By Katie Streten, Head of Experiential Strategy, VMLY&R Commerce, MENA
Image Credit: Homunkulus28/Getty
It’s in every conversation, it’s the word of the moment – Metaverse – it feels techy, digital, distant…confusing? You will hear people talk about bitcoin, NFTs, AR/VR, gaming, and virtual worlds in the context of the metaverse. And if the conversations are to be believed, everyone is playing in it, every brand is developing a presence in it. And why wouldn’t they when Bloomberg Intelligence pins the potential metaverse opportunity at $800bn by 2024?
Katie Streten, Head of Experiential Strategy, VMLY&R Commerce, MENA
However, it may be better to talk about what the metaverse will be, to understand what it currently is. The metaverse will be a collection of always-on, live, and real-time digital “places” with their own economies, that cross between the virtual and physical worlds. They will be accessed through laptops, mobiles, and mobile apps, VR/AR headsets, and consoles. They will be places where you users can create, build, and own digital objects – much as you can build a house or sew a skirt in the physical world. And where you can work as well as play.
The list of technologies I mentioned previously is converging to make this exciting future possible…but we aren’t fully there yet. We can’t move between places like Roblox and Fortnite without exiting one and starting up the other. And we certainly don’t all have blockchain-verified currencies to spend on NFT artworks, or VR headsets to enjoy immersive new experiences. When I give my daughter 50AED to spend on Roblox it’s a little like giving her that money to spend on sweets – the only return is a very excited child, and I can’t sell what she buys!
The busiest parts of the evolving metaverse ecosystem are the gaming spaces like Roblox and Fortnite, Sandbox, and Decentraland. They offer a combination of conversation and connection with the fantastical and challenging which is particularly popular to Gen Z, the demographic most desired by marketers.
Why is this relevant to experiential marketing? Surely with something so digital the best people to talk to are media buyers or digital agencies?
I believe that it’s that the skillsets that create beautiful, useable, commercially effective experiences IRL are the ones that will also create the best experiences in the metaverse.
At the heart of any physical experience whether focused on brand or product is always the “why?” Why would I come? Why would I stay? Why would I engage? Why would I buy it? Fundamentally – why bother? Get that right and your audiences will spend 10, 20, 40 minutes and more simply engaging with your brand, and ultimately that drives sales.
Building truly impactful experiences are much more involved than telling a linear story in thirty seconds or providing useful and elegant functions on an app. Connected experiences must consider how individuals behave, what they will and won’t engage with, how you sign posts for the users, and what the possibilities are. Storytelling in experiential or physical retail must be both passive and active and the whole experience must feel like it comes from the commissioning brand. That means any visuals, soundtrack, content, and interactions used must be aligned. And they must connect the users with the digital spaces and purchase journeys they are familiar with in some recognizable way. Building an experience in the metaverse is no different.
Take the example of creating a shop in the metaverse. It might look great and be cool but without other experiences placed around it why would anyone make the effort to go there, particularly if there’s no connection to it? That’s why brands like Vans have placed their Roblox shop inside a special Roblox Vans “skate park” that people can come and play in. There must be other motivations in these new worlds than “buying something” because there is no “utility” to these objects beyond the way they look.
Creating the right kind of game or experience requires thought and creativity, the ability to put yourself in the users’ shoes, and an understanding of how they move, react and buy in digital space as well as physical space.
Getting your first adventures in the metaverse right will pave the way for creating solid communities that continue with you on this exciting new journey – both online and offline. To do that you need to work with partners who know how to build commercially effective experiences first, so that when the commercial opportunity presents itself your brand is established and ready, not languishing in a metaverse backwater wondering why nobody wants to play.