At large, today’s consumer is idle, yet they take the form of tech pioneers. They want to be entertained and offered value beyond a social media post. In essence, consumers today want to immerse themselves, with ease, in what you, as a brand, have to say. Virtual and augmented reality (VR and AR) is fast becoming a perfect tool to do so, states Yaw Dwomoh, Chief Executive Officer at Idea Hive.

Today’s digital consumer wants the perfect balance between convenience and tangibility. They want to reach out and touch something, but with minimal effort. Consumers are evolving and as such, brands need to develop their offerings to meet their needs.

Yaw Dwomoh, Chief Executive Officer at Idea Hive.

The future is coming, and it looks virtual. In fact, predictions in 2016 suggested that over 200 million VR headsets will be sold by 2020. In addition, according to Forbes, 75% of the world’s most valuable brands have created some kind of virtual or augmented reality experience to engage with consumers.

However, VR and AR cannot work single-handedly and the congruence between storytelling and digital is an alliance that simply cannot be ignored. Storytelling in marketing has been propagated as the future of marketing for quite some time. Today, many globally operating companies take advantage of the fact that a brand will be better memorised if it has an emotional connection to its target audience. Brands that are associated with a story are said to be remembered about 22 times more effectively.

The immersive nature of VR and AR makes it a powerful marketing tool, and as much as people feel it will take away from the human experience, there is a lot to gain, particularly in times such as these. As such, VR has the potential to be an incredibly emotional and effective storytelling tool and with the mountain of information an individual can consume daily, people want an engaging narrative.

There is no doubt that VR and AR have huge potential. Stories are a powerful part of the human experience. Yes, we see them told at bedtime to children listening in rapt silence, but they are also told daily in election campaigns, fundraising drives and in business, through brand storytelling. With brands clamouring for market share, it is worth taking a step back to look at how telling your brand story through heartfelt, emotive storytelling can connect with and earn the new age customer’s trust.

When VR/AR is mentioned together with storytelling, it takes the form of a retrospective experience that provokes an emotion or action from the user. When we tell stories, they are not told in real-time. It is all in the past-tense as that is what captures an audience. There are many ways to build brand awareness for an organisation and VR/AR has an important role to play going forwards.

While effective storytelling is retrospective, just because a brand communicates a narrative with its audience through VR/AR, it doesn’t mean it has to be presented in the present-tense. People love and have always loved having stories told and if an organisation was to harness its power and apply the principles of virtual reality and gaming, it could reach audiences in ways it has never been able to before.

So, how do you go about building a strong VR narrative for your brand? Think about what you want to say or sell. Think about a beginning, a middle and an end. What are your consumer challenges and what can you offer that is unique? Then use VR/AR to make an exciting backdrop to your story using provocative characters and outstanding imagery to engage people and make them listen to every word.

While people can turn away from sales copy, if customers are pulled into a virtual world, they will not go anywhere. The art of the narrator is still as relevant as it ever was, it is just that today, brands and businesses, in particular, have the tools to enhance the storytelling experience. It may take a little trial and error, but in the right hands, VR and storytelling have the potential to take the consumer experience to a whole new level.

With the Covid-19 impact and the rapid advancement of digital reality, we appear to be at the beginning of a new era in storytelling. Through increasingly immersive and self-directed experiences, digital reality — a 360-degree solution — is cracking wide open our appreciation of storytelling and its distinctive ability to merge the roles of the listener and the storyteller. Consequently, the emotional responses have been shown to be much more powerful than any other storytelling medium that has come before.

While the elements that make stories resonate aren’t likely to change, for marketers to fully realise the opportunity digital reality presents, we may need a new storytelling language — one that reviews and re-invents the elements of story for this new and powerful medium.

Ultimately, digital reality could push us to tell brand stories even more through influence, than control. The difficulty in navigating this shift is that marketers will likely need a clearer understanding of the elements and layers within and around stories, so they can re-construct how they apply them to digital reality. By forcing us to deconstruct our understanding of stories, digital reality may actually help us become better storytellers for our customers, no matter which medium we choose.

Digital reality storytelling is still very much in its early days, but it is already demonstrating big results for many marketers and businesses that are using this medium to build their brand. Compared to traditional media, stories told with VR/AR are often rated to be more trustworthy, and that the more immersive the experience, the stronger the emotional reactions typically are to that experience. This holds a lot of opportunity for marketers. But of course, the danger of experimenting with new technologies is that if you are not thoughtful about the application, it can lead to damage. Therefore, a balance of brand storytelling fundamentals and a re-orchestration of its elements is important to be successful.