Is virtual reality the future of content marketing?
Is virtual reality the future of content marketing? As a technology for making emotional connections with people, virtual reality certainly has appeal for content marketers. Of course for most of us working in today’s marketing industry this may seem far-fetched . Surely virtual reality is the terrain of immersive epic shooter games, thrill rides or weird yet wonderful films that you can pseudo-physically take part in? In short: a technology likely to be a boon for the entertainment industry, but not particularly relevant to content marketing?
Well allow me to put you straight – it is an increasingly popular opinion that virtual reality, or VR, is going to be the biggest thing since sliced bread, or more specifically, since the smartphone. Even more specifically VR is increasingly being considered an important future tool for content marketing.
So can we be so bold as to claim that it is the ‘future of content marketing?’
Like all emerging technologies VR offers some fantastic new opportunities, but it is also important to look at its nuances and the problems that it can create before hopping on the bandwagon.
Join us as we take a deeper look into the technology behind VR and what its implications are for content marketing.
What exactly is virtual reality?
Virtual Reality is an artificial, or computer-generated environment. It’s designed to temporarily suspend the user’s disbelief so they experience and interact with virtual worlds as if they were a real environment. The technology relies on aural sensations, audio and high-end graphics often delivered through a specialised headset, though some varieties can be experienced via a simpler screen.
Virtual reality is often used as an umbrella term for two distinct forms:
- Virtual reality: This is a fully immersive experience that separates the user from the real world. The sophistication of this technology can range from simple 360 degree videos where different things can be seen by moving the head, to fully interactive games that respond to user movement.
- Augmented reality: This is an integration of digital information with the real world. Unlike VR which creates a totally artificial environment, AR takes the real world and overlays it with new information. The most successful example of this so far has been the game Pokemon Go where players can locate Pokemon in the game world by interacting with the real environment.
VR experiences in effect allow users to interact with the digital world in person, without the need for intermediary hardware like keyboards or a mouse to communicate their intentions. It is an entirely new medium of connection and one that offers the opportunity for customers to experience products and brand stories in a dramatically more engaging way.
How can virtual reality be used in content marketing?
Futuristic and science fiction-like it may be, but virtual reality has been nibbling at our consumer consciousness for a while now. As a result the technology’s capabilities have been growing alongside public adoption.
In 2014, 200,000 people worldwide had access to Virtual Reality technology. In 2016, it was 43 million. In 2018, it’s 171 million according to Kaizen’s recent whitepaper. Small studies also suggest that the interactive element increases user engagement. So how can this exciting new technology be used in content marketing?
1. Virtual sampling of products
Both augmented and virtual reality allow potential customers to experience and sample products without leaving their own homes. For example in the real estate sector instead of spending an entire day driving from house to house to be shown around, customers could instead tour the properties virtually. Similarly using augmented reality, customers can see how products will fit into their home before committing to a purchase, or which makeup tones fit their face shape or skin tone.
A current example of this is IKEAs Place app which allows customers to virtually place furniture in their house before buying.
The world of virtual sampling offers increased convenience and an exciting new way to interact with potential purchases. Rather than just writing about how wonderful your product is now you can show customers and let them interact with it, without the need for a showroom or bricks-and-mortar store
2. Experience venues and locations
Virtual reality allows you to transport your audience to anywhere in the world (or even out of it). Think the top of the Eiffel tower, the streets of London or the soft golden beaches of Hawaii – all can be accessed instantly. This is clearly a tool that could trump most written content for choosing a holiday destination – who wants to read about it when you can actually go there (albeit virtually)?
Companies such as Marriott, BA airlines and Qantas are all working on VR programs to make this possible.
3. Immerse customers in a brand story
Video is a core part of marketing, and virtual reality promises to make this medium even more engaging. Assisted by VR, customers can immerse themselves fully in the action and get a full 360 degree experience.
The success of this interactive 360 framework has already been seen in the release of Universal’s 360-degree ad for “Fifty Shades Darker”. The ad went live on Snapchat and according to Leigh Godfrey, vice president of digital marketing at Universal Pictures at Maxus Global, saw twice the engagement over other swipe-up CTAs.
What are the potential problems with virtual reality?
As we have seen, virtual reality offers some significant new angles for the world of content marketing. However there are some unignorable challenges that could hamper the technology’s ability to truly revolutionise the industry – or dare we say it, even get off the ground altogether.
1. The hardware is still clunky
Ever seen an advert for VR? They’re full of people wandering around in great big blacked out goggles smiling to themselves and inexplicably waving their limbs around. It’s difficult to get away from the fact that total immersive VR not only looks ridiculous, it also requires an expensive headpiece that often needs to be physically wired up.
For any industry selling a level of aspiration (people need to want to aspire to be like the customers who use your products, be that pro athletes, celebrities or wealthy people) but also mass accessibility this feels like a downside. Not everyone wants to spend $600 to look like a nerd which may mean your content audience is too slim for success.
2. There are real health risks
Cybersickness is a VR-specific form of motion sickness that affects a lot of first-time and even regular users. The partial sensory immersion into a computer generated universe is stressful to the human brain, particularly when it knows intellectually and to some extent physically that this world isn’t real. As a result VR can trigger fatigue, nausea and dizziness in a way that other medias do not.
More worryingly there is also the chance of more serious injury. Headsets and other visual displays that are very close to the eyes can cause long term harm to eyesight and balance mechanism, particularly amongst children. Poorly adjusted headsets can also cause eye strain and injury to the head, neck and spine. Unless such risks can be eliminated it’s unlikely that the technology will succeed.
3. Persistent ethical issues and a customer base that is increasingly suspicious of technology
While the industry’s focus on adoption and profitability are maybe understandable, it has been at the expense of higher level concerns. With ethical issues spanning from user protection both online and in the real world whilst immersed in the digital, to virtual crimes, game inflicted PTSD, online torture, effects of immersive porn and data privacy. There is no shortage of profound impacts that this new technology could cause if left unregulated.
Potentially a more commercially convincing argument is that these issues are increasingly being taken into account by the younger generation. Suspicion of new technologies and the corporations that control them is on the rise.
Is it all just hype?
In 2018, total VR revenue will reach a combined $7.7 billion across hardware and software, according to Superdata market research. That’s a pretty big number and it’s caused a lot of leading marketers to get excited about the possibilities of VR. However, when you take a step back it’s clear that currently most of this spend is going to the gaming industry and the manufactures of the devices. The top earners in 2017 were Fallout 4 on PC and Skyrim VR on PSVR.
Other writing on the wall could include Facebook’s announcement that despite its $2 billion buy-in to the VR headset platform Oculus, they are closing the Oculus Story Studio. Despite strong PR soothing, the overriding suggestion is that VR is just not getting the intended response from the public – and let’s face it no one wants to be next decade’s Google Glass.
From this perspective it seems as though VR may remain either a very niche marketing tool or more likely a successful part of the entertainment industry. The likelihood that it will revolutionise content marketing is slight unless its current issues are rapidly resolved.
However, something that we should be looking to with much more hope is augmented reality. The ability to overlay information over the real world holds multiple possibilities for marketers while largely avoiding all of the traps created by its big brother. It’s already seen success with the Pokemon Go phenomenon, demonstrating not only public readiness but also how engaging the medium can be.
If you want our bet, VR won’t change much about marketing – it’s AR we should be watching out for!