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Former Member

Virtual reality (VR) has left the game room for the boardroom. This year’s BT Summit provided a glimpse of a future in which digital technologies create rich, immersive media experiences that excite the senses–and drive better decisions.

At 320 blood-pumping kilometers per hour (200 miles per hour), one could understand why IT executives might have rigid, tense muscles and maintain a survival grip on the handlebars.

Straddling a BMW racing motorcycle, Business Transformation Summit (BT Summit) attendees ripped down a racing track alongside some of the world’s most competitive motorcycle riders. They performed steep bank turns, high-speed straights, and stomach-churning chicanes. Remarkably, they performed all of their maneuvers with all-star perfection–and without ever leaving the comfort of the St. Leon-Rot Audimax auditorium. In fact, the entire hair-raising experience was little more than theater of the mind–all orchestrated by the digital circuitry of a virtual reality headset.

A new medium comes of age

BMW Motorrad created this VR experience to do much more than entertain. In the wake of flagging global sales, the motorbike manufacturer began looking for ways to let potential customers try out their motorcycles and fall in love with them at first sight. The result is Eye Ride, the world’s first virtual test ride. Powered by Samsung, GoPro, and Oculus Rift, it provides users with a rich, 360-degree gamification experience that is as close to the real thing you can get this side of the road.

It is precisely this ability to deliver high-quality, virtual experiences that has sparked serious interest among serious companies. VR is now becoming part of the business and brand strategy discussion for companies seeking to ward off competition and build a stronger customer base.

“In the age of digital transformation, using gamification for business customer engagement can help businesses build long-term loyalty,” says Christoph Steiger, global head of Business Transformation Services.

Digitizing–and humanizing–the customer experience

WeMakeVR, a virtual reality start-up from the Netherlands, is making the VR experience not only realistic, but also remarkably accessible. Users can download the company’s app onto their smart phone to have instant access to 3D content. They can then place their mobile phone inside a special viewing headset to enjoy 360-degree, immersive VR experiences.

The potential business applications are endless. Fashion giant Tommy Hilfiger, one of several WeMakeVR customers, uses VR to give its fans front-row runway experiences at fashion shows from anywhere in the world. It also offers customers behind-the-scenes peeks at exclusive fashion events. As a marketing strategy, it promises to build brand relationships in ways that conventional advertising never could.

Creating empathy

VR also has another unique advantage. It can help business leaders make better decisions by empathizing with the very markets, consumer groups, and communities they impact.

In his presentation at the BT Summit, Benjamin de Wit, partner and head of new business at WeMakeVR, noted that a full 80 percent of decision-making is shaped by emotion. The companies that create the strongest emotional connection between products and consumers win. As VR technology continues to mature, it will be possible to make more meaningful connections with customers in ways that other media forms have traditionally fallen short.

“Empathy ultimately drives decision making,” says de Wit. “[It’s] a fundamental part of design-thinking…[and] a necessary ingredient if you want to innovate for your users or customers.”