Remember what it used to be like to not know something? Transport yourself a few decades back and think about what that experience was like.

Someone just asked you what the capital of Washington State is. You know it’s not Seattle – even though it probably should be Seattle – but what is it? After a minute or two of thinking, you remember that map of the Pacific Northwest in your glovebox. You head out to the garage, grab it, and look up the capital. Olympia. Of course.

This behaviour no longer exists in a digital world. You used to think nothing of devoting five minutes of your life to answering a basic trivia question. Now, as fast as you can think of the question, you have your answer. There is an abundance of information and it has worked to collectively reduce our attention span to the point where goldfish are better at focusing than the average human.

This is why you constantly hear about the attention economy. No matter what you or your brand is doing, there is a constant struggle to capture and hold people’s attention. Blasting your message is not enough. People are primarily interested in seeking out relevant content, so you have to convince them that you deserve their time. You have to seek your audience out across the many fractured channels of distribution and interaction present in our digital world.

So how do you counteract this world? You create your own. That is the VR advantage.

Rewriting the Rules

Virtual reality is a very unique medium. It’s technology that, with a touch of irony, actually allows us to escape the constant distractions that technology creates. Notifications and new tabs are pushed aside as you become immersed in an experience. In a world where marketers pat themselves on the back when someone sits through five seconds of YouTube pre-roll, you can practically hear their lips smacking at the prospect of the immersive nature of VR. Which is exactly why we must be cautious and thoughtful – but fast-acting – as we approach it, being sure to apply a solid communication strategy.

People are excited by the idea of VR. Those that have tried it are blown away, and they’re right to be. After Facebook’s acquisition of Oculus, Mark Zuckerberg himself said “it’s different from anything they’ve ever experienced in their lives.”

I couldn’t agree more. Strap on a headset and the effect is immediate. Casual observers get to watch as a huge grin spreads across the face of those that enter another reality.

But this opportunity won’t be around forever.

One Chance to Make a First Impression

In many ways, this is the year of VR, and it’s time for brands to make a splash. People are hungry for the chance to try it out, presenting brands with the opportunity to be people’s introduction to the experience. But the opportunity to capitalize on this honeymoon effect is fading fast.

Wait too long and you’re out of luck. People adapt to new technologies, standards get set, and their impact is lessened. Be it radio, television, the personal computer, or smartphones – each technology has evolved to become part of our everyday existence.

This will happen with VR, causing the bar for impressive content and experiences to rise. For brands, being proactive and creative right now affords the ability to deliver impressions before the medium of VR becomes just another channel.

Creating a New World

The creative playbox that VR brings with it is unlike anything people have experienced before. As a brand, you have the opportunity to craft an entire world in which you control every facet – even physics. Creating a world isn’t enough though. You have to create a world that people choose to spend their time in.

This is an entirely new ball game, and it requires a wholly different approach. The “viewer” no longer exists. Instead, people become active participants in your world. Best practices are still just best guesses and there is plenty of room for experimentation. Brands have the chance to set the standards that get people invested in the experiences they create.

The brands that nail this will be on the ground floor of the fully-realized potential of VR and the impact it can have on the human experience. You’ll have the attention of people, and the marketing world at large. And when attention is money, that adds up pretty quick.

Featured image courtesy of World Economic Forum.