The Metaverse Won’t Be as Forgiving as Web 2.0
UPON HEARING talk of a “metaverse,” one can be forgiven for immediately thinking of a scene from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory: Tech-obsessed Mike insists on becoming the first person to be transmitted by Wonkavision, only to be shrunk down to fit then stretched back to normal via taffy puller. When one adds gravity to the conversation by discussing “the Metaverse,” it is easy to immediately drift to the mental image of a thick plume of glitter puffed into the air in celebration.
Today, the metaverse feels simultaneously ominous and exhilarating. Many digital leaders have started to outline the numerous use cases and business imperatives the metaverse can present for those willing to be the early disruptors shaping the metaverse economy.
The truth is many will not have the willpower to be part of this advance party. Much like the early trailblazers in the “Age of Digital Innocence” or the “Age of Digital Giants,” those willing to take the leaps and try their chances will serve as aspirational landmarks on the road into the metaverse.
Nevertheless, now is the time to start thinking about what the metaverse holds for experience. There are two conversations that today’s customer experience (CX) leaders, from marketing to sales to service, need to have: First, what is the metaverse, and second, what is our place in the metaverse economy?
DEFINING THE UNDEFINED
The metaverse is an infinite domain of shared immersive experiences in which commerce, community, and currency co-exist and are co-created. By nature, and by design, the metaverse transcends defined boundaries of “physical” and “digital.” It asks us to suspend disbelief and build anything we dare, together.
In terms of an experience, the metaverse is where a ride on a stationary bike is a fully immersed and connected experience where riders don’t watch a screen but don goggles to be in the room with a community. Currency, mined by the power generated by a bike in the physical world, allows riders to tip their instructor and pay for virtual waters for friends.
It could be argued this capacity exists today. But in the fully realized metaverse, before class starts, riders stop at the virtual grocery store and pick out some essentials, and before the cooldown of their workout is over, real groceries are delivered to a real front door, paid for by those sweat-equity bucks that were just pedaled into existence.
RESISTING THE URGE TO RELIVE WEB 2.0
Web 2.0 represented the seismic shift from static one-way information delivery to dynamic engagements in which users could become content creators and generators. Systems were designed to enable the ebb and flow of bidirectional, continuous communication. It wasn’t just communication—it was conversation through content creation, and the customer’s voice was intended to ring loud and true.
The truth of web 2.0 is that while it was sold as an age of “interoperability” and a culture of “participation,” what it realized was an age where the command-and-control tendencies of spray-and-pray messaging could be delivered fast, cheap, and dirty. CX strategies evolved from mapping campaigns to an assumption that a customer’s actual experience could be controlled or managed. Campaigns turned into “journeys” that were ready to be optimized. Data could be aggregated, analyzed, and put to work.
There was one big problem: As much as we wanted community, co-creation, and collaboration, we didn’t want the responsibility of community, co-creation, or collaboration. We wanted to send out content through digital channels and have people respond by dutifully buying products, not by telling us what they didn’t like about the content, the channel we picked, or the products we were selling. Web 2.0 became a gloriously engineered sports car we chose to drive in bumper-to-bumper traffic.
REVISING WANAMAKER’S 50 PERCENT
In the metaverse, with its counterpart of web 3.0 infrastructure that will be required to power this new immersive universe, campaigns built on data culled across vast passive engagements and blindly applied as personalization will not cut it. Customer journeys can’t be neatly created in anticipation of an obedient audience of customers dutifully following our sequenced and orchestrated directives.
A line from a recent report on the metaverse economy from Constellation Research posits the metaverse mandate as such: “Entry into the metaverse should take a purpose-driven and brand-led approach. Identify areas where the brand has market permission to introduce, participate, and lead.”
This is a world in which a company needs to be willing to bring 50 percent of a shared experience to the table. Yet somehow it feels like a trap—an eerie invitation to return to that age-old question of which 50 percent was effective and which was waste. Are we really back at a time where we are evoking the ghost of John Wanamaker? Can companies let down their guard and co-create in the moment? Or will we wrap the same push-centric communications of web 2.0, delivered through VR goggles?
Companies won’t get a break when the one-way street of push communications is passed off as an experience. The mere presence of digital content won’t pass as an experience.
NOT BEST PRACTICES—BETTER STARTING POINTS
Unfortunately, we are simply not at a point to legitimately identify best practices of launching into the metaverse. We are just too early in a game that has yet to truly start. This means, there is still time to prepare.
- Define cultural values now.This isn’t to say “draft a snappier mission and vision statement on your website.” Now is the time to truly take that step back and articulate where and how your products, your brand, your people, and your vision intersect with the world. Do not mistake this opportunity as a chance to rewrite that tagline. Step away from the branding workshop. This is about understanding the why you are, as opposed to the what you want the customer to buy.
- Shift from strategies that “build relationships” to those that “sustain relationships.”Ask any couple that has been married for decades: Success isn’t measured in the big grand gestures and promises of rainbows and butterflies. Instead, success is measured in the mundane, in the problem solving, in the everyday, trusted experiences that become like wearing a second skin, comfortable and comforting all at once. Think of the acts and actions every ambassador of your brand should be willing to take to sustain a relationship. These are the building blocks to that 50 percent a brand needs to bring to the table. Don’t discount how important this will be.
- Abandon moments of delight.The metaverse won’t be about delight. The metaverse will be about moments—moments of opportunity that are immediately recognized and acted upon with all parties jumping in, all at once, with millions of expectations and one shared journey. By letting go of delight as a destination, perhaps we can finally start to focus on what’s truly important, what is needed, in that moment. And yes, it could be argued that in some moments, delight is just what the customer ordered. Then so be it. Build that delight together. But forcing every moment to be “delightful” is too much pressure. In the metaverse, sometimes, showing up and just saying hello will be all the delight a customer demands until you can build an experience together.
CX leaders, beware. You won’t be able to campaign your way through the metaverse. It will be easy to lose course and fall back into old habits. But if you want to participate in the metaverse economy, start by asking what purpose your brand has and what value your brand can provide. What will your 50 percent of any shared experience be?
Liz Miller is vice president and principal analyst at Constellation Research, covering the broad landscape of customer experience strategy and technologies.