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[Expert view] How to best engage audiences with 360-degree video storytelling

Jon Mowat ()

I won’t bore you with statistics about video content dominating the internet, or stories of social networks moving towards a video-first future. I’m sure you’ve heard them all before, and are well-versed in the idea that video is vital for brands looking to get noticed in the digital age of superfast broadband and 4G mobile.

It’s no secret that the medium of moving pictures is the quickest way to catch the eye, but as more companies jump on the broadcast bandwagon, it’s increasingly tough to stand out and rise above the competition. As such, we’re witnessing a renewed emphasis on creating truly unique experiences that court that most coveted of marketing metrics: engagement.

One statistic you should take note of, then, is Think With Google research that indicates 360-degree videos achieve 42 per cent more ‘earned actions’ than standard videos. That’s almost twice the number of views, shares and subscribes - the key actions you’ll be looking at when gauging engagement rates.

Get the full picture

With YouTube and Facebook now supporting 360-degree playback, virtual panoramic viewing is finally going mainstream. VR headsets are readily available and relatively cheap, but they’re not a necessity because mobile viewers can simply point and turn their device to see the action from any angle. Desktop users can also immerse themselves by clicking and dragging the screen to face the desired direction. 

It’s this ability to manipulate the viewpoint that makes 360-degree video so innately appealing. Marketers often talk about ‘transporting the audience’, and inviting people to control their experience to the point where they feel as if they’re ‘inside’ the video is surely the ultimate transportation - creating deeper connections and fostering strong brand loyalty.  

An excellent example of 360 storytelling is Aardman Animations’ short film, ‘Special Delivery’. Be sure to ‘look up’ when you spot something fall to the ground, and then spin around to follow our protagonists as they wander in and out of shot. 

(Note that Apple software doesn’t yet support YouTube 360, so Safari users should switch browser to see the full picture.)

Navigating the screen at will creates an extraordinary encounter that is sure to live on in the memory, and it’s no wonder early adopters of 360-degree video have recorded such a surge in those all-important earned actions. 

Advertisers can learn a lot from this charmingly innovative animation, and Peter Lord, Aardman’s Oscar-winning creative director, states: “It’s a whole new, pioneering technology, so we’ve got an opportunity to make films in a way that no-one has made them before, and that’s a big deal. 

“We feel like gods, and it’s a privilege to play in this entirely new filmmaking environment. The whole medium is in its infancy and it’s got incredible potential for the future.”

Ultimate interactivity

Absorbing yourself in the narrative and becoming part of the action resonates in a much more meaningful way than standard, passive viewing, which is why I’m certain that 360-degree video marketing has a big future

Being able to explore and discover the action in your own way makes the content all the more compelling, leading to immersive experiences that form a two-way relationship - which is what true engagement is all about. 

Automotive videos work particularly well, as 360-degree production transports viewers to places they may have only ever dreamt about, such as life in the fast lane. (Apple software does allow Facebook 360 playback, so Safari users should be able to view the below video in all its panoramic glory.) 

BMW’s racy effort above has so far amassed 3.5 million Facebook views, and while it’s unlikely that every person who watches the film will rush out to buy a beamer, there’s no denying that offering such a high-octane experience has garnered a lot of attention.  

In addition to YouTube and Facebook, Vimeo has recently opened its doors to 360-degree playback, supporting immersive storytelling in upto 8K HD. This moving film, ‘The Source’, charts 13-year-old Selam’s story as her community receive clean and safe drinking water for the first time.

The Source from charity: water on Vimeo.

We’ve all seen the heartbreaking appeals from similar organisations, asking for funding to help provide the basic necessities that we all take for granted, but by being able to step inside the story and witness first-hand what life was like before support arrived, you can’t help but feel thankful when the well is built.

Charitable organisations rely on emotive messaging to convey the problems they’re trying to solve, and 360-degree storytelling can certainly breed deep connections.

The rise of online video will continue apace this year, with publishers such as Time Inc. focusing on developing video across all channels, and, while the medium is still in its relative infancy, you can expect to see plenty more in 360. 

As a former BBC filmmaker and now video marketer, I’ve been in the media industry for some 20 years, and I’ve never been more excited about such innovation.

Jon Mowat runs Hurricane Video Strategy. Connect with him on LinkedIn, and follow @HurricaneMedia on Twitter.

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