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VR: Controlled customer immersion. Or accidental isolation?

When to use VR

The jury is out on Virtual Reality or VR. On the one hand, it’s inclusive, giving your customer a sense stimulating experience of your event. On the other hand, it’s exclusive, never truly enabling the building of bonds that form long lasting, empathetic relationships.

Let's deal with the reality first. After 18 months of teasers and promises from the likes of Samsung and Facebook, VR is mainstream. And what’s more, it's fast becoming a staple in the live events and exhibitions arena.

Test and try before you buy

VR can be used in many ways to showcase new developments that before would have taken a lot more time, effort and investment to share. In a world that fears commitment, VR provides the perfect platform to test and try before you buy. VR suits the ‘demo’ function like a glove. Perfect for brands and B2B companies to show their customers what their new reality could be, creating connections through the virtual realm.

In the comfort of your own space

And what about using VR to engage consumers in a retail context? Or to involve B2B participants in a conference, remotely? Here we see a different kind of relationship between the brand and the person experiencing the virtual reality. Giving people, in the comfort of their own private space, the opportunity to sit in or glide through an event environment, via a headset, should be a fantastic experience. What’s not to like? They feel like they’re actually there, without any effort. Fantastic? Certainly not.

Risk losing the human touch

However, in this context, the virtual world has its challenges. Giving your customers only remote experiences risks compromising empathy and the development of real emotional bonds. Completely disconnected from reality - and their own physicality – the customer is transported to a real event, but only in a virtual way. The danger is that the isolated nature of being ‘alone’ in the headset disconnects the viewer from the experience. The forfeit can be the human touches that form long standing relationships and genuine empathy.

Use wisely, with due consideration

While the strategic use of VR can deliver incomparable benefits, we believe there's still a need for brands to carefully consider the use of any technology at their event. Above all, they need to make sure that it actively contributes to the effective expression of their story. Events and trade shows are certainly about discovery, but they’re also particularly about personal connections.

Always champion your products and services first

The simple truth is, if you immerse your consumers in a virtual world, you risk alienating them from their real world physicality. That’s the crunch brands and companies face when they invest in virtual reality experiences. Our advice? Use VR strategically, where it’s most relevant and useful. Don’t use it as a gimmick that steals the show from the main event. Because the main event must always be your unique portfolio of products and services.

In this context, we believe the virtual world  has drawbacks. The risk is empathy and emotional bonds are compromised or never formed. Rather, he or she is transported to a real event, in a virtual way. Completely disconnected from reality and his or her own physicality. The isolated nature of being ‘alone’ in the headset disconnects the viewer from the experience completely. The bonds that form relationships and empathy are lost.

We believe there's still a need for brands to carefully consider the use of any technology at their event, making sure that it is actively contributing to the effective expression of their story. Events and trade shows are about discovery but also personal connections. By immersing consumers in a virtual world, they can be alienated from their real world physicality. Brands and companies need to consider this when creating and deciding on where and when to implement and introduce virtual relaity experiences.  

Andrew Reid, Director Corporate Strategy at Shelton Fleming, a creative agency that produces live events which transform how you see the wider-world, business and brands. We do this by designing intelligent, personalized experiences for global brands.

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