What does the metaverse mean for brands?

Since Mark Zuckerberg announced the Facebook metaverse in October of last year, the internet has been slowly trying to get to grips with the concept of Facebook, and other loved and much used brands potentially existing in an entirely virtual world.

Zuckerberg presented the metaverse as something new, a virtual space which was innovative and advanced, where augmented reality met virtual reality to provide an experience that felt like real life - just happening in a plethora of pixels and with backdrops of various virtual environments.

But the truth is, the metaverse isn't anything new. These entirely virtual worlds that blur the lines between the virtual and the reality have been slowly creeping into our lives for years. Facebook's metaverse has just propelled what's already been going on into the mainstream, and it's caught consumer attention. Which means it's time for it to catch brand attention.

But what do these dystopian sounding virtual worlds actually mean for brands? And how should they prepare to transition into this type of new platform? We've got some answers.

What is the Metaverse?

Put as simplistically as possible, the metaverse is a simulated digital environment which uses a combination of augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), blockchain and social media style concepts to create a virtual space for user interaction that imitates the real world.

Basically, it means that in the not too far distant future it's very likely that a brand's consumers will be able to visit that brand's virtual store, try on their virtual outfits, purchase (for real) those virtual outfits, and then take them away into other corners of the metaverse - like a virtual coffee shop where they can meet up and interact with their friends. And perhaps the most

mind-boggling bit of it all will be that their consumers will do all of this from their sofas at home through virtual reality headsets.

Sound like your favourite science fiction novel? Of course it does, but it's been happening under your nose for longer than you'd like to think.

The cutesy and incredibly popular Nintendo video game, Animal Crossing, is marketed as a "social simulation" game. Why? Because that's exactly what the metaverse is, and it's already begun to incorporate these metaverse elements since its inception way back in 2012.

In the two latest iterations of the Animal Crossing series, players have been able to purchase clothing for their virtual avatars from H&M, and wallpapers for their virtual houses from Cath Kidson. In the latest game, Animal Crossing: New Horizons, Nintendo and H&M teamed up with Game of Thrones star Maisie Smith to launch a clothes recycling island in the Animal Crossing virtual world, further blurring the lines between the real world and the virtual world by subconsciously encouraging consumers to be more sustainable and aware of their real world actions whilst playing in a virtual one.

Okay, but how will this affect my brand?

The truth is, the metaverse is going to affect every brand because the metaverse is going to become an innovation curve which brands either need to adopt to, or get left behind by.

Think back a decade ago (yes, really) to the rise of social media marketing. Despite clear popularity and rapid consumer adoption to social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram happening, some brands still thought that advertising or existing on the spaces was a gimmick and wasted marketing budget.

Today, we know differently. Some brands owe their entire popularity to the start they made on Instagram. Hugely popular makeup brand Glossier is just one of these, as is nation's favourite Joe Wicks who grew his Body Coach brand by initially posting quick 15 minute recipes on Instagram every day.

It's the same with the metaverse. Brands that don't have virtual spaces their consumers can visit or purchase from will very quickly be passed aside and forgotten in favour of competitors as consumers look to imitate their real lives as closely as possible in their virtual ones.

How does adapting to a virtual reality benefit brands?

The obvious benefit is consumer retainment, willing to innovate, and an obvious show of agility in order to adapt to the latest digital and technological advancements - all things the modern consumer seeks out in an ever-changing world.

But on a deeper branding level, there are huge benefits to businesses embracing their own metaverse identity. Here are just three.

Gives the brand a deeper human persona

Though the metaverse may be mostly made up of pixels and blockchain technology, it's wise to suspend all that and consider it a fully functioning universe. And what that means is that a brand who can exist in that fully functioning universe has more flexibility and freedom to be able to connect with its consumers.

Just like how brands can engage consumers and show off their human side on social media, the metaverse will give them the exact same opportunity to do so - but this time in 3D.

Brands may be able to engage in popular days, like Earth Day, or even National Dog Day, all by incorporating elements of those days (like virtual puppies running around, for example) into their virtual reality. Or, if their brand values are focused around something specific - for example, sustainability - the brand may be able to create a virtual experience which reflects these values and offers more information around why the brand gives these attributes in particular such credence.

This extra level of humanisation fosters deeper connection between brand and consumer, and could be the key to customer retainment in vibrant virtual worlds. Consumers will be offered a unique chance to build deeper, more meaningful relationships with their favourite brands in their virtual spaces.

Allows it to exist outside a physical world

Existing in a digital world has always made a brand more accessible and reachable for wider audiences. The metaverse is no different, and this time brings an entire brand experience live to consumers in the comfort of their own preferred spaces.

It's entirely plausible that in the metaverse, your consumers will be able to walk into your virtual store and not only interact with your virtual shop employees, but also have an entirely unique virtual brand experience.

For example, take a business like Bizspace (who we've been lucky enough to work with before). Bizspace sells office space to businesses, but they ensure those commercial spaces are vibrantly decorated, innovative, and adaptable to businesses own needs. For a business like Bizspace, having a virtual office in the metaverse could allow potential business owners to drop by and experience virtual walkthroughs of all of their available office spaces - something which they might be unable to otherwise find the time to do in the physical world.

By having a plethora of touchpoints, from the physical, to the social, to the virtual, a brand can spread its brand identity far and wide and trigger brand awareness across as many potential customers as possible. This flexibility could also prove crucial when going up against competitors, especially if a main competitor fails to adopt a necessary space. A brand could be there to capture those consumers looking to purchase the virtual version of a product or service, and not just the physical.

