Virtual Reality was the hot topic of conversation at the Game Developers Conference last week, with packed sessions demonstrating how important the medium has become. Consumers, brands, marketers and content creators alike eagerly awaited the news from Sony PlayStation on their much-anticipated VR headset, which will arrive this fall with a $399 price tag. This comparatively lower price point could be the final step to lowering the barrier to entry for consumer adoption of VR and bringing the medium mainstream. Goldman Sachs has already predicted the VR market will generate $110 billion dollars in 10 years, with users reaching a staggering 55.8 million by end of 2016.
Marketers and content creators are in the privileged position of putting VR on the map. And with that privilege comes responsibility and accountability. The VR headset offers a platform of limitless creativity and innovation that has the power to shape experiences far beyond the traditional boundaries of marketing and impact nearly every industry for the better. But in order to help bring this emerging platform to its fullest potential, marketers must view it as a consumer-first medium.
If we don't treat VR with the respect it deserves by putting the user first, it risks becoming just another channel for forcing marketing messages down jaded consumers' throats.
Here are some golden rules for marketers to consider that will provide some insight into approaching VR as a consumer-first medium.
Make the VR content native and compelling. VR is an ideal way to engage consumers, but the quality of the content needs to vastly improve. The experiences should be powerful and unforgettable, with an element of storytelling where the lines between the audience and narrative are blurred beyond recognition. We need to ensure we are creating content that makes this medium indispensable to consumers. Just as advertisers were there for the birth of radio, TV and the internet, here we stand again, with an opportunity to shape a new medium. It wasn't until we started making compelling content that was native to each of those mediums that they really started to take off. This takes time, and we are still in the early days of discovery and experimentation.
Once the novelty of being in a virtual world wears off, it will be hard to persuade consumers to devote five minutes of their lives to a VR experience if the previous ones have left a bad taste in their mouths.
Strong partnerships matter. It's time for brands, agencies and VR content creators to ditch their old ways, step out of their comfort zones, and leave their egos at the door. VR is all about trust and collaboration. Marketers should remember that this is a medium whose rules are still being written and allow their partners to take measured creative risks. Would you like your experience to give consumers the opportunity to paint their own worlds rather than creating one for them? How about using this medium to tell hard truths that spark a conversation?
On the other hand, content creators can build trust with their clients by remembering that VR isn't the solution to every business problem, no matter how hot it is right now. If another medium is better, have the confidence to say so.
Understand the medium. More than just the next cool trend, VR is a real creative medium with its own set of constraints and benefits. We, as content creators, need to help marketers navigate this playing field by providing them with a clear understanding of the technology. For example, we must clearly explain the pros and cons of the numerous headsets and the differences between live-action and CGI. A marketer might want to choose a live action experience for any content around travel, because it looks and feels the most true to real life, while CGI is better used for a fantasy-style experience, where we create a virtual world from scratch. The Google Cardboard approach is the widely accessible, cost effective and portable option; however, it has limited graphics capabilities. On the flip side, a console-powered headset, like the one for PlayStation, has a huge existing gaming user base of over 35.9 million and the opportunity to utilize input controllers for interactive play. But since this headset in particular is relatively new, we anticipate that the content will be highly regulated by Sony. This hands-on approach and run down of options will help enable marketers to know when, how and why to use VR and tackle the big questions around ROI and reach.
I am constantly surprised by the amount of clients who approach us with a VR concept or idea that is essentially a TV script, or who have never even tried VR.
Create VR with purpose. Before any decisions are made on what VR headset, platform or whether live-action or CGI should be used, we must help marketers determine the right VR content strategy and enable them to make informed decisions about what content to publish, as well as where, when, and why to do so. Ultimately, the content should always be relevant to the values, beliefs, and aspirations of your brand, service or product. Oculus Story Studio's "Henry" was a cinematic leap for VR and told a clear story in line with the intimacy and experience of the company. And our own "Trailscape" experience for Merrell with Hill Holliday, the first ever walk-around VR experience promoting the new Capra boot, inspired people to get outdoors -- a philosophy that is completely in line with Merrell's brand essence and target demographic.
VR is advancing at an incredible pace. It's a pioneering time that leaves us facing a steep learning curve. But one already established truth is that relevant and purposeful VR experiences require a compelling emotional consumer connection. The most effective way to create this emotional tie is by shifting focus from branding to experience. We must concern ourselves with delivering content and solutions that can truly make this medium indispensable.