The impact of valuable experiences with virtual reality

Chéline Ruhof

Chéline Ruhof-de Vries | Senior Consultant Social Media & Innovation

January 24, 2020

In December, we were flooded as always with Christmas commercials of – in the Netherlands – mostly supermarkets: a mother that comes home late to her family Christmas dinner due to work responsibilities, or a child that moves you by throwing a Christmas dinner in the attic, for his family.  As a viewer, by putting yourself in the shoes of the characters this stimulates your emotional response. Why is focusing on emotion important for your brand’s content and what is the next step?

Experiences are more important than products
Were you born between 1980 and 2000? Then you are – just like me – a so called millennial. You are born in a relatively safe era, in which the world is at your fingertips and all your friends and colleagues are online posting about the most interesting stuff they are experiencing.

Why would you throw away your old student bike and buy a brand new model, if you could also do a hike in the mountains of Nepal? Or even better: work as a volunteer in an orphanage in Vietnam. Comparatively, why would you buy a beautiful family home in a small town if you could also live in the dynamic city center of Amsterdam? Admittedly, the city living is only 50m2 without a balcony for the same price as the detached house somewhere in the country side, but that’s what it’s worth to you. That’s how much you value the experience of living in the vibrant capital of the Netherlands or when it comes to volunteering: how much you value the experience of ‘doing good’ and broadening your horizon.

78% of the millennial generation rather spend money on a special experience than on something material, as research of the American agency Harris shows. Closer to home, the research of Ruigrok reveals that 60% of Dutch millennials indeed would prefer a beautiful experience, over a well filled bank account.

Influence of emotions on long term profit
The above research affirms that we, as consumers, are more than happy to pay for a beautiful experience, in other words an adventure that triggers a positive emotion. Les Binet, guru in the field of media effectivity research, revealed with his research that brands should also put more effort on this emotional experience. In the field of branding, emotions appear to have more influence of the long term profit of a brand than the factual message. This is called ‘emotional brand building’.

The results of the research of Temkin Group underline the impact of the long term profit once again. Customers with positive emotional experiences are:

– 15x more likely to recommend the organization
– 8x more likely to trust the organization
– 7x more likely to try out new products and services
– 7x more likely to make a purchase
– 6x more likely to forgive the organization after a mistake

Emotion centered content creation
With content you can create  emotions, but not every content format is equally suited to do that. In the online world in which I usually work, video is known as the content format that can evoke the greatest emotion. This is due to the moving images and audio that can create a certain effect. When a video draws on an emotion for the viewer, this process makes your brand memorable. This means that for a commercial about, for example Happy Socks, the brand should not simply show happy people or situations, but rather develop a commercial that actually makes the viewer happy. In other words:

“Make people feel the emotion.”

Bringing emotional experiences to life with virtual reality
When we try to bring it to the next level, we cannot only show the video to the viewer to evoke emotion, but we can actually put him or her in the situation itself. By means of virtual reality. This content format makes it possible to create experiences for your audience and bring these before their very eyes.

A well-known and interesting example of the impact of virtual reality on your emotions is saving a cat at great height. Participants are asked to put on VR-glasses and instantly find themselves on a skyscraper in a big city. At the very end of a wooden plank, standing out above a colossal depth, you see a kitten. Your job is to save the poor animal.

Your heart is pounding, you turn warm and you start to breath a bit quicker. Rationally you know that you are actually just in a room and that the experience is set up. However, emotionally you feel the threat of the kitten falling, and your own fear of heights. 80% of all participants do not manage to walk towards the kitten to save it. You bet this experience is one you can recall weeks later, and the emotions it made you feel!

The societal value of VR
Although the adoption of virtual reality by a wider audience will take some time to develop, already 30% of organizations worldwide want to start testing VR-applications. Not only for marketing purposes, but also for the healthcare value. Research shows that patients with burn wounds experimenting with VR, playing a game in which they have to throw snowballs at  penguins, experience up to 50% less pain. Virtual reality functions as a kind of ‘brain hack’ that occupies ones brain, resulting in less space being available to experience pain stimuli at the same time. It even appears that a so called cold environment already has a psychological effect that eventually will lead to less pain. A very valuable innovation.

Now back to communication, imagine that you are working on a campaign that is meant to create more understanding among parents for children with an eating disorder. You could make an educational video, applying storytelling by inviting children to explain how this makes them feel, or ask people to share their experiences on social media. But as a parent, you never really know what’s on the mind of your child or how it feels to have an eating disorder.

Looking through the glasses of your child: literally
Now imagine you literally make parents see through the glasses of their child. Imagine  you put them at the dinner table and make them participate in the conversation and the social interaction, all while they continuously hear negative thoughts about their food and about themselves. As a parent, you are truly put in your child’s shoes and share his or her experience. This valuable experience can then function as a conversational topic to bridge the gap between parent and child.

The current reality of virtual reality
Despite the fact that we are far from having VR-glasses in every consumer’s home, there are definitely possibilities to make use of virtual reality on a smaller scale, for your marketing and/or communication purposes. For example, provide visitors of your events with an unique experience based on your brand promise by means of VR-glasses. But also think about the application of putting political or media stakeholders in the shoes of a different person. Like in the previously mentioned example with the parents, by taking them with you to a factory at the other side of the world and showing them how things are run.  

All in all, as consumers we are willing to pay for a positive emotional experience. Comparatively, emotional brand building advertisements even seem to be an important driver of long term profit With this in mind, virtual reality as a content format is a viable opportunity to create valuable experiences for your target audience – this is something I feel inspired by!