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4 things marketers need to know before entering the metaverse

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By Chris Sutcliffe | Senior reporter

January 24, 2022 | 10 min read

All last week The Drum examined the present and future of the metaverse in our Deep Dive. We caught up with experts from the world of gaming, B2B and NFTs, spoke to web3 advocates and detractors and, ultimately, learned that the potential of the metaverse has yet to be realized.

metaverse vr

The Drum's metaverse deep dive explored the realities of marketing in an undefined, unreal space

Here we recap some of the key takeaways from the week...

1. Marketers can help define the metaverse

You can make a credible argument that advertising as we know it won’t exist in the metaverse. Digital advertising is still created and sold in much the same way it was in the earliest iterations of the internet, while the shift to a user-centric web3 could truly disrupt it.

“Purists would say the mistake the internet made is that it had no business model other than advertising,” explains Tom Hostler, head of brand experience at Publicis.Poke. ”So, the [decentralized] metaverse is going to be fandom based, community based, and shared spaces where everybody earns and creators are rewarded. Advertising is not needed as everyone will get micro payments for their efforts and an economy will be created.”

Jen Faull takes an in-depth look at how the metaverse can break the skeuomorphic model of advertising, and create entirely new ways of marketing within virtual spaces.

2. Marketers can learn a lot from gaming

It’s fair to say that without gaming the metaverse would not be possible. Not only has gaming history helped inform the visual language and practices of virtual spaces, it has also created the earliest metaverse platforms. From Fornite to Roblox, the most visible iterations of the metaverse can be found within games. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that will be the case forever; platforms like Decentraland and Sandbox are divorced from the gaming space, metaverse-first, and are making big plays to overtake the more established players.

The Drum’s Dani Gibson reports: “Right now, Roblox, Fortnite and Minecraft are in the driving seat and brands will go where the audiences are. But soon the audience are going to go to the decentralized web3 as the economics are a lot more in favor of them.”

3. Marketers must put empathy at heart of metaverse projects

The anonymity and creativity afforded by virtual reality has wider implications than just for commerce. It has the power to engender huge empathy in users, to break boundaries between communities, and to allow us to experience lives we otherwise would not be able to.

Antonia Forster is a software developer and curator of an LGBTQ+ VR museum. She says: "There have been a number of interesting projects exploring VR, physical presence, gender identity, and sexuality (Google and ye shall find). VR allows you to embody an avatar that looks different to yourself - not only in terms of gender identity and gender expression, or body type, but even an avatar that is non-humanoid; an animal, or an inanimate object (my favourite avatar is a stick of butter), or an abstract shape. When we interact face-to-face in real life, our physical form and visible features (like our perceived gender, ethnicity, age, visible disabilities, and countless other factors) impact the way that people interact with us, because of unconscious bias.

"In VR, we can still have the physical sense of presence and face-to-face interaction, without our physical features triggering those same immediate judgements.For me personally, it's incredibly freeing. As a woman working in a male-dominated space, I feel that my gender is often the first thing people perceive about me, and causes people to make certain assumptions. Being able to present as an inanimate object, where gender is not just ambiguous but completely meaningless, is liberating. I have heard similar reports from my friends with intersectional identities (Black women, and women with visible disabilities)."

Ellen Ormesher notes that process starts with the ad industry itself: “Paul Wells, the director of wellbeing services and culture change at Nabs, says that when it comes to hiring through the metaverse, regulations around fairness and discrimination in interviews would need to apply as they would in real life – and with some extra considerations.

”A main concern would be that metaverse platforms will not be accessible to all. Cost and factors around disability could be two of the barriers to people accessing the metaverse. So if you’re conducting interviews in the metaverse, you would still need to offer other accessible interview options – such as Zoom or in-person – so that people of all backgrounds could be considered for the role.’”

Beyond that, Shawn Lim writes that, as currently envisioned by the tech companies, the metaverse will exclude people. He catches up with Craig Beddis, chief executive officer and co-founder of deep tech startup Hadean, to hear how that openness and inclusivity should be at the heart of any metaverse project, and that these attributes should be pushed from its inception. Beddis points to one of the great attractions of the metaverse – the freedom of choice afforded to people in virtual worlds – saying that it would be highly contradictory if this remains unavailable to some.

4. Marketers must ensure experiences provide value to users

The earliest executions of the metaverse have all been driven by brands, wishing to extend their IPs into virtual spaces to reach a young and lucrative audience. But, as with every new platform, there are hazards to leaping in headfirst.

Jack Morton’s Damian Ferrar states: “The objective of experiences in the real world and the metaverse are no different. They must provide value to users, build emotional connections with the brand and fuel shared experiences where people participate, not just watch. They should not be derailed by novelty that is short-lived and stifles those connections.

“Brands should start with an experience design framework, incorporating four elements: immersion, responsiveness, curation and connection. These principles will ensure that an experience is impactful, effective and created to live at the intersection of content, data and technology.”

Meanwhile, it’s important that we recognize the great work brands are already doing. Both Samsung and Chipotle have already applied lessons from their storied histories of advertising to create marketing both for and in the metaverse.

Beyond those brands, there is the potential for luxury brands to appeal to lucrative and tech savvy audiences. And, as Admind’s Morgan Karpiel-Nicholas explains, it can help ameliorate certain concerns about real-world luxury manufacture and distribution: “For Dolce & Gabbana, the results have been dramatic. After releasing a nine-piece collection of NFT fashion designs as part of their September 2021 collection, they were able to sell the entire set for a groundbreaking $5.7m.

“While Dolce & Gabbana took the idea of fashion NFTs to new levels of render quality and design detail, brands such as Nike and Burberry are enjoying higher-than-ever profit margins on metaverse offerings. In the realm of virtual products and NFTs, fashion designers no longer have to worry about the problems (materials, production, overstocking and discounting) that plague them in the real world and can devalue their brands.”

We don’t yet know what the metaverse will eventually look like, or even how we’ll choose to experience it. However the groundwork is already being laid for the relationship between brand, consumer and platform in virtual spaces – one that could be more equitable, empowering, and transformative.

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