As I crouched in that dark, damp sewer, waiting to dodge, duck, dip, dive or dodge my undead foe, I was struck by how totally immersive this virtual reality (VR) experience was.
In the past year VR technology has accelerated and its applications have become increasingly varied: charities are helping to care for dementia sufferers by recreating historical events and transporting patients back in time to relive the street parties of the Queen’s coronation; school pupils are studying interplanetary physics from the surface of Mars; Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, albeit controversially, took us on a tour of the hurricane-struck Puerto Rico to show the world the extent of devastation. With the likes of Sony, HTC and Samsung all investing heavily in developing VR products for the mass market, it’s time to take VR seriously and understand how it could aid us as researchers.
Here’s 3 reasons why we in the research industry should care:
1. VR has great potential as a research tool
VR allows us to build products, concepts, supermarket aisles, or even entire shopping centres on a computer. We can put those in front of consumers or walk them through it, allowing us to measure consumer responses in a more rigorous research environment.
With other uses like virtual focus groups – placing consumers from all round the world into one room - these technologies have been employed in market research for two decades now but previously lacked capability and function. Very soon, with the right drive and investment, we’ll be able to put consumers inside the cars and buildings of the future before anything has even been built.
2. Putting our clients in their customers’ shoes
One challenge we face is how best to bring the customer experience to office-bound stakeholders.
Imagine Google Street View but inside a supermarket. With a 360-degree camera we can record that shopping trip and show our stakeholders in Sunderland what it feels like to walk through the Southampton branch without leaving the office, for example.
And it doesn’t just have to be qualitative. Some people love a good old-fashioned PowerPoint bar chart, but businesses are bigger than the boardroom. Imagine being able to physically walk your employees around this month’s satisfaction scores, or standing on top of the bar as you rise above your competitors – talk about landing with impact.
Yes, the novelty might wear off if used exhaustively and inappropriately, but for those large-scale projects is there a better, more creative, more memorable way to achieve maximum engagement? It’s innovative and immersive, and it looks bloody cool.
3. Our clients are embracing it, so we should too
VR and AR (augmented reality – think Pokémon Go) is also being used increasingly by retailers and businesses themselves. One example is the online furniture retailer Made.com who are challenging the traditional showroom by developing an AR app that allows you to place an item of furniture in your own home before purchase. Through your phone you’ll be able to walk around the sofa to view it from all angles, or change the colour or design at the swipe of a finger to find the best match for your existing décor. Elsewhere, AR is being employed in advertising, bringing posters to life by animating the featured products.
Again, the technology is still young and consumer knowledge and understanding is currently lacking, but how many of our own clients would benefit from exploring this interactive tech?
Whilst exciting and novel, VR and AR serve a very practical purpose, and that’s before you consider the vast sums of money that can be saved by developing concepts on a computer instead of in a factory. The technology is there and there is massive room for growth and development. The 3D craze was short-lived but its use and appeal was limited. For VR, it seems, the only limits are our imaginations. Welcome to the new reality.
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