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Marketing in the metaverse: 'Building a brand in the virtual realm is really different from doing it in the physical world'

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The metaverse, the concept of the future internet, brings new opportunities for marketing. Brands are entering the metaverse through gaming, digital fashion shows and virtual commerce. 'New technologies are beginning to transform the way people interact with one another. The world of social media will evolve into multiple virtual 3D spaces'.

Let's take the example of a virtual pop concert. „Millions of people can attend and they are not looking at a flat screen anymore, but are present in a 3D event space with their avatar. They listen and dance. Put on VR glasses and you enter a virtual world that feels like real. This parallel world offers opportunities for companies to be present and connect with their clients like in the physical world," says Arjan Leest, strategy and innovation director at marketing agency Cogonez.

Or look at an e-sports event in the virtual world. „This is not just for younger generations. Did you know that many older people are participating already? Maybe they are not so good in sports in the physical world anymore, but in the virtual realm they participate and for them it feels like they are really there. It is so exciting. Sponsors and companies too will be able to spread their messages in virtual stadiums."

Meta (Facebook) is not the only one
The concept of a metaverse continues to make big headlines. In April of this year Epic Games (that operates Fortnite) already announced $1 billion in funding to develop a long-term metaverse vision. In July 2021 Mark Zuckerberg declared Facebook a 'metaverse company'. „It is a virtual environment where you can be present with people in digital spaces," he said. „You can kind of think this as an embodied internet that you are inside of rather than just looking at. We believe this is going to be the successor of the mobile internet." The name of the parent company has now been changed from Facebook into Meta to shift focus towards the metaverse. The company will hire thousands of engineers in Europe for the development of virtual projects. Besides Meta, many other companies, such as Epic Games, strive to get their share of the metaverse.

„It certainly is a new step in the development of the internet," says Sjef Kerkhofs, managing director at daily dialogues. „The current internet experience, augmented reality (AR) and 3D technologies come together into a virtual experience where you can meet other people, go to school, to the office or to a store (with or without avatar). In short, the metaverse is a virtual representation of your physical life in a shared virtual space."

Brand insertions in games
Marketers have several choices to do marketing in the metaverse. First of all, there are ads in games and events, which is happening now already. Big names like Gucci or Nike are working with virtual fashion for avatars that consumers can buy. Real estate in games is another way for brands to introduce themselves within the game experience. „They can sell virtual items for use in interiors of virtual homes or the interior of a car. There are so many possibilities," Leest explains.

Several brands have already found their ways into games. They insert themselves in the form of avatars or virtual real estate in games such as Fortnite or League of Legends, becoming part of an experience. Verizon brought the Super Bowl Stadium to Fortnite, giving players the opportunity to meet avatars of NFL players. In this way the company promoted the benefits of 5G technology. Louis Vuitton and Riot Games have collaborated on several fronts for the 2019 League of Legends World Championships.

DBS Bank created the 'Live Fresh Club' (based on a famous Singapore nightclub) in Fortnite to advertise its credit card. Fast-food chain Wendy's sent a character resembling the brand's mascot into the game to advertise its fresh beef. „Seeing them really immerse in the gaming landscape across Fortnite, Twitch and others is just plain cool," a marketing specialist notices in Campaign magazine.

The metaverse will have a profound impact on the business world, as Kerkhofs argues. „It is most probably going to create an economy that is even bigger than the current internet economy. The metaverse is about shopping, relaxing, exercising, learning, working, just like in the physical world. It will provide great opportunities for marketers and companies to tap into a new economy that is scalable and international. You can start marketing in many ways, from billboards to narrowcasting in a completely virtual environment."

Rethinking your virtual brand role
The new metaverse marketing ecosystem is a huge step from our present social media structure. „It is a seismic shift," argues Michael Patent, founder of Culture Group, during the webinar 'Enter the metaverse: virtual worlds, real value'. „It is a shift from storytelling to story making, from spokespeople to virtual humans, from direct to consumer to direct to avatar. Moreover, it is a shift from experiences to massive interaction live events (MILEs), from fast fashion to virtual fashion and from loyalty programs to blockchain backed benefits."

For brands it is key to rethink their virtual brand roles. „Building a brand in the virtual realm is really different from doing it in the physical world. Your brand may mean different things. Your brand may be an enabler (enabling unique virtual experiences), a participant (crafting new experiences as 'cultural curators') or a celebrant (celebrating our customers through gamified rewards and virtual goods)."

How to reach consumers in the new world
One of the key questions is how the metaverse will resonate with consumers. In August 2021 Forrester surveyed online adult consumers in the US and the UK: 23% of the respondents in the US and 17% of those in the UK expressed they would like to spend some time exploring the metaverse. Many of them said they don't understand it (29% US, 33% UK) or stated that they have no need for it in their lives (27% US and 36% UK).

Research indicates it will take some time to attract a majority of internet users. Gamers are already taking part in their virtual worlds, but will they be the only ones in a future metaverse? „We expect a fast-growing audience," Kerkhofs says. „People have a basic need to belong and to be socially active. Like social media, the metaverse provides that option. It is not something that is only for young people or even gamers. In time it will have broad support. A metaverse of your office (especially when people continue working from home) doesn't seem so far away. But, as with all these kinds of developments, there are early adopters, finally a majority of adopters, and others lagging behind."

The best marketers are frontrunners
In a few years from now we can expect virtual 3D spaces everywhere on the internet. „Users will create their own 3D virtual spaces," Kerkhofs elaborates. „You will find virtual offices, cinemas, stores, stadiums, showrooms, restaurants, you name it." Leest agrees. „The metaverse can even contribute to sustainability. Why not travel virtually in 3D to a Caribbean island when the experience is so real? You don't need to take a plane every time. Sometimes you can just pursue your dreams in the virtual world. In the future we expect people are willing to spend more money to fully participate in the metaverse." The new nascent sphere does not live in isolation, it can form a link with the physical world. „For example, let your avatar order a pizza from your favorite restaurant in the virtual realm and have it delivered to your home in the physical world."

Marketers will face new challenges. „The metaverse is probably more complex than you are used to and you need to dive into it. But it also means there are great opportunities ahead," Arjan Leest says. „Right now, this is a world of pioneers. To reach success you need to be a frontrunner. Read Earnest Cline's science fiction novel Ready Player One to get an idea where we are heading. Yes, the future is made by science fiction. For marketers this is an interesting time." 

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