If a big part of our lives is already spent in global, online, interconnected environments, the metaverse is without a doubt the next big iteration of the world. It’s a new source of inspiration, creativity, and economic value where online engagements can translate into physical traffic and revenues.
To prepare for what is coming, it’s imperative that brands start to experiment little by little with the metaverse. The big question is: which mindset to adopt in the first place?
THE METAVERSE IS HERE, WITH OR WITHOUT YOUR PERMISSION
Up to this point, there is no hard and fast definition of the metaverse. Memes abound, but there are two angles through which we can try to grasp an idea of what it is. On Wikipedia, it is defined as “a future version of the Internet and virtual, persistent and shared spaces, accessible via 3D interaction”. Meanwhile, Shaan Puri refers to the metaverse not as a virtual place, but “the moment in time where our digital life is worth more to us than our physical life.” The term has also spawned a cottage industry of related jargon: omniverse, spatial web, AR cloud, magicverse, etc.
While it’s not easy to define the term, one thing holds true. The transition towards the metaverse has been happening gradually for 20 years. Back in the 2000s, Roblox and Second Life made the first attempt to build a parallel world where millions of users devote hours of their lives to live digitally. Over the years, there have also been rapid advances in high speed communication, as well as AR and VR technologies.
It is not the first time the word “Metaverse" has emerged into public awareness. So what is different this time around?
Without a doubt, COVID-19 has been a major accelerator for gaming adoption, in both the amount of playing time and the type of people playing games. What’s noteworthy is that people are using gaming platforms for reasons beyond playing: self-expression, social engagement, community building, and so on. All of this converged with crypto currencies and NFTs driving real-world outcomes, has made the idea of metaverse even more viable.
Today, the “typical” global internet user spends almost 7 hours per day using the internet. Put differently, more than 40% of our waking life is being spent online. Some might claim the metaverse is the future - but others will say the future has already begun.
WHAT’S IN THE METAVERSE FOR BRANDS?
The internet we are having today is a rather messy product of proprietary companies who strive to keep all data and technology to themselves. In this system, products and services are not designed to transition into one another. This creates monopoly and as a result, Big Tech have amassed too much power over our lives.
By stark contrast, the metaverse offers unprecedented interoperability between technologies and stakeholders. Built mostly upon community-based standards and protocols, the metaverse allows projects to exchange data and co-build a hyper-valuable network for users. When digital goods are no longer captive to a single brand, users will be free to move seamlessly between platforms of choice. This is a healthy competitive environment, as companies will focus more on creativity and quality rather than pouring resources into marketing.
The metaverse opens a world of opportunities for brands:
New revenue streams
Besides physical goods, companies now can sell a variety of digital assets, ranging from virtual fashion, real estates, to exclusive experiences, with NFTs being used to denote scarcity and ownership. In this direct-to-customer business model, the supply chain is much leaner with minimal costs of production and no middleman fees.
Extended customer experiences
Unlike the real world, the metaverse is not bound by any physical or chemical formulas. In this new world fueled by imagination and creativity, brands are able to create immersive multimedia experiences. This could take the form of hybrid physical-digital quests where customers join an exciting journey to search for branded collectibles and claim their winnings IRL. Brick-and-mortar will no longer be the focal point of point of sales, but rather a link in this new omnichannel spanning physical-digital-immersive worlds.
A critical part of the metaverse is web3 wallets - which store digital assets and act as the gateway to the whole decentralized ecosystem. Since wallet information is made transparent to the public, brands can have an idea of what has been purchased by a user, what his/her taste is, what communities he/she belongs to, and so on. That’s like having full authorization to peek into the consumer’s walk-in closet, without personally identifying who the owner is. This is a significant milestone for CRM, as we move from third-party data to zero-party data.
Brands can leverage this intelligence to segment users, offer personalized products and contextual services. Just as someone with a Crypto Punk can get a complimentary NFT airdropped to his wallet, someone with a Breitling NFT can get invited to a VIP lounge by ally brands and enjoy a series of exclusive experiences.
People have always gathered around common interests, but in a decentralized world, businesses have this interesting opportunity to truly build and sustain a community-driven brand. Take Bored Ape Yacht Club for example: when people hold a token, they have ownership in your project; they become stakeholders, advocates, hobbyists. The more members contribute to a project, the more valuable the community becomes, and the more value is given back to each member.
HOW SHOULD BRANDS EMBRACE THE METAVERSE?
When we take a good look at brands who are doing well now, the biggest correlating factor is “who has started first?” - because at the end of the day, you are what you do. Technological advancements are happening faster than we could anticipate, and we are not acting fast enough. On the cusp of this tsunami called metaverse, here is the mindset brands could adopt to get started:
Be a builder
Not all “metaverse” projects you see on the market are truly decentralized or built to the standards of web3. Many are centralized with a single point of failure, so when they go down, they will take other assets and apps down altogether. Therefore, rather than buying a plot of land in the metaverse, think about issuing your own assets. Rather than waiting for other platforms to build the infrastructure or trying to predict the use of the platform, build your own NFT strategy. And make sure your NFTs are interoperable across different blockchains.
Test and learn
You don’t need to take a big leap from the get-go. Start with small operations, be creative in exploring new ways to engage customers, and you’ll learn a lot from experiences. Along the way, find yourself a good tech partner who really has the skin in the game to guide you through. For the record, there’s a big difference between someone who says “web3” and someone who says “web 3.0”.
Say metaverse, not Meta
If history has taught us anything, it is that Big Tech can go back on their promise once they have garnered enough traction. Meta is already reusing its old “copy-acquire-kill” playbook to oppress competition in the metaverse, as indicated by the fact that the giant has been quietly buying up at least five AR/VR-related companies in the past year. So to businesses out there, again, start small but act fast before Meta takes over the metaverse.
Finally, don’t think you’re investing in the future - because the future is already happening now.