As digital marketers, we don’t often get the chance to interact with real-life examples of what we do, but I recently had a bit of “aha” about user experience and virtual reality (VR) in marketing and I have to share it with you.
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Picture it: a few weeks ago, my husband and I walking through our 7th model home for the day and guys, it's perfect!
Four bedrooms and a den, perfect for a family of seven.
A separate office, perfect for a work-from-home-mom.
A huge gourmet kitchen with a double oven, perfect for those of us who consider ourselves weekend Julia Childs.
The floors are perfect, the paint is perfect, this is it! Before I get too excited and try to sign something, my husband suggests we check out the master suite. Together we turn to a long hallway and I'm immediately frozen, I can't move.
At the end of this hallway, past the closet doors, entrance to the bathroom, and doorway to the master bedroom is a mirror. The only problem? There is no reflection. We are not in the mirror.
My brain starts to flip. Where am I? Why are we NOT in that mirror? Is this a fake mirror - who does that?
It takes about 15-seconds for my brain to recognize that we're not in that mirror because we're not in that house. We are sitting in our current home, on the couch, at 8 o’clock in the evening touring this potential new home through a virtual tour on my computer.
Guys, I felt so silly. My husband got a good ole' laugh out of it and I'll admit I did, too. I pride myself on being pretty darn logical, but when this happened again in less than a handful of minutes, it triggered my marketing strategist brain. What was this user experience?
VR marketing is really cool. We've been exploring how our clients can use VR to enhance their prospect’s experiences, develop unique tripwires, and even help them close business, but it’s definitely new territory.
Being a relatively new tool for us, there are still a few wide-open questions about how to leverage VR in marketing. Now, I am not the expert in creating a virtual environment (at least not yet), but I am interested in understanding the mechanics of it.
VR marketing best practices don't quite exist at an industry level at the moment, but there are three things I learned after my brain got tricked twice while experiencing that quasi-virtual reality tour I was telling you about.
1. Buyer Personas Still Matter - A Lot
My first thought was, “I must be so tired!” and then I thought, “I wonder if they’d consider their users when developing this, would they have caught this mind trap?” As soon as the idea of being a user popped in my head, I automatically jumped to buyer personas.
If you've been in digital marketing for 15-minutes or more, you know we love our personas, and for great reason. They are foundational tools that help us really understand how to create a connection with our clients or customers.
We reference them when creating blog posts, website copy, designing user experiences, and even when discussing new product options. They should not be forgotten as you're developing VR experiences in your marketing strategies.
Is our persona an early adopter, will they even engage with this content?
Does creating this experience aid or distract our personas in their way through our Value Journey Canvas?
Will this experience that we're investing in cause any real impact in our persona's buying decision?
Marketing is part art, part science and that's why I love it.
We have access to such amazing data from platforms like HubSpot, Hotjar, and Google Analytics and if we combine those data points with an appreciation and respect for the psychographics of our personas, we can identify which tactics will help us in engaging with prospects.
This is important in any part of marketing, but even more so when you're introducing new platforms, ways of communication and yes, virtual reality.
2. It’s Not All About Numbers.
A significant part of my role as a strategist here at IMPACT is reviewing and analyzing user data. We review heatmaps, scrolling indicators, and click reports. We take aggregated data (numbers) and make best-judgment calls about what our users are doing.
We see the virtual steps prospects are taking, the pauses they're making, and the actions they're ultimately following through with on the platforms, pages, and funnels we’ve created -- and they’re all quantified to boot.
This is brilliant. It's powerful and allows us to infer (or definitely prove) information previously left unknown.
But, it's also flawed.
The marketer reviewing the video of us virtually wandering through the gorgeous house in our tour could see I paused for a time while “standing” in that hallway and probably for how long, but they had no context to understand why or what I was thinking.
They had no way of knowing that my pause was created by this mind vortex I was experiencing, simply because I wasn't seeing myself in their mirror, as a human being normally would.
The market demands that as a marketer, I'm able to prove and disprove anything through data, but reactions like this aren’t as cut-and-dry.
I appreciate being able to go into meetings with Hotjar data to show clients their testimonial placed right before the footer is getting viewed 3.7% of the time by everyone who visits that page -- but, that data doesn't tell me or them why. It doesn't reveal intent.
I wouldn’t be surprised if your brand has a long list of site behaviors that are commonly linked to purchases, but these are all based on numbers; They are not guaranteed.
This is where our marketing expertise, an appreciation for human behavior and well, common sense, comes in.
If you're looking at your data and making statements like, "This call-to-action is converting 14% better than the previous one," and leaving it at that, then you're missing the other part of data-driven marketing.
Back to the personas:
We do (or should be doing) such strong physiographic research on our personas, preach that we should be thinking of them always, then immediately forget it all when viewing heat maps and scroll percentage charts.
These numbers are just that - numbers!
In order to drive any real optimizations that will provide real insights (for better or worse) on your website page, funnel map, or even a Facebook ad, you have to stop stopping at just the number.
Drop the data for 15-minutes, walk away from whatever you're working on and think like a human:
What are you experiencing as you're interacting with your XYZ?
Are you understanding the messaging?
Is what you're expecting to happen, actually happening?
Are you confused by any part of this?
There is no guarantee your experience and brain patterns will be exactly the same as someone else's, but it's a great way to begin thinking about the actual human on the other side of your "user experience" optimization.
Which brings me to my third lesson:
3. Don't Forget the Other Part of The Brain
I am fascinated by the human brain.
Not only does it literally keep us alive, it allows us to think, feel, breath, experience new things, and well, sometimes it can really mess with us.
It was so interesting to me how we have our logical, every-day, decision-making brains, but we also have our mysterious, elusive, and insanely powerful subconscious that calls more shots that we realize.
Marketing and any virtual reality experience must not only consider but be designed to communicate with both parts of our personas' brains.
When my own brain lost its lunch over not seeing myself in that mirror, I wasn't consciously aware of what was happening. I am logical enough to know that I wasn't in the mirror because it's not real, but, I still experienced a "holy sh**" moment.
In this VR experience, my subconscious accepted that I was in a real house, walking in a real hallway, and looking at a real mirror.
When developing VR marketing, don’t forget you’re trying to create an environment that tricks your personas’ brains into believing they're experiencing something that’s not physically there.
You’re trying to bring a piece of your product or service to life -- without actually bringing it to life.Do not lose how huge that is.
Challenge your strategy, tactic, and execution from the standpoint that parts of your personas' brains are going to expect certain things to be (or not be) there.
This is powerful stuff, virtual reality. Used right, you could sell a home without ever meeting face-to-face, but used incorrectly and you have a woman sitting on her couch freaking out over a mirror.
Are you using virtual reality in your marketing? Tell me more about what you've done, you're planning, and let's continue to create these best practices together.