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Should Virtual Reality be a Marketer's New Best Friend?

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Rob Holzer, Founder & CEO, Matter Unlimited

The first time I experienced live action Virtual Reality (VR) film, I instantly knew that this was an incredibly powerful new medium with which we could not only drive a lot of awareness around the challenges we face as a global community, but also do a lot of good. At Matter Unlimited, we amplify the power of brands and organizations to drive positive change in the world through storytelling in the modern multi-channel eco-system of marketing, advertising and digital. The virtual reality space is becoming more popular each day as brands, celebrities, news media and nonprofits are jumping on board to attempt to change the way storytelling is done in their respective industries.

Beyond just making compelling content, a key goal for us is ensuring this work actually creates the kind of empathy that drives viewers to action. Additionally, we need to be able to showcase strong ‘return on investment’ (ROI) in the VR space to those brands and nonprofits spending from their marketing budget.

Let me just say this clearly: VR is not for everyone’s message. More than any form of media I know, organizations truly need a compelling reason to put a viewer in the story through a VR experience or they risk the investment falling flat. I’ve seen my share of pointless VR already and it isn’t always pretty. Assuming you already have a fantastic story to tell that makes sense to the VR medium, there are three key elements you need to get right: 1) an organization must first define its goals in creating a VR experience (e.g. change brand perception, raise brand awareness, increase customer acquisition), 2) then they must clearly define their audience, and 3) they must establish specific metrics to measure their ultimate success.

When the team at Matter Unlimited set out to create a virtual reality film for the organization ChildFund International, we worked closely with both their leadership and marketing teams to define clear objectives, audience, and KPIs. While there are many ways of measuring the efficacy of VR content, the newness of the medium means more hard and fast metrics will become available as content libraries expand and measurement partners get on board (i.e. the likes of Nielsen, Millward Brown, etc.).

In order to measure the success of the film, we gauge reach and impact as it rolls out across multiple events and channels building new audiences while cultivating new donor acquisition for the nonprofit.

Here are four key metrics to consider when creating a VR marketing experience, and why virtual reality (when done right) really can be an advertiser's best friend:

Enhanced Brand Perception Among Existing Members / Audience

Though the space is increasingly getting more crowded, premiering a virtual reality film will help to present an organization as modern and newsworthy. ChildFund has existed since 1938, to help children around the world improve their well-being and helping them achieve their potential. They were looking for a new and innovative way to connect with current and potential donors/sponsors to engage a new generation in this important work. Rather than just showing and/or telling people about the wonderful work ChildFund is doing, the VR film lets them experience it for themselves.

Strengthening Existing Relationships

People must opt­ into experience VR, unlike the vast majority of branded work. Given this, we know that when a consumer/audience views an organization’s VR film, they are signing up for a deeper emotional connection with that brand. Virtual reality experiences can be so vivid that it can leave viewers with something very close to real visceral memories, and so it’s up to the brand (along with their agency and production partners) to make sure the content is worthy of this special connection. The storyline, editing, in-depth exploration into the subjects’ lives and the high quality production of “Inside Impact: The Return” has treated the subject matter with great respect, which in turn shows respect for the audience.

Raising Awareness Amongst New Audiences

When distributed and activated well, VR films have the potential to receive positive press and a ton of word of mouth exposure. The ChildFund film was launched at the Global Citizen concert last week in New York City to coincide with the UN General Assembly in New York City. From here, the VR film will be shown across the country on a local level by their street teams for grassroots fundraising so that potential sponsors can witness first-hand the impact they can have on a child’s life and become sponsors themselves.

Since its launch in September 2015, the metrics on our first “Inside Impact” series film that featured President Clinton and the Clinton Global Initiative have been impressive and we’ve learned a great deal from the experience. “Inside Impact: East Africa,” has received 150 million impressions across a number of prestigious media outlets, from technology to business and philanthropy, exposing the organization and film to new audiences in key demographics (“globally conscious citizens”).

Creating Personal Connections with New Audiences

Because VR is so new and receiving wildly positive reactions, many people want to try it. Creating a VR film gives organizations a reason to be at events and conferences they otherwise would not have much of a presence at, which enables them to engage existing and new audiences in a personal, intimate way. Already, we’ve seen a huge jump in the amount of new sponsor sign-ups at the first concert where ChildFund did an activation with this film. 10% of viewers committed to sponsorship – three times the number of signups they typically get …on a good day.

In addition to the above objectives and KPIs, virtual reality has the power to achieve a number of organizational goals. As more players in our industry – from corporate brands to nonprofits and philanthropic foundations – dive in and join the ongoing experiment, we will see more metrics being published across desired customer/supporter actions.

From driving brand consideration, familiarity, purchase, loyalty, advocacy, and even ongoing / sustained interest and engagement, virtual reality is fast becoming a powerful tool in telling stories that truly impact people’s lives and fosters a profound empathetic connection with the audience. Use this new medium wisely with great care - just as you would treat a great friend.

About the Author

Rob Holzer founded Matter Unlimited to drive positive, lasting change in the world by leveraging the power of advertising, digital marketing and branding. Under Rob’s leadership, Matter Unlimited has created powerful campaigns for client partners including Facebook, HP, UNICEF, ABC/Disney, NBC Universal, Kimpton and TED. In 2015, Rob and his team launched a virtual reality (VR) film series featuring global stories of social change, titled “Inside Impact”. The first film, Emmy-nominated “Inside Impact: East Africa,” is a journey with President Clinton through the Clinton Global Initiative’s work in the region. Matter Unlimited continues to pioneer content for social impact in the emerging VR/AR space.