Special Report: To The Metaverse & Beyond

Marketers and other professional communicators must pay close attention
to this incipient world, as it’s the newest frontier for online interactions.

Special Report: To The Metaverse & Beyond

Marketers and other professional communicators must pay close attention
to this incipient world, as it’s the newest frontier for online interactions.

The metaverse, marketing, and a meta-society.

Everything you should know, and a little of what you probably don’t want to know about the expanding virtual world.

Envisaged thirty years ago in a science fiction novel (Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson) the metaverse is being constructed today, in real life. In this shared virtual world, the decisions and actions of its inhabitants (avatars) steer the growth of society through full immersion (virtual reality). More cautious participants may prefer to keep a foot firmly on solid ground, engaging through augmented reality.

Marketers and other professional communicators must pay close attention to this incipient world, as it’s the newest frontier for online interactions. Just as social media upended the entire publicity world more than two decades ago, the metaverse is about to follow suit. With online social gatherings pandemic-pushed into the mainstream, there’s surely no doubt that brands and their marketing will play significant roles in this new virtual world.

Digital Pioneers on the Cutting Edge

Harbingers like Minecraft, Animal Crossing, and Fortnite already have huge user bases underpinning their detailed worlds, enriched by user-generated content. Horizon is currently being beta-tested, while Microsoft, Magic Leap, Live Maps, and Niantic are just a few of the well-known names that are exploring this new horizon.

Perhaps the best-known metaverse protagonist is Facebook.

In October 2021, Facebook Inc announced that it was changing its name to Meta, reflecting its quest for growth beyond its popular namesake platform. This ambitious plan is to supplant today’s Internet with a virtual reality construct that merges the virtual with the real, where – according to Mark Zuckerberg’s visionary presentation – “you’re going to be able to do almost anything you can imagine.”

This innovative iteration of the Internet has sweeping implications for societies all around the globe. As it opens up fresh horizons for businesses and their brands, consumers will be attracted by new and more creative communications.

A Metaverse of Massive Opportunities

In this virtual world of persistent 3-D virtual spaces that are shared, people will be able to teleport seamlessly through streams of experiences: entertainment, culture, shopping, work, and everyday social interactions.

Top marketing, advertising, and branding professionals are already exploring these exciting options, keenly aware that latecomers to the fast-based metaverse may never catch up! Here are some of the challenges they are addressing:

  • Companies will have to research their new customers in the metaverse, shifting their marketing strategies to a shared virtual economy, which will soon replace online ad buys. What consumers buy and want in a virtual world could be very different from the real-life preferences, especially when businesses communicate through robots more often than live reps.
  • Culture benefits from the sharing possibilities opened up by the metaverse, shifting from singularity to plurality in augmented reality. Museums and galleries, concerts, and other performances become richer when shared. Underpinning this togetherness trend, Niantic is working on an app that is helping create a 3-D world map that will allow experiences through a visual positioning system.
  • Shopping is a no-brainer in the metaverse, with virtual dressing rooms to try on digital clothing, virtual tours of digital homes and vacation destinations, and virtual test drives for digital cars – all for subsequent real-life purchases – are already progressing rapidly through the development pipeline. In parallel, assets and brands that exist only in the metaverse – like avatar skins, dream homes, and out-of-this-world vehicles – are opening up new niches for virtual-only businesses.
  • Entertainment gets bigger and better than ever in the metaverse. A perfect example is the Bigger Love virtual concert, which raised money for charity through the Wave XR technology, spotlighting a virtual John Legend to a massive 500,000 live attendees. No longer shielded by pre-made commercials, brands will have to move center stage, becoming more relatable and organically leaning into stronger connections.
  • Creating convincing digital humans has traditionally been hard, slow, and expensive. With MetaHuman Creator, the time to create a unique digital human of the highest quality, complete with hair and clothing, is slashed. Here, we provide a first look at the new tool. Find out more and register to get updates at https://www.unrealengine.com/en-US/digital-humans

    What Does This Groundshift Mean For Brands?

