San Rafael, CA
Moving Virtual Reality Into the Neighborhood
How to position a game-changing product in the nascent but increasingly crowded world of virtual reality.
After operating in stealth mode for 18 months, Nomadic launched its next-generation virtual reality (VR) product at CinemaCon 2017. Players were invited to strap on an Oculus Rift VR headset and a portable backpack computer and navigate a narrative-driven digital world filled with props and environmental effects that brought the adventure to life. Rather than simply witnessing a story—as with watching a movie, for example—players also experience it physically: they twist a doorknob to enter a room, they feel a blast of hot air from leaky pipes, they take in a stomach-twisting drop of several stories when venturing out onto a wobbly plank that connects one rooftop to another.
By engaging so many senses at once—sight, hearing, touch and, conceivably, smell and taste—the Nomadic experience “hijacks” the way our brains perceive the world and “opens the door to a whole new storytelling language, one that is far more immersive and thus more emotionally powerful,” said Doug Griffin, founder and CEO of the San Rafael, Calif., company. Players know the plank—in actuality an unsteady board—isn’t really stretched between two rooftops, but as soon as they take that first teetering step, they’re absolutely convinced that it is.
Entertainment technology, particularly within the in-home VR environment, has focused predominantly on the individual experience, which can be isolating. With Nomadic, not only are participants able to feel their way through the experience, they also move freely within the space and can interact with one another, both of which give it a refreshing old-school touch.
There is yet another element that differentiates Nomadic from the VR crowd. The six-member founding team—which brings decades of experience leading top film, gaming, retail, and brand companies—also aims to bring its experience out of the rarified realm of expensive theme parks and high-end gaming gadgetry and into the community.
Nomadic’s goal is simple, according to Kalon Gutierrez, head of growth for the company. “We want to be really family-friendly. We’re not just targeting the gamer who wants to shoot zombies. Our goal is to have a wide customer base.”
Nomadic has hit on a novel way to make that happen. Rather than build and operate its own VR locations, the company plans to partner with existing operators who have plenty of properties to play with—namely theater chains and mall owners—and are looking for the Next Big Thing to attract foot traffic and repeat business, both of which are in increasingly short supply as movie audiences turn to cable and streaming services and big-box mall visitors stay home to shop online. “There’s way too much empty real estate out there,” said Gutierrez. “We offer a way to bring customers back into cinemas, back into malls.” To that end, Nomadic will provide venues with reusable modular sets containing marked ground tiles that align with the virtual world and can be reconfigured within a day or two.
When the company contacted Cunningham Collective, it already knew it wanted to partner with cinema and mall operators. The issue was how to position itself in the marketplace in advance of its scheduled CinemaCon debut. “We were on the cusp of entering a very noisy market,” said Gutierrez, one that was likely to see some near-term consolidation. As a result, Nomadic knew it needed to pinpoint its place in the VR landscape—who it was and why it mattered—and establish a brand that would highlight its competitive advantage to both the B2B and B2C markets.
Cunningham Collective’s DNA-based positioning exercise revealed Nomadic to be what Cunningham calls a Missionary—a concept-oriented company featuring, in this case, the Next Big Thing in VR: cutting-edge technology designed to take the industry to the next level by creating an exciting, family-friendly, and accessible (both location-wise and monetarily) medium of entertainment.
A series of interviews and meetings with the company’s executive team and advisors revealed Nomadic’s vision of creating “immersive entertainment within reach” and its mission to continually create a sense of “Wow!” in everyone who participates in a Nomadic VR adventure. “We agreed as a company was that if something isn’t guaranteed to elicit a ‘Wow!’ once the headset comes off, then it’s not a Nomadic experience and we’re not going to create it,” said Gutierrez.
Similarly, although the word “adventure” was not initially on the company’s radar, it came up during one of the exercises and eventually became part of Nomadic’s identity and lexicon. “We weren’t keen on the word at first,” said Gutierrez. “A lot of our competitors in space are very technical in how they describe what they do. But being technical doesn’t help when you think of participants, who are our consumers. We also came to realize it wasn’t going to help with cinemas and malls, our B2B partners. Which got us thinking: what are we really creating? Well, we’re not a technology company. We’re not creating headsets, we’re not creating computer chips—that’s not what we do. We’re a concept company that creates adventures.”
Gutierrez added that once everything was laid out, the tagline “Blur the line” was a no-brainer. “Bam! It just totally made sense,” he said. “That’s what we do—we blur the lines between virtual and real.”
Thus the following elevator story (since updated, as noted later), which incorporated the company’s position (the first sentence) and its key messages: Nomadic is an immersive entertainment company creating tactile VR adventures for neighborhoods everywhere. Partners choose Nomadic to deliver unforgettable experiences that keep participants coming back. Nomadic’s turnkey, convertible environments open imaginations through fresh immersive experiences worth sharing. At Nomadic, we’re not only creating the world’s next medium of entertainment, we’re blurring the line between the virtual and the real..
With its position and brand in hand, Nomadic premiered its launch and messaging at CinemaCon 2017. As the largest gathering for the motion picture theater industry, the event attracts attendees from more than 80 countries, making it an ideal venue for the company to promote its game-changing platform to the world at large and, more specifically, to theater operators interested in transforming some of their cinema real estate into VR attractions.
Companies are never static, however, and positioning must keep pace with corporate growth and evolution. Post-CinemaCon, Nomadic conducted business development meetings that helped the company sharpen its focus on providing a platform for VR content. It also tested its messaging to see what worked in the market. As a result of the findings, the executive team asked us to come back for a positioning refresh workshop, and while the meeting confirmed much of the existing language, Jim Preston, the new Executive Producer, mentioned that he had been describing Nomadic’s content as “tactile and walkable.” The phrase resonated with the group and the team opted to incorporate it into Nomadic’s message architecture and elevator story, which has been updated as follows:
Nomadic is the immersive entertainment company delivering tactile and walkable VR adventures to neighborhoods everywhere. Our turnkey platform enables content and venue partners to continuously wow a broad community. At Nomadic, we’re blurring the line between virtual and reality.
The new narrative offers myriad benefits. As the company scales, Nomadic has a strategic document that allows employees to execute the brand immediately and consistently via existing and future channels of message distribution: its website, blogs, social media, brochures, sales enablement materials, press releases, advertisements, direct marketing and email campaigns, speeches, and white papers.
All of which bolsters Nomadic’s confidence that its VR brand is precisely positioned to become the new medium for out-of-home entertainment, particularly as movie theater attendance continues to drop among key demographics. The way Nomadic sees it, however, that shift doesn’t have to equate to empty theaters. As Michael De Luca, an Oscar-nominated Hollywood producer, told Variety, when it comes to cinema today, “It’s the Wild West in terms of content. All the old traditions and formats are up for grabs.”