Advancing AR/VR Marketing with the Principles of Storytelling and Gaming

This piece was developed from my talk at ContentTech19.

As technology advances, the art and science of storytelling continue to play a powerful role in marketing. However, it is important to develop an understanding of what makes storytelling engaging and how technology can better facilitate the power storytellers hold, as well as how storytelling creates more engagement through all this exciting new tech.

I want to make it clear… How much longer do you think simple banners and search tactics will work for you?  Video is taking over digital marketing.  On top of that, digital marketing is taking over traditional marketing:

If your brand is seeking a competitive advantage, ARVR just might be right for you.

 

The 4 Principles of Storytelling and How They Apply to AR/VR for Marketing Purposes

The four principles that underpin the art of storytelling can be applied to AR and VR to increase the performance of any given marketing experience that can be created with technology and thereby increase the ROI your marketing dollars deliver. Before we dive deeper, those four principles are:

  • Engaging in the Human Experience  
  • Having a Deep Knowledge of the User
  • Using Schema to Guide Human Experience in AR/VR
  • Create a Dialogue with Your Customers

A Brief Introduction

“VR is not a new technology. It just became more accessible”.  That quote from Jeremy Bailenson probably raises more than a few eyebrows. How is VR not new? It hasn’t even hit critical mass yet. No, it hasn’t, but the fact remains that it has been around for decades at this point. It’s only the way that we access it that has changed.

This is critical for understanding the role that any technology plays in marketing. The sentiment that underlies Bailenson’s quote is actually the foundation for understanding that technology, whether it’s VR or another vehicle, is only a facilitator in great marketing. It’s not the vehicle that gets your message out there, but the message itself. Great marketing will always be tied to the power of storytelling, but storytelling is evolving with AR/VR and it is about intelligently engaging people in the human experience.

The technology behind AR and VR has been around since before the time of the first Jurassic Park, back in 1993. Of course, things have changed a lot today. Technology now allows us to provide high fidelity, immersive experiences for much more reasonable prices, and the barrier to entry is much lower, as well.

For instance, I remember working on a 3D project during my Art Center College of Design days, mixing film and 3D together. The deadline was looming, but I got stuck on one particular aspect. I reached out to the teacher, who had all the answers, but this time I had received a surprising response. Because the project was innovative and 3D technology was not well understood at the time, she said, “I have no idea how to help you. You’re on your own.”  This is when I started to really realize my own skills.

Back in the 1990s, the time spent on rendering and reflection mapping was 10 times greater than on a Mac today. Of course, there was no YouTube, so you couldn’t just look up tutorial videos, either. I was terrified, but figuring this out all on my own through testing was a transformative experience in my life. Really, it was that ah-ha moment, that “Eureka!” epiphany that so many search for and never experience. I realized that I wasn’t just another creative, but that I could engineer complex elements into a seamless story using digital bits and ideas.

Today, the same project would require hours of rendering, not months, but despite that, the hardest part is not mastering the technology. The most challenging issue in regard to engineering complex elements into a seamless story is knowing what we should make, why, and what the human experience is about.

The result of that particular project is that I was ultimately offered a job at Rhythm and Hues, the same visual effects studio that would go on to put out movies and shows like Life of Pi, G.O.T., Walking Dead. They wanted me as a VFX director, but I turned the offer down. Even given the company’s massive success today, I still don’t regret the decision. Why? I was able to pursue telling stores because it’s the stories we tell and the ability to understand the human experience within those stories that allow us to engage people’s hearts and minds. Fast-forward several decades. Today, we stand in a place where technology is so effortless that I am able to focus on the story almost exclusively. That’s where my passion is applied.

Ultimately, those experiences, combined with the continual evolution of technology and my ever-developing knowledge of storytelling and an understanding of how technology can be used to make it more immersive and connective, led me to build Noble Digital, where I lead a creative team and work with companies like: Plated.com, New Balance, AT&T, AB-InBev, and Fundrise to tell stores that matter to people.

AR/VR Is Just another Tool

Again, AR/VR is not new. It’s been available to marketers and consumers for a very long time at this point. It has just become more accessible and more visible. And, regardless of whether you’re using AR/VR or a different vehicle completely, the most important consideration is your ability to tell a story and to understand the human experience. Actually, the marketing world is littered with potential tools. Just look at the marketing technology landscape.

It’s pretty easy to get lost in that, wouldn’t you say? You’ve got thousands, maybe tens of thousands, of tools spread across various categories that range from advertising and promotion to content and experience to commerce and sales, management, and more. Despite that incredible diversity, there’s one thing that makes marketing work across all those technologies. What is it? Stories – creating dialog and engaging people in the human experience.  And AR/VR like video, is a perfect vessel for creating emotions around a brand or user’s story..

