Method Studios

How to stay real in a virtual world

15th Sep 2016

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I’m sure we all know the numbers by now. VR is the billion-dollar industry everyone is talking about – expected to be worth over $30 billion by 2020. That’s $30,000,000,000! Seems a bit low to me, actually. Clients and brands are snapping up VR as a new medium - but is it worth the hype? In the mad dash to do cool stuff in this incredible new medium, are brands at risk of losing their senses so to speak and forgetting to make genuine, relevant and memorable experiences? I believe it’s worth the $30b of hype, and brands can make a real and lasting impact with it. It just takes some digging and smart thinking.

Look at the landscape we’re in. There’s a lot here. Occulus, HTC Vive, Samsung Gear, Google Cardboard – these are just some of the more popular device names being thrown around when people talk about virtual reality. There are many more and even more in production as we speak. Then there are the experiences themselves – 360 video, photogrammetry, computer generated graphics, lightfield. The list goes on.

If I haven’t already lost you, thanks for sticking it out. That’s probably about as technical as we’ll get. The technology can be overwhelming, even to us who are embedded deep in the industry. Every day there’s new hardware, new tools, new production insights, and new opinion pieces. It’s safe to say it all sounds fairly complicated.

Firstly, let’s completely forget the tech. Humour me, just for a minute. 
 

Lecture Theatre in Virtual Reality



Let’s go back to marketing basics. Just like any new medium, we shouldn’t forget the essentials of how to create a great experience.

Think about your brand, product or service. What are your objectives? What do you want to communicate to your audience? What story do you want to tell and what message do you want to get across? Are you giving context to your brand, sharing its history, showcasing a product or visualising its use? Do you want to educate or expand on features and benefits? Or are you simply going for brand awareness via entertainment?

Remember, it’s not all about you. Think about your audience – your clients, your customers. Who are you talking to, what do they want to know, and what are they genuinely interested in? How can you involve them in the experience? How can you offer them something fun, unique and interactive? How can you get them so excited that they want to share their experience with their peers? It should be exactly that, by the way – an experience.

This is where VR comes back in.

VR lets you experience real and imagined worlds as if you were really there. It’s the closest we’ve come to teleportation. You now have the opportunity to truly immerse people in your brand like never before. The applications are endless.

Hand on heart – it is worth the hype. Every single person I’ve watched having a true virtual reality experience has been blown away, and I’ve personally presented to at least a few hundred of them. Young and old, early adopters to laggards – they’ve all had the same reaction. I’m not talking 360 video. There’s only so far the novelty factor of that will get you. I’m talking about immersive experiences where you give the user control and engage them with virtual worlds and environments.

This is where VR shines over every other medium before it. There is nothing else like it (I’m repeating myself but it warrants a second mention).

Today, we’re more visually overstimulated than ever before. Studies show the more stimulated we are, the harder it is to capture and retain our attention. VR is a personal experience. You put the headset on and you’re transported away from real life, from wherever you’re standing (or sitting) to a whole new world. With headphones on, there’s nothing else distracting you. You’re as immersed as you can be.

A recent survey done by Greenlight VR with US customers aged 16 to 60 showed that 62% of consumers would feel engaged with a brand that sponsors a VR experience, and 53% are more likely to purchase from that brand.

So, how do you get the best out of VR and stay real, relevant and be memorable? Below are some pointers. Armed with insights into your communication story and audience, think about how you can leverage these and create a VR experience to bring your message to life.

 

Native New Zealand Forest in Virtual Reality



Be true to the medium
VR is much more than passively watching 360 video. Make the user feel in control, and you’ll keep their attention long after the novelty of 360 dies off. Can you have them interact with your brand or navigate their own way? How can you give them control of the journey?

Tell a story, be engaging
VR can hold someone captive for long periods of time. Where else can you have someone dedicated to your brand experience for 10-15 minutes or more? The better your story, the more likely someone can get completely lost in it, and that’s a good thing. Think about the visuals and script it out. Add narrative to give subtle clues to navigation and add depth and interest to the experience.

Make it fully immersive
Go beyond how it looks. Engage more of the user’s senses. Use sound to bring the visuals to life. Can you add smell, touch, taste even? Remember to get the basics right first – sight and sound are your first touch points – and then add to the experience.

Remember it’s just another medium
It has to be promoted, shared, and talked about. Think about how you’re going to get your idea to your audience and make sure there’s budget or resource to do this.

Use the appropriate device
Do you need high end graphics and a rich, deep experience? If the answer’s yes, the Oculus or HTC Vive are your best bets. Or, do you want to make the most of space at an event and offer something less restricted without wires? The Samsung Gear is ideal if that’s what you’re going for. Finally, if you want to offer a takeaway, branded experience with value add over time, consider an app for people to download on their own devices and a branded Google Cardboard to do the trick.

Each device has their pros and cons. Consider these before you choose one over another.

Engage through education
Whether you are in the education and training field or not, never underestimate the power of teaching as a form of engagement. People are more likely to remember an experience that imparts something new.

Don’t replace the experience
VR can take people where your product can’t, but try not to replace the experience so they never need your product or service. You’re enhancing rather than replacing, and teasing rather than giving the whole thing away.

So, do the digging and the thinking. This amazing $30b world is fantastic to be a part of, and you can do wonders for your brand when you keep it real for your audience. Wow them. Work the medium. Stay close to your brand and give the viewer more than just a cool tech experience. They’ll remember your brand, and how they felt when you took them traipsing through virtual reality in a way that was relevant to them. That’s where the real value of VR shines, and it’s worth every penny.