Brand Survival 3.0
The “metaverse” is still an unknown entity, and that’s just the way it is. At least for now.
The truth is, we marketers are learning more about it every day, and with that learning comes the discovery of our own, discovery which in turn aids others in their understanding. It’s going to be like this for a while, and though brands, early adopters, and nerdy technophiles from every corner of the globe are jumping into it, what it all means for business is nothing short of speculation.
If you find that a bit unsettling, it’s totally understandable. In fact, I’d be a little surprised if you didn’t feel that way. Change is scary. Uncertainty is scary. Losing face is scary. Losing money is scary. I get it.
But innovation has always come with anxiety, just as it did with the early internet. Or mobile phones. Or social media. And while there’s almost always a degree of excitement that comes with doing something new, there’s also a degree of terror, especially for the infrastructure folks leading the charge.
So what DO we know?
It depends on who you ask. At best, the ubiquitous “metaverse” will be a simulation of life integrated into the world such that there is scarcely a difference between the two. At worst, it will be an AR video game. Of course, the technology barons will tell you something like it being the “future of the internet” (as if that explains anything).
Maybe it’ll be a VR social platform as Facebook intends. Maybe it will be a platform for user-generated video games. Who knows? Maybe it’ll be something else entirely. The truth is, the metaverse is undefined, so much so that as of January 2022 (Source: Statista), only 14% of adults in the U.S. had more than a casual familiarity with the term, much less any indication of its “pie in the sky” functionality.
But it’s coming. Why? Because, at this point, it’s pretty much inevitable. Money has been spent, big tech has spoken, and brands, much as they would care to be relied upon in such matters, are once again in the position of having to adapt for their own survival.
Maybe the metaverse will be a huge miss, or maybe it’ll be a huge success. One way or another though, the “future of the Internet” it will be.
Got it? Good.
Marketing the Unknown
The fact is, the metaverse is involved, much more so than any single technology player seems willing to admit. Whether protecting themselves from saying the wrong thing at the wrong time (or perhaps the wrong thing at the right time); or simply being afraid to commit to an idea, who knows?
Many early adapters to the whole metaverse “thing” agree that it means a whole new digital economy is on the horizon, a digital paradise where users can create, buy, and sell goods as easily and profitably as they could in the real world. Some have even envisioned taking assets like clothes, jewelry, or cars from one platform to another, or even sharing assets simultaneously between platforms, but again, the complexities of actually doing it, are enough to end the conversation pretty quickly. At the moment there seems little cohesion between platforms, much less any aspect that would allow porting or sharing.
What we do know, however, is that regardless of its technical implications—artificial intelligence (AI), video, virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), or some yet-to-be-named tentacle of the blockchain—marketing within this new space will mean largely forgetting the practices of Web 2.0, and going back to the basics. It will mean seeing brand values in a completely new light and appealing to people in a completely new way, for once, on their terms.
For digital marketers and producers making this leap, it will also mean acknowledging how little they actually know, and how much they still have to learn, much as marketers had to do in the 90s with the Internet and later in the 2010s with social media.
It’s virtual and all-encompassing
For brands still weighing it all out, the risk-reward analysis doesn’t come easy. There are tons of companies already immersed in the more virtual gaming aspects of the metaverse (think Fortnight, or Roblox), many ramping up their efforts to build virtual environments to help sell their newly minted virtual goods. But it’s not just about digital assets.
The commercial implications of the metaverse also extend to the physical world, allowing customers to buy real products (or real-world services) through virtual menus and showrooms. Social media could very well transform into social shopping centers, enabling brands to transact actual business wherever their customers congregate (as opposed to just throwing creepy, stalker-like ads at them). And they can do so in a totally immersive, crypto-empowered 3D environment.
But where does this leave brands today?
Like today, today. Like right now.
Well, it’s largely a matter of experimentation. Sorry, but that’s the long and short of it. It doesn’t mean brands and their agencies (now marketing/business/technology hybrid superheroes) can’t be strategic about it, but brands still have to be willing to step into the unknown, test what works, and learn what doesn’t, just as they had to in the Web 2.0 era.
The winners in the Web 3.0 space will be those that push their intellectual curiosity to the brink, not for the sake of chasing something shiny and new, but in recognition that the business world is changing with or without them. It’s far better to be prepared, than not.
Don’t wait too long. Target demographics are fairly set, but online behaviors and trends will become a very fluid concept as the metaverse takes hold. Coming in late doesn’t leave much time to establish new business norms, especially if the competition jumped in early. You could find yourself on the ropes before you even get started.
Plan your approach. Be upfront with your agency/consultancy on your goals, and your point of view. How do you want to be perceived in this new virtual kingdom? What trends in Web 2.0 can your team maintain in the Web 3.0 space? What will that look like virtually? At the same time, what technologies are weighing you down?
Be a little crazy. The metaverse is a blank slate. It’s a chance to tell your story in a totally new and creative way. This is a reinvention of sorts. Be bold. Experiment.
Be patient and expect the unexpected. The metaverse is new, and it’s going to be until it’s not. There are going to be trends that come and go, and standards will flex and bend to accommodate this or that. The good news is that the metaverse encompasses technologies that evolved from the limitations of Web 2.0., and while business routines may change, the shift to something greater remains in full force.
Your brand’s Web 3.0 strategy could be very, very different from its strategy in the real world and today’s Web 2.0 digital space—radically different in fact. But given the radical difference in the technologies behind the metaverse comparative the norms of today, why wouldn’t it be?
Is it intimidating? You bet. But totally, absolutely, positively necessary.
Rob EwingManaging Partner, Senior Advisor
Rob Ewing is one of Simple’s senior-most digital disruption consultants specializing in brand communications, digital solutions architecture, and multi-channel campaign strategies. A dynamic storyteller and creative technologist, Ewing has worked across a range of verticals including but not limited to: transportation, food & beverage, fashion & apparel, fine arts, energy, real estate, financial services, hair care, spirits and more.
When not mentoring or lecturing, Ewing also serves as Executive Director of Furious Media, a DFW-based entertainment sales, licensing, and creative studio.
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