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How Airlines Can Leverage Virtual Reality Marketing to Boost Customer Experience

By Paulo Tromp
July 04, 2017

While the airline industry is keen to adopt the latest technology, marketing to passengers often remains mired in scenic horizon-based adverts or tied in to high-profile sporting and cultural events.

So, while the ground crew already use virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) to help maintain fleets of Airbus and Boeing liners, and air traffic controllers could soon don headsets to manage the skies better, marketing has changed little in decades. While those endless horizons may appeal to the traditional traveler, a new generation of tourist and business executive is used to marketing on many different levels.

By using apps to appeal to millions of users and locating VR booths at travel agencies and holiday or trade events, airlines could soon appeal to customers in a whole new way. With an estimated 100 million people shopping in augmented reality or VR by 2020, using informational and emotional content to sell airline brands, plane tickets, and package holidays will become standard business practice.

Qantas Among the First to Adopt VR Marketing

Qantas is one of the first airlines to try its hand at VR marketing. The Australian airline’s new experience puts potential passengers in the skies and on the ground in “the lucky country,” with a VR app that can take them on tours of famous landmarks and Qantas facilities.

Using an iOS or Android app, along with Google Cardboard, Samsung VR, or other phone-based VR solution, users can take a helicopter flight around Uluru, see Sydney by night, experience takeoff in an Airbus A380, or see the impressive LAX International First Class Lounge, all without leaving home.

If that immersive experience piques anyone’s sense of adventure, there’s an option to book tickets within the app that transfers customers directly to the Qantas site.

Big Names Boost VR Marketing Opportunities

Where there is video, there is the opportunity to get big names involved. Earlier in the year, Etihad launched a major marketing initiative, called “Reimagine,” starring Nicole Kidman in an Oculus Rift VR video app, or as a 360-degree YouTube video. It was shot using Red Dragon camera systems with enhanced lighting throughout the aircraft.

The five-minute tour of the inside of an A380 on a flight to Abu Dhabi shows off the comfort of the first-class lounges, relaxing in the exclusive bedroom in the apartments, along with the quality of the in-flight entertainment and dining experience.

While that may appeal to the luxury market, UK airline Thomas Cook involved impersonators and actors to get Lady Gaga, among other celebrities, to help show off the interiors of its new-generation airliners for long-haul flights. Using GoPro cameras, the clips help demonstrate the space and features available for passengers on the company’s long-haul flights to the United States.

Further Options for Airline VR Marketing

With these first impressive efforts, the skies are now open for more advanced or subtle marketing efforts using VR.

VR’s ability to immerse customers can help promote aspects of flying that are hard to capture by traditional means. This can include getting the feel of a chauffeur-driven luxury car to the airport. Exploring the immaculate business and first-class suites offered by airlines, including Singapore, Emirates, and Etihad. VR’s ability to put people in these locations, giving them a taste of the high-quality experience from the quality of materials and fine dining, and allowing them to focus on what interests them, greatly improves the power of sales, marketing, and branding.

The beauty and immersive nature of 360-degree video enables airlines to highlight the splendor of modern interiors, the space and comfort of their dedicated departure facilities, along with highlights of the destinations they serve. Content can be streamed or downloaded at home, with more elaborate marketing and sales efforts, taking VR on the road to be used at their own facilities as well as trade shows, lounges, and travel agencies (where airlines could provide travel agencies with branded—or co-branded—VR kits).

An expansion of the co-branding concept could see airlines partner with hotels, resorts, theme parks, and cities, helping feature destinations as VR experiences. VR pods at airport lounges can help promote airlines’ future or up-and-coming destinations. As in-flight entertainment continues to expand, VR could also be used as an immersive option to take a break from the plane’s cabin to watch a 3-D movie, explore the wine list, or enjoy a virtual tour of selected locations around the globe.

VR can help highlight the improved sense of space in newer airliners, something that many people used to being herded into older and smaller aircraft may be unaware of. VR can also be used to encourage customers to upgrade their seats, showing the spatial and additional benefits of an upgrade to a better class of seating.

A clear use case is to help nervous or first-time flyers get over their concerns by running through a typical takeoff and landing scenario. The immersive power of VR combined with an app can help put the passenger through the experience without the need for counseling, courses, or other means. Moreover, the airline that helps a passenger lose his or her fear of flying is likely to have won a long-term customer. Similarly, nervous flyers can enjoy a relaxing VR experience in an airport lounge pod to help calm their nerves.

VR also helps create memorable experiences. Traditional advertising now washes over many customers. From the cinema screen to glossy magazines, they are just one advert among many. The use of VR helps create a unique experience that drives home messaging into the brain, with no distractions from the outside.

Creating VR experiences requires partnering with professional agencies to guarantee high-quality end results. Using VR to capture new insights and deliver emotive and informational messages will require joined-up marketing and a keen understanding of the possibilities.

About Paulo Tromp

Paulo Tromp is CEO and Creative Director of VRMADA, a virtual reality agency dedicated to creating beautiful, memorable experiences enabling brands to connect with their audiences in new and unique ways. Some of his clients include BMW, JCB, L'Oréal, MTV, Philip Morris International, Telefónica, Toyota, and Vodafone.