If the metaverse hasn’t grabbed your attention, sparked your curiosity or ignited your imagination, it’s possible that a simple lack of familiarity is holding you back. But don’t worry: You’re not alone.
In January 2022, Ipsos reported that only “38% of Americans state they are very or somewhat familiar with the metaverse” and “less than 16% can correctly define it.” Marketers are stumped at similar rates, according to Unsupervised, which says, “60% admit they don’t know the metaverse very well or at all.”
As the virtual space continues to evolve, however, more and more marketers are preparing to engage, including those in financial services marketing and healthcare marketing. Unsupervised data indicates, “More than half of marketers believe it’s important for future marketing strategies,” and “a quarter of those surveyed planned to use the metaverse to develop new content.”
We’ve assembled this overview of metaverse definitions, predictions and cautions for marketers in the early stages of investigating marketing opportunities in this emerging – and fascinating! – space.
What is the metaverse?
Simply put, there is currently no single, standard definition for “metaverse.”
Vice nails it when it says, “Talking about the metaverse feels a lot like talking about the internet back in the 70s and 80s… Everyone was talking about it, but few knew what it really meant or how it would work.” Similarly, as we stand now on the very edge of the next iteration of the internet, most attempts at defining it, valiant as they may be, are speculative.
However, many definitions share elements that capture the already established hallmarks of the metaverse. As detailed in a definition from Gartner, these are:
- “a collective, virtual shared space”
- “persistent, enhanced immersive experiences”
- “multiple destinations across technologies”
- “a virtual economy enabled by digital currencies and NFTs”
Let’s examine these characteristics more closely.
The metaverse is virtual.
In a February 2022 tutorial – “Metaverse 101: Defining the Key Components” – VentureBeat defines the metaverse as “a simulated world that is experienced in the first person by simultaneous users who share a strong sense of mutual presence. It can be fully virtual, or it can exist as layers of virtual content overlaid on the real world.” In other words, as Digital Agency Network offers in this pared down explanation, “We can simply describe the metaverse as a virtual world parallel to the physical world.”
The metaverse is 3D and immersive.
Distinguishing itself from our most common virtual experiences – Teams or Zoom meetings, for example – the metaverse is not just a digital version of something happening in the physical world. Instead, as described by Harvard Business Review, it is “persistent, immersive and three-dimensional.” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg tells Vanity Fair that he thinks of the metaverse this way: “an embodied internet, where instead of just viewing content—you are in it.”
The metaverse isn’t *one* thing: It’s *many* things.
The metaverse is not a single space, but many spaces. It’s not one type of technology, but several. It’s not a distinct platform, but a universe of platforms. Taking it a step further and calling it a multiverse, Fast Company says, “While the word ‘metaverse’ sounds like one place where everyone’s digital avatar is hanging out, the reality is a multiverse: a series of different 3D worlds on different platforms.” In addition, says Gartner, it is “device independent and accessible through any type of device, from tablets to head-mounted displays.”
As such, the metaverse isn’t a place you go. “You’ll never hear anyone say, ‘I’m about to hop into the metaverse,’” writes Matt Maher in a guest post for Marketing Dive. “It is simply the next evolution of the internet, one more seamlessly integrated into our lives, blurring the lines between physical, digital and virtual.”
The metaverse has its own digital economy.
Commerce follows us from the real world into the metaverse, where we “interact with each other and buy virtual goods,” says Business Insider. According to Search Engine Journal, this translates into “a new economy, environment, currency and behaviors.” At the moment, digital currencies and NFTs dominate the metaverse. We’re seeing the emergence of “new business models for influencers, virtual goods and commerce on physical goods purchased in virtual worlds,” says Harvard Business Review.
Metaverse marketing predictions and opportunities
Search Engine Journal calls the metaverse the “future of search and social” and says, “Just like the internet, industry insiders are predicting the metaverse will become a necessity for all brands.” Similarly, Gartner anticipates that it will “impact every business that consumers interact with every day.”
Specifically, by 2026, Gartner predicts:
- “25% of people will spend at least one hour a day in the metaverse for work, shopping, education, social and/or entertainment.”
- “30% of the organizations in the world will have products and services ready for [the] metaverse.”
