The metaverse: Boldly going where no man (or machine) has gone before

By November 24, 2022Metaverse
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The metaverse: Boldly going where no man (or machine) has gone before
Burberry unveils its latest ‘Blankos Block Party’ NFT collection

Once brushed off as an imaginary world, today’s metaverse is no longer just a fantasy but a space ripe with potential. The global metaverse market is expected to increase to USD 678.8 billion by 2030, with the Asia Pacific (APAC) region rising as a bright spot. The reason for this growth is apparent – the technology upon which the metaverse is built is quickly adopted, and features such as non-fungible tokens (NFTs), blockchain and decentralised autonomous organisations (DAOs) have crept into mainstream consciousness.

In South Africa, brands are hugely interested in the metaverse. Accenture’s Technology Vision 2022 found that 63% of executives in the country state that the metaverse will positively impact their organisations, with 43% believing it will be a breakthrough or transformational. As brands vie for their share in this new reality, standing out amongst the crowd boils down to one simple principle – brands must demonstrate their value and relevance to consumers.

For brands, seeking relevance in this space will involve an in-depth evaluation of how they interact with consumers, and more importantly, an extension of the physical experiences that consumers enjoy across the virtual world. However, this task is not always straightforward. Consumers’ priorities and behaviours have drastically changed since the pandemic. The conventional playbook businesses refer to for customer acquisition and engagement is now obsolete. In the metaverse, where the rules of engagement are still largely undefined, this gap presents itself as a double-edged sword.

As every business and brand prepares to step into the metaverse and engage in these new people-centric worlds, they should consider three key areas to stay relevant in the metaverse.

The metaverse is more than virtual

The metaverse is much more than avatars, virtual reality (VR) headsets or the virtual world. South African business executives echo this sentiment. About 92% of them surveyed in the Accenture’s Technology Vision 2022 believe that future digital platforms need to offer unified experiences, enabling interoperability of customers’ data across different platforms and spaces.

Case in point: Burberry. The company is already unifying its gamification using QR codes on its offline ads and street art, which transports users to a virtual world of games and even a block party. Shell’s AR Remote Assist enables workers in the field to get over-the-shoulder assistance from expert colleagues worldwide. This seamless co-existence between the physical and virtual worlds requires a focus on interoperability. Brands looking to get ahead of the game are considering platforms and partnerships to make these interactions as realistic and seamless as possible.

While the development of the metaverse is still in its infancy, it has the potential to transform every aspect of brand building. Just as the internet evolved beyond simple websites to underpin many of today’s businesses, it would be wrong to think the metaverse experience will be constrained to digital space. Brands should expect that with the metaverse as the next evolution of the web, their entire online footprint will need to be redesigned. The good news is there is no blanket strategy as every company will have a unique set of contributions to future worlds, and a different appetite for balancing today’s demands against the future they want to build.

Design, test and repeat

The saying “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try and try again” sums up what leaders must do to cement their brand relevance in the metaverse. Brands must adopt an experiment-and-learn mindset to design operating models that lead to outcomes. Whether marketing to bots or rewiring employee engagement, the metaverse presents boundless opportunities for experimentation.

Take Accenture’s Nth Floor, for instance. The expansive and immersive virtual world has enabled the company to bring together employees across the globe where they can participate in immersive learning, socialise as teams or join new employee orientation. The result is greater collaboration and efficiency, as well as the creation of a digital sandbox where creativity can thrive.

Clothing brands H&M and Vollebak are opening entire digital storefronts in virtual worlds where customers can buy digital and physical merchandise in fully immersive environments.

The metaverse is ushering in the next major wave of digital change and providing forward-looking companies with an unprecedented opportunity to act boldly and take greater hold of their future. Companies who want to win in this space must experiment with all the right pieces in place and then scale quickly. By anchoring the design of experiences around what consumers need, want and value, brands can redefine their relevance to consumers.

Trust is the new currency

A critical driver of success in the metaverse is fostering trust in the underlying technology and experiences to drive adoption and user acceptance. And that trust is contingent on concepts that consumers and businesses care about today — such as safety, privacy, security, sustainability, equity, inclusion, accessibility and well-being.

Earlier this year, Meta announced a $50 million investment in global research and programme partners to ensure that the metaverse remains safe, inclusive and sustainable. Gaming and online companies are also coming together to co-create an ethical metaverse. In establishing their presence in the metaverse, brands must be committed to shaping and solving for trust and contributing to the formation of a responsible metaverse. Companies that build restrictive or unappealing versions of this world will not compete well against those that prioritise safety and ethics.

The metaverse is the convergence of digital and physical for the first time and will redefine how the world works, operates and interacts. As every company start to find itself at the intersection of many new worlds, bridging experiences between the new physical and virtual realities while considering ethics and safety will be essential in ensuring their relevance and connection to consumers.

Not only that, brands need to consider the ever-changing lives and influences that matter to their customers and connect them to the vast solutions the metaverse offers. Therein lies exciting opportunities for brands to discover when they experiment, innovate and identify the sweet spot that meets their consumers’ needs.

There may not be a clear view of the future of the metaverse yet, but one thing is for sure – brands that can bridge the experiential interplay between consumers’ ever-changing lives and the external forces that influence them daily in the metaverse will be well-positioned to thrive.

Moagi Bodibe is marketing services and transformation lead for Accenture Song in Africa. He executes marketing activities and programmes aligned to marketing strategy, while driving research and message development for marketing programme execution.

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