Even though the “metaverse” has been around for a while, doing marketing and public relations in the virtual-reality space can still be mystifying to many of us.
According to tech-focused platform Tekdeeps, the metaverse is “a shared virtual space created by combining the physical world with the virtual world and includes virtual reality, augmented reality, and internet.” The term was first coined in the 1992 sci-fi novel “Snow Crash” by Neal Stephenson.
Leveraging embryonic versions of the metaverse for influence, branding, selling, fundraising, and more is not new. Way back in 2018, Wendy’s inserted its messaging about non-frozen beef organically into Fortnite’s “Food Fight” game. It fused advertising with entertainment. Social media mentions increased 119 percent and the campaign won first prize at the Cannes Lions Festival. In 2019, Facebook created a type of metaverse with Horizon.
But what’s new about the metaverse is the way that its potential has surfaced into mainstream business thinking. Also, one of the basic components powering it—5G—has become accepted. Many clients and customers often are now demanding more information and perspective about the metaverse—which means communicators must be up to date on its possibilities and risks.
Here is an introduction to seven ways in which the metaverse could create new value in communications.
The Magic of the Multi-dimensional Escape. The Search Engine Journal puts it this way: “We can now step out of our real world and into virtual ones where we will have a new economy, environment, currency and behaviors.” The escape is available 24/7. Consumers could be so grateful for such a refuge that they will be more receptive to products, services, and messaging.
Launching a Metaverse-Only Brand. Such a brand could develop a cult identity and generate sustained demand. The analogy would be private labels. Only available through a specific retailer they can establish intense loyalty. Later the metaverse brand could be extended to sell in physical space.
Sampling Products Without Going to Brick-and-Mortar. Consumers can sit in their lean-back armchair and experiment with all angles. Outdoor attire can be tried on and consumers can ask avatars how that looks. Much of this is already available, of course. But the experience is qualitatively different in the metaverse. Shopping could become total entertainment.
Staging promotional activities parallel with those occurring in real life. A mashup roll-out of virtual and real life can replicate the specialness of what the late Steve Jobs had orchestrated for product announcements at Apple. Consumers can duck in and out of both.
Leveraging gamification. While gamification can be conducted outside the metaverse, bringing it into the virtual space can add unusual intensity. As part of the customer purchasing journey for a condo there could be scavenger hunts or solving the murder mystery of the mummy in the attic.
Replacing human influencers with virtual ones. The former can be expensive, unpredictable, and a source of scandal. Those in virtual space can be controlled. That includes configuring the virtual influencer to be in sync with client/customer personas.
Unleashing the Collective Power of Community. Eventually there will be linked metaverses. Currently, they are mostly stand-alones or “walled gardens.” That private space can intensify the connection experience. Collaboration could be more open and productive. Also, members of the community can be mobilized to help solve a global social problem.
As with anything in its early stages, the risks can seem overwhelming.
At the top of them are the legal complexities. After all, this is America the Litigious. In May 2021, law firm Reed Smith’s Entertainment and Media Industry Group published the 72-page white paper “Guide to the Metaverse.”
Among the legal issues Smith singles out are: intellectual property; data protection and privacy; Content Licensing; Bitcoins and other crypto assets; Reputation and deepfake; and Managing antitrust and competitive risk.
Another risk is inadequate segmentation of the market. For example, as Digital 360 Commerce points out, consumers over 50 prefer a formal communications style. Although they have become more comfortable with digital, especially during COVID, they want promotional approaches to be simple and slow-moving. The Metaverse could be too much.
Another risk is this: They can build the metaverse and no one will come. Marketing and public relations firms have to step back and rethink all communications assumptions. Those could even include how to name or rebrand products and services. What is recommended is to label or relaunch products with the keyword “metaverse” in them for search engine optimization (SEO) purposes.
Also, what kinds of resources will it require to be allowed into the walled garden to pitch to that existing community? BuiltIn, a network for online communities, sees the need for experimentation, just as had been necessary when social networks were new. Communicators have to develop a mindset of wanting to explore.
Meanwhile, the big players in tech, ranging from Microsoft to Facebook, are gearing up for the metaverse as a major trend. For example, Microsoft acquired video game business ZeniMaxMedia for $7.5 billion. Facebook is rebranding to migrate from social network to virtual reality and the hardware for that.
Jane Genova specializes in the strategy and content for results-driven marketing communications ([email protected]).