In early 2014, when Facebook announced its $2B acquisition of a young startup called Oculus, Virtual Reality (VR) was thrust from fledgling technology to next-generation platform. Fast-forward 3 years. Greenlight VR reports the number of VC investments in VR companies has quadrupled since 2012. Goldman Sachs anticipates the VR market will overtake TV by 2025. Investors and companies of all sizes have placed bets that VR goes beyond the hype.
While there is no shortage of market forecasts and opinions predicting whether and when VR will take hold with the masses, very little primary research exists on how consumers truly engage with VR.
So we partnered with one of the world’s leading media agencies, Starcom (SMG) to conduct a comprehensive study that would provide insight into how consumers feel about VR and answer some of our most pressing questions: Are consumers really interested in VR? Are they even aware of it? If they are aware of it, what are some of the barriers to adoption? Is VR really that much more engaging than traditional mediums? How should brands, creators and technology companies begin to experiment with VR? How are consumers navigating VR and what storylines resonate well?
Over the course of seven months, our teams studied a diverse group of consumers using Samsung Gear VR devices, conducted a multi-wave survey of over 6,600 participants, and assessed the biometric effects VR had on the emotions, memory and attitudes of users. Here are a few things we learned:
Getting VR Headsets into Consumers Hands
In order to increase VR usage, we must first understand what inspires people to try VR as well as what holds them back. We found that 81 percent of people who tried VR, but did not own a headset, were likely or very likely to purchase one. In other words, getting people to “try” a headset dramatically increases the odds they will purchase. The two biggest barriers to getting consumers to try were the perception of price and not knowing where to try a headset – both of which may be addressed by demos. It is important for creators to manage these perceptions and barriers, while focusing on increasing opportunities for trial.
The Power of Brand Engagement and Recall
One of the biggest questions brands ask about VR is: “Does using VR increase brand-to-consumer engagement?” The answer is yes. By analyzing participants’ Electrodermal Activity (EDA), we found mobile VR content to be 2X more emotionally engaging than mobile 2D and 1.75X more engaging than mobile 360.
This enhanced emotional response in VR also improves brand recall. Mobile VR possesses 2X more unprompted brand recall power versus 2D and 360 mobile formats. This memory boost is consistent with our qualitative findings that users prefer branded experiences in VR as VR seems new and exciting versus traditional advertising formats While VR content proved to be more engaging, our panelists showed a dislike for VR content that contained overt branding, rather than advertising that was native.
Still, VR isn’t a catch-all for brand engagement and recall. Brands looking to increase engagement through VR are encouraged to prioritize compelling content that reflects their company’s mission, demonstrates product experience, and delivers new experiences that simply could not be achieved through other formats.
Users see the ability to socialize and share their experiences as a key feature that is missing in VR. Users anticipate and hunger for “watercooler moments” where they can share experiences and opinions with their network. The inability to share VR content and their experiences is a point of friction among users and an opportunity cost of this new medium.
If you’re a brand or content creator exploring ways to engage in VR, here are a few points to consider:
- Manage perceptions around product price and induce trial through creative promotions and communications.
- Experiment in VR now to boost memory making opportunities and empathy shortcuts between your brand and audience. Take advantage of first-mover tech credibility by creating experiences that are truly entertaining, have purpose and are native to the medium.
- Make your VR experiences inclusive and social to overcome the solo barrier. Develop easy-to-use content capture features that makes sharing second nature. Use 360 video on social to scale buzz and intrigue. Experiment with Social VR to understand how a brand’s role in social media will evolve.
This study utilizes three key research techniques to holistically understand Market Momentum/ Impact, User Experience and Content Experience at this early stage of development.
- VR Monitor: (Online/Mobile Tracker) 6600 Total Sample (Census Rep) collected over six waves. Collecting awareness, interest, barriers and identifying new audience opportunities as they arise.
- VR Panel: Ongoing Mobile Ethnography) 45 Teens/Millennials equipped with Samsung Gear VR. Real-time VR understanding in context of daily life.
- VR Lab: (Biometric Analysis) 72 participants. Biometric responses to VR content across genres, measuring immersive impact and uplift of Mobile VR compared with 2D and 360 formats.
The focus of this research is predominantly Mobile VR with an entertainment rather than productivity lens.