Exploring Data-Rich Opportunities Within Branded Realities

October 27, 2017 Alan Kittle

Artificial Reality? Virtual Reality? Frivolous, empty fun, right? No use, of course, for the serious-minded architects of brilliant branding. Well. Think again. 

I recently had the privilege of being asked to speak at the 2017 DMA &THEN Conference. The subject was our two-time nominated Echo Award 360/VR campaign for a partnership between Elle Magazine and Samsung Gear 360 camera.

I recapped both the challenges we experienced, and the triumphs. Triumph eventually loomed large, with the campaign, in the two days following the event, outperforming the esteemed fashion magazine by an astounding 1,137%. I also spoke about the powerful increase in audience engagement that was produced by our groundbreaking VR red carpet experience.  Across many of the most important engagement metrics—view time, positivity rating, shares, etc.—the numbers rose, and rose significantly.

This was by no means an anomaly. Other early adopter brands saw similar and startling results.  In July of last year, both Google and Columbia Sportswear witnessed major upside in many crucial areas after measuring their 360 content post-view interactions. As stated in their report:

“360 content trounced the standard film on all earned action metrics, including views, shares, and subscribes. In total, it drove 41% more earned actions. It also drove more engagement with Columbia's YouTube channel than the standard film.”  

360 content…TROUNCED.

Now. This is very impressive. But it should be remembered that these interactions were, for the most part, aligned to social content. Would they appeal as effectively to marketers whose engagement is primarily multichannel? That, right now, is the burning question. Precisely how much potential do branded realities wield in terms of adding new and vital engagement experiences to the customer’s buying journey? We’re currently spending a lot of time and effort trying to find out. Here are some thoughts, by channel.

Virtual Reality

Immersive storytelling through VR is currently “all the rave.” Guaranteed, it’s an interesting tool, but there’s little published evidence it positively impacts ROI. But…if marketers begin creating branded realities that can engage with customers in a way that reveals hidden and vital aspects, both conscious and unconscious, of the customer’s “buying” psyche, they then can use these discoveries to help re-engineer the buyer’s journey in a way that will prove very fruitful.

For example, fondness for a certain color, style, comfort level, whatever—this is all important psychographic data that can be gleaned to help construct a magnetic and effective buyer’s journey. 

Let’s take this hypothetical further: What if Nike builds a virtual street basketball court? They invite their fans to drop by and play a pick-up game with LeBron and Kevin Durant. And when we ask them to choose which sneakers their virtual self should wear, they…RIGHT THERE, STOP! In the answer to this authentic, off-the-cuff question, you will have uncovered remarkably important psychographic material: the sneakers they’d wear if the reality of money or availability was removed. That’s highly valuable, immediately available, actionable data that can be quickly followed up by offers for those very sneakers, for complementary clothing, etc. These little events are potential goldmines for sportswear brands like Nike.

Social VR

Facebook is currently betting on the allure of shared virtual experiences, that it will be the calling card of the future. With Spaces, they’ve created a domain where friends can hang out together, like they did in Bobby or Sandy’s basement back in high school. Soon this will be developed even further. Brands will create branded spaces where customers can assemble and interact with the space, the product, and with each other. 

Too tired to go downtown, but you want to visit a Virtual Apple Genius Bar? No problem! You’re there! Want to have an AI Flo from Progressive help you find cheaper car insurance in her virtual superstore? Sit back and enjoy your ice cream cone with sprinkles! Here’s a quote! And she’s available 24/7! That’s innovation worth experimenting with. From the joy of viewing film trailers, to the mundanity of renewing your cable contract, the possibilities here are endless. 

Augmented Reality

There might soon be a world full of people stumbling down city streets, wandering wild-eyed through fictional realities via the magic of untethered headsets, but that world has not yet arrived. Right now, mobile-first augmented reality (AR) experiences are THE thing. And through ARKit and ARCore, companies like Lowes and BMW will be at the forefront of the AR movement, infusing customers’ many devices with the purpose and product-centricity of their well-tailored branded realities. 

Seventy-two percent of 25–34 year olds desire a mixed reality experience when shopping. That is almost 3/4 of that hugely marketable age range. It would behoove all omnichannel retailers to add as much innovation to the shopping experience as possible.

Imagine teleporting their world into your store, or your products straight into their life? Imagine an AR catwalk in Macy’s with each shopper watching and controlling which outfits the fashion models wear, and then, inspired, running to an AR mirror to sample what they’ve just seen. And of course, the novelty and excitement that branded headsets would add to the experience! It could lead to higher spend per visit and/or savings on processing customer returns. 

Customer Journeys

All these data-rich interactions are going to prove immensely valuable for your analytics teams, too, and you stand to benefit profoundly as a result. You can use the data to construct new and more effective propensity models.

Loyalty, a huge determining factor in marketing, can now be easily gauged by how often a customer interacts with an AR or VR experience. Is the customer more likely to become a strong advocate if AR or VR offers them an interaction where they experience, almost firsthand, the joy on the faces of Peruvian children who benefit mightily from Giving Trips? TOMS certainly think so. Would passengers be more likely to use an airline that provides them with AR Wayfinding support during the manic traffic of a busy airport? American Airlines is betting on just that. 

Also, soon to become an actuality is hyper-personal, in-the-moment marketing. What if Whole Foods made recommendations based entirely on data culled from your previous shopping trips?  Shopping, then, would be transformed into a scalable, and personal one-on-one experience, something that leaves a strong afterglow in any customer long after they leave the store. 

Nope. There is nothing frivolous or empty in the use of AR and VR to strengthen your marketing. They are the tools, the machines, of the future. The high-powered engines that are quickly bringing brilliant marketing to the next level. Don’t wait.

About the Author

Alan Kittle

With over 25 years’ industry experience, Alan’s been leading award-winning integrated agency creative departments since 2006. He possesses extensive sector knowledge and is a master of the complete creative process – from brand creation to lead generation. He promotes his passion for big thinking and ‘ideas first, channels second’ mentality within his teams, by always looking for ways to encourage disruptive and brave creative decisions from his clients. Involved in all of Harte Hanks’ creative relationships with global brands including Samsung, Progressive, Bank of America and Sony, Alan loves creating ground-breaking content that wins awards and drives ROI.

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