Forbes talks with Ms. Talley about the impact of the VR Era.

Virtual reality: What started as a means of entertainment has blossomed into a revolutionary tool for brands to connect with modern consumers on a significantly deeper level, and no one is connecting more quickly than millennials and Gen Z.

Smart brands are driving major sales growth by creating valuable, customized experiences that consumers are unable to get anywhere else through this medium. Consider the one-of-a-kind virtual experience created by nonprofit Pencils of Promise, which featured a replica classroom of a school in rural Ghana. Through VR headsets, attendees could walk through the space and experience the lives of Ghanaian schoolchildren half-way across the world. When attendees were able to see firsthand the community where their money was needed, they increased their contributions. This is just one example among many that exhibits the power VR has with today’s modern consumers.

According to Thomas Husson, VP and Principal Analyst at Forrester, and Samantha Merlivat, Forrester Analyst, VR will open up opportunities for marketers.

“In the next decade, we believe that unlike any channel to date, VR will offer highly immersive and intimate experiences with a future integrated with social and IoT,” he shared in a recent blog post. “This unique combination will create not just new storytelling capabilities, but also opportunities to craft whole new experiences as part of the brand offering. Companies like Facebook are betting on VR to fulfill the dream of what Second Life tried to achieve in 2007: enabling social interactions and gatherings within virtual spaces. Moving forward, VR will be enhanced by sensory devices that increase the immersive and realistic nature of virtual experiences and transition the users from passive participant to live actor. Think of it as ‘human teleportation.’”

To learn more about innovation in VR and what it will mean for the future of experiences for consumers and brands, I spoke with with Lori Talley, Vice President and Director of Digital Production at Cramer-Krasselt (CK). CK recently introduced an in-house innovation lab to confront the rapid rate of technological change in the advertising sector.

Jeff Fromm: Tell us about CK’s innovation lab.

Lori Talley: At launch, the lab functioned primarily as an experiential emerging-tech center for the agency and our clients to explore technology that was not widely available, such as augmented reality (AR) through HoloLens and six-degrees-of-freedom VR. Applications of these technologies are on the cusp of being commonplace, so it is a priority for us that individuals get hands-on experience and understand the potential applications for developing content.

The lab is also a creative hub where we collaborate to solve design challenges and prototype relevant usages. The lab itself and these collaborations have become instrumental in keeping our teams process-fit as well as tech-fit.

Since we launched early this year, I’ve taken nearly 100 people through their first full VR experience. I’ve been part user-research facilitator, part tilt-a-whirl operator.

Fromm: As a veteran in the digital technology space, what excites you most about bringing first-time experiences to others?

Talley: My favorite sessions are those when someone arrives convinced that they already know what this is – they’ve used Google Cardboard, they’ve watched some case studies, they’re convinced it’s not consumer ready, and they aren’t expecting much. Then, the moment the headset goes on is when the awe and delight begin. Jaws drop. It’s a treat because what I’m witnessing is no ordinary pleasantry but the lucid suspension of disbelief.

Fromm: What insights have you gleaned from these VR immersions?

Talley: VR is an inherently intimate experience where the outside world falls away. This turning inward lends itself to nuanced narratives that explore the human condition. I like to think about how you can play with this aspect. How might physical settings be constructed for multi-user experiences to create a liminal space between the real and the “real”? This makes VR an exciting design challenge.

I believe it was the Buddha that said “all experiences are preceded by mind, having mind as their master, created by mind.” Whether he meant to spark the design of virtual worlds, we’ll never know.

Fromm: How do you see VR impacting the work of advertisers and marketers?

Talley: Many in the industry aren’t convinced about the opportunity for advertising related to VR. This moment feels similar to when traditional ad cats used to naysay YouTube. I, on the other hand, am betting on a big impact. VR is going to change how consumers spend leisure time, how they learn, how they shop and how they interact with each other – and with brands. Keep in mind that Millennials and Gen Z will take on VR quickly.They’ve already forced the industry to chase them down social channels. This is no different. By the time they are immersed, we need to be at least as fluent as they are.

Fromm: Who is doing it well now and where do we go from here?

Talley: Agencies trying to break into VR are looking to the pioneers to help get their sea legs. Framestore, for example, has been redefining what can be achieved in cinema and commercial work for many years. They’ve been early adventurers in VR and it shows in the work.

VR isn’t simply enhancing our narratives with more imagery, it’s upending the idea of narrative. I see it as a new paradigm with great potential, but creatives need to reset and reimagine. Consider the difference in writing movies versus writing for the stage. I think we in the industry have a learning curve because of how good we’ve become at the :30 spot. We’ll be starting from scratch. Some groups will come up with some novel executions and be hailed heroes of the medium. The rest will chase after them, then “civilians” will start having fun and teach us a lesson or two, beat us at the game. Think YouTube stars; now VR stars.

What we know is that those stars, whether agency creatives or outlier hobbyists, will be inspired through firsthand experience. That’s the intention behind CK’s lab, and that’s the next step for all of us: Getting our own glimpse of the new world.