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Every year, the Gartner Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies report serves as a useful reality check for marketers who are too often dazzled by shiny objects. This year, it came as no surprise that virtual reality, augmented reality and mixed reality (MR) were high on the list of technologies whose future relevance for businesses is ripe for discussion. All three involve immersing a consumer into artificially generated experiences to varying degrees, with VR completely cutting a user off from the physical world.
Which of the three technologies ultimately wins the adoption game among marketers shouldn’t be the main question of concern right now, particularly in the B2B space. The real question is whether these technologies have any real place in a B2B company’s sales and marketing strategy. And, if so, what that place might be.
For B2C marketers, it can make sense to adopt trends quickly, if solely for what leveraging technological advances does for a brand’s reputation. The buzz around a cutting-edge marketing program can often more than justify the development investment around a new (and possibly short-lived) technology by casting a long-lasting halo of innovation around the brand. Such buzz and halos are much harder to come by for B2B.
B2B marketers need to be more careful when adopting emerging technology. They should ask themselves why their company should leverage VR, AR or MR in its marketing and sales efforts and what the ultimate benefit is. B2B marketers need to set aside shiny object fascination and think deeply about the customer experience they intend to create and the business objectives they hope to accomplish.
QR codes offer a useful case study for B2B marketers when debating emerging technology bandwagons. When QR codes surfaced as the tactic du jour a few years back, marketers raced to slap them everywhere. Many did so with little thought around the consumer experience. As a result, we had all manner of awkward or nonfunctional placements: QR codes on the sides of buses, blurrily printed onto cookies, high up on billboards. Marketers thought only of the QR codes themselves, not the people actually scanning them.
In deciding whether a VR, AR or MR experience makes sense for a company, marketers need to ask themselves: How does this improve the customer experience? Where does it fit into the sales cycle or marketing mix? Is our product right for this implementation? Are we leveraging this technology in the right environment?
None of this is to say that VR, AR and MR have no place in the B2B marketing space. There are, in fact, plenty of use cases in which the answers to the above questions will all point to one of these emerging technologies as a worthwhile endeavor. In many cases, B2B marketers might find that these technologies are more applicable to the sales process than to their marketing efforts. Leveraging these technologies as a means of demonstrating products or environments that are hard to showcase in real life can be extremely useful, particularly at trade shows and events. Virtual meetings and virtual tours can also be highly effective in building relationships and immersing prospects in the environment of a product or service.
Above all, marketers must prioritize customer experience. If a technology implementation helps you tell your product’s story, but the experience of engaging with that story isn’t pleasant for the user, then a significant technology development investment goes to waste. Technology is the enabler, not the answer.