The question is not if your brand is going to exist in the Metaverse, but rather what it’s going to look like when it’s there. Matthew Arnold says you should start planning that now.
Just as everyone was getting used to the idea of having their brand on social media, the geeks and trend forecasters have slapped us with a new buzz word: The Metaverse. A trope of dystopian sci-fi what seems like just the other day, it’s suddenly popping up in the daily news, on our social feeds and even around the braai, along with the standard rants about the government and state of South African sport. And like social media and, well, the internet before it, it’s real, it’s happening, and your brand will need to get on board sooner or later. Sooner is better.
The Metaverse Summed Up In A Tweet
To get everyone up to speed, here’s a quick explanation of what the Metaverse is in under 280 characters: The Metaverse is a future iteration of the internet where people shop, play, work and interact in 3D spaces instead of the 2D spaces we use now.
Metaverses By Different Names
It really is that simple. Also, it already exists – in platforms like Fortnite, Minecraft and Roblox. But these are all examples of closed iterations of the Metaverse – meaning that what happens in, say, Fortnite, stays in Fortnite. You can’t take your Fortnite avatar (the virtual representation of you, like a personalised video game character) and go hang out in Roblox. It would be like Super Mario marching into Grand Theft Auto and boosting a ride. (Or, like the NFT meta sneakers we created in partnership with Under Armour. That’s right, you saw it here first.)
The open Metaverse is what we know from sci-fi – one, single virtual world where everyone goes to fulfil their sad and sordid personal fantasies. And while there are Metaverse-first platforms created with this vision in mind – like The Sandbox, and Ready Player Me, which allows you to create an avatar that you can then use across various worlds – it’s still as far away as Liverpool is to winning the quadruple; you can almost see it, but it remains tantalisingly out of reach.
Partly, that’s because tech companies have yet to create a Metaverse that everyone wants to join (although Meta has certainly made their intentions clear in this regard with their avatar generator and, you know, their name). In sci-fi, people typically enter THE Metaverse to escape a dystopian reality – in our world, which may have its problems but generally is still pretty sweet, people will have to want to venture into the Metaverse for some or other reason. There’s also the issue of the hardware required for a truly immersive Metaverse experience, which is still prohibitively expensive for most people – especially here in SA.
That being said, you can enter the Metaverse without a VR headset and millions of people around the world, including South Africa, are. And forward-thinking brands are getting in on the action, too – which is why you don’t want to get left behind.
How Brands Can Get Into The Metaverse
When you brand was ready to go social, you didn’t build your own social network; you started a Facebook page or a Twitter account. Similarly, there’s no need for brands to reinvent the Metaverse wheel. The best way for brands to get in on the action is to tap into platforms that are already doing it.
Gaming: There’s a natural overlap between gaming and the Metaverse and I’d argue that this is the best place for brands to start. What works really well is gaming platforms that have been set up on a play-to-earn basis. They use blockchain and cryptocurrency infrastructure and build a gameified experience on top of that. A good example: Axie Infinity, which allows you to build little creatures, battle them against each other and trade them for currency. It has 2.8 million players daily, some of whom do this as their fulltime-job – which is not so far-fetched when you consider that the most expensive creature sold to date went for $820 000 (around R13 million). Another example: The award-winning campaign that our Kansas City office created for Wendy’s, where they had Wendy’s drop into Fortnite in avatar form and start attacking freezers of frozen burger patties to promote its brand promise of not using frozen beef.
Experiences: Since the Metaverse is all about immersive experiences, this is another natural space for brands to play in. An example: Nikeland, which Nike built on the Roblox platform. The key here is to tap into your existing brand equity and create an exclusive experience that people who love your brand – or really like to look cool – will want to be part of.
Shopping: Using cryptocurrency and NFTs, brands can create purely virtual shopping experiences – like allowing someone to kit their avatar out in a new pair of Under Armour sneakers – or, in the case of Boson Protocol, allow them to buy something, like a pair of shoes, in the Metaverse that they can also own in real life.
Events: We all learnt the value of a virtual event during the recent pandemic that shall not be named. We also learnt how excruciatingly dull they can be. Metaverse technology takes the virtual event from “can you see my screen?” to an engaging experience which, if executed well, can be even more compelling than the live version, with a far greater reach and zero travel arrangements. Always ahead of the curve, the Wendy’s team nailed this one too, creating a virtual retail outlet called the Wendyverse, created on Meta’s Horizon Worlds platform.
If you’re not the geeky type, the idea of the Metaverse may sound unattainable, scary, far-fetched or all of the above. In reality, it’s none of them. That’s why my advice to every brand is: Start small, but start now.
Matthew Arnold is Chief Connections Officer at VMLY&R South Africa. Originally published in Financial Mail.