Inside the Headset: Embracing Virtual Reality at Your Events

By Jeff Boedges, Co-Founder of SoHo Experiential

The job of the event professional is to be on top of shifting attitudes and cultural fascinations, even dictating how they develop. Sometimes that means simple changes, or switching up the decor on a long-running event. Sometimes it means boldly charging into a new arena, a technological advancement with the potential to change entire industries, and certainly the world of Experiential. Virtual Reality, or VR, is the phrase on the tip of many a marketer’s tongue, as more and more hardware hits the market, and brands try and figure out how to best utilize the new medium. One thing, however, is clear: the history of the digital age has favored the early adopter, and to ignore the potential for VR in Experiential could prove to be a costly mistake.

At SoHo, we’ve made an effort to incorporate this first wave of VR tech into our events, most recently at our launch party for Bravo’s Below Deck Mediterranean. We’re seeing benefits in more ways than one. The sheer novelty and curiosity about VR has an inherent appeal for guests. Strapping on a headset and being transported to another world has a “The Future is Now” feel that has been in short supply for a generation growing up in an age of rapid evolution in consumer technology. More practically, we’re gaining insights into the types of experiences that excite people, that get them talking to their friends on social media about their virtual tour on a Yacht or their walk across the surface of the moon.

Here are a few takeaways that we’ve gleaned while using Virtual Reality tech at our events:

Build On Your Story

As fun as it is, Virtual Reality isn’t just a fancy new toy, it’s a very real opportunity to engage a fully captivated guest in your brand’s story. What can you do armed with a headset that can transport your guests anywhere in space and time that you couldn’t have done before? Working with our client, we provided a Virtual Reality station at our Below Deck Mediterranean launch party.  The engagement empowered guests to experience the “yachty lifestyle” taking place all around them. A brand ambassador briefly explained the technology, and what they were about to see, before allowing them to take sail with the cast of the show. Right off the bat, the participant is engaged in a (one-sided) conversation with a crew member from the boat itself. After another cast member introduction, and a preview of the season, the guest leaps into the water and the experience ends. By combining exclusive video content, virtually-intimate interaction, and a stunning setting, we were able to pack a fully immersive and engaging experience into a very short time frame.

Show Them Something New

Virtual Reality is still in its fledgling stages for consumer use, but it’s going to be hitting the market fast, and in bulk. CEA research is projecting 1.2 million headsets to be sold in 2016, a 500% increase over 2015’s figures. It may be exciting now, but novelty wears off, especially for young, tech-savvy guests. Getting, and holding, people’s attention requires investment on their parts. When you’re dealing with a medium as new as VR, some of that work is going to be done for you. People will generally be eager to try such a futuristic technology. If the content isn’t engaging, however, pretty soon they’ll start to wonder if they look funny looking around the room with a headset on. The onus is still on you to create content that spurs an emotion, be it excitement, curiosity, even envy can be the straw that stirs the proverbial drink. With such a giant leap coming in terms of availability, you can expect to see strides made quickly in terms of content. Encourage your clients to embrace the medium, and plan for Virtual Reality to play a larger and larger role in your events in the coming years.

Stay Committed to In-Person Interactions

An event is at its best when guests are sharing in a moment, interacting and exchanging ideas and opinions about a brand or product. While an immersive Virtual Reality experience will certainly give them something to talk about, be careful that you are striking a balance between your collaborative and social components and the highly personal Virtual Reality segment. Moving beyond the confines of your event, take the opportunity to share with your guests any pertinent hashtags or social accounts that will allow them to take their reactions online.

Gauge Audience Response

Like any other technology in its early stages of development and consumer use, VR has its kinks. What’s enthralling for one guest might be literally nauseating for another. Have the brand ambassadors manning your VR station take note of how people react to the new experience. Getting in-the-moment feedback from your attendees, as well as following up about it in any surveys that you send out will be invaluable as you plan out how to integrate the tech into your future events.

Do we see Virtual Reality as an out and out successor to Experiential Marketing? No, we don’t. Shared experience and physical engagement are fundamental components of event marketing, and ones that won’t be replicated within the confines of a headset anytime soon. However, that certainly doesn’t mean we aren’t eager to see how the technology develops, and we won’t sit on the sidelines while it reaches its full potential.