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2016 is the Year of 360° Video (and VR)

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If you’re part of the advertising industry, you know we’re guilty of “shiny object syndrome.” Brands, agencies, and vendors all chase after the next big trend, often without carrying out the proper due diligence to make sure that trend is not a fad. However, after a few years of experimentation, some “shiny objects” gain staying power.

Personally, I’m excited about the prospect of 2016 (0r 2017 or 2018 for that matter) being the Year of 360° Video. It’s not only right in my company’s wheel house, but it’s a very exciting medium to play in professionally. It involves new technology (e.g. cameras and headsets), new workflows (e.g. software and skill sets), and new distribution mechanisms (e.g. 360° video players). There is so much to learn about and so it is, by definition, a shiny object.

From shiny to mainstream.

It also happens to be a mine field for marketers. As fun as 360° content is for consumers, it is equally as challenging to create. So much of the challenge comes from the fact that we’re so new at using this medium for mainstream purposes. And logically, but incorrectly, we use our current knowledge of video production as a reference point.

Let me explain through an example. Let’s take the concept of editing footage together. We are used to non-linear editing systems that allow us to cut from camera to camera. We are spoiled in that we can remove or add in bits and pieces of footage to our hearts content. However, this whole concept of editing is predicated on the fact that a camera is only capturing part of a scene at one time. So if I’m shooting a romantic scene between a man and a woman, but the man makes a funny face at the wrong time (oops), I can more than likely just “cut that out” in post-production. The challenge with 360° is that the “camera” is capturing everything around it! I can’t just remove or add in bits and pieces, or I’ll create a really jarring piece of content. I can’t simply cut out the funny face in a 360° video; I have to capture an entirely new scene if I don’t want to subject my audience to it.

Shifting our editorial mindset is one of several shifts that have to happen for marketers to get 360° video right. We also have to consider consumption and distribution. Currently, only Facebook and YouTube offer 360° video players on social platforms. For Google Cardboard, you need an app that has a stereoscopic output. YouTube offers that, but only on Android phones. Oculus just started shipping headsets and Sony is on the way with theirs soon. So all in all, we’re making progress, but we’re far from ubiquity at this point.

On the path to ROI

I’ve touched on some of the challenges of 360° video, but the real story is about the opportunity the medium offers. Travel, Hospitality, Food & Drink, Live Events, and Automotive are all verticals that can very quickly apply this technology. You can transport consumers to different parts of the world, showcase how it feels to be in a space (e.g. a hotel lobby or inside of a car), and capture the atmosphere of an event in a way that regular video cannot. To put it another way, you can drive greater engagement from consumers by giving them something to experience.

But where’s my ROI? That’s the question we all have to ask as marketers. Ironically, we never really get there with any medium, but we’re always on the hunt for it. So at a minimum, we need to establish that this has some kind of impact on our purchase funnels.

Establishing impact starts with grounding our use of 360° video in existing marketing activity. It cannot be a stand-alone initiative or it will die a slow painful death of internal scrutiny and politicking. Here are a few examples of grounding 360 in existing marketing activity:

1. When creating branded content with regular video, create a 360° video extension(s).

2. Use 360° video to accomplish an existing to-do, like a virtual tour or overview video.

3. Bring an offline activity / event to life with 360° video. You can not only live stream it, but you can capture it for others to view in the future.

Bringing it home

Will 360° video move from shiny object to mainstream marketing tactic? I hope so. There is so much potential for this medium to help with engaging consumers, telling better stories, and getting people to experience things they never have before. The key to success will ultimately depend on whether we can tie 360° video to our greater goals as marketers and business leaders. If we can see it in a light that applies to our own businesses, then we can make it part of our toolkit for years to come.