Virtual reality and B2B marketing are about to collide, and the ensuing explosion is set to speed up sales cycles through new, immersive experiences. The tools and platforms have been around for a while, but virtual reality is moving beyond gaming and entertainment and being applied to product tours, hands-on demonstrations, and more.

Are these dynamic user experiences part of your marketing plans for 2017? They should be. Here’s why: Content marketers are increasingly turning to graphically rich, interactive assets to better connect with audiences.

What if you could go a step further than infographics, datagrams, videos, and mobile apps and capture the attention of people who are inundated with more traditional content?

What if you could create an even more interactive, immersive experience for your audience members—one that places them inside a new environment, directly in contact with your products or your people? Virtual reality (VR) technologies allow you to do just that.

What is VR?

VR solutions put the audience in the middle of a seemingly realistic three-dimensional environment. That environment might be familiar, such as an office building or football stadium. Or it might be something completely new and unusual—like a prototype car or a futuristic world. These VR environments can be delivered either as a 360-degree video or as a more interactive experience in which the user can move around the environment, touch objects, respond to prompts, and more.

VR technology is not entirely new. Manufacturers of gaming consoles have been experimenting with VR systems for over 20 years. Meanwhile, the military has been using VR for flight simulation, combat training, and other applications for even longer.

But new technologies are making it easier and less expensive for individuals to consume VR and for organizations to produce VR content. “Technology has finally caught up to the idea of VR,” says Jason McGuigan, creative director at Horizon Productions—a TDA Group video partner organization that produces VR content.

For consumers, Wearality Sky, Google Cardboard and Samsung Gear VR take advantage of ubiquitous smartphones to deliver a VR experience, easily and inexpensively. Dedicated VR systems such as Oculus Rift and HTC Vive offer increasingly immersive experiences. Technically, this is not VR; it’s just another way of using VR-created content. Consumers can even get a taste of VR content—without any hardware—through the 360-degree videos now being posted to YouTube and Facebook.

Producing VR content is becoming simpler and less expensive as well. For example, organizations can use relatively inexpensive 360-degree camera systems to capture video. They can use current video production systems—and existing skill sets—to create VR assets.

The recently launched Google Jump solution, which combines a 360-degree camera system from GoPro with cloud-based video processing from Google’s VR team, will help further reduce costs and accelerate production. The large cloud-based server infrastructure does the work of stitching together large volumes of content to create stereoscopic 3-D 360-degree environments.

Horizon is one of a select few organizations chosen to access Google Jump since its launch. The Horizon team can attest to the tremendous benefits of using Google’s cloud-based infrastructure for processing. “It used to take weeks or months and hundreds of man-hours to stitch together content to create a 3-D 360-degree video,” says Jason Cooper, director of multimedia at Horizon. “With the Google partnership, we can do that work in days or hours.”

How can VR fuel your marketing efforts?

Familiarity with VR experiences for gaming and entertainment will boost interest in VR for B2B content marketing.

There are already several good use cases for VR in the B2B context. For example, let’s say you want to enable enterprise IT managers to explore your full line of servers or storage systems—without requiring your sales team to transport multiple systems to customer locations or having customers travel to your data center. You could create an experience that lets administrators examine multiple products in VR. If you produce an interactive experience, you could facilitate virtual hands-on demos.

You could also use VR to introduce customers or prospects to products that do not yet exist. Whether you want to demonstrate thought leadership, show customers your product roadmap, generate excitement for upcoming products, or solicit funding for new ventures, you can let customers see and experience something that exists only in VR.

VR also allows you to present traditional video content in a more exciting way. Some organizations are employing VR systems at trade shows to create a unique, captivating experience that transports users out of the chaotic environment of the trade show floor. Providing a VR experience delivers a high impact in a place where it can be difficult to keep customers’ attention.

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Ready to talk about how you could use VR as part of your content marketing strategy? Drop us a line.