The rise of 360° video has been swift, and some brands have quickly gone all-in on this new form of content. For anyone unfamiliar with this medium, it offers instant reward: The technology’s ability to leverage movement and panoramic media are almost always an instant hit, offering an experience that audiences love.
Not surprisingly, marketers have quickly jumped on board, incorporating it into their video content strategy. 360° video’s ability to engage consumers through a positive brand experience is an asset many brands have been eager to leverage. Some, including hotel chains Marriott and Hilton, have built large-scale campaigns around 360° video, using the medium to showcase their properties, destinations, and experiences around the globe.
The evolution of related experiences, such as spatial audio—which use physical movement to modify the perception of sounds—have helped build an even more immersive experience. But for all of these innovations, there are still significant challenges 360° video has yet to overcome. Its ability to provide an experience is obvious. For brands looking to take control of their narrative, though, this innovative medium has yet to prove it can contribute to those efforts.
This is what brand marketers will have to determine as 360° video becomes even more mainstream. It can provide a quick, positive experience—that much is obvious. But given its limitations and the rise of virtual reality technology in marketing, can the video contribute meaningfully to brand storytelling?
Today’s most effective forms of online content don’t exist in a vacuum. It’s no longer enough to speak to an audience across an impermeable barrier. Engagement is critical.
So, too, is building a brand narrative—one that extends across time and mediums. As one small piece of a much larger content strategy, 360° video must demonstrate its value to a larger narrative being built by marketers over time. And wielding control of that narrative is proving difficult within the format of 360° video.
As VideoEdge points out, a critical challenge is maintaining a focal point within 360° video. It’s often hard to direct users to focus their attentions on a certain position. In fact, much of the appeal of 360° video is the ability to look anywhere, at any time. This creates a lack of focus that marketers have struggled to overcome.
In some cases, they simply embrace this freewheeling approach and use it to their advantage. This video shows how Hilton is using 360° video to sell an experience, without pushing users to focus on a single focal point:
360° video functions as a complete world, but users often want to consume it as a picture, observing it carefully and taking their time. That causes problems when the video is designed to move a narrative forward. And these challenges only serve to highlight some of the deeper-running challenges that threaten the marketing potential of 360° video.
As Hilton’s video illustrates, 360° video is great for selling an experience—a travel package, for example. But in terms of selling something more tangible, 360° video can be at a stark disadvantage.
The stagnancy of 360° video is a continuing problem. Its fixed position offers a degree of limitation that even traditional video isn’t beset with, since traditional video can move locations, cut to new scenes, and so forth—without detracting from the experience.
There’s also the problem of interactions: 360° video may be immersive, but it exists as a fully separate experience from the individual user. Yes, you can see what it feels like to surf inside the curl of an ocean wave. But you can’t participate in that experience. In fact, you can’t do anything to move that narrative forward.
And even though 360° video offers spatial immersion unlike anything users have seen before, it immediately prompts comparisons to virtual reality.
In the end, that might be what sends 360° video to the sidelines.
As Tech Crunch points out, 360° video’s greatest value may be its role in accelerating VR’s move to the mainstream. 360° video pulls consumers closer to VR, with its interactive touchpoints and broader array of experiences and engagements. Users move from passive participant to active participant, and the world around them becomes alive.
It’s no longer a static experience. Instead, it’s one they control.
And while virtual reality is more technologically complicated than 360° video, it isn’t wildly inaccessible. Google has begun distributing simple VR headsets made from cardboard, and only a smartphone is required to enjoy a rudimentary VR experience. Many other consumer VR solutions are also being currently developed.
Within this new medium, many of 360° video’s challenges are resolved: positions aren’t static, and focal points can be introduced. Interactions are possible, allowing users to augment their own environment as they proceed through the experience. Brands like The New York Times have skipped right over 360° video and instead are using virtual reality to tell compact narratives through a new medium.
With virtual reality, the greatest restrictions concern access to technology. But 360° video’s challenges are inherent to the form, and that’s something brand marketers will struggle to overcome in the long run.
Because of its newness, and the widespread unavailability of virtual reality experiences for consumers, 360° video is well worth the investments for major brands seeking a new video content strategy for delivering experiences and storytelling. But don’t be fooled into thinking that this new platform breaks down pre-existing walls and creates more narrative opportunity: For all of its beauty, 360° video still exists as a rigid form with plenty of its own limitations.
Don’t be surprised if, in the end, 360° video only keeps the seat warm for virtual reality.