q The metaverse: the next consumer connection - Business Reporter

The metaverse: the next consumer connection

Elena Melnikova at Talkwalker describes the metaverse and explains why it will transform the way brands interact with consumers

“…over the next five years or so, in this next chapter of [Facebook], I think we will effectively transition from people seeing us as primarily being a social media company to being a metaverse company.”

Mark Zuckerberg, CEO, Facebook

Imagine a world with the power to connect with anyone, anytime, anywhere in a virtual environment – that’s the metaverse, and it could be arriving much sooner than you think.

In short, the metaverse is an exciting amalgamation of physical, augmented, and virtual worlds. An unknown word until a few years ago, it’s now a catch-all term that combines subsets of technology, merging them into a single entity. Many are touting the metaverse as the future of the internet, and it’s hard to disagree.

The metaverse is growing

In popular culture, the concept of the metaverse has been gathering pace for a while now. Movies like Ready Player One first popularised the idea a few years ago, showing the concept is no longer tantalisingly out of touch, but a digital future towards which we are all moving.

Indeed, some of the world’s biggest online platforms are already starting to visualise it – an interactive community of users able to engage in a wide variety of social activities online. Facebook’s recent announcement that it plans to hire 10,000 people to develop the metaverse proves the concept is barrelling towards the mainstream business world at pace. While it may be decades until the metaverse comes to fruition, forward-thinking brands should be considering how they can make a success out of any moves into the digital realm.

And, if they needed any further convincing that this concept is evolving fast, our recent Social Media Trends report showed 5.4 million mentions of the metaverse in online conversations over the past year, with a 29% positive brand sentiment (compared to 3% negative).

The question is then, how can brands take advantage of this burgeoning space? Competitive businesses are already realising the benefits, inserting themselves into existing AR and VR worlds. Just look at retail brands like Balenciaga introducing its products into games like Fortnite, Vans creating ‘Vans World’ within gaming platform Roblox, or DJ Kaskade performing live in front of millions of avatars across the globe.

Across industries and markets, advertisers are waking up to the unique potential of the metaverse to connect with customers and prospects in exciting and immersive ways, with more empathy and relevance than other prevalent channels such as social media. And it’s younger generations – age groups that brands have often struggled to tap into – who represent the most viable target audience for the metaverse, with our research showing GenZ and Millennials dominate 90% of metaverse conversations.

Indeed, many of the early metaverse adopters transcend typical gaming communities, they also serve as social spaces rife with collaboration, creativity and competition. Socialising online will look entirely different – when you can actually see people’s expressions and body language, hear the tone of their voice, you’ll understand them better than ever.

It’s a consumer’s world

The critical consideration brands must remember is that this wonderful new world ultimately belongs to the consumer. Whether engaging with your audience on social media or stepping into a virtual world, it’s vital brands remain abreast of consumer needs, wants, and expectations.

What’s more, brands must approach the metaverse with optimistic caution. Too often have businesses thrown themselves onto a new trend, before first reflecting and determining the right approach.

True, the metaverse represents an exciting playground for brands, but that doesn’t mean they should jump in head-first – instead, they must strategically their approach to suit the needs and interests of the communities they are trying to reach.

One of the biggest criticisms of the metaverse – and indeed VR and AR generally – is that it will replace human connection with cold and transactional interactions. In fact, the metaverse brings with it the opportunity for more empathetic experiences, as long as brands exercise safety and put inclusivity at the heart of their approach.

Just look at the Gucci Garden experience, a virtual reimagining of Gucci’s physical exhibition in Florence, successfully tapping into Gucci’s wider company goals of empowerment and self-expression.

In partnership with Roblox, the event combined art and culture in the virtual world, offering a visual feast of detailed environments, personalised textures, and patterns for each individual visitor’s mannequin. Like the physical exhibition in Florence, the Roblox version of the Gucci Garden has multiple themed rooms where visitors were immersed in the inspiring works of Gucci’s creative director Alessandro Michele.

However, this campaign was a carefully curated and targeted effort, very neatly focused on Gucci’s target demographic, reflecting a close understanding of their needs, interests and passion points.

The metaverse is coming

It’s no secret that we’re spending more time than ever online – from entertainment to shopping, and gaming to education. And while some argue that the metaverse could result in a bigger digital disconnect between brands and customers, there’s more evidence that it will enrich customer relationships. The metaverse can break down barriers, overcome common challenges, and allow brands to get closer to their customers.

Technology is evolving at blistering speeds, there’s no denying it. But we, as humans, will always be social creatures. We crave interaction and relationships, and the metaverse represents the future of these personal, digital-first experiences.

While people will always retain a special place for old mediums, like listening to the radio in the car or reading the crumpled pages of a second-hand book – there’s no denying the metaverse is where technology’s relentless march is taking us – and it’s an exciting era to be part of.

Elena Melnikova is CMO at Talkwalker

Main image courtesy of iStockPhoto.com

© Business Reporter 2021

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