5 Things Marketers Need to Know About VR Technology in 2017

November 18, 2016 John Montesi

VR technology

Since The Jetsons projected flying cars and holograms, VR technology has improved a lot. While we may not have hoverboards in the mainstream just yet, we have all manner of 3D projectors and virtual reality goggles that are changing the way we interact with technology. And although virtual reality may have its roots firmly in the entertainment sphere, 2017 is ushering in a new era—one that makes this technology invaluable to a content marketing strategy.

Hoverboard

Whether your brand is looking to achieve a total marketing transformation or just to maintain popularity through a comprehensive multimedia marketing strategy, creating a virtual reality experience can position your brand as forward-thinking and innovative. Sound daunting? It doesn’t have to be. As the year winds to a close and you’re sussing out your budget for Q1, just keep these five things in mind.

1. We’ll Be Closer to a Post-Video World

Mark Zuckerberg said it best at an Oculus Rift event last month: “There’s always a richer, more immersive medium to experience the world. And after video, the next logical step is fully immersive virtual reality.” As everybody knows, Zuckerberg practically controls the future of the internet—so this statement is not to be taken lightly.

But what does it mean for marketers? How do we enact marketing transformation without jumping the gun and moving on to the next tech platform too soon (or waiting until we’re so late we get lost in the noise)?

As with any other new technology that has potential audience-facing implications, the first and best things we can do are understand how people will interact with VR technology and what tech’s visionaries say about it. Just like people love video because it’s both more passive and more engaging than static click-through content like photos or walls of text, they’ll love virtual reality because it makes video as we know it look flat and boring. For everything from brand promotional clips to interactive real estate tours to standalone entertaining content, today’s virtual reality and the imminent next-generation hardware offer users the chance to immerse themselves in a seemingly three-dimensional world using devices typically confined to two dimensions.

2. Branded VR Requires Consistency

Much of Zuckerberg’s virtual reality demo hinged upon the ways people will actually use the technology. Instead of VR 1.0 which tried to blow our minds with dizzying 360-degree views of mountaintops or seascapes, the focus of this new VR will be making our existing tech tools work better in a world that’s shaped more like we’re used to. That means video conferences that don’t require the user to stare blankly at a laptop selfie cam, chat interfaces that seem to project right into our space, and video content that can be felt instead of just seen. Moving away from cartoonish facsimiles of other planets or overwhelming branded content and towards integrating existing tools and content with new methods of content consumption is doubly advantageous—it makes the transition to virtual reality quicker and easier, and it puts brands in a better position to meet users where they already are.

For virtual reality to matter and to be taken seriously, that last point is key: it has to work in a way people are used to. That means integration with popular social media platforms, eye-popping interactive versions of already-popular content like videos, and, of course, an engaging, empathetic story that proves audience understanding (much like your content assets should be designed to do).

VR

3. The Experience Has to Feel Complete

The reality is that some aspects of virtual reality are new and novel, and brands must think outside of the two-dimensional box as they move into this new territory. That means dreaming of how physical space might fit into your future marketing transformation—say, providing people a tour of a house for sale, placing them front-row for an upcoming concert, or even allowing them to understand how your product or service might integrate with their existing office or home. This combines two marketing dreams into one very-useful reality.

But, as with a good story, it’s not enough for a virtual experience to exist and be new. The experience also has to be so complete within itself that it doesn’t leave audiences with the feeling that they’re missing something. That means they have to be able to see and explore everything you hint at in your virtual world. If sound is off or the world isn’t immersive enough, they’ll be left wondering why you sprung for such an expensive experience instead of opting for something you’ve already mastered, like video or a written story.

4. Augmented Reality Is a Viable Option

There’s no debating that if you’re not already a VR brand, you will necessarily become one in the year to come. But if the fully immersive VR experience isn’t within the scope of your brand’s voice or mission, you have other options: augmented reality (AR) for one.

Through AR, brands can inhabit their audience’s space and whimsically capture their imaginations in a way that doesn’t feel remotely like an interrupt advertisement. AR is more like experiential marketing, where brands can do things like sponsor an open bar or concert that allows people to engage in something they’d already do, essentially footing the bill in exchange for branded content or presence. AR, like VR, is very much an opt-in experience, and while the novelty factor is high, brands today can get away with overt branding. As people grow more accustomed to using VR technology in a multitude of ways, brands will need to practice subtlety, but for now there’s plenty of room for interpretation and experimentation. Native advertising will take on a new meaning as virtual reality augments our daily experiences more seamlessly and in more ways.

5. VR Tech Is Practically Universal

Virtual reality tech has matured to the point that there are no longer any choppy graphics or dizzying lag time, while costs have plummeted to the point that dedicated VR headsets are no longer the playthings of tech’s elite. Plus, devices such as Google Cardboard and apps in the Pokémon Go family have turned smartphones into sophisticated virtual reality devices that are capable of reaching the massive audiences that already have smartphones in their pockets. And because compulsive smartphone checks are likely inherent elements of your audience’s behavior, your brand’s immersive story will always be in the right hands. As long as it’s a strong enough story, you’re sure to captivate, motivate, and engage.

2017 is the year VR will finally secure its place alongside video, photography, and writing as part of a truly comprehensive content strategy—which means you have a little over a month left to start building it into your budget. Through attention to detail, audience empathy, and a little creative thinking, your efforts will virtually pay for themselves.

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