Illustration of a person on a motorcycle in the metaverse (cover image)
Brand StrategyMay 10, 2022

Branding in the Metaverse: The Opportunities and Risks

May 10, 2022
Michael Metcalf Photo
Michael Metcalf
Content Strategist & Freelance Writer

The metaverse is one of the hottest topics in tech right now.

The hype is real, exciting, and honestly... pretty confusing. Just like we saw with NFTs, the fanfare has arrived like a tidal wave — and it's left a lot of people bewildered.

What the heck is the metaverse? Is it a video game? Is it a hundred different video games? Who owns it, and how does it work?

We'll clear things up and explore how brand-builders can take advantage of the opportunities this exciting new technology brings.

Be warned, though: these are uncharted waters. Before you go planting your flag in this shiny new digital domain, you need to understand what's virtual and what's real in a landscape of lofty promises.

So What Exactly is the Metaverse?

Source: BTC Echo

This is a good place to start because there are a lot of people asking the same thing.

Defining “the metaverse” is difficult because so many people and companies have their own understanding of it.

But at the most basic level, it's a shared 3D world that a number of people can interact within. It's like a video game, but on a much more ambitious scale: a persistent world that you can represent yourself in with an avatar, own objects, and even have property to your name.

The term metaverse comes from Neal Stephenson's science fiction novel Snow Crash, where humans interact with one another and computer programs via digital avatars. Current discourse suggests most metaverse experiences will happen through virtual reality (VR) headsets, like the ones you can buy today from HTC, Valve, Samsung, or Facebook's Oculus.

We are incredibly early in the development of the metaverse, and there's a lot of hype and confusion about it, along with excitement and opportunity.

And there's a big problem with the way it's talked about. It's the word "the". Despite utopian wishes to the contrary, there's probably not going to be a single metaverse, because there are so many companies with competing interests getting involved with it. Everyone wants to own the metaverse, so there are going to be a lot of companies trying to build their own.

That's not a guarantee of course; the internet began as a mostly democratic resource, where every computer and server was equal. 20 years later, 99% of online business went through systems owned by 8 or so companies. That could happen, and it's certainly what Meta (formerly Facebook) wants to happen — hence their name change and significant investments into metaverse and VR tech.

In such a fast-moving environment, the word “metaverse” can't really have a technical definition, and we'll probably see a bunch of new terms spring up as the concept matures.

So for now, think of the metaverse as a concept like “cyberspace”, rather than a specific technology, device, or protocol.

Why Should Marketers Care About the Metaverse?

There are concerns, which we'll address below. But first, let's put our optimism goggles on and look at some of the cool stuff that's been happening in the metaverse.

The technology that metaverse experiences are being built on is deeply intertwined with blockchain systems: the underlying tech behind cryptocurrency and NFTs. These technologies offer a method of claiming “ownership” over unique digital goods.

This means you can create limited-production digital items that customers will pay for.

Luxury goods are a perfect fit because unique digital items will be coveted by users — with the “flex” of a purchase providing status to the buyer. If you can't afford a Bugatti in real life, you might be able to drive a virtual one in the metaverse for a fraction of the price — and if you're one of only 500 owners, you'll value the experience of ownership much more.

There's also the opportunity for crossovers between physical and digital products — like Coca-Cola did by launching a virtual drink inside Fortnite Creative.

Source: New York Post

It's easy to imagine the purchase of a real product giving you ownership of its digital counterpart as a bonus — something that actually happened at the Metaverse Fashion Week, where you could "buy digital & physical versions of garments from selected brands, you can wear the digital in decentraland and have the physical shipped to your door."

It's not just about trading items, either. You can create virtual experiences that foster an emotional connection with your brand, like narrative content or interactive environments.

For example, if you're a food brand, you could make a virtual factory tour and let users play a gamified version of your production process. A coffee brand could embed a 3D film that lets customers meet the farmers that grow their coffee beans.

Or take inspiration from Nike, who created an entire adventure playground within Roblox — a branded game-within-a-game called NIKELAND:

"NIKELAND is enhanced by real-life movement, encouraging visitors to get more active. NIKELAND visitors can take advantage of accelerometers in their mobile devices to transfer offline movement to online play. For example, you can move your device and body IRL to pull off cool in-game moves like long jumps or speed runs."

