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In October of 2021, Mark Zuckerberg announced to the world that he had changed the name of Facebook— his booming social media company— to Meta. According to Zuckerberg, he’s in the business of connecting people, and he has big plans to meet them where they work and play in a new virtual world called the metaverse.

Ok. But what is the metaverse? And what role should marketers play in this new digital frontier?

Ask five different people to explain the metaverse and you’re likely to get six different answers. The truth is, no single, unified definition exists. Descriptions vary, with most explanations vague and speculative. Nevertheless, one thing is crystal clear: how we interact with technology is changing, and marketers would be remiss if they didn’t at least start to think about what the metaverse has to offer.

What exactly is the metaverse?

In many ways, the metaverse is whatever you want it to be. To consumers, it’s an exciting way to work, play, socialize and shop using virtual and augmented realities to mimic the real world. From gaming and sports to tourism and academia, users can participate in a wide range of activities with one another, even when they’re not in the same physical space.

But more than playing a video game with a faraway friend, or touring a museum from your living room, the metaverse exists in real time, whether you’re actively involved or not. Think of it as the next phase of the internet, but instead of viewing content, you are the content—whether you’re participating, or not.

How to start thinking about marketing in the metaverse.

With much uncertainty surrounding the metaverse, how should marketers be thinking about it?

Partnering is a great approach. The concept of the metaverse is new and most companies simply don’t have the bandwidth or in-house expertise to dive deep into emerging technology. If you’re not ready to pursue experimental marketing plans alone, consider partnering with other, more experienced brands as part of a mutual campaign.

The South Korean social network app Zepeto partnered with Ralph Lauren to create a virtual fashion collection for users to dress their avatars in exclusive ‘skins’.

Watch and learn from early success stories. Of course, there are already incredible success stories when it comes to marketing in the metaverse. Household brands like Nike, Gucci, Forever 21, and even Nascar have successfully ventured into the metaverse. Follow these examples and take notes on what works and what doesn’t in these early days. You may not have the budget to parrot the complete strategy, but you can always model the technique on a smaller scale.

Be patient. Real value may not be immediate. As is the case with any new technology platform, the metaverse will need to mature and develop before true value can be realized. Metaverse infrastructure is being built now, with companies investing heavily in consumer use cases. Immersive retail, employee training, and virtual prototyping for everything from manufacturing to vehicles is underway. Remember, the internet was new once too. Set realistic expectations with any campaign you plan and be ready to pivot on a dime.

Recognize digital natives are your friends. Generation Z—those who were born between 1997 and 2012—are not only familiar with the virtual world, they’re comfortable with it. Transacting, socializing, and spending time interacting virtually is mainstream behavior. As the metaverse continues to grow, it’s this cohort that will likely be engaging with your business most. Today, online commerce is widely accepted and deemed safe. Tomorrow, there’s no telling what we will be doing.

Define your goals realistically. There’s lots of noise around the metaverse and brands may have to fight to be heard. With that in mind, decide early on what your end goal is, and be realistic. You likely won’t be able to make direct sales early on, and brand awareness may be a better choice. Rethink how you measure success and be prepared to define new marketing metrics.

Marketing and the metaverse – here’s who’s doing it well.

Vans World. Photo credit
Vans World. Photo credit

Gucci. Fashion has always had the reputation for being ahead of the game, and Gucci didn’t disappoint.

The iconic fashion brand recognized early on that Gen Zers enjoy splurging on themselves when they built the Gucci Garden in the Roblox gaming metaverse. Visitors to the garden are met by a neutral mannequin. Wandering through different rooms, visitors can dress their mannequin using dynamic, personalized textures and patterns. With 19 million visitors, Gucci successfully tapped into the $176 billion gaming industry with flare. 

Nike. Nike is no stranger to experiential technology, using artificial intelligence (AI) and e-commerce to keep its customers excited and engaged. Recently, the brand created a virtual space called ‘Nikeland’, for fans to meet, socialize, and participate in promotions on the Roblox platform. In addition, it created virtual sneakers that fans could purchase using NFTs, or digital tokens. Nike sold 600 pairs of sneakers in 6 minutes, bringing in a whopping $3.1 million!

Warner Brothers. Meet the first music themed world in the metaverse complements of Warner Music Group, more commonly known as Warner Brothers. A musical theme park and concert venue, Warner Brothers partnered with The Sandbox, a gaming virtual world and is expected to feature leading artists such as Dua Lipa, Ed Sheeran, and Green Day.

Vans. In 2021, Vans, the popular global sport brand partnered with Roblox to launch Vans World, an interactive skate park and shop. Users can skate with friends and customize Vans skate shoes, bringing “skateboarding, fashion and community together in one experience.” Fans can buy and build custom skateboards and purchase and wear Vans shoes during the experience.

How do you access the metaverse?

Now that you’ve learned about some of the things you can do and see in the metaverse, the next logical question, is
“how do you get there?”

Technology Platforms. The metaverse is a network of 3D virtual worlds, made up of multiple environments that are built on platforms. Platforms are virtual areas where developers build immersive experiences. While there are many metaverse platforms (and more being created every day) three of the most popular include Decentraland, The
Sandbox, and Axie Infinity. All virtual experiences in the metaverse occur on a platform.

Once you connect to a metaverse platform, you can create a digital avatar, which serves as your personal identity. This is the character you use to experience the virtual world. Avatars can be customized for eye and hair color, clothing and
even accessories. With an avatar created, you are free to explore, play games, and interact with others.

Equipment. To enjoy the full 360-degree immersive experience of the metaverse, you need a virtual reality (VR)
headset. Headsets pair with external devices like a smartphone, gaming console or computer, so you can put yourself
directly into any number of simulations and adventures.

VR headsets are equipped with internal and external tracking cameras that follow the movement of your head, along with dual joysticks for your hands, so you can touch and interact with virtual objects around you. Wearing a headset,
you can walk around your virtual world as you would in reality.

The immersive experience makes it easy to forget you’re standing in your living room, and it’s not uncommon to
stumble into a couch or coffee table while navigating the expansive virtual world. Mapping out a boundary beforehand
helps you experience the complete 3D environment safely. Virtual reality is not the only way to experience the
metaverse. You can also use augmented reality through a smartphone or PC, although A VR enabled headset provides
the most immersive experience.

Final Thoughts

 In 2021 alone, internet searches for the term ‘metaverse’ increased by 7,200 percent.  People are curious, and smart brands recognize this curiosity as an opportunity to experiment. While no one knows the future of this new and exciting digital entity, we can anticipate that it will dramatically shape the future of advertising. What started out as a new way to game (200 million monthly users spend an average of 2.5 hours a day on Fortnite and Roblox), has quickly matured into an environment ripe for B2C and B2B interactions.

To forward-thinking businesses, the metaverse offers the potential for a new digital economy, where users can create, buy and sell goods, interacting as if they were in the real world. For marketers, it’s a unique opportunity to engage with consumers in entirely new ways, with creativity and innovation taking center stage.

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