It wasn’t all that long ago when “going on the internet” was an activity unto itself. A trip down to the computer room was required to find directions via MapQuest or hop in a chat room to talk to strangers. Fast forward to today, where the internet is ingrained in daily activities and accessed without a second thought. The metaverse isn’t quite there yet, but it has the potential to be as equally entrenched in society. With that in mind, let’s dive into what the metaverse is, where we expect it to go, and what that means for marketers.
What is the metaverse?
Am I in the metaverse now?
Let’s help you figure that out. The metaverse is a single, shared, immersive, and persistent virtual space where humans experience life in ways they could not in the physical world. The metaverse builds off the Internet, offering an “always existing” space that exists in real time. So, while users might just browse a website on the internet, the virtual worlds in the metaverse are spaces that can be “lived” in, whether you are currently in it or not.
The fact the metaverse cannot be turned “on” or “off” by a central authority is one example of how it is a part of Web 3.0. It is decentralized, meaning there isn’t one authority that it depends on for managing it, issuing its digital currencies, or owning the personal data. Therefore, the metaverse is comprised of many universes such as Roblox, Minecraft, Decentraland, and many more, and just one company does not own the metaverse (not even “Meta”). Overall, the metaverse reached 400 million monthly active users in 2022, with over half of those (230 million) using Roblox. The remaining are split across a variety of worlds, and it will only continue to fragment as the metaverse becomes more widespread and new players enter the game.
How do we interact in the metaverse?
When you think about the metaverse, it is easy to envision someone with a virtual reality headset, completely immersed in an alternate world. But oftentimes, it’s much simpler than that. Although the metaverse can be accessed through a virtual reality headset, it’s not a requirement. More commonly, users within the metaverse spend time playing games against other users, attending live concerts from real celebrities, or exercising in a track simulation with others doing the same in their own home. The metaverse economy is another key aspect to understand, with users collecting NFTs (non-fungible tokens) or cryptocurrency and then buying or selling land or assets monetized within games (think Animal Crossing). The trend here is that because it is always on, users can interact with others who are also in the metaverse.
The metaverse is continuing to grow
The metaverse had a global market size valued at $63B in 2021 and is projected to grow to $1,527B by 2029. COVID accelerated technological advancements that shifted human behavior. The metaverse offered a space to interact with real humans without leaving homes. And AI became more incorporated into everyday life with voice assistants and smart home devices, image recognition for cell phones, and recently, ChatGPT.
The big question is what it will look like in the future. It is easy to picture (and fear) a world in which no one leaves their homes and are stuck inside a virtual world, but we expect that the metaverse will be incorporated within daily lives rather than take them over. To that point: Gartner predicts 25% of people will spend at least an hour per day in the metaverse by 2026. Over time, users will have more access and experiences that are connected and function together. While spending time together in-person will not disappear, the metaverse will become ingrained into our everyday experiences, much like the internet is today.
Connection is key for brands in the metaverse
While the metaverse isn’t new, the approach to brands having a presence is. While gaming platforms were once just a way we could build a virtual neighborhood with friends, brands are now trying to get involved and create connections with these communities. For example, fashion brands are holding live fashion shows and allowing users to create avatars that can be outfitted with clothing and accessories. The NFL is offering games based on virtual tailgating to create a social hub to engage with Gen Z, a demographic they have historically struggled to attract and is ever present in the metaverse. In fact, 84% of the current user base is aged 18 and younger, making it a great way to connect with young audiences today; however, this will inevitably change as usage and engagement become more mainstream.
Marketing in the metaverse allows brands to reach a new consumer base as well as be innovative with their messaging. Which really boils it all down to connection. To be successful in the metaverse, marketers should:
1. Think long term
Developing a metaverse presence isn’t meant to be a quick PR stunt to later report out the impact on the bottom line. It’s also not a fit for a three-month media campaign. It is a playground to explore — long term. Brands need to learn about where/how their audience is spending their time in the metaverse and what they interact with, are interested in, etc. Just because an audience may not be there yet, doesn’t mean marketers shouldn’t start thinking about it. Now, we don’t know exactly how long that exploration or presence should be as that will change depending on growth and usage of the metaverse, but what we do know is this will require a long-term strategy to fully incorporate within the metaverse in both an authentic and valuable way.
2. Create a value exchange
Simply creating a brand presence in the metaverse won’t be enough to break through — just like in the real world, you must create a unique value exchange by offering something useful to your audience. For example, provide discounts on products in the real world in exchange for brand engagement in the metaverse or provide entertaining experiences that makes users want to engage. Do something different to drive metaverse engagement. Then, promote the offerings on social channels to make new or current customers aware of what they can benefit from when connecting in the metaverse.
3. Test, learn, & evolve
Test and learn to uncover this. There are a variety of opportunities for brands from ad placements to product placements to even creating their own metaverses. Incorporating within an existing metaverse offers opportunities to connect with those already existing audiences by creating games, hosting events, or building locations users can visit and interact with. It is important to understand platforms’ audience demographics and scale to understand which is the best fit for your brand. Marketers may make mistakes along the way, but they will get valuable feedback from the community and apply it. Learn how this incorporation can build the brand up while still accurately representing it, enhancing the customer journey and building loyalty. Have a roadmap and learn as the journey continues. As the metaverse evolves, the roadmap may too — but don’t let that stop you.
What this means for marketers
Years from now, users won’t be thinking about “logging on” to the metaverse; it will just be a part of daily life. It may take a while to get it to be the norm, but many are already utilizing AI and virtual interaction. Virtual guides through company stores, virtual work meetings with digital avatars, or virtual training sessions are all ways that could make things easier for consumers and brands alike (and for some, already are!). Now, that doesn’t seem futuristic or crazy, does it?
Brands and marketers should get ahead of it. Start exploring and testing now to be ahead of the game, as those who wait risk being left behind. The metaverse is not just the future of the internet; it is the present reality, and it is changing how we see the world and participate in it. Get involved and get excited!