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[ Metaverse: The real-life Matrix and how to navigate it ]

#ConfidentInsight, EN 03.01.2022

Gucci, Coca-Cola, Nike, Procter & Gamble, Unilever, Boeing, Louis Vuitton, Warner Bros, Stella Artois, Prada, Facebook, Microsoft, Hyundai, O2, Deliveroo, Tourism New Zealand. Quite an eclectic who’s who. But what do they all have in common? These are just some of the brands that have led the way in adoption of the metaverse over the last year. I first heard the word properly during a research call I was doing a couple of months ago on a completely different subject. Whilst the person on the other end of the phone was enthusiastically lauding all of the wonders and possibilities of this new phenomenon, my initial (mental) response was “yeah, whatever”. The very next day Mark Zuckerberg announced that Facebook was changing its name to Meta to reflect the company’s longer-term vision. Not a day seems to have passed since, where the word has not come up in some form. So what is the big fuss about, and what does it mean for business?  

 

It has been well-cited now, in almost every piece of content that has been written on the subject, that the term was first coined in 1992 in a futuristic book written by Neal Stephenson, called “Snow Crash”. Such was its effect on a young Zuckerberg back then, that it was allegedly given to all new employees at Facebook. In 2003, a similar metaverse called Second Life was launched to great hype, however it became clear that the technology wasn’t yet up-to-speed for mass adoption. Technology has now hit a tipping point through AI, XR (Extended Reality which includes AR & VR), 5G, blockchain and the cloud, to allow for critical success. The obvious limits of real-life interaction over the last two years has also helped to accelerate this development through forced digitisation.

 

Immerse Yourself

 

The difference between current technology and the metaverse is a connected network of always-on 3D virtual worlds. There will likely be several worlds, at least initially, some dedicated to specific areas, like gaming or sports, however the key differential between the two are the immersive possibilities of the metaverse. Instead of reading a historical book, you can be there witnessing the event, or rather than watching a sports event, you can be there in 360-surround. 

 

It has been said that it will take between 10-15 years before all of the aspects and products are developed fully for the metaverse, due to the sheer increase in capabilities of current processors to cope, however one semiconductor company at a recent conference boasted that it will have these capabilities by 2025. The metaverse is clearly not a plug-and-play system, although at this nascent stage there are ways that we can interact comfortably with it. Just like the real world, it will organically grow, hit obstacles, learn from mistakes made, and come up with tools and playbooks which will make it more measurable.

 

Community, Community, Community

 

The metaverse mirrors the real world, in that it has no “end”, merging reality and the virtual world. A rather visionary and popular film a few years back called “The Matrix” had this exact phenomenon as its central theme. Much of the initial infrastructure which will develop over time has come organically from the gaming world. With 3.4 billion gamers worldwide (a large percentage of these Millennials and Gen Zers who do not differentiate between the real and virtual worlds), and one platform alone, Roblox, having 42 million daily users, it is understandable why brands are rushing to stay on top of the gaming and metaverse world. It is now not only a gaming platform, but where communities now meet to socialise, taking the concept of a gaming platform into the realm of an experience platform. Whenever people venture into new areas, brands and marketers follow closely behind. Gaming platforms, such as Roblox and Epic Games (Fortnite) which have created fully-immersive experiences with their products certainly have a lead in the metaverse through their captive audiences. 

 

Taking Ownership

 

Aside from the immersive possibilities, maybe the biggest difference between what we know as the internet, and the metaverse, is decentralisation. The internet as we currently know it is governed/regulated by a few powerful companies who rule the roost over how we interact with it (Google, Microsoft, Facebook). In this brave new world, with blockchain playing a key role in the development of the metaverse, the power is taken away from these monopolies into the hands of the individuals, brands and communities. This does pose problems in how regulation and systems will develop, and in many ways, it will be in the hands of the early adopters how this progresses, ensuring that transparency and privacy regulations are adhered to. Think of the metaverse as a series of new worlds, a new economy, environment, with its own currencies and behaviours.

 

B2B is also embracing the metaverse in a significant way. In October, a global HR conference was hosted using XR technology. The result was a real-life conference in an avatar world. Keynote addresses, networking lounges, rooftop bars were all there, just like a real event. One of the real surprises that came out of it was the trail of data that came from the event, yielding insights from each avatar that brands, marketers and analysts could never get from a live conference. Companies are now investing in malls, factories, showrooms, and stadiums to develop land, and in November the most expensive plot of land was sold on Decentraland (a virtual real estate space) for just under $2.4 million, to be used in developing fashion retail space.    

 

Follow The Leaders

 

As mentioned at the top of the article, there are a host of brands already embracing the metaverse in its engagement with its customers. Below are just some brief recent examples: 

 

Gucci

Gucci Garden

Gucci has been a pioneer in its approach to marketing to the gaming communities. In May 2021, Gucci launched the Gucci Garden, a multiple-themed garden platform with Roblox, to mark its 100th anniversary, developed to replicate the famous Gucci Garden based in its hometown of Florence. The virtual space pays homage to Gucci campaigns of the past. Upon entering, every avatar is made to appear blank and genderless. As you pass through the various rooms, your individual avatar absorbs elements of each space, building a completely unique individual personality. Avatars can mingle and chat, just like the real world, and also purchase digital pieces and accessories, which can be worn in any channel from then on. 

