A virtual human beyond marketing: Meet Dermalogica’s Natalia

Before the advent of the extremely well informed Natalia, Dermalogica trained its network of staff using real-life case studies and before-and-after photos. The new technology acts as an additional visual tool to help enhance existing education practices, says Zamani. She declined to share a figure on the investment costs for the project.

In recent years, retail has experimented extensively with virtual reality. Dermalogica sees an opportunity to exploit its potential for training. “We thought about how to create a learning environment that would have a higher level of retention,” says Zamani. Learning with Natalia is fun, she says, and there is growing evidence that learners retain more from immersive training rather than a traditional classroom setting.

VR: Corporate training potential

VR was born out of the earliest flight simulators, designed back in 1929, says Jeremy Bailenson, professor of communication at Stanford University and founding director of the Virtual Human Interaction Lab. “The point was to encourage trainees to try new things, make mistakes and learn from them, and to innovate new ways to solve problems. This approach also works perfectly in the beauty domain.”

Strivr, a virtual reality immersive learning platform provider, of which Bailenson is also co-founder, is currently working with media company MGM to enable employees to practice and improve how they talk to hotel guests. “The biggest opportunity for VR with beauty brands will be training employees to improve conversations and rapport with customers to improve the experience,” says Bailenson.

Dermalogica isn’t the first beauty brand to use VR for corporate training. In 2016, L’Oréal launched a virtual reality-based programme for hair stylists to learn new techniques. Named the Matrix Academy, it positions the user, who wears a VR headset, in a salon to watch select hair styles created by a professional. Shot in 360 degree video, viewers can engage with the scene from all angles.

Technology has since evolved. More accessible interpretations of virtual reality do not require headsets, and users can instantly immerse themselves via desktop or mobile, says Bailenson. “Now that the hardware and software are finally mature, corporate training is the obvious use case for adoption. Over 800,000 Walmart employees have trained in VR to get better at their jobs.”

Hamza Khan, a partner at McKinsey & Company’s marketing and sales practice, notes increased adoption of VR technology in the enterprise space across a range of use cases like training and customer care. “It’s the natural next stage after chatbots and voice assistants, and with the rapidly growing interest in the metaverse, it may finally hit the inflection point this year.”

Effectiveness rated highly

A virtual human can be as effective as a real-life person for teaching people new skills, research published in the journal Frontiers in Virtual Reality has found, after making comparative analysis of computer-generated characters in a training scenario with real humans in the same setting. While most VR applications to date have been dedicated to gaming, that’s starting to change, says Audrey Depraeter-Montacel, global beauty lead at Accenture. She points to education and training as one of the most exciting applications for the technology. “Brands are thinking about how to create new, immersive experiences not just for consumers, but their own staff.”