When hearing the term metaverse, there could be an array of emotions arising – is it confusion over another new concept, excitement about an innovation that’ll change how we live, or dismissal for a fad that may not even last?
Whatever it is, it’s clear that the metaverse is a contentious idea sparking wildly different opinions depending on who you ask. One thing is for sure though, and that’s how this virtual world is a trend that companies must be aware of. In 2021 alone, metaverse-related companies raised upwards of USD10 billion, more than twice the previous year. Numerous companies are also getting their virtual feet wet with metaverse marketing activities, be it toy and gaming brands like Epic Games and LEGO, or fashion industry leaders like Gucci and Balenciaga.
It’s not all fun and games, though. Meta’s Horizon Worlds went from a powerhouse to a nearly-abandoned playground. Barely anyone is spending much time in the platform now, as most players fail to visit more than once. Blockchain-based gaming metaverse Axie Infinity, also saw its value fall by over 92 per cent despite early success.
The trend tells us that while the metaverse offers exciting possibilities, nobody knows for sure if it’s here to stay – begging the question of whether or not metaverse marketing is a smart idea. But depending on your business and marketing goals, the platform may be worth exploring.
Knowing when to jump into metaverse marketing
The metaverse is frequented by younger audiences, especially on platforms like Roblox which garners audiences around 13 to 24 years old. That makes it an enticing option for businesses who want to engage with Gen Z or young Millennial markets.
Metaverse marketing may also help one stand out through innovative campaigns. Last year, Nike partnered with Roblox for Nikeland, a world within the gaming platform with mini-games and access to brand apparel. They were one of the first to enter the space in this way, and other brands soon followed suit with their own activities. As of last month over 21 million Roblox users already visited Nikeland, exploring buildings and playing games like dodgeball or basketball.
Nike’s win is an attractive success story, but one that not everyone can replicate. Take a look at your business and ask yourself – what do we want to achieve through metaverse marketing? Are we just hopping on the latest trend and hoping it clicks, or do we have a genuine goal? Is there a legitimate strategy behind our attempt? The answers to these should help guide your decision.
Also examine if the planned activities fit the metaverse. The previous example of Nikeland makes perfect sense for Roblox, as sports apparel is popular among young audiences. On a related note, American big-box retailer Walmart is also seeing success despite not directly targeting Gen Z’s and Millennials. With Roblox experiences Walmart Land and Walmart’s Universe of Play, the brand is offering virtual merchandise, a music festival, and a wide array of games to engage the next generation of shoppers.
Both brands are very different from one another, but their approaches have one element in common – a focus on engaging these virtual communities and meeting them where they are, instead of making them adjust to experience their branded metaverse activities.
On the flipside, some activities simply do not fit the metaverse. Earlier this year, financial services provider JP Morgan opened a lounge in Decentraland, another famous metaverse. It launched during Decentraland’s Metaverse Fashion Week which also featured fashion mainstays Dolce & Gabbana and Etro, but was empty and uneventful. Besides a walking tiger, brand displays and a video loop of a fintech forum, not much could be done in the space.
Virtual platform pioneers also noticed that companies design heavily brand-centric experiences. Philip Rosedale, who helped found the 19-year old and highly successful virtual gaming platform Second Life, observed how brands create online stores and shopping malls, which is far from what metaverse regulars look for. Similarly, Christopher Hornyak who leads Communications for virtual world VRChat said that “People got into virtual world because they missed other people [during COVID-19], not because they missed shopping at Prada.”
It comes down to connection, and building an experience that appeals to the metaverse community rather than force-fitting your products to that platform. If you’re able to create a world that people want to visit, you’ll be well on the path to success.
From here, you may already know if metaverse marketing is right for your business. If it’s a yes, let’s dive into how you can navigate this landscape.
How to succeed and overcome in metaverse marketing
As we’ve seen, the metaverse is a deep well that’ll take some of time to explore. Start by testing the waters, before optimising your activities according to performance. Here are just some trends and ideas for when you enter this exciting new marketing platform:
- Exclusive Collectibles: A big part of the metaverse experience is racking up digital collectibles like avatars, clothing, or accessories. Be it Nike’s Cryptokicks or Forever 21’s Roblox beanie, these virtual trinkets add incentive for users to visit repeatedly or for the first time. Some even spillover to real-world benefits, such as when Chipotle gave vouchers to the first 100,000 people who rolled burritos in their metaverse restaurant.
- Community Engagements: From Roblox to Decentraland, there are now several thriving metaverse communities. Join these existing and established worlds. Engage with their communities in a manner that fits their style, while considering activities that will boom in each platform. I think Walmart and Nike’s Roblox initiatives fit this bill quite well, since they made the platform work to their advantage rather than the other way around.
- Interactive Events: The metaverse aims to boost the virtual event experience, after its rise during the pandemic. These allow attendees to actively participate from wherever they are through games, virtual spaces, or other interactive elements. Warner Brothers held a Roblox event in 2021 for their film ‘In the Heights’, which involved a viewing party, an online scavenger hunt, and a virtual flash mob mimicking the movie. Putting the community first in this sense is an easy recipe for metaverse success.
- Native Advertising: A more straightforward method is native advertising in these virtual worlds, so long as they’re not disruptive or in the user’s face. People come to the metaverse to connect and experience something new, not to be exposed to advertisements like they are regularly. Subtle advertisements within games may work, like when Nas teased his upcoming album via Fortnite audio ads.
- Product Trials: As we know, a great way to increase product interest is through trial. VR and AR capabilities in the metaverse can better the product trial experience, which is what Nissan did with their virtual viewing rooms. The same is true for Nikeland, where users collect virtual apparel that’s also available physically. Whether it’s an in-depth showcase or a simple trial, this added immersion will up interest for what you have to offer.
This all sounds exciting and intriguing, I’m sure. However, like any part of a business it’s good to approach metaverse marketing with healthy skepticism, and openness to the chance that your efforts may fail – especially at the start. Despite the interest and growth the metaverse is seeing, it is still in its infancy. In the same way that things can go right, they can also go very wrong.
We can’t be blind to the challenges that metaverse marketing poses. One is cybersecurity, a problem that already plagues the rest of the web. There are still questions surrounding how data privacy regulations will apply to the metaverse. And since younger audiences form a major share of the market, we must prioritise safeguarding them. In the same vein, there’s also the fact that the metaverse is currently not a regulated platform. No authorities have been assigned to moderate the virtual world, posing an additional challenge for both users and brands.
Technological access is also a hurdle. VR headsets and advanced computers aren’t easily affordable, or even available in many places. Businesses must be adaptable to experiences that accommodate varying levels of access. Some platforms for example allow desktop log-ins, to avoid alienating a large chunk of the market. Even preferences must be considered, as not everyone may want full immersion levels due to sensory overload or simple inclination.
Finally, another challenge is not knowing what will work in the metaverse. Unlike the offline or digital spaces that we’re familiar with, the metaverse is full of uncharted waters. I once again suggest adopting a test and learn mindset when going into metaverse marketing, to be safe while still being at the forefront of a potential revolution.
Here’s the bottom line – like any innovation, it’s simply too early to tell if the metaverse will follow the path of the groundbreaking World Wide Web, or if it’ll fall by the wayside like 3D movies or smart glasses. However, there’s no denying that it may be an amazing marketing opportunity, depending on your business and what you aim to achieve in these growing virtual communities.