virtual and augmented reality the future of marketing
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Tech evangelist Robert Scoble strode onto the stage at &THEN conference, and shared his excitement over the fact that his iPhone had more sophisticated features than a video camera he had bought three years ago for far more money. He quickly pointed out that there is a company that used a camera with similar capabilitieson a football field at Stanford University to film the practices of it's players and then allowed the quarterback to watch the video over and over to glean insight into how to improve his plays. "Today that company is working with Walmart to train their employees on how to handle the rush at Christmas time," he said.

Robert Scoble Tech Evangelist
PHOTO: Robert Scoble

Which brings us to a larger point: Many companies are not aware of the potential of even ubiquitous technologies — especially when they are married to emerging tech such as virtual reality."There's magic that you haven't seen in VR," Scoble said. "You don't have a clue about the training capabilities that are coming."

For marketers, he told CMSWire at the event, that is doubly true. Marketers' biggest challenge today, he said, "is convincing their bosses to take a risk on something new that's weird, that's not well understood and doesn't have a lot of users today. There's not a lot of VR headsets in the world, so selling your bosses on something new and innovative is a little bit of a challenge."

No One's Been Fired For Choosing IBM

There's a saying in the tech community that no one has ever gotten fired for selecting IBM. That's still the case, Scoble says — and that larger attitude of sticking to the tried and true will not bode well for marketers going forward. Even IBM, back in the day, famously missed a new trend that went on to disrupt everything. "When the times changed and personal computers were on everyone's desktop all of a sudden you were an idiot if you have bought a mainframe," Scoble said.

Scoble is speaking generally about all emerging tech — self-driving cars and artificial intelligence for instance — but the tech he came to talk about specifically is virtual and augmented reality. He gave examples of several pilot projects that show the their value — and its potential to become as big as the personal computer, if you will, in what is now the equivalent of the mainframe era.

Some of his examples:

  • "Soon we're going to be watching new kinds of television — TV that is augmented with virtualized screens around us. We're going to be watching TV in an all new way"
  • "The PGA Tour has started digitizing every hole in the tournament; they've already put sensors on the golf course to do the scoring. So if you are on hole 13 and you hear a cheer on hole 17, if you're wearing the glasses you can go there and watch a replay of what happened"
  • "Mercedes Benz has an augmented reality app for firemen who come to the scene of your wrecked car. They use a phone to see where they can cut the car apart without it catching fire. It has saved lives already"

"This is coming. We know it's coming because the money that is being spent on developing these glasses is extraordinary."

Convincing the Boss

A marketing exec thinking about trying to sell a VR pilot to her boss might very well gulp once or twice. This Scoble understands. "It's not easy to convince other people to take a risk with budgets," he said. "So do it in small steps. Right now you can still take small steps because most people don't have a VR headset and you have time to experiment."

You don't need, in other words, a multi-million dollar line item in the budget. At the most basic, he said: "Carry around a 360 camera that costs $300 and start thinking 'how would I use this to market my business. What would I show inside a business to our customers?'"

And tell your boss this, Scoble added: now is the time to understand VR and other emerging tech because it is going to change consumers' buying behaviors (Scoble calls it intentionality) as they become even more aware of such issues as, to name a few examples, climate change and food transparency.

"As cameras get cheaper we are going to be able to put a camera on the plant that grows cotton. That cotton can be traced through the entire supply chain to show where and how your pants were made. I'd like to know, for instance, were any kids use to make the pants I am wearing right now? I hope not but I don't know."

Those vague hopes and assumptions — surely there's not slave labor in the clothes I wear — are going to get a definitive answer sooner or later as technology continues its march, he said.

And consumers will develop new behaviors in response, he continued. This person doesn't want to buy clothes made from sweatshop labor; that one doesn't want pesticides anywhere near any part of her food chain. "There are some brands that already understand this change is happening," Scoble says. "General Motors tells me they understand this change is coming and they had better get on top of it. Because if they don't everybody is going to switch to buying a Tesla and GM will be out of business."