It’s getting obvious that everyone is excited about the arrival of virtual reality. According to a study by research firm Greenlight Insights, 71 percent of people surveyed said that VR makes brands seem “forward-thinking and modern.” Even people who have never tried the technology indicated they were interested in it.

AdWeek quoted Greenlight Senior Vice President Steve Marshall’s explanation for the results: “We’re seeing specific VR activities have unique emotional footprints, offering fascinating insights for those who are considering their VR strategies.”

The powerful, experiential nature of virtual reality is also shaping up to be a perfect fit for the needs and tastes of the influential Millennial cohort: “A study by Harris Group found that 72 percent of millennials prefer to spend more money on experiences than on material things.”

The VR revolution is happening, and at a pace even the rosiest predictions undersold.

Change is Accelerating

It took decades for radio and television to go mainstream, but today’s emerging technologies show no sign of waiting that long. Low cost options in particular are driving rapid adoption of virtual reality hardware: “Google has shipped millions of their Cardboard AR viewers and says that over the last year, search volume about VR has increased four-fold.”

The ease and relatively low expense of producing and distributing immersive experiences has spurred content creators to follow suit. “The New York Times” directed its in house branding unit, T Brand Studio, to develop the media company’s first virtual reality app, NYT VR in late 2015. Since its launch the app, ”…has been downloaded 600,000 times, the company said, and has featured branded films for both GE and Mini.”

More recently, the USA Today Network announced its first branded VR news show this past October. Called “VRtually There,” the show is released to YouTube Thursdays at 2PM ET, with Toyota as the premiere launch sponsor. In announcing the partnership, Lisa McQueen, Media Manager for Toyota Motor Sales, Inc. said that “The NETWORK’s approach to bold storytelling and use of new mediums aligns with our brand and our creative approach for the new 2017 Toyota Camry.”

Outlyer Technologies in Los Angeles recently launched one of the first VR ad platforms, Advrtas, which enables advertisers to serve 360-degree content in standard IAB mobile formats. Outlyer CEO Robert Bruzza also mentioned the added advantage of new data to analyze that VR brings: “VR also helps sustain interactivity and the ability to add more touch points and keep gathering data, and create new data points like eye tracking to improve targeting and customize the user experience.”

 

Novelty is Not Enough

Alignment is a key point that the most successful and strategic players are focusing on. The whiz-bang novelty of VR is still a selling point, but as adoption continues to grow, audiences will increasingly expect more than mere spectacle. There needs to be a powerful narrative and underlying concept that satisfies the needs of brands and audiences alike.

For brands that have a product or service that requires a lot of demonstration and examination before purchase, VR is proving to be a particularly capable tool. Joe Richards, director of research and market intelligence for Cox Automotive, called VR, “… the sleeping giant that could be another disrupter to significantly improve car shopping, the test drive and brand as well as dealer experiences.”

Shiraz Akmal, co-founder and CEO of Los Angeles VR studio Spaces Inc., took part in a panel discussion on the topic at the GameON Ventures conference, held in Toronto last month, and described the need to move past one-off gimmicks and drive deeper into creating more substantive and sustainable VR content: “For us, I always think whatever we make has to be awesome and cool but it also has to have a customer…”

Paula Elias, Director of Strategic Partnerships at StoryUP Studios, reiterated this point: “Before embarking on your VR journey, find someone who has figured out how to use it to tell story well. In the end, the same rules hold true for any marketing campaign. Find a partner that understands your brand and can tell your story well.”

 

Get On Board or Risk Missing the Wave

The risks of passing on the VR movement are starting to outweigh the risks of diving in. As the medium matures the early adopters will entrench their positions and it will be more difficult to carve out a niche. Start experimenting now. Whether by just creating a branded cardboard viewer, commissioning 360-degree content, or building out a fully interactive experience, the time is ripe for capitalizing on virtual reality.