Is Virtual Reality The New Frontier of Ski Marketing?

February was a hot month for Virtual Reality announcements. Rumors swirled that Google was building its own headset. Facebook showed up at MWC 2016 to announce a VR partnership with Samsung. LG & HTC are both building or looking at building VR headsets. The Sony Playstation VR and Microsoft's HoloLens are getting ready to ship this fall and March respectively.  We can't forget Oculus who's Rift and Gear VR have been causing waves over the last 12 months.

So what happened between Lawn Mower Man and now? For those of you too young to remember the 1992 movie. An eccentric Dr. Lawrence Angelo (Pierce Brosnan) puts mentally disabled landscaper Jobe Smith (Jeff Fahey) on a regimen of experimental pills and computer-simulated training sequences in hopes of augmenting the man's intelligence. In time Jobe becomes noticeably brighter and also begins to fare much better with the opposite sex. But, as he develops psychic powers, he realizes that those around him have taken advantage of his simplicity his whole life, and he plots a bloody revenge. 

In 1992 Dr. Lawrence's drug induced, computer simulated world was out of reach for most consumers and, rightly so. But, VR has come a long way since to make it user friendly, accessible and less freaky.  

The launch of the Samsung VR Gear headset in the US for just $99 and the proliferation of cheap cardboard versions, is helping VR to go mainstream. VR developers are also working to ensure the technology no longer comes with the side effect of motion sickness which has hindered its appeal so far. According to Juniper Research, estimates predict there will be more than 12m VR headset sales by the end of 2016. By 2020, the VR industry will have shipped 30m headsets globally.

New opportunities for brands are opening the market beyond gaming. The capacity for VR, combined with 360-degree video, to put the viewer at the centre of an experience like transporting them to a holiday resort or sporting event, opens up new opportunities for brands.

The New York Times’ new VR venture drops viewers right into news events around the world, includes an immersive VR film about children uprooted by war, and another documenting the vigils in Paris in the aftermath of the terror attacks. The app launch, saw the newspaper distributing more than 1m Google Cardboard headsets, helping move VR towards the mass market.

For outdoor sports we've seen companies like hiking boot brand Merrell launch a VR experience allowing viewers to feel as though they’re walking over a rickety bridge in the mountains. Google Maps launched the Climb Mont Blanc VR experience enabling people to experience some of the exhilaration of climbing this epic mountain.

In 2015 North Face became an early adopter, unveiling virtual reality experiences in its Manhattan store. Viewers were able to experience hiking, rock-climbing and base-jumping through virtual reality. The goal was to excite shoppers about the outdoors, and then for them to use the company’s gear on their next adventure.

For the ski industry the anticipated surge has thrown VR and its marketing opportunities into the spotlight. If snow sports marketers want to take advantage of this game-changing technology, they should take notice now and begin pencilling VR into their 2016/17 budgets. 

VR helps solve a number of problems ski marketers have around engagement and awareness because its;

Immersive – users wearing a headset are completely immersed in the content meaning fewer distractions and more attention on the message.

Impactful – the intensity of a VR experience is greater than traditional media generating strong emotions in its users which are linked to real behavior change.

Memorable – our brains are built to remember events linked to locations, this means that VR experiences have a longer life-span in the audience’s memory.

Novel – with high media and public interest in VR early adopters can benefit from favorable media exposure.

For ski resorts, one of the major marketing uses of VR is the ability to provide customers with experiences that will convince them to physically visit your resort.

Atticus produced a virtual ski experience for Neilson Active Holidays so that customers can ‘Have a go, before you go’. The use of full motion video gives the user an extremely realistic simulation of skiing at one of their resorts in Andorra. Krvavec ski resort in the Slovenian Alps created 360 degree travel video to promote their resort.

Both of these examples demonstrate a fraction of the possible uses of VR for a ski resort to bring a tangible experience to potential visitors. Imagine guided tours of base areas, interactive ski experiences of runs where viewers are able to choose their route.

Not all brands, however, have physical locations or events to market. In these cases, virtual reality can be used to market a lifestyle. Using athletes to promote your products is as old as ski industry marketing so imagine an athlete becoming part of your VR experience.

Although not specifically promoting a product, Bode Miller's incredible 360° video of 'Birds of Prey' World Cup downhill course demonstrate VR's ability to put the viewer into a lifestyle.

For ski shops, VR has the potential to give  shoppers a totally 'tailored' experience. VR will enable, customized, shopping experiences for everyone soon. Many ski stores pride themselves on their uniqueness. VR gives people the opportunity to experience this first hand before coming into the store. Shops are already using VR to promote and sell their products. Microsoft and Volvo teamed up to create a VR car showroom, which doesn't have any cars.

The number of VR examples relevant to the snow sports is growing but its application in the industry is still in its infancy.  Finding specialist VR firms that can help create those experiences can be challenging. One such company leading the way is Augur who work with brands to tailor experiences based on their needs. If you are interested in talking to Augur I'm happy to make an introduction.

Over the coming weeks I'm going to continue to thread with more examples, ideas and tips for the snow sports industry.


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