By Michaela Riva Gaaserud, CEO Frameless Technologies, a Mid-Atlantic Marketing Summit Sponsor:

Virtual reality (VR) is making headlines worldwide. McDonalds, Jim Beam, Lufthansa, and the New York Times are examples of brands jumping into VR and everyday it looks less and less like a leap of faith.

Consider the billions already invested in VR. Facebook became the poster child for VR development in 2014 with its $2 billion purchase of the Oculus Rift. Since then, major players such as Sony, Microsoft, HTC, and Apple have joined the VR movement in a spending spree that’s reached fever pitch. In fact, some estimates put the VR market at $150 billion by 2020.

This is all fine and dandy for the big guys, but what does it mean for the rest of us? Many marketers are asking, “How do I get into VR?” and “is now the time?”

The answer boils down to one key element of VR – how it is consumed by the user.

Lets first define VR. Simply put, it is technology that allows you to experience something without actually being there. Connecting with your audience through VR is personal and powerful. As such, most press focuses on developments in virtual experiences that one-up yesterday’s break-through. Few address most companies’ main concern, “How can I use VR to reach my audience and differentiate me?”

Most people don’t currently own a VR headset, so how can we use VR to market? The gap in VR content development and the ability to widely consume it is bridged by a range of products that enable businesses to effectively integrate VR into their current marketing strategy.

On one end of the spectrum are 360-degree online tours that enable audiences to get a sense of place by scrolling up, down, and all around for an engaging experience on a desktop or laptop. The next level of VR takes advantage of features present in most mobile devices such as orientation tracking. This content allows viewers to physically move a mobile device to see what is around them in a virtual scene. These two levels are affordable and effective for reaching a wide audience since they don’t require specific VR equipment and are distributed online.

A step beyond, VR content can be viewed in branded cardboard viewers. The View-Master children’s toy may be its great uncle, but cardboard viewers allow audiences to access more compelling VR in conjunction with a smartphone. The experience is best suited for a targeted audience when it is practical to distribute the viewers (conferences, meetings, or a mail campaign).

The full virtual reality headset experience is at the high end of the spectrum. This fully immersive experience is the most impactful since it virtually transports your audience into a story where they are held captive to your message. It is perfect for one-on-one marketing at trade shows and onsite.

So the good news is that forward thinking companies who want to differentiate themselves now through virtual reality can do so without making a Mark Zuckerberg sized investment. With a little understanding of the current options available, you can easily “wow” your audience and tell a great story in the process.

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