Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Facebook Horizon shows the VR way for marketers

By Yuval Ben-Itzhak, CEO, Socialbakers

Virtual Reality (VR) has long been associated with the gaming world or with high-budget Hollywood movies. While some of the more tech-savvy marketers have experimented with 360-degree content, very few brands have started to consider VR as anything more than a gimmick.

With the launch of Facebook Horizon, however, the tide is changing — it’s exciting to see Facebook adding VR to their collection. The tech presents a huge opportunity for marketers in the years to come, and there are a few ways that this could take shape.

Firstly, what is VR? Virtual Reality is a simulated experience that puts the user into another world or dimension. The other-worldly experience offered by VR is why it’s been so successful in gaming, but how can marketers use VR to engage and excite their audiences in a tangible way?

The world of ecommerce and retail is likely to be where marketers will first start to adopt VR into their digital plans and where customers will see the first impact. VR offers a huge opportunity for brands in the area of brand awareness and product discovery.

In order to give customers a new and exciting way to learn more about the brand’s offering or browse the racks, marketers can create virtual showrooms. From a virtual showroom, customers can engage in a much more lifelike way with the product before they actually move down the funnel to buy. 

Another option could be just to place a product within the virtual world and let the user discover and engage with it before leading them into a purchase. Since more and more consumers purchase online, VR technologies promise to be a powerful weapon in the retail marketers’ arsenal. 

All about the experience

Marketers know that Millennials and Gen Zs are more about the experience when it comes to marketing, that’s why fashion and beauty brands are often among the first adopters of new marketing technologies and techniques.

We have seen some fashion brands already experimenting with VR — way back in 2017, Coach, the US-based designer brand, started experimenting with VR headsets in several of its stores across North America. The immersive in-video experience gave shoppers a front row view of its NY Fashion Week runway show and offered an exclusive-gift-with-purchase promotion to boost sales. 

Gap, another well-known US high street brand, also experimented with VR in the form of a virtual DressingRoom app. The app enabled shoppers to try on clothes virtually before buying. Gap’s efforts to help shoppers pick the right clothing for their shape and size was a good step in the direction of reducing customer dissatisfaction and product returns, which bring with them a hefty financial burden for a retailer.   

Virtual tourism

Tourism is another key area where VR can and is being used today, but only in a small way. For travel marketers working with hotels or airlines and looking to sell destinations, VR offers a unique and engaging way to bring customers on a journey to buy.

Travel brands using VR technology can offer travellers the opportunity to take virtual walks around a hotel or resort before they actually book their trip, thus avoiding potential accommodation headaches. Who wouldn’t want a quick tour of a hotel’s facilities before they actually book a week’s holiday there?

A great example of a travel brand using VR is Igloo Village in Zermatt, Switzerland. It’s using a simple virtual reality experience to bring its cosy igloo accommodation and snow-covered village to life. 

While it’s still early days for the technology, VR has the potential to offer marketers a new and exciting way to take customers on the journey from product awareness, via product placement and product interaction in the virtual world, right down to purchase.   

In time, social media will replace ecommerce as we know it today. Facebook has become a valuable tool in a brands’ digital marketing plan over the last decade.

If you look at the new ecommerce features on Instagram, which has become the most engaging social platform for brands, to the development of Facebook’s own cryptocurrency,  Libra, very soon it will be possible to run the entire marketing funnel — from discovery to post-purchase customer care — on social media.

With the addition of Facebook’s Horizon, there is even more reason to believe that running marketing wholly through social media will become reality. As a highly engaging, exciting content format, we predict that VR will play a key role in brands’ digital marketing plans in the years to come.