The Fates Of VR, AR And Digital Marketing Are Intertwined

phil-2On TV And Video” is a column exploring opportunities and challenges in advanced TV and video.

Today’s column is written by Phil Schraeder, president and chief operating officer at GumGum.

2016 was expected to be the year of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR). For the first half of the year, every technology, publishing and advertising conference featured the latest VR tools.

But by the end of the year, only a handful of publishers and brands actively embraced the technology. AR had some noted success with Pokémon GO and Snapchat filters, but it didn’t spread like the wildfire so many predicted. So, what happened?

Skeptics may say that VR was never anything more than a fad that was bound to fizzle out, but this pessimistic take is simply not true. I believe VR and AR have bright futures, but both technologies need to mature, and this will be done by evolving alongside emerging digital marketing trends.

VR, AR and digital marketing are all going down similar paths that end with putting the customer in the experience, instead of just presenting them with it. Because of this, all three face the same overarching technical and interactive problems that plague other user experiences. Only by working and growing together will these hurdles be cleared.

VR is currently held back by its bulky, cumbersome hardware. The giant headsets and suits pull users out of the immersion and make it difficult to take the technology seriously, as evidenced by how many Ghostbusters jokes were made when Magic Leap previewed its new prototype.

In digital marketing, the rise of ad blockers, the abysmal performance of banner ads and the high number of “skips” on ads where it’s possible all demonstrate that there’s a frustration with how marketing material is delivered. The current ad units used by marketers aren’t aligning with consumer preferences in the same way that the VR hardware doesn’t align with the way people want to experience VR.

In terms of interaction, currently one of the biggest drawbacks of VR and AR is the fact that neither platform is truly immersive; they’re interactive. The difference here is very important because interactive experiences get users to engage, but they don’t make the user an actual part of the experience. VR is all about surrounding you, and AR is all about adding to your world, but neither are at a point where they can completely immerse users in a new experience; the user is always distinctly separate. In order to get to the place where users can be fully fledged members of a digital world, the technology must improve, and that requires selling an existing interactive solution to run the R&D required to create a new and better offering that is truly immersive.

This is where the paths of digital marketing, VR and AR all converge, and it’s exactly where all three need to be to reach their next stages. To be effective and solve the aforementioned user experience problems, marketers need to take the concept of “interactive” to the next level with fully immersive experiences. There are no better platforms to do this with than VR and AR.

VR, AR and digital marketing have the potential to form such a symbiotic relationship that their intertwining paths are a natural next step for each party. Marketers get the tools needed to create brand experiences in which customers can become fully immersed, and VR and AR get access to the resources they need to take their technology mainstream.

The immersive, interactive storytelling that marketers will finally be able to achieve will create emotional connections with customers that will drive engagement, which in turn will promote brand loyalty. With brands investing in their platforms, VR and AR companies will be able to make the developments needed to appeal to a wider audience. VR hardware will become slimmer and subtler, and AR platforms will better utilize computer vision and deep-learning technology to blur the line between the real and digital worlds.

The evolution is underway. Agencies are already using branded content as a way to further develop their VR technology and crafting skills, and AR startups are offering their services to brands as a way to make their apps more easily available to regular consumers. VR, AR and digital marketing need to evolve, but the only way they’re going to get to their next stage while satisfying their customers is by working together.

Follow GumGum (@GumGum) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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