Depending on where you stand, Virtual (VR) and Augmented (AR) reality are either “already here” or “a long ways off.” In fact, that perspective can change on a daily basis. In a lot of ways, the surge of VR has felt very similar to the surge mobile experienced in 2008. There is real demand for the technology and the only things keeping VR from going completely mainstream are the cost of the equipment and availability of content. If history is any indication (and it usually is), improvements in technology are going to remove those barriers within the next few years.
As a marketer, VR and AR can be incredibly useful tools. Whether it be providing the consumer the ability to see a product in a real world scenario, or adding depth to a brand’s story, VR and AR are likely going to be the canvases on which we work in the future. Therefore, it’s important that marketers establish their “mixed reality” strategies now before technology catches up and pushes VR and AR mainstream.
Definition of Mixed Reality
Before getting much further, it’s important to parse out the vocabulary that will be used in this article. For the purpose of this article, AR and VR will be intentionally combined into one cohesive medium, “Mixed Reality”. Similar to how Internet Radio and Terrestrial Radio are often combined as “Radio” when planning media, it’s important to think of VR and AR as one medium as well, because these platforms are very similar in both use case and ease of creation. Internet Radio and Terrestrial Radio are also activated separately based on utility, so while VR and AR will be combined under a single medium, they too should be activated separately based on utility.
One important point to understand is that 360° video is not Virtual Reality. While 360° video can be a slightly immersive experience, the types of experiences that will be discussed here are those that require more than just a 360° camera.
Pillars of a Mixed Reality Strategy
Being on the cutting edge of VR and AR means understanding that as the technology changes, so will the rules of engagement. However, there are four key pillars on which to plan and build a Mixed Reality experience.
Determining if a Mixed Reality experience makes sense for a brand starts with knowing and understanding the brand’s voice. As in Social Media, how you say something is just as important as what you say, and Mixed Reality can give additional depth to that message. Things to remember here include: “What would my brand offer in a Mixed Reality experience?”, “Is this experience something that my consumer would expect from your brand?”, and “Would the experience I’m envisioning add to the perception of my brand?” If the creation of a Mixed Reality experience doesn’t fit into the current brand voice, consider what kind of shifts would need to be made to better accommodate a Mixed Reality experience.
Reason to Engage
While this may seem fairly intuitive, the number of brands that haven’t considered this is surprising. A Mixed Reality experience should do one of two things: either add depth to a story; or, provide consumers utility. When marketers are thinking about what kind of experience to create, it’s imperative to consider why a consumer would want to engage with the experience. Of equal importance is for marketers to think about what differentiates their experience from that of a competitor’s. Competition in the market will likely be a reality for most brands as they create their experiences, so it’s important to review what’s already being offered and determine why the consumer would choose to engage with the brand’s new Mixed Reality experience.
Point of Engagement
One of the most important things to consider when creating a Mixed Reality experience is where you hope to engage the user. Is the experience being built meant to be interacted with at home, or should it take place at an event or in a mall? Where and how the consumer is meant to engage with the experience not only helps to inform the type of experience to create but also the distribution channels used to draw the target audience in. The point of engagement is also important when considering how the experience interacts with the surrounding area. When considering the effort required to develop an experience, it would be short-sighted not to consider the context in which a user might interact with that experience.
Close the Loop
Likely the most critical thing to think about when building a Mixed Reality experience is how it gets distributed to the target audience. To take it a step further, how you draw the target audience in is as important as the experience itself. If a brand creates a fully immersive VR experience, and nobody is around to engage with it, did it really happen?
One additional thing to consider is the effect engagement has on purchase intent. Early research shows that there is a lift in intent to purchase, but Mixed Reality is in its infancy and there is still much work to be done. However, just because the metrics aren’t fully understood at this time doesn’t mean that paying for distribution and tracking to goals should be neglected. It is an integral part of the process and one that the Mixed Reality marketer will need to consider.
Looking over the pillars above, it’s easy to see why they are important and how they tie together. Yet, as we look at the Mixed Reality experiences currently on the market we see that many have had a limited impact because they didn’t adequately consider all of the pillars. Virtual and Augmented Reality are still early in their respective life cycles, but they have advanced far enough for marketers to begin planning for their business impact.