Content delivery platforms have radically evolved during the last decade but, as content creation methods go, not much has changed. We have a lot more platforms to deliver content on, but the mode of content hasn’t radically transformed.
This is demonstrated by the ease of reskilling of content creators over the years. The skills required to create radio programming are the same as those required to produce podcasts. The same basic production skills are required to plan, record and edit the content – only the delivery platform is different. Instead of uploading to a broadcast playout system, you upload to a web browser. The same can be said for TV broadcasters – the production skills easily transfer to video for online. Journalists who write for magazines can create articles for the web, so it is rare that a new content discipline comes along and keeps me awake at night considering its variables and possibilities.
VR: More than 50 years old and suddenly popular. Why?
VR isn’t a new thing; it’s been around since Morton Heilig’s created his Telesphere Mask in 1960. But, apart from the holodeck on the Starship Enterprise, VR has remained in the distant shadows of other innovative technologies. Until now that is. So how did VR end up bumbling along for more than 50 years without anyone paying much attention?
A recent report by Invest Bristol and Bath claims the recent rise is simply down to the huge number of VR headset launches in 2016. Google, HTC, Samsung, Sony, LG, Oculus and more have either launched VR headsets or are about to. At the time of writing this article, Apple has stayed out of the game. According to various pundits, Apple’s VR entry is imminent. Macromers claims that Apple has a secret team working on virtual reality. It would seem that all big tech manufacturers have, or will have, skin in the game. So is the VR time right now, or is this a trendy VR blip that will disappear like 3D TV?
According to firm Piper Jaffray, an investment bank and asset management firm, VR will be the next mega tech theme and the market will grow to $60 billion in a decade. Analysts from the company wrote in a report: “Our optimism around the theme is based on consumers’ insatiable appetite for new tech experiences.” It would seem that VR is all systems go.
Author Oren Klaff wrote in his book Pitch Anything: An Innovative Method for Presenting, Persuading, and Winning the Deal that three stars must align to create the winning formula for any product or service to rise to success. It appears that VR has all its stars in alignment.
- The technology must be able to deliver on the promise: Due to the explosion of large screen smartphones and cheap processing power, we now have low-cost screens and the grunt to run visuals.
- Society must be ready: Don’t let Google Glasses blur your view (pun intended and pun not intended). The world is embracing all things digital and is starting to accept tech-embedded clothing and IoT (the internet of things). Stack that with the promise of not needing to go anywhere while you can be transported everywhere, and you have endless opportunities for content creators.
- The economics must stack: (see point 1). The entry price to VR is lower than the cost of a pint in a private members club. Basic VR goggles less than £10 + free apps.
So what is VR apart from funny-looking goggles that create the illusion you are present somewhere that you are not? Wikipedia describes virtual reality as a computer generated immersive experience that replicates an environment, real or imagined, and simulates a user’s physical presence. With that thought in mind, you do not need to take a great leap in your imagination to conclude that this could be a powerful tool for emotionally connecting with your audience. As a marketer, that has got to grab your attention, right?
VR is here and it’s about to explode on a screen near you. Like the first ventures in any new format, the ride is going to be bumpy. What works as a marketing brief may fail to translate into VR. If you want to communicate to the audience queuing up to try VR then we must get one thing clear: VR is nothing like print, photography or even filmmaking.
Producing VR content is a new discipline that takes you deeper
You can’t edit scenes to suspend time or cut to different camera angles the same way you can with film. You can’t even be sure where the audience will be looking at any given time as they have the freedom to choose from the full 360 view.
At the VR/AR track (yes there was one) at SXSW 2016 (The South by Southwest Conferences and Festivals) Nicole Lazzaro and friends asked the question: Can VR deliver more emotion than movies and games?
They presented the case that it’s emotion that unlocks VR’s unprecedented levels of immersion and presence – not nice looking 3D art. Content creators will need to fixate on the immersion aspect.
VR pioneer Nonny de la Peña’s TED talk: The future of news, asked the question: What if you could experience a story with your entire body, not just with your mind? The resulting VR experiments that she and her team carried out are revealing. When people were shown a digitally-constructed situation, coupled with real audio, they began to physically and emotionally engage with the content as if it were real. What underpinned the experiment was the power of the story the viewers were shown. It was clear that VR enables stories to become even more real than the well-established standard movie format.
Studies in psychology show that stories deeply influence our attitudes, beliefs and the decisions we make. VR appears as an ideal format to make stories even more engaging, adding a new layer of influence and persuasion.
A message for heads of marketing: It’s time to test
As a marketer, you can achieve some ‘wow’ just by actually producing something using VR. For most of your prospects, it will probably be the first time they have tried it, and the immersive experience is curiously compelling. Yet as we have seen, VR also has the power to deeply engage. This is the thinking space that marketing needs to be in now. Start by asking what compelling stories your business already has and then ask how they could be delivered in VR. Taking the user on a fully-immersed journey that has a clear beginning, middle and end is going to provide a lasting image with the prospect. One they will probably want to share with others.
My advice to any marketer thinking of trying VR is to just do it. Buy a Ricoh Theta camera and play with it. We invested less than £200 on our first VR camera and we learned a lot in those early experiments: Lighting is difficult to get even, composition needs thinking through, and the viewer probably won’t be looking where you want them to look.
VR marketing success stories
Companies that have dived in early have seen positive results. In 2015, Opposable VR created a unique marketing tool for Akamai in the form of a conference-ready Virtual Reality experience. Opposable VR constructed an exciting VR journey through a digital visualisation of Akamai’s Content Delivery Network, delivering an impressive visual display. In a case study prepared by Opposable VR, Paul Bushell, Director of Global Campaign Operations at Akamai Technologies, said: “In terms of sales tools, there’s nothing available right now that can compare with VR in terms of originality and interest.”
Travel company Thomas Cook installed VR in 10 shops around Europe. Customers are able to see the actual view from the balcony of a Santorini hotel. The chance of seeing a 360 view of your resort provides clarity and removes any potential doubts about the location from customers’ minds. Peter Fankhauser, Thomas Cook CEO, said at a recent shareholders’ meeting: “We believe that as (virtual reality) becomes more widespread, we will be well positioned to deliver 3D hotel and destination experiences via our website to customers in their homes.” Marriott International and Ultimate Jet Vacations are also offering VR experiences.
Vodafone and Huawei needed an innovative and involving way to demonstrate the power of upcoming 5G internet connections on Huawei mobile phones for the Mobile World Congress. Opposable VR created a virtual reality experience and sales tool based on table tennis that utilised a custom controller and mobile headset. In the experience, the user is given control of a robot arm in a game of table tennis. Across three stages, the user must try to return the balls served by a robot on the other side of the table. Each stage represents a different connection speed, from 3G to 4G to 5G. The experience proved to be a key attraction at Vodafone’s Mobile World Congress booth.
If produced with thought and consideration to the format, VR can take the user on a deeply immersive journey. For Heads of Marketing, that’s a powerful proposition.
Virtual reality can open a world of opportunities for your marketing strategy, or it can cause a lot of confusion, contact HarveyDavid to continue this conversation before you embark on applying VR to your marketing.
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