09 Mar Connecting through the Metaverse
What is it?
The metaverse (which can also be thought of in less dramatic terms as virtual reality or cyberspace) is a rebranded term favoured by entrepreneurs and innovators from the last year or two (notably Mr Zuckerberg, who even renamed the Facebook family as Meta to strengthen our affiliation to this new term for something which is in reality a decade or so into life already) to refer to a digital world that combines the physical, the augmented and the virtual through a maximalist, interconnected set of experiences. It is endless and ever-expanding, as it is constantly added to by user-generated content. Metaverse spaces include 3D online worlds on platforms such as Roblox, Minecraft and Fortnite, alongside many other platforms that offer the ability for online live events, such as concerts and sports, social networking, and gaming. Users are able to create virtual avatars and connect with each other in a vast array of digital spaces that offer diverse opportunities for social engagement.
Developments in the metaverse are rapidly gaining momentum and it is predicted to reach revenues of up to $800 billion by 2024. This is undoubtedly aided by the pandemic, which forced us online, as many everyday experiences had to be conducted without leaving our own homes (such as work and schooling). From socialising to shopping, we have had to adapt and, as a result, the internet has developed an increased prominence in our daily lives.
How can brands use it?
Brands have far fewer barriers to negotiate when reaching out to both new and prospective customers. It is possible to interact with customers on a more intimate level through simulated physical spaces that can be accessed from user’s homes, from anywhere in the world. Users can communicate not only with the brand itself, but also with other customers, offering a sense of online community and encouraging deeper feelings of affiliation with a brand.
Consumer trend investigations by Mintel have identified a sense of the intense, as consumers look for intense visual stimulation that stands out from cluttered marketplaces. This can come in different forms as users desire varying outcomes; some look more for adventure, whilst others wish to relax. No doubt less salubrious initiatives will lead the way as they have always done where web innovation is concerned. Experiences within the metaverse can fill this need by offering memorable and distinctive landscapes that add a new sense of adventure to everyday brand experiences. Brands that are distinctive and can be associated with powerful sensations – such as sights and sounds – will be the ones that stand out in these new digital worlds.
There are many avenues through which brands can enter the metaverse, from virtual advertising such as banners, events, installations and games. New revenue streams can be accessed as consumers take notice of ads for real-life purchases, or even purchase metaverse-specific collectible items. The metaverse promotes the creation of new kinds of consumer-brand relationships, as consumers can experience their favourite brands through new media forms.
One notable example of a brand taking advantage of the metaverse is the Gucci Garden on the Roblox platform, where users navigate multiple themed rooms, immersing themselves in the brand’s creativity and inspiration. Gucci sell limited edition collectibles, sales of which have to date earned them 286 million Robux – equivalent to approximately $1 million.
Is this just the beginning?
Mark Zuckerberg certainly has high expectations for the metaverse, suggesting unprecedented interoperability on an expansive, or even infinite, network of virtual spaces. Given the almost unlimited opportunities for both users and brands, it seems inevitable that over the next few years we will see an increase in digital events that can simulate most real-life experiences.
By involving themselves in this futuristic trend, brands may be able to tap into a new kind of relationship with their consumer that is far more personal and interactive than ever before. However, to ensure success in such a rich environment, thorough market research and consumer insights is needed (from a reputable source such as Mintel) to enable marketers to create a space that is suited to the needs and preferences of their audience to anticipate how their consumers want to experience the space. The metaverse is still a relatively new phenomenon, meaning there are few established ‘rules’, allowing brands some freedom to experiment with their virtual representations.
Seamless integration will be essential – if brands try to force their presence in too blunt a fashion, it may have a jarring effect that makes the advertising aspect too obvious, detracting from the entertainment value of many metaverse spaces. The goal must be to ensure subtle but immersive brand presentations that provoke consumer interest without forcing it.
It is important to note that the metaverse is unlikely to immediately take off completely. Not everyone owns or has access to compatible computers or VR headsets that enable users to access the metaverse, meaning that for now its reach is somewhat restricted. Privacy in cyberspace is a further concern for many users, as aspects of VR can collect huge amounts of data. However, as the metaverse gains traction, it will almost inevitably transition into the mainstream.
All in all, whilst there are still some obstacles before there is a complete integration of metaverses into our digital activities, it is a trend that is gradually gaining momentum and it is sure to produce a great deal of value for brands as they introduce new and exceptionally rich sensory elements into existing customer experience strategies. This is likely to transform into increased awareness, love and loyalty, something that all brands aspire to evolving.