I think Volvo just went and ripped up the rule book and made the unimaginable possible – branded content delivered through a smartphone app and self-assembly virtual reality headset.
Okay, admittedly Google are the brains behind Google Cardboard, a DIY take on the Oculus Rift headsets that can be created – MacGyver style – out of little more than cardboard, magnets, Velcro and rubber bands. But Volvo has made big waves with its #VolvoReality promotion offering the world’s first virtual reality test drive.
The app itself, which allows users to view the virtual reality content through their smartphone, is cool enough but mailing out branded Google Cardboard VR headsets is the icing on the campaign for me. All-in-all, it’s a masterclass in brand alignment for Volvo, which has perhaps had a reputation for being the reliable auto brand of choice, not necessarily the sleekest or most innovative.
Beyond consumer sectors
Consumer-facing brands seem a natural fit for adopting virtual reality as part of their marketing mix – from autos to fashion (Topshop giving users a virtual front row seat at London Fashion Week) – and sectors such as leisure, tourism and sport seem set to follow.
But this week financial services brand Fidelity showed that brands can – and should – think even bigger, beyond the marketing function for technologies such as virtual reality. Introducing its virtual reality app StockCity – a brainchild of its innovation hub, Fidelity Labs – the brand enables a user’s investment portfolio to be visualised as if it were a SimsCity.
Personal finance meets SimCity
Reams of numbers, line charts and trade tickers are replaced with buildings to represent stock holdings. When markets are open, it’s daylight and night-time when markets close. During positive (Bull) markets, the weather is sunny, during down (Bear) markets the StockCity weather turns gloomy.
The Fidelity Labs developers know this is early days and suggest there is plenty of scope for expanding upon the beta concept; traffic in the virtual streets could represent trading activity, for example, or blue Twitter birds around buildings could indicate social media chatter.
As data visualisations become more creative, the accessibility of previously complex and daunting aspects of life – like making financial decisions or understanding your business accounts – can be made accessible.
While the actual experience of the StockCity beta app isn’t exactly thrilling – no real accounts can yet be linked and the current graphics are pretty Lawnmower Man-era – the excitement for me is that it should encourage other brands, and not just consumer-facing, to think beyond the ‘low-hanging fruit’ of marketing and contemplate virtual reality and other technologies in ways that have application to their customers’ real lives.
Gamification within VR?
What would really blow my hair back with Fidelity’s StockCity is to see the combination of such personalised, branded virtual reality combined with social trading.
These social-media informed communities (such as eToro and TradingFloor.com) open their portfolios for other members to see, follow, like or ‘copy’ their trading approach. This could be fertile territory for an immersive gamified experience with valuable real-life application.
By merging social technologies with accessible virtual reality (through Google Cardboard and a smartphone app), how we are productive and ways of doing business can be completely transformed.
It’s time to think beyond the marketing realm and into actually building businesses of the future that don’t just say they are customer-centred, they show by doing.
Anna Lawlor is a journalist, content creator and director of Social i Media. She was previously a financial journalist at the Financial Times (London) and most recently was commissioning editor of The Guardian’s Social Media Marketing series. As co-director of Social i Media – a boutique media communications agency in Cambridge and London – she helps brands communicate effectively across traditional and digital channels, in addition to producing journalistic content.