The Medium of Our Time

Written by Patrick Cooper in collaboration with Kathleen Frazier

In the early part of the 20th century, our society crowded around the same device — the radio. It seismically changed the way the world received its news and entertainment. By the mid-century, our medium of choice was the television, a box that forever changed our culture, provided even greater access to mass-education and and impacted our senses at the speed of light. And by the close of the 1900s, our world became connected like never before with the introduction of ‘the web.’ But with the web’s 28th anniversary this coming April, it seems as though we’re ripe for another transformative shift in the media landscape.

Marshall McLuhan, the “godfather of media studies,” once said that the medium of an era has the power to reshape and restructure every aspect of our personal lives and how we socially interact with one another. In 2017, with so many forms of media available at our fingertips, what is the true medium of our time? Do we have one? I believe so. And it has the power to dramatically change the way we consume media and interact with one another.

“The medium, or process, of our time — electric technology — is reshaping and restructuring patterns of social interdependence and every aspect of our personal lives.” -Marshall McLuhan

Dawn of the Last Medium

The medium I am referring to is Virtual Reality (VR), and in this instance I am including Augmented Reality (AR) in the encapsulating definition. Virtual reality is traditionally defined as an artificial environment experienced through sensory stimuli provided by a computer. As a technology, VR has been around for decades, so why is it just now being labeled the “medium of our time”? The answer lies in the explosion of mass reach and commercial use that transpired in 2016. Big players in the tech industry entered the market and developed methods for integrating VR with the smartphone — a move which quickly advanced this technology from a form of expensive, novelty entertainment to a tool inextricably tied to daily life. Some of the companies leading this proliferation of VR include Google, Microsoft, Samsung, Facebook, Playstation, Snapchat and Apple. In 2016, Google’s Cardboard VR unit shipped over 88 million units, with Samsung’s VR gaming product selling over 2.3 million units. Even more recently, Snapchat has begun pushing the boundaries of AR on its app, and Apple released a developer kit on all new operating systems which will enable the creation of AR experiences for the iPhone or iPad. Add in that society’s adoption period for new technology is rapidly diminishing, and it’s likely that mass use of VR/AR is in the very near future.

Can VR Provide Measurable Value?

But from a business perspective, why should an organization choose this method of communication over technologies that have been established for years? In short, what is VR’s business value? Many business leaders become uneasy when they learn traditional success metrics cannot yet be applied to VR, and the idea of entering uncharted territory can be daunting. However, if you allow your understanding of what constitutes successful communication to expand, you’ll quickly learn that VR has already started to produce astounding results that challenge and even exceed what traditional media has been able to capture in the past.

VR technology provides tools for hands-on education with both internal and external audiences. It can help brands tell deep stories that impact consumers on an emotional level. And it can even boost internal processes that result in improved employee culture or increased productivity. So the most important question a company can contemplate when deciding if VR will help them achieve their objective is, “What do we expect to gain from a VR experience?”

Greenlight VR’s June 2016 study of 1,300 consumers

Initial results of VR case studies have been overwhelmingly positive and valuable. Results such as increased sales, more positive brand perception, more informed consumers, and even more productive internal operations have each been observed in multiple cases (see How VR Can Add Value for examples). And for consumers, it’s a way to connect with a brand on an emotional level or provide them with an immersive experience they are already trying to seek out. The capabilities of VR are vast, but it will take pioneers in this new medium to unlock its greatest potential.

With VR being accessible on a mass scale for just under two years, we’re still in the infancy of its assimilation into daily routine. But as businesses and consumers begin to understand and accept VR as common practice, rather than a one-off spectacle, the adoption rate will quickly accelerate. We aren’t just observing a short-lived blip of the early 21st century zeitgeist. VR/AR is the medium of our time that, as McLuhan once put it, will reshape how we live our social and personal lives for years to come. So start exploring, start testing and be on the forefront of discovering what is truly possible through the application of VR.

Consumers are trying VR and AR, and so should brands

A Few Examples of VR & AR to Explore

Virtual Reality (VR)

Merrell’s Trailscape VR Experience
Google’s Tiltbrush
KFC’s Virtual Training Escape Room

Augmented Reality (AR)

Archer PI AR app
Sephora’s Virtual Artist app

How VR Can Add Value to Your Organization

Increased sales.

  • 53% of consumers said they’d be more likely to purchase from a brand that uses VR than from one that doesn’t.

Increased positive brand perception.

  • 71% of consumers agree that a brand using VR is forward-thinking and modern

More emotional impact than other media

  • The impact and messaging of VR leads to a direct increase in desirable actions over other mediums

Providing consumers with an immersive experience that they are already trying to seek out.

  • 65% of consumers who haven’t tried VR are interested in experiencing it

More informed consumers that are willing to shop with retailers for longer periods of time.

  • 68% spend more time at a retailer if they can shop with AR.

Increased productivity for internal processes.

  • On average, augmented reality can help improve productivity on tasks by 32%.