Do you need a digital twin? Bringing the big ticket to life in the metaverse
What if consumers could get a feel for cutting-edge products, without buying a plane ticket? Alastair Bevan of Fox Agency envisions a more immersive B2B sector in the metaverse.
Virtual showrooms are less revenue-generating than they are glimpses of a bright future; is it worth it? / Jaanus Jagomagi
“We can load anything - from clothing to equipment, weapons, training simulations. Anything we need.” So says Morpheus as he’s introducing Neo to the virtual world for the first time.
Ancient cultural reference aside, the dream of the virtual showroom is already a (pun intended) reality for a swathe of B2C brands. Nike, Samsung, Coca-Cola and Adidas are just a sprinkling of the big names already with fully-fledged metaverse experiences.
With a few exceptions, these environments are less revenue-generating opportunities and more glimpses of a shiny future that bring a brand halo effect. However, for many B2B businesses, they may turn out to offer a remarkably effective route to market.
Let’s illustrate the point.
Imagine you’re a marketing lead for one of Fox Agency’s biggest clients, Bobst. Your company builds machines the size of large buses (like their flagship CGI) for the global packaging manufacturing industry, selling for seven-figures-plus each.
How do you showcase your technology? Right now, it’s by inviting your customers to travel thousands of miles for guided tours in corporate locations. In short: it’s darn expensive for all concerned.
Introducing digital twins
But what if you could show off your cutting-edge products for a much lower cost, to a far wider audience? That’s where the digital twin comes in. All you need to do is build virtual replicas of your machines that can be visited in the metaverse without a business-class plane ticket in sight.
Besides the cost of travel and expenses, the sustainability benefits are immense – a vital consideration for global B2B corporations. You’re also saving on demonstration technology and prototypes that gather an awful lot of dust when they’re not in use.
And as for the cost of the experience? Virtual reality (VR) goggles are often quoted by metaverse skeptics as one of the biggest barriers to B2C adoption. But a few hundred pounds is trifling in the context of multi-million-pound sales.
B2B meets VR
Immersive Studio, based in Kent, is one of the UK’s leading metaverse development outfits. They’ve built virtual experiences for the likes of Nike, Velux and Targus to name a few. Its director, Richard Watkins, sees huge potential for the use of virtual showrooms in B2B. “We’re at a significant point where we see a transition from the necessity of being at an in-person event to experiencing the same content in the form of a virtually hosted event,” says Watkins.
“We’ve been involved in creating numerous types of virtual experiences which we see as the current entry level to the metaverse. They’ve allowed many of our clients to host events when they were physically not able to and created cutting-edge content in new ways that connect and engage more deeply.”
What’s driving the push toward virtual?
“The pandemic broke the mold,” says Watkins. “Businesses suddenly discovered the value in having a cloud-hosted virtual version of their marketing events to reach a much bigger audience. Digital twins and virtual environments are much more accessible now, with or without head-mounted displays.
“With the rise of video game technology to create real-time interactive 3D and photo-realistic quality, we can now deliver exceptional experiences. The use of virtual showrooms should be a must for all businesses with products to sell, all year round”.
But, unsurprisingly, there’s a fly in the virtual ointment. The technology needed to deliver showroom experiences, it must be said, is still in its infancy. “A key challenge in building a large-scale showroom is the level of content the client wants to display,” Watkins notes. “This then affects the user experience.”
Creating this kind of platform requires multiple combined skill sets to deploy a successful experience either physically or online. Depending on how interactive you want to make your showroom it can put a heavy load on processing power. But by working with the right team, these barriers of entry can be eliminated, as they’ll be able to recommend the most efficient ways to deploy this for the client. Even so, the potential is enormous.
Watkins adds: “We’ve created platforms that educate, promote and engage the community, communicate core functions, and more often than not, entertain. We encourage brands to think about how they can refresh content and extend experiences long past a fixed event. We want our clients’ users to keep coming back and finding out new things”.
There’s another force driving the virtual showroom experience, too: younger users and developers that are much more au fait with this kind of medium.
So: could the metaverse prove its worth in B2B marketing before it starts generating big money in consumer land? Well, both the technology and the development ecosystem will need to mature further, but it’s a case of when – not if. For B2B, the metaverse is about to get real.
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