    With massive implications for society – and hence business – this innovative iteration of the Internet will raise fresh challenges for marketing and communications professionals.

    However, it is already revealing a wealth of unexplored opportunities and hinting at unimagined new branding frontiers.

    Marketing experts are busy exploring all these possibilities, seeking answers to a string of intriguing questions. Here are a few of them, and some of the creative solutions that are responding to these challenges in today’s proto-metaverse.

    Which Brands Can Add Most Value?

    With her cheeky grin and perky pigtails, Wendy’s mascot fitted seamlessly into Fortnite’s Fight Mode, ‘killing’ the freezers used by the game’s Durr Burger restaurant. Showcasing its ‘Fresh, Never Frozen Beef’ slogan, this stunt more than doubled social media mentions of its brand, subsequently winning an impressive eight Lions at Cannes.
    Less dramatically, Verizon showcased the capabilities of its 5G connections by offering Fortnite players the chance to meet NFL stars at a virtual Super Bowl event. After the Big Game, viewers could virtually attend the Big Concert – starring Miley Cyrus, Alicia Keys, and Christina Aguilera – through its Yahoo and Fios platforms, as well as brand channels on Twitter and TikTok.

    What Brand Categories Are Natural Metaverse Matches?

    Brands with a more creative approach are slotting branded characters seamlessly into games, instead of interrupting the action with irritating ads. In Animal Crossing, a virtual Sentosa Island replicated its real-life counterpart in Singapore, inviting players to tour its attractions.
    Hellman’s Mayonnaise also created its own branded island in Animal Crossing, spotlighting its strapline that Food is Too Good to be Wasted. Visitors could drop off their ‘spoilt turnips’ in exchange for a real-life donation to Canada’s Second Harvest food rescue charity.

    Is Experimentation a Good Idea?

    Tourism New Zealand brought off a real tour de force with its Play NZ campaign. Partnering with Twitch and YouTube, it offered pandemic-fettered travelers the chance to quench their wanderlust on a virtual trip exploring local attractions.
    Specifically targeting women, Venus razors created more realistic skin types for avatars in Animal Crossing. Showcasing its My Skin, My Way inclusion campaign, Procter & Gamble dared feature conditions – like psoriasis, acne, stretch marks, and cellulite – that are usually firmly concealed.

    What Should Brands Do Before Investing in the Metaverse?

    A recent whitepaper released by the Mobile Marketing Association (MMA) and Culture Group defined the metaverse as “shared virtual worlds that seamlessly blend applied game mechanics, massive interactive live events (MILEs), blockchain-enabled digital goods, and virtual commerce.”
    This is a far cry from the tight-knit world of social media, largely inhabited by real people (despite a generous spattering of fake profiles). But the metaverse – with its multiple and interoperable virtual modules – will soon replace usernames with avatars.
    Able to teleport effortlessly across platforms with no need for separate logins, these digital personas carry with them their self-sovereign identity (SSI), their digital possessions, currencies, and styles. And these are the virtual consumers that businesses must target. Almost everything marketed to real people can be sold to their digital counterparts.
    Offering apparently endless chances to feed, clothe and style them, these virtual embodiments are opening up massive virtual markets for digital goods. However, there seems little doubt that the profits brought in by these sales will be very real.

    Innovators Are Staking Their Claims

    A natural stamping ground for luxury brands, many famous houses – like Gucci, Burberry, and Vuitton – are tapping into these opportunities. Several brands are already offering to clothe avatars in chic (and expensive!) designer outfits.

    Innovative retail strategies are likely to focus on direct-to-avatar (D2A) sales, especially as younger consumers spent more time online. Luxury brands are creating digital goods for-game purchases included limited-edition NFT collectibles. Some are even developing their own branded game worlds, creating digital meeting places where people can hang out and enjoy new experiences in groups.

