The following is a guest post by Matt Maher, founder of M7 Innovations. Opinions are the authors' own.
We create terms like "metaverse" (or recycle them from '90s novels) to mentally amalgamate the superfluity of technologies, platforms and hardware that are organically evolving the internet as we know it.
But you'll never hear anyone say, "I'm about to hop into the metaverse" as it would be just as misguided as saying you're going to "hang out on social media," "make a purchase on the blockchain" or "jack-in to the internet."
And herein lies the true definition of the Metaverse as we now know it: It's simply the next evolution of the internet, one where communication, entertainment, work and everything we enjoy about today's World Wide Web is more seamlessly integrated into our lives, blurring the lines between physical, digital and virtual.
At the same time, there is one common misnomer when addressing the metaverse: It isn't singular. Despite Mark Zuckerberg's hijacking of the term, there will never be one, single metaverse. That's actually good news, especially for brands trying to understand how they can leverage it and find their digital niche.
The opportunity isn't with the digital platforms
Meta, Snapchat, Microsoft, Twitch and Netflix are just five of the hundreds of digital platforms we spend time "with" or "on." These are separate, insular ecosystems with technical infrastructures that weren't built with interoperability or persistence across one another. For instance, it's currently impossible for an Instagram filter to work on my Snapchat Bitmoji for a post I plan to share on a Microsoft Teams chat to drive coworkers to my Twitch stream to watch my real-time reaction to Netflix's "Squid Games."
The same difficulties will persist across metaverses. The $4,115 virtual Gucci bag you purchased in Roblox can't be worn, seen or even exist if you hop over to Fortnite, Facebook Horizons, Snapchat, Animal Crossing or elsewhere. It's the equivalent of purchasing a physical pair of Air Jordans from Foot Locker and then being asked to remove them before you leave because the sneakers won't be functional or even visible once you step outside the store.
While this may give brands pause, there are still opportunities to make an impact, drive sales and start to craft the building blocks of our multiple-metaverse future. To do so, let's not look at the platforms as opportunities, but instead to the actions and behaviors that these different metaverses offer.
Understanding actions and behaviors is how to win
For brands to find their niche, there will be four main functions of the metaverse. It will be a place where they can:
- Connect: Places like Instagram, Snapchat and Discord will be the digital spaces where we can communicate and spend time with one other. Brands that can take advantage of these spaces are ones that enhance or amplify those experiences. Fashion, restaurants and delivery services are primed to succeed as we'll invest more into how our avatars or visual representations of ourselves are presented, and will still be in need of the fuel to keep us going.
- Explore: Platforms like Decentraland, Meta Horizons and even Fortnite are virtual worlds that are constantly being updated and offer a chance to discover a new digital locale or hidden gem. Retailers, travel and tourism will thrive here. Whether it's Balenciaga opening up a storefront in Fortnite or the Caribbean nation of Barbados purchasing virtual land in Decentraland, these digital worlds need to be filled with the sights, sounds and goods that we're accustomed to in real life.
- Create: Digital universes like Roblox, Minecraft and Animal Crossing empower users to be the architects of these respective metaverses, providing tools and inspiration to build virtual worlds. Apparel, lifestyle and automotive brands have a potential whitespace here. We've seen both Nike and Vans craft worlds for Roblox users, and while teleportation is the best mode of transportation in these worlds, it doesn't stop brands like Chevrolet from outfitting Animal Crossing users with Chevy swag and car beds.
- Entertain: The most untapped potential of the metaverse is for companies like Netflix, WarnerMedia, Disney and LiveNation to create digital living rooms for shared viewing experiences, allowing interaction with one another as well as their IP and iconic characters that inhabit these worlds. Media and entertainment will succeed with the sky as their limit. Those who focus on interactivity and immersion will be able to create new revenue streams, loyalty and garner more of our attention.
I would be remiss to not mention the massive opportunities for advertising in the metaverse, which will permeate all four of these categories. Whether or not we are ready for these metaverses, they are an inevitable future. How many of us would have predicted that the 32 minutes a day we spent on our smartphones in 2008 would balloon eight times to four hours and sixteen minutes daily by 2020?
Our smartphones and tablets are the gateway drugs to these metaverses, and we keep upping the dose. While the next evolution of immersive hardware like Apple's mixed reality headset may be years away from mass adoption, marketers and brands need to start strategically planning for this future.
We used to wonder if a tree fell in a forest and nobody was there to hear it, would it even make a sound. Now, if a brand can't be found in any of the dozen upcoming metaverses, does it even exist?