How to Position Your Brand for the Metaverse
The metaverse – an ill-defined layer of existence where our digital and physical lives become one – will not suddenly materialize. Indeed, while its full manifestation might still be far off, we are, by some accounts, already living it.
“There will be no clean Before Metaverse and After Metaverse,” as venture capitalist Matthew Ball, one of several experts consulted for a new report by Wunderman Thompson Intelligence, put it. “Instead, it will slowly emerge over time as different products, services and capabilities integrate and meld together.”
Emma Chiu, global director of Wunderman Thompson Intelligence and lead author of the firm’s Into the Metaverse report, says the term metaverse is used to describe the next iteration of the digital revolution – one that will see our physical and virtual lives fully converge. “Think of it as an extension of our lives, supported by technology.”
Many elements are contributing to the makings of the metaverse, adds Chiu, including the next generation of gaming, the crypto-economy (including NFTs), advances in technology and connectivity, and the growing influence of tech in our everyday lives. It’s a future destination, one that’s still in the process of being defined, which explains why Wunderman asked 15 experts to offer their own interpretations, for the purposes of the report.
“The exciting part here is that individuals and brand leaders are able to help shape what the metaverse becomes,” Chiu says.
The pandemic has accelerated trends across different sectors, including people’s reliance on technology for pretty much everything, from conducting business to socializing. Chiu says the decision to conduct a thorough analysis of the inner-workings of the metaverse came after seeing a number of companies position themselves as players (or future players) in the space.
For example, Facebook established a metaverse division in July 2021, following a remark from Mark Zuckerberg that its future lies in becoming a metaverse company. Around the same time, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said the company is working on building the “enterprise metaverse.” The CEO’s comments came only a few months after gaming company Epic Games closed a $1 billion funding round to “to support Epic’s long-term vision for the metaverse.”
The Wunderman report is replete with other developments that should place the metaverse on marketers’ watch lists, touching on all aspects of society and business
It looks, for instance, at new “direct-to-avatar” product releases from mass-market to high-end fashion and auto brands. Ralph Lauren released a 50-piece digital clothing collection in August 2021, available for purchase through social networking app Zepeto. American Eagle debuted a digital clothing collection for Bitmoji avatars in July 2021. And luxury car makers including Maserati, Aston Martin and Tesla have launched virtual models of their vehicles in Tencent’s Game for Peace.
Though virtual possessions like these may seem unlikely to have a huge impact on brands in the short term, the research suggests consumers are moving in that direction –with one expert suggesting it may hold the keys to a more sustainable future, as people begin to value digital possessions over physical ones that leave a greater footprint.
On average, consumers from the U.S., the U.K. and China – where Wunderman Thomson Intelligence conducted a survey of more than 3,000 respondents between July 9 and 27 – would be willing to spend more than $76,000 for a digital house, $9,000 for original art, and more than $2,900 for a digital designer handbag.
The same survey, whose findings are included throughout the report, found there’s growing interest in things like virtual venues, which originated in the gaming world but are gradually turning into digital spaces used for experiences and socializing.
Seventy-eight percent of respondents who had heard of the metaverse said a digital concert would appeal to them, 87% said they would be interested in digital movie viewing, and 74% would consider attending a digital business conference – not unlike the virtual space create by South by South West for its 2021 conference, which allowed 100,000 attendees to move between film screenings, theatrical performances and keynote sessions using a virtual avatar accessed through computer screen or VR headset.
It appears advances like these are having an impact on how consumers perceive technology as a force in the world, which also has implications for brands. Eighty-eight percent of people told Wunderman Thompson Intelligence that “my online self should reflect my real-life ethics and values,” and the same percentage said “brands need to work just as hard to create inclusive spaces online as they do offline.”
Into the Metaverse was designed as a guide for marketers and brand leaders to better understand the implications it could have on their businesses, consumers and society, says Chiu. As such, it also includes key recommendations for brands looking to enter the space.
For one, marketers will need to account for the fact that emerging digital spaces will not only become a more popular choice for connecting and socializing, but also for working, shopping and discovering new products.
And what happens in the virtual world will increasingly have consequences on the brands and businesses operating outside of it, as it could have implications on everything from product testing to manufacturing, Wunderman Thompson suggests.
But the fact that the metaverse remains fluid and evolving means there are plenty of opportunities left for brands to help shape it. To do so, the firm says companies will need to either develop the technical tools to power the metaverse, or focus on perfecting the end-user experience. “Do you want to contribute to the functional and technical creation of the metaverse, or do you want to focus on how you – and your consumers – exist within it?”