With Facebook’s holding company changing its name from Facebook to Meta there has been much talk of the metaverse recently. It's a new concept that has got marketers thinking about how the metaverse will impact their business and what they can do to leverage it. Here's more about the metaverse and what you need to know.
What is the Metaverse?
The term metaverse represents the concept of broadly virtual spaces that allow people to interact in a way that is closer to physical reality while not being geographically limited. The idea is that people can exist and interact in the metaverse in a way that is more natural/human/ ‘real’, without being physically present.
Bringing together emerging technologies can deliver metaverse interactions such as:
- Sitting in a virtual meeting room around a virtual table for a discussion rather than looking at boxes on a screen as a current MS Teams or Zoom call, you would turn your head to speak to someone, look at the screen when someone is presenting in the metaverse making it much more of a simulation of a real-world business meeting.
- Walking around a virtual store and being able to try clothes on using your own exact body shape through augmented technology, so that you experience seeing the products on you, rather than as photos on a model.
Both of these examples could happen now, but in isolated, unconnected technical scenarios. The metaverse seeks to bring together these experiences so that you would enter in and then do a multitude of these things one after another.
Commerce and the Metaverse
The concept of the metaverse is currently in its infancy and therefore opportunities are limited right now. How it develops will define the approaches to it, but we can already draw some understanding and insight from what has preceded the metaverse.
The game Second Life attracted companies to advertise in the virtual game space but that wasn’t a new idea. The trend for product placement started with films and TV and it was a natural progression to move into the game space from there. However, Second Life took it to another level with virtual products being sold in virtual shops being promoted with virtual adverts that crucially came back to real money.
The trend for swapping real money for digital artifacts is probably best demonstrated by NFTs (Non-Fungible Tokens). Some might say that paying a million pounds for a digital token that says you own something in a virtual space is madness, but it is reality. The metaverse is only going to open more opportunities for the commercialisation of digital entities. Imagine a world where you visit metashops to buy an outfit that your avatar wears around the metaverse. It’s likely this level of virtuality or metacommerce will come to be a reality and make those businesses, that leverage the technology effectively, a lot of money.
The metaverse is likely to have a more profound impact on commerce and trade than simply NFT-based purchases though. If it becomes a place you go, it becomes a place that you can be sold to in terms of the real-life purchases you make. If that is true, then it also becomes a place you can go to sell and do business.
In the two examples we gave at the start of this blog, you have a B2B and a B2C selling interaction that applies to real-world items for real-world money. Is it that far-fetched to imagine having a sales meeting where you are in a virtual room (using VR headsets) rather than just boring Zoom cameras? In this space you can present on the virtual screen and pass around virtual objects that the attendees can view in 3D and manipulate in their hands with haptic gloves on.
While costly, the technology already exists to do all of this and we know that the cost of technology falls rapidly as adoption grows, fuelling further adoption. If you are going to sell in this new world you are going to need to not only have the kit, but will also have to prepare your assets. For example, transforming your physical products into 3D files and perhaps renting a branded virtual meeting space to host your sales meetings.
The example of buying clothes in a metaverse store should actually start with how you choose what store to go to. The power of your brand might be enough to make a consumer pick your store over someone else’s, but perhaps not. Perhaps you need to appear in search, or are recommended by a friend you meet in a metaverse coffeeshop or by an advert you see there? All this begs the question, how will digital marketing evolve to leverage the metaverse?
Digital Marketing in the Metaverse
Paid-for marketing mediums starting with radio (the soap operas sponsored by the soap companies) and through to billboards, TV and YouTube or display ads are all about accessing your target audience where they are. Paid advertising at its core is about accessing people you want to sell to through mediums that have those people’s attention. If people are in the metaverse then logically it becomes another medium to use for that access.
There are, however, going to be a multitude of different ways of accessing people within the metaverse, just as there are in the real world. There will be search, perhaps not driven by typed-in words, but by asking verbally – an evolution of Alexa, Siri and Google Assistant. Display advertising could come in the form of billboards and signs as you move down the metaverse streets and into locations, but they could also be in the form of product placement. Social media posts could evolve into conversations in virtual spaces where people gather. However, given the scale of different simultaneous conversations, these are likely to be driven by chatbots powered by AI that offer options based on the objectives and areas of interest your previous choices or behaviours have indicated.
The metaverse space is going to be very different and very exciting, but it is also going to be, in many ways, very familiar as an evolution of where we are today. Consequently, the actions and the content that you are creating for your digital marketing today will inevitably evolve and drive your success as things change.
Chatbots and conversational marketing have come a long way from their beginnings. You may not be a fan, but the fact is that when done well, they work. If you don’t embrace these tools and technologies now, when will you, or will you allow your business to get left behind? The chatbots of today are likely to form the origins of those AI-powered conversations in the future. What about your in-depth website content? Well, this could become a repository for information that is searched for and read out by the metaverse digital assistant to the curious consumer, who is looking to define that issue your product solves.
The point is that the metaverse will be an opportunity for those that already understand the power of digital and have the imagination to see how it could be leveraged. The execution will be different but many of the principles will be the same as they are today and building on a strong foundation now will mean that you will be able to evolve and be strong in the new future.
The Dangers of the Metaverse
As with all new technologies, there is the potential to do harm as well as good and that is a debate that will have to be had in order to make the metaverse a safe place to use as a business as well as a consumer. Many people are talking about control of the metaverse, who would have it and how it would be managed to keep it safe, fair and equitable for everyone. While the Internet was designed on an open and democratised system there are monopolistic issues when organisations attain scale and dominance in a space. Whether this be search or social media there are already concerns that privately owned corporates can dictate what people see, read and hear.
The huge technological challenge of building any metaverse experience means that few organisations have the resources to accomplish it. It is highly unlikely that the United Nations or any government would seek to build a global, fair and open metaverse for all as there isn’t sufficient altruistic motivation for doing so. However, there is a huge commercial motivation for building independent metaverse environments and becoming the dominant metaverse that people use. Facebook (Meta Platforms Inc) have signalled their intent with this name change and with a market capitalisation of $920 billion they have the resources to do so. Other US corporations such as Google and Amazon are not likely to sit on the sidelines and watch them do it without competition and there are Chinese companies like Alibaba and Tencent who will be looking at this opportunity closely too.
If a company has dominance in the metaverse space it would be like owning all of the streets of a city, with the power not only of deciding who can put up adverts, but who can have shops and who can actually live there as well as the costs of doing so. Businesses and consumers are going to have to rely on Governments and regulation to a degree to protect their interests in the metaverse to ensure fairness. Regardless, it is important for companies to invest in their digital brand and in diverse strategies now and going forward so that they do not have to rely on one lead source in a metaverse dominated digital world.
Preparing for the Metaverse
Looking forward, the evolution of a digital world seems inevitable. How and when you start to prepare your participation in that digital world is up to you, but failing to acknowledge the shape of digital to come will almost certainly mean being left in the past.
We will continue watching how the story unfolds and will update and add to our content on the metaverse here. If you’d like to have a discussion about preparing your business for the metaverse evolution, then please do get in touch.