VRguy podcast Episode 12: Bernadette Jiwa on VR in Marketing

My guest today is Bernadette Jiwa, author of five #1 Amazon Bestsellers on marketing and brand storytelling–‘Make Your Idea Matter’, ‘The Fortune Cookie Principle’, ‘Difference, Marketing: A Love Story and her latest book, Meaningful.. This episode was recorded on May 17th, 2016.

Bernadette and I talk about the opportunities and risks for using VR in marketing campaigns as well as the about perfecting the complete VR experience.

Bernadette’s blog TheStoryofTelling.com was voted as the Best Australian Business Blog in 2012 and chosen by Smart Company as one of Australia’s Top 20 Business Blogs in 2013 and 2014. It topped that list in 2016. Bernadette’s book Meaningful featured on Inc Magazine’s Best Business Books of 2015. She has been named as one of the Top 100 Branding Experts to follow on Twitter and she spoke at TEDxPerth about ‘The Secret To Spreading Ideas’.

Her work as a brand story and marketing strategist and marketing thought leader sees her consulting with and speaking to global brands, business leaders and entrepreneurs from Sydney to New York (and everywhere in between). Bernadette helps them to intentionally craft marketing strategies and tell brand stories that communicate their difference and make them matter to their customers.

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Interview transcript

Yuval Boger (VRguy):      Hello, Bernadette, and welcome to the program.

Bernadette Jiwa:              Thanks, Yuval, for having me. It’s a pleasure to be here.

VRguy:  I’m always excited when people come on to my program, but I’m particularly excited to have you, both because I’m a big fan of your work, and also because you’re outside the VR community. For those who don’t know you, who are you and what do you do?

Bernadette:       My name is Bernadette Jiwa and I’m a brand story strategy consultant. What I do is help people like you to get better at understanding their customers and also telling their story.

VRguy:  Excellent. VR in marketing is sort of a new technology and once every couple of years, new things pop up, whether it’s Facebook or Twitter or web site or something else. How does a marketer go about determining if virtual reality is a good use for what they are trying to do?

Bernadette:       I think it’s really interesting that you mention all the different kinds of technologies that we can take up and we are bombarded with. I think it gets back to basics, Yuval, which is some of the things that you’ve read on my blog and some of the conversations we’ve had. Your story starts with the customers story.

One of the most exciting things I was thinking about as I was on my walk this morning, I was thinking about you. I saw this big piece of marketing on a billboard, and it was outside a church actually. It was an image of a woman and a couple of kids and it said, “Rent or groceries, which would you choose?”

It obviously is trying to get us to empathize with this person, which is very difficult to do. I was thinking, that might be a really great use for VR. Helping us to stand in our customers shoes, which I hadn’t thought about before, I knew we were speaking this morning, but helping us to stand in our customers shoes and really to tap into what they’re feeling, and understanding them, is the first key to us telling better stories. That’s something that marketers are certainly going to be very interested in doing.

VRguy:  So start with the customers story: What is it that you’re trying to do, and then use VR just as one tactic to tell that story.

Bernadette:       It could be used in that way. That was the first time I actually thought about that. That just happened by accident this morning. I think what we were discussing before I came on the podcast was, “What might the opportunities be for us to enhance our story?” That’s still to be discovered. The potential for video, even 10 years ago, people had no idea where that was going to go.

Imagery with Instagram … Before the launch of Instagram, brands had no idea that imagery was going to be so important as a tactic and tool for marketing. I think we’re on the cutting edge here of something really exciting. It’s definitely something that people should be exploring.

VRguy:  We’ve seen companies like McDonald’s experiment with VR as well as Volvo and others. Maybe for some it’s just a novelty, a way to get people to take a look at the first time, or retake a look at their story. Are there companies that you feel are more suitable for this kind of technology than others?

Bernadette:       What starts out as a novelty, sometimes just becomes mainstream. I think it’s all kinds of companies that can take advantage of this. There is an example this morning of a non-profit who could use the technology, not just to tell their story, but to help us stand in the shoes of the person that they want us to help. So that would be an interesting way to use it. As you said, if we’ve already seen examples as diverse as McDonald’s … If you can sell burgers and sell cars, who knows where we’re going to go with this.

