two people with virtual reality goggles on in an immersive experience room
PHOTO: Stella Jacob

Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) tools have graduated from gaming experiences to disrupt business experiences that positively affect the bottom line. In fact, according to an IDC white paper, 62% of respondents said service-based AR experiences drive measurable return on investment (ROI).

AR and VR applications can now be found in just about every industry. For example, a Russian farmer and scientific team have developed VR goggles for dairy cows to immerse them in a virtual open field in hopes of increasing milk production.

Yet there are some obvious functions where AR/VR is a natural fit and delivers high ROI. One of them is in field service and maintenance, where highly technical tasks require both hands to be used or to comply with OSHA, FDA and other regulations. According to PTC, there are five common use cases for AR/VR in field service: identifying parts that need replacement, viewing technical information, remote customer service, employee training, and following complex maintenance procedures. Companies that help employees perform tasks more safely and quickly using up-to-date information delivered to their visor or headset will be rewarded with greater job commitment and motivation.

Another function is sales and marketing. VR and AR can dramatically improve or disrupt outdated processes and engagement models to demonstrate a brand’s unique value proposition. Companies utilizing virtual product models are finding real competitive advantage.

“Interactive applications engage prospects earlier, train sales/channel teams faster, shorten sales cycles, reduce product shipping costs and increases win rates,” said Dana Drissel, vice president of marketing at Kaon Interactive, provider of B2B sales and marketing applications. “Companies need to embrace and adopt new ways of working with the latest emerging technologies if they want to truly differentiate and stay competitive.”

Related Article: How Augmented Reality Will Enhance Workplace Collaboration

3-D Product Tours From Ricoh

One area with high ROI from virtual sales and marketing is savings in product shipping costs. Large, complex products cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to ship to and from sales meetings and tradeshows. 

Commercial and industrial printing firm, Ricoh USA, Inc., has a strong brand, product, message and customer service ethos. However, it was seeking an innovative, efficient and effective way to convey that strength to its customers and prospects virtually.

Ricoh’s portfolio of production presses and platforms are high-powered, technological innovations that offer high levels of customization and complementing software services that can cost up to $2 million at the highest end of its spectrum. For such a significant investment, potential customers want an in-depth examination of the products. Customers want to see them, watch how they work, and explore the features and benefits.

To ship Ricoh presses to demo sites around the world cost over $150,000 per printer, per event. With between six to 10 tradeshows in a typical year, the marketing team started asking themselves what alternatives could they offer their customers that delivered a similar experience, yet without the physical equipment.

The solution? A virtual product tour that is also available in augmented reality. Having an interactive, photo-realistic, 3-D-animated, virtual tour and AR experience of the printing press suddenly made it possible to demonstrate the capabilities and show the value in sales meetings on the sales rep’s tablet or laptop.

“To me, the application is just a virtual extension of our product,” said Mike Herold, Ricoh’s director of inkjet solutions. “Of course, it doesn’t take the place of visiting one of our Customer Experience Centers, but it’s a good interim step in the sales cycle.”

Related Article: Tips for Getting Started With VR & AR Marketing

CenturyLink VR Connected City Experience

CenturyLink, a connectivity and cloud services provider, was looking for a way to tell its combined company’s value proposition in an impactful way. It developed a customized, immersive virtual reality application to captivate prospects.

The VR experience started with a connected city, which provided users with interactive touch points that communicated the value of CenturyLink’s robust global fiber network. Through animations and videos viewed on a headset, users had the ability to explore the world of autonomous vehicles, interactive signage, mobile communication and cloud services. The immersive VR experience put users into recognizable and relatable vignettes and environments that highlighted "why milliseconds matter" and why having the right cloud, the right network, and the right experts was critical to success. It was a delivery mechanism for CenturyLink to effectively tell its story around how technology is expanding into everyone’s life, while delighting and engaging its audience.

“We wanted to create a lasting experience for show attendees without spending exorbitant amounts of money,” relayed Becky Kelly, director of solutions marketing strategy for CenturyLink. “We wanted to achieve something meaningful that we could then grow for reuse. I wanted to create a theme we could tie things around to effectively tell our story and then use best practices for future ones.”

And it paid off. Specifically, the VR application created a 400% increase in onsite engagement versus the previous year at CenturyLink’s booth at the Amazon Web Services’ re:Invent tradeshow.

Related Article: Amazon's AI Leadership Advances at re:Invent 2019

Mixed Reality Moves Past the Novelty Stage

With a multitude of use cases, mixed reality for B2B is no longer a novelty but a table stake. Leading companies realize it’s not about the entertainment value of AR and VR, as customers won’t pay a premium for that. Customers will however reward industrial and enterprise brands that leverage this technology to resolve their pain points more efficiently, without compromising valued experiences.