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How brands should meet customers in their new (virtual) reality

30-second summary:

  • Virtual experiences like test drives, makeup tutorials, and open houses have become essential as shoppers move their business online.
  • The same digital assets for virtual test-runs and try-ons, once built, can be repurposed in marketing ads, social media, personalized sales demos, and even product redesigns.
  • Elly Uz, content marketing manager at interactive 3D streaming platform PureWeb, shares three steps for marketing in the new landscape.

Desperate times call for digital measures. First, a quick recap: The old world was spinning right along, a pesky virus decided to visit all corners of the globe, the planet shut down, and a new world emerged. Along the way, just about everything changed. Years of incremental changes so small they’re hard to realize before a sudden jolt exposes a fresh reality. Before the pandemic, virtual experiences like test drives, makeup tutorials, and open houses were considered cute and cool (but far from essential). Today, the ability to try on and test out products is mission-critical.

And marketing, as it always does, must evolve right alongside society. Forward-thinking brands are already undergoing digital transformations to provide online shoppers (that is, everyone) the best virtual interactions possible.

The next best thing

An ecommerce website, at its most basic, is like a digital brochure. You go and scroll a menu of items with pictures and prices. If you’re only choosing a pack of toilet paper, that’s good enough — not so much for clothes, eyeglasses, vehicles, homes, and other experiential items.

The truth is, the computer-generated imagery you see in movies and the dynamic interactivity of video games can both be used in your website. If you’re able to customize and test-drive a car online (you are) or move through a digital version of a store where you pick up and interact with photorealistic items in 3D (you can), suddenly a website that acts no differently from a trifold paper brochure seems primitive.

Retailers and ecommerce businesses today can use 3D content creators to build digital versions of their products that go way beyond a photograph. The digital assets can be built into a site where buyers can customize them, spin them around, see textures, and experience movement. And retailers utilizing 3D technology and augmented reality are seeing 90% higher customer conversion rates than those that aren’t.

For anyone who feels compelled to touch before buying, virtual test-runs and try-ons represent the next best thing. The same digital assets, once built, can be repurposed in marketing ads, social media, personalized sales demos, and even product redesigns.

To create more compelling marketing for brands that are leveraging these emerging technologies, take these steps as soon as possible:

1. Make your web experience the source of the customer engagement you sought on social

By creating scenarios where buyers can interact with products from home, you’re serving them up a deeply valuable experience. Instead of interruptive marketing where your brand appears on a screen to compete for their attention, buyers come to you. They spend their time customizing a pair of sneakers or a car. They send it to their family for opinions or post it to social media and invite their friends to create their own. This is the way to connect with consumers amid a pandemic when they’re not walking into your store but into your digital space.

Major players are delivering AR capabilities to the masses — from Pinterest and YouTube adding makeup try-ons to Shopify making it easy to add interactive content to its websites and Instagram enabling augmented-reality ads.

2. Tap into readily available resources to create compelling virtual content

It’s the perfect time to stop and reimagine what your online sales and marketing can be in this internet-first era. Sure, 3D content creation used to take ample time, expertise, and meticulous labor. Now, thanks to game engines like Unreal and Unity — which take care of the physics, motions, lighting, and essentially create the framework for 3D — these creations take days instead of months.

While you still need the expertise of content creators, you don’t need a massive budget or endless months of runway. Apparel brand Tommy Hilfiger is moving to a completely digital design by 2022 and its parent company PVH built an incubator to train employees and eventually bring other brands outside its ecosystem on board. You likely already have the resources, and you might not realize it.

3. Don’t limit an interactive campaign to your website

Once your interactive 3D digital experience is created, the sky is the limit for campaigns. You can create so many consumer touchpoints and use digital assets over and over. Brands can use the beautiful custom watch that Jacob created to remarket to him or create an email campaign featuring the clothing items that Kylie viewed in 360 degrees while visiting the virtual store.

On Instagram, sunglasses maker Bollé lets users virtually try on its Phantom model to see how its different styles of lenses work. In the past, brands and marketers were limited to a pool of shoppers in the immediate area; now, a brand can be truly international.

It certainly seemed like a frivolous luxury to tour a digital condo or test-drive a truck through a computer simulation — until it became the only option. Now that we all find ourselves in this new reality, it’s only fitting to evolve along with the times.

Elly Uz is the Content Marketing Manager at PureWeb, an interactive 3D streaming platform based in North America.

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