Marketers have much to consider when faced with the opportunity of creating content in augmented reality or virtual reality—not the least of which is to make sure to develop an engaging experience that users will remember.

Over one billion augmented reality-capable devices are expected to be in existence by the end of the year, which is why the technology is currently experiencing a kind of renaissance in marketing. Partly, this is driven by camera features on social media platforms such as Facebook and Snapchat.

By comparison, virtual reality is considerably less accessible to users—since it requires viewers such as Google Cardboard, expensive in-home headsets, or special venues—but it offers the highest degree of immersion for branded experiences.

“Many people are still sorting out the difference between AR, VR and mixed reality,” said Joey Jones, executive creative director at reality, speaking with AListDaily. “A lot of AR experiences right now are one-trick novelties, which is fine, but it’s not going to get people interested in returning to it as an evergreen touchpoint.”

According to Jones, AR has a lighter touch than VR and it’s designed for shorter interaction on phones. The technology works well because it integrates brands with the real world, but Jones also notes that current apps tend to be static, with most users pointing their phones at one object. Stronger AR experiences use movement to give users opportunities to explore their environment and see how brands fit into it.

VR still has significant benefits like allowing creators control every aspect of the environment, which “can be both a blessing and a curse.” VR can offer much bigger and fantastic experiences, making it ideal for movies and other theatrical experiences—and more expensive.

Premium Experiences

Then, there is the matter of choosing between a mobile experience, a premium experience for high-end headsets or a combination of both.

“It comes down to the type of property that you’re trying to get the message out for,” said Jones. “If it’s a car, where the fidelity of its craftsmanship, look and feel are very important, then it’s better for a more premium VR experience.”

If premium experience is the right choice, it will likely require an installation at an event or arcade—with the added benefit that it can include features like haptic feedback, wind machines and props that expand user immersion.

When creating a VR experience, “always consider your audience,” said Rewind CEO and founder Sol Rogers. “Designing compelling and engaging experiences is user-centric, and wherever possible in the scoping, development and testing phases you should engage with the likely end-users and assess their responses.”

Key questions marketers should address are what users are focusing on, which details generate the biggest negative and positive reaction. 

Measure The Measurable

As for the issue of reach, Rogers said it’s important to address it with a smart content and marketing strategy. “If you’re releasing on a platform, make sure the media gets early access for reviews,” he explained. “If you’ve created a VR experience for a PC powered head-mounted display, make sure there are 2D assets for social. Amplification around the high-quality content is vital to extend reach and awareness and ensure ROI.”

“For both VR and AR ads, we find valuable insight in how users experience them, from the formats, templates and triggers that encourage engagement,” added Vince Cacace, founder and CEO at Vertebrae.

Both Rogers and Cacace agree that engagement and in-time experience are some of the primary metrics creators should keep in mind when measuring the success of experiences.

For AR, measurements include the number of photos taken or products that are engaged with.

For VR, marketers need to monitor what users are engaging with and whether they’re fully exploring the virtual space, keeping an eye out for blockers and areas that never get visited.

Additionally, Rogers explained that marketers need to define what success looks like when it comes to an experience.

“If it is crucial that a user takes away three key points of information, but you create a purely visual feast for the eyes, you will have failed,” Rogers said. “Always consider what the objective and takeaway need to be.”

Creators will have to build in cues to help direct the user’s attention to the right objects. Vertebrae’s analytics show that most people look straight ahead almost the whole time when viewing a 360 video, which is something that Cacace believes will remain the case until more people understand the medium. Rewind also developed a set of internal tools to track where users are looking, how they position themselves, and typical routes they take to help optimize the design.

A Provocative Example

A major case study includes last year’s partnership between Unity and Lionsgate to create a VR advertisement for the theatrical release of the horror movie Jigsaw. The experience was built using Unity’s Virtual Room interactive ad format, which was developed within the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s (IAB) emerging ad experience guidelines and distributed within the Samsung Internet for VR app and the interactive VR comic book Nanite Fulcrum.