If that seems like a swift climb from where we are right now, you’re right, but predictions related to market size seem to play it out. Statista reports, “It’s estimated that the 2021 global metaverse market size stood at $38.85 billion. In 2022, this is expected to rise to $47.48 billion before surging to $678.8 billion by 2030.” With this kind of potential – $82 billion by 2025, says Business Insider – “Companies are willing to make large investments in the metaverse, even if they don’t fully understand it yet… Companies plan to expand their goods and services into the experimental virtual space.”
Matt Maher in Marketing Dive says this creates “massive opportunities for advertising.” Or, as Retail Touchpoints says, a “goldmine,” especially for “capturing the attention of digitally native audiences.”
Citing survey data from TINT, Digiday says, “49% of marketers believe the metaverse will impact their strategies” this year. Here’s some of the current buzz about how the metaverse will change marketing:
- “Marketers will become world builders. We need to take [experiential marketing] a step further and think of ourselves as full virtual world creators.” (SOURCE: Quiet Valor’s Sarah Malcolm in Forbes’ “Get ready to market in the metaverse”)
- A move “beyond e-commerce into i-commerce, or immersive commerce—transactions based on users’ deeper interactions in this new digital environment.” (SOURCE: Fast Company’s “Building a brand in the metaverse”)
Digital Agency Network calls the metaverse “the new platform for digital marketing” and says there are “countless possibilities,” including games, events and virtual shops. The purpose of these ventures will sound familiar to marketers: building strong connections, focusing on engagement and earning conversions.
Likewise, marketers will recognize the specific marketing activities likely to proliferate in the metaverse, according to industry experts like Nick Heethius. In a column for Entrepreneur, he lists the following:
- Sale of virtual goods. “Eliminating the manufacturing and transportation costs associated with physical goods is a major opportunity for every brand. From selling upgrades, to online avatars, to selling virtual versions of physical products, there’s no shortage of ways your brand can capitalize on selling virtual goods.”
- Community building. “Brands can build engaging communities that provide a place for customers to participate with both the brand itself and fellow supporters of the brand.”
- Gamification. “This rewards system can involve strategies that encourage shoppers to engage with the brand or help disseminate important brand news.”
For most brands, the current opportunity is to test and learn – another well-known marketing staple. Digiday takes the pressure off brands by putting it this way: “Many of today’s virtual brand activations are intended more to demonstrate brands’ willingness to experiment with new technologies than to generate high ROI or create direct e-commerce opportunities.”
In addition to experimenting, Search Engine Journal suggests “interacting and following the journalists, reporters and analysts who are covering AR/VR and the metaverse” and auditing your content strategy to “see how you can implement AR, VR and 3D experiences into your marketing plans.”
Cautions and challenges for marketers in the metaverse
Harvard Business Review warns, “Sitting on the sidelines too long is not likely to be an option.” Instead, it encourages “intellectual curiosity” about metaverse, which it says is “potentially the next iteration of how humans use the internet to connect, communicate and transact.”
As brands explore opportunities in the metaverse, they’ll also want to understand some of its current challenges:
- Despite the growth predictions, metaverse participation is not widespread, and most people don’t understand it yet. The result is a “smaller consumer segment,” says Saeed Elnaj in Forbes, complicated by the current requirement for “expensive and not so easy to set up AR/VR tools.”
- While companies like Meta are making claims about proactively building diversity and inclusion in the metaverse, concerns about equal access and representation remain.
- Much like the internet and social media, the metaverse will face issues related to cybersecurity and privacy and hate speech.
- Brands will also need to be concerned about identity, ownership and intellectual property, say experts.
- At the moment, there’s an absence of standardization in the metaverse, says Business Insider. This lack of interoperability presents a specific challenge for commerce, according to the Marketing Dive piece by Matt Maher. Currently, he says, purchases “won’t be functional or even visible once you step outside the store.”
And of course, there’s a risk to brands that isn’t unique to metaverse: the hard sell. The type of overly promotional content that flops on social media and blogs will also be less successful in the metaverse. In an interview with Retail Brew, gaming/metaverse expert Charles Hambro “emphasizes the value-add over the advertising opp” and urges brands to ask themselves how they can “enrich the experience of the user.”