ABOUT: Growing up in Kenya, I watched as the country and my own family dealt with a lack of infrastructure. We sometimes lived without electricity and often bathed on a rock in the yard using a bucket full of rain water. It was out of this scarcity of basic facility that I developed a love for architecture, but my passion for VR didn’t come until much later of course.
My father was a self-made engineer in Nairobi and gave me my first job as an entry level draftsman. I moved to the US in 2004 to continue my education earning a BA in Interior Design and a Masters in Construction Management. There weren’t any schools training for 3D rendering, let alone Virtual Reality. Everything I mastered in the visualization realm of architecture was a self-taught effort.
Early on I freelanced for architects who were local to where I was at the time, having moved from Ohio to North Carolina, then Colorado, and finally to Southern California. I discovered that through powerful visualization I could significantly help move projects along, saving time and enhancing communication between the architects and their clients.
How did you guys get into VR?
– I formed SPACIALISTS in 2012 as a 3D rendering firm. In 2014 I saw Unreal Engine for the first time and I knew I was looking at the next stage of architectural visualization. In 2015 I began teaching myself how to use Unreal Engine to develop architectural VR and by 2016 we had completely transitioned our workflows at SPACIALISTS to put aside all of our traditional 3D rendering for Virtual Reality. Since then, we’ve worked in concert with Unreal’s Enterprise team to hone our offerings and workflows. They’ve been amazingly supportive since there really was no guidebook for ArchViz using Unreal. Now we are privileged to work with them in bettering the product offering to connect with architectural BIM programs.
What is it like working with you guys? What can I as a customer expect in terms of communication and collaboration? Take me through the process.
– We work with clients across the globe and we utilize talent where it grows, unrestricted by a physical office. Although our core team is in Los Angeles, this distributed team enables us to utilize the best talent in BIM and VR available. Having over 20 years of experience in marketing and operations, my wife, Jen, handles all of our client services. We provide contracts and payment systems online for convenience, beginning each project with a detailed scope of work. She has setup an amazing pricing strategy where our clients benefit from all-inclusive projects. That means, unlike traditional 3D rendering firms, we never charge per image for stills or per second for animation. We look at an overall level of effort and provide a flat rate price which helps to keep expectations and budgets in line.
– In ArchViz, architects and builders usually begin with the need for still imagery. Less often they ask for animations or video. Most of the time it’s our offering that introduces them to the possibilities of using VR for their projects. We utilize online meetings through Zoom to work through 3 phases with our clients: structural, texture/color, and functionality. Our clients love the online environment because we can make changes on the fly and they see immediate results. In traditional rendering a client might wait days or even weeks before seeing an update due to rendering time requirements.
How would you describe your company culture?
– SPACIALISTS in a project-oriented place. We work flexibly to ensure deliverables are on time and within budget. This benefits us because in VR you have to fly by the seat of your pants sometimes. There isn’t a proper way to achieve every outcome yet. We often have to make it up as we go along. That provides for an exciting environment for geeks like me. We’re never bored!
What is your company’s core expertise?
– SPACIALISTS is focused on spaces. As a result we often work with architects and builders, but we’ve also discovered a niche for startup entrepreneurs which has been very cool. Being entrepreneurial-minded myself I enjoy helping startups to create their vision. These VR experiences are often used in funding rounds so we play a big role in enabling investment. Our job is to bring the WOW factor, but also to create, often times designing the spaces themselves, considering functionality and marketability within a specific budget and scope.
Do you offer any type of satisfaction guarantee or revisions of completed work?
– All of our projects come with specific revision rounds identified. At each phase of work: structural, texture/color, and functionality, our clients have the opportunity to provide feedback and have those changes implemented. It’s a fantastic process that keeps everyone on track so we can deliver on budget and within the time allowed.
I’ve been living in a cave the last few years and just got back to work at the marketing department, can you explain to me why I should invest in a VR marketing campaign?
– Haha, I had to get my wife’s help on this one. From a marketing perspective and to use marketing terminology, VR has huge activation potential. It can be used to engage and sell not just in-person, but also in online environments. We all know that video is the most compelling form of social marketing. With VR, we can deliver outputs that provide stills, videos, 360º panoramas, and of course in-headset experiences. These deliverables provide material to execute across the customer lifecycle, from discovering your brand or product, to consideration and purchase. Typically a marketing effort would require much more in the way of development to achieve the same assets. You might shoot a commercial, create a print ad, develop social media posts, create content… all from different initial efforts and sometimes even from different agencies. Virtual Reality development can provide all of this and more.
