How Brands Can Go From Storytelling to Story Living

Virtual Reality Is More Than a Marketing Fantasy

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I was speaking at a marketing conference the other week, and one of the speakers preceding me ended his keynote saying, "I don't take VR seriously, it's a passing fad. It's not important for marketing. If you want to be relevant, I would look at augmented reality."

His point of view is not uncommon, particularly after Digi-Capital projected that AR is poised to be a $90 billion market by 2020, versus $30 billion for VR.

The marketing and entertainment industries, among others, are all grappling with how to best use these new mediums, and whether to invest money now, test the waters or wait for others to define the space first.

The current thinking tends to be that AR has more practical applications, since it entails overlaying digital content on your real world space. In contrast, VR excludes the real world, focusing instead on creating computer-generated artificial worlds through head-mounted displays like Oculus or HTC Vive.

Somewhere in between AR and VR is mixed reality (MR), a term embraced by Microsoft Hololens and Magic Leap. MR seeks to combine the best of both the real and virtual worlds and create seamless hybrid realities through 3D holograms and digital light field signals.

I was able to experiment with MR last month at a Microsoft Hololens demo. Within seconds after placing the Hololens over my eyes, as I shifted my gaze to the wall ahead of me, I was able to lift my finger and air tap the 3D holograms that presented themselves in my field of view.

Simultaneously, I could see the Microsoft employee in the room with me, along with the physical floor I was standing on and my surrounding space. This experience was far superior to any AR experiences I have tried in the past on my mobile phone or through Google glass.

Yet, while I was in this mixed reality, I had a bit of an epiphany.

While using the Hololens, I actually became a bit distracted and struggled to focus between my real world surroundings versus the superimposed hologram objects. A good part of me wanted to forget the real world for a moment, and teleport myself somewhere far away from the midtown office building in which I was standing. In those moments of distraction I lost focus and interest.

For marketers seeking to create real brand engagement with consumers, retaining attention is paramount to business success. If a consumer is not interested in your content for two seconds, they will just shift away, as evidenced with DVRs and ad blocking.

So, although I am still very much convinced the potential for the Hololens and Magic Leap technology is massive for business and personal use, I have a deepened appreciation for what virtual reality provides. This includes complete user immersion and an unprecedented brand engagement.

Virtual reality is a medium that finally enables us to go way beyond traditional storytelling into the realm of story living, whereby people can fully experience and create their own living stories in virtual worlds.

To better express these benefits, I have mapped out these new emerging mediums that straddle real and virtual worlds into the context of marketing objectives: user engagement (storytelling to story living) versus brand reach (mass to niche).

I expect this mapping to change over the next year, as new technologies and devices are introduced. Yet, I expect marketing objectives of balancing brand reach with user engagement will continue to remain top of mind priorities for most brands.