The idea of virtual reality (VR) can be a little bit intimidating for those of us who grew up with movies like Tron and the idea that living in virtual spaces was part of some fantasy set in a far-off future. However, after Facebook bought Oculus Rift for $2 billion, it became clear that virtual reality was pretty much set to become part of our present-day lives.
A lot of literature around VR focuses on gaming, but soon, VR could also be a part of our social and mobile experiences, transforming not just the way that we play, but the way that we engage with both brands and each other. Imagine the utility of training employees through an interactive experience or walking into a virtual store to try out a new product.
VR isn’t a gimmick
A few years back, we all waited in lines like kids at a carnival, hoping to try out Oculus Rift. But these days, VR has moved beyond the novelty stage. So far beyond, in fact, that some news outlets are declaring it “dead.”
However, as ClickZ’s Mike O’Brien recently pointed out, declaring things like email, The Internet of Things, or virtual reality dead is often marketing code for declaring them no longer a buzzword. However, many of those marketing buzzwords of yesterday have become part of our marketing strategies today.
And from a sales perspective, VR is very much alive and could soon become a huge part of our lives. The economic impact of VR is predicted to reach 29.5 billion by 2020, and the number of VR headsets sold could be as high as 82 million within the next two years.
That’s not to say the VR revolution has played out exactly like the folks at trade shows thought it would. People aren’t rolling out of bed each morning and spending their days connected to VR headsets, which means VR content production has to evolve alongside users’ willingness to try and understanding of it.
VR is actually a valuable tool for B2B
B2B marketers who have assumed that interactive VR content is just a gimmick for B2C companies could be missing out. Virtual reality might just be the key to helping customers understand complicated concepts by giving them first hand experiences in a virtual showroom, and it could also be a useful training tool.
For example, Key Technology, which designs and manufactures food processing systems, recently created a VR experience to walk an audience of food manufacturers through the incredibly complex process of digital food sorting. Key Technology’s VR content not only drove brand awareness but also illustrated a difficult concept by giving users (virtual) hands on experience.
For those just beginning to play with the idea of incorporating VR content into your marketing strategy, the concept of creating VR may seem a bit overwhelming. Here are a few tips for both creating VR content and deciding what kind of VR content might be right for you.
This may seem like a no-brainer, but if you’re going to start producing VR content, you need to make sure you’re super comfortable with VR. These days, VR headsets are fairly easy to come by, and you can best learn what your audience might want from a VR experience by figuring out what it is you want.
When it comes to choosing your VR technology, the market is flooded with options, from low-end to high, according to Blake Hudelson at Protopry: “Google Cardboard is a great entry point for newbies, as it is affordable ($15) and works with any smartphone. For people who want the best quality experience and are willing to pay for it, Oculus Rift or HTC Vive are the best options. The Oculus and Vive both have natural hand controllers, which lets you interact with your virtual spaces. The Tilt Brush and Google Earth VR apps are great interactive experiences to try first.”
Think big, or small
Most of the VR content that makes headlines these days is spectacular and often spectacularly expensive, like the Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire interactive VR experience that uses VR headsets, vests, props and physical space to put guests into the Star Wars universe.
However, most marketers don’t have Disney budgets. Forrester recently reported that a fully interactive ad could cost more than $500,000, but there are plenty of less costly ways to experiment with VR. You goal should be to create engaging, but useful VR content for your audience instead of complicated and costly, yet ultimately unsatisfying, spectacles.
For example, Alibaba, a Chinese e-commerce company, recently launched a virtual shopping program that enables customers to shop through their VR headsets by browsing through Alibaba’s inventory to mix and match clothing and accessories. The interactive VR content allows Alibaba’s 400 million users to get up close and personal with its products.
Creating a virtual storefront is more than just a way to drive buzz around a brand. Studies show that using VR to create virtual shopping experiences is actually pretty cost effective, at around just 80% of the cost of building and operating an actual brick-and-mortar store.
Make sure you’ve got the right tools
VR relies on video, but not the kind of video most marketers are used to, according to Cortney Harding, founder of VR/AR agency Friends With Holograms.
“VR requires a whole new language,” Harding recently told ClickZ. “You need someone who knows how to shoot in VR, how to design in VR and how to think in VR. If you’re trying to make ads in VR without truly understanding how to do it, it’s almost always going to lead to failure.”
Luckily, as VR headsets take off, 360-degree cameras, which shoot video for VR, have become much easier to come by as well. Unlike regular cameras, 360-degree cameras have two fisheye lenses that capture every direction at the same time. These cameras are built with VR in mind, as well as live streaming and movie-quality video resolution.
But VR is changing more than just our cameras; it also requires creators to think about video in a new way. Screens have caused us to conceptualize video in terms of rectangles, but when shooting 360-degree video, it’s important to think outside the lines and focus on capturing the world as it really is, not as it will fit on the screen.
If you haven’t started considering the possibilities for 360-degree video, not just for VR, but for social media and unique brand experiences, the time to start is now.
Plan for surprise
When you’re planning a piece of interactive VR content, it’s important to anticipate your audience’s every move. Keep in mind the experience is happening all around them and not in front of them, unlike traditional content. Remember that audiences aren’t necessarily using VR for the reality, but for the surprise of being in another world. Anticipating that your audience is expecting to be surprised in your VR content is one of the most crucial parts of the planning stage.
However, balancing surprise and stability can be a tightrope. Remember your own, um, gut reaction to VR content, and make sure that you’re not literally making your audience sick.
Ask the experts
VR is still in its infancy, and creating VR content requires skills that many marketers just haven’t picked up yet. There are plenty of programs out there to play around with while you explore your options for creating VR content, but if you’re looking to create sophisticated marketing, VR content creation companies are still the way to go.
Don’t forget about data
While much conversation has been made about the possibilities for VR content creation, little has been said about the potential of VR for providing important consumer insights. VR data is similar to that provided by video, but it’s much more sophisticated since audiences are literally in the content. VR analytics can tell marketers not only how much time audiences are spending with an ad, but exactly how they’re spending that time.
In a recent study by YuMe, 74% of VR users said that a virtual ad experience was much less intrusive than a digital ad experience, and 70% of respondents reported same-day recall of VR content.
The long and short of it is that virtual reality probably isn’t going to replace more traditional forms of content marketing. But marketers should absolutely begin preparing for a future in which our online lives are increasingly touched by VR. The days of attending virtual meetings or shopping in virtual stores aren’t part of a digital fantasy; they’re happening right now.