For the most part, advances in technology are unpredictable. Yet it is also true that the biggest leaps are sometimes anticipated for decades ahead of their time. The metaverse is one of those things. And it’s being thrust into the limelight once again, along with widespread speculation about its relevance in the world, with platforms such as SnapChat and Facebook (now Meta) gearing up for the space to explode.
Despite all of this excitement around the space, nobody really knows what the metaverse really means or does yet and it’s quite a difficult concept to pin down. As Wired put it “Talking about what “the metaverse” means is a bit like having a discussion about what “the internet” means in the 1970s.” Originally the term had its roots in science fiction literature, and was interpreted to mean a fully realized digital reality. But with technology driving so much of the modern lifestyle already, how are we to know when it really begins? The term ‘metaverse’ is now mostly understood to include the shifting patterns of our interaction with technology. And in fact, virtual or augmented reality aren’t the only ways to participate in the metaverse, and is inclusive of digital goods, service and experiences all delivered over the internet.
Some of these things are already creeping their way into the mainstream (crypto, NFTs, Oculus to name drop a few), but how long until we actually see real traction with this space on a mass scale? This transition is already underway before our very eyes. Bloomberg has suggested it’s an $800BN opportunity, set to include virtual words, live events, ads, and more – big names like Roblox, Microsoft, Activation Blizzard (just purchased by Microsoft!), Meta/Facebook, various sports teams are getting involved. According to the NPD Group, sales for AR and VR tech jumped 180% last year compared to 2021, so if this trend continues, we may not be far off. Mortgages are now being used to buy virtual land in the metaverse, and metaverse careers are taking off too. Adweek shared that hiring for metaverse-related jobs had already spiked more than 400% this year even before Facebook changed its name to Meta, and the overall market size is projected to grow 44% over the next seven years.
For those looking to dive in early, we’re already seeing some great (and not so great) examples of brands leaning in:
- Some examples courtesy of The Drum
- Walmart’s metaverse shopping experience along with several new trademarks filed in late December indicate that its venturing into the metaverse with plans to create its own cryptocurrency and collection of NFTs.
- Meta (shock) – Creating a Metaverse Culture Series with Horizon Worlds, the first of which will be it’s Black History Month initiatives.
- Miller Lite – Hosting a virtual bar in the Metaverse for it’s Super Bowl ad
- Gucci x Roblox – Gucci created a Gucci Garden with Roblox to celebrate its 100th anniversary, where players can immerse themselves in different themed rooms and purchase limited-edition avatar items.
With Meta heavily in the mix, we can expect to see that list of early adopters expanding quickly. Don’t be surprised to see new ad products rolling out, or new marketing partners that will help brands and advertisers launch their own version of a metaverse integration or experience – with a Meta framework as the default setting. Not a bad thing for brands, given the still unsurpassed reach that their family of products and platforms offers, but definitely a flag for those who still have concerns about Meta – whether it’s safeguarding their users’ mental health or their data and privacy. Although Meta itself claims that the metaverse will not be built by one single company, it’s pretty clear that they intend to play a major role in defining the shape it takes.
To prepare for taking on the metaverse (whatever that ends up looking like), ultimately we’ll have to contend with how to reach and connect with customers in both the real world and their virtual one. Although digital innovation has been driving us here for years, Adweek has identified a few key ways in which marketing in the metaverse could evolve:
- Consumers crave experiences: The metaverse offers the opportunity to play a role in defining a brand, to have a say in what it means to them, to actually take part in and change an experience (has this been accelerated by the pandemic?)
- The entire customer journey can happen within it: Previous innovative channels (e.g. search and social) generally catered to just one part of the customer journey (although social is maybe starting to broaden with the introduction of social commerce). The metaverse contains opportunities to affect the entire customer journey in a streamlined, holistic way – brands can reach new audiences in new and inventive ways, while enabling them to dig deeper, learn more and ultimately make purchases, all in a single, cohesive experience.
- It takes co-creation to the next level: The metaverse enables brands and consumers to co-create content in ways that were never possible before and haven’t even been discovered yet. As the metaverse is built, the co-creation of virtual environments, avatars, and experiences will define a new era of UGC.
- It powers inclusivity, diversity and representation: 71% of consumers expect brands to promote diversity and inclusion in online advertising, and 54% of them do not feel fully represented in online ads. In the metaverse, we are the center of our own digital worlds and brands can inject themselves into that experience in a way that makes the user the star of the show – for instance, Gucci could allow consumers to try on their latest looks and share it with friends.
As marketers, we are obsessed with newness – new ideas, new media, new ways of reaching audiences. This can be good and bad for brands – as there is always the possibility of striking gold and creating the next viral sensation – but more often than not it means we tend to lose focus on what actually matters to our audience and our business. As this new opportunity unfolds, marketers should approach their work with a strategic outlook, and strive for consistency, simplicity and persistence. Recognize the opportunities but don’t get caught up in the hype!