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  • April 1, 2022
  • By Erik J. Martin, freelance writer and public relations expert

Keys to Understanding the Metaverse—and How Your Business Can Benefit

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Turns out The MatrixAvatarInception, and Ready Player One were onto something more than entertaining our eyeballs. The visually dazzling futuristic virtual worlds in these stories have been translated to the real world (minus the digitally dystopian scenarios suggested, at least so far) in the form of the metaverse, which is getting lots more attention lately in the media and on social networks.

Indeed, a lot is happening in this fresh iteration of cyberspace, which represents a major leap of faith for many, including organizations looking to capitalize on the metaverse’s potential to transform business and commerce. Now is the time to learn what it’s all about, its prospects for profitability, and if your enterprise need apply.

Jonathan Moran, head of marketing solutions at SAS, an analytics, AI, and data management company, describes the metaverse as a network of virtual digital worlds that coexist alongside our physical world, where individuals can have digital avatars or digital representations of themselves that work, live, and play.

“Humans digitally engage with the metaverse today by logging in to the environment from a device such as a phone, PC, laptop, tablet, or headset,” he says.

Harish Daiya, cofounder of Lumenci, a technology patent licensing and litigation company, sees the metaverse as a centralized virtual world where users interact in a computer-generated environment instead of a physical one.

“The virtual world replicates the real world by use of a combination of virtual and augmented reality technologies that help people interact and do activities in a virtual setup, much like the real world,” Daiya explains. “In the metaverse, multiple virtual environments are connected from apps downloaded for virtual reality/augmented reality (AR/VR) devices. Users can teleport their virtual avatar by wearing an AR/VR headset to attend, for example, virtual live shows, festivals, hangouts, or meetings without attending them physically.”

The term “metaverse” traces back to 1992, when author Neal Stephenson coined it in his novel Snow Crash, a tale about avatars that live and interact in a hyper-real alternative world. Linden Lab created the first nonfiction version of the metaverse, Second Life, in 2003, which quickly caught the attention of car companies, record labels, and computer makers for launching digital outposts. Eventually, new metaverse-adjacent gaming experiences were introduced, like Minecraft, Fortnite, and Roblox. The publication of Ready Player One in 2011 introduced another metaverse domain, Oasis, which helped inspire the launch of the Oculus Rift by Facebook.

“Several popular artists have performed concerts in the metaverse, including Justin Bieber, Travis Scott, the Weeknd, and Ariana Grande,” says Andrew Lokenauth, a metaverse expert, investor, and futurist. “The possibilities are endless.”

As the metaverse expands and new technologies are integrated, “teleconferencing applications like Microsoft Teams and Zoom also have great potential to become a part of the metaverse,” says Andy Rogers, senior assessor for Schellman, an IT compliance assessment company.

For the latest proof of the growing potential of the metaverse, consider Facebook’s rebranding as Meta and Microsoft purchasing Activision Blizzard for a whopping $69 billion.

“Big tech mammoths like Meta and Microsoft are vying to capture the metaverse, which proves the platform’s potential for an array of business,” Daiya says. “Plus, with the advent of Web 3.0, the new version of the internet, many technological developments will continue to take place in the future, strengthening the foundation of the metaverse and hosting decentralized applications based on blockchain. This will open many doors for companies interested in cryptocurrencies and matters of crypto-based economic transitions.”

While the metaverse is still in its early stages, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg thinks the metaverse will become mainstream in a decade. “Others speculate that it could be sooner for the metaverse to become a part of our everyday lives, since the fundamentals are already in place,” Daiya says.

ORGANIZATIONS ARE CLIMBING ABOARD

For companies, the metaverse presents an opportunity to provide a more immersive customer experience to customers as well as another environment in which they can advertise and offer their goods and services, Moran contends.

“This will enable them to increase advertising revenue. Branded touchpoints or storefronts can allow consumers to interact with brands in many ways and allow brands to collect additional data on their digital avatar-based consumers,” he says.

Gaming, fashion, crypto, and entertainment companies are among the first to dive into the metaverse. Cases in point: The collaboration between Gucci and Roblox last year, in which the former sold virtual bags for 350 Robux ($4,115); and Nike’s plans to sell virtual sneakers in the metaverse.

“The easiest way to begin contemplating the strategic decisions around the metaverse involve thinking about your customers. Are they active in the metaverse today or are they likely to be soon? If so, it’s unavoidable and important to begin innovation in the space,” says Janet Balis, EY Consulting’s marketing practice leader. “But the next questions must be around the business’s ambition and timing.”

Many early metaverse opportunities revolve around non-fungible tokens (NFTs), which are well suited to companies that have permission to create collectibles.

“NFTs can be very creative and leverage new or existing brand [intellectual property], but they can also be used to create exclusivity or access for a brand,” Balis notes. “However, that strategy isn’t appropriate for all brands. For example, it may not work for a commoditized consumer category or a B2B brand as easily as a high-end coveted product category.”

Other companies will aim to foster full end-to-end customer experiences in the metaverse, “but it is important to remember that there is a high degree of fragmentation across the worlds of the metaverse and friction across the hardware itself that enables different parts of the experience,” Balis cautions.

Christopher Travers, cofounder and chief creative officer of Offbeat Media Group, believes businesses can participate in the metaverse in countless ways, from building social experiences in virtual worlds like Sandbox or ZEPETO to launching a new character universe underpinned by NFTs.

“However, any organization that wants to benefit from the metaverse should prioritize generating value for others,” he says, “rather than simply viewing the metaverse as something they can quickly capitalize on like a virtual gold rush.”

