Virtual reality has long been the domain (read: dream) for video game companies and players alike. Though imperfect, VR technology has repeatedly cycled into the gaming mainstream, and in doing so, it became a societal obsession. (Author Edward Packard even wrote a Choose Your Own Adventure book about it.) People were fascinated with, stupefied by, and desperate to experience VR for themselves. Could you really be in two places at once? What would that feel like?
Today, most people have had the chance to experience VR in some capacity—if not in video games, then in movies or in amusement parks. It has the capacity to turn up the thrill on experiences that are already fun or exciting, transporting audiences into the worlds of the rides or movies we’re already deeply interested in. That makes sense: if we’ve shown an interest in participating in an experience, of course we’d want to get as much out of it as possible.
Enter: the marketing industry.
It’s worth noting that marketing has continually aligned itself with the entertainment industry, first through interrupt advertisements and product placements in television sitcoms, and now, today, in full-fledged story form, producing short films and long-form stories that will ideally captivate audiences in the same way as their favorite shows on Netflix. To that end, many marketers are excited about the prospect of VR revolutionizing the way in which those stories are told.
We’ve said it before: 2017 is poised to be virtual reality’s year—especially given the fact that people may be more inclined to buy from brands using VR technology because they think they are modern, according to a recent survey. And you know that cost is no longer the barrier to virtual reality adoption that it once was, thanks to entry-level options like Google Cardboard.
But still you find yourself sitting there, smartphone in hand, staring at the Google Cardboard website and realizing it’s making just a sad a frown as the one on your face.
You want to be creating immersive experiences through virtual reality, but you have no idea where to start—and the countdown clock is ever so slowly starting to tick. You know there’s potential value in VR, but you can’t get past the notion that its value lies in entertainment.
These steps will help change your perception and push your brand toward VR adoption.
Virtual reality needs to become familiar before it can lead to a marketing transformation—so if you haven’t strapped on a VR headset, do so immediately. Find as many as you can and try them out. Don’t limit yourself to an Oculus Rift or HTC Vive, either. Try a Gear VR, see what Google’s doing with Daydream, and play around with those easy-to-make cardboard options. Playing around with the technology will open your eyes to the variety of experiences that are now available through VR, and through its immense potential as a marketing tool.
For instance: car manufacturers can use the technology to put you in a car from the comfort of your home. No longer do you need to go to the lot or hope that the add-ons will end up being worth the extra money. You only need to put on a free Cardboard headset, put your phone inside, and look around. Love the leather seats, but want to see what how the contrast stitching would look? All you need to do is adjust those settings in an app.
Have a new food product that needs a splashy rollout? What about a private cooking lesson with a celebrity chef? Once again, VR can put the user right next to the chef as she prepares a once-in-a-lifetime meal with that product. The user can look around the room and watch the chef work—the only thing that’s missing is the smell. Connect that experience with an email campaign where the user receives the recipe and you have all the makings of success.
In testing your VR options, make sure you’re not skewed by only using a Rift, Vive or PlayStation VR. Even “cheap” VR can actually be pretty good. More importantly, cheaper VR means a large potential audience.
VR connected to computers require expensive PCs and a lot of machines and headsets to satisfy the potential audience. Cardboard headsets only require a smartphone; similarly, a Gear VR needs a compatible Samsung smartphone, and the Daydream requires the Google Pixel. A few headsets and smartphones is way more cost effective than several thousands of dollars in computers—and that’s not including the space needed for all that equipment!
There’s something else you may notice with virtual reality: motion sickness. You will definitely feel those dizzying highs and sharp pivots of a spaceship. There will be a point where your eyes hurt or you feel a sense of nausea. That’s part of the VR package. If you’re working on a marketing campaign with VR, it may be best to limit the time a user wears a headset or keep movement to a minimum.
After playing with VR, you’ll be in a better position to understand what works best and what are some limitations of the technology. If marketing doesn’t get to try out VR, there could be campaigns that are built with the ideal experience in mind that fall completely flat when executed.
It may sound like common sense, but you can’t treat VR the same as you would email or social. Those strategies won’t apply to virtual reality. Instead, treat VR as a new platform with its own rules, strategies, and pitfalls. Instead of looking at an image of a man on a mountaintop—something that works well on social—think about standing atop that mountain, surveying the landscape from dizzying heights. That’s the potential of VR.
Throw out the rule books, ditch the style guides, and start fresh. If you think that what worked with your Twitter strategy will work with branded VR, you’ll only wind up with a failed campaign and a lot of questions about where to go next.
Because storytelling becomes experiential with VR, test that to the extreme. For example: The North Face put customers inside a dogsled to create the ultimate in-store experience. The customer stayed inside the store longer and has a strong connection to North Face because of VR. Whether it’s at home or in-store, VR technology can lead to a marketing transformation.
It will be a lot of work, but it’s important to treat VR as it’s own entity complete with the growing pains associated with a burgeoning platform. Expect a lot of lessons learned in 2017.
Without a clear story, your VR strategy won’t succeed. That’s a problem facing many marketers who recognize a great piece of technology, but are unsure how they can apply VR to their clients’ needs. Without success, you can’t sell VR as worth the cost.
That’s not to say there haven’t been a few branded VR wins that prove the technology is worth the price of admission. Let’s look at Lowe’s Holoroom as an example of addressing a tricky problem using VR:
Home renovation is a big project that can include many headaches for a customer. There’s the budget you have to worry about, the time investment and, most importantly, how it will all fit together. Even going to a showroom will only show you a few popular arrangements. VR can change all that because the customer is completely immersed in the process and the only limitation is your imagination.
You can have a virtual walkthrough and change anything you don’t like. Even better, you can take a Google Cardboard back with you and view your project from home. Through branded VR, Lowe’s help solved a problem that could lead to increased sales.
A strong narrative should theoretically lead to success—but theory’s not enough to justify the time and resources you pumped into a great VR strategy. Analytics are a necessary component to any marketing efforts, and branded VR is no exception. Establishing a strong data backbone will be important if there’s any marketing transformation created by VR in 2017.
Analytics will need to be built around VR to determine whether these experiences succeeded based on different parameters. Say you have a branded VR experience that everyone loves. It was written up in the media, the video went viral, and you had to print way more Cardboard headsets than you initially projected. Did you hit your targets?
The client may have wanted to increase the number of user sessions for an app using branded VR, or generate interest that led to sales for an upcoming product. Did that happen? What about ROI? A campaign may have gone viral, but it may have been too expensive with too little return. Data will help ease those concerns, tease out the important insights and unlock the inner mysteries of the campaign. Going forward, you’ll have even more reason to be bullish about VR.
VR technology’s transformation from video game novelty to marketing way of life makes sense. After all, people are drawn to entertainment and brands for one very similar reason: they are looking for something that can augment their lives. The coming year should be a big one for virtual reality as it makes strides in nontraditional sectors of the world. Put your brand at the forefront—the results will follow.