Guest Column: Virtual experiences have real impact on business: Mktg Head, Magicbricks

Prasun Kumar says virtual experiences are opening an entirely new channel of connection between the buyer and seller

What’s a virtual world? And how real has it become? There was a technology barrier separating the two. However, it seems to have been demolished with the rapid proliferation of smartphones, affordable internet and endless applications and content to choose from. The art of verbal communication is rapidly getting replaced with the art of social networking (Facebooking/Tweeting.) Our lives are moving ‘online;’ from communication to consumption and from discovery to the invention. The lines between real and virtual are blurring and seamless movement from one avatar to another is no longer a fiction. And all this is happening at scale and speed unimaginable; cutting across demographics, societies and cultures.

This new world order provides unique opportunities to marketers – sharper consumer segmentation, one to one conversation and most importantly, the ability to provide unique brand experiences using technology. With Artificial Intelligence, Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality and Big Data analytics, marketers can provide unique, immersive, engaging and real-time brand experiences. Experiential marketing has become a formidable tool for customer acquisition, retention as well as engagement.

Take fashion brand GAP for example. Using Augmented Reality in their DressingRoom app, shoppers can select from five different body types and then they can see how clothing items look like on that body type. It shows a 3D model in the environment that the user is in and the user can also take a 360 view of what the item looks like on the model. This solves a shopper’s most common problem – to try multiple outfits physically. And it gives the retailer a unique opportunity to up-sell or cross-sell. With further advancements in AR tech, it will be the norm of the day.

Target, the multi-billion dollar retail giant, used technology to develop and harness new consumer segments. They fit their shopping carts with GPS technology enabling them to get a real-time sense of which aisle, section, product category or brand a consumer was considering and finally purchased. This gave them a unique look at young couples who might have been expecting their first child. This newly found segment was then served messages on baby care products resulting in double-digit growth of the category.

Technology is today allowing even the most brick and mortar of the categories like real estate to engage and sell better to home buyers. Magicbricks has come out with a unique concept called Magicbricks Experience Centres. Solving a perennial buyer problem of running around to do multiple site visits before finalizing a property (shorten the consideration set) and a huge seller (builder) problem of providing the real home like experience to prospects (which otherwise could only be delivered via a sample flat at the site.) The aggregator is using technologies like Virtual Reality and 3D hologram projection in a kiosk format to showcase projects. These kiosks, located at various malls, attract high footfalls, give consumers the convenience to compare various projects and see a sample flat via VR and become an important tool for increasing developer reach.

Virtual experiences also help drive consumer loyalty. For example, Marriott Hotels have collaborated with Framestore VR Studio to create a 4D tourism experience. “Teleporter” helps consumers transport to Marriott Hotels, from Hawaii to London, transforming the use of technology in the travel industry. This allows travellers to experience various Marriott properties, driving familiarity, and help decide their next holiday destination with a huge possibility that they may just choose to stay at another Marriott property.

All these examples amply establish that virtual experiences are delivering real impact on businesses and opening an entirely new channel of connection between the buyer and the seller. And while technology may not completely eliminate traditional outreach and engagement models, they definitely will drive a larger share of the brand experiences due to the scale and possibilities they offer. Since technology is still at an early adoption stage, brands have the opportunity to serve as digital pioneers and improve the experience they are offering.

However, experiential marketing of the virtual kind has its own set of challenges too. The first and foremost is to be ready to handle consumer expectations. Virtual experiences are often flawless and a consumer expects the same while dealing with the brand in the real world. Then there’s the challenge of content; contextual, real-time, made for the technology being used and this is a real cost and marketers need to be extremely careful in planning. Virtual experiences can also be replicated fast by competition, as the technology is available to all. Hence, it’s very important that experiences designed should be unique to the brand.

All of these indicate how modern marketing can become more experiential to increase engagement with consumers. Are the brands ready?

(The author is  Marketing Head at Magicbricks)

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not in any way represent the views of exchange4media.com.
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