360 video is a powerful and unique marketing tool that still hasn’t reached its full potential. Part of this probably stems from its platform getting lost in the headlines; with it quietly rolling out on YouTube and Facebook, it doesn’t quite have the sexy value as headline-grabbing tech such as VR headsets or augmented reality apps (see the Pokemon Go explosion). Yet from a marketing perspective, 360 video acts as a happy medium between the two, all while being accessible through easily embedded video.

A 360 Video Primer

First off, what exactly is 360 video? It is simply a video that has been shot with a 360-degree camera. This creates an immersive video experience similar to VR but without the expensive headset — your viewing angle is adjusted via the cursor or a swipe on a mobile device. While in this immersive environment, it’s possible to append items in the 360 experience, allowing for text and notes to appear similar to augmented reality.

360 video can be interactive still photos — think Street View on Google Maps — or fully interactive video. How it’s executed depends solely on the camera used and your desired platform; as mentioned, YouTube and Facebook allow for embedded 360 video while Google Maps can embed an inside Street View experience with Google WalkInto. In fact, Facebook is even allowing 360 video to be uploaded to profiles.

How Can I Use 360 Video?

360 video can be an innovative and immersive experience, something that delivers a more powerful marketing message by giving a much stronger sense of “being there.” At the same time, it’s overkill for many things, so it should be used with discretion. Let’s take a look at a few different ways 360 video has been used for businesses:

Online Tours: A decade ago, an online tour usually meant clicking through a slideshow. The problem with this method is that it failed to truly give a sense of scope — think about how much periphery is cut out of a standard photo orientation. If you’re renting out a facility, such as a B&B, party venue, or our award-winning (2016 Videographer Award in the Facility Overview category) 360 tour for Meets the Eye Studios in San Carlos, 360 video can do a much better job of helping potential clients feel immersed in the area. In short, any business that provides rental and booking of a location, 360 video is the next best thing to seeing it in person.

Unique Demonstrations: 360 video can provide a more immersive view of a product as it’s being used. Or for service-based businesses, it can give the viewer control while watching the service in action. For example, a landscaping company could use a 360 video to provide a unique view as to how they install and maintain lawns, flower beds, and other landscapes. Promotion for a product might show the actual product in use, with the viewer able to look around and watch it in action from all angles. An example of this might be watersports equipment; a 360 video of equipment in action allows potential customers to get a better sense of how it works and why it’s better than the competition.

Immersive Storytelling: Sometimes a product or service isn’t necessarily tangible in a way that allows for a 360 video demonstration. However, many companies have found success using this technology for a more immersive storytelling experience  to better convey brand and message. In November 2015, Ad Age compiled the first group of 360 video Facebook ads. Most of these do little to showcase a product or service, and instead, tell a story about how people experience those things or a specific brand identity. The use of 360 video helps turn the promotion from a passive watching experience to an interactive engagement featuring 360-degrees of exploration.

Does 360 Video Perform As A Marketing Tool?

You may be thinking to yourself “This technology is really cool but what will the return on investment be?” While many companies haven’t disclosed the success or failure of their 360 video campaigns, Google partnered with Columbia Sportswear to create side-by-side video campaigns using Olympic skiers.

To find out whether spherical video ads drive more viewer engagement than standard video ads, we created two similar campaigns using TrueView, YouTube’s choice-based ad format. Each campaign featured a 60-second spot for Columbia Sportswear; one version was shot and presented in 360 video, and the other was a standard format video ad. Both ads included CTAs in the lower-left corner that drove to an extended version, so that we could see if the 360 ad was better than the standard ad at driving viewers to a full-length video.

The results examined traditional advertising metrics and provided some surprises:

  • The standard ad outperformed the 360 video in view rate
  • The 360 video had a higher clickthrough and engagement rate
  • The 360 video drove further engagement (share, subscription, other views)

What does this mean? When you put it all together, you’re actually getting more bang for your buck. Think about it this way — in this platform, cost incurs with view rate. Thus, the 360 video had a lower cost because fewer people viewed it. (The article speculates why this is.) However, the engagement rate was much higher, and it also encouraged further sharing to help the video gain viral traction.

In layman’s terms, the general public wanted to view the standard ad most of the time when it appeared. However, when they felt pulled in by the 360 experience, they actively played with the possibilities given by the technology, and also felt compelled to share it. Thus, the video was successful in actively strengthening the Columbia Sportswear brand while costing less than the standard video (outside of the equipment needed to create the video).

What It All Means

People are naturally curious. They like to click things, explore, look around. We see this from a very early age with toddlers and children, but it’s a given with marketing for adults too — interactive digital signage performs much better than static signage. 360 video is an avenue that scratches that natural itch while delivering cutting-edge technology. The best part about this is that creating a 360 video is not much more difficult or expensive than creating a standard video.

Through the three methods described above, nearly every business can find a way to showcase, demonstrate, or tell a story using 360 video — so what about yours? I’d love to hear your thoughts on 360 video. Please feel free to leave a comment below and I’m excited to continue the conversation with you.