As we head towards the end of a tumultuous 2020, all eyes are now looking to a hopefully more positive 2021 for public relations and marketing professionals.
I’m in no doubt that the forthcoming year will mark a huge turning point for the uptake of immersive storytelling and that 2021 will see a step-change in the broad inclusion of Extended Reality (XR) – the umbrella term for Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR) and Mixed Reality (MR) plus other immersive technologies – into PR strategies and communications plans.
All signs are pointing to the fact that XR is going to accelerate exponentially over the next 12 months, building on its already phenomenal growth pattern of the last couple of years.
Increasingly, PR professionals and Comms agencies are evolving their offering to incorporate more digital and social solutions to support a holistic approach to storytelling. Whether that’s through devising 360 stories; take-home band experiences and connected packaging; VR press packs or product launch AR filters; one thing is clear, consumers and journalists now expect a more engaging and interactive way of receiving information, and brands demand a solution that increases message retention and shareability.
We’ve seen how AR, in particular, appears on the feed of every major social media platform. And celebrities are leading the way, with pop stars Kylie Minogue and Gary Barlow most recently promoting their latest albums with an Instagram AR effect. VR, meanwhile, has recently become a much more accessible and inclusive proposition, with Oculus Quest headsets more affordable and widely used than ever.
With the bar of audience engagement set so high, it has now become vital for communicators to integrate immersive technology into their campaigns. And it must be pointed out that great strides have already been made.
I was impressed by Edelman’s recent work to help ASICS host a VR shoe launch on its campus in Japan after the firm was forced to cancel its physical launch due to the pandemic. The benefit of VR is that it provides a uniquely immersive experience.
For that reason, VR was a natural element to include in Alzheimer Research UK’s awareness campaign with its app ‘A walk through Dementia’ designed to help people understand, in a very realistic way, what everyday life can be like for those with the illness.
There are many opportunities to incorporate XR far beyond the more consumer-oriented PR campaigns where adoption of this technology is more widely seen. Indeed, if 2020 was a year full of challenge, I very much hope 2021 is a year full of opportunity to build and grow in an agile and profitable way.
The ability to stay ahead of content trends and client expectations will depend on access to skilled and trusted immersive technology creators to help bring these stories to life, project by project. At Blend Media, we have already begun bridging this gap with the launch of Blend Market, an online marketplace that connects a global community of highly skilled immersive creators with agencies and brands; this has included PR agency M Booth looking for a 360 video filmmaker for their client, The Macallan, and one of the global record labels in need of an Instagram filter for a major artist’s publicity campaign.
For those who are already taking advantage of the benefits that XR has to offer, now is the time to take things one step further. And for those who are not yet adopters, now is about looking at how you can tell your brand’s or organisation’s story in a new, engaging format, to reach audiences in a very real way.