Why Use AR/VR Now?

Why has AR/VR become the powerhouse that it has if storytelling is the most important thing and you are able to tell compelling stories and communicate the human experience through so many other marketing tools? It’s really just because it is now more accessible. The way we use it to connect to the audience continues to be rooted in the power of storytelling. At its core, we are simply trying to understand the human experience and communicate that across different media.

Applying the 4 Principles of Storytelling to AR/VR Marketing

The four principles we have discussed are intended to increase the performance of any given experience you can create with technology. That increases the ROI of your marketing dollars and delivers greater value and traction. Below, we’ll dive deeper into the four principles that we touched on at the beginning of this post and explore how they can be applied to AR/VR marketing efforts.

#1: Engaging in the Human Experience

One thing that games do well is draw on the human experience. For examples, think about Red Dead Redemption or The Last of Us. Bioshock and Silent Hill have also been lauded for their storytelling. I’m not saying that AR/VR is the same as a video game but the addictive nature of these games can lend us some insight in what could make an AR/VR experience engaging.  

Of course, video games tell a drawn-out story that could take a month to unfold and in AR/VR for marketing, you have less time to capture interest and engage your audience. That means we can create something that is basic and fun and helps the user get a good laugh. On the other end of the spectrum is the full immersive AR/VR experience where you have to consider how much freedom or agency you give the user as the storyteller.

In this way, I feel that AR/VR shares some similarities with game theory. Both draw on the human experience. It is that element of the human experience that makes games addictive. They hit home on many fronts, including:

  1. Sensation: Game as sense-pleasure
  2. Fantasy: Game as make-believe
  3. Narrative: Game as drama
  4. Challenge: Game as obstacle course
  5. Fellowship: Game as social framework
  6. Discovery: Game as uncharted territory
  7. Expression: Game as self-discovery
  8. Submission: Game as pastime

Within an AR/VR experience, you have mere minutes to engage at this level. You really begin to see that what you want to create for marketing becomes more complex if you want to guide the user to emote and actually experience specific emotions, such as pleasure. That’s not to say that we all want immersive experiences. The power of creating something more basic and fun is the opportunity to create a dialog with the user. So, how do you draw on these human experiences? That hinges on the second principle.

#2. Having a Deep Knowledge of the User

Within any AR/VR experience, the user is the one who interprets the experience. They are in charge. They have the agency. To build an effective interface in AR/VR, we must consider agency and that adds another dimension to our understanding of the buyer.

Leveraging schemas to better understand human behavior is a critical consideration in this aspect. I’ll cover schemas below, but for now, understand that when we delve into AR/VR experiences, user profiles are really just the beginning. They’re nowhere near enough. They will not get you from point A to point Z. Those profiles need to be expanded into something more closely resembling an actual human being by considering human psychology and its role in the decision-making process.

Surprisingly, many companies including Inc. 1000 firms, have yet to even develop basic profiles, much less build robust representations of their various customers complete with an understanding of how that individual’s experiences shape and affect their decisions. Without that deep knowledge, your marketing budget would be better spent in places where you can tell a better, more engaging story.

In AR/VR marketing, your goals for what a user should feel and think, or actions they should take, are subject to how the user interprets their experience. That leads us into point number three – schema and using it to guide human experience within AR/VR.

#3. Using Schema to Guide Human Experience in AR/VR

Schema – it’s probably a relatively unfamiliar word to you, so let’s start with a brief explanation. It’s not a user profile. It’s not even a robust persona that represents an individual consumer. Rather, it is a bit harder to explain. Let me tell you a story about when I was eight.

I was walking down the street one day with my parents. It was a day like any other, except that on this day, I witnessed a car accident. Not just a fender-bender, either. I saw a car completely flip over. My first instinct was to run away and to take my parents with me. Why? My immediate thought was that the car would catch on fire and then explode, killing all three of us where we stood on the street.

Of course, nothing remotely like that happened. There was no fire, no explosion. My reaction was not informed by real-world experience, but by television shows I’d seen where cars that flipped over always turned into horrific fireballs.

My reaction – that’s an example of a schema.

Take a look at the image below and we’ll break my behavior down:

  1. Data is received – I witness the accident and the car flipping over.
  2. A pattern emerges – I remember seeing similar accidents on TV in which cars blew up after flipping over.
  3. Schema takes place – I connect the two things in my mind, the real-world car accident and the TV world where cars explode on impact.
  4. A model is formed – I create a mental image of the car blowing up and killing the three of us where we stand.
  5. Behavior occurs – Terrified that the car will blow up, I run away.

Human behavior is modeled on patterns we observe in relation to our experiences. It does not matter if those experiences are “real”, either. In this instance, my behavior was modeled on experiences I had while washing a TV show where cars inexplicably exploded in accidents.