Source: Nike News

It might seem clichéd, but in a virtual world, the only limit is your imagination. (And in this case, your marketing budget.)

How Can I Build My Brand in the Metaverse?

This isn't the easiest question to answer right now, because we're so early on in this trend. And it greatly depends on the nature and scale of your brand.

But it seems like metaverse marketing might simply become another campaign channel for your brand strategy to manifest through.

If you're not already involved in interactive technology, you'll have to partner up with a development & marketing agency. They'll help you choose a platform, plan your creative, reach your target audience, and build your place in whichever metaverse platform you want to reach people in.

Right now, there are not too many metaverse-specific agencies out there, but this type of company is bound to pop up more as the industry matures.

You also have to consider whether your brand can actually add value to a virtual space or not.

Given what we've explored above, some types of brands that might thrive in the metaverse are:

  • Fashion

  • Luxury goods

  • Art and entertainment

  • Education

But some types of brands that might not fare so well in the metaverse could be:

  • FMCG

  • Finance

  • Business software

That said, a virtual world has essentially infinite creative potential — so you can't rule anything out completely.

While there aren't many playbooks for brands that have already made successful metaverse moves, it does mean there's plenty of space for creativity. Brave brands willing to take a risk could end up being true pioneers.

Three Risks of Metaverse Branding: What to Consider Before You Dive In

Source: ISPO

1) Consumers might not want to spend time there

Many metaverse projects sound great on the surface. But they can be too idealistic and not practical enough about what's actually going to get made.

Over the past few years, there's been a ton of projects popping up in blockchain gaming; usually, crypto-linked online games where users can claim virtual land or goods for themselves. The problem is, they focus way too much on the transactional nature of their in-game items, and not enough on what'll make people want to play them in the first place. In short — blockchain games suck.

They're often made by “Web3” evangelists with no background in game design, which means they don't know how to create engaging experiences. There's a real danger that metaverse projects go the same route — making it all about the money rather than the experience.

Wandering around a VR space is going to get boring extremely quickly if all you can do is chat and try on new outfits. People need a reason to stick around.

If you see a metaverse project that you want to get involved in, ask yourself — is it going to produce the feeling of accomplishment, progress, challenge, play, and learning that video game designers have been working on for the last 30+ years? Or is it gonna fizzle out in a few weeks when users get bored and move on to something else?

2) Consumers have to pay extra to participate

Right now, it looks like VR headsets are going to be your main entry point into metaverse experiences.

But VR equipment is still niche and pretty expensive, with the lowest-price Meta device going for $299. This could change, but it's debatable whether VR headsets will become widespread enough to warrant spending your marketing budget on appearing in them.

In 2021, there were just under 10 million VR/AR headsets shipped worldwide. That's predicted to almost double in 2023 — but will that mean enough of your audience are plugged in?

3) Choosing the right platform might be a headache

As Janet Balis explains in "How Brands Can Enter the Metaverse":

"Each entity that creates a virtual world does so with its own access, membership, monetization rights, and formats of creative expression, so the business and technical specifications vary widely."

So, not only will you have to figure out which virtual world your target demographic hangs out in, but you'll also have to play by the rules of each virtual world and customize all your digital assets to its operating rules. It could get expensive.

Technical solutions might exist at some point. In the same way that you can pay one company to put your ad on 200 billboards across a city, agencies might handle the distribution of your assets across multiple virtual worlds. You'll have to choose wisely, or things could get complicated.

Final Thoughts: The Best of the Metaverse Is Yet to Come

We've covered some cool opportunities. We've also been through a fair few risks. So should you get involved in the metaverse just yet?

Right now, you might be better off investing your brand-building dollars in something more trackable. It's difficult to prove a direct ROI on metaverse branding because the platforms haven't really taken shape yet.

That said, there is a huge amount of money being poured into building the tech and taking it to the mainstream.

Epic, the creators of gaming sensation Fortnite, recently announced they'd raised a $2 billion funding round to invest in metaverse creation. They also announced a partnership with Lego to make a metaverse platform for children. Epic is better suited than many to actually make things happen on a large scale, so your first purchase in the metaverse could well be a brand activation in Lego Fortnite World.

It's good to be cautious, but people said that about Bitcoin back in 2013. Do you want to miss out on the “next big thing”?

If you've been listening to your audience, and they show interest in new experiences and technologies — why not consider dipping your digits into this brave new digital world?

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