As virtual reality technologies improve and become more accessible, organizations are finding increasingly meaningful ways to use VR to educate and engage their customers. When an exciting VR experience is carefully built around an immersive brand story and useful content, VR can take customer engagement to the next level. Here’s how two very different companies are each using VR to unify storytelling and skill development.
Lowe’s Holoroom How To: Immersing customers in home improvement learning
U.S. hardware chain Lowe’s is one of the first retailers to use VR to teach customers practical home improvement skills. Since 2014, Lowe’s Holoroom How To experience has gradually transitioned from a tool for customers to visualize what a bathroom or kitchen renovation could look like, to a platform for DIY skills training. The focus is on exploring real-life applications of VR “to directly help our customers solve everyday problems”, according to Kyle Nel, Executive Director of Lowe’s Innovation Labs.
In 2017, the six-month pilot of the Holoroom How To skills clinic is available to customers at two Lowe’s stores in the U.S. (Framingham, MA and Burlington, ON) and one RONA store in Canada (Beloeil, Québec). Wearing a VR headset, customers act on instructions from a video to practice skills such as installing shelves, painting a fence or tiling a shower. Tactile responses on the handheld equipment give customers the sensation of actually holding a drill or other hardware tool. The immersive nature of the technology makes it a valuable experiential learning platform and a source of useful insights into customer knowledge, recall and motivation.
Lowe’s asserts that people who participate in the Holoroom How To demonstrate increased motivation to take on DIY projects and better recall of the steps involved. “We believe innovations like Holoroom How To will soon enable instantaneous learning moments and massively scalable training opportunities that empower both customers and employees around the world,” says Nel.
CommBank’s Start Smart VR pilot: Fostering financial education
In a different take on customer education, the Commonwealth Bank of Australia is incorporating VR for school children into its Start Smart corporate responsibility program. CommBank partnered with Australian author Ursula Dubosarsky to create a picture book, Sammy the Space Koala, that teaches children about financial decision-making, saving and investing. The book is made interactive by a VR headset, ‘The Teleporter’, developed by M&C Saatchi’s innovation lab Tricky Jigsaw.
The picture books and VR headsets were distributed to around 1500 students from 24 Australian primary schools during late 2016. The students were encouraged to take the VR experience home to revisit key concepts about financial literacy with their parents or carers, who were asked to provide feedback on the experience. According to Stuart Tucker, GM of brand, sponsorship and marketing operations at CommBank, one parent reported their child learned more in a 10-minute VR journey in outer space than they had in five years on Earth.
Using VR “teleports” kids into a “richer learning experience”, says Michael Canning, M&C Saatchi Australia’s Executive Creative Director. “VR is everywhere at the moment, but the reason that VR is relevant is because it becomes an active decision-making tool – if you’re just reading the book you can’t choose the items you buy. It’s hard to do that in a passive medium but VR turned it into immersive storytelling.”
Making the most of VR in PR
One of the key advantages that VR has over other mediums is that there are no distractions for the customer. This has significant implications for PR, as Alex Halls observes in a blog post for Wolfstar consultancy:
“The best PR campaigns have the power to grip the consumer but the weaker campaigns are often filtered out among the many news stories we see day to day. VR’s advantage is once the headset is on, you are completely immersed in the media, you choose where you look and what to focus on. Every part of it, every turn of the head, can be intricately planned for the best results and the biggest impact.”
Nonetheless, an effective use of VR must be closely connected to brand narrative and customer engagement to avoid “the gimmick factor” and ensure “that it’s still story first and technology second”, says Ian Shying, UX and Design Director at Edelman Australia. The way forward for PR, then, is to use VR as a strategic tool for meaningful storytelling and customer education.