VRguy:  Absolutely. I think one of the dangers or opportunities with VR is that the experience could be so immersive. You see nothing else except what you see inside the headset. You could have sound that’s coming from all directions. You could have a first-person view of what’s going on. It may carry a risk that it becomes sort of the only thing out of the story. When you’re in VR, that’s the only thing you care about. I think there might be a challenge in tying it to other marketing avenues, to other aspects of the same story.

Bernadette:       How do you think you get over that? I know that was a challenge for Instagram and the imagery side of things. It’s all very well to get people to look at something. How do we move them along and get them more interested and increase engagement, I guess?

VRguy:  If I have a company that’s completely new to this market, how would I go about figuring out if VR is a good technology for me, or any new technology is a good building block for my story?

Bernadette:       What’s the first thing you do, Yuval, when people contact you and they are interested in knowing more about it, not necessarily in the marketing space?

VRguy:  I try to understand what is it that they are trying to achieve? What do they think they are going to do with the goggles, assuming they are asking for ones? What is the environment that they would use it? Who are the users?

Bernadette:       Have you had any experience with people who are using it for marketing, personally? Is that something you’ve come across?

VRguy:  We spoke about Volvo, and I certainly see it in automotive areas that there’s a notion of this virtual showroom where you can do two things. One, is you can explore what it is to be in a car, even if that particular car is not in the showroom. The other is, it allows you to essentially go inside the car and even look inside the engine, figure out how it works, even look underneath the car, virtually, whether it exists in the showroom or not.

Bernadette:       It’s amazing. I was thinking about how it might also work for medical technology or teaching. There’s so many avenues we could go down with it. You’re on the cusp of something fantastic.

VRguy:  As well as journalism, the ability to bring immersive views into your living room, and to experience something from unusual viewpoints. For instance, when I’m not doing VR, I play the violin a little bit. I’m supposed to be performing in a quartet in a month. We’re thinking about taking a 360 degree camera and putting it right in the middle of the quartet – it’s a string quartet – so the viewers could experience what it’s like to be inside it as opposed to just in the audience, off the stage.

Bernadette:       Wow.

VRguy:  At the very least, I’m curious to see how that would feel after the fact. Imagine putting it on the podium with a conductor of a symphony orchestra and see the world from a completely different standpoint.

Bernadette:       I think what would really be interesting also is to ask people how it felt afterwards. I think going back to your point about how marketers could think about using it, I think part of it is trying and testing. Do something small. How do we go from insights to ideas? We start small. We have a hunch. We take that insight, and then we test it.

What’s the smallest thing they can do with the VR goggles? Then, approach the customers and see what their experience has been and then think about how they can scale that.

VRguy:  Baby steps. Lots of quick experimentation.

We also see customers where the VR experience is the product. You go someplace and pay a few dollars and then you go into a virtual reality arcade or a virtual reality experience.

Do you think that those companies should focus just on the visual quality of the experience, or even for those companies is there a bigger story?

Bernadette:       I think the bigger story is … The whole story of your company isn’t just when the customer opens the product or experiences the product. It’s all the steps to creating a really great experience before they even get there.

Apple does that so well with packaging. Apple does that so well with their stores. The experience isn’t just using the product, the experience is what happens in the lead up to that, and what happens afterwards. What’s the follow up? What’s the customer service after that? That’s all part of the story.

I guess one of the challenges for people in your space might be, when the VR is the product, is thinking we just need to focus on those few minutes when they’re actually immersed in the experience.

What happens before and what happens after? It’s going to be interesting.

VRguy:  You’re saying that when you go to a restaurant, it’s not always just about the food, but how you’re greeted and how you’re seated. Even after the food, the manager coming to see how the meal was and so on.