Applicable companies can best begin dabbling in the metaverse via games and social media platforms that are already among the early adopters, Rogers suggests.

“Evolving your advertising strategy to include the metaverse wouldn’t be anything new, as many already leverage in-game advertising. But figuring out how to uniquely leverage the metaverse for business will be a challenge,” Rogers says.

GOOD METAVERSE CANDIDATES

Good prospects for the metaverse include companies that are transitioning from local to global markets as well as organizations that already have social media presence and want to build singular identity across the internet, Rogers adds.

“For example, an auto manufacturer could launch its newest model in the metaverse. This could be a seamless way to introduce new vehicular models that take on more of a futuristic or modernized approach,” says Alvin Glay, vice president of growth and analytics at Response Media, a CRM digital agency. “Nonprofits could also heavily utilize the metaverse as an additional way to have touchpoints with donors and advocates from both near and far. Additionally, for religious organizations or community-minded groups, which continue to face decreasing participation, engagement, and membership numbers, the metaverse is a way to attract an entirely new demographic to become involved in something that may have not been of interest or worth their time previously. Providing a digital or virtual entry point for a younger audience could help tip the balance in the organization’s favor.”

Retailers and designers in almost any industry, from fashion to fine jewelry to home goods to outdoor design, can reap big perks from participating in the metaverse, too, according to Ashley Crowder, CEO and cofounder of VNTANA, a 3-D advertising and e-commerce technology provider.

“Any business that wants to reach new digital demographics, showcase existing products in augmented reality, or create new revenue streams from digital products should be looking to take advantage of the metaverse,” Crowder adds.

Glay runs through the foundational questions to ask:

  • Is my target audience engaged in the metaverse?
  • If so, in what capacity?
  • How can I engage them in such a way that’s not intrusive and provides benefit?
  • And what does that end benefit look like?

“If you have solid answers to these fundamental questions, you should actively explore opportunities in the metaverse,” Glay says.

Travers foresees the metaverse experiencing short-term rapid growth through the gaming and social media industries, followed by longer-term growth driven by the onset of augmented and virtual reality glasses/headsets, which will allow virtual possessions to achieve organic mass adoption, bringing the metaverse to the masses.

Daiya agrees. “From Meta’s Oculus and Microsoft’s HoloLens to Apple’s rumored AR/VR headset, all these developments point toward a burgeoning metaverse that will provide an immersive experience to users,” he says.

Considering that every major tech company is busy developing metaverse hardware, “as consumer adoption increases, those companies who established themselves early will stand to benefit the most from this migration,” says Lachlan Phillips, CEO of Orbits, a company that specializes in virtual events and venues.

Some industry insiders believe that virtually any product that exists in today’s world will eventually be designed for the metaverse.

“The younger generation doesn’t hang out at the mall; they meet their friends online and are willing to pay real money to look cool in the metaverse,” Crowder says. “Soon, metaverse users will be shopping in virtual malls and purchasing items for their avatars via immersive commerce.”

Phillips insists that it’s not too early to begin developing a metaverse strategy.

“The time is right now. Following the global pandemic, people are online more than ever, connecting via video calls, text, or in virtual spaces,” he says. “We’ve learned to stay connected during a time of disconnect and upheaval by making the most of these virtual spaces and digital connections. You and your customers have everything you need: a mobile phone and an internet connection. The metaverse is here today and will evolve with your customers, making the transition easy.”

HOW TO GET STARTED

Eager to meld your brand into the metaverse? Now is the time to make sure your tech foundation is in place and that your CX strategy can seamlessly encompass the metaverse experience, taking into consideration what both stand-alone and blended customer journeys that involve the metaverse will look like. Moran says the questions below are ones your organization should be answering right now:

  • How will customers move from traditional channels (email, web, mobile) into the metaverse and vice-versa?
  • How immersive will the experience be and what will be the benefit of one environment over the other?
  • How will you provide consumers with self-service options and on-demand experiences in the metaverse?
  • How will you provide customer support in the metaverse? Customers expect real-time problem resolution. Can you deliver?
  • How will you navigate the high level of data integration between applications, environments, and ecosystems that will be needed to support bringing a full metaverse experience to bear?

“You must also have a 3-D model of your product or environment to place into the metaverse. This is not a 360-degree video but a true 3-D model that you can move around to see every angle, just like in the real world,” Crowder says. “Next, these models need to be optimized. Virtual worlds have hundreds or thousands of 3-D models that can quickly overload a computer, mobile device, or headset. Existing 3-D designs created for manufacturing are way too big and not in the right format for web, social media, or game engines, and this can require days of manual work by 3-D artists.”

Additionally, you’ll need a content management system built for 3-D, including a 3-D web viewer so you can easily view and inspect the 3-D model.

“Having a robust content management system with a 3-D viewer and optimization built-in enables you to easily manage, collaborate, and distribute 3-D across the metaverse,” Crowder continues.

Give thought as well to how your organization can bolster its culture for a virtual future.

“Start asking potential hires what the metaverse means to them, what they know about Web 3.0, and what interests them about the future of social experiences. And hire multiple people who already have experience living and breathing these not-as-new-as-you-think subjects of virtual reality, gaming, and NFTs, then give them a real voice within your organization,” Travers recommends. 

Erik J. Martin is a Chicago area-based freelance writer and public relations expert whose articles have been featured in AARP The Magazine, Reader’s Digest, The Costco Connection, and other publications. He often writes on topics related to real estate, business, technology, healthcare, insurance, and entertainment. He also publishes several blogs, including martinspiration.com and cineversegroup.com.

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