Marketing's New Reality-Virtual and Augmented

Robert Schefferine, VP of Production, ABC, Inc.
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Everyone reading this article knows just how fast the pace of technological change is happening. That’s nothing new. It’s been pointed out many times before, how the computing power we hold in our hands with our phones today is equivalent to (or greater than) the power of supercomputers that were used to send men into space. This is all very exciting (albeit a little daunting) to the average consumer of this technology but for the marketing executive, it’s mainly stress inducing.

Finding and engaging a consumer for your product or service has always been an interesting and complex dance between art, instinct and some science occasionally cutting in. Now, dance has become an intimate embrace of science and art with instinct becoming the occasional interloper. From the beginning of a campaign they must be used together to identify where your customers are, create unique, meaningful creative content and personalized experiences for them and delivered over a vast array of devices and platforms. Of course all along the way, from initiation to activation, you need to collect, analyze and optimize all the data you amass from this exercise.

Whether you’re part of an in-house marketing department or an agency, knowing that this needs to be part of every campaign is imperative. Knowing how to manage and execute this is overwhelming at best and darn near impossible most times. And if your product is content, well as you can imagine, getting people to consume your content and messages on multiple platforms (with unique creative created for these platforms) to convince them to go see other content is no easy feat (or for the feint hearted).

Today’s production or in-house agencies need new set of skills to compliment traditional creative tools used to produce engaging content. Just as marketing strategy departments need data scientists to optimize all the data collected, creative teams now need to know about game engines, haptics, spatial audio, 3 dimensional space and the camera nadir, to name just a few of the techniques employed to make great VR and AR content.

  In all phases of the content creation business a new way of approaching creative production is beginning 

Fortunately, there are applications, software development and upgrades happening on an almost daily basis that are making it easier for creative professionals to wrap their heads around all this and to play in a new sandbox. For example, they may not need to know how to write code but they do need to know that some code would need to be written and who could write it. Game engines, such as Unity or Unreal have made their base code available for users and developers to add to in order to customize it for a particular purpose. This can make it possible for much faster and efficient creation of unique content without having to have an M.I.T. PhD in computer programming on staff (although that would be helpful). In my opinion this is critical for the mass creation of next generation interactive experiences in Virtual and Augmented Reality. Marketing departments in the media business usually do not have the luxury of having a year to develop and distribute a piece of content to the marketplace. Their timeframes are usually on the months and even weeks type of scale.

Other tools to quickly help create a more realistic and immersive experience are just around the corner as well. Lenovo already makes a phone with software on it that can easily create a 3D map of a place (or person) and Google will be upping the ante on that later this year. This will open the door to all sorts of AR creation. It’s incredible really, that something that used to take a large stage with motion tracking sensors and copious amounts of computing power can now be condensed into almost any useable space and a phone. Although, of course, for high-end creative concepts you’ll still need a larger production infrastructure and expertise.

In my case, I’m fortunate to have highly motivated, talented production professionals who have eagerly jumped into learning new skills by experimentation. Editors who have spent the majority of their careers cutting traditional promo and commercial spots have become experts on shooting and editing Virtual Reality content. They have been perfecting stitching methods (the seamless integration of all the camera angles in a multi-cam VR rig) and creatively eliminating nadir issues (the black hole or bottom of the camera rig) or any unwanted crew or equipment that may be captured during a shoot. They are excited by the possibilities this new medium brings.

Other creative and technical personnel are working together to understand game engines and the requirements needed to create our next gen AR experiences and are eager to share their learnings with the rest of the staff. 

In all phases of the content creation business, a new way of approaching creative production is beginning. Now, in the concept phase, discussions are starting to focus on whether the creative idea is to be optimized for an Head Mounted Display (HMD) experience, a handheld device or for a fixed screen location (such as a desktop or wall mounted TV). For marketing purposes, the answer is usually all of the above. So then the planning centers on making a great piece of creative and adding (or subtracting) elements based on target platform distribution is gaining pace. For success it takes everyone involved, from strategy to creation and distribution to be on the same page regarding realistic creative objectives and how it aligns with the desired business end goal.

The media and entertainment industry is in a time of tremendous disruption. Some companies will be fighting just to stay relevant. I believe the companies that will thrive in this environment will know how to reach their target consumers with personalized content that is easy to access and engages them on multiple levels. This will only happen with companies that understand their marketing efforts need to be reflective and optimized for not only what is possible now, but for where they will be interacting with their customer in the future.

As the great hockey player Wayne Gretsky once said when asked if there was a secret to his success,

“I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.”

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