VR: From Storytelling to Story Living


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Virtual reality (VR) is gaining traction as brands, companies, and marketers seek to reinvent themselves and the consumer experience. If you dismissed VR earlier as the domain of gamers and geeks, then think again. A raft of recent developments points to a flurry of activity and an explosion of interest, underscoring the power and potential of this technology to transform how we see and value experiences in the physical world and the digital realm.

The gear is widely available. Well past the bug fixes and the A/B testing, there are more than 250 VR headsets on the market (mostly available to buy on Amazon, thus ensuring massive and global distribution). The vast majority of these devices (90%) are mobile-based, thus ensuring that they, like the smartphones that never leave our sides, will become our personal go-to companions for information, entertainment, and fun.

And the party is just getting started, as nearly half (44%) of consumers who have expressed interest in purchasing VR devices are between the ages of 18 and 34. It’s easy to imagine hockey stick growth accompanied by a good deal of buzz. It’s why analysts are bullish, forecasting that 82 million headsets will be in use by 2020, with 1 billion people expected to be interacting with VR and augmented reality (AR) content regularly by 2020.

Unlike mobile content—which started out as a refit of what we knew from the web—VR can’t just borrow from more mature media, such as outdoor advertising or even social media. There are no rules to follow. Companies can start with a clean slate.

But too much freedom can almost be as frightening as it is exhilarating. While companies can push boundaries, they also benefit from having a blueprint to follow. It starts with monitoring the innovations springing up out of startups, universities, and industry verticals (such as gaming, engineering, and advertising).

Content companies can also—literally—tap the Force. The latest collaboration from Lucasfilm, ILMxLAB, and THE VOID has produced an immersive experience that moves the needle on what is possible and what Millennials are likely to expect. Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire transports viewers into new worlds as a stormtrooper, treating all the senses to an experience unlike any other. Viewers can smell the ash, touch K-2SO the robot, and feel the lava. Ignore the hype, and focus on the impact. This experience shows what is possible and what audiences will soon come to expect. Accept the challenge, and start to think about ways to turn your content into a feast for the senses.

VR isn’t just about wowing people; it’s about moving them. Think of ways to use VR to tell emotive and informative stories around your content to drive consumer connection. A great example is TOMS shoes. The company’s campaign, a Walk in Their Shoes, cleverly harnessed VR to transport consumers to Colombia, dramatizing the difference they can make in the world when they buy a pair of TOMS shoes. With every purchase, a pair of shoes is donated to someone in need. As TOMS founder Blake Mycoskie put it in an interview with TechnoBuffalo, “To truly understand what someone goes through, it helps to walk in their shoes. If you can’t be there in person, VR is the perfect technology to share someone’s story.”

Another source of inspiration is the arts. Aeronaut—a music video from Billy Corgan that was conceived, created, and captured in VR—has delivered an unprecedented VR experience. The artist, who appears as a hologram, invites audiences to explore his world from their own unique perspective. Rolling Stone may call it trippy, but I think it’s transformative.

It frees our mind and should inspire content companies to reimagine the customer experience, fueling a revolution in engagement with the help of an equally revolutionary technology. We are in an era in which—thanks to the lower price point of VR headsets and the power of your mobile phone—VR will be entering the mainstream. At a high level, content companies should strive to produce digital content that captures our attention. But they should also consider using VR to deliver content that can strike a chord with audiences, enabling them to live a story, not just consume it.   


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