Despite the recent news of Meta layoffs, the reality is that the metaverse is coming and with it, a lot of questions on how it will change the consumer experience and redefine everything we already thought we knew about how to do business. Here, Paul Houston, co-owner and director of Catalyst, explores the metaverse, what it means for marketing and the opportunity it presents smaller businesses to compete on a global stage.
Ever since Mark Zuckerberg announced his vision of a new interactive virtual world, it would seem that the metaverse has been everywhere. Of course, that’s not to say the metaverse is a reality yet, not even close. However, even though it is still very much in the early stages, there can be no doubting that the concept – whatever form it eventually takes – could spell the next evolution of the internet.
For the uninitiated, the metaverse, put simply, is the internet but in 3D. It’s an emerging digital space that brings together virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality to create a new type of ‘extended reality’ – providing a new medium for social and business engagement.
Importantly too, though Facebook may have spearheaded the ‘metaverse movement’ that is not to say its Meta interpretation is the only one. Rather than having one single metaverse, we’ll most likely have a collection of different offerings from games companies to brands and tech platforms. Just a quick look at the latest developments from Apple and Microsoft through to Gucci and Disney offers a revealing glimpse into the potential for the entire metaverse or rather ‘multiverse’ space.
For busy business leaders, of course, this raises all types of questions. Principally, what does it mean for my business, and how can I become part of it?
To answer the first question, the good news is the metaverse will bring with it – quite literally – a whole new world of opportunity, especially when it comes to the marketing category.
Take, for example, the digital customer experience. Amid the upsurgence of social media platforms for customer service, visual commerce and video sharing, today’s digital-first consumers continue to gravitate to those companies who command their interest with compelling experiences. More than ever its about hyper-virtualisation, customer-centricity, memorable content and a seamless transaction journey, as research shows those companies that master the digital advantage sustain growth.
Imagine then, the potential that the metaverse could afford brands to enhance the customer experience further. Take, for example, the typical retail journey. While Instagram, Facebook, blogs and the like are a great way of showcasing new trends and inspiring demand, customers will still need to visit a retailer or order online to try on outfits.
With the metaverse, it becomes possible for consumers to visit their favourite retailer, get real-time inspiration depending on their requirement (be it an upcoming wedding, a holiday), and make a purchase after virtually trying on a new look. The same goes for people using the metaverse at home to view products in 3D and true to scale in their home. The result is a new opportunity to create an exciting, hassle-free virtual shopping trip that transcends physical boundaries.
Another huge benefit, especially for smaller businesses, is that the metaverse could help level up the playing field with larger businesses and enable them to compete on a global scale. To understand why, we need only look at the advent of digital marketing. Amid the ongoing demise of the High Street, social media platforms such as Facebook, Tik Tok and Instagram have allowed small businesses to target, engage with and convert thousands of new customers without the expense attached to a physical store. The technologies driving the metaverse offer similar – if not greater – scope. In this way, the metaverse could become an extension of a brand’s marketing toolkit or even replace more traditional and costly advertising methods entirely.
Equally interesting is the unlimited creative freedom afforded by a decentralised concept. This is because unlike other social media platforms which are owned by a company and subject to their content requirements and advertising costs, the metaverse offers a wide open door for brands to connect with customers in which way they want. This could include anything from creating their own world to creating environments and events that connect consumers with their products and ethos.
Thus, with the commercial benefits of joining the metaverse arguably conclusive, the question begs – how can SME business owners prepare for it?
One of the most basic ways you can get your business metaverse-ready is by revaluating and redefining your online presence. Firstly, is your website up to par? It sounds obvious but as your business’ all-important digital shopfront, ensuring it not only looks good but is easy to navigate and enables a seamless transactional journey is a must.
Alongside this it’s time to look at your content strategy too. Does your current content excite, inspire and entice? The metaverse is essentially the future version of the internet so getting your content right now is vital to ensure people take notice of it over the deluge of ads littering the digital landscape. Regardless of whether your content is created or curated, make sure it is share-worthy so it spreads organically and is remembered. More than ever too, its about making sure what you send out is personalised, localised and consistent amongst all omni-channels for a more powerful digital experience.
If you aren’t already, alongside this you should ensure you are driving the right users to your site. With algorithms changing every day, a robust search engine optimisation (SEO) strategy is key to claiming and maintaining your online presence. Without it, you miss out on opportunities to drive traffic to your site and attract your best potential customers.
With the basics in place it could then be a good time to test the waters. To begin with you could consider a few low-risk opportunities to ‘go virtual’, such as creating a 3D representation of a product, or introducing a virtual tour of a key facility. Customer feedback could then be used to validate your rationale for joining the metaverse and in what shape.
Indeed, the metaverse isn’t fully ready for prime time, not yet. But even though it is still in the early stages, by taking heed now businesses can already start to create real value today and set themselves up for a world of infinite new opportunities tomorrow.