 

Boeing

Building its next aeroplane in the metaverse

When a giant like Boeing, announces in December 2021 that it plans to bring together its various design and engineering departments into the metaverse to build, design and develop its next aeroplane, it’s a cause for ears to be pricked up. It plans to have all of this in place within the next two years.    

 

Prada

Candy Fragrance Collection

Take the metaverse and influencer marketing, combine the two, and build your own virtual avatar. Several fashion brands are doing just this, and Prada recently announced the launch of its new Candy fragrance collection, promoted through its own avatar, surprisingly called Candy. 

 

Stella Artois

Horse Racing/Sports

Famous for its sports sponsorship associations, Stella Artois has teamed up with Zed Run, a digital horse racing platform, to sponsor a premium virtual horse racing event. With the ethos that companies should “parallel in the universe what they do in reality”, users can own, breed, and raise digital horses, using NFTs (non-fungible tokens). Stella Artois created a unique set of horse breeds (sold for millions of dollars), and themed skins which could be used. Through omnichannel marketing, you can also buy drinks on site, and have them delivered to your real-life front door.     

 

Procter & Gamble

SK-II Virtual City

P&G recently launched its own virtual branded world, through its skincare brand SK-II, inspired by the city-building game, SimCity. Other fashion brands, such as Valentino, Burberry, and Net-a-Porter, have all also launched their own virtual stores during lockdown. 

 

NASCAR 

Product Placement

In November, NASCAR kicked off a multi-year marketing campaign to build brand affinity with gamers, in association with Roblox. Using product placement within Roblox’s games is where NASCAR is initially directing this, with digital cars and uniforms being dropped into the game Jailbreak

 

Inspired By Iceland 

Tourism

There are tourist offices who have moved into the metaverse (ie. Tourism New Zealand), however some are still yet to be convinced. Shortly after Mr Zuckerberg publicly announced his company’s name change, this video was created for an Iceland Tourism campaign in November, and quickly went viral, apeing the CEO’s rather static presentation. Watch here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=enMwwQy_noI

 

Every company will need to have a metaverse strategy soon, and even now companies have brought in Chief Metaverse Officers. It is difficult to envisage at the moment how things will be further down the line, however there are certain parallels that marketers can look for when considering how the metaverse can best be served in terms of their interaction with their customers.

 

Metaconsiderations

 

1/ Know your audience  – It sounds obvious! Approximately 85 million people experienced some form of AR or VR at least once a month in 2021. The strength of the metaverse is community-driven, so having a close-knit, loyal community will give companies the opportunity to develop and shine quicker. 

2/ Creating valuable partnerships – Look at partnering with companies experienced in this new universe. The success of several early adopters has depended upon the valuable insights and creative executions that Roblox and other metaverse partners can offer. 

3/ Privacy – because of the nature of decentralisation, privacy and regulation is a huge topic within the metaverse discussion. With cookies set to become obsolete within 2 years, the metaverse needs to be an incubator for safer non-intrusive tracking methods. The push-pull of consumers wanting personalisation, but in a non-invasive.way, means that marketers need to be proactive in their privacy strategies, especially at the beginning 

4/ Strategy – clearly an adaptive mindset is required. All companies will need a metaverse strategy, and companies are already hiring Chief Metaverse Officers. Those that climb on board early will have a headstart over others in their ability to develop a robust long-term strategy.. 

5/ Be brave and ready to learn – mistakes will be made. Experimenting creatively now will lead to a stronger long-term strategy. Rethink brand role – break from digital to virtual thinking. The new generation does not distinguish between the two. 

6/ Creative – Companies are testing the waters through a variety of different executions, some of which have been highlighted above. Many companies are entering with simple ad space, video ads, and billboard advertising. Influencer marketing has taken a leap forward with brand avatars. Soon we could see virtual direct marketing salespeople offering product samples or discount codes. MILES (Massive Interactive Live Events), which have already been utilised by a number of pop artists, will expand once the technology catches up from the early stage it is at now.

7/ Omnichannel marketing – as per the Stella Artois example, using the virtual world to market to the real world is an effective way of engaging and creating brand affinity between the two worlds. 

8/ User-Generated Content (UGC) – With UGC in the metaverse, storytelling will move to storymaking. Luxury brands have embraced the metaverse earlier than many, partly because they tend to value context and talkability over scalability, 

9/ NFTs/Blockchain – Perhaps the most common entry point for many brands, NFTs (non-fungible tokens) are a form of currency traded within the security of blockchain to make transactions within the metaverse. NFTs will probably develop into something else in time, however for now, they will increasingly become a buzzword in 2022. 

10/ Virtual Spaces – Corporations and real estate companies are already buying up land to be used in investing into malls, factories, showrooms, stadiums, and anything else that meets the company’s needs to engage with its customers. 

 

With virtual real estate selling for millions, corporate behemoths moving operations into the system, and the blurring of virtual and real commerce and entertainment, it’s clear that the metaverse has reached a tipping point where there is no coming back. Facebook/Meta is currently hiring 10,000 employees in Europe to help build and develop its metaverse vision. The speed in which companies adapt to this new world may have a lasting effect on commercial success, albeit the Icelandics do have a point!   

 

May the metaverse be with you in 2022.

 

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