Selling Experiences: VR Takes Branding to a New & Intimate Level

If there was just one word that could accurately sum up the trends and obsessions of this millennial era, branding would be it. Physical brands have been around for ages, but the actual concept of a brand and the profession of establishing and perpetuating one are more contemporary phenomena.

Today, not only has the brand become a powerful tool of marketing, it has also evolved━past corporations and institutions━transforming into the inevitable “self-brand”. Every individual is now expected to curate a social media existence, a digital space representative of one’s core values, interests and connections.

Branding has infiltrated nearly every aspect of our existence (even Santa Claus has a brand). But what are the key ingredients that actually make a brand worth coveting? Consider Apple, a brand that is recognized and respected all over the world.

No one buys a Mac computer because it is the best model available. The technical specs are part of it, but ultimately one buys a Mac because it looks and feels sleek and modern. One settles on a Mac because deep down she recognizes that by having this laptop she is confirming a certain facet of her identity, a facet that has to do with being cool, sophisticated, and scientific.

The most powerful branding does just that: it adds to or enhances desirable aspects of the consumer’s identity.

It is rather astounding to learn how much money companies will spend on their branding. BP for example, is reported to have shelled out over 211 million dollars in 2008 just on the redesign of their logo. While small businesses spend much less on branding they too make it a priority, knowing full well that a brand can either make or break a product. This undeniable fervor concerning the brand is precisely why marketers are ecstatic about VR technology and the ways it can widen the reach of the branding industry.

There are many methods through which to craft a brand, but all of them are a variation of essentially the same task, that is, to tell a compelling story. It’s the journey of a brand that makes a customer relate to a product and feel the urge to partake in its history.

Virtual reality, a tantalizingly immersive medium, will enable marketers to tell stories that quite literally jump off the page. By crafting a virtual “on brand” universe, a company can give their customers unique experiences that engage all of the senses, and beckon to those core aspects of identity that a customer might want to posses or enhance.

Imagine that instead of watching a commercial for a convertible car on YouTube, you find yourself in that car speeding along with an attractive stranger in the passenger seat. Perhaps your favorite song is playing, a sun-kissed beach is receding to your left, and you feel a fantastic favonian wind in your hair. In fact, you feel really good in this car with the attractive stranger, and you think to yourself that you really wouldn’t mind taking this drive again. At this point, you’re sold on the car.

VR is a powerful marketing tool not only because it can provide customers with vital information such as the look and specs of a product, but it can quite literally show the customer what life possibilities a product might engender.

The personal brand is bound to benefit from VR as well, and very much in the same way as the big brand. When we create our online avatars, we aren’t selling a product but we are selling the idea of ourselves. By capturing moments of our lives and making them intimately available to others, we are selling the experience of us, not just the idea of us.

So when will this VR content revolution begin?

It’s already started.

Just last year Absolut Vodka launched a VR campaign where customers could see Bob Moses perform live on stage, using Absolut cardboard headsets. The New York Times recently revealed NYTVR, an app that allows subscribers to experience 360 degree reporting from around the globe. Coca Cola, Lay’s, Virgin Atlantic, Marc Jacobs… the list of big brands already utilizing VR is longer than you might think.

The take away here is pretty simple. VR has armed marketers with a powerful new medium for storytelling. Ads are about to get bigger, realer, and harder to ignore━so brace yourselves, the consumer world has officially gone virtual.