What the latest VR breakthroughs mean for brands
A view from Matt Vernon-Clinch

What the latest VR breakthroughs mean for brands

Rewind's accounts director explains how to take branded VR experiences to the next step.

Currently, we are merely scratching the surface of the potential metrics we can draw from VR experiences. As the technology advances, providing us with deeper insights, VR will become an essential communication channel for brands. A thousand meaningful impressions are worth more than a million meaningless ones and VR is the perfect medium to create true engagement. 

One of the most exciting things to a technophile such as me is not only being hands-on with the tech first but also inferring how tech advancements will fundamentally shift the advertising industry.

Predicting the future use cases for new tech is a dark art, but sometimes the stars align and the path seems obvious. Let me explain the two significant advancements in the next generation of VR hardware that will place VR in a very different measurable space: eye-tracking and biometrics.

Let's start with eye-tracking. Strongly rumoured to feature in next-gen Vive and Rift, it is by no means a new technology. We were lucky enough to work with Japanese headset manufacturer FOVE in 2015, and the potential was evident even then. From a developer perspective, it gives us the ability to harness foveated rendering (the rendering to a high-fidelity of only the point of a user's focus, and thereby saving resource and allowing lower-spec hardware to power the overall experience). It also allows us another mechanic for control – selections, interactions, and actions by simply looking and blinking – freeing up our hands to interact more naturally with our virtual situation.

Crucially, though, it gives a much greater understanding from an experience perspective – where a user is and was looking. On its own, this data allows us to understand key areas of focus and thereby influence how we design an experience, how we play with a user's attention and "direct" for them in a medium which is not restricted to a simple frame. However, by pairing that attention data with a measure of a user's reaction to what they are seeing, we can draw powerful data from an experience. This is where biometrics come into play.

Fundamentally, the act of pulling on a VR headset gives us numerous touch-points with the body, which can be key to understanding user response. The brain itself can be monitored for brainwave activity – the likes of Neurable are already leveraging this within VR for interaction: the skin for our galvanic skin response (sweat) and our heart rate. Combined with clever diagnostics, this data can be used to infer a series of insights we can use.

So what can we do with these insights?

Adaptive content

Imagine an experience that works out what you are enjoying the most during it, and dynamically shifts the content towards more of what you like in real time. Seamlessly, you have created a unique campaign based on that single user. Personalisation has been a marketing trend for a while now but this takes it to another level.

Powerful crowdsourced product data

What are users focusing on? Which detail generates the biggest negative reaction? Which the most positive? A VR experience can adapt dynamically just for me, but when analysed collectively, this data can be used to gain insight and potentially even guide future product development.

Targeted marketing

The potential for serving targeted ads, both within VR itself, but also across our other digital media touchpoints (given the push toward a general interconnectedness of things and the "unified" customer profile) allows future marketing to become even more granular. It may not be too far off before we can determine that a user has a particular affinity for a certain visual aspect within a VR experience – say, the shirt a particular character might be wearing.

Taking this to the next logical step, will our virtual worlds end up being tailored exclusively to our taste?

VR offers huge potential. In time, it will yield significant insights which can be used to influence the user experience – to enhance and personalise it in real time to deliver what can arguably be called the ultimate brand experience. Furthermore, the data provided can be of benefit to the content owner. Gaining a greater understanding of consumers is fundamental to the progression of brands and organisations, but getting the balance right between compelling content and ROI is important and will only be achieved when content creators and marketers work closely together. If we plug too many blatant marketing messages into VR content, we're interrupting the beauty of VR – the ability to truly escape reality – and we create just another interruptive medium. 

Matt Vernon-Clinch is the director of accounts for Rewind