Creates immersive experiences for audiences

A brand is not just its branding, or its products: It's also its experience, and this is something which is commonly overlooked.

When you really think about it, every market is saturated, but it’s a brand's experience which covets customers. Customers who have a positive brand experience, or an experience that aligns with their needs or subconscious values are more likely to buy from that brand over an identical competitor.

In the metaverse, the brand experience is intensified and there's already a real life example of this happening. Epic Games, the company behind video game megalith Fortnite recently introduced concerts into the Fortnite-universe. Players can stop battling and instead experience a virtual concert held by their favourite artists. This immersive experience not only excites an artist's existing customers, but it also attracts new ones and nurtures brand awareness by the user having heard said artist in their favourite video game. Offline, this may then translate to said user finding the artist's music and becoming a fan - ultimately encouraging customer conversions and/or purchasing.

Brands who get their metaverse immersive experiences right could take huge swathes of the market, just by providing memorable experiences to their consumers.

How can brands prepare for the metaverse?

We've told you that it's coming, and we've told you what's good about it. But what's the good of that if you don't know how to prepare your own brand, right?

Here are four easy ways that brands from the big, to the small, can start to prepare themselves for the metaverse takeover.

Think about metaverse marketing

The metaverse will blur the lines between traditional marketing, digital marketing, and virtual marketing. If we take the example of H&M earlier, its recycling island subconsciously markets its sustainability promise to customers, which they then buy into and which could influence their real-life shopping behaviours.

In the digital era, your brand should align with an experience that is relevant to your mission in order to make your products and services more desirable and meaningful. You'll need to connect all threads of your marketing to make sure you're presenting one cohesive message across all of your platforms. And what's more, if there's something specific you're trying to market, the metaverse might be able to help if you can build a full virtual brand experience around it.

Get specific about audience targeting

In case you hadn't noticed yet, the metaverse is going to blur a lot of lines. From virtual and reality, from traditional and digital marketing, and now even to consumer targeting.

And why? Because the metaverse will serve as a place to both work and play. Consumers might be able to buy your product or service, and then two minutes later catch up with their friends. Or their friends might take them to your virtual product or service, and just like that, you've acquired a new customer.

What that means for traditional audience targeting is that B2B and B2C aren't going to become so disparate anymore. Your audience targeting will need to talk, on some level, to everyone.

Aiming too closely to B2B will tip too heavily in the favour of work and ruin the fun, turning away B2C customers, and likewise, going too heavily on fun may turn away more serious B2B prospects. It's time to strike a balance that allows your brand messaging to still target who you need it to, but that doesn't end up talking to one group over the other. If you've always been one type or the other, you'll need to come up with new strategies for expanding your presence beyond typical customer bases.

For example, let's say you've traditionally been a B2B brand whose speciality is banking. Your typical customer up to now has been a Chief Financial Officer. But in the metaverse, you're likely to experience brands who may need help with their blockchain transactions. All of a sudden, your consumer is everyone, and turning away other brands who may need your help could lead you to missing out on potential customers - especially if you discover that not many CFOs are actively hanging out in virtual metaverse spaces.

The metaverse will mean you need to dig deep into audience targeting, and that means spending particular focus on learning and knowing your demographics and user personas, before positioning your brand accordingly.

If you’re not sure about your user personas, read our helpful guide to how to find yours here.

Know when to enter

Before entering the metaverse you'll need to work with a creative agency to be able to develop a view on exactly when your brand should enter the metaverse, and how. Just like anything, the metaverse works in trends and entering either ahead of the curve or too far behind the curve could have consequences in terms of brand awareness.

As a general rule of thumb brands should always be in a test and learn stage, and this is no different. Ask an agency to put tests in place so that you can determine exactly when you should comfortably, and correctly, expose your brand to the metaverse.

Take Coca-Cola's "The Coke Side of Life" campaign for inspiration. The advert took advantage of the virtual worlds of video game, Second Life, by launching a competition to create a virtual Coke machine which would then be available in the game. The advert ended up being so successful that it even spawned its own documentary. While your business might not be able to afford something on that scale, there are ways to get creative with your entrance campaign, generate good brand awareness and in return see some great results.

Get your balance right

Any new space is unpredictable, so it's important to handle the metaverse as carefully as any other new platform and be aware that it could be both unpredictable and lacking in conventional guidelines. The good news is that the 2020 pandemic has made brands and consumers far more agile than ever before, which means there's greater scope for a brand to be flexible with how it positions itself, who it targets, and how its messaging and visual identity comes through in its virtual avatar.

Remember that at its core, the metaverse prioritises people over brands, which means the way you market your product or service, and your brand itself must adapt in this space. It's a place characterised by playfulness, collaboration, user generated content, and value creation. As a result of this, it will give you greater freedom to be creative with your positioning.

But with great freedom comes great responsibility, or something. Ensure that your brand identity is still coherent and cohesive across all your platforms. If your brand communicates and looks one way in the metaverse, and communicates and looks a completely different way online, you'll risk damaging your brand equity. Make sure that you keep the balance between being agile, but remaining authentic and genuine at your heart so that consumers from all platforms and locations know who you are, no matter where you appear.

How you present and position yourself in the metaverse will matter - even if you're not there yet. Prepare your brand as best you can and get your brand checked over with our free brand audit, or alternatively, read more of our acclaimed blog to future-proof all your branding components, like your values, mission, and identity.