It's Time to VR Your MR: Leveraging Virtual Reality for Market Research

It's Time to VR Your MR: Leveraging Virtual Reality for Market Research

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How to leverage virtural reality for better research.

It should come as no surprise that we at Labbrand are pretty optimistic when it comes to virtual reality. We have already outlinedhow VR can revolutionize the customer experience and has countless applications from marketing to new service development, however one avenue for VR that does not get the attention it deserves is Market Research. We find this all the more surprising because unlike for many other applications where VR is held back by technological and consumer adoption factors, these obstacles are not present for Market Research. This makes VR for MR an ideal first step for most brands to experiment with VR and prove its value internally.

One of the biggest pitfalls in traditional market research is the inability to recreate a realistic test environment. Too often issues of cost or convenience are keeping respondents stuck in a sterile room behind a two-way mirror, and not out in the real environments that bring needed context to the research. Virtual reality research is helping us overcome these barriers, lowering the operational costs while offering a near real-world experience.

At MADJOR we see the Market Research potential for VR across a number of different cases. From the intricacies of new product development to providing a better reporting experience, we would like to share our vision for this intersection of insights and technology.

Consumer research

Whether it is focus groups, in-depth-interviews, or video ethnographies, consumer research is all about getting to the core of the customer experience. The general rule is that the more detailed insights you want to get, the more deep in the field you need to go, and the more cash you need to invest. Virtual reality is changing this situation, lowering the barriers to observing “true” interactions.

Focus groups are the standard bearer of consumer research. They are highly versatile, deliver a wealth of insights, and can result in some really great discussions. However, it's not hard to imagine that the behaviors observed by placing a bunch of people in a room could differ from if they were actually in the environment being discussed. For example —say that we are doing research on the in-store luxury good buying experience, a situation that relies heavily on the visual and service-oriented experience. Instead of having the respondents try to recall their past experiences, using a VR headset we can actually take them into a virtual shop and observe their natural reactions. This adds a valuable layer of context to any insights we are gathering, and brings a whole new dynamic to the standard focus group.

For companies that are looking to invest in a new physical space or undergo interior renovation, initial consumer testing is a must to assure the change will be a success. Done the traditional way, this can be a huge undertaking, requiring genuine prototypes if the experience is to be tested well, something near impossible to transport or scale if the renovations will be happening across multiple markets. Virtual reality therefore offers a huge cost savings in such situations. Instead of designing and building multiple physical environments, consumers can experience a virtual store or showroom in the convenience of their home or office. The environments can be changed with a mere click, even allowing for real-time comparison of different environments.

Tesco did just that when it created a virtual store for people to walk around in and experience before it was even built. This gave Tesco the ability to gain much more reliable feedback than its previous initial testing gathered only through image-based focus groups.

Virtual reality even has a number of benefits to offer in-depth interviews and ethnographic research which already offer a more contextually-aware approach. The problem with ethnographic research conducted on-site or in the home is the ability to fully observe and document all of the respondents' reactions, conscious and subconscious. Virtual reality can replicate these familiar environments while maintaining a highly regulated and observable environment for the researcher. It becomes much easier to notice the little things, like hand gestures or the glance of an eye. Technologies such as eye tracking, heatmaps, and even simplified EEG can seamlessly pair with a VR headset to give a view of the customer reaction on the deepest of levels.

Product testing

Product testing is another major opportunity space for virtual reality; bring both cost and time saving to what is often a high-pressure process.

It is a given that product concepts and designs will be first rendered in 3D as a digital prototype. Despite having this highly detailed rendering on hand, most companies still choose to manufacture or 3D print the prototype before the go out to consumer testing. We believe this is a waste of time and money considering the VR experience that could be used instead.

Taking this original digital rendering and displaying it through a VR lens, there is no need to manufacture a single piece. In fact, in virtual reality, respondents can more easily zoom in to better see the small inner workings of the product or device. For home products, testers can project the product onto their home, visualizing the space before it is even produced. All of which help to give a more comprehensive assessment of the product at the early and more cost-effective stage.

Insights reporting

When it comes down to it, when you are buying research, you are paying for the final report. So with all the talk about what innovative techniques are being used to get the insights, it's a surprise to us that so few people are talking about the many just as innovative ways to present it. At Labbrand we believe in dynamic, impactful formats that best translate the stories we hear back to the client. No matter how hard one tries, a consumer story will never be as deep or insightful when relayed in a PPT. This is why we always use video and audio formats to present our research findings. However, virtual reality is taking the potential quality of reporting to another level completely.

Video ethnography has been a great benefit to the market research industry, giving both researchers and clients a more realistic view of their consumers. However, a single camera can only capture so much of the action. Particularly when more than one respondent is being observed, video ethnography can often miss out on the majority of consumer interactions. Using a 360 degree camera can solve this issue, giving you a comprehensive view of the environment and all of the consumers inside in real-time.

Such an approach is especially attractive for clients that deal with consumers in groups. Market research for automobiles, particularly family vehicles like mini-vans, for example, can greatly benefit from a 360 degree view of the interior space. Product developers can see in real-time how the different members of the family situate themselves in the space and react to different scenarios and stimuli. Hospitality and travel companies as well can easily compare the dynamics of different groups from families to millenials to the elderly, following them with a VR camera and observing how they uniquely interact with their environment and with each other.

Ultimately the output of such enhanced ethnographic research is a VR video presentation. Just as with a video, text, popups, and animation can be overlayed, adding an additional layer of analysis to one’s report. CEOs or CIOs who are invested in the research outcomes but are unable to join on-site can now be immersed in the action as if they were actually there. They can literally see the world, their store, their own brand through the eyes of their consumers. We all try to achieve story-telling approach in our reports, but one thing even beats a story: actually being there.

Now is the time to invest

Virtual reality is no longer the pop-fiction of the 90’s, it is back in full force and fundamentally changing whatever industry it touches. Market research should not resist such change, it needs to embrace and adapt. Here we have only touched on the immediate ways brands can use to VR to enhance their insights collection, but this too will change as consumers themselves start to adopt VR into their day to day experiences. Brands that are ready to follow their consumers into this space will be at a huge advantage when the day comes, so it is best to get a head-start.