What is your best tip for a brand looking to get launch its first VR experience? How should they think and act?
– I think the biggest recommendation I have is to be open and flexible. Try not to be confined by traditional approaches or thinking and partner with a company you trust to make smart recommendations.
If you were to speculate freely – what sort of VR experiences do you think we will see in the future, in terms of marketing?
– Specifically in architecture and in say, the residential space, homebuyers are getting younger. They’re expecting more from their buying experience. We have developed a virtual showroom that, for now, complements traditional textile samples. In headset you can build your interiors based on personal preference. We’d love for a client to come to us and ask for an audio experience on top of that. I know my 8 year old would be very pushy about influencing a home purchase where he was able to design his room and listen to his favorite band in the showroom. On top of that imagine if he were able to share that new room with his friends on Snapchat and even order his bedroom furniture upon home purchase with an incentivized discount from Ikea. Yeah, it’s sort of a consumer-focused viewpoint, but the excitement and convenience behind that buying experience is pretty cool.
To go back to my roots, there will be huge advancements for developing standards in 3rd world countries. One of the biggest issues for labor forces designing and building to standards is training. VR will make world-class training available in even remote parts of the globe. When we can get our workforces to understand standards we will raise the quality of our infrastructure, creating green communities and enhancing life for populations who have struggled with subpar building.
What are the risks and pitfalls with VR marketing? Describe what you would advise against doing.
– I would say start simple, but don’t forget to ask yourself, “How is this going to engage my customer?” along the way. I know that compelling content for me is not always what’s engaging for our clients or their customers. When we design a VR experience we have to think about the end user who will ultimately engage with it, how they’ll experience it, and what our customer needs to get out of it. These are all important to remember while developing VR marketing. You’re not just making something cool, it has to move the product or service forward.
Pick a brand and product that you like and tell me what sort of campaign you would create, given total freedom and an unlimited budget.
– Using my example above of a virtual showroom, I think any big home builder would be a great candidate to take home buying to the next level. Examples of these firms are D.R. Horton, Lennar Corp, Pulte, NVR, CalAtlantic, KB Homes, or Meritage. I would develop an interactive community where potential residents could experience what it would be like to live in their new home. In the beginning phases they could customize their interiors with flooring, wall color, countertop and cabinetry options, but they could also design their home with furnishings of their preference. During their buying process they could share their selections via video on social media and get a thumbs up from friends and family. Potentially they could even meet their new neighbors in VR. How cool would that be? As they sat down in their backyard to enjoy the pool they could hear and see their kids splashing around. Even the dog could get in on the action.
How big can VR marketing get and what will it take for it to get there?
– VR marketing is limitless at this point because it’s really just the first phase of the overall XR experience. As technologies combine to include AR/VR/AI combinations we will see cross platform interactivity that will support brands and drive engagement beyond anything that’s possible today. For the most part this is going to take thought leaders within brands that are able to take advantage of the possibilities. It will require risk takers who have a vision for what’s possible and it will take studios who are willing to collaborate in order to achieve more. There isn’t any one shop who can deliver a truly cross-platform experience that includes all of the XR elements as well as AI. The community needs to come together to move forward.
How would you define a successful VR marketing experience?
– Any successful marketing experience ends in engagement. Goals may appear different (branding, recognition, consideration), but they all lead to a sale. Effective marketing drives sales.
What is it about VR that gets you excited?
– The unlimited potential of VR is really exciting. In working with traditional 3D rendering programs, there’s a point where you master it and that’s kind of it. With VR it is still evolving all the time so there’s no end in sight. For a geek like me that’s super attractive.
What VR experience do you fantasize about experiencing in your lifetime?
– The ability to enable all of our senses in a virtual world would be amazing. I imagine traveling the world or even the Universe without leaving your house. That would be truly incredible and also valuable in helping us to understand where we live and the role we play. That is, until we can “beam up” using teleportation.
Anything you want to add?
– I’m so grateful that my job is to take dreams and turn them into reality. It’s a little bit magical and also incredibly effective for businesses in helping them communicate a vision or drive engagement. As our community grows, so does our ability to push capabilities. Because of that, we believe in a collaborative effort and invite everyone to learn VR. Right now we are offering specialized training for architectural and development firms who want to bring this cutting-edge tech in-house. If you ever want to geek out on VR feel free to reach out directly or connect with me on social. firstname.lastname@example.org / https://www.linkedin.com/in/philipoloo/
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