After more than two years on the open market, VR is not the shiny new object in the modern-day marketer’s toolset anymore. Executives in the marketing industry find creating inherently more social VR experiences will be critical in successfully deploying future immersive content and having them resonate with the audiences they’re trying to reach.
“Marketers need to have a real desire for consumers to interact with their brand or IP in VR,” said Zeda Stone, head of business development for RYOT. “We will probably get to the point where consumer interaction in social becomes a priority and [will] dictate whether or not VR will succeed in the end.”
“We will probably get to the point where consumer interaction in social becomes a priority and [will] dictate whether or not VR will succeed in the end.” —Zeda Stone, head of business development for RYOT.
Although VR experiences seem to debut every day, YouGov says VR adoption will drastically slow in the future because penetration has plateaued, and there haven’t been industry-wide efforts to alleviate constraints such as isolation and lagging tech.
When done well, VR can evoke emotions for curious consumers to recall messaging marketers are trying to convey. Whether playing video games, reconfiguring furniture in living rooms, training and learning or immersing in a brand-specific experience, marketers who build VR experiences will need to attach KPIs that solve scalable issues that satisfy specific marketing needs, Stone said. That way, when reports return, looking at the numbers won’t feel like their activation was akin to a tree falling in the middle of the forest.
Stone, who plies his trade at a media company primarily focused on 360-degree, traditional documentary filmmaking rather than true VR, said that for social VR marketing to shine, there need to be additional storytelling layers added on top of it as well. He also warned that access to social interaction alone doesn’t make it the right choice for the marketer—but if chosen, expectations must be scaled back, because from a metrics standpoint it won’t be comparable to traditional platforms.
VR platforms are beginning to embrace social play, social learning and second-screen experiences, said Jenna Seiden, head of content acquisition and partnerships for HTC Vive.
“Creators need to specifically build content for social interaction because that enables marketing teams to find demographics,” said Seiden. “Whether it’s a game or retail experience, it starts from the DNA of the product.”
Seiden warned that if the content’s purpose is to be sharable, it should not be repurposed from other platforms.
“You have to build it natively from the beginning and think about all of the different ways that people are interacting in headsets and give them the incentive to engage in the content,” she said. “Every app made for VR should have a multi-player or social element to it. People love to share.”
But even after establishing social VR, there are still obstacles for marketers, says Guy Bendov, founder and CEO of Sidekick VR—a publisher of games for VR platforms.
“Challenges in delivering for all kinds of headsets, platforms, browsers and mobile devices will still remain in 2018,” said Bendov. “I have not seen a lot of shared experiences, but I want to see how marketers are going to bring those experiences to the forefront. The overall user experience will help marketers and brands better tell their stories.”
For consumers to enjoy social elements in VR, they don’t need to be isolated in headsets, Seiden said, noting that people can also affect outcomes for others using VR through mobile devices and 2D screens.
“For non-endemics, it’s about raising brand recall and awareness,” she said, adding that non-native brands are seeing value in VR by reinvesting in the space. “It has to fit for the brand’s goals. We’re all learning, and whether it’s a brand, developer or filmmaker, we give constructive marketing parameters. Social VR does not mean you immediately monetize.”
Chris Hewish, EVP of games and interactive for Skydance Media, said the market is still relatively small from a concurrent user standpoint, and content creators and marketers have to embrace VR’s social interaction mechanics.
“All of the ingredients are there for social VR,” said Hewish. “We just have to make sure we mix it right. Performance is king. From our perspective, VR is still going strong, but dividing audiences into platforms reduces the growth. Because it’s a relatively new medium and small market, we can’t lose focus of what we’re building.”
Hewish, who oversees Triple-A content development and partnerships for the home and location-based users, sees a few ways to help alleviate the growing pains and friction of marketing a new technology: lowering price-points, offering easier-to-use hardware and high-quality, and creating platform-agnostic content VR experiences.
“I don’t think the evolution of VR strictly relies on social,” said Hewish. “Although the social side is fun and is important, the best way to market VR right now is to try it early and often and by word-of-mouth.”
Rather than approaching from a pure profit and loss standpoint, Hewish said giving away premium VR experiences for free will help marketing penetration as well. Testing, failing and learning to make it right will help future iteration.
In its quest to become more social, VR needs to ultimately break the boundaries of the technologies that came before it, Stone said. One way to do so is to shun controllers and clickers and create interaction through gesture and eye-gazing, which will become a critical part of consumers using their intuitions to create their own stories.
“It’s an open landscape to get creative,” Stone said.