It feels like everyone has been talking about the metaverse these days. If you’re trying to participate in metaverse-related conversations of your own but wish you had a more foundational understanding of the space, you’re in luck. Leadership from across our team have put their heads together to build a solid framework that explores the opportunities for brands in the metaverse, and they’ve collected their findings in a report that you can download now in English, Spanish, Portuguese, and Chinese.
We get that the metaverse can be confusing, which is why we wanted to make it more understandable for everyone. Titled “Making the Metaverse,” our report discusses recent trends that have set the stage for what some have called “the successor to the internet,” and the moves that brands can make right now to realize their role within it.
Virtualization Lays the Groundwork
Understanding the metaverse begins with understanding virtualization. Last year, our commissioned study with Forrester Research found that “The next frontier for digital transformation is brand virtualization—meeting customers where they are with differentiated, digital environments.”
Digital transformation in the traditional sense has covered table stakes groundwork as brands moved offline to on, but virtualization’s focus is on putting emotion into the code—the process of adapting to a state in which the digital environments, relationships and activities are perceived as being just as real as their physical counterparts. While virtualization is considered the next phase of digital transformation, the metaverse is often discussed as the next iteration of the internet—what Mark Zuckerberg calls the “embodied internet.”
Think of how the internet has evolved over the decades. In the days of dial-up, navigating web pages and bulletin boards connected via hyperlinks were the primary form of consuming and producing information online. The rise of social media gave way to “web 2.0,” an era of user-generated content and a more participatory way of consuming and co-creating content. Around the same time, smartphones made the internet mobile friendly.
Now, technology like extended realities and gaming are fueling a desire for more meaningful connections and collaboration experienced in real time. "While these environments are virtual, the emotions that they evoke are very real,” says Catherine Henry, SVP of Growth, Metaverse and Innovation Strategy.
I've had conversations with people I've met in virtual environments and I forget we don't actually know each other, because I feel as though we've attended something together or have lived something together.
Sima Sistani, Co-Founder of the video chatting network Houseparty, describes the shift this way: “If the last generation is about sharing, the next generation of social is going to be about participating.” A great example of this is the Rift Tour featuring Ariana Grande in Fortnite—a performance that you don’t simply watch, but navigate and explore with others to the sound of the music.
Opportunities Abound for Brands in the Metaverse
While a fully realized metaverse doesn’t exist yet, many of its building blocks do, from virtual assets to embodied, digital experiences like the concert mentioned above. These technologies and platforms present myriad opportunities for brands to stake their claim in the future of digital expression as the metaverse begins to take shape.
“Just as every company a few decades ago created a webpage, and then at some point every company created a Facebook page, I think we’re approaching the point where every company will have a real-time live 3D presence,” Tim Sweeney, CEO of Epic Games, told the Los Angeles Times last year. Brands may naturally wonder: what could that look like?
Ally Bank, a leader in online banking, partnered with gaming experts on the Media.Monks team to bring its outstanding service to the hit Nintendo Switch game, Animal Crossing: New Horizons. We furnished an island with branding and minigames that aligned the bank’s promise—to be a relentless ally for financial wellbeing—with a crucial aspect of the game: money and resource management. We not only helped make the only bank worth visiting in Animal Crossing—we also won a Silver Effie Award for the US Brand Experience: AR/VR/Digital category and were a Finalist in the US Finance category.
Building a 3D presence can also open new revenue streams. Recent enthusiasm around the collection of NFTs (in simple terms, a certificate of authenticity for a digital good) has normalized the idea of owning unique digital assets. And that doesn’t include only works of art; NFTs are also being used to buy digital objects and even virtual real estate. To promote the final season of the AMC series The Walking Dead, we partnered with Verizon to build a platform where fans can receive unique virtual collectibles—and even get them digitally signed by a member of the cast. The platform, whose launch coincides with New York Comic Con, virtualizes the excitement of fan signings.
Branded mascots may also be overdue for a digital upgrade. The Labs.Monks, our R&D team, has explored possibilities surrounding virtual humans. Whether they take the form of fictionalized influencers, give a face to digital assistants or serve as avatars to be “worn” by fans, these characters present a way for brands to connect with their audience on an emotional level everywhere they’re at.
Cooperation and Collaboration will Bring the Metaverse to Bear
With urgency and opportunity to virtualize, you may be wondering: what needs to be done before the metaverse truly exists? In coming years, advances in wireless connectivity, cloud computing and incrementally smaller GPUs will bring the metaverse closer to reality. But those aren’t the only hurdles for tech companies to solve.
A crucial characteristic of the metaverse is interoperability, or the seamless connection between digital experiences. Yet currently, closed platforms are the norm. Developing the decentralized, interoperable environment of the metaverse will require the creation of open standards that allow for the exchange of information between one platform or system to another.
Otherwise, what’s the fun in buying a digital outfit that you can’t take with you to other worlds? Geert Eichhorn, Innovation Director at Media.Monks, likens it to the development of public space shared by and accessible for all: “Walled gardens make no sense when you’re trying to build a park.” He sees an opportunity for teams like ours to connect the dots among our partners as competition gives way to cooperation, and his team of Labs.Monks have explored several applications of the metaverse already.
So, no single person or team is building the metaverse—we all are, and while there’s much work to be done, there’s boundless possibilities for brands to kick off their virtualization journeys and build value already. You can learn more about how to prepare for the metaverse in our report.
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