Chris Thomas, Head of Digital, Involved Media and Active International
By now, we all know what the metaverse is, in a general sense. However, until the technology catches up with the promise, there isn’t a great deal we can do and misunderstanding within the industry is rife. That doesn’t mean there isn’t an opportunity for brands to be open-minded about its potential for both marketing and business. In fact, we need to be, because now is the optimal time to plan and experiment with how your business can leverage the metaverse in the future.
Understandably, there has been some recent dismay at the future of the metaverse due to the current state of cryptocurrency. However, it should be noted that the metaverse isn’t necessarily propped up by crypto, nor is it solely reliant on the crypto market being strong. As McKinsey recently put it, the metaverse is simply an evolution of today’s internet that is always on, immersive, and allows individuals to have greater identity and agency in their digital interactions.
Nothing about the metaverse is certain. On one hand, there’s a lot of momentum from Meta and other big players to make it a reality. On the other hand, there’s a lot of doubt and prediction of failure. It’s the tension between these two points that seems to keep it afloat in discussion.
Currently, there are barriers to the success of the metaverse. Technologically, networking and computing capability are not sufficient to support a real-time digital world en masse. Then, there is the question of cultural change: mindsets need to be shifted and are people willing to do this? Whatever these barriers are, there has been too much investment for businesses to let the metaverse fail entirely, so rest assured, the barriers will be overcome. The question isn’t so much whether they will be overcome, but in what capacity, ultimately determining the extent to which the metaverse will impact day-to-day life. What will matter most at that point in time is how prepared your business is. Do you have a strategy? Do you have an offering that translates into the digital world?
There are already a lot of companies that are starting to implement “metaverse strategies” or push their own business offering in the metaverse – not in an attempt to shift the bottom line, but more to set themselves up for the future. It shows their audience that they are open and willing to embrace new tech and, more importantly, to embrace a new value proposition. The kicker here is the perception that they are progressive, which a good chunk of the brands actually are.
Before you dive headfirst into a strategy for your business, you need to understand how the metaverse differs (or will differ) to current business practices. In theory, the metaverse is a shift away from the traditional business to consumer relationship. The consumer has a higher degree of control because of how their identity data is stored: in some aspects the consumer comes first because they make the choice to engage, to opt-in and to share parts of their identity. Furthermore, they can remove this sharing at will as they fully own their identity data in the metaverse. What becomes important is the two-way relationship between businesses and consumers, as long as there is a beneficial value for each party then the sharing of information for service or product will be present.
One of the simplest explanations of the metaverse is that it is the replica of physical environments in the digital world, in a super accessible way. But just because you sell a physical good or service in the physical world doesn’t mean it should be replicated the same way in the virtual world.
First, look at your business and start picking and choosing what currently appeals, and what you think will continue to appeal, to your consumers. You need to clearly understand what can be translated into the metaverse, and what cannot. The biggest folly with assimilating to the metaverse will be assuming that everything will translate, because it won’t.
Gucci is a prime example of translating well: in May last year, it partnered with the gaming platform Roblox to create the Gucci Garden, a two-week art installation that was a virtual recreation of a real-world installation in Florence. Like its real-life counterpart, the Gucci Garden in Roblox offered various themed rooms paying homage to the brand’s campaigns while transcending the laws of physics – offering something unique that wasn’t possible in the real-life installation.
Then there are translations which fell short, like Miller Lite’s “metaverse bar” that was hosted on the virtual real estate platform Decentraland. It sounded good in theory, but the problem was that buying a beer at the digital bar didn’t actually grant you one in real life. It was essentially a virtual hangout room that offered very little in the way of value to the consumer.
The real opportunity here is that companies have a chance to set up how their business or brand will be viewed in the future, to make the necessary changes, to perhaps launch a new brand or a sub-brand. It’s about considering what could be and working outside of the real world definitions of things like gravity and physics.
Marketers and business leaders need to act now. The tech is moving fast and the window for opportunity is slowly closing. Yes, there are barriers to planning so far out such as cultural uncertainty and technological hurdles that hinder growth as mentioned earlier but once some of these barriers are overcome a lot of people will get on board and the market will become cluttered and extremely competitive.
Many of the companies that are setting themselves up in the metaverse now are the ones that will hold the advantage and makes the rules for the ones who follow. Once the metaverse becomes mainstream, it will be too late for the laggards.