Bernadette:       Exactly. It’s hardly ever just about the food is it? When you think about why we go and pay $4 for a cup of coffee, it’s never about the coffee is it? It’s just all about the experience and how we want to feel in that moment.

For your customers and your clients, if VR is their product, it’s not just about how the customer wants to feel in the moment they’re experiencing the product, it’s the story they need to understand before and after, and how they feel during the whole experience.

VRguy:  So focus on how does it make your customer feel?

Bernadette:       Yeah, we talk about that a lot. (laughs)

VRguy:  (laughs) We do. And design the whole experience around that. As we come closer to the end of this short conversation, one of the things that I worry about when people put on a pair of goggles, they’re sometimes completely isolated from the world. I wonder how to inject the social aspect, sharing this with friends and so on. Is it enough to see my friends as funny avatars inside the experience, or should there be something else? What do you think about that?

Bernadette:       It’s something I’m concerned about. As the mother of three boys who are millennials … We’re very distracted by our technology.

I try to project 10 years hence and think, what will the world look like when everybody can step into an alternate reality, and maybe it will be more attractive to live there. Maybe that’s something you can help me come to terms with and explain how you think we might overcome those potential challenges.

VRguy:  That’s probably a long conversation for another day.

Bernadette:       (laughs) We can do it.

VRguy:  I mean, you’re right. When the virtual reality experience becomes better and better, people sometimes don’t want to go back to the actual reality.

One thing briefly: we spoke about virtual reality. There’s also the topic of augmented reality, whether it’s Google Glass or some more modern products.

You can have a three-dimensional table pop out of the pages of a magazine just to give you a better perspective of what it would look like from all angles.

Bernadette:       It’s interesting you mention Glass there because that was maybe and idea before its time. Maybe the timing wasn’t right for it, but it’s interesting that people perceived the Glass wearers as lacking empathy. People had concerns about privacy and all sorts of other things. Again we’re back to this whole piece about understanding the worldview of the people that we serve and tapping into that before we begin to tell our story.

VRguy:  In retrospect, Glass might have been a very technically sound product, but not maybe put in the right context. Both the user looked weird or a geek, and the other people around that user were not sure if the user was paying attention to them or to Glass, and whether they’re going to be recorded and so on.

Bernadette:       I’m sure it must be great just wandering around your home or your office and use Glass there. It’s when you come into contact with the real world that it starts to unravel a bit because of the whole context and the idea that we need to interact with each other at that point. Maybe, as you say that’s one of the things you worry about with VR … How do we use this kind of immersive technology and still live in the real world together?

It’s exciting to see how that’s going to unfold.

VRguy:  I had a guest a few weeks ago that talked about Glass and how it’s being experimentally used I think in the Virgin Airlines lounge at Heathrow where someone greets you wearing a wearable computer and says, “Look, I’m wearing this so I can serve you better as opposed to standing behind a desk and looking down at my monitor. How do you feel about that?”

So they try to preface the experience with explaining what it is that I’m doing and why is it going to serve you better.

Bernadette:       I guess what’s interesting about that is that, if you have to explain too much of the context … because we don’t get very many minutes really to … and people often react before you have the chance to explain people’s feelings bubble up. If you have to explain the context so deeply in that short interaction, then it might still be missing the mark.

It’s interesting how that’s going to unfold.

And yet, we’re quite happy, we’re quite okay with seeing people not looking and paying attention to anything, and looking at their phones and bumping into us in the street. We feel okay about that. We accept that that’s the norm.

VRguy:  Part of that, being on the cutting edge of technology is, over time more people understand what that is. I used to go through airport security scanners with goggles in my bag, and “oh, what’s this?” Now the TSA guy says, “Oh, it’s a virtual reality goggle. Oh, great.”

Bernadette:       How interesting is that?

VRguy:  Well, Bernadette, this has been great, although short. Where could people connect with you online to learn a little bit more about what you do?

Bernadette:       My blog and web site is TheStoryofTelling.com and everything that I do is there. They can connect with me there.

VRguy:  Excellent. Thank you so much for coming to my program.

Bernadette:       Thanks for having me.

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