Don’t Fear the Metaverse — We’ve Been Through This Before

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A lot of questions surround the hype of the metaverse, with major players such as Epic Games raising $2 billion for its kid-friendly metaverse initiative, Facebook changing its name to Meta, and Snapchat trying to make a splash with its augmented reality glasses. Is the metaverse just a playground for technophiles and gamers? Is it simply a fad, or is it here to stay?

These questions are no different from people’s uncertainties in the 1980s and ’90s about the internet itself. Newsweek published an article in 1995 by Silicon Valley technology writer, Clifford Stoll, asserting that computers and electronic publishing could never replace physical newspapers or magazines. Stoll argued that hardware and software would eventually top out, and that the internet could never be as portable as physical prints. (Ironically, Newsweek ceased its 80-year print publication run in 2012 to focus solely on electronic publishing.)

We know today that Stoll’s prediction was almost comically off-base, but we still have naysayers doubting the next technology trend: the metaverse. And much like the internet, the metaverse is growing in its initial popularity with younger demographics.

According to Newzoo, metaverse players (i.e., people who play the three most popular metaverse titles: Fortnite, Roblox and Minecraft) are younger than average gamers. Metaverse players ages 10-20 and 21-35 outnumber non-metaverse gamers. And older generations of gamers, including Millennials over the age of 36, are less likely to be engaging in the metaverse today.

The metaverse will happen, but the measure of its success is completely contingent on how humans can physically interact with it. Although PlayStation VR, VIVE by HTC and other virtual reality headsets have achieved a modicum of success, Oculus is the closest thing to “mainstream VR” in the consumer market. But this could change soon. Apple has a mixed reality headset and the augmented reality-enabled Apple Glasses in the pipeline. Google’s Project Iris is right on Apple’s tail, despite the previous failure of Google Glass.

From gaming to enterprise, use cases are continuing to be discovered. It won’t be long before everybody’s rushing to get aboard the virtual train to the metaverse. And innovative marketers are already blazing a trail.

Related: How Brands Can Strategize for the Metaverse

Pioneering the metaverse

Startup founders, entrepreneurs, C-suite executives and marketers all should care about the metaverse, because it’s the new Wild West: A whole new world of advertising that’s both literal and metaphorical.

If you were around for the internet’s early days at the end of the 20th century, then you know that advertising giants such as Meta, Amazon and Alphabet started in that dot-com era. That new frontier allowed small players to outrun much bigger competitors with deeper pockets. Video killed the radio star, and the web massacred both. The internet was a disruptive technology that forged new connections that supplanted existing businesses everywhere and in every industry from media to retail.

The mixed reality and extended reality segments have this same potential. Every modern smartphone is AR-capable. Meanwhile, about 9.86 million VR devices were shipped globally in 2021, and the VR market is expected to expand at a compound annual growth rate of about 15% until 2030. This would put VR user numbers into the user population ranges of some of the most popular social media networks, such as Discord and Twitter.

And you don’t need a VR headset to play most metaverse games, as you can access them via desktop browsers, gaming consoles and sometimes even mobile devices. A number of amazingly interactive marketing opportunities in the metaverse don’t exist on old-school social platforms, including next-gen storefronts, advanced influencer marketing and experiential marketing.

Next-gen digital storefronts are arising throughout the metaverse. Major fashion houses such as Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Balenciaga and Prada have taken stakes in everything from Roblox to The Sandbox. Samsung opened a flagship store and held an event in Decentraland. Major trade shows cost some big brands tens of millions of dollars to attend, so a permanent virtual showroom could be a more economical option.

Advanced influencer marketing is being used in the metaverse, too. Travis Scott’s virtual Fortnite concert brought more than 12.3 million concurrent players into the game. Those astronomical numbers simply can’t be matched on any other platform. The most concurrent viewers ever on Twitch, for example, stood at 2.47 million. On Instagram Live, the record is 3 million, and YouTube’s record is 1.4 million. Scott reached a live audience nearly twice the size of all three platforms combined.

Experiential marketing continues to prove itself valuable in the metaverse and change the face of in-game advertising. You can defy the laws of physics to create whatever immersive experience you want customers to have instead of using static pop-up ads. Skater shoe brand Vans, for example, built an entire skatepark in Roblox, while Adidas is all in on NFTs and virtual land in The Sandbox. Each is testing out experiential virtual marketing and revenue in the metaverse.

Related: Metaverse: A Game-changing Innovation For Entrepreneurs

Joining the metaverse

The metaverse is the next step in connected technology, and plenty of highly populated worlds that you can fit into are under construction. However, you must be clear and intentional in every move you make. To get started on the right virtual foot in the metaverse, apply these three tactics:

1. Invest in the long game

Don’t just throw money at the metaverse and hope for the best. Apply metaverse marketing intentionally. Make sure your audience is appropriate and aligned with the required budget. Perform due diligence to understand what audiences are using which metaverse platforms. These open digital worlds might look similar, but they attract entirely different demographics. Ensure you’re finding the right audience in the right metaverse location so that you don’t waste money.

Big media and advertising agency players, such as WPP and Horizon Media, are highly expected to enter the space, along with other large agencies around the world. They’re already thinking about metaverse inventory, because they expect it to be the new internet. Internet ad spending today has overtaken traditional ad spending and is in the hundreds of billions of dollars. If we place that same trajectory on the metaverse in 30 years or less in tandem with the compounding effects of technology, then it’s fair to say more and more budgets will shift to the metaverse as popular adoption speeds up.

2. Task your team with intentional creativity

The metaverse is a living, breathing world. If you join Meta’s Horizon Worlds platform on Oculus, for example, you’ll be greeted by an actual Oculus employee who provides customer service, a virtual tour, troubleshooting and more. Start having conversations now with your clients or your internal teams to brainstorm how your business could live in a metaverse realistically with all the necessary resources. If you need help getting started, simply write out your thoughts on a whiteboard. Bad ideas don’t exist at this exciting stage.

In the late ’80s, people probably weren’t thinking about how to take Yellow Pages online, for example, and the company didn’t survive the internet transition. So, think creatively if you want to get ahead of the transition to the metaverse. Building a half-hearted presence could have a worse effect than not showing up at all.

3. Improve through trial and error

Bloomberg Intelligence projected the metaverse as an $800 billion market opportunity and the next big tech platform. The first to enter and master the space usually makes the rules. You’ll need to have an open mind and think creatively in this new environment. People who build something novel will get attention and excitement from the community — and eventually the mainstream. Be fluid and willing to move in any direction while remaining authentic to your brand.

Test to learn, because you can always scale into things that work and pull away from what doesn’t. Also, make sure that the money you’re using to identify these opportunities or weaknesses is minimal to start.

Related: 6 Ways to Get Your Small Business Ready for the Metaverse

As technology evolves, the metaverse will remain popular. Younger generations are already finding ways to integrate it into their lifestyles, much as they did with the internet and gaming. I don’t doubt that we’ll see the next FAANG company rise out of the metaverse in another decade.

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