Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) have been around for years, but they are just now starting to seep into the mainstream discussion for communications, rather than being relegated to tech-specific outreach and forums. As communicators begin to test the waters to see how and when they might use VR and AR technologies as part of their public relations plans, that persistent question has started to surface: “How the heck are we going to measure this?”
I’m sure that there are people out there who argue this is putting the cart before the horse—we need to understand the useful application of VR and AR before we can even think about tying it to business goals and determining how to measure it.
I’d argue that this is exactly the time to be thinking about this and planning for it, because at some point an early adopter or innovator will make a claim about how effective VR marketing was in a program…and then there will be a stampede to see who can wrap VR into programs the quickest. PR practitioners and marketers suggesting VR ideas without a plan to measure will be wasting time and money.
Issues with Measuring VR/AR
VR and AR are immersive experiences, which means that at least part of the objective in using them in communications is to evoke an emotional response. Emotional responses are naturally tricky to measure, and when they are, it’s usually through a higher-cost measurement method such as surveys. The way to address this is to identify an action that can be measured that is triggered by the emotional response.
So, what can be measured?
A solid example of measuring is in a post by Stuart Bruce about using VR for public relations. The post details how Amnesty International used VR to raise awareness about bombing in Aleppo, Syria. Using VR provided viewers with a more heightened experience than watching the issue on television, and definitely elicited an emotional response. What was measured effectively was not the emotional response, but the increase in donations that the emotional response elicited. The organization identified a 16 percent increase in direct-debit donations after individuals viewed the VR footage.
Another example of effective measurement in AR comes to us courtesy of the Pokémon Go craze. A variety of businesses used the “Lure Module” to get Pokémon characters to their locations, which ultimately increased sales. One example in this CNBC article quotes a pizzeria manager who spent $10 on the “Lure Module” and saw a 75 percent increase in food and beverage sales from all of the increased foot traffic.
It’s going to be important to tie VR and AR use in communications campaigns to these types of concrete activities. We’ve heard a great deal over the last few years about the importance of storytelling when developing communications materials, and VR/AR can certainly assist in that process. As PR has started to really get comfortable with the need for measurement, throwing new platforms and delivery systems into the mix has the potential to throw things off track. It’s new. It’s different. But it can be used to convey messaging that ties back to the same measureable business goals that are being measured.
Starting to think about these challenges and how to address them by tailoring programs so they make sense will mean you are that much ahead of the curve when VR and AR really start to take hold in communications programs.