How to Use Virtual Reality at Your Next Trade Show

If you’re looking to make a big splash at your next trade show, virtual reality is a surefire way to build buzz—people see headsets and flock to see what all the commotion is about.

VR transports the user “inside” an experience, be it a new location or a whole other dimension.

Where this technology was once a massive investment, VR has become increasingly accessible to all kinds of brands.

That said, we’re betting that VR is more practical than you think. Here are some ways that you can use the technology to attract an audience—though you’ll still need to prove your worth.

Show Off Your Wares

A good example of this approach is Volvo’s virtual reality test drive—branded with the #VolvoReality hashtag— “VR.” Anyway, the car company offered a test drive to launch their XC90 SUV by downloading an app that looks just as fun as any modern racing game but shows off Volvo’s latest bells and whistles.

It’s worth noting that brands need to treat their immersive experience as a lead-in your actual pitch. It’s not meant to replace an ad. The Volvo experience was designed around the launch of a new car, yes—but it functions as a first step toward getting someone to sign up for an IRL test drive or ask about pricing.

In this Purdue study, researchers compared a print ad with an augmented reality version with the same information. They found that people remembered, on average 82% of the info presented in the traditional ad, as compared to the AR version, where people remembered about 59% of what they were told. Researchers concluded that people were more focused on technology than the message, and AR impeded the brand’s ability to communicate their message.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Chances are, those participants found the AR experience more interesting than the print ad–and likely told their friends about it later. It’s just important to make sure that if you choose to incorporate VR, you should be aware of how it accomplishes a goal.

Let People Get to Know Your Brand

Beyond showing off specific products, brands can introduce themselves to their audience inside the tradeshow booth, too. Decide what you’re trying to say—are you trying to create a brand activation that will get people talking on social media? Do you want to bring attendees into the factory? Or show them what you do for your clients?

VR is a great way to take your attendees to a “second location” minus the airfare and tell people about your mission in a way that speaks more volumes than your best crafted “About Us” page.

Storytelling tool

There’s a reason that even news companies like the New York Times are using VR: it’s a powerful storytelling tool. Brands that have a specific mission can leverage this to show customers their impact — showing rather than telling how they take on corporate giving and other social impact efforts.

Take for example TOMS Shoes. The slip-on shoe brand has long been giving away shoes to those in need—it was one of the original buy a pair, give a pair initiatives–but through VR, TOMS was able to take customers on a giving trip. There, viewers got to meet a boy named Julio, who gave employees a tour of his village and a look at his living conditions.

With the tagline—What happens when you buy a pair of TOMS, combined with the emotional connection—viewers walked away from this powerful experience with a sense that the brand is more than talk.

Get Right to the Pain Points

Lowe’s Holoroom VR campaign is an excellent example of an on-brand experience. The VR experience allowed visitors to try power tools in VR. The idea behind the campaign was to let customers try VR equipment in a safe place, with step-by-step instructions walking them through a small home improvement project.

The demonstration spoke to a universal pain point–many customers just feel overwhelmed at the prospect of taking on a home improvement process on their own. Lowe’s, of course, loses out on sales when people postpone projects out of paralysis, lack of know-how, or no guiding vision.

Another example is IKEA’s Virtual Store. The Swedish homewares giant gave customers a chance to walk through the store’s showroom—looking through the living room section, bathroom, kitchen, as they would in an actual IKEA—and even buy items.

We all know going to IKEA is a hassle—one that puts a strain on any relationship—and as such, IKEA presented a way to shop in VR, without battling the crowds. The “store” comes in the form of a downloadable app that you can use with or without Google Cardboard, so it’s accessible to anyone with a smartphone.

Go Behind the Scenes

Be it a real estate walk-through, a brewery tour with samples, or a look at your next vacation destination--bringing customers into a new location is the perfect way to show what your brand is like outside of the booth. Click To Tweet

Travel companies like Marriott Hotels know that VR is the perfect vehicle for transporting people to new locations, as a way to get people to visit their physical locations. The hotel chain’s “What Will Travel Look Like in 2018” campaign allowed visitors to step into a hotel, while broadcasting the “tour” on a larger screen, so all passers-by could take a look.

Or, you can get whimsical and go behind the scenes in an imaginative way. Oreo did this with a 360 interactive world showcasing the origin of its cupcake-flavored sandwich cookies. And, sure, you’re not taking a tour of the real Oreo factory, but the VR journey gave customers a whimsical on-brand experience that probably made them want to sample the latest flavor.

Provide a Training

VR is a great way to provide training. The immersive experience gives brands the ability to create a distraction-free environment and gives them a chance to show how a product might work in the real world.

In the workplace, employers are increasingly using VR to train new employees or familiarize them with new equipment. Why not take this idea into the booth? VR is a particularly useful way that brands can save space and demo large equipment, much like the Lowe’s example outlined above.

Virtual reality is a great way to drive leads inside the booth. For one, the headsets themselves are an instant conversation starter, a perfect starting point for brands to interact with attendees.

But, for VR to be an effective lead magnet, you’ll need to think about how your interactive demo, tour, or experience corresponds with the sales funnel.

  • What benefits does your solution bring to the table? How will you convey those benefits in a way that captivates your audience?
  • What are your goals? Whether you seek to educate or entertain, you’ll want to highlight pain points and show attendees how your product/service will make their lives better.
  • How will you capture leads on site? Will you have a badge scanner? Do people need to provide a name and email to participate?

Practical Considerations

Beyond all the flash, an effective VR plan means that you’ve designed with both the attendee and your business goals in mind. VR is a platform, not the message.

Here are a few things that need to make their way to the forefront of your strategy:

Short and Sweet

Best case scenario, your booth is packed and you’ve got a line of people waiting to put on the goggles and dive into your VR experience. Keep things short—under three minutes—so you can quickly turn viewers into qualified leads and move people through the line.

Make it Easy

Don’t rely on your audience to figure everything out on their own. Lowe’s made things easy on their users by providing instructions built into the experience. Consider if text, narration, or both make the most sense for guiding your viewer along.

Create a Comfortable Environment

Seating, adjustable headsets, and making sure your experience won’t make anyone sick are all important. Additionally, make sure the environment suits the experience. Something like IKEA’s VR shopping might be best experienced sitting down.

Don’t Use VR for the Sake of Novelty

We’ll land on this final note—don’t incorporate VR into your trade show strategy as a gimmick with no meat behind it. Your VR element must lead to your sales pitch and provide meaningful interaction with your brand.

Virtual reality is a fantastic gateway for customers to get to know your brand—and if you can’t demonstrate value without adding a headset to the equation, it’s time to take a step back and rethink your strategy.

Or you can call in the experts. At Echelon Design, we’re veteran event planners and we’re tech-savvy, too. Get in touch and we’ll talk about telling your brand’s story in VR, AR, or as a multimedia attraction.

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