Predictions 2023: The year ahead for Metaverse – by Publicis’ Ryan Loots and Epsilon’s Paul Wallis

The virtual world offers opportunities for brands, but also challenges write Publicis' Ryan Loots and Epsilon's Paul Wallis

By Ryan Loots, director of technology, Publicis Sapient

The metaverse – a maturing virtual world where users can interact with each other and virtual objects and explore digital experiences – is gaining significant traction in the Middle East. As headsets and technology continue to improve, the metaverse has the potential to revolutionise the way we live, work and play. It is poised to become a major driving force in the region’s future economy.

According to recent reports, the metaverse industry is expected to reach a valuation of over $20bn by 2025, with the Middle East being a key market for growth and revenue generation. This growth is being driven by a number of factors including the region’s strong economic growth, a rapidly increasing population of tech-savvy consumers and a growing demand for immersive experiences.

Metaverse experiences cover a wide range of applications and uses, transforming the way we access and consume media, entertainment, gaming, education, healthcare and e-commerce. Instead of simply watching a movie or TV show, users can fully immerse themselves in the experience, interacting with characters and exploring virtual worlds.

In real estate, businesses could use the metaverse to advertise off-plan property, enabling potential buyers to immerse themselves in the property and surrounding areas. To enhance the experience further, realtors could connect to metaverse e-commerce channels, allowing potential buyers to pre-select their furniture to place each item on the property and visualise what their to-be dream home could look like.

For any business, it can be used for predictive analysis and modelling scenarios, allowing for optimised decision making by teams and executives. Virtual reality, augmented, autonomous AI use cases such as proactive self-healing that are not possible today, and entirely new product development mechanisms and processes will enable fully customised and immersive customer experience.

The last decade alone saw the domination of e-commerce, thanks to the mainstream adoption of smart phones. According to Statista, the annual worldwide retail e-commerce industry was worth $1.3 trillion in 2014. In 2022 this has grown to $5.7 trillion, and by 2026, it is poised to grow to $8.1 trillion.

The metaverse will continue to create a demand for services within existing and new businesses. Capitalising on this new channel and adopting it early is paramount to future business success and growth.

Metaverse loyalty

By Paul Wallis, director of growth, Epsilon

The opportunity: Current loyalty programmes typically allow the earning of points in exchange for physical items in the real world. The metaverse creates an entirely new digital space for brands to engage with their customers and create digital communities. These communities, depending on their levels of engagement with the brands, can help define the future of the brand through a more engaging and ultimately more rewarding experience. Many brands are already in the metaverse with varying degrees of success, but brands such Nike with its RTFKT and Swoosh projects have not only generated new revenue streams but found new ways for the customer to interact with the brand. 

Another trailblazer in the space is Starbucks with its Odyssey programme, which has helped attract the mainstream by moving away from tech lingo and calling NFT collectibles ‘journey stamps’. These collectible journey stamps in some cases feature unique designs by artists to unlock amazing rewards and have a secondary market value as they are traded.  

Digital ownership is the way forward. Rather than brands simply providing rewards and discounts, you are instead creating a sense of ownership with the brands customers love through points and collectibles. 

Overall, marketing via the metaverse becomes far more engaging than static web pages, email or push notifications. With data, you can drive highly personalised metaverse experiences to engage and drive loyalty amongst your customers. 

The challenges and solutions: Whenever we enter a metaverse discussion establishing a base level of education is really important. Many companies have invested in resources with specific metaverse qualifications, but many have not. Hence, investment in learning and development and upskilling is key to better understand how to make the metaverse work for you and not the other way around.  

Entering the metaverse does not mean closing your existing loyalty programmes but rather finding way to integrate this into what you offer today. Many companies offer a seamless bridge into this space without alienating ongoing programmes. Once you have determined what your loyalty programme will look like in the metaverse, you also need to decide which platform is right for you, be it an existing one or something that is completely bespoke. 

Finally, at the time of strategy and execution it is recommended to build a three- to five-year plan as the technology will only improve, presenting you with more opportunities to build a loyal and engaged digital community.