Why Virtual Reality May Become The New Normal In Email Marketing
VR isn't the stuff of science fiction. It's going mainstream. And columnist Jason Warnock believes it could be a big win for email marketing.
Immersion is the next big milestone in consumer technology. Armed with an expanding range of virtual reality (VR) technologies, consumers are poised to consume content not as spectators, but as participants in a three-dimensional, 360-degree virtual universe.
But if you think the practical applications of immersive VR experiences are limited to movies and video games, you couldn’t be more wrong. The newly widespread availability of VR technology and the ubiquity of mobile have made VR immersion a prime target for email marketers.
VR Tech: The Future Is Now
In March 2014, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg made waves when he announced that his company had acquired Oculus VR, one of the leading manufacturers of virtual reality technologies like the Oculus Rift headset.
But the announcement wasn’t a surprise to those familiar with the consumer technology marketplace. For years, marketable, immersive technology has been the white whale of the consumer electronics sector.
Since 2014, the marketplace has exploded with early generation devices that bring VR to the masses. Two of the most popular devices in today’s marketplace include Samsung Gear VR (an Oculus-powered headset for Samsung devices) and Google Cardboard (a $20 cardboard kit that enables app-driven immersion experiences).
Whether you know it or not, virtual reality technology isn’t a fantasy. It exists, it’s affordable and it’s quickly making its way into the hands of consumers.
Why VR Should Matter To Marketers
Although still in its infancy, VR technology is headed for the consumer mainstream. Within the next five years, it’s likely that consumers of all ages will participate in VR immersion as part of their normal technology routines.
That alone should be enough to convince marketers to start looking at VR as a delivery mechanism for brand experiences.
But there’s more. In fact, the current trajectory of VR technology makes it an ideal option for email marketing campaigns for one simple reason: smartphones.
The gap between the effectiveness of mobile and desktop email campaigns is vanishing. According to Q3 2015 research by Yesmail Interactive (my employer), desktop click-to-open (CTO) is down 17.2 percent year over year, while mobile CTO increased by 13.4 percent.
Additionally, mobile delivered 46.7 percent of all email clicks in Q3, up 23.9 percent year over year.
In the marketing arena, we’re seeing a convergence of three trends that will undoubtedly impact email marketing in the years ahead:
- Mobile is now a primary email marketing channel.
- Virtual reality is gaining traction with consumers.
- Smartphones are emerging as a viable delivery vehicle for VR immersion experiences.
On the content side of the equation, we’re seeing the development of camera systems that deliver high-quality immersion experiences to consumers.
For example, 360-degree camera equipment can be positioned in the middle of a room to capture three-dimensional floor-to-ceiling images of the space. When the images are loaded into an application, users can “walk” through the room in the virtual universe.
As VR imaging technology migrates into the marketing ecosystem, we’re looking at a future in which brands across a range of verticals can use email campaigns to serve up immersive customer experiences for targeted audience segments:
- Travel & Hospitality — The travel and hospitality industry presents one of the most obvious opportunities for VR immersion marketing. Instead of relying on lifeless 2-D imaging, consumers can fully explore the nooks and crannies of hotels, restaurants and attractions before they book reservations.
- Automotive — What if you could test-drive a car from the comfort of your home or office? If that sounds far-fetched, hold onto your seat, because it’s already a reality. Mercedes-Benz has partnered with Google Cardboard to create an app that provides VR interactions with its products — including an immersive ride on top of a Sauber C9 race car.
- Real Estate — The real estate industry was an early adopter of panoramic imaging, providing house hunters with 360-degree views of candidate properties. VR technology takes those capabilities to the next level by inviting buyers to participate in a dynamic exploration of rooms and properties.
- Retail — The retail sector is promising territory for VR-enhanced marketing. Although we’re not there yet, it seems inevitable that consumers will eventually be able to explore retail spaces, interact with products and complete purchases inside the VR immersion experience.
When you combine the applications for VR technology with trigger campaigns and other email marketing strategies, you find limitless possibilities for enhanced audience experiences and greater brand impact.
The Real Benefit Of VR Marketing
The marriage of immersive VR experiences and email marketing campaigns has the potential to dazzle audiences and position brands on the bleeding edge of technology. But for brands, the real benefit is engagement, the holy grail of email marketing.
By moving beyond static 2-D content to immersive 3-D experiences, email marketers can engage consumers in more meaningful ways, significantly increasing the amount of time the consumer interacts with the brand. As a result, consumers develop deeper relationships with the brand and are more willing to share marketing content with their social communities.
Ultimately, VR-enhanced email marketing is a win for both the consumer (better customer experiences) and the brand (better engagement, broader reach). And with the right strategy, it can be a major win for email marketers, too.