Where exactly does the Metaverse end or begin? Everything from social to AR to VR to Web3 are being identified as part of the all-mighty Metaverse, but will it be one massive entity where we each exist as an avatar? Or will it be a collection of worlds that enhance our lives in different ways? How will we be Marketing in the Metaverse?
These are all thought-provoking questions that could be debated at great length.
Moving to a role in Marketing and Web Production in the travel business, I was involved in the launch of an online planning tool for Rail Europe Group in partnership with a US tour operator. It was the early days of OTAs (Online Travel Agencies) and combining inspiring content together with a user-friendly platform that could seamlessly connect multiple booking systems was a challenge. The travel industry went through an incredible metamorphosis with new companies growing out of the need for connectivity, real-time results and intuitive user experiences. My time in the art world revealed how centuries-old legacy brands were struggling to recreate excitement of in-person auctions in online sales.
The Power of Immersion
Now pivoting to VR, I have a prime view into a rapidly evolving industry that continually challenges itself on how far we can push immersive experiences. When I look back, all of these pursuits are about providing unique and engaging experiences in the physical and now the virtual world.
I’ve been intrigued by the use cases of art in the Metaverse, such as the Kaws exhibit at the Serpentine Gallery in London rendered in Fortnite. Global luxury brands such as Gucci and Burberry have purposefully shifted their focus to virtual communities and content. In the early years of the internet, legacy brands and cultural institutions were taking a cautious and at times, cynical approach when it came to digital. Now there is an all-out race to stake a claim and start building in the Metaverse.
As these extraordinary, stylized worlds are created, it is also important to understand how we as humans will experience them. Entering a highly immersive environment appeals to our natural sense of wonder and imagination, which can be truly incredible. I’ve had lengthy conversations with Adam Anfiteatro, our CEO & Founder at The Edge VR about the sense of presence – how it’s achieved in the virtual world and how we experience it. It’s important to understand how humans react to being fully immersed and what that does to our brains before understanding how we can integrate marketing. Reaching a high level of immersion in a virtual environment can produce a range of visceral reactions, depending on the individual and the environment.
The Potential Within Advertising
Would those moments of dopamine rush be an ideal time to present an advertising opportunity for a vacation or new car – with seamless, contactless conversions in the form of leads or payments? Advertising within an experience could take on multiple interactive forms with the use of 3D images, animations and advanced gamification. Personalization could be taken to another level through customized avatars of the consumer and brand ambassadors.
Using AI we should be able to understand what avatar physical characteristics, tone of voice and conversational responses will have the most influence over a particular person. Fully optimized brand avatars could present personalized, interactive product demos or invite like-minded consumers to an exclusive social virtual event for a brand.
One company already leveraging attractive avatars rendered from real-life models is Photogenics, an LA-based fashion agency founded by Bordeaux Models owner, Nicole Bordeaux and Smashbox Cosmetics founders, Dean and Davis Factor.
If beautiful, charismatic people effectively sell products in the physical world, why would the Metaverse be any different? This forward thinking agency launched a Metaverse Division in September 2022 and currently represents 13 avatars. The company states, “None of our Avatar talent are purely computer-generated; all Avatars have a voice, a unique style, a direction, and a personality stemming from the real world which will keep these “digital twins” alive and evolving.”
Imagine bringing these stunning avatars into digital brand experiences. Car maker Maruti Suzuki’s NEXAverse, which debuted in 2022 and ARENAverse in 2023, already offers photorealistic virtual showrooms along with sales and customer service avatars that can be accessed 24/7.
India’s largest car manufacturer worked with DaveAI to create a virtual sales avatar as the digital twin of a Maruti Suzuki showroom relationship manager. Powered by speech and NLP, the assistant provides personalized solutions to customers, including real-time product recommendations. With AI growing at an accelerated rate, the possibilities for brands to integrate this technology with optimized avatars is not too far in the future.
The Big Data Questions
We are currently awaiting the demise of the third-party browser cookie to address online privacy and data sharing concerns. It seems rather mundane when we think about the more advanced methods to tap into the consumer psyche that might be at our disposal. Spending 20 minutes in a VR simulation leaves just under 2 million unique recordings of body language. Non-verbal data including gaze analysis, voice recognition, and facial recognition could all be collected in the Metaverse.
What sort of regulations and privacy safeguards will be in place and how will they vary by country or even state, in the case of the U.S.? There are a few active digital rights advocacy groups such as Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Extended Reality Safety Initiative (both based in the San Francisco Bay area) who are focusing on potential privacy risks in the Metaverse.
XRSI released a novel entitled Privacy and Safety Framework version 1.0 to address the “new generation of personal data” including biometrically-inferred data. The personalization-privacy paradox has existed for years and this might finally be the tipping point. Can we entertain and immerse consumers in the Metaverse to the level where they believe it’s worthwhile to give up preference data? This will be the challenge for us as marketers.
Voice search has already found wide adoption through enabled devices. Approximately 71% of consumers prefer to use voice search to conduct a query over typing into a search browser. It is highly likely that this search tool will play a critical role in navigating the Metaverse. Optimizing for voice search in virtual environments will become a new, coveted skillset, similar to traditional SEO in the early aughts.
Improving Loyalty via Digital Worlds
Remote collaborations have become a key to our daily life. While cameras can help us feel closer, we lose a lot of nonverbal communication like body language,
The Metaverse will open up countless opportunities to build customer loyalty. Last year, Starbucks, which already set the gold standard for loyalty, announced Starbucks Odyssey, as a new program that combines Starbucks Rewards with enhancements in the form of NFTs and a new digital community. The program is currently in soft-launch as invite-only, as the company smartly shifts their strategy and leverages these new environments, even before the general public fully understands their usefulness.
While we begin integrating these next generation tactics into our marketing strategies, there are fundamental rules of cross-channel marketing that will still apply. Brand consistency across platforms and maintaining a strong personal, emotional connection will always be core to the consumer journey – whether it be in the physical or virtual world. Extended Reality presents an enormous opportunity for us to be creative and keep consumers engaged and immersive storytelling is something that is key to our experiences at The Edge VR.
By being placed in the center of an adventure that unfolds, participants make connections that are physical and emotional, unlike any other medium. It’s an enormous opportunity for us to be creative and keep consumers engaged using these dynamic elements which are now within our reach. We are on the cusp of one of the most important technological advancements of this century and it will be fascinating to work in marketing across many industries during this next transformation.