With virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) becoming increasingly popular and accessible, small business owners will be wondering if there’s a future for virtual reality in business, and if so, how they can get a piece of the pie.
From gaming and media to more exploratory uses, the idea of using virtual reality for business purposes - be that to transform an existing business or to build a brand new virtual reality business model - seems to be gaining traction.
Here, we’ll take you through some early use cases, whether you’re looking to boost a current business or to build a new VR/AR startup.
But first, let’s be clear on what the differences are between the two technologies...
Although VR and AR share a lot in common - they’re both fairly new technologies able to alter the user’s reality - there are some fundamental differences.
The major difference is how we and our physical environment interact with each technology.
With virtual reality, users are essentially transported to another world, via a headset or goggles. They block out the physical reality and place us somewhere entirely different.
With augmented reality on the other hand, the technology interacts with our reality, and adds layers on top of it rather than replacing it.
This means that whilst VR is more immersive - and certainly more dramatic - AR probably represents the bigger opportunity in the near future, with users and producers not bound by a headset.
It’s not just shiny new startups that can harness the power of virtual and augmented reality in business. Existing businesses - from shops to consultants to tradespeople - can conceivably use the technologies, too.
Some of the biggest augmented reality business opportunities lie within the retail sector, where businesses can genuinely transform the experience of entering a store and buying a product.
Whether it’s augmented signposting or alerting customers to location-specific offers, the opportunities are endless.
A number of small businesses have already used augmented reality for business, even if they did hijack an existing app.
Back in the summer of 2016, Pokémon Go was huge. Like, really huge. A number of local businesses cottoned on to the nuances of the trend, using the game to attract customers to their store...
But it’s not just in-store where AR can be put to use - there are plenty of augmented reality benefits for business owners right across the board.
Another interesting opportunity for AR is to show customers how products might look in their home.
For example, picture a customer looking to purchase a new sofa. Currently, they’ll usually measure their space and imagine whether the new suite suits the rest of the room.
However, using AR, a customer can literally see what the sofa would look like in their home, using their smartphone to layer the product on top of their existing environment.
Tradespeople meanwhile - the likes of builders and landscape gardeners - can also benefit from augmented reality business ideas. Drawn up plans for a new extension? Perfect. You could use AR to literally show your customer how the construction will look attached to their home. Clever, right?
AR/VR is likely to be the next big thing in content marketing. It's more engaging, and more immersive. Creating some stunning next-gen content could be the perfect way to raise your brand awareness or showcase your product.
Of course, it won’t be cheap or easy - you’ll need some expert help. Try testing your way into the market first to see if you can make it work.
Remote working could also benefit from augmented and virtual reality. With more home-based businesses than ever, Google Hangout and Skype meetings are becoming increasingly popular as an alternative to conference calls for larger remote meetings.
But why not take it a step further? Strap on a VR headset and you could all be sat together in the same room, virtually.
Expect to see more and more businesses launched in the AR and VR space. From app developers to VR creatives, if it’s an area you’re looking to enter then now’s the perfect time.
Here are four business ideas worth considering.
With VR equipment in particular still fairly expensive, there’s a gap in the market for gaming shops that cater for people looking to try out new experiences. You could even extend as far as team building exercises to expand your reach.
Charging by the hour, the initial outlay on equipment could be made back in no time if your marketing efforts go to plan.
There’s certainly demand, but the major challenges are likely to be finding the right location and determining a realistic pricing structure.
Meanwhile, for those looking to buy equipment, they’ll need somewhere to go.
Sourcing the latest tech and becoming the go-to online store for all things VR/AR could soon become a lucrative business. While rivalling Amazon and traditional game stores could be tricky, a specialism in virtual reality could help your business stand out from the crowd.
Why not also set up a blog on your site to showcase your expertise and become an established brand in the AR/VR space? This should draw customers higher up the funnel, giving you a chance to plug products to a receptive audience.
Admittedly reserved for those with a very specific expertise, if you’re into AR tech, the possibilities are endless.
The likes of Snapchat are already making use of AR to delight existing users, and it certainly feels like there’s a lot of unexplored ideas.
Be prepared to fail a few times before you land on that big idea, but it could be worth your while.
More and more marketers are going to need virtual reality business training, as experiential marketing gains traction. As a go-to expert in all things AR/VR, you’ll be in hot demand if you have a wealth of knowledge and the track record to match.
But it’s not just marketers - contracting as a specialist developer could also prove fruitful, while top level strategy will also be required.
Have you got a business idea involving virtual or augmented reality? Let us know in the comments.
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