The Truth about Virtual Reality for Most Brands
Peter Panda

One of my Christmas gifts this year was a virtual reality headset. I’d previously tried out a virtual tour of Hawaii and another of a college campus, and I thought the seemingly immersive experiences were exciting, so the headset went on my list.

The day after Christmas, I downloaded a dozen or so VR apps. They enabled me to attend Coachella, hang glide, stand toe to toe with a Bengal tiger and even tour parts of Italy. For an individual, the experience can be pretty intense, but two realities emerged for me that I didn’t expect.

First, virtual reality apps are mostly little 360-degree vignettes. You don’t typically have full control of the objects around you, of where you walk, ride, etc., or of how much you can interact with the people or places you see. It’s a movie in 360 degrees. It’s still just a step above what existed before — the immersive goggle experience is way better than just watching a 360-degree video or image on your phone — but think of it like going fromto VHS to DVD, not from DVD to Star Trek.

Certainly, more advanced VR apps and intentional immersive experiences can offer interactivity and the like, but for most people who will have to access VR on their smartphones using a headset viewer, there are limitations.

The second realization was that brands probably should tread softly here. VR content needs to be content that your customers want, will find exhilarating and feel will add value to their experience with your brand.

Let those requirement sink in for a second, then ask yourself if your brand is able to deliver content that meets those standards. Can you? Really?

If you are struggling to create content, experiences and value in blog posts, social media posts, videos or images or even at events, how do you think you’ll fare in an emerging field where creativity and technology have to meet at a perfect apex to deliver the value necessary to make VR a success?

Sure, Robert Scoble and others are gaga about VR. But the reality of our marketing world is that 99% of brands won’t be good at it. And a fair number of those 99% will try it and screw it up.

Unless you have a clear strategic direction that is consumer focused and adds value to their experience, just get your own headset, download some apps and enjoy VR as a consumer. It’ll save you a lot of time and money.

Of course, if you’d like someone to help you figure out how VR can be engaging, exhilarating and valuable to your audience, drop us a line. We’d love the challenge.

Peter Panda

Pioneering social media panda bear Tagawa “Peter” Panda was born on a Chinese game reserve in 1969. He emigrated to the United States in 1987 speaking no English, with only the fur on his back and $97 stored in a Jansport fanny-pack wrapped around his waist.

In 2003 while searching for food on the campus of Washington University, he discovered a computer lab where he would ultimately teach himself web development, graphic design, and immerse himself into the growing digital media evolution that was erupting at the time.

With his trademark surly demeanor developed during beatings on his boat ride from China to the U.S., as well as having a penchant for eating vast quantities of bamboo, and enjoying Scotch and cigars, Peter is broadly recognized for coining the phrase “social media” in 2004. He joined Elasticity in late 2009 as the agency’s director of social media strategy and wildlife relations. Friend him on Facebook here.

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