Every marketing trade these days seems to be writing about the metaverse, especially after Facebook announced its rebranding from a social media-focused company to a metaverse-focused company, now known as Meta. And early-adopter brands like Epic Games’ Fortnite are touting the rewards of collaborating in the metaverse with influencers like Ariana Grande. But what exactly is the metaverse? And should all brands be ready to jump in?
According to Matthew Ball, author of The Metaverse Primer, “the metaverse is an expansive network of persistent, real-time rendered 3D worlds and simulations that support continuity of identity, objects, history, payments, and entitlements, and can be experienced synchronously by an effectively unlimited number of users, each with an individual sense of presence.” In other words, the metaverse shares a ton with our everyday world, where spaces, objects, communities and businesses exist as places to visit and explore, but with some important and wondrous differences. Unlike our natural world, this world is designed by people — people with imaginations and artistic expressions not restricted by our in-real-life (IRL) laws. And the metaverse allows people to create and explore with others who aren’t in the same real-world space as they are.
While this virtual world is still in the early stages with multiple entities building its foundation asynchronously, it will soon be relevant to all brands and marketers. Just consider how the internet transformed marketing in the 1990s and early 2000s. The metaverse is positioned to do the same, but in a fraction of the time it took the internet.
To understand the metaverse’s imminent relevance to marketing, consider that more than 6 billion people now own a smartphone. That’s about 95% of people in the world. This rise in popularity forced marketers to shift their mindset to a mobile-first strategy, where content development is prioritized for mobile access before being adapted for desktop. We see similar shifts happening now, with early adopters already providing content in the metaverse that allows consumers to interact with brands on a more intimate level than ever before. Hyundai and Roblox are collaborating to create their own virtual world and virtual amusement park where users can interact with various Hyundai products and technology in a way that exceeds any traditional digital marketing. And AT&T has developed AT&T Station, an experience launched by VRChat with the influencer group 100 Thieves to provide a virtual world where users can engage in a variety of activities and receive virtual avatars themed around 100 Thieves apparel and personalities.
But we’re only first at bat in the very first inning of this metaverse game. We’ve got a long way to go before we reach the stage of the metaverse as depicted in pop culture like Ready Player One. And brands and enterprises would be wise to lean in and get involved now, so as to not be caught off guard by what will almost certainly be an explosive new economy where consumer interactions, businesses, entertainment, communities — perhaps even human existence as a whole — will be forever altered. Here are four ways brands and marketers can prepare for the future of the metaverse now.
Learn about the building blocks.
The metaverse will be composed of several connected and related technologies — Web3, blockchain, NFTs, cryptocurrencies, etc. Since no one person can know everything, smart organizations will form learning communities (interest groups, book clubs, etc.) to regularly survey for, experiment with and invest in these related technologies and phenomena. Start building your exploratory team now.
Familiarize yourself with accessibility.
The metaverse does not exist solely for one type of device. Content for the metaverse should be accessible to everyone on multiple, if not all, devices. Popular hardware for VR and AR exists to enhance the user experience of the metaverse but its immersive technology is not, and should not be, required to enjoy content within the metaverse.
Master the fundamentals of interoperability.
The metaverse exists around interoperability when computerized systems easily and readily connect and communicate with each other. So being able to create shared assets is fundamental to creating content for the metaverse. Shifting your mindset and adopting a digital work ethos geared toward interoperability now will allow you to generate content that can transition to the metaverse later.
Visualize your brand’s future in the metaverse.
While you might not be ready to invest in the metaverse now, start to seriously imagine and visualize how your brand can be experienced when you do. Consider building a pilot experience or even a vision statement to inspire innovative thinking. For example, a retailer might aspire to the following vision: “We will be the best destination retailer…in the metaverse.” Or a power equipment company could aspire to this: ”We will design outdoor power equipment that helps people maintain their homes…in the metaverse.” While it might seem a bit absurd, it’s not when we think back five years and tried to imagine a Justin Bieber concert in a virtual world.
This absurdity, wonder and curiosity are key when adapting brands to the uncertainty of the metaverse. No one has all the answers, but when we embrace the “what ifs” and the “wouldn’t it be cool” ideas and seriously consider the future in the metaverse, brands will be one step closer to jumping in.