    Some farsighted businesses are exploring the benefits of digital launches for their new collections, seeking feedback from these tester platforms that will steer their investments in manufacturing goods. This offline-to-online approach also bridges the gap between the actual and virtual worlds: a consumer could buy a shirt to wear in real life, and then click on a link that offers the same shirt in digital format for their avatar.

    Mammoth Events with MILEs

    The digital world is already attracting audiences of almost unbelievable size.

    These Massive Interactive Live Events (MILEs) gathered together huge crowds of users to interact and influence events in real-time. Although games-based so far, MILEs can be adapted easily to almost any industry. Democratizing the entire storytelling process, these massive interactive live events are following in the footsteps of fanfiction on Wattpad, soap operas, and Netflix, where fans influence outcomes. Creating global IPs where users define outcomes in real-time as a major step forward. For many mainstream brands, MILEs will be a natural next step for reaching out virtually to their huge consumer bases IRL.

    The digital world is already attracting audiences of almost unbelievable size. During a live concert on Fortnite, Travis Scott entertained 12.3 million gamers – and also won the Grand Prix in Digital Craft at Cannes for his marketing team.

    For instance, the Balenciaga couture house designed an entire videogame – Afterworld – to present its Fall 2021 collection. Also in the fashion field, Net-A-Porter and Fila opted for Animal Crossing stores.

    Thinking Twice About Blockchain Assets and NFTs

    Another burgeoning segment of the metaverse, non-fungible tokens (NFTs) provide unique crypto evidence for the ownership of digital assets, through entries on blockchain ledgers. From Banksy artwork to Balenciaga garments, the metaverse economy is already hinting at its potential scope.

    With a track-record stretching back to 1948, when the first sports cards were issued, the NBA has always been keenly aware of emerging trends. Familiar with consumers eager to collect and trade sports memorabilia, it lept smoothly into the NFT era. In fact, its NBA Top Shot initiative has posted USD 700 million in NFT sales since it was launched in July 2019.

    However, with little control over the long-term value of these virtual assets, brands focused on creating NFTs are probably doing so merely for publicity purposes. As investments, the foundations are shaky and make even more as technologies develop and user bases evolve.

    Metaverse will disrupt human life — here are 7 companies that may win big

    The metaverse will be disruptive to society once it gains its true form over the next decade Jefferies analyst Simon Powell argues. But several companies could be poised to benefit greatly from the new digital ecosystem.

    The metaverse will be the biggest disruption to how we live ever seen

    “A single metaverse could be more than a decade away, but as it evolves, it has the potential to disrupt almost everything in human life,” the analysts, led by equity strategist Simon Powell, wrote in a Monday note.

    3 Stocks to Buy With a $30 Trillion Metaverse Market on the Way

    ARK Invest founder Cathie Wood told CNBC last week she thinks the metaverse will be a multitrillion-dollar market. Investment firm Morgan Stanley has a more specific estimate of $8 trillion. But venture capitalist Matthew Ball, CEO of Epyllion, believes the metaverse market could be worth up to $30 trillion over the next 15 years.

    The first metaverse experiments? Look to what’s already happening in medicine

    The metaverse, the digital world’s Next Big Thing, is touted as the internet domain where animated avatars of our physical selves will be able to virtually do all sorts of interactivities, from shopping to gaming to traveling — someday. Wonks say it could be a decade or longer before the necessary technologies catch up with the hype.

    What influencer marketing looks like in the metaverse

    A broad range of fashion brands, including Prada, Puma, and Yoox, are creating avatars to stand alongside the likes of Shudu and Lil Miquela. Their common goal? To be purpose-driven and community-led.

    Why the Metaverse Matters

    The rise of the metaverse, virtual and augmented reality devices, NFTs, and cryptocurrencies are going increasingly hand-in-hand as we enter the brave new world of Web 3.0 (a.k.a. “Web3”). And in real-time, we’re watching more and more companies get with the program in creative ways.

