• Carola Epple

Interview: "360° really opened up another door for us"

Aktualisiert: 30. Juli 2019

Shortly before Christmas, I happened to find a recent application of VR in tourism, created by Visit Mammoth in California. As I was really impressed by their year-around 360° campaign and wanted to know more about it, I called Mammoth Lakes Tourism to find an interview partner. Some days later already, I had Meghan Miranda on the phone, the DMO’s Content Marketing Manager. Meghan essentially manages all of the content on Mammoth Lakes website (including the 360° videos) and also makes sure that this content is promoted on social media. She provided some insights into how the destination experimented with Virtual Reality and 360° and what others can learn from their experience.

What do you personally love most about Mammoth Lakes?

A lot of people don't realize is that Mammoth Lakes is a four-seasons destination. A lot of people either come in the winter for skiing and snow sports but they don't realize they could come in the summer. Or they come in the summer for fishing, camping and biking but they have never been here in winter. So it's nice that it's really a place that you can visit year around.

Why did you go for a 360° approach for Mammoth Lakes? What was your goal your team had with this project?

The idea to do a 360° campaign was actually brought to us by our agency MeringCarson, who pitched the idea. One of the main reasons behind was that Mammoth Lakes is such a kind of “larger than life” destination with grand mountains and the gorgeous scenery. Being able to show in 360° what the destination is like really helps to bring it to life for people who have never been to a place like Mammoth Lakes before.

Were there special challenges when it comes to planning and filming?

It was! As I said, Mammoth Lakes is a four seasons destination. We really wanted to capture that in the 360° video and make sure that we were showing all of the seasons and all of the different activities that you could do. One of the biggest challenges was that this was a yearlong project because we had to film in all four seasons. We started in the winter and we actually ended up having to have a custom-built camera for flying a drone with a large 360° camera at altitude - counted about 7800ft, and the mountain itself goes up to 11000 ft. To have a drone flying above capturing for example the skiers that you see in the video was really a challenge at altitude. So the actual camera and the drone component of the camera was custom built for this project. The technology changes so quickly. From when we started the project by the time we reached summer, there were already upgrades to the camera technology and upgrades to the editing process etc. So as the technology was evolving we had to constantly evolve as well as we were putting the project together.

When was the project finished?

We finished in waves. We actually launched a winter clip after the winter was edited. Instead of holding through the whole project, we first launched a winter version and then continued to film throughout the summer and we launched the full version once the summer video was finished.

As far as I could see when watching the videos, you used a first-person-perspective and a storytelling approach. Why was that important for this campaign?

One of the key factors for our brand is “tiny people, big mountains”. So we found that having a human factor in the video is really important to stick to that branding. You see a lot of VR videos out there where the person who's watching this video is maybe just standing in a room and looking around or standing in a landscape and looking around. There is not that storytelling and interactive element. So having that first person and storytelling approach really helped us to have viewers feel the place instead of just viewing the place.

We did an own empiric study on how Virtual Reality tools influence booking behaviour, and found out that emotional activation is the main factor for the impact of 360° content on travellers’ booking decisions. From your practical perspective, would you confirm that emotional activation and the feeling of being there is getting people more involved? Does 360° content make a difference compared to other media formats?

I think so –being able to put anybody in Mammoth Lakes via Virtual Reality and show them the absolute greatness of the mountains here really helps to associate what Mammoth Lakes is with the name – a name that people might not have heard of prior to seeing the video or seeing other pieces of our marketing campaign.

On which channels do you mainly use this content?

We have actually got our 360° campaign going on quite a few different channels: we have it on our website at a couple of different places on our summer activity page and our winter activity page. We also have lots of different versions that were cut for different social media channels. On Instagram, we have specific 2D versions so that people could still experience it on the channel even though it's not a channel for 360° videos. Then we had different clips that worked for YouTube as well. Some of our banner advertisements may be linked back to the YouTube version. Also, we did quite a bit of native advertising. USA Today was one of our big players where they had the capability of embedding 360° videos into their website. So we could have a 360° video cut coupled with native advertisement articles.

As of today, still not many people do have VR glasses at home. How do you deal with that, beyond the adapted 2D versions you mentioned?

We would of course love to see that the technology becomes a little more mainstream so that people can have the full experience in their home. One of the ways that we combat the issue of people not always having VR goggles is that we actually sent the video to a lot of live activation events. So we went to travel and event shows in different cities where we have big markets that come to Mammoth Lakes. For example we were in L.A. and in San Francisco, we also took the VR experience internationally a few times as well. So we had an in-person activation where we had goggles and we had people on-site explaining how to use this technology and helping people get the goggles on so they could have the full experience. When it comes to 360° content on our website we felt like we needed a little bit of teaching to happen: wherever we offer the VR video we have a little note that says that this is best viewed on a phone or tablet where you can actually move the video around – always remembering that not everyone is familiar with the technology.

Did you measure the success of this 360° campaign? And can you tell whether you were satisfied with the impact compared to “traditional” campaigns?

Yes, we were! One of the things we learned along the way was that it really depended on the medium where you're sharing the video. We first put out certain types of cuts and then we figured out what played well on some channels. Shorter little snippets played better on certain channels, versus on other channels you could play the full video that people were willing to watch the full version. So one of the things we learned is just to really be nimble with your marketing plan. When you put out something that's really innovative like this, you have to be willing to be flexible with how you present it to people. Because your thoughts of how it might be best shown might not be the most successful. But you will find success by being flexible.

Can you tell an example what worked particularly well?

We really played around with different timings and cuts. Certain social media platforms like Facebook count a video viewed differently than YouTube. So once we started having a few months evaluating these metrics we were able to tailor the content to specific channels.

From your point of view: What is the main value VR and 360° can have for travel and destination marketing?

As far as Mammoth Lakes is concerned: of course we use photos and we use traditional video as well. But 360° really opened up another door for us to be able to show how grand this place is and how you really are surrounded by mountains when you're here. It was also a nice way to be able to get all four seasons into one place and people could really get a better grasp of what the destination is. Of course photos and traditional video help with that, but 360° is just a whole other level for someone who has never heard of Mammoth Lakes before. This year, we actually partnered with Google for a Google DMO program. Part of the program was taking 360° photos in all of the local businesses. So now when people are googling local businesses in Mammoth Lakes not only can they find still photos of a Google listing but they can also see 360° photo of a restaurant or a 360° photo of a hotel room. So I agree: I think it's definitely gives a destination a leg up when they're using 360° not only for marketing and for special campaigns but also for regular searches in the destination. I think it really helps to elevate each and every local business that's represented by our tourism board. Now people can really get a sense of what they're looking at in a way that photography doesn't quite provide.

We've talked about the main benefits of 360°. Can you also think of some challenges that VR and 360° are still facing today?

I think the really rapidly changing technology is still a little bit of a glitch. Remember what I said when we started our project, technology was one thing and then by the time are wrapping the project nine months later we were looking at a whole different set of cameras in a different way of editing. I think when technology changes that quickly there's a bit of a barrier to entry for some businesses or some tourism boards. So I think that when the technology kind of settled and finds a good pace more people will be able to use that for their marketing campaigns.

Thank you so much for sharing your experiences, Meghan!

#360degrees #virtualreality #destinationmarketing #travelmarketing