Tony Parisi, Unity Technologies’ global head of VR/AR brand solutions, told AListDaily that the company partnered with Isobar Marketing Intelligence Practice and used its Mindsight Technology tools to measure user biometrics and to better understand their unconscious emotional responses to VR when compared to mobile video experience—seeing which format inspired fear and excitement. The results indicated “massive advertising potential behind a fully immersive VR ad experience.”

Virtual reality generated a substantially greater emotional arousal and engagement than mobile video. Heart rates were elevated by 24 percent, skin response peaks per minute and sweating grew by 44 percent, and muscle activation—often associated with smiling—occurred more than three times as often.

“These statistics were for people who went through the entire VR experience, not just those who saw the trailer in VR,” Parisi explained. “Such results indicate that it’s not the act of being in VR that elicits such emotion, but rather the fully interactive ad format that Unity and Lionsgate employed.”

Behavioral data for VR is not yet at scale, so Unity is using emotional responses and user navigation through the experience to help guide future builds. By leveraging this information, more personal and responsive experiences can be created.

“Currently, we are merely scratching the surface of the potential metrics we can draw from immersive experiences which can be used to further enhance it,” said Rogers. “Imagine an experience that works out what you are enjoying the most during it, and dynamically shifts the content towards more of what you like in real-time. Seamlessly, you have created a unique campaign based on that single user. Personalization has been a marketing trend for a while now, and this takes it to another level.”

The More Famous Brother

Despite the potential VR marketing holds, augmented reality has the potential to reach more people.

“With VR, we can transport users directly into the brand world, amazing places that can positively affect brand affinity,” said Parisi. “But, VR is still limited in reach given that the devices number in the small millions. As a result, these types of in-store activations and bespoke applications are typically seen only by hundreds to thousands of people. By contrast, this is where the massive scale of AR presents a very exciting opportunity.”

Jones is also a strong believer in the potential for augmented reality, even though he admits that marketers are just starting to explore engaging uses and ways to make it more intuitive. But someday, branded augmented reality experiences may become as ubiquitous as webpages and dedicated apps.

“Right now, the catchphrase for AR is that ‘the phone’s camera is the new browser,’” said Jones. He imagines a near-future where QR codes can be found almost anywhere for users to point their phone cameras at to launch new experiences. Those experiences may be further enhanced with data such as location, time, weather, culture and biometrics, depending on how much information users are willing to share.

“AR is about personalization and utility,” Cacace added. “It’s about blending the physical and digital worlds to let consumers experience products in their real environments. For entertainment companies, it’s about making the consumer the star of the show and breaking down the glass barrier between themselves and the content.”

Parisi said that some techniques for creating engaging AR experiences include adding virtual objects—such as a product, beloved character or recognized brand—that can be seen through the camera. Augmented reality can also be used to completely transform a room so that users feel like they’re in an all-new space, or devices can be used as windows to see into fantastical 3D worlds.

With this in mind, marketers can deliver impactful, short-form fixed duration brand experiences leveraging a high scale advertising platform for AR distribution.

Mind The Gap

“With the high reach, deeply-compelling, brand experiences, marketers can understand user behaviors and interactions with the content to learn more about how people not only love the content of the app, but now the brand experiences that pays for it,” explained Parisi.

“As with other marketing channels, the idea is fundamental to success—and with these new mediums, arguably it’s even more so, due to the immersion and engagement of the user,” said Rogers. “Compelling content is king. Without this, it’s just tech.”

The gap between AR and VR may be closing with the recent launch of the Oculus Go portable headset and the expected release of the HTC Vive wireless adapter. Although the Oculus Go is better geared for 360-degree videos and light entertainment apps, VR headsets are likely to become smaller and more discreet while providing improved quality for experiences.

“The hardware is going to improve, and as it does, the measurement of how users interact with their environment will become more precise. The more input that you put into the experience, the richer they’re going to be,” said Jones.

“[When creating experiences], don’t think about today’s technology, but think about two or three years from now, and how much easier, ubiquitous and effortless they will become.”