Happy Birthday Oculus

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It’s been just over a year since the Oculus Rift was released to consumers and it’s time to take a look back and re-evaluate. Has VR technology lived up to the hype? The short answer is no.  But how could it? VR carries the burden of preconceived notions about what the experience ‘should’ look like. Sci-Fi pop culture from Ready Player One to Tron and The Matrix have already given us an impossibly cool vision of VR.  They have set the standard that the technology needs to match.

With that said, the release of Oculus and HTC Vive last year brought us one-step closer to making our sci-fi dreams a reality.  They increased portability and cost efficiency. More importantly, they introduced handheld controllers with improved haptic feedback that gives users the ability to interact directly with virtual objects and environments. You can move around in a virtual space, pick up objects and manipulate them with your hands, and interact with virtual environments in ways we couldn’t before.  The interactivity has changed marketing experiences, allowing marketers to go far beyond immersive storytelling and deliver hands-on engagement with products and brands.

There are a number of Oculus VR projects in development designed to make possible the seemingly impossible. They’ve helped new doctors practice complex surgical procedures, and turned tennis fans into birds. They’ve also helped redefine successful customer engagement.  Lowe’s HoloRoom How Toexperience uses lift on ‘consumer confidence’ as its KPI rather than merely “views” or traditional customer engagement.  It may sound crazy, but once I thought about it within the context of the technology, it makes total sense.

VR is an immersive experience.  It can take users to places that don’t exist or handle objects that aren’t from this world.  While the technology may not be as cool as in the movies, it’s still a transformative experience, and people should walk away changed by it.  In the case of HoloRoom, I can’t tell you how many times I would watch HGTV and become motivated to overhaul my very tiny 70’s themed bathroom. I’d run out to the store to pickup materials, buy a bunch of tools that the internet told me I needed, watch a how-to YouTube video, and then inevitably panic.  No big deal though, hardware stores tend to have very solid return policies.  HoloRoom lets customers walk in, strap on the headset, then actually swing a hammer to demolish the wall, go through the motions of applying grout, and get started on retiling a bathroom.

They report a 36% increase in recall, which means their customers are probably more likely to actually do the project when they get home, and less likely to return those materials.  If all goes well and the bathroom turns out nicely, then the customer has a better experience, even though it’s after having left the store.  It’s a KPI that no website, video, or even 360oGoogle Cardboard experience could ever provide.

While VR technology still has a long way to go before catching up to consumer expectations, last year’s arrival of the Oculus helped it take a leap forward in functionality.  VR hardware still needs to become more cost-effective and more portable before it’s widely adopted by consumers.  Nevertheless, marketers should not avoid the technology based on consumer adoption. We just need to bring the technology to our consumers where they are already engaged – in stores, at conferences or any relevant location – and deliver hands-on, innovative customer experiences that only interactive VR can deliver. I can’t wait to see where we are in another 12 months!

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