In short, schema is a pattern of thought that organized information and the relationship between those pieces of information. As storytellers, we strive to make people think or feel in a certain way. We want people to take a specific action. We investigate the multitude of schemas that can exist so that we can engage the user in a way that helps us reach those goals. So, schema is important because it helps you understand how the user transforms the story you are telling into their own. It also makes schema vital to great marketing in AR/VR because that is all about combining the complex elements of human behavior into a story that the user plays a part in creating.

Ultimately, the way a person experiences a story – what they feel, think, and do – is instinctively informed by schema, which can be unpredictable. To help reduce the risk of unpredictable behavior on the part of users within an AR/VR experience, and to ensure the best ROI possible with this particular marketing tool, we cannot rely on technology alone. We also need decision trees to help us predict schema. You probably know about this if you’ve ever been through a website build from beginning to end and properly used messaging and story to traffic your audiences to the right destination.

#4. Using Mobile to create a Dialogue with Customers with AR/VR

For a very long time, AR/VR has been mostly associated with brand awareness. It’s been useful primarily as a top-of-funnel tool to start people on their journey to becoming customers. There was really no way to measure ROI. However, things have changed since that time.

That is thanks in large part to tools like Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram. All three of these social networks have created AR kits for iOS and Android devices that have made AR/VR more accessible than ever before. An AR kit is similar to an app development kit and provides developers with the tools necessary to create persistent AR experiences, as well as shared AR experiences. They can even include objects in the real world within their apps.

Speaking of the company’s Spark AR Studio, Facebook says, “Use Spark AR Studio to build stunning creative effects for the camera. Combine your own textures and objects with AR Studio features to create a huge range of effects – from simple masks to interactive games. Learn how to bring your most imaginative augmented reality ideas to life.” Snapchat offers something very similar, and you can watch a video of the platform’s AR kit in action here.

For any organization thinking about making the leap into AR/VR, mobile technology is a game changer. There’s no need for a massive budget, or for a new development team. AR kits do all the computing, and there’s not even a need to create separate versions for iOS and Android.

Getting the word out about your AR/VR experience is also simpler and easier than ever before. Most social platforms have the tools you need to identify your target audience built right in. All you need to do is come up with your own creative and storytelling, and then draw the user in. Not only that, but these platforms also make it possible to scale the experience to any degree and to share it with others.

As you might have guessed, mobile is the key to benefiting from AR/VR at the present moment. The company unafraid to leap in with both feet and build experiences using existing tools will be the one that wins. Those who wait timidly on the sidelines will lose.

How do these AR kits tie into creating a dialog with your users? Snapchat is a great example. The platforms’ kit already has frameworks and themes that can be customized to any degree you might need. All that’s left for you to do is to identify the human experience that you want to create for your user. The eight experiences we discussed at the beginning of this post now come into play:

  1. Sensation: Sense-pleasure
  2. Fantasy: Make-believe
  3. Narrative: Drama
  4. Challenge: Obstacle course
  5. Fellowship: Social framework
  6. Discovery: Uncharted territory
  7. Expression: Self-discovery
  8. Submission: Pastime

I go into deeper detail on each one of these in my talk.  See a short excerpt below:

 

Choose the experience you want to evoke, and then evaluate your customer profile and create a story that helps to bring it to life for your users. Ultimately, AR/VR can be complex. However, technological evolution has made it less so. In fact, it has gotten to the point that it is more about ensuring you’re telling the right story and creating the right experience for consumers.

In Conclusion

I write this assuming that you already have a solid brand in place. Without great branding, it will be hard for any initiative to perform well. When everything is said and done, good storytelling requires a firm understanding of the human experience. In marketing, that helps create positive outcomes and achieve your goals, and AR/VR is no exception to this rule. Experiences and emotion are how human beings relate to one another, and that drives conversations and creates a lasting impression. In order to create that emotional experience, your knowledge of the user is the most important factor. Make that understanding the center of your conversation and go from there.

For those who want to dive deeper into understanding the human experience and how storytelling principles can support a better AR/VR experience, click here to download slides of the presentation I gave at ContentTechSummit.

Noble Digital Founder, Allen Martinez has created successful campaigns for some of the largest brands on the planet, including: Coca-Cola, In-Bev, Subway, Nestle, AT&T, Quest, Hilton Hotels, Burger King, Univision, Yamaha, Miller Lite, Proctor & Gamble, Heineken, Orbitz, Wrigley’s and he has applied those same principals to help growth companies like: Telesign, Plated and Fundrise, and BiohmHealth to scale and hit business goals and exit goals as well as helping mid-tiers and Fortune 500s optimize their outward facing communications for maximum performance around business goals.