technologies hold great promise for organizations, consumers have yet to fully embrace VR and help it reach critical mass.

With that in mind, SapientNitro commissioned a global study of 2,500 people across five countries to gauge consumer awareness of and interest in VR. Here we discuss some of the findings of our study and leverage the data to offer a timeline for how the future of this technology may unfold. To review a full analysis of our survey, download our report, entitled VR and AR Demand Long-Term Action from Innovative Brands.

1. VR awareness is on the rise. Four in ten respondents in our global survey (40 percent) could name, without prompting, at least one brand of headset. Perhaps more important, awareness among younger age groups was even higher, with more than half (54 percent) of consumers under the age of 24 being familiar with the technology and its application.’

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2. There is significant appetite for VR. Almost half (47 percent) of our respondents said that they were “very” or “extremely interested” in using a VR headset. In particular, consumers in emerging markets like China and India are especially excited about this technology, with 66 percent and 64 percent, respectively, expressing interest.

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3. Consumers are willing to invest in VR. VR hardware ownership remains limited, with just 4 percent of global respondents saying that they own a headset. But signs of the technology’s growth appears imminent with two-thirds (66 percent) of consumers aged 25-34 saying that they are “extremely” or “very interested” in purchasing a headset within the next two years.

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So what does this data mean for businesses? Our survey findings can help determine when and how consumers may embrace VR. For example, the platform’s existing user base, coupled with the high level of interest among younger consumers in emerging markets, implies that adoption and demand will be led by this highly-connected, tech-savvy group. In particular, the gaming industry – one of the early drivers of VR – will continue to develop content and experiences to help further generate interest and awareness.

At the same time, our survey found that consumer interest in VR runs much deeper than gaming. Through enhanced access and increased content, it is possible for this technology to go mainstream. To that end, mobile is likely the key to general usage. Just about every smartphone produced within the last two years is VR-capable. And as manufacturers constantly pack more processing power and higher-resolution screens into their smartphones, the pieces are in place for the mobile VR experience to take off with a wider audience. Similarly, headsets continue to get sleeker and cheaper, and are increasingly being bundled with cell phones, gaming systems, or other electronic purchases, which means this platform has the potential to become a household commodity.

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While the mainstream adoption of VR relies, in part, on consumer interest, brands also have a role to play. Our survey suggests that many users may be waiting for companies to create more content and experiences before making a personal investment in the medium. To that end, brands should take this time to explore how they can incorporate both VR and AR into their existing marketing and technology strategies as a way to deepen relationships with consumers.

Curious to read more about how that can be done? Download our full report here.

By Adrian Slobin, Managing Director and Digital Strategist, SapientNitro Minneapolis

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