Virtual reality (VR) technology has been all the rage lately, and companies are buzzing about the ways they can use this new tool, along with augmented reality (AR) tech, to engage customers. But can AR/VR really close the sale?

As companies are quickly discovering, the seamless, immersive environments created by these tools may actually create an insatiable drive to buy. When customers have an opportunity to experience a product in a novel way, they better understand its benefits and are more likely to complete their purchase. That means it’s now up to businesses to develop these digital ecosystems – and results will follow.

Creating The Story

In order to employ AR/VR in retail environments, businesses first need to master the tools of the trade or work with consultants who specialize in such technology.

Specifically, while all marketing is about narrative, VR relies on something closer to movie making to successfully communicate with users; it’s fundamentally about creating a narrative around the product.

To capture savvy consumers, then, marketing teams need to make the leap from 360 video to filmmaking, storyboarding each interaction. AR/VR is neither commercial nor print advertising, and brands need to think differently about how customers interact with it. Putting on a VR headset is still exciting, but soon that will be old hat among shoppers, which is why the narrative elements of filmmaking are so important in AR/VR advertising.

Exploring Worldbuilding

The term “worldbuilding” is typically used by writers, video games designers, and other narrative developers who are creating alternative environments in which to tell a story. Still, all AR/VR marketing professionals should also understand this term because it precisely describes their work – what varies is only the scale of the worldbuilding involved in the work. While fantasy writers may be building from the ground up, marketing professionals need to create a realistic experience out of a digital environment, and that demands serious attention to detail.

Some companies are particularly skilled in the art of worldbuilding, such as those in architecture and design fields. In fact, architects are already seeing sales results using these tools. By pairing Lumion 8’s rendering capacity with the Oculus Go VR system, for example, users can move through fully detailed panoramas, including new structures, objects, landscaping like trees and lawns, and natural lighting. The ability to render sketches, not just three-dimensionally as a standalone model, but as a fully fleshed out and virtually realized object is the realization of everything architects – and their clients – have ever wanted. Suddenly it’s possible to see the final product in detail before they even break ground.

In addition to creating interactive models, architecture firms even find that using VR technology makes them more competitive and speeds the finalization of designs. According to Barron Schimberg of the Sarasota-based Schimberg Group, “Where it may have taken two or three design meetings before, now it’s just one where they see the presentation the first time in the goggles.” This is because the concept is fully fleshed out from the start and, most importantly, because it’s tangible to clients. But AR/VR tech is also beneficial to businesses beyond the architecture space; travel companies, furniture, and hardware brands, and car companies are using the tech to equally exciting ends.

A New Way To Travel

It’s no surprise that the tourism industry is making quick work of AR/VR tech, and small companies in the travel sector can learn a lot from their efforts. And the first tip: start with computer-based 360 video. One of the advantages travel companies have over architects, for example, is that the virtual world in question already exists. They just need to capture it.

Both Tokyo’s government-backed tourism group and TravelNevada have kicked off 360 video campaigns as interactive banner ads and on YouTube, and both offer insights into the local landscapes and activities. Nevada has seen particular success with their ads, which have had a 9% engagement rate, with viewers spending an average of 53 seconds with the content – virtually a lifetime in digital advertising. Now consider what would happen if these videos were viewed through a VR lens. The headset creates full immersion, yet requires little more than the original 360 content.

Making 360 video is easier than ever; your average smartphone can make one and post it to Facebook, and that’s a great place for companies interested in immersive experiences to start. Once you have the content, it’s simple to make the leap to headsets, whether in-store, such as at a travel agency, or through an at-home connection for clients who own VR headsets. Though home VR users are still a small group, they crave more social engagement.

Upselling Improvements

For those industries that can successfully implement AR/VR campaigns, these tools can also be a powerful way to upsell existing customers. For example, the home improvement and hardware company Lowe’s has its own Innovation Lab, where they explore new technologies. As part of this new program, the company uses AR/VR to help customers visualize their home improvements. When researching new marketing technology, the company discovered that they were leaving $70 billion in potential consumer spending behind because consumers couldn’t visualize their renovations. This is the root of the upsell.

Upselling is a necessity for companies that want to thrive, no matter their size. For a company like Lowe’s, giving customers the opportunity to tour a renovation also allows them to suggest better – and pricier – products for the space. IKEA uses a similar approach, with their AR-equipped catalog; customers can see how IKEA furniture looks in their home by scanning the catalog, and that can close a sale and convince consumers to buy more products or higher-end products than they might otherwise.

Typically, upselling and cross-selling require active engagement by marketing teams, whether by designing triggered emails or through the one-on-one pitch, but AR/VR can automate this experience. Has the user placed a table in the virtual environment? The headset might automatically offer a set of products to place on or around it. Or, in a restaurant, an AR menu might suggest side dishes based on an order. In other words, investing in AR/VR tech will quickly pay for itself because consumers trust technology to guide them to the perfect purchase.

Surprising Sectors

Can your company use AR/VR technology even if you’re not in a design or travel-oriented industry? Absolutely – you may just need to be more creative. And for inspiration along that line, look towards the restaurant industry. Though we may not have access to full-fledged smell-a-vision yet, some companies are using VR headsets to create dining narratives around drink or dishes and are even transforming the act of drinking a glass of water into a that of a consuming a flavorful VR “vocktail.” If we remember that diners, especially those indulging in a high-end meal, consider the act an experience rather than a product, VR storytelling makes sense as an experience that people would pay money to access.

Millennials, in particular, are emphasizing spending on experiences over product, and AR/VR fit perfectly into that framework. No matter what your industry, then, it’s worth developing these immersive experiences if you want to increase sales. In the past, companies attempted this by changing the environment – adding visuals, music, even piping scents into a store. As technology advances, however, those immersive experiences actually move away from “real life” and into the technical realm.

When VR initially hit the market, users seemed to expect that it would be an at-home phenomenon, and for serious video gamers, that has largely been the case. For the rest of the world, though, AR/VR tech remains decidedly novel. Businesses need to take advantage of that and make the virtual world their domain. If VR can stake a claim as primarily an advertising tool, then customers will look towards business for exciting new experiences, and it will be more powerful as a means of conversion.

With that in mind, it’s time for your business to evaluate: what can digital immersion help you sell?