Changes in technology always create new opportunities and challenges for brands, and you don’t have to look too far into the past to see how digital media has been completely upended. The World Wide Web went public in 1993. The first ads for Facebook were introduced in 2004, and the iPhone, arguably one of the world’s most game-changing inventions, launched in 2007. By all accounts, these were dates on which marketing was forever transformed. Businesses realized they wanted and needed websites soon after the internet began to gain traction. Social media marketing became an integral part of driving traffic and sales for industries of all sizes, and mobile-first development became an industry standard as more and more users began shopping on their smartphones rather than their desktops.
Today, much of that technological focus has shifted towards what industry leaders refer to as the “metaverse.” Hailed as the next big technology platform, its market size could hit $800 billion by 2024, a huge leap from its estimated worth of $478.7 billion in 2020. In this article, we’ll touch on what the metaverse is, why it’s important, and how the metaverse is set to change the world of digital marketing in the years to come.
To start, it might help to narrow down just what “the metaverse” actually means. In a nutshell, the metaverse is where virtual reality, augmented reality, and the internet meet. It’s not so much a single product owned by a single company, but a shift in the way that both users and companies interact with technology. While most people today hear the word “metaverse” and immediately think of Facebook’s name change to “Meta” and their move into the world of virtual reality, that’s only partially correct. In fact, the term “metaverse” has been around for much longer, first coined in 1992 by the author Neal Stephenson in his novel Snow Crash. In Stephenson’s novel, avatars exist as digital representations of everyday people, coexisting in 3D virtual realities and living and interacting with one another in a hyperreal alternative world.
If this all sounds like something straight out of a movie or video game, you’re not too far off. The idea of virtual worlds has been around for a while now, and just about anyone interested in online culture can say that they’re somewhat familiar with the fictional worlds of Minecraft, Roblox, or the universes depicted in movies like The Matrix and book adaptation Ready Player One. That being said, the metaverse isn’t solely tied to movies or linear video games that people log into, play for a few hours, then log off to go about their daily lives. Nor is it a simple app that you download onto your smartphone and tablet. The metaverse is a concept that tech brands are playing with, hoping to create places where millions of users can come together to create and share new content, own or sell digital items and commodities, and immerse themselves in a range of virtual events and experiences. At the moment it’s contained within individual platforms and properties; Roblox, Fortnite, VR platforms, and others. But brands like Meta are working on creating more unified experiences. It’s a place where music artists can reach millions of extra fans with spectacular digital concerts. It’s a place where someone from Dayton, Ohio could potentially tour the virtual halls of France’s Louvre Museum and appreciate its collection from the comfort of their own home. On the same token, the metaverse is a place where businesses can create grand marketing experiences that tie in with the real world, offering unique products and services that complement or parallel what they already offer in real life. In essence, this means that the metaverse is a place where its “players” have individual agency, a place where all who enter it can be acknowledged for their work and bring that work and acknowledgment across multiple connected universes.
Considering the above, it’s no real surprise that the metaverse has generated a ton of buzz over the last few years, especially as businesses look for new and exciting ways to market their products and services to customers all over the world. With more than half of all advertising revenue now spent online, the metaverse has the potential to revolutionize marketing across a variety of industries, with some of those industries already jumping at the chance to plant their feet firmly in this digital frontier.
Of these forays into metaverse marketing, one of the most successful has been the fashion giant Gucci’s paid partnership with the gaming platform Roblox, a powerhouse in the virtual reality category. With over 43 million daily active users and counting, Roblox’s community provided the perfect opportunity for Gucci to test out its latest experiment in fashion digital marketing, granting users the chance to outfit their avatars in collectible and limited-edition Gucci handbags, sunglasses, and hats at a fraction of their real-world price. Items were placed and hidden in a virtual Gucci Garden, echoing the real-world Gucci Garden exhibitions in Florence and other major cities around the world. This experience introduced Gucci to Roblox’s core demographic, users between the ages of 9-15, connecting the world of luxury goods to a broader audience.
So too have other big brands dipped their toes into the metaverse, with NASCAR kicking off its own entry in November 2021. Eager to get their brand and the sport in front of an increasingly online generation, NASCAR dropped a digital car in Roblox’s breakout title Jailbreak, a free-to-play cops and robbers-style action game. In the game, users can find, customize, and race with the car, outfitting their avatars in virtual NASCAR apparel and gear. This provided NASCAR with an incredible opportunity for brand exposure. Better still, NASCAR was able to mirror Gucci’s approach to blending real-world apparel marketing with the direct-to-avatar (D2A) economy already beginning to take shape across Roblox and other virtual reality platforms.
