What the hell is the metaverse?!
There’s a lot of excitement (and a lot of blogs) about the Metaverse and why it’s the new frontier for businesses. But what is it really?
If you’ve listened to tech CEOs like Mark Zuckerberg or Satya Nadella recently (don’t worry, we wouldn’t blame you if you hadn’t), you might have walked away with the understanding that the metaverse is the future of the internet.
Or a video game?
Or maybe it’s a horrifying, dystopian evolution of Zoom where your boss is literally in your living room and you’re unable to escape their unrelenting gaze?
It’s tough to say.
It’s been a year since Meta (the company formerly known as Facebook) announced that it would transition into a “metaverse company” over the next five years. Since then, the term means hasn’t gotten any clearer.
Advocates and futurists claim that this lack of coherence is because it’s still being built and it’s too new to accurately define it.
That hasn’t stopped a whole heap of marketing hype, though.
Head of Technology at Anheuser-Busch InBev, Lindsey McInerney, recently articulated the enthusiasm many of these evangelists are feeling towards the metaverse and its potential:
“It’s a really exciting time to be a marketer in this space. I believe the shift we’re seeing to the metaverse, is going to be one of the largest shifts we’ve seen in a long time … we are where we were in social media 17, or 18 years ago…
“Marketers like to be where people are … Where there is set to be new traffic is certainly a place that marketers need to be paying attention to.”
So tell me, Mellow, what the hell is the metaverse?
Though it might seem like a new word, the idea itself was actually conceived all the way back in 1992 (practically the stone age in tech terms) by Neal Stephenson in his cyberpunk novel Snow Crash.
Essentially, the term refers to a broad shift in how we interact with technology itself, rather than a specific type of technology.
Usually, the technologies companies are referring to are virtual reality (virtual worlds that continue to exist even when you’re not playing) or augmented reality (technology that combines aspects of the digital and physical worlds). That said, we’ve also seen virtual worlds—such as Fortnite and Roblox which can be accessed through PCs, game consoles, and even phones—have started referring to themselves as “the metaverse” too.
A myriad of companies on the metaverse bandwagon also foresee some kind of new digital economy where users can create, buy, and sell goods.
“Wait, don’t we have that already?”
If you’re thinking this all sounds very familiar then you might well be right.
World of Warcraft, for example, is a persistent virtual world where players can buy and sell goods.
You can strap on an Oculus headset and be in your own personal virtual home.
So is that what “the metaverse” really is? Just new types of video games?
Yes and no.
Calling Fortnite “the metaverse” is a little like calling Google “the internet.”
Even if you spend half your day, socialising, shopping, learning, and playing games in Fortnite, that doesn’t necessarily mean it encompasses the entire scope of what people mean when they say “the metaverse.”
Just like Google, which builds parts of the internet, it isn’t the entire internet.
“Bloody hell, Mellow, I’m confused.”
We don’t blame you.
If you spend enough time discussing the metaverse (and if you do, we don’t envy you) someone will inevitably (and probably smugly) reference Ready Player One, a 2011 novel and 2018 film which depicts a virtual reality world where everyone works, plays, and shops.
Chuck in a few pop-culture ideas about holograms and heads-up displays (think anything that Iron Man uses in any of the 18982940382 million Marvel films) then you’ve got a pretty good reference point for what the metaverse might end up looking like.
With us now?
“So what does this mean for me as a marketer?”
Well, dear reader, marketing is ultimately about getting your product or service in front of people.
So where people go, advertisers surely follow.
Does that mean you should throw yourself headfirst into the metaverse?
Well, that’s up to you and your marketing strategy (you *do* have one of those, don’t you?).
If you do decide to throw your hat into the virtual reality/augmented reality/metaverse/gaming ring, here are some strategies you might employ:
Parallel your real-life marketing
You might be hyped up on the future and ready to engage with the next generation of potential customers but remember that you’re still dealing with humans (so talk to them as such) and don’t stray too far from the marketing tactics you employ in the real world.
Case in point:
Belgian beer brand Stella Artois partnered with Zed Run, an online platform horse racing platform powered by blockchain technology (imagine the Melbourne Cup and a Tamagotchi made sweet love and had a baby).
As part of the campaign, they issued and auctioned off 50 bundles of branded NFTs which contained an original piece of digital art, a digital racehorse and a digital jersey for the horse to wear. It also created a 3D horse-racing track within the platform.
Sounds pretty gimmicky, right?
But in the real world, Stella Artois is a long-time sponsor of major horse races, so sponsoring the digital equivalent was a natural entry point into the metaverse for them.
Offer Branded Collectibles
Humans have long collected alternative, rare or limited edition items and the metaverse is yet another space where people can accumulate and display items and accessories to express themselves.
Roblox, the gaming platform with 43 million daily active users (yeah, you read that right), offers advertising partners the opportunity to create and sell virtual fashion and branded merchandise on the platform’s marketplace.
“It’s a great way to promote brands and designers, to test new ideas and even to launch entire collections,” says Winnie Burke, the company’s director of brand partnerships. “We’re encouraging brands to think about not just recreating a digital version of their physical merchandise, but also to experiment with designs and bespoke items that are specifically for the metaverse.”
Invest in Immersive Experiences
Given the experiential nature of the metaverse, some brands have tried their hand at creating branded installations and pop-up events — things users interact with (rather than just running banner ads).
On Roblox, Gucci held a virtual exhibit, called the Gucci Garden where users could walk around a series of themed rooms as mannequin-like avatars, interacting with items and trying on digital clothing and accessories available to buy.
Fortnite, too, offers interactive experiences that some brands are leveraging. For example, Warner Bros premiered the Tenet movie trailer at a drive-in movie theatre within the Fortnite game.
Lean on Existing Communities
As a rule, people don’t like ads.
So how can brands show up in the metaverse without annoying the hell out of the people already there?
As with any new medium, adaptation is key. It’s inauthentic and ill-advised for advertisers to show up and just slap their existing marketing activity from the physical world onto the digital.
By contrast, it can be really fruitful to partner with members of your chosen platform’s developer community to create items and experiences. These community members already know what works both in terms of game mechanics and what sorts of experiences will resonate with users.
User-generated content (UGC) and community members are integral parts of the metaverse. Like with influencer campaigns on social media, brands are often most effective when they involve platform-native creators in the creative design and execution of campaigns.
Embrace the Wild West
Good marketing isn’t afraid to experiment.
To some, everything in this article will sound like total nonsense (we’re looking at you, boomers).
To others (including the aforementioned 43 million daily active users on Roblox), this is the future of socialising, shopping, gaming and life in general.
Investing in metaversal marketing is a pretty big gamble and for many people it probably won’t pay off.
But that’s the thing about big gambles – if it works, it might just work big.
If you’re confused about all these new marketing frontiers, you’re not alone.
We’re pretty biased but when it comes to creative thinking, we reckon we know a thing or two. If you want a coffee and a natter, drop us an email.