The Metaverse: what you need to know and how you can get ahead

Welcome to the platform of tomorrow that has everyone theorising and hypothesising with more clickbait articles than you can shake a stick at. The new kid on the block, the Metaverse.

Perhaps one of the first things we need to know about the Metaverse is that technically, it doesn’t actually exist yet. 

There are undoubtedly many environments and spaces that may, one day, become the Metaverse, but equally, what will become the Metaverse may not even have been created yet, and the infrastructure to support it and unlock its full power is still quite a way off. 

That said, there is certainly an immense feeling across all areas of marketing that the door to some exciting and profitable new universe is about to swing open, and the front runners will enjoy the spoils, not unlike the people who bought into bitcoin back in the day, who are now celebrated for their foresight and strategic vision. 

Naturally, we forget the many other trends, fads and ‘next big things’ that fell away. But one thing is for sure, the Metaverse (at least conceptually) is a thing, and we need to start getting ready for it. 

This blog will look at the key opportunity areas that we as marketers need to look out for. 

We’ll provide a little inspiration from some brands that are starting to dip a toe into the water. 

And as always from any Quantum thought piece, a practical guide for what we should be doing today is to make sure that we are ready to hop on and ride it when the wave comes. 

What to do 

First of all being a strategist in any business can be one of the most exciting, albeit sometimes daunting positions. Making the right choices and trying to predict the future of anything is never a precise science. But our job is not to react; it is to ask the right questions and be proactive. In truth, if you’re at the pointy end of anything, it’s not possible or feasible to get it 100% right all the time. What is important is that you look at the landscape, look at the trends developing and use your best intuition to read how the market might move.

Overview of the Metaverse 

The Metaverse is not just a link between the physical and digital worlds. It’s the interface that connects them—a new virtual universe. Many articles do a great job of explaining what the Metaverse is ‘in theory’, but rather than replicating those, here is an excellent link for a solid layman’s explanation of the Metaverse.

What is essential to wrap your head around is that the Metaverse isn’t one thing. It’s not the virtual environment; it’s not the physical infrastructure needed to deliver it; it’s not the software that runs it, or blockchain, NFT or cryptocurrency. Instead, it’s the convergence of all these things and potentially, much, much more. 

But this article isn’t about that; it’s about what it means to us and ultimately what we need to be doing today to prepare for tomorrow and into the future.

 

Where are we now?

In reality, the Metaverse is in its infancy. In fact, it’s probably more accurate to say an embryonic stage, being grown in the servers of the brightest digital bods in the world. 

The truth is that trying to predict where this will go in the next 12-24 months is nothing short of a finger in the air. Does that mean we should sit about and wait? God no, let’s not let fear of failure stand in the way of emergent strategy!

The opportunities and territories that could exist 

It’s going to be a little while before we know how the Metaverse is going to develop and work, and even longer before it’s accessible to the average person…for a start; the technology and access speeds aren’t there yet. The rollout of 5G will be a significant shift, but in reality, we are probably going to need 6G before we can experience all this new universe has the potential to offer.  

You may be thinking: “…Great, so far, you have told me nothing. So what does this mean to me? And how am I going to commercialise this?”

Let’s break this down into the key areas, and it begins with the fundamentals of blockchain. 

Some may struggle because, for people who grew up with the likes of Napster and The Pirate Bay, the digital frontier represented a way to access all sorts of content by sharing and copying. 

Making ownership of ubiquitous digital content almost free to all, blockchain, and more specifically NFT’s, are the antidote to this. These little bits of code have become an indisputable way to prove uniqueness, ownership, and value, leading to the first opportunity area. 

Opportunity pillar 1: The world of selling virtual products 

Welcome to the world of the NFT’s. Now, if you’re anything like me, before I started to research this article, I understood that NFT meant non-fungible token, and that it had something to do with blockchain, but I’d be lying if I said I knew what that meant… However, I did know that this has taken off rapidly over the past couple of years.

 

Blockchain networks are utilised by NFTs to verify that something is 100% unique and one-of-a-kind. This is slightly tough to wrap your head around because this is a digital asset, previously seen as a bit of code that can be duplicated and shared with little or no effort. We need to reframe this into something that only exists as a unique, exclusive, ownable, one-of-a-kind asset. 

Limited edition, non-transferable, non-shareable and non-duplicatable (if that’s a word). This means that ownership of a digital asset and its IP now means something every bit as desirable as a physical asset.

It’s essentially digital stamps of authenticity that exist on a blockchain that prove incontrovertibly that a particular piece of intellectual property is the authentic original, not a copy.

To draw a parallel, we pay for the craft an artist uses to create, and we understand the desirability of a finished painting far exceeds the value of the canvas and the paint. This is the same thing. If the owner deems it so, anyone can look at a painting and enjoy it in a gallery, but only the owner has control.

How brands are using it 

This limit to availability and resulting exclusivity has meant a link to the world of luxury brands. As such, we have seen many of them flooding towards this exciting new space. And we have already begun to see brands dipping the proverbial toe in the metaverse pool: 

Gucci partners with an augmented reality app 

Wanna to release a line of virtual sneakers; 

Burberry launches a collection of NFTs in collaboration with a video game company; 

Givenchy collaborates with graphic designer Chito to drop a collection of NFTs

In case you missed it, the bar for NFT has been set by an artist named Beeple and entitled ‘Everyday: The First 5,000 Days’ – recently sold on Christie’s for an eye-watering sum of more than $69m. 