Beyond creating and selling digital goods, other brands and companies have entered the metaverse through immersive digital advertising, choosing to create entire worlds dedicated to their brands to enhance brand visibility and engagement. When Nike decided to enter the metaverse through Roblox, they created “Nikeland,” inviting users to experience an entire world dedicated to all things Nike with dodgeball minigames, building materials, and a digital showroom of their products. When the online food company Deliveroo decided to try its hand at metaverse marketing, they decided to test out their own strategies in the popular online community and simulator Animal Crossing. Virtual riders were sent out for island-wide deliveries, surprising players with items and promo codes that they could redeem for products outside of the game. Not only was this venture immensely successful, earning the company 3 million in-game interactions within the first hour, but it showcased just how powerful metaverse marketing could be when deployed with a cohesive strategy in place.
Just as well, some brands and businesses have experimented with placing ads that track visibility in real-time within gaming environments across mobile, console, and VR platforms like Roblox. While these ads mimic real life, they blend seamlessly into the gameplay, meaning billboard ads or branded clothing can appear in-game just as they would in real life. More importantly, this gives advertisers the chance to experiment with metrics like how long virtual objects are held, how much space those objects take up in users’ peripheral vision, and where users look while experiencing the ads. For brands like Gucci, NASCAR, Nike, and others seeking to “get there first,” the chance to place their ads in front of so many eyeballs and in so many creative and interactive ways is too exciting to ignore.
There’s no doubt that plenty of brands would love to have a roadmap of the metaverse and step-by-step instructions on how to succeed. Unfortunately, the truth is that the “rules” haven’t been written yet. The metaverse is still a bit of a Wild West, and everyone’s trying to see what works as they explore, interact, and test out new marketing strategies. That being said, there are a few things that brands can do to give themselves a bit of an edge, especially as more users with more diverse backgrounds and interests begin to enter the metaverse and explore it for themselves.
In many ways, the metaverse feels a lot like the early days of social media. As more brands continue to see the power behind social media marketing and the influence social media can have on people’s spending habits, they can apply this knowledge towards new and creative metaverse marketing strategies. Fashion marketers can target metaverse users wishing to outfit their avatars in the latest digital apparel and accessories, with highlights and UGC campaigns across Instagram, TikTok, and more. Fitness marketers can create next-level health and wellness campaigns with virtual classes and exercises for users all over the world, showcasing results across their own social media channels for a boost in engagement and brand exposure. While these are just a few examples, they highlight the similarities between social media and the overall goal of the metaverse: to connect people, interests, and lifestyles in the digital realm.
As one of 2022’s biggest marketing trends, non-fungible tokens (or NFTs for short) are set to offer exciting new opportunities for companies looking to enhance their digital marketing strategies through unique brand experiences, brand awareness campaigns, and interaction with their target audience. As the digital representations of real-world objects, they fit right into the metaverse, granting their owners unique ownership of art, music, in-game items, and even videos. Bought and sold with cryptocurrency, NFTs continue to gain notoriety as a number of creators and companies experiment with the technology. To date, a staggering $174 million has been spent on NFTs, further highlighting the revenue potential for creators and brands who aren’t afraid to think outside the box when it comes to their intellectual property. Creators and companies such as Grimes, Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Ray-Ban, and even the NFL have created NFT campaigns.
While no one can truly predict what’s to come with the metaverse, one thing is for certain: it’s going to have a major impact on businesses and marketing strategies across a variety of industries. Brands looking to reach an increasingly online audience will need to pioneer new ways of doing so, and that includes formulating strategies to meet and interact with this new generation of consumers on their own turf.
To that end, brands will need to think about their long-term goals as metaverse technology continues to evolve, asking themselves some key questions. Do your digital marketing goals include creating or sponsoring a virtual world similar to Nikeland? Is there any intellectual property your company could benefit from minting as an NFT or including in a popular game? Should your business create a Metaverse Marketing Team to oversee these initiatives and, if so, what would that team look like?
While some of these questions might seem out of the ordinary, it’s important to remember the similarities between the metaverse and the earliest days of social media. While many businesses once navigated social media marketing with a single manager, that strategy eventually paved the way for entire teams dedicated to executing complex campaigns along with guidelines on how to do so. As such, the advent of the metaverse will likely follow a similar pattern, with bigger brands creating much of the rulesets that govern how other brands should approach digital marketing in this mostly uncharted territory.
At the end of the day, the metaverse is set to revolutionize the digital marketing landscape as we know it. Not only will it change how businesses interact with their target audiences, but it will do so in a way that feels engaging, authentic, and immersive. A truly complete digital marketing strategy should include all platforms and maximize any opportunities. It’s vital to have a unified message between organic search, paid ads, social media, and new marketing channels such as the metaverse.
Should your business wish to capitalize on the exciting changes to come in the world of online advertising, the digital marketing experts at VELOX Media can provide you with a clear and cohesive strategy. As a Google Premier Partner with over 10 years of experience in SEO, paid advertising, UX, and social media marketing, we’re on the front lines of all the latest advertising technologies and trends, from the smallest to the most impactful. Reach out to VELOX Media to learn how we can help your brand tap into the future of digital marketing.