engineer using VR on equipment

Virtual reality (VR) games are steadily gaining popularity as they become more accessible to the general public. Maybe you’ve played Beat Saber, a popular game in which players slash musical notes within a bright, neon environment. As this and many other games show, the possibilities available with VR technology are seemingly endless. Players can do just about anything imaginable: fight enemies with more realistic combat moves, explore new worlds, or even become characters, such as a Jedi or pirate. Without a doubt, these new games are exciting, flashy and fun!

While this gaming technology is gaining plenty of popularity in the consumer market, we’re just seeing the tip of the iceberg in B2B. Consider McKinsey & Co.’s late-2020 survey, which documents B2B buyers’ and sellers’ newfound, COVID-driven preferences for a new digital reality (I strongly recommend this article). It only makes sense that virtual reality will become a major part of digital marketing strategies as more buyers search for solutions virtually (HubSpot).

What Technology Is Available?

Because of its growing popularity, the term “VR” has become a catch-all for any technologies that remotely resemble a virtual landscape. These can be broken down into three different use types:

  • Virtual reality, known as VR, is a completely simulated world where users can interact using wearable devices, thus allowing a free range of movement and actions. 
  • Augmented reality, known as AR, combines digital items with the real world. An example of this would be photos or graphics that can interact with a smartphone or similar device. 
  • Mixed reality, known as MR, is a combination of both. This would be something like Google Glass, which was released in 2013. Another, more cinematic version, is the heads-up display used by Marvel Comics’ Tony Stark within his Iron Man suit. MR uses wearable devices to impose a digital interface upon the real world.

Eventually, AR and MR may become interchangeable. But for now, AR is used for things like presentations, while MR allows for greater amounts of user interaction.

Using Augmented Reality for B2B Marketing

The potential of augmented reality is limited only by our imagination and current 3D modeling capabilities. An example you’ve probably seen before is Google’s 3D animal view, which allows users to place an animal in their space to scale. As novel as it is, the renderings are a little unrealistic. However, in the B2B marketing space, AR can be an immersive, easy way to place large product models in front of a customer within seconds. It allows end users to see your unique solutions up close, without transporting any large machinery. Imagine strolling on a trade show floor with a smartphone, panning left to right, and walking among digital models that would usually take days to transport and assemble. In addition, you could always repurpose your AR renderings for the virtual trade show world.

These detailed, 3D models can replace brochures, flyers and traditional media, allowing your customers to experience offerings in an entirely new way. Ford, for example, used AR footage in 2017 to let Auto Show visitors take a peek under the hood of their (then) new Ford F-150 truck, before salable units were even available. There are also practical field applications for augmented reality, such as this remote monitoring and analysis application from Regal Beloit.

Despite the positives of AR technology, marketers are still limited by the supporting technologies currently available. 3D has a basic drawback: the more complex the rendering, the more storage and render time will be needed. Users can be notoriously unforgiving if a clever AR application looks fantastic but causes intense battery drain or load time. But as mobile technologies advance, communication and processing systems will continue to improve and match AR’s power and memory requirements.

Using Mixed Reality for B2B Marketing

As previously mentioned, MR technologies combine the virtual experience of AR with wearable devices. AR traditionally makes use of mobile phones or tablets, but MR wearables like smart glasses can create a display or interface within the user’s traditional, visual environment (ZDNet).

As minor as the difference between AR and MR sounds, it’s significant because the development process changes. Instead of building an application that can work for any smart device, the application becomes a wearable product. Developing a custom wearable allows for more precise applications, functionality and user experiences.

These MR devices could be used in a business sense to help with team training, running maintenance cycles on a product, or tracking or monitoring variables involved with a specific task. In some cases, it could even be used to improve communications between a client and an employee. Consider TechSight smart glasses from Honeywell Intelligrated, which allow for guided step-by-step maintenance instructions with augmented reality overlays.

Although mixed reality technology still has a long way to go in the development process, it’s certainly something to consider for the future of B2B.

How Soon Is the Future of Virtual Reality in B2B?

VR technology is constantly changing and will soon begin to shape the future of B2B marketing. Right now, MR technology is still evolving for business use, but you’ll likely see AR technology become very common in the B2B space, especially for technical and industrial companies (B2B Marketing). As mobile devices become more efficient as time goes on, AR will likely become better integrated into web browsing and common mobile camera functions. While users will need to invest the effort, practice and time to maximize VR’s capabilities, it has the potential to elevate B2B business behaviors and change how we engage with audiences in-person and virtually.

And as a developer, I can’t wait for it to be a reality.