    Metaverse property boom exposes our dysfunctional dedication to bricks and mortar

    How anyone has the appetite to engage in virtual property deals on top of navigating the real-world housing market is a puzzle, but investors have been buying up digital land in virtual worlds including The Sandbox and Decentraland.

    Innovating In The New Metaverse

    With the metaverse only a stone’s throw away, all rules change — especially the way business growth and development is supposed to be approached. In order to create a successful business model that will thrive in the meta future, it needs to be viable both in the real and the digital worlds, with qualities interchangeable between the day-to-day and virtual realities.

    Vanishing Line between Physical and Digital

    One of the most exciting metaverse opportunities opening up to brands today is the possibility of creating virtual venues for a huge variety of experiences and events. This was the path followed by the Eurovision song festival, which attracted 500,000 visitors through fresh content every day, with 3-D tours of its host city, Rotterdam.

    As a cost-effective alternative, brands can partner with virtual worlds that are already up and running, hosting encapsulated events. This strategy was used very successfully by Coca-Cola within Decentraland, while Marvel (Deadpool, Nexus War, and Captain America) and Disney (Star Wars) have opened up new areas on the Fortnite map.


    Metaverse Forerunner

    Set in 2045 and written way back in 2011 (when Orkut was cool and Blu-Ray was hot), Ernest Cline’s bestselling Ready Player One portrays a collapsing world on the brink of chaos. Brought to the screen by Stephen Spielberg some seven years later, its characters live in the Oasis – an expansive virtual universe created by a brilliant but eccentric zillionaire. Does this sound familiar?

    Exuberantly paced, this quest narrative transposes easily to the big screen, empowering gamers with wish-fulfilling assurances that they are actually the most important people in the universe. Battling monsters and saving the world through encyclopedic (and otherwise useless) knowledge of comic book culture has long been a compulsive pastime, particularly among young (and not so young) men finding it hard to cope with the outside world.

    A Self-Fulfilling Prophecy For Society?

    When it was launched, Ready Player One was an instant hit with gamers. In this dystopian world, hunting through the Oasis for an Easter egg carrying the founder’s fortune (and control of the entire game) makes more sense than coping with harsh reality. Might this hint (nudge, nudge) at a scenario for 2030?

    How closely the forthcoming metaverse will follow this fictional blueprint is still unknown. For the moment, the non-gaming world can only hope that FB’s renamed parent company will find innovative ways of muting and booting the bigotry, racism, and misogyny that taint so many social networks today.

    Apart But Together

    Usually interactive and experienced as a group, this togetherness enriches virtual reality, transposing everyday IRL activities to easy-access channels like mobile-based AR. Underpinned by technological progress in collectivity, with advances in both hardware and software, these highly immersive experiences are helping create more believable-machine interactions. An unexpected benefit of lockdowns is that people became more comfortable with technology, exploring the possibilities of unfamiliar apps and channels. The advantages are clearly apparent, reflected in a willingness to explore and eagerness to interact with others.

    This leaves the field wide open for early-bird brands that are smart (and brave!) enough to jump into this unknown virtual world with both feet, without worrying about the splash factor.

    The Bottom Line

    Although still incipient, the metaverse is already a busy hub for brand experimentation. Cutting-edge innovators are striving to firm up their footholds before the field gets overcrowded by me-toos.

    Some brand categories – particularly luxury goods – glide smoothly into this virtual world and its massive audiences. However, for more mundane products and services, the value of metaverse marketing still remains unclear. Nevertheless, it’s time to at least dip a marketing toe into the proto-metaverse, which will ultimately be defined by the many, rather than an elite few.

    For businesses still hovering on the brink, the first step is to define WHERE your brand is going, and WHEN. Then think about the HOW – and don’t be nervous about being playful, irreverent, and original. The metaverse is new, demanding innovative approaches – and you certainly don’t want to be left in the dust by more adventurous competitors!

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