VR – it’s still about the story, not the tech, stupid!

Virtual reality campaigns all too often lack that one basic creative element – great storytelling – argues Dean Reinhard of Iris

We’re well into 2017 and the virtual reality bandwagon is getting full already. Brands are briefing VR with the same fervour that they did branded apps five years ago.

And, exactly like the swarm of brand marketing apps that came with the opening of the app store, the majority of VR content created for brands is utterly rubbish and immediately dismissed by users.  

However, we can still hold out hope because the medium itself has such potential to be a powerful and captivating tool to engage with consumers. When executed correctly, it’s the perfect medium for longform storytelling. It pushes the boundaries of what a high-end experience is – immersive, personal and breathtaking.

VR technology has been around for decades, but has only recently been made available to consumers in a cost-effective and compelling way. However, the promise of being immersed in virtual landscapes, taking in sights, sounds and scents of virtual objects have long been promised, yet never truly realised.

Dean Reinhard

We’ve always been on the cusp of this virtual promised land but technology has held back the ambition and consumer spending on this technology has echoed this sentiment.

However, technology is no longer a valid excuse for poor VR marketing.

VR technology today has suspension of disbelief which draws the user in deeper than any other form of communication. That deep chasm that existed between the promise and delivery of good VR is no longer an issue, which means we can no longer blame technology for sub-par experiences. If your VR content isn’t amazing, you need a new agency.

With that in mind, by following these simple rules, you can make content that truly works across 360-degrees.

Assume that you are always wrong

Creating content for virtual reality is hard and nobody out there is the absolute expert. Nobody has spent more than 20 years working with it to be able to guide you down the correct path. Therefore, if you go in thinking that you know exactly how something should work and sell in a concept that doesn’t have flexibility, then you will fail. Spectacularly.

Aim instead to achieve a particular goal, rather than a specific way of doing it and start testing concepts. Good VR developers can prototype content in days rather than weeks. Once you start playing around with your ideas plus the right hardware and software, you will have a much better understanding of how things should work.

Test, test, test – with real people

User testing surprisingly happens less often in the marketing world than you would assume, and it’s usually because timelines and budgets are so tight. It’s an element that’s glossed over all-too lightly; people who spend all their time in and around the VR hardware cannot be the ones who decide if the content is good. Recently at an Oculus Rift game demonstration in San Francisco, people without previous VR experience had trouble using the device and getting used to the new visual experience. They expended more time learning how to use it and less time actually playing.

Such experience clouds users’ judgement of what is natural and compelling. Get it out in front of consumers as soon as possible. Conduct interviews, questionnaires and understand how and why people do what they do within the experience.

Fail fast

As content creators and marketers, we are always afraid of making mistakes and doing something wrong. This however is the only way we drive forward with new technologies. You won’t know if you have done something wrong until it’s out there and people tell you. With proper software development cycles, mistakes should be able to be recognised and solved quickly.

Use analytics

Use Google Analytics across all of your development whether that be for web, mobile applications or virtual reality. The amazing difference with virtual reality projects is that you are able to track things to an incredible level of detail and understand exactly how a user is going through your experience down to the level of eye tracking, pauses, hand gestures and all the invisible moves, that someone would never describe if you asked. Good analytics such as ‘heat map’ tracking will allow you to see how users are spending their time within your experience. From that you can learn about how your audience is responding and therefore update the experience to constantly iterate, improve and grow.

Technology is the medium or media, not the idea

Unless you are Oculus/HTC and you are selling VR hardware, the worst thing you can give your agency is a ‘VR brief’. Instead,  let the objective and outcome dictate the brief. Let your creative and tech teams dictate the medium and form. Its success should not be judged on whether the delivery was innovative, but on whether the experience created new meaning to the brand or category.

Through the use of VR, you’re able to transport the consumer to another country, time period, or even shrink them down to the size of an ant and change their perspective of their surroundings – all in the comfort of their home through their phone (via mobile VR) or at a roadshow booth (via hardware VR). The possibilities are an incredible stimulus for a strong creative concept, but VR without a concept will be as hollow as a promo video.

So VR has every chance of rising above the mediocrity, but creatives must never lose sight of the ageold art of great storytelling. It’s about the narrative, not the tech, stupid. A story so compelling that the VR world becomes one the user never wants to leave.

Dean Reinhard is the head of creative technology at creative agency Iris


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