The metaverse means different things to different people. For many digital immigrants, it’s the logical end state of Mark Zuckerberg’s evil plot to take over the world. But for marketers, it’s a new frontier that’s already paying dividends for smart brands.
When Facebook announced its name change to Meta in November, it grabbed headlines and attention. But the metaverse isn’t entirely new. From Farmville to Second Life to League of Legends, games have long enabled players to connect and interact in virtual worlds, offering opportunities to build status and clout through paid and branded experiences.
What exactly is the metaverse?
There isn’t one metaverse, but there is a growing consensus on how to define the term. Bloomberg calls it the “next big technology platform,” describing the metaverse as “social, persistent, shared, virtual 3-D worlds.” A combination of virtual reality (V.R.), augmented reality (A.R.), and other immersive technologies, the metaverse is essentially “the convergence of the physical and digital realms in the next evolution of the internet and social networks using real-time 3-D software.”
Bloomberg projects the metaverse opportunity will be worth an estimated $800 billion by 2024, while other industry insiders value the mainstreaming of the metaverse at over $1 trillion. That’s because metaverse-related content is currently exploding in popularity. The user-generated gaming platform Roblox, for example, has 50 million active users, including half of U.S. children.
As the opportunity grows, marketers are taking lessons from gaming companies to build a whole new set of engaging brand experiences.
Confused? Intimidated? You’re not alone. Entering the metaverse can be daunting for even the most trailblazing brands, as it requires thoughtful planning and the right talent to capitalize on the opportunity.
How B2C brands are approaching metaverse marketing
Consumer brands are already flocking to the metaverse, says Stefanie Smith, former IKEA executive and CMO of MetaVRse, a code-optional platform that makes it easy to create and instantly share interactive, 3-D experiences on the web. “Everything we’ve always wanted to do in retail or 2-D e-commerce is here,” she says.
That includes opportunities for brands to interact more deeply with engaged consumers, particularly younger ones, and sometimes offering exclusive content rewards in exchange for engagement or co-creating content. “We used to say kids were digital natives, but now they’re going to be metaverse natives,” Smith adds.
Indeed, the metaverse presents a virtual playground for cutting-edge brands like Vans, which launched an interactive metaverse skatepark visited by more than 48 million people. Now Gucci has released an exclusive digital pair of sneakers, while IKEA, Chipotle, Louis Vuitton, and others have created their own branded metaverse experiences. Nike has also invested heavily in the space to engage superfans and collectors, while auction house Sotheby’s created a virtual art gallery in the 3-D virtual world Decentraland.
How B2B brands can pursue metaverse marketing
JP Morgan has also thrown its hat in the ring by opening a lounge in Decentraland to help educate clients about cryptocurrency and the metaverse. However, save for that one example, it isn’t easy to point to B2B brands diving deep into metaverse marketing. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty of opportunity. For B2B brands, Smith says other short-term use cases could include:
- Virtual branches or locations
- Virtual meeting spaces
- Virtual events
- Virtual campuses
- Virtual training centers
- Virtual advertising and retail
So, after picking the right project to pursue, how can marketers at B2B tech, financial services, and healthcare firms successfully dip their toe into the metaverse’s virtual waters? Here are a few tips for getting started:
- Choose a modality and platform: That’s the advice of Nick Huang, a manager at Rock Paper Reality, an agency specializing in helping clients launch their metaverse offerings. “Do you want to deploy 3-D assets for e-commerce, a standalone WebAR experience, or a minigame or immersive experience within a VR environment or other platform?” Consider adapting traditional marketing methods, but just in virtual world. Companies are already purchasing “land” in metaverses like Decentraland and building malls where brands can buy space to interact with customers, sell products, or advertise.
- Create your ad or experience: This step is a hugely important part of your metaverse strategy and tactics. “How will you create the 3-D assets and develop the interactive experience?” asks Huang. Also consider how users will interact with the experience, and what technology it would require.
- Decide whether you’ll create your own space or leverage someone else’s: This choice dictates a lot, including where you’ll host your experience and how large a following you’ll get, says Michael Cruz, Partner and Head of Content at experiential agency Summer Friday.
- Consider starting a Discord community:. Though not a virtual 3-D world itself, the Discord platform is invite-only and includes interactive channels for chat, voice, and video. What makes it different from Slack or traditional social networks is the ability to grant levels of access to fans based on behaviors, interactions, or token ownership, a direct connection between the metaverse and the equally fast-growing cryptocurrency space. Since the metaverse is all about community engagement, Cruz says Discord demonstrates how non-fungible tokens (NFTs) or cryptocurrencies can help build the kind of engagement brands need to enter the metaverse. “I can create a coin within my community that has its own value and use that as utility to increase interest in my project, gain adoption, and get real contributors,” he says.
Measuring metaverse marketing ROI and avoiding potential pitfalls
Since they’re still largely experimental, many of the most advanced forms of metaverse marketing, like branded V.R. games, can be hard to execute. They’re also hard to prove ROI. That’s why Huang advises looking at metaverse marketing to build brand and clout among core customer groups, rather than trying to increase short-term conversions or sales.
Different Metaverse marketing modalities will yield different ROI, Huang says. WebAR–immersive shopping experiences like IKEA Place, which is essentially virtual furniture shopping–may have the lowest barriers to entry and the best brand value. In addition, since the content and experience are interactive, it may eventually replace traditional in-person furniture shopping.
But the real power of metaverse marketing lies in deep customer engagement. Otherwise, Cruz says brands are “just playing in someone else’s game.” And someone else’s game can contain someone else’s garbage. For example, Roblox has millions of experiences, but moderation of so many experiences to police for sex, violence, and other questionable content, is still a challenge.
Because the metaverse space is largely unregulated, Cruz urges caution for B2C and B2B brands. Build a comprehensive plan first, or risk leaving a “digital footprint of your mistakes,” he says. Many brands making a serious leap into the metaverse are now hiring full-time help, with metaverse-related hiring up drastically over the past year. For marketers looking to upskill, there are also a growing number of metaverse marketing trainings available.
In the meantime, Huang recommends developing a smart plan, working with experts, and preparing for a whole lot of change. Building a robust community in the metaverse can be even more challenging than doing so through traditional social media, and it can definitely be more expensive. “I would say metaverse marketing should be considered a high risk, potentially high reward marketing channel for now,” Huang says.
As the metaverse land grab continues for B2C brands, now is an excellent time for B2B brands to plan a smart approach to what is quickly becoming the next great digital marketing opportunity.