Why Smart Brands Should Embrace The Metaverse – Now

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The metaverse is often dismissed as a vague and far-off concept. In reality, leading brands are already there and staking their claim. As technical barriers to entry are fading fast, so are excuses to avoid getting started. 

Despite being an established buzzword, the ‘metaverse’ still lacks a common definition. 

There are official-sounding definitions involving expressions like ‘shared persistent reality’. And then there are more intuitive explanations (“Did you see the movie Ready Player One?”). 

The reason for the confusion is that the metaverse is a work in progress, not a finished product. The components needed to achieve a series of interconnected, virtual 3D worlds are still being developed. 

Building the metaverse 

The first component is clearly the technology. Creating an alternative reality requires a combination of hardware, software, and interoperable standards. Promising steps are being made on all fronts, although the third – which allows different virtual worlds to be connected – may take some time. 

The second component is the economy. The exciting promise of the metaverse is that, in combination with blockchain technology, it enables users not only to interact, but to transact and claim ownership of assets in the digital world. 

The metaverse will truly come of age when the number of transactions in the metaverse economy exceeds those of transactions in the ‘real world’. When technology makes our lives increasingly virtual, we can expect the economy to follow suit. 

Inaction? Not an option 

The metaverse is really just the next iteration of the online economy. As we know, offline businesses that refused to adapt in the early days of the internet paid a high cost later on. 

The high-profile casualties – Blockbuster, ToysRUs, Tower Records – are not the whole story. As we saw in the pandemic, over-reliance on in-person interactions leaves businesses highly exposed to global health crises.

Where to begin? 

While the metaverse may seem distant and indistinct, leading brands are already there. Here are three ways they are capitalizing on the opportunity. 

Digital merchandising 

Digital assets – NFTs – could be seen as the first step toward the metaverse. The concept of leveraging digital scarcity to manufacture exclusive rewards is simply a new way of making things that people want. At its heart, this is an old, well-established idea. 

Nike is leading the way in this area. The firm has not only pioneered the concept of digital sneakers twinned with physical equivalents, but it has acquired RTFKT, a blockchain-native manufacturer focused exclusively on designing high-end NFT-based goods. 

As this example shows, competing in the NFT medium will become progressively more challenging as consumers begin to scrutinize and differentiate digital assets by the pedigree of the designers behind them. 

Metaverse events 

Games such as Fortnite were the first to successfully demonstrate the potential of mass-participation, virtual events. In the case of games, the existence of a ready-made community that already frequents a digital medium (such as Fortnite islands) helps. 

Brands can insert themselves into these virtual realms just as they would in a physical location with high footfall. By funding or holding events – such as tournaments, festivals, or concerts – in these virtual spaces, they can expose their brand to demographics that fall outside their typical marketing reach. 

In the case of AMC’s The Walking Dead, Skybound Entertainment partnered with Metaverse platform Sandbox to create a metaverse game based on the series, which enabled users to interact with the characters and take part in the Walking Dead universe. 

Virtual locations 

A metaverse-based store offers the eventual possibility of virtually recreating the experience of shopping in person. 

For instance, the Sotheby’s metaverse gallery, located in Decentraland, exhibits virtual art. The same approach can be used to create virtual showrooms, dressing rooms, or boutiques, with purchases resulting in real-world delivery. 

More ambitiously, brands can create entire ‘virtual cities’. An interesting example of this is a partnership between the department store Selfridges and the Pokémon media franchise.

The collaboration created “Electric/City”, in which customers could browse for and purchase a range of both real-world and virtual items. Snapchat Lens technology makes it possible to track user body movements, represented within the metaverse via customized avatars. 

The dilemma 

Despite the abundant possibilities, brands looking to get started face a difficult choice between speed and control. 

Existing platforms – whether games like Fortnite or metaverses-for-rent like Sandbox – offer a quick way for companies to set up shop in the metaverse. 

However, working with a 3rd party has a lot of disadvantages, chiefly related to the uncertainty that is part and parcel of operating in an emerging, unstable realm such as blockchain. If you want to protect your brand and retain control over user experience (and avoid middleman fees), it’s better to build your own solution. 

Why haven’t most firms taken this path? Answer: it’s hard. Most development teams are unable to code Web3 applications and find the experience of working via the blockchain highly disorienting compared to the Web2 paradigm. 

That’s why most brands have opted for speed at the expense of control. It’s quicker to use a platform like OpenSea to sell your NFTs, and an existing metaverse platform like Decentraland to build your virtual store. 

A third way 

What is needed to solve this dilemma is a new breed of companies that provide a bridge to the metaverse without requiring gatekeeper privileges in return. 

Though few and far between, such firms are beginning to emerge. Mozverse, for instance, offers a suite of web3 enablement services that help firms create working front-end solutions (marketplaces, virtual worlds) and lean on its APIs, templates, and blockchain intelligence so that the current dev team can operate as if they were Web3-literate. 

The existence of such solutions suggests that the future of Web3 will not be like that of Web2 – i.e. a small number of mega-platforms dominating distribution – but hundreds of independent brands each in charge of their own parts of the metaverse realm. 

We are at the unusual, early stage of the metaverse’s evolution where early movers can define its future. With the tools now available, there is no excuse not to get stuck in.