It’s like the Wild West out there with lots of virtual reality video being done very badly – TopLine Comms’ head of production Jamie Field looks at the most common mistakes being made by marketers everywhere.

Get the tech right

There is a high end and a low end when it comes to ways to consume VR content. At the high end you’ve got tethered devices like the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive. The immersion experience this tech provides is amazing but also sets the entry barrier pretty high as the Rift is the cheaper of the two at around $600 (£500).

If you’re Red Bull or BMW and you’re looking to create a full immersion experience as part of a bigger installation then great (a rally car reacting to a VR race course or a terrifying rope bridge experience for example), but if you need to engage the prospective customer in their own environment you need to consider the tech they’ll have access to.

Google Cardboard has been the go-to solution, although we’re now seeing midrange options hit the market like Google’s Daydream and Samsung’s Gear VR for example. You may be wasting your VR budget if you assume people have access to something more complicated/expensive than a cardboard headset.

The VR industry is growing at a fast pace, with revenues from virtual reality products (both hardware and software) projected to increase from 90 million U.S. dollars in 2014 to 5.2 billion U.S. dollars in 2018. The number of active VR users is forecast to reach 171 million by 2018.Click To Tweet

Content consumption

Once you’ve established the level of tech involved you need to consider how your audience is actually going to watch it.

You can’t currently watch VR video through a web browser, it needs to run through an app. The go to is YouTube. But even then the prospect needs the latest version on their phone and needs to know to click on the ‘Goggle’ icon.

We’ve spoken to blue chip companies who’ve spent six figure sums making the most beautifully immersive VR video only to realize six months into the project that they don’t have an app to play it in. This therefore restricts how many people can watch it.

If you can persuade people to download the latest version of YouTube or VR Player and then navigate to the video location and play it then great, but it’s hardly a seamless experience. The solution? Create your own app that already contains the video, or give the viewer the option to stream it or download it once the app is installed.

Obviously if the app contains the video then it’s a large download, but it’s the fastest way to get your prospect in front of your VR content.

Tell a story

There are a lot of companies out there offering VR, but very few know how to make films. Learning to make 360 video is easy, filmmaking is not. Virtual reality is still a newish gimmick: it’s appealing because it literally offers a new perspective. But as more VR hits the market it’ll cease to be novel and there’ll be a big divide between content created by a company that’s learned how to shoot VR, and a filmmaking company producing quality video that engages the viewer with a compelling story woven into a VR experience.

Technical competency

Another differentiating factor we’re seeing in a lot of VR productions is technical knowhow. Sounds obvious, but when you shoot VR you see everything: the crew, unwanted objects etc. If this means there’s a skip full of rubbish in shot then maybe pick a new location.

Also consider what’s going to happen to the crew. Where are they going to stand? We’ve had situations where crew members have hidden behind boulders on a South African savannah shoot, and foreign shoots where the local fixer has had to operate the camera because the British crew stood out like a sore thumb.

Also consider how you’re going to hide the kit. If the viewer can see everything then they can see the cameras and tripod. The most basic solution is to cover the kit with a company logo; a better way involves ‘plating’ – essentially replicating the surroundings and layering them over the kit.

Pre-plating – you can clearly see the tripod on the street

Post-plating – a little bit of image manipulation later…

All that glitters…

Finally, consider whether VR is a suitable medium. We’ve had conversations and briefs where it’s quickly obvious 2D video or animation is a more suitable medium. Once again you’re going to need to work with an actual video company to be given these options, an outfit that only produces VR content will happily film your CEO interview but is the viewer really going to benefit from a 360 view of that person, or is the gimmick going to detract from the corporate message?

It’s a bit like the Wild West out there, with hugely contrasting VR experiences released week on week. Don’t rush into a decision, consider audience consumption, the narrative, production quality and VR suitability, and your company will be the proud owner of a great VR video that helps nurture customers through your sales funnel.

About the Author: Jamie Field is the head of production at TopLine Comms