It’s impossible to know with much certainty how the Metaverse will be used in the future. NFTs could turn out to be a short-lived fad – we may look back in 10 years shaking our heads and laughing in disbelief that anyone could have been foolish enough to spend tens of millions of dollars on what amounts to the ownership of a piece of digital artwork.

Alternatively, the NFT market could continue to grow, in which case we’ll probably applaud those early pioneers for their courage and their foresight, much as we do today for the early adopters of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrency tokens.

The brands that have recently been dipping their toes into the Metaverse and the virtual marketplace have been doing so more as an experiment than anything else; there was never a guarantee that anyone would have been willing to pay anything at all for a digital handbag, for example, but when Gucci launched a virtual handbag on Roblox, it ended up selling for a higher price than its physical counterpart.

Opportunity pillar 2: New ways to own experiences as we move from ‘meatspace’ to Metaverse 

I first heard the term ‘meatspace’ when researching this piece, but yes, that is what some people in the upper echelons of the tech world are rebranding the real-world environment. 

In short, hanging out in the real world will be ‘uncool’, and as people inevitably spend more and more time in the Metaverse (if you’ve not seen Spielberg’s ‘Ready Player One’ yet, you should), it will undoubtedly become the place the consumers of tomorrow live, work, socialise and ultimately, spend money. 

The main difference is that the things you buy in the Metaverse will be instantly recognisable as the real deal, so they could theoretically carry even more status than items in the real world. 

The game Fortnite provides an excellent example for a live showcase of this. The game is free to play, but gamers pay for skins and other items that enrich the gaming experience and raise online status. 

A growing number of brands are placing bets that the virtual marketplace – hosted on a blockchain and centred around virtual commodities – is, in fact, the future of commerce. 

A popular philosophy is that any brand that isn’t investing in its metaverse infrastructure right now risks being left behind by its competitors. 

As in many areas of marketing, greater fame and the importance of exclusivity means that the charge towards NFTs and the virtual marketplace has been led by luxury brands. But if we know anything about the adoption curve, this is likely to be followed by a far larger movement.

That, fundamentally, is what NFTs and virtual goods currently represent: the newest, most exclusive piece of a brand.

Already we are seeing many household brands following suit to deliver a way for consumers to own unique experiences of their brands in this new world.  

Taco bell NFTs

Coca Cola offering its first NFT collectables

Adidas NFT Partnerships

What this means for drinks brands 

As hopefully you will already know, at Quantum, we are always keeping a close eye on the world of food and beverage, so exploring how brands that exist primarily for physical consumption can start to capitalise on this is clearly where we are focused. 

It’s going to be an exciting journey. 

As a case study into how we can start to prepare for this exciting revolution, one great example is the creation of cooler brand owned spaces that provide a richer on demand brand experience for people to socialise and hang out while consuming the brands they love.

Making these experiences shareable and social (like the virtual bar environments provided by our (Jim Beam always welcome app), along with attending live (or pre-recorded) events in the Metaverse is undoubtedly an area to keep in mind.

Imagine a scenario in which you have a friend who lives on the other side of the planet, but you can get together in real-time to watch your favourite brand or pop into the virtual bar for a drink. No travel time, no cues, just the shared experiences. 

In fact, it doesn’t take several thousand miles of separation for this idea to appeal – how many Friday night Zoom calls, live streamed gigs and at-home pub quizzes have you attended since March 2020? Immersive online social experiences have never been more important and valued than in recent years, so pushing these further, toward greater immersion and richer experiences is the clear next step.

How should we start preparing, and what steps should we be taking 

Firstly, to avoid being left behind, begin to build a communication strategy that harnesses the future of the Metaverse. Consumers will be looking for brands to lead the way here. Remember, you don’t have to get it right, and you may have to evolve and adapt as you go – but it’s far better to change seats mid-journey than it is to miss the train altogether.

Get going on doing 

Understand minting NFT’s, get comfortable with the way that these things work, make sure your team are at least playing with the technology – why not get a couple of headsets for the office and have some meetings in VR with an app like Spatial? This fantastic platform uses 3d photo over cartoon images to give it an even more realistic edge and can accommodate both VR users and Desktop users.  

Budget for Experimentation 

We’ve always said that it’s important to split your budgets across new technologies or media. We used to say 80% on what you know will work and 20% on emergent technologies. Brands need to start viewing this as an experimental budget.

Stay close to the specialists 

Make sure you engage with industry thought leaders to see what’s going on and make it part of your briefing considerations. 

Monitor what others are doing

Blockchain, NFTs and crypto are all popular, but volatile areas right now. While you experiment and learn the ropes, keep a close eye on what other brands are doing, and how audiences react, and interact with this. Learn from their successes and failures and consider these lessons in the context of your own brand.

Have a little play 

There are a host of brilliant multiplayer games out there for your enjoyment and exploration. To start getting a feel for where this could go and what options there are, why not go and download one and get playing?

On a personal note, seeing how my 2 boys are already adapting how they play, build, create and hang out on ROBLOX has been nothing short of astounding. 

For a deeper dive into the bigger trends developing, why not join us for our upcoming webinar ‘Now Next and Future of The Metaverse’ where we will be catching up with industry expert Jay Scott-Nicholls from Circus, to get their take on what the Metaverse could mean for you.  

Tickets are limited so to register your place, head to the event page here.

So that’s a wrap…for now. Whilst the Metaverse itself doesn’t really even exist yet, the pillars on which it will stand are falling into place and growing taller by the day. 

If you would like to talk to us about what the Metaverse could mean for you. we’d love to hear from you.