The Metaverse is coming! Or is it?
April 6, 2022

Many people have been under the impression that the Metaverse is ready for us to plug-in and start living virtual life with giant headsets on. Not true. Not by a long shot. If you’ve been worried that you’re falling behind when it comes to planning for this mysterious new world, you can relax a little.

The Metaverse is not a ‘thing’ or a secret online world. What it will be is a computing era, a spatial version of the Internet, and it is in reality 5 to 10 years away – if not more. Perhaps you’re reading about on-trend brands ’embracing the metaverse’? There are certainly some building blocks such as cryptocurrency, augmented reality, VR & other mobile tech that will become part of the metaverse in future, but for now it is essentially a collective vision mostly led by the tech giants.

Like all disciplines it will be difficult to make an impact if you turn up late and know nothing about the rules or nuances of the game, so if you’re in the communications world there are some areas you can explore now.

Where to begin? Start with what your audiences actually want.

The upcoming computing age will march forward steadily, so dialling in with evolving consumer mindsets will be key. One of the best recommendations for brands and creators right now is to learn what real value means to your customers in virtual settings. The Metaverse will consist as a digital layer of reality that floats above, around, and throughout features of the real world, so figure out which key values and expressions of the current digital landscapes are connecting with your audience. By exploring, experimenting and building in virtual spaces you will gain a progressive knowledge, intuition and data which can only be established with experience. A smart way to start is to experiment with some of the established territories outlined below.

1. Augmented Reality

If you sell tangible products this area is going to be key to help future proof commerce. You should absolutely plan how your full catalog comes to life in AR, and why wait for the future? All of your products should allow people to try them on and then be made available immediately. If people can customise their experience or outputs – even better.

AR via smartphones is the lowest hanging fruit when it comes to overlaying & linking virtual with the real world. Snap, Tiktok, Instagram & Facebook offer some effective solutions in this space that are ready to use now and are linked with social advertising solutions. Many luxury and fashion brands have played with AR for some time now, including Gucci who have done some great work in this area with Snapchat both for sales and for storytelling. Consumers have come to expect commerce to offer solutions such as virtual try on, customisation & immediate delivery. We can certainly expect to see virtual experiences & review culture continue to grow in importance. To begin with AR it can be as simple as coming up with a great creative idea born from your product, then bringing it to life with AR tech.

2. The Gaming World

Massive Multiplayer Online games (or MMOs) such as Fortnite, Animal Crossing, Roblox, and Minecraft are a precursor to the Metaverse. These web based universes do not switch off, even if you throw your laptop out the window. These buildable worlds function as social networks complete with virtual economies with players exchanging items & in game currency. It’s not a stretch to see this extending well beyond the realm of role playing leisure as Gen-Z & Gen-Y mature.

Gaming worlds are prime for storytelling & brand entertainment too. Fortnite holds the all time record for an in-game event with 12.3 million players participating live in Travis Scott’s Astronomical musical performance. On the luxury goods front Animal Crossing have hosted virtual fashion runways and digital fashion week shows courtesy of Nintendo. Necessity initially pushed these virtual events to the fore with the 2020 quarantine in place, but users got hooked on being able to dress up their avatars in designer pieces from Marc Jacobs, Valentino, Anna Sui, Prada, Supreme & Louis Vuitton. This is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the possibility of collectible digital collections. (See NFT coming next).

Brands such as Burger King have been experimenting with activations inside gaming worlds for quite a while. There is a lot of space to tell an interactive story on these platforms, just make sure it’s a natural fit – gamers have little patience for newbs.

3. NFTs

If the world decides something is valuable – it is. Just look at the world of sneakers, fine art, the stock exchange, luxury fashion, handbags or even diamonds – value is defined by the market. The same is true of Non Fungible Tokens, or NFTs. But beyond inflated cryptocurrencies and overpriced art auctions, some NFT collectibles can hold real value too. In a world where avatars are the representation of who you are, there is a rich opportunity around creators designing and sharing modified ‘skins’ with design expressions able to be minted and sold as NFTs on a marketplace.

When what your brand creates in the metaverse can be realised in real life due to demand, you are truly engaged with your consumers.

In the context of Metaverse NFTs can take on many roles including tradable items, facilitating exclusive access to limited spaces, smart contracts or even crypto loyalty schemes. If NFTs are a mystery to you, the advice is to dive in and experiment. Collecting or even creating NFTs doesn’t have to be expensive or complex either. Recently Epik created a set of NFT to help launch Clozer, an emerging social network with an NFT wallet attached.

4. Faux Metaverse

In the lead up to the Metaverse age the reality is that brands & platforms will continue to launch their own stand-alone activations to host experiences. The vision of the actual metaverse will be far broader, but many ‘walled gardens’ is probably how it will begin. Creating virtual experiences and virtual products can be complex but worthwhile.

During pandemic lock down sporting events, art galleries and retail stores created immersive and live experiences to great effect despite technical limitations. People have been returning to the stores however following the pandemic consumer behaviours continue to lean toward consideration being driven in a remote sense. From car dealerships to high street stores, if you have a location which (currently) relies upon footfall there is a place for these experiences now.

What next then?

As well as technology’s needs to evolve, there is a whole world of privacy, security, political, tax, law and wellness factors to consider. There will certainly be a dark side to the metaverse, but let’s burn those bridges once we get to them. Many, maybe most, people currently find the idea of connecting to an immersive metaverse unappealing. Me too, but I felt the same about mobile phones when they came out (showing my age). Eventually the usefulness overtook the clunkiness. It’s the same story with most technology. First the vision, then the prototypes, then we iterate as more people adopt.

Remember the short lived Google Glass? It was every part the ugly duckling. But we know what happens to ugly ducklings given enough time.

By Dan Wheeldon

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