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Mapping The Metaverse: How Can Brands Make The Most Of This New World?

Nov 30, 2021

Founder of  Woo Brand Research , an agency focusing on driving positive business outcomes through the power of market research and strategy.

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We have entered the era of the so-called metaverse, in which our virtual and physical realities converge in a new, blended physical and digital world.

Facebook’s recent decision to change its name to Meta is a reflection of opportunities in the virtual reality space. “It is time for us to adopt a new company brand to encompass everything that we do, to reflect who we are and what we hope to build,” Mark Zuckerberg said.

This comes at a time when virtual worlds can be used for practically anything — from concerts to socializing with friends and family. Indeed, it is important for all brands to start thinking about how they may need to incorporate this shift into their marketing.

The youngest generations, Gen Z — those born between the mid-1990s and the early 2010s — and Gen Alpha — those born from the early 2010s onwards — are already familiar with the concept of the metaverse even if they cannot define the term. This is due, in part, to the time they spend on platforms such as Roblox, Minecraft and Fortnite, meeting up with friends in elaborate digital worlds.

These behaviors online are second nature to them. It’s here that younger generations spend much of their time selecting avatars and playing with friends, and these behaviors were accelerated by the pandemic — from lockdowns and an increased collective reliance on technology to stay connected. There is no doubt that these new habits will have a significant impact on brands.

Based on our partnerships with clients as we explore this area for marketing, here are some pointers for brands seeking to make their mark within this new paradigm:

Avoid interruptive messaging.

Take the huge attendance seen at concerts on Fortnite, for example. The engagement seen at these virtual events points to the potential scale and power of this new world — one which heralds enormous opportunities for brands, should they be able to establish a workable road map for entry. Certainly, marketers need to figure out the right way to leverage the metaverse — and it is not a space where interruptive broadcast messaging sits easily.

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Instead, messaging must feel native to the platform and the overall experience. Aim to amplify rather than distract, and ensure that any insertion of your brand fits naturally within the overall environment. Take, for example, Deliveroo — a food delivery service — which sent virtual riders to deliver treats into the game Animal Crossing. The company also paired this opportunity with promo codes for real-world treats.

Luxury brands are welcome in the metaverse, too.

Even high-end brands are looking for a piece of the action. Take Louis Vuitton’s creation of a new virtual world in the hopes of winning over Gen Z. The French luxury goods house launched a video game in recent months — one that involves a quest that nods to the journey of the brand’s original founder, spanning fantasy locations and digital worlds inspired by cities such as London, Beijing, Paris, Tokyo and New York. It’s also worth noting that the game includes NFTs (non-fungible tokens), another phenomenon that points to the increasing value of virtual worlds and virtual goods.

Marc Jacobs and Valentino also experimented in the virtual world with Animal Crossing, while Dior launched a mobile game to promote the opening of its flagship store in Shanghai.

Meanwhile, the automotive industry is also invested. For example, Hyundai offers virtual test drives in Roblox, targeted squarely at Gen Z. Cars have long been featured in video games, and that will no doubt continue in the metaverse, which brings with it a huge number of use cases for the automotive industry — from a collaborative, social space for designing vehicles to a simulation environment for test drives and virtual showrooms.

The youngest generations seek shared social spaces.

Savvy brands have already recognized that younger generations, in particular — those who will soon form much of the workforce, with spending power to match — are seeking shared social spaces and virtual experiences, wherever they happen to be. What’s more, they want to help brands co-create these worlds, which drives participation and loyalty.

Interactivity is expected for these generations and has become the norm thanks to user-generated platforms such as TikTok and Minecraft, where co-creation is a natural part of community interactions in which anyone can build, design and create, thereby showcasing their own unique identity. In this way, forward-thinking brands will look to offer creation or co-creation opportunities as part of their experiences, turning passive consumption into active participation and self-expression.

The metaverse offers a new brand lens.

It’s these brands that embrace new forms of customer participation that are most likely to successfully capture the attention of young audiences. And so, as the boundaries between real life and online continue to blur, and we continue to interact over video calls and in virtual environments, the associated metaverse offers an entirely new brand lens.

As Christian Perrins, the head of strategy at a gaming specialist agency, tells The Drum, this new brand world is participatory rather than passive and open-ended rather than scripted. It’s “as embedded as TV was for gen X and boomers.”

From billboards and videos in gaming environments and co-created spaces to interactive ads and experiences, brands have at their fingertips vast opportunities in the way they can communicate in today’s new blended physical and digital realities. We’re set to see a huge amount of experimentation. There truly is no limit to the creativity of this potential new brand world beyond the confines of our own imaginations. It’s time to map the metaverse.

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