I think it’s safe to say that virtual reality (VR) technology has moved from early adopter to early majority after the holidays and the 2017 CES conference earlier this month, for which VR was the poster child. And as the technology advances — and becomes more accessible to the masses — marketers have stepped up to the challenge to establish themselves as leaders in VR experiences.
Among the most successful uses of VR technology are unattainable perspectives and behind-the-scenes or interactive games for fans, like Daydream’s app for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. These fan-demographic audiences are currently the easiest target for VR experiences, as they’re likely to be the most engaged — especially now that things are really starting to look good.
By allowing fans access to these insider experiences, brands can develop and enthuse current and future proponents like never before. But in the same way that Daydream enabled fans to enter Newt Scamander’s wizarding world, the most effective uses of VR technology for brands will be the ones where viewers take an active role in the things they love. Think enabling festival fanatics to experience the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade as if they were on their favorite floats, or a tourism board giving prospective visitors the opportunity to “see” the view from the top of the Golden Gate Bridge — we’re spitballing here, but the idea is to target experiences fans probably couldn’t have without the technology.
Progress in the past month has made it clear that the possibilities with VR aren’t slowing down (full-body immersion, anyone?). With this, marketers are going to be faced with the challenge of making these experiences more captivating than ever before — and, as always, we’re here to help you figure out how your brand fits in.
The following post was originally written on October 18, 2016.
Picture a world where you could venture into the deepest recesses of your imagination to enjoy your favorite bag of chips, drive your dream car, or even build and ride your own roller coaster. This is where the new capabilities of virtual reality, or VR, are taking us. And seeing as the virtual reality market is expected to grow from $1.37 billion (2015) to $33.9 billion by 2022, we need to pay attention.
But, is this form of storytelling the best approach for all brands?
A Brief History of Virtual Reality
Images have been used to enhance experiences since the beginning of storytelling. The idea of immersive visuals started with the 1838 stereoscope, in which a dual-image card was placed in a set of magnifying glasses to create a 3-D illusion. This was followed in 1939 by the View-Master — still sold today but it has evolved into a modern VR headset. From there came the 1961 Philco Corporation’s Headsight, 1962 Sensorama, 1990 Virtuality arcade games, and the 1995 Nintendo Virtual Boy. But limited accessibility to these products and experiences led to a lack of traction and fading interest. For the next two decades, people quietly experimented with more widely accessible forms of VR (nudging 3-D movies and TVs to the mainstream in the process). Beginning with Google Cardboard (2014), Samsung Gear VR (2014), and Oculus Rift (2015), developers got serious. And then … the VR explosion of 2016!
From high-end rigs to more affordable options involving personal smartphones, the next generation of VR is here (just ask us about what we learned at Content Marketing World 2016). Marketers everywhere have plans for the best uses for these new platforms and capabilities, from product placement to fully immersive brand experiences.
Like everything else in the marketing world, it’s best to keep a few things in mind before jumping on the VR bandwagon:
Find your story
Start with compelling content, and then build VR into the delivery if it’s a logical fit. The technology may be there, but it’s nothing without a good story. And don’t force it: If the immersive benefits of VR don’t make sense for your content, and a simple video would convey the message, you might be wasting your time and money. Remember the old adage: Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.
Know your audience
Though VR is becoming more affordable, accessibility remains a roadblock for many audiences. Supplementary VR products, which vary in price and quality, are necessary in order to enter the immersive space. If your target audience typically identifies within the late-adopter or laggard stage in technology adoption, then you’re probably not going to reach them with VR.
Dip your toe before cannonballing
So you think your story is set and your audience is primed for VR? Use A/B testing as a way to gauge reception before you go to market. Push the same video using VR content and standard video content; then see which performs better and assess why. If the standard video still gets more views, your audience might need some more time to adapt. Not everyone is ready to chill on the holodeck.
New technologies are fun and uh-mazing — and it’s always cool to be ahead of the crowd, but as we always say: Strategy. Comes. First. So make sure your goggles aren’t the only things that have a tight fit.