By Chris Searson who has more than 30 years in marketing and has worked for many household brands. He is currently Chairman of Smart Cookie and MBC Group which includes Ever After Brand, Ever After Film and Zone Design.

Have you been house hunting in the last few years? If so you would have studied floor plans and numerous internal photos, which may have included some that allowed you the full 360° experience. Then you would have gone on street view to peruse the area. You probably weren’t at all impressed that you had these options; in fact you probably expected to get all that information before you decided whether you wanted to go on a viewing. But wind back 20 years and you would have been lucky to see more than one black and white photo of the outside of any property. Wind forward five years and you will expect and demand much, much more. But estate agents are not alone in needing to keep up with technology in their marketing. What will your potential customers demand from you?

Technology has allowed companies to give potential customers much more information, all of which has been happily lapped up by them. Some companies have led the way with these innovations and in the process stolen a huge market share. Others have dragged their feet, thinking that the innovations were unnecessary ‘novelties’. But eventually everyone has to follow as those who don’t go out of business very quickly.

So where are customer expectations going in the 21st Century? Its clear customers don’t just want flat photos any more, or even fancy websites, they want to be able to ‘experience’ the product or service, to see what impact it would have on them. This has recently led to the rapid growth in virtual reality being used for marketing. The big brands like O2 have led the way using the revolutionary Oculus Rift Technology. They provided a 360-degree virtual reality sports experience for England Rugby fans to coincide with the 2014 RBS 6 Nations. The popular perception is that you need big budgets, but others are now reaping the rewards of using virtual reality, and found that it can save money. It is being used to provide customers with memorable experiences and engage, inform and entertain them at the same time and the impact has been dramatic.

At marketing college we learned that consumers believe something far more if you ‘show them’ rather than simply ‘tell them’ something. How often have you arrived at a holiday resort with a sinking heart as you see the idyllic hotel from the brochure is sat in less than idyllic surroundings? You then find that the restaurant is a trek up 50 steps, impossible for Grandma and toddler to manage, and the ‘short walk to the beach’ is actually referring to a bit of scrub and not the beach pictured. This type of experience on holiday, and in many other areas of our lives, has made us all into cynical consumers which is why virtual reality is such a powerful sales tool.

It’s not going to be long before consumers will expect to experience virtual reality models in every sector. Leading the way are those industries who struggle to explain the impact of their service. If I tell you that my brand of air-conditioning will cut costs in your building, for example, you will interpret that as sales fluff (and you would be very bored). If I show you in a virtual reality model, you’re entertained by the concept and can see for yourself how and why what I say is true.

The travel sector is also already embracing virtual reality. In five years time I’m not going to buy a holiday from you unless I’ve checked it out first. I want to see for myself how far it is to the beach, the view from my window and how far it is to the restaurant.

Of course you know your sector better than I do but it is worth thinking about it now. How can and should you be using virtual reality? Because if you don’t work it out, your competitors will.