The metaverse has a customer experience problem. Here’s what needs to be done
Brands are eager to enter the metaverse, but at what cost? Consumers barely know what it is, how to get there or why they should even care. As part of The Drum’s Deep Dive into The New Customer Experience Economy, we show you exactly what you need to look at before you leap into this emerging arena.
Preparing to bring your brand into the metaverse? Be ready to bring your customers along for the ride (credit: Adobe Stock)
As terms like ‘web3’ and ‘blockchain’ become increasingly mainstream, brands have been feeling more and more confident about launching their own virtual campaigns – in the form of, say, NFT launches or the opening of virtual stores. The problem is that many of these are launched without clear language surrounding the essential what, how and why questions of the metaverse. These include:
What problems has this campaign set out to solve?
How is it directly related to a brand’s pre-existing purpose and values?
How can customers interact and engage with it?
And most importantly, why should anyone care?
Launching a web3-based campaign without answering these questions first is like setting a ship out to sail without a destination. It might be the most beautifully crafted ship in the world, but without a port to sail to it doesn’t serve much of a purpose. Similarly, in order to launch a successful campaign in the metaverse, you need to have a plan. Not just a Plan A, but also some additional backup plans to manage technical difficulties, which will almost certainly arise. In order to keep your web3 ship afloat, you need to keep your audience engaged. That begins, and ends, with clear communication.
Brands beware – the metaverse is notoriously confusing
Let’s start by discussing a few things that brands should not do when they’re launching a flagship campaign in the metaverse.
They should not, for one thing, assume that all of their consumers are aware of the metaverse and how it works. In fact, brands should assume that most of their target audience will be virtual newcomers at best, still wrapping their minds around the new technologies and lingo (just like the rest of us). ‘The metaverse’ may be officially in the zeitgeist, but it remains a hazy concept for many people. This has been well-documented: a recent report from Klaviyo, for example, suggests that roughly half (49%) of consumers across age groups ‘have no idea’ what the metaverse is. 17% of those who are at least vaguely familiar with the metaverse, furthermore, mistakenly believe that it’s owned exclusively by Meta (previously Facebook).
Here’s the upshot: making an announcement on social media that your brand has dropped a non-fungible token (NFT) series on OpenSea, or that it’s opened up a virtual office in Decentraland, may be Greek to a large chunk of your audience. That language barrier can be detrimental to your customers’ experience – and by extension, to your brand’s reputation. Launching a web3-based campaign without a comms strategy is likely to backfire: rather than positioning your brand as hip and tech-savvy, it’s liable to make you look opportunistic and clunky, like a dinosaur that’s trying and failing to blend in with the cool kids. And if there’s one thing that the true-blue web3 community can’t stand, it’s a poser. Many of them, it should be pointed out, view Meta as the ultimate poser – a giant corporation trying to convince the world that it has the best of intentions while in reality its roots and values are in stark opposition to those of the web3 movement.
“No one in web3 thinks Facebook is cool,” says Amanda Cassatt, co-founder and chief exec of Serotonin. “In fact, all of web3 finds [Facebook/Meta] anathema. Part of the reason we created web3 was to fight back against that business model. When you see brands like Pepsi [and] Heineken interacting with Meta on Twitter, as if that’s like a web3 [or] a metaverse thing ... it could not alienate [web3] people more. Ultra cringe. Do not confuse Meta for the metaverse.”
Brands should also not launch a web3 campaign simply because they feel it’s a hip thing to do. Most consumers, even those who aren’t yet totally up to speed with the finer points of the metaverse, can smell a gimmick. If you’re going to plant your brand’s flag in the virtual marketplace, experts say that you should do so with a clear understanding of how it will serve as a direct extension of your brand – how it will, in other words, enhance the experience of your customers.
And above all, be prepared to go with the flow. “[Brands must be] able to leave from the same port at the same time as their customers and communicate a destination,” says TJ Leonard, chief exec of Storyblocks. “Given the newness of everything, the path will change, the [current] will flow in a direction you didn’t anticipate. As long as you’re going back to your customers in that moment and updating expectations, that type of relationship will probably lead to the fix.”
Don’t talk the talk before you walk the walk
Brands should also avoid using web3 lingo unless they clearly understand what they’re saying and they’ve already taken concrete steps to benefit the web3 community in some way. Values are of supreme importance here. The web3 movement began as a negation of the hierarchical, top-down structures that have dominated the internet for decades and have defined other major institutions for millennia. Mehta Mehta, global executive creative director at Hogarth Worldwide’s Metaverse Foundry, describes the movement: “This is the new hip-hop, this is the new punk. [They] didn’t like the way shit was before. They don’t like the way money is right now, so they’re building cryptocurrency; they don’t like the way that businesses are manipulating culture, so they’re building NFTs.”
Make no mistake, executives in Silicon Valley are not calling the shots here – web3 is a grassroots movement. That’s not to say it has an exclusionary, locals-only vibe. Quite the opposite. This is a movement that’s been organized around the principles of inclusion, transparency, equality of access and decentralization. But the web3 community takes those principles with dead seriousness. So, if your brand wants a slice of the virtual pie, as many do right now, it’s going to have to prove that it will strive to uphold and strengthen those principles for as long as it remains in web3. That it will be a contributor and an equal member of the community, and not an exploiter. “Your metaverse strategy should be augmentative [and] strengthening to the existing web3 community. That’s the North Star of a good strategy,” says Cassatt. “It isn’t about diverting and siphoning off resources away from web3. [It’s about] how does your strategy strengthen web3? And how does it strengthen the existing people who are there?”
Those aren’t always easy questions to answer, especially for brands that are newcomers to this space. But a good place to start, Cassatt says, is to consider what makes your brand unique in the first place: “Think about your DNA [and] what makes your brand valuable and interesting in a traditional or in a web2 context, and apply that to web3. Learn what web3 is and apply what makes you really awesome and what people love about your brand to web3.” Cassatt mentions Sotheby’s, the famous art broker, as an example. Founded in the mid-1700s, Sotheby’s has continued to flourish and remain relevant by adapting in lockstep with the culture. Today, it’s become a major marketplace for NFTs, bringing its clout from the international arts scene to the blossoming web3 community. “They’re actually adding to and augmenting web3 by adding their tastemaking and their stamp of legitimacy to this new category of art ... so that’s a great positive example,” Cassatt says.
A brand’s comms strategy must be tailored to speak clearly about such programs. That means that the language should authentically reflect the ideals of the web3 movement while also being clear, colloquial and uncomplicated enough to resonate with those who are not yet familiar with all of the jargon.
This is a fine line to tread. It will take practice, and it will almost certainly involve a few stumbles, but that’s okay. Missteps are a part of the process, and all brands can be expected to make them in one form or another. Technical difficulties and communication breakdowns are going to happen. When they do, the best way that brands can respond is to be honest and humble: we made a mistake, we’re figuring this out (just like the rest of you), we’re grateful for the learning experience, and we thank you for your patience. This will only bolster the aura of authenticity around your brand that web3 true believers value so highly.
For more on The New Customer Experience Economy, check out The Drum’s latest Deep Dive.