How brands can prepare for the next generation of virtual reality

In the past two years, the pandemic has brought the development of virtual reality into the limelight. What was expected to still be years away is now a reality in the form of Facebook’s metaverse.

In 2021, Facebook decided to rebrand to ‘Meta’ as it felt it better represented the company and the various brands it owns, including Instagram and WhatsApp. With the name change, it also revealed a new product, the Metaverse. While the premise of a metaverse isn’t uniquely Facebook’s, its virtual reality (VR) platform sets a precedent for accessible virtual worlds to trickle their way into the mainstream.

But what does this mean for digital marketing? How will brands and agencies need to adapt to succeed in this new environment?

What is the metaverse?

While the metaverse might sound futuristic, the general principle is fairly simple. The metaverse is a shared virtual space where users are represented by avatars, which are animated versions of themselves. Users can interact with the virtual world and other users within it. Much like the real world, the metaverse continues to grow and expand as more users get involved. So, there really isn’t a limit as to how big the metaverse can become.

The early versions of Facebook’s Metaverse might look a lot like a game, but a game it certainly is not. The metaverse is a blurring of lines between the virtual world and the real one. Its intended use is mostly for professionals, replacing chat-based systems like Microsoft Teams and Zoom. But as the metaverse becomes more a part of our everyday lives, the possibilities are endless. And that’s why marketers are now seriously looking at how to get in early and develop long-lasting, effective strategies.

Early developments in metaverse marketing

The metaverse is set to become an everyday norm in the coming years, and while older audiences are sure to be involved, the main demographic getting to grips with the metaverse first are younger, specifically millennials and Gen Z.

Digital marketing in the metaverse comes at a time when younger audiences are becoming increasingly harder to engage with. In a TikTok world, attention spans are shorter and the demand for creativity higher. Millennials and Gen Z are moving away from established platforms, like Facebook and Instagram, and with as many as 84% of smartphone users skipping ads, creating meaningful marketing has never been trickier for brands. It’s not all doom and gloom though, the metaverse brings with it countless ways brands can begin to start building that relationship once more.

Sensory marketing will become the new norm

It’s going to take more than a sponsored ad to stand out in the metaverse. Recent campaigns and predictions are suggesting that sensory marketing is how brands are going to find success in virtual worlds. That means, rather than just appealing to the eyes and ears of users, campaigns will need to target all five senses.

That might sound like from the distant future, but it already exists and is called Haptic technology. This allows users to interact with and feel what is going on around them in a virtual setting. This opens a door for virtual retail and shopping including the possibility of consumers being able to see and touch a product in a virtual space.

Immersive experiences that go beyond gimmicks

As we all know, millennials are a generation more interested in experiences than material gains. By using an experience-first sales process, sensory marketing can revolutionize digital campaigns. And it’s these immersive experiences that really sets the metaverse apart from existing platforms. Hosting live events or branded workshops to showcase products and or services will create meaningful engagement beyond just placing an ad.

We have been able to assess the performance of retailers taking advantage of the metaverse using the BOSCO™ Index, which is a measure of how well they are exploiting their digital opportunities compared to their closest competitors. The Index is scored 0-1000 with 650 being the average score for retailers.

Gucci (BOSCO™ Index: 734) has been one of the first brands to put this to the test. It partnered with online gaming platform, Roblox (BOSCO™ Index: 737) to sell rare Gucci items at a virtual garden exhibit. The virtual exhibit mimicked the real one that took place in Italy to celebrate the brands’ 100th birthday. As part of the collaboration, Gucci allowed Roblox users to buy digital clothing for a limited time, some of which were then resold at a higher rate using Robux (Roblox currency). These exclusive events and one-offs are setting a precedent for brand collaboration and audience engagement within the metaverse.

Similarly, Nike (BOSCO™ Index: 742) took a deep dive into the metaverse by creating user-driven, fully immersive digital experiences that connect with its physical offering. Nike created the House of Innovation in New York, using their mobile phones and other virtual and augmenting tools, visitors could explore a virtual recreation of Smith Rock State Park in Oregon. Visitors could easily access the House of Innovation through a personalized checklist and digital map upon accessing the virtual world.

As with any other platform, brands will need to work to build a community within the platform and the metaverse poses another opportunity to further break down barriers between businesses and consumers, which will be great for increasing brand loyalty and reputation.

How brands can begin to strategize for metaverse marketing

Although the metaverse is developing quickly, we’re still quite far away from it overtaking current digital marketing. For starters, most metaverse’s, including Facebook’s, require a VR headset – something not everyone has yet. Until then, brands have a bit of breathing space to start pulling together marketing strategies that work. Here are some of the key things for marketers to consider when planning to enter the metaverse:

Adapting to cross-channel messaging

The first step brands need to think about is marketing consistency. The metaverse blends real and virtual worlds with users frequently switching between the two. This presents a challenge to companies who need to decide early on how they are going to build that seamless brand experience.

Remain flexible to ever-changing formats

Marketing in the metaverse is still an incredibly new thing. There isn’t a cut and paste formula as there is for other platforms. While a lot of the early campaigns may be based on trial and error, the need for this flexibility is essential. Ad formats may change at short notice and rules and regulations may also be updated in real-time. Plus, with more of a focus on personalization going forwards, the metaverse opens all kinds of tailored marketing opportunities for brands that go beyond targeted ads.

Stay on top of new measurement tools and metrics

It’s still too early to tell what metrics will be key for measuring campaign success in the metaverse. However, it’s expected that familiar metrics may change, and new ones emerge. For example, when banner ads first became popular, click-through rates were the all-important measurement. From the offset, brands should approach metaverse marketing from a holistic viewpoint by combining data sets from all channels for a clearer snapshot of performance. Platforms like BOSCO™ allow brands and retailers to collate cross-channel data for a top-level view of both paid and organic performance – a vital part of campaign success in the metaverse.

Although it’s early days, the future of the metaverse is bright. The need for virtual experiences has been pushed forward several years considering recent events. As a result, lots of brands are now suddenly faced with pivoting to create metaverse-ready marketing straight after an already intense digital-first overhaul. So, the key takeaways for brands looking at how to market in the metaverse, are:

  • Get in early to start building meaningful communities and engage with them.

  • Plan and implement sensory campaigns that harness the immersive interactivity of the metaverse.

  • Adapt to cross-channel marketing and focus on a holistic view between reality and virtual campaigns.

  • Stay on the beat for any changes or updates within the platform to make sure you’re at the forefront of any developments.