Immersive Content describes content – words, charts, data visualizations, quizzes, surveys, etc. – that a reader interacts with or experiences, rather than merely reads passively, as they would a static piece of content such as a PDF or webpage.
I believe there is a content continuum where online digital content has traditionally appeared in a static form but has increasingly become more interactive (with the use of polls, surveys and quizzes that invite and require responses from the reader). The most involving and memorable content is immersive content which is more effective than the first two. Design professionals agree that the most effective content is that which immerses the reader in an experiential way.
- Static -> Interactive -> Immersive
- PDF -> Surveys/Polls -> VR & AR
A recent study done by ceros.com talks about how online content that provides an immersive experience is orders of magnitude more effective than static content. If we think about content that could be called immersive, we would be talking about Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality. Given the state of technology, we are pretty much at the point where VR is the next level of engagement with online content. This is the way to truly engage online visitors in a memorable experience. The challenge is that it requires much greater design and creative talent than the static (or even interactive) variety.
When I consider retail use of immersive content, I think of people going to retail outlets (such as car dealerships) for the interactive experience of engaging with the product, the people associated with delivering the product and to ask questions that are often somewhat unique to each client’s needs. The way to replicate that element of the purchase process is to duplicate the experience (to the extent possible) via an online interaction.
Automotive retail websites are still in the interactive stage – offering payment calculators, build & price functionality, and virtual vehicle walkarounds. But that is pretty uncreative. Automotive web designers are effectively fighting a new war with the somewhat improved weapons of the last conflict. Regimes get overturned by competitors playing by a new set of rules and with new technologies that change the very essence of the game. The true game changer is the first to bring a new paradigm to the field. I believe immersive content in the form of VR and AR is the next frontier and the new battleground.
In the automotive retail industry, we have already seen the car purchase revolutionized by technology that allows for most, if not all, of the purchase process to be done online. Digital platforms like Motoinsight’s MotoCommerce (teaming up with Genesis, Hyundai, and autoTRADER.ca) are quickly changing the retail car sales game (and thanks to COVID-19 and receptive buyers who have been “trained” on Amazon.com). I am not sure how many dealers are ready for the next shoe to drop but some vehicle OEMs are already working on Virtual Reality (VR) systems that dealerships will be using as early as 2021 to help sell and deliver new cars.
Here’s how I believe this plays out in the automotive retail world. People visit a dealership during the purchase process because they want to see and experience the vehicle “in person”; how it looks from every angle (inside and out), what it is like to sit in the vehicle, feel the steering wheel, check out the sight lines from the driver’s seat, handle the controls and ultimately take it on the road to experience the way it rides and handles. Many also want to talk to someone about the vehicle; ask questions, get reassurance that the vehicle is going to meet their needs, and how it stacks up against competition (even if they know the answer will be somewhat biased).
Now this is not a description of all buyers. The other buyers fall into two groups: one group is loyal to a brand and simply wants to replace their fifth Toyota Camry with their sixth. Another group sees the vehicle as a transportation appliance that will get them around efficiently, safely and comfortably. For the latter two groups, the best experience is a reasonably quick and smooth process where not too much time at the dealership is desired most. But for the folks who want to touch and feel, the immersive digital experience of VR might satisfy many of their needs as well as be a novel and interesting way to streamline the purchase process for repeat purchasers and utility buyers.
The scenario I just described may be a little way off. After all, dealership websites have only recently started to become truly interactive. Buying cars totally online has not yet become a common practice and the ability to create an immersive website is awaiting the talent and money to make it happen. But, I am already seeing 360 degree videos on my Facebook feed so the next frontier may be closer than we think.