Does Virtual Reality have a place in IT marketing videos?

I’ve always thought of making IT marketing videos as a semi-journalistic exercise — there’s no pretense as to objectivity, but the video certainly ought to communicate something true and worth knowing about. I recently attended a panel discussion at the New York Times on the future of virtual reality in traditional journalism. The Times preemptively grabbed the leadership position in VR journalism in November 2015, when it added a VR experience to its wide assortment of graphics and video options. What caught everyone’s attention wasn’t so much the video — the Times has lots of that— but the distribution of more than a million Google Cardboard viewers with the Sunday paper.

The history of this skunk-works style project, brought off without conspicuous upper-level management support, is an interesting business case you can hear about in this Times Insider podcast of the event. What came across most forcefully was these editors’ conviction that VR can support the institution’s journalistic mission. That’s why they insisted on tying their first VR project to the biggest story at the time, millions of people displaced from their homes and homelands. What made this VR experience feasible in the first place, of course, is that Google Cardboard was the only “technology” the Times needed to distribute. They could count on subscribers’ smart phones to deliver the VR content. That’s why I think what the Times is doing with VR videos could be relevant to IT marketing videos.

IT marketing videos need stories. VR, maybe not.

The small team at The Times continues to struggle to define the role of VR in a journalistic enterprise. VR editor Jenna Pirog (the first, and still the only editor in journalism with “VR” in her title), agreed that VR by itself isn’t very efficient for story-telling. You don’t control the point-of-view, commentary is intrusive, and VR takes up a lot of the reader’s time. (Difficulties with fictional VR storytelling are discussed in this blog post).

NY Times VR App and Google Cardboard. Is this relevant to I.T. video marketing?

NYT VR app and Google Cardboard. NY Times journalists agreed that one of the best applications for VR is to share an experience of place. That may be what’s best for I.T. video marketing, too.

There appeared to be consensus among the editors that what they look for in the stories that are pitched to them by the news desks is, “how crucial is sense of place to understanding the story?” In a story on the second battle of Fallujah, for example, reading that 70–90% of the 300,000 people who lived there fled would make anyone heartsick — but, as a mere fact, this is not especially memorable. The VR experience of riding through a shattered and depopulated city the size of Lexington, Kentucky is memorable beyond description. And we interact with VR technology using the normal tools of human interaction, turning this way and that, VR seems to call forth more empathy than other media. Research indicates that VR memories are stored in different areas of the brain.

What can we do with VR in IT Marketing videos?

The technology used to shoot VR at the Times is consumer-level — basically eight GoPro cameras on a stick. As Jenna noted, there are already two cameras (front and back) on most smart phones — so it probably won’t be long before we all have access to the technology needed to record 360 degree-VR. Editing this footage, says the former photo editor, isn’t technically difficult, but shot selection from 8 cameras covering 360 degrees is a lot to deal with.

So what will we who are involved in IT Marketing video be doing to deliver memorable messages with VR? Many IT value propositions involve abstractions like optimization, process automation, data management. They can be well described with metaphors, but VR metaphors a probably not worth a viewer’s time. Customer stories are an obvious starting point, but it’s also doubtful how immersively up-close-and-personal your prospects want to get with your customers. And vice versa.

I’ll be looking for places our clients’ or their customers do their work, and where the technology pays off. For example

  • Network Operations Centers run by our clients
  • Hardware clients who make equipment that is easy to install in a data center
  • Internet of Things things monitored and controlled by clients’

Anywhere you can offer a relevant viewer experience is a good place to start.

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