When Facebook announced in October that the parent company would change from Facebook, Inc. to Meta, the word ‘metaverse’ was thrust into the limelight. In fact, the metaverse has been an obsession for Facebook’s bosses for years, even though it’s still just a concept. In the simplest terms, it’s about a whole new iteration of the internet (admittedly requiring a bit of a leap of faith to understand), but the core elements are a VR/AR world that’s persistent, real-time and evolving. A genuine ‘second reality’ if you like.
So, when are we expecting to be part of the metaverse?
It’s still some way off, we know that much. A number of technical challenges need to be overcome and users gained. It certainly won’t be Matrix-level sophistication, but neither will it be a clunky virtual world like Second Life in the early 2000’s on PCs. Today, we have advanced cloud infrastructure, 5G, VR/AR, cryptocurrency, blockchain, NFTs, a variety of social media, user generated content etc… which should all play a part in realising a convincing virtual world that people want to live in, and real businesses can be part of. So that’s where the marketing comes in. We’ve seen ‘in-game’ advertising for years on PC, console and mobile games, but businesses don’t really trade in those games in any meaningful way. The metaverse is the first genuine opportunity for that to become real… well virtual!
Is this the new dotcom boom?
It’s clear that good product marketing should be where the people are. As the metaverse gains momentum early adopters could reap huge rewards. It’s also very likely that simply advertising what already exists in the real world in a virtual space just won’t cut it. Product makers, marketers and advertisers need to think very carefully about offering things that people can’t get in the real world. If this is to be a place where people increasingly spend time ‘consuming’, why try and send them away to purchase a real thing they can’t have in the metaverse?
The recent rise in decentralised services like crypto and NFT (non fungible tokens) are critical to the economy that needs to underpin a robust metaverse. Taking real world economics and applying it to the metaverse is likely to never allow it to be anything more than a novelty.
As for the boom, recent stats show that users of AR and VR technologies reached 142 million in the US alone. That’s a 42% rise on 2017’s figure, and the pandemic has only seen things accelerate. How big tech collaborates and delivers a unified experience is still unknown, but by the end of this decade the metaverse will be every bit as commonplace as your mobile phone and apps.
What’s the opportunity for companies in the metaverse?
The likely first users of the metaverse will be young digital natives comfortable with the concepts we talked about above. Forget bricks and mortar banks, forget text messages, forget high street shops – in many ways digital natives will see virtual as real, making real brands harder to be attractive. We’ve seen this in games like Roblox, Fortnite and various RPGs where digitally traded items are highly coveted and a brand’s first touch with a young audience is through these virtual worlds, not high streets or even ‘normal online’ activity like websites and ads! Brands like Disney, Nike and Gucci have been quick to realise this and are developing virtual only commodities – but what about B2B firms?
We don’t know what virtual trading looks like beyond digital consumer products, but if the rise of cloud computing has taught us one thing, it’s that services rule in the digital space and the metaverse could well benefit from unique digital services offered to businesses selling virtual goods online. These can be successfully marketed through making likeminded social connections in the metaverse, virtual education sessions, novel interactive content etc. Marketing clearly has a place in the metaverse, but as for the death of advertising, brands will simply want to be where the people are, and if that means the virtual equivalent of Times Square – then that’s what we’ll have. We just have to wait and see!
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