Creating world-class immersive experiences for brands, agencies, and media is not something every studio is equipped to do. I’ve worked in gaming and tech for 12 years, most recently creating the Autodesk Live brand, and I’m now at Rewind in the role of general manager to expand the company’s vision as an AR, VR, and MR innovator.
As a brand marketer you’re likely to be pitched augmented, virtual and mixed reality projects daily. Don’t tune them out. Instead, cut to the chase using these five questions to spot the best studios. The good ones can answer these questions simply and explain AR/VR/MR differences in five minutes or less.
How many developers do you have in-house?
To make something great you need great builders, likely more than five. Right now in the AR/VR space, great builders are coming from the gaming industry, rarely the movie industry. Devs should be in-house, not outsourced. These days too many “producers” pitch creative that can’t be built because they don’t have a regular dev team they work with. The quality suffers as they figure out their working relationship on your dime.
Try to find a studio that meets your creative needs and has the build team to execute. This avoids the blame game that is all too common when multiple parties work on a project. In short, get a single company you can hold accountable for great results.
What percent of your revenue comes from AR/VR?
Make them put their money where their mouth is. If AR/VR is a five percent revenue stream tacked on to their larger services, assume they are not taking it seriously. You see this from the bigger agencies who use AR/VR as an enticing add-on to their higher margin services they’ve churned out for years, but they’re not embracing AR/VR as the powerful connection tool that it has the potential to be. In this scenario your AR/VR experience will be regarded as an afterthought, which can have a hugely detrimental effect on your products and brand. Think about the last time you skipped an ad because it was sub-par — it’s worse in AR/VR because you’re inside the ad. Nothing will get an app deleted faster than a bad experience.
To be great in this new and ever evolving space, you have to be truly dedicated to figuring out the hard problems. Often, this means breaking even to ensure a client gets true value, big companies have a hard time wrapping their heads around this. Despite recent predictions from Digi-Capital that the AR could reach $85 billion to $90 billion and VR $10 billion to $15 billion revenue by 2022, it’s still early days for marketing spends, so you need a partner that will stretch your dollar.
How successful were your last three high-profile projects?
You’re fishing for a track record of paying clients ($200k+ per project). You don’t want to be the first! Paying studios to learn is a fool’s errand and there is a massive trail of bad VR that ranges from gimmicky product placement to what amounts to awful “fly-on-the-wall” nauseating 360 degree video. Gizmodo writer Michael Nunez, put it rather succinctly in his 2016 article titled “Don’t Waste Your Time on VR Marketing Ploys” where he concludes, “if it’s not making the experience even better than it already was, it shouldn’t exist in the first place.” While the tech has massively improved since then, we are still seeing plenty of bad marketing executions, this hurts adoption of the platform, please help stop it.
Asking about the last high profile project helps you determine if those projects added any value to the company, and if that client became a repeat customer. Many brands have dabbled in the immersive space, but if you can find a studio that has repeat business from top clients like a Google, a Nike, or a Coca-Cola, they’re likely doing something right.
How are you addressing my reach concerns?
You’re a marketer, after all, and reach is one of the biggest challenges with this medium. If they say “we can build a great experience, but it’s on you to get the eyeballs” walk away. Every good AR/VR studio should be helping you address the reach issue with smart strategy. Stunts like the New York Times mailing Google Cardboard to their audience aren’t scalable.
Despite this, there are still many things that an agency should be helping you with to address reach. If the VR experience is showing up at a trade show, make sure press get VIP access. If you’re doing an activation at a consumer event, make sure your influencer networks get VIP access. If you’re releasing content for the home market, make sure your agency delivers promotional assets that wow people on social, like Valve did for the launch of HTC Vive in 2016 with this video asset that perfectly captured that hard to nail description of what it’s actually like to experience VR. What I’ve outlined here should be easy stuff for a great partner, but you need to be able to trust your studio’s strategy. If they don’t know, you don’t go.
Why would you use AR/VR to market my brand?
The novelty of VR is over and it will soon go for AR. Gone are the days of headlines reading “X brand uses AR/VR, they’re innovative!”. If your studio doesn’t know why their AR/VR pitch achieves your goals better than a TV, outdoor, or social buy, they aren’t for you. Seeing your product on a coffee table through AR, or looking 360 degrees in a branded scene in VR doesn’t automatically build brand affinity. One example of missing the mark with a brand in VR is the ill-fated Jumanji VR experience that charged a premium for what was largely regarded as a rush job. An agency has to explain why AR/VR is the only medium that can achieve the customer connection you want. If they can’t, they aren’t serious about the space and won’t be around in AR/VR for the long haul.
Your brand deserves a partner that has real vision for how AR/VR experiences can elevate your business. Avoid getting suckered into the hype of “emotional connection,” “empathy,” and “immersion.” These words are obvious abilities of the platform, but they’re used as fluff by people that don’t know what they want to build for you. Make your AR/VR studio explain the actual experience they have in mind and focus on the wow moments that will blow your customer’s minds. Good luck!
Rick Davis has worked in gaming and tech for 13 years, most recently joining REWIND as General Manager to expand the studio’s vision as an AR and VR innovator, creating world-class immersive experiences for brands, agencies, and studios.