Should brands embrace the metaverse?

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Hanna Garrett, Senior PR & Marketing Executive:
  • Reach new audiences
  • Build a community
  • Go digital to become sustainable

The widespread adoption of the Internet transformed brand marketing strategies, with more than 4.95 billion people around the world using the Internet. On average, internet users spend 144 minutes per day on social media and messaging apps. From video calls to posting and scrolling on platforms, we are more connected than ever and the metaverse is a natural evolution of our online interactions with people and brands .

The term hit the headlines when Facebook announced it was rebranding to Meta, and, in the wake of the declaration, more than 2.6 million Google searches for ‘metaverse’ were made. It was even shortlisted for the Collins Dictionary Word of the Year, losing out to the tangential Non-Fungible Token (NFT). Defined by the Oxford English Dictionary, the metaverse is a ‘virtual-reality space in which users can interact with a computer-generated environment and other users’. The long-term vision is an interconnected virtual world where an individual’s avatar can seamlessly interact with different brands within the metaverse. 

The commercial applications of the metaverse are being driven by changes in consumer purchasing behaviour, accelerated by the pandemic. As people turned to social media, in lieu of a social life during the pandemic, the intersection of the real and digital world has fuelled the growth in ‘social commerce’, a market worth $89.4 billion in 2020. The metaverse appears to reflect our willingness to embrace digital technology in all areas of our lives. 

The exciting thing about the metaverse is that it is still in its infancy, which means that brands have the opportunity to shape what the metaverse will look like and how users will engage with it – whether this is through NFTs, immersive virtual experiences or virtual worlds. Brands can start engaging and interacting with their customers through virtual showrooms, fashion shows and dressing rooms to leverage consumer purchasing in the immersive space of the digital world. It is important to note that the metaverse is not just an opportunity for retailers; brands could use the virtual world to deliver events, meetings, training, product demonstrations or even modelling operational processes. 

As brands start to explore these opportunities, it is important to remember that the new technology presents its own challenges. Two of the key considerations for brands will be: how will I keep my customers safe in a virtual world, and how will I keep their data secure? The introduction of the Online Safety Bill will go some way towards ensuring that safety features are built into the various platforms, but ultimately, brands will have a duty to prevent harm online and to provide a positive experience for users. 

So, what does the metaverse mean for your brand and should you be embracing it as part of your long-term marketing strategy? Here are some of the ways that brands can leverage the metaverse to achieve growth.  

Reach new audiences

It is important for brands to continually assess where their audiences are spending time online, and be present on those platforms. The metaverse will provide a more cohesive digital experience for users, making it easier to reach key consumer demographics, such as GenZ. In May 2021, Gucci successfully partnered with Roblox, the online game platform, to deliver a virtual recreation of an offline installation in Florence. Using the Roblox platform, it built various themed rooms, where visitors could view, try on and purchase digital Gucci items to accessorise their avatars. A revenue share model system ensured that the brand benefited from online purchases. This collaboration is a great example of an immersive experience to change the perception of the brand while building brand awareness amongst high-spending, younger customers.  

Build a community

The value of building online communities around your brand has long been recognised. An engaged community increases your brand visibility, fosters trust in your brand through advocacy and attracts more followers – and higher customer retention rates.  

Harnessing this loyalty will require brands to offer different, or meaningful, experiences to users. Last year, Balenciaga partnered with Fortnite, to launch an exclusive digital hub that was available for just one week, enabling users to try on and purchase the brand’s apparel. Creating cohesion between the real-life and digital worlds, fans who purchased clothing in real-life could also unlock the outfits in Fortnite – offering them exclusivity and a way to merge their online and offline purchases for added value. 

Another example is Manchester City Football Club, which is currently working with Sony to replicate its famous stadium to offer fans the opportunity to watch live games in a virtual space. This is a powerful move, which will consolidate its fans’ loyalty by offering them access to games that capacity and cost currently restrict. 

Go online for offline gains

Outside of social commerce, there are exciting applications for the metaverse around sustainability and the environment. One of these is virtual twins, a digital version of a product that is being manufactured, which allows design and testing to be carried out virtually, saving time and eliminating waste. The virtual twins application was successfully used by Moderna during its production of the COVID-19 vaccine. In 2021, 67% of consumers tried to have a positive impact on the environment through everyday actions; using virtual platforms to test sustainable approaches to business will help organisations to meet consumer demand for environmentally friendly brands. 

While the metaverse is still in its early stages, we are entering into a more immersive online world and, post-pandemic, virtual and hybrid experiences are becoming more relevant to help brands connect with customers. It is important to balance the risk versus reward, when considering how to navigate the complex digital landscape. However, brands such as Disney, Hyundai, Coca-Cola and Nike are all embracing the potential of the metaverse and offering valuable lessons in how to maximise the impact of creating virtual experiences for customers. Now is the time to start thinking about how to engage with customers in the virtual, immersive world throughout the entire customer journey, from awareness to purchase.

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