The metaverse is not a new concept.
There are different concepts that have been posited about the metaverse but they are nailing just one part of the elephant and not the entire animal. The metaverse has evolved very rapidly and is fast becoming integrated and embedded in our human experience that marketers are just beginning to explore ways on marketing products, services and brands through it. Interestingly enough, the metaverse has been around for at least a decade with games and a virtual environment like Roblox, which is one of the leading entertainment experiences.
A “Google Trend” search indicated that from November 2016 to March 2021, revealed that the “metaverse” has never exceeded six searches, but this term soared to a new “69” in just October 2021. The traction in visibility and public awareness seen here is a possible indication that if sustained in terms of continued search over a period of time, the growth in this sector will segue into an explosive mode.
Defining the metaverse is something that has not fully been concretised. At this stage, because of its emergence in evolution and awareness in the public space, sub-definitions in public consciousness can be used to give people an idea of what it is like and what it promises to be.
At this moment, one of the best articulated definitions of the metaverse is that it is a ‘quasi-successor state to the mobile internet that will build upon and iteratively transform it’. The current state of the Internet is that of connectivity and continual access, albeit in an arms-length manner. The metaverse iterates this further through an immersive experience, where people are ‘embodied’ within the virtual space, rather than merely having access to it. It is perhaps apt to even term is as ‘virtual connectivity through immersion”.
In order to incorporate a more holistic understanding of what the metaverse is about, it is also important to define and address what it is not about.
One of the mistaken identity points of a metaverse is that it is a “VR” or virtual reality experience. This is akin to saying that the internet is a mobile app browser called Chrome or Edge or whatever application you are using. Nothing could be further than the truth on this. Whilst VR can augment a user experience within the metaverse, it is just a subset of the myriad of access points into the metaverse.
The metaverse is also not a video game nor is it wholly owned by Facebook, that has rebranded as Meta. As part of the plans of Meta, Meta seeks to build physical retail stores across the globe, to “introduce people to devices made by the company’s Reality Labs division, such as virtual reality headsets and, eventually, augmented reality glasses… that will form gateways to the metaverse, a futuristic digital world where people move from virtual to augmented versions of reality almost seamlessly” (New York Times, 5 Nov 2021). However, given that the metaverse can comprise of other platforms of access built by other companies, it would not be prudent to think that Meta will monopolise and dominate this space.
Video game makers like Roblox can create an environment for players to gather and play or do business within that particular environment but their games are not the metaverse as well, but rather, games in the metaverse.
<The explosion of the metaverse and its marketing implications>
The virtual world is not a new concept but with non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and different digital collectibles exploding into the scene, marketers are now realising the potential of using such elements to augment the marketing mix, and even use it for marketing research – how would customers respond to actual products based on how they respond to the NFT offerings in the digital world? In addition to the potential additional revenue stream to be accrued in owning BOTH the physical as well as NFT version of a product, the room for exploration and new marketing strategies has expanded.
Vogue Business released a report on Ralph Lauren that launched an exclusive digital clothing collection on Roblox as part of the brand's Winter Escape in December 2021. This skyrocketed new digital customer acquisition by a whopping 58%! In a previous marketing maneuver, Ralph Lauren designed digital outfits for avatars on Zepeto, which led to the recruitment of younger, full-price customers.
At the moment, our world is now immersed in using messaging apps to bridge distances. Gatherings that used to take place over tea parties can also be bridged using the metaverse. Even concerts that have been held traditionally in person can be easily morphed into an event offering on the metaverse - Lil Nas X held his concert within Roblox.
With this offering, other parts that constitute an event offering can be augmented by adding things like pop-up carts or stores, that can be easily added to the package, allowing customers to enter into the space to explore other products/services whilst an event is taking place. This could include virtual pedicures/manicures, virtual pet grooming sessions, etc. – endless possibilities!
The reason why this would be an attractive part of the offering is because of costs. To set up an actual booth at an event, a company has to fly their staff over (accommodation, travel, insurance costs), bear the logistics costs for the set up and dismantling of booths at the event, and also the actual products. Just imagine the cost savings if the presentation were to take place virtually! Of course, some would argue that nothing beats the physical or actual product. But then again, the metaverse is not meant to replace reality, but to augment it.
How can you, as a marketer, prepare for the metaverse?
Start reading up and exploring possibilities of representing products and services on the metaverse
Play and experiment with virtual reality software or augmented reality equipment to see how these can be further incorporated into the marketing mix.
Make the connection to monetising or creating visibility, and kickstart small venture projects to move